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Fireflies

Fireflies drift through my dreams
Sending a golden glow into my darkness
It’s a feeble light against such deep dark black
But the love behind it is like a blinding
Crack of lightning in a summer storm.

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Still, The Darkness

And yet, still the darkness
In the midst of so much light

I listen for your touch
It rustles in this winter wind

Like dry dark feathers
From a raven’s wing

And still the darkness
Envelops me
Like your dark rope

Silences me
Like your hand
At my throat

Stops me like a
Sinister whisper
From your lips
To my ear

Is any of it true
Are you true

Still
The darkness

And me kneeling
In a dark wood

Waiting

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The Pitfalls of Holiday Planning and Internet Review Sites

Climping Beach, West Sussex photographed by Robin Dalton ~ October 2010

The winter of my discontent is still upon me, with the sun coming dangerously close to being a figment of my imagination. A holiday! I need a holiday! Now that the winter holidays are definitely over, less dreaming and more action, I tell myself. Where to go? Where to stay?

What started as a simple online exploration into possible accommodation review sites unearthed a scandal, or at any rate, a controversy.  Regardless of whether or not you are a proprietor or a customer, there appears to be a problem with TripAdvisor. A cursory stroll through Google’s search engine throws up a number of articles. In truth, that may not be all that surprising. Were you to Google almost any subject, I am sure a number of articles would crop up.

Paul Garrity says it well in “TripAdvisor Backlash and Online Reputation Management” :

…we now live in changed times thanks to the internet. Internet media have created a ‘digitally transparent’ world and recent advances in social media including blogs, consumer review sites and video sharing sites have ushered in a new era of consumer power online.

Unsatisfied and angry customers don’t just leave an establishment vowing ‘never to stay there again’; they now go online and write a review telling the world about their experiences.”


However, the Scottish “Dragon”, entrepreneur, philanthropist and best selling author raised concerns recently in
Duncan Bannatyne Speaks Out Over TripAdvisor Negative Review Threats saying “People are coming to our hotels and threatening to write bad reviews in order to get money off their bills.” Nor is he the only one speaking up.

As many as 700 owners of guesthouses, B&Bs and hotels are joining forces over the increasingly unfair reports. KwikChex, a company specialising in protecting online reputations, has been collecting examples of comments that it believes overstep the mark. The threatened defamation action comes amid claims by KwikChex that elements within the TripAdvisor business model are “seriously flawed”.

In response to Bannatyne, the TripAdvisor Support Team said in an email to his company: “If an attempt is made to subvert our system, TripAdvisor may take one or more of the following actions on your property listing: drop it by several pages in the TripAdvisor popularity index, post a large red penalty notice explaining that the reviews are suspicious, exclude it from TripAdvisor’s Travellers Choice awards, Top 10 lists, press releases, etc.”

Bannatyne said: “How can it be right that TripAdvisor will penalise us by saying that we are subverting their system by standing up for the truth? By telling me not to threaten legal action to someone who has told lies, TripAdvisor are behaving in a threatening manner.”

So, all a bit incendiary you say, as indeed I said to myself. Perhaps a quick look at their Wikipedia site is in order. Unfortunately, even Wikipedia doesn’t appear to be all that happy with them.

At the top of the page, before the actual article itself, you will see the following:

The above is the caveat that Wikipedia feels is required in front of its article, a piece that is supposed to convey a sense of neutrality. Following on from that, therefore, and given the chance, what does TripAdvisor say about itself?

TripAdvisor® is the world’s largest travel site, enabling travellers to plan and have the perfect trip. TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real (italics in bold are mine) travellers and a wide variety of travel choices and planning features (including Flights search, TripAdvisor Mobile and TripAdvisor Trip Friends) with seamless links to booking tools.

TripAdvisor® Media Group, operated by TripAdvisor LLC, attracts more than 50 million unique monthly visitors* across 17 popular travel brands: www.tripadvisor.com, www.airfarewatchdog.com, www.bookingbuddy.com, www.cruisecritic.com, www.familyvacationcritic.com, www.flipkey.com, www.holidaylettings.co.uk, www.holidaywatchdog.com, www.independenttraveler.com, www.onetime.com, www.seatguru.com, www.sniqueaway.com, www.smartertravel.com, www.travel-library.com, www.travelpod.com, www.virtualtourist.com and www.kuxun.cn. TripAdvisor-branded sites alone make up the largest travel community in the world, with more than 40 million unique monthly visitors*, 20 million members, and over 40 million reviews and opinions. The sites operate in 27 countries worldwide, including China under daodao.com (http://www.daodao.com). TripAdvisor also operates TripAdvisor for Business, a dedicated division that provides the tourism industry access to TripAdvisor’s millions of monthly visitors. The division includes Business Listings, which allows hoteliers to connect directly to millions of researching travellers, and Vacation Rentals, which helps property managers and individual home owners list their properties and showcase hotel alternatives.

TripAdvisor and the sites comprising the TripAdvisor Media Group are operating companies of Expedia, Inc. (NASDAQ: EXPE).

TripAdvisor and the TripAdvisor logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of TripAdvisor LLC in the U.S. and/or other countries. Other logos or product and company names mentioned herein may be the property of their respective owners.

©2011 TripAdvisor LLC. All rights reserved.

*Source: comScore Media Metrix, Worldwide, August 2010

Some may question the “real travellers” claim, as an underlying problem for TripAdvisor is that they are not a transactional business – or put more simply, you do your research on the website, but book elsewhere. This means it has no actual proof that reviewers have actually stayed in the hotels they are commenting on, unlike websites of leading booking agents.  Expedia, Hotels.com and LateRooms.com carry hundreds of thousands of warts-and-all hotel reviews. To be able to have a review posted up on one of these websites, you must have made a booking through the agent and stayed at the hotel in question.
We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language,” as remarked by Oscar Wilde. Spend any length of time on TripAdvisor and you will soon discover that he could have added taste in hotels, as well. What Europeans see as rustic charm, Americans see as dingy neglect; where we see a generous plate of food, they see unreasonable frugality. Of course, it works the other way as well; a lot of Europeans moan about the lack of a free breakfast in North American hotels.
Despite its success, few seem to feel affection for TripAdvisor; it’s too big, too open and just too American for many people. Anyone is free to register and say anything about practically any hotel in the world without fear of comeback. In fact, one B&B owner, John Holder, left a
TripAdvisor master-class held at the Park Plaza Hotel at Westminster Bridge comparing the US-based organisation – unfavourably – to the Catholic Church. “It extends itself globally looking for money to send to Rome – or rather America,” he said. “It treats owners as if it is far above them, in another world. I can’t help feeling its headquarters is just one massive computer.”
TripAdvisor claims it goes to great lengths to ensure its reviews are authentic. Sophisticated computer software and “quality assurance” staff are employed to detect fraudulent reviews; properties with suspicious-looking reviews are flagged up with red penalty notices. It can, of course, work both ways. Many hotels have been approached by PR companies offering to fabricate glowing reviews for them while many others make use of family and friends to create positive reviews. However, from another view, this openness also makes it possible for vindictive guests or unscrupulous competitors to abuse their position even, in some cases, resorting to extortion or blackmail. (“If you give me a discount, I’ll write a good review. If you don’t I’ll write a terrible one.”)

All of the above is just the tip of the iceberg, and a very big iceberg for the hospitality sector it is. These grave concerns cannot, by any means, all be laid at the door of TripAdvisor. This is, more importantly, an issue regarding online reputation management.  Many hoteliers are only now beginning to realise the scale and impact of “Internet Trolls.”  You’ve all met them.  You will find them on virtually every blog, every news article you read and very heavily represented on TripAdvisor. They are posters of unnecessarily nasty, malicious and manipulative comments. Their intent is to lure unsuspecting readers into an equally nasty response and they are then able to perpetuate their presence and, needless to say, ruin your surfing experience. They are typically highly vocal and very critical of, well, everything. They actually only make up 1% of online reviewers. It just feels like more. Regardless of their actual number, “Trolls” command a disproportionate voice on the Internet and especially TripAdvisor.

How does a business respond? Should a business respond? Some things a business should avoid are generic or stock responses to their ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reviews submitted by internet users. Accommodation providers and Hoteliers may not like that their customer relations management has gone online, but the fact is that it has. Although the internet can bring a feeling of anonymity, it is false. The internet is like a web, connecting in several directions. Assume that everything you do on here, every button you click, every site you visit – is public. You are not anonymous. If you had a customer standing in front of you or you were talking to them on the telephone, what would you say to them?  Would you have an argument with them on the telephone or any other mode of mass communication? It’s a good idea, I believe, for a business to have a PR strategy in place for handling all internet communication.

What can those of us innocently trying to book a holiday do? Well, I have a few suggestions for those of you using internet review sites:

  • Discernment is vital. Be very suspicious of both the ‘excellent’ and the ‘terrible’ reviews. The ‘truth’ always lies somewhere in the middle.
  • Don’t rely on the reviews or ratings from the few. TripAdvisor is at its most dependable when there are dozens of interviews to help you choose. Especially when the reviewers continue to make similar claims.
  • Look for reviews with detail. They are less likely to be a work of fiction.
  • Does your review come with a photo attached? They tend to be more authentic.
  • Concentrate on reviews written by people like you, (will you be travelling alone, or as a family…).

And finally, slightly off topic, is a quote from Arthur Frommer, founder of Frommer’s travel guide which I found on a Lonely Planet Travel Blog , “Find write-ups by professionals whose judgements you trust and rely on that… I would never rely on the judgement of amateurs.”

What are my plans now, so I hear you ask? Well, for me, it’s back to my Lonely Planet guides and local tourist websites….

Bon Voyage!


Commissioned by Aviemore Business Solutions and published in an edited format on the 27th of March 2011 here

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My Love Affair with the Library

TThe Radcliffe Camera in Oxford, England ~ October 2010 by Robin Dalton

Libraries have been a major topic of conversation in the news (and my kitchen) lately.  Frankly, I will be the first one to admit that I have completely taken them for granted.  I was absolutely convinced they were the safest institutions around. I mean, think about it. They have always been there. They are considered the central hub of most communities. I go to mine at least once a week. When my son was unemployed, floundering and living thousands of miles away on another continent, he went to his local library to email me. It was how I knew he was still alive, literally.

Yet now I am faced with the news that public libraries are being closed. I can hardly believe it is even possible. To be honest, I still grieve over the loss of the library at Alexandria burned down in 48 BC! I would never have expected that any one would consider a library a luxury but Council Leader David Pugh from the Isle of Wight not only believes they are, but described our public libraries in those exact terms on public radio.

Surely access to accurate information leads to good decision making and exposure to the intellectual riches of civilization leads to a better world. Librarians don’t try to sell us anything. Nor do they turn around and broadcast our problems, send us spam or keep a record of our interests and needs, because no matter how clever this profession is at navigating the online world, it clings to that old-fashioned value, privacy.

I could bore you with a long history of how libraries have impacted my life. Of how my Grandmother used to reward my good behaviour with books that arrived from my Grandfather’s sister who was a librarian in Austin, Texas. Of the trip we made when I was finally able to read ‘bigger’ books, like Black Beauty (and something called The Golden Palomino – I was seriously into horses at the time), to the library on the Air Force Base, where my Grandfather worked and that dominated the Oklahoma town where we lived, to get my first ever library card. Oh sure, I had checked out books from my school library but this was different. This meant I was a ‘grown-up’, responsible for those books.  It was at that moment I think that I discovered that no matter how stormy the seas, libraries would always be a safe harbour for me; and they have been.

Now I live in West Sussex, in a small, not very glamourous, not very wealthy, seaside town. Lancing is sandwiched between Worthing and Shoreham-by-Sea, which is just west of Brighton.

I go to my local library at least once a week. It’s a very small libary. However, West Sussex has a fabulous online service, and I reserve a lot of books, CDs and DVDs online from other branches, sometimes from other counties. I’m notorious for discovering something new (to me) and needing to read everything I can about it. So notorious, in fact, that my librarians don’t even have to ask my name when I come in the door.

We’re very lucky so far, as none of our libraries in West Sussex are being closed. But on Thursday when I went to check out my books there was a stack of fliers reminding all of us of the need to protect our libraries.  Seeing them, I was deeply concerned that my branch was at risk. Fortunately I was told we were safe, but in solidarity for those many libraries across the country that are not as lucky as we are, we should all do the following:

Show your support for your public library and add your voice to the nationwide campaign to show national and local politicians how deeply we care about our public library service.

Saturday February 5th 2011 is Save Our Libraries Day and CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) is urging everyone to get involved and encourage everyone you know to join and use their local library.

  • Borrow as many books as you can and ask everyone you know to do the same.

  • Visit your local library, have a browse and find out what’s happening in your community.

  • Come and read stories to your children in the library, borrow books to take home.

  • Go to your library website and use online reference resources.

  • Tweet why you love libraries using the hashtag #savelibraries

Today on International Save the Libraries Day, Gary (the husband) and I made a special trip to our local library. We loitered, we perused, we read, we talked to the librarians (who are hugely fascinating people, I might add) and checked out as many books as we were allowed.

Frankly, I don’t know if any of this will make a difference. However, what I believe, what I feel, is that with each library that is closed a piece of our soul is lost, a piece of our future and our children’s future is compromised.

Today I started a new novel. One I had checked out from my library, in fact. On page 31 I found this very timely passage:

I’ve been grateful to Mrs Perry [her childhood librarian], for when she handed that novel over the counter and urged my harried mother to pass it on to me, she’d either confused me with a much older child or else she’d glimpsed deep inside my soul and perceived a hole that needed filling. I’ve always chosen to believe the latter. After all, it’s the librarian’s sworn purpose to bring books together with their one true reader. ~ from The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

I truly believe that librarians do have that very special ability to connect each of us with the book we are meant to have in that moment of our lives. It has always been so for me.

The image at the top of this post is of the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford, originally meant to house the Radcliffe Science Library but now is home to additional reading rooms of the Bodleian Library. You cannot look at it without thinking ‘library’! My local library is extraordinarily humble in contrast, as you can see:

Lancing Public Library, West Sussex, England
Lancing Public Library, West Sussex, England

One last point, being an American ex-pat (a stranger in a strange land), that library and its staff never cease to remind me, by their large hearts and infinite knowledge that we are all part of the same community, that books and libraries are the closest thing we have to a global handshake. So, you politicians out there, that apparently are ‘too busy’ to read, please leave my library alone.

I will leave you with some quotes I found when I Googled Libraries that… well, I thought were pretty incredible:

What is more important in a library than anything else – than everything else – is the fact that it exists.  ~Archibald MacLeish, “The Premise of Meaning,” American Scholar, 5 June 1972

Libraries:  The medicine chest of the soul.  ~Library at Thebes, inscription over the door

The best of my education has come from the public library… my tuition fee is a bus fare and once in a while, five cents a day for an overdue book.  You don’t need to know very much to start with, if you know the way to the public library.  ~Lesley Conger

The richest person in the world – in fact all the riches in the world – couldn’t provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library.  ~Malcolm Forbes

There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.  ~Andrew Carnegie

Librarians are almost always very helpful and often almost absurdly knowledgeable.  Their skills are probably very underestimated and largely underemployed.  ~Charles Medawar

Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark…. In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.  ~Germaine Greer

…and finally, and probably most importantly, or at least extremely well said:

The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species.  I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.  ~Carl Sagan, Cosmos

…with much gratitude to the The Quote Garden .

 

written on the 5th  February and originally posted on the 6th of  February 2011


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Fort William May Surprise You

Scottish Highlands Photographed by Robin Dalton

 

 

Yes, it’s true. I am currently packing my bags for another trip to the Scottish Highlands. You will, however, never guess my final destination this time.

 

It seemed impossible at first as I wanted:

  • Morning coffee with a view.

  • Perhaps a loch with some mountainous majesty in the background.

  • Easy access by rail and bus for exploring mountains, glens, and the isles of Skye.

  • Maybe a hike from the town centre to a superb view of the highest mountain in the British Isles, The Great Glen, and one of the most beautiful lochs in the Highlands.

  • A museum complete with a Jacobite collection of international importance.

  • Access to hill walking and climbing.

  • Downhill mountain biking.

  • A distillery nearby wouldn’t come amiss.

  • Of course, shops, restaurants and pubs

  • And, finally, dinner with a view

 

The solution? Fort William!

 

I can already hear you groaning, see your raised eyebrows. However, there is no better place to base yourself for exploration of the Western Highlands. Yes, alright it rains a little and Ben Nevis seems to be perpetually covered in clouds. In fact, it is believed by some that the word Nevis comes from the Gaelic word for heaven or clouds, so Ben Nevis could be thought of as ‘mountain with its head in the clouds’ or ‘cloudy mountain‘. The top is covered in snow for most of the winter and spring while the summit is shrouded in clouds 300 days a year. Even hidden from view it exerts a powerful pull on the imagination.

 

The town lies on the shores of Loch Linnhe for around 3 miles. During the summer months the loch is aligned with the setting sun and is a popular destination for photographers. The town centre is clustered around the High Street and Cameron Square, 200 m SW or train and bus stations and easy to get to on foot. As part of the West Highland Line, the station sees six trains in each direction per day, being four standard trains, The Jacobite (an 84 mile round trip railway journey on the same steam train used in The Harry Potter films) and the Caledonian Sleeper. Of the standard First ScotRail trains, three a day run from Glasgow via Fort William and on to Mallaig, with one running just from Fort William to Mallaig, timed to connect with the Caledonian Sleeper. The Caledonian Sleeper, which starts and terminates at Fort William, arrives early-morning from London via Edinburgh and leaves early-evening along the same route. In addition Scottish Citylink buses link Fort William with Glasgow and Edinburgh via Glencoe and Crianlarich, as well as Oban, Inverness and Portree on the Isle of Skye.

 

Glen Nevis and Ben Nevis are three miles north of the Town Centre. There is a 7 mile hike from the town centre to Cow Hill, the summit that blocks the view of Ben Nevis from Fort William, with superb views of Ben Nevis, The Great Glen and Loch Linnhe. You can also walk 3 miles from Fort William to the scenic Glen Nevis in an hour or so. Also in the Town Centre is the The West Highland Museum. Its collections tell the story of the region and its history. Their most renowned and unusual collection relates to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause. But they also hold a wealth of curious and fascinating collections relating to less well-known aspects of the lives of the people of the West Highlands.

It grew up as a settlement next to a fort constructed to control the population after Oliver Cromwell’s invasion during the English Civil War and then Jacobite uprisings in the eighteenth century. Named Fort William after William of Orange with the settlement around it called Maryburgh, then Gordonsburgh, Duncanburgh and finally Fort William after Prince William, Duke of Cumberland or more popularly known as The Butcher of Cumberland. It should come as no surprise that there has been some talk of changing its name. But for the moment it is still Fort William.

Whether or not you are planning an active hillwalking, mountain biking, sea kayaking holiday or merely want to soak up the beauty and history of the Western Highlands or maybe just a convenient stop to see the Skye, Glencoe, Glen Nevis, Glenfinnan Fort William really is the perfect base. Oh, and remember when I mentioned ‘dinner with a view’? At the old Town Pier you will find the delightful Crannog Restaurant. For delicious meals with a fantastic view or a cruise down Loch Linnhe in search of the family of porpoise who live in there, salmon, common and grey seals and maybe even a golden eagle don’t let yourself pass it by.

Commissioned and published by Aviemore Business Solutions here on the 13th of December 2010 and on Facebook here

 

 

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Remembering Glencoe

Scottish Highlands Photography by Robin Dalton

Today I found myself remembering Glen Coe, the holiday destination that was originally an afterthought, but one that has found a comfortable spot in my heart and mind. How did we end up in Glen Coe? Like so many other hapless travellers my husband and I found ourselves in the Great Glen during our Grand Tour of the Scottish Highlands Holiday. Glen Coe was for us merely another destination on our list: Loch Ness, tick; Inverness, tick; Fort William, tick; Ben Nevis, tick. Well, you get the picture.

I have no doubt that many a poet’s heart forgot to beat while breathing in the poetic grandeur, a grandeur that is primarily the by-product of an eruption of a super volcano which occurred over 420 million years ago. However, you don’t need the sensibilities of a poet or an intellect of a scientist to appreciate Glen Coe.

It is undoubtedly the most famous glen in Scotland. The mountains are truly awe inspiring, from the Buachaille Etive Mor, to the rocky ridge of Aonach Eagach and the distinct array of peaks known as the Three Sisters of Glen Coe. The western end finishes with the conical, and appropriately named, Pap of Glencoe (Sgurr na Cliché), above Glencoe village, at the point where the glen opens out to Loch Leven.

The first view of Glen Coe for most people will be the majestic peak of Buachaille Etive Mor, The Great Herdsman of Etive from across the isolated splendour that is Rannoch Moor. The main route from the south is the A82. It rises to over 1,000 feet over the great wilderness of Rannoch before slowly descending through the glen itself past deep gorges and crashing waterfalls.

Just off the A82, a few miles east of Glen Coe proper, is the Glencoe Mountain Resort, also known as the White Corries, where commercial skiing in Scotland got its start back in 1956. The centre is open all year round providing biking, hiking, climbing and archery, as well as skiing, sledging and snowboarding in the winter. One of the best ways to view the stunning scenery of the glen is by taking the chairlift which is open 7 days a week, as is the base station. They also have fabulous mountain biking trails from low levels to hard core downhill tracks accessed via the chairlift.

Around Glencoe Lochan, near the village, there are several pleasant short walks. The artificial lochan was, in fact, created by Lord Strathcona in 1895 for his homesick Canadian wife Isabella and is surrounded by a North American-style forest. While the village itself is near the site of the massacre of the MacDonalds and Hendersons by the Campbells in 1692 and for that reason is a favourite among history buffs. Within the village you’ll find a small but very good museum and several eating establishments.

To learn more about the mountains and the natural history of Glen Coe and the events that led to the infamous massacre of 1692, not to mention the view from their spectacular viewing platform, I highly recommend a visit to the National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre along the A82. You will also find an information centre with useful advice for climbers and walkers and a shop that will quickly make you rethink your holiday budget.

Why visit Glen Coe?

• For scenery that will make you stop and pinch yourself to ensure you are not dreaming.

• The opportunity to explore flora and fauna so incredible it will make you feel like a child again.

• From easy walks to mountain walks and mountain climbing, mountain biking and snow sports there are sports activities for all ages, all shapes and sizes and all levels. An excellent opportunity to blow the cobwebs out of a brain grown stagnant by routine.

• History that spans a time from pre-history to Celtic heroes and bards through Viking marauders and their ultimate defeat, and finally a family feud whose story is so tragic that Shakespeare himself could have penned it.

Crianlarich Hotel on Facebook Notes

Commissioned by: Aviemore Business Solutions

First published 10 November 2010

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