This is my opinion

We live in interesting and unique times. For the first time in the whole history of mankind, anyone (virtually) can share their thoughts on any subject, and the whole world (virtually) can read it. Yes, I know there are some countries where blogs, Facebook, tweets etc are restricted or banned, but mostly they are not. All you need is a bit of cheap technology and access to the Web.

Great, huh?

Well, no. I think not. Let me explain, and if you want to call me a hypocrite, please do.

In one way, everyone on this planet is equal. We are alive, we are human, we have needs. If I post a blog about open heart surgery, it carries the exact same weight as a blog from President Trump about open heart surgery, or by my Aunt Mary. Specifically, none.

My knowledge of such surgery is pretty much nil. I am guessing Mr Trump’s knowledge is the same, and my Aunt Mary’s is definitely nothing.

Mt Trump has an advantage though. He is, or can be surrounded by experts on heart surgery.

There are things I know a good deal about – teaching, computers, Mathematics, photography and so on. You could say I am an expert in those fields. If I say something about, say, how to interest girls in ICT, you might listen to me because you know I had 40 years doing just that. If Mr Trump listens to his experts on a topic, then makes decisions, informed decisions, on something and perhaps tweets about it, then, if we now he has distilled the advice from his helpers, we may take notice.

The problem is that anyone can give their opinions. All you need is a bit of cheap technology and access to the Web. You don’t even have to be able to spell.

Is spelling important? Well, yes it is. If the topic is important, then writing about it in reasonably intelligible English shows that the author is treating it as important. Correct spelling gives you an extra air of confidence about the whole business. I do appreciate that there are trivial topics (like the music of Lil Wayne) where perfect grammar and spelling are not important. but if you read a declaration of war between the USA and North Korea that was full of errors, you would be inclined to wonder if it was fake (assuming you noticed them, of course).

I used to work at a school where e-mail was the preferred method of communication. All the deputy heads seemed to be dyslexic, and the head teacher simply did not care and would send of messages that were often so hard to understand that you gave up.

What makes it hard on the Web is that the good posts, blogs, tweets whatever are often lost in all the noise.

Mr Trump knows this, of course. He knows that if something is getting a bit sticky for him, he can change the topic, send out a number of tweets and we are all distracted and forget the rest. Trump’s tweets have grammatical and spelling errors in. People retweet them, sometimes because they think they agree with what he says, often because they are hilarious and meaningless. Mr Trump or his helpers can then say, look, everyone is talking about so-and-so (eg Mr Trump is the greatest president who has ever lived).

Which, I am fairly sure, he is not.

Fake news

I have long struggled to understand the term ‘fake news’. I know it is a term much favoured by Mr Trump and his assistants and supporters, and politicians from the UK and others have taken it in, but what does it mean.

For Mr Trump it means something he doesn’t like, something that casts him in a bad light, inconvenient stuff. Son Donald Junior met with senior Russian officials… fake news.

Most people, I assume, take it to mean ‘lies’. Mr Trump, of course, does not believe that words have meaning. He is happy to just say anything. His use of English is approximate. A telephone call from the President of Mexico is really a brief chat that they had at a summit some months ago, but, to most Americans, it is still acceptable as a statement even though it was a total lie. President Obama personally wire tapping Trump Tower is really someone vaguely associated with the Obama government may at some point have done some surveillance on someone in Trump Tower. The words mean nothing.

To me, fake news can indeed mean lies, but it can mean something else. Again, we have ambiguity with the words. Fake news can mean actually factually correct but not newsworthy. I had coffee for breakfast today – true but fake news.

It’s very easy to dismiss anything you don’t like as fake news. It’s too easy.

Tipping down

I have been watching videos about travel, to London and the UK. The advice given is often not good. Here is an example.

In the USA, you tip everyone. The man who makes your coffee, the delivery guy, the person who takes you to your seat in the theatre (not so common these days, but you should), waiting staff, cabin crew (again, not common but I have seen it happen), hotel cleaning staff ($2 a day upwards seems the norm, otherwise they will say you were smoking in your room and you get a hefty fine) and so on. Depending on where you are, the amount can vary but 20% of a bill or $5 upwards seems common.

It’s a tricky problem, what to tip, and to whom. I don’t understand why we tip. Well, no, I do, it’s because the owners of companies pay low wages and staff need a tip to survive. And because sometimes you want to reward good service. But personally, I believe staff should get a good wage for what they do, and should not expect extra just for doing it. And certainly they should not get aggressive if they get no tip.

So, what are the rules in this country?

Let’s be clear who you do not tip. Coffee shop workers, pub workers, ushers, shop staff of any kind, people giving information or directions, people who bring your food in a pub, people who clean your hotel room, most people actually. If someone takes your order for food at a table, you may tip, but if you order at the bar and someone just delivers it, you don’t. There is a video saying that if you go to a pub often, you tip the barstaff with ‘have one yourself’. This is like something from a 1930s film or an episode of The Avengers. It just doesn’t happen. And chances are you’d get ‘thank you, but cannot drink while working’. Or you may just get politely brushed off. Don’t do it.

You can tip people who carry your bags in a hotel, if they take you to the room. Suggestions vary, but £2 a bag is generous.

One video from some woman from Florida on YouTube says that taxi drivers can be tipped by rounding up to the nearest pound. Well, firstly, taxi drivers did expect a tip, and could become aggressive if you didn’t give enough. After the financial problems, most appreciate anything, but rounding up may not do. For example, suppose you have a fare which is £49.95. Rounding up gives £50 and a 5p tip. Offering that and saying ‘keep the change’ is some insult. Use your brain. 10% or more will be appreciated. If you have no change, be honest. Say sorry, don’t have a tip right now, or maybe the driver can make change, but don’t be insulting.

Restaurants, of course, are the worst. Here are a few things to watch out for. Many in London, especially posh places (ie expensive) have a cover charge, maybe £5 per person. You pay this literally just to sit down at the table. Bread, water etc may not even be included. It’s the charge for them to put a cloth over the table.

Very many now add on an ‘optional’ service charge, 12.5% upwards. Sometimes it is ‘compulsory‘. You can tell them in advance if you don’t want to pay it. You may be refused entry, you may get spit in your food.

There are two reasons you may not want to pay it. One, because you got bad service, still pretty common over here, the other because you are paying by card. Let me explain.

Tips etc paid by card get taxed, so the Government gets a lot of it anyway. The money goes into the owner’s bank account. Some share the money between all staff, so your server gets little and many are paid under the minimum wage. Some companies keep all the money themselves.

You can ask for the optional charge to be removed because you got poor service (good luck – the police may be called) or because you wish to pay in cash.

Then, especially if you are paying by card, the little machine will be given to you waiting for a tip amount to be added in addition to the service charge. Don’t be conned. Even if there is no service charge added, try to leave a tip in cash if you can.

But, look at the menu and be aware what you are paying. Don’t be conned to pay twice. Oh, and as an aside, check the items and the total. Chances are it will be wrong.

 

Summer

You can tell it’s summer here in London. It’s as cold and wet as ever, but there are more foreign tourists around.

They, you, are generally welcome of course, to share our great city.

There are plenty of tourist guides about London. There are guided tours and bus tours and helpful websites and YouTube videos…. plenty of people helping you to find interesting things and help you get the most from your trip.

I have lived in London for more than 37 years, and I suppose I know a good amount about the place. So I watch these videos and think, is this my city they are talking about? I once even considered creating a website myself of practical information, and started it, but the amount of work keeping it up to date was just too much for no gain, just complaints, so I removed it.

So, occasionally, I will post what I hope will be hopeful, realistic tips and correct information to help you. And if you have a specific question, ask.

I’m not going to recommend things to do. What you enjoy is very personal. But, I am going to correct things people have said about London, and warn you about things you should definitely not do, or expect.

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