“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.” – Eckhart Tolle

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(The Lost Girl and the Voice)

This is Eckhart Tolle…

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Spiritual thinker, writer and speaker. This is his book (the one I have read)…

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I have a two year relationship of failing to read this book.

You were not ready.

The steady voice of the enlightened man declares (think lubricated Stephen Hawking, if I am allowed a credit from the Stephen Hawking joke bank)…

Perhaps he’s right. I became ready after a light bulb moment (still working, still allowed to use rubbish metaphors) struck. I found the book on Audible whereupon I listened my way to enlightenment…

Liar.
Lazy wench.

My voice. It scratches across my consciousness.

That voice is my problem. It comments, speculates, predicts, finds patterns where there aren’t patterns, repeats itself until it is heard.

So, you are saying there are two of you?
The spiritual man, with mock surprise that might make you a little bit angry (if you are not ready).

Anyway, in less than a week I will be away from home, lost, apart from my constant companion. And there will be many new situations in which it can shout louder, longer, stronger than ever – predicting, destroying, dissecting…

But ha, surprise voice, get this; there’s another voice coming [courtesy of Apple] and he’s there to listen to when you get to wailing and moaning. And you know what? No? Come closer…this voice is gonna kick your mother fucking negative voice ass! Yes it is!

The more you whinge, the less this trip is ‘how to find yourself’ more ‘how to lose your voice’.

My voice, militant and uncomfortable with the use of ghetto-esque extreme swearing.

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Piece of Mind

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You can’t buy peace of mind, not about the world, life, what you will be, your job, what your children will turn out like, whether your (current) relationship will stay the distance, whether [dramatic pause] your dreams will come true.  But for the smaller, financially quantifiable things (be they sundry or catastrophic) there is insurance.  That reads like an ad or an Insurance Institute text book.  In fact, it is a sexed-up, paraphrased version of the Principles of Insurance text book, if my memory serves; I’ve worked in the industry over five years, I have the qualifications and even the t-shirt (no, I really do, and a fleece and an umbrella!).

But this hasn’t helped my month long search for the right travel insurance for my trip.  Usually when I go away I insure with my employer because if things go wrong I think I know which limbs to twist to get me home.  You don’t have that luxury with a faceless firm you found on the internet.  But my employer does not have the appetite for this kind of trip, and I’ve found that neither do a lot of other insurance firms.  I have also found that I am in the hinterland of ‘young’, the upper limit being 35 for some firms.

Anyway, I know how important it is to have a good insurer, not just a cheap one.  You’re buying the cover in case something bad happens, the last thing you want is not only for something bad to happen but then to be messed around by a company that trains its claims staff to look for every which way not to pay for your bad event (or it is quite blatantly excluded and you did not read the policy).  You are paying a travel insurance company to safe-guard your health (or the financial consequences of your health going wrong), so for someone like me, risk averse and with my forehead permanently wrinkled, I am not going to take a punt on a company that suggests the principle selling point of its policy is its low cost.  So, I set out wanting something ‘reassuringly expensive’ – another ad rip-off?

Insurance interlude: Insurance is all about risk, so the riskier the pursuit or subject of the insurance, the more money you have to toss into the pot to guard against the financial implications of something going wrong.  This makes sense.  So, it makes sense that winter sports cover comes at a premium, you have more stuff than the average traveller, it is more expensive and you are more likely to break yourself than the average traveller.  This equals more English Pounds.

I began to look at companies (avoiding anything with ‘cheap’ in the marketing material or any companies with names that implied quickness or cheapness) and soon came to realise it was simply not that simple.  The basic risk assessment of my trip identified two main problem areas: the first, that winter sports issue, because while my employer insures me against the risk of an injury on the slopes and the associated medical expenses, there is the risk that I become injured and cannot continue from France to Malaysia, Nepal and Thailand and my employer does not insure that.  The second is the trekking; slips, trips and falls in rural locations at altitudes in excess of more than 5000m and the potential for altitude sickness.  In grave, serious circumstances you might even need a helichopper to get you to medical attention, but wait, can you pay?  No money, no chopper.  So, I need a policy that covers me from December to August with four months winter sports and trekking.  Then, to avoid making life too simple, there is that pre-existing medical condition.

Now, despite identifying trekking as my major risk, it did not occur to me to think that it might fall into the insurance box of ‘hazardous activity’- it’s just placing one foot in front of the other, surely?  Some activities that do: abseiling, BMX riding, climbing, fell running, football, gliding and team building (if you insure with the Post Office).  An insurance policy wording is a great list of all the amazing extreme things out there that you might want to try.  Eventually, I came to realise that trekking often featured on these lists.  In fact, lot of insurance companies will cap the height to which you can trek: it might be standard to trek up to 2000m and thereafter it might be considered hazardous to go between 2000 and 4000m, so you pay an extra premium.  But the Annapurna Circuit goes up to 5514m and a lot of companies will simply not insure it.  Tempting just to take that risk – insured at 4000m, not insured at 4001m.  I can see myself dancing gleefully over that imaginary line, backwards and forwards – insured, not insured, insured, not insured.  ‘What’s 1500m?’  The Shoulder Devil mutters.  ‘You break your ankle at 4075m, who will know?’  Shut up, Shoulder Devil.  This sadly ruled out a number of reassuringly expensive insurance companies.

Most insurance companies cover winter sports but you always pay an additional premium.  And yes, it about doubled the premiums I was being quoted.  It was not until it came up in conversation that I realised that a lot of companies will only provide a maximum 28 days cover.  Faced with this and frustrated by another complication I asked how they knew that you had only actually spent those 28 days on the slopes.  Receipts, that was the answer.  And without receipts (given I will have a season lift pass and be too poor to actually buy anything on the slopes)?  What, my honesty?  And before the Devil started up with his silver pound saving (you can spend it on a new hat) tongue started, I ditched that idea…

Finally, the pre-existing medical condition.  Once more, I found that all companies treat this differently.  World Nomads, for instance, will simply exclude any condition related directly or indirectly to a pre-existing medical condition.  Now, I have asthma, and this is never a problem for me but then hiking to 5500m is not something I do every day.  A normal person may suffer breathing problems at 5500m and I knew for me, while any problem I might have may not be asthma related, World Nomads would exclude it.  Other companies adopt a different approach and will ask some basic questions to rule out any potential problems, while others have dedicated health screening lines, one of which you immediately paid an additional premium for having called at all, even if the screening was clear…have headache coming on.

In the end, I realised it was not possible to buy my peace of mind.  With quotes exceeding £1000 (approaching the cost of my flights to S E Asia) and others around the £500 mark, all unsatisfactory in some small way, I decided I simply could not insure the winter sports.  If I get broken doing some kind of knarly death slide (not a recognised snowboard term) or more likely slip going out the front door and this stops me going to South East Asia, then I lose the money.  And for £205 the trekking to any height is covered, as are the medical conditions and with a company that has a reasonable reputation in the industry.  I would call that piece of mind, not peace of mind.

The main problem; I found it so hard to compare like for like cover.  If only there was a website…oh, there is?  Seriously, given the complicated nature of what I was looking for GoCompare (or any other good aggregator site) would not have helped.  For one, I think they are all about price.  My only source of information, other than what the company wanted to tell me, was reviews (reviewcentre.com is good for this).  Some made my forehead wrinkle: ‘I am writing this from my hospital bed…’  This is not going to be good, nobody gives good feedback from their hospital bed.  One made me laugh though, a review of the Post Office Travel Insurance entitled ‘Keen to take your money, but not keen to pay out’  The story unfolds: the guest reviewer was ‘the victim of fraudulent activity’, a game of dice no less, authentically named ‘thimblerig’, which the unlucky man (because I assumed it was a man) was forced to play against his better judgement, thereby losing 250e.  He was shocked and astounded that his travel insurance would not pick up this unfortunate depletion of his holiday spends.  One star!  The first item in the comments section?…

‘You plonker’.

Impatient and Rabid, UK (still)

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Just under a month ago, I began to worry about diseases.  Yep, my concern for my own welfare, having decided to expose myself to the world, as it were, was somewhat late.  While obsessing about the where and when of my trip, I gave little thought to what was waiting for me when I got there.  In my case Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, Hep A, B, Typhoid, Cholera, Diptheria, dot dot dot.  Vaccination was a distant concept and the NHS the obvious solution.  I ignored the vague disquiet about this solution (for I am always vaguely chattering inside) and the reasoned voice that suggested that the strained NHS might have global trotters stump up for their own protection against the exotica.

And it all went smoothly at first.  I called my GP’s surgery, politely explained that I was going travelling for nine months and I was aware I would need some injections before I went.  Answer: you fill in a form.  Of course you do.  And so I did.  And I was proud to find said form on the website, then satisfied with the message that it had been ‘successfully completed’.  One more summit conquered on the travel quest.

I waited for the telephone call.

I waited some more and I was not surprised that I did not hear anything for a few days.  I am patient.  The NHS is busy; I know that.  But somewhere I read that you have to start these vaccinations eight weeks before you go away and (because characteristically I left it to the skin of my teeth) the disquiet begins to be distinctly not quiet at all.

‘Er, hello, my name’s…..I completed a form recently for travel vaccinations and I haven’t heard anything.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘Well, Nepal and Thailand are the ones I’d need vaccinating for.’

‘Oh, if you’re going to more than one location then you need to go to the vaccination clinic.’

‘Right,’ meaning, ‘and you are telling me this now?’

And she reads my mind – which is what GP’s receptionists are trained to do, if only to dash hopes – savagely: ‘It was on the back of the form you filled in.’

And because of this predatory desire to disappoint, I know how important it is to remain civil.  ‘Yes, well I guess I wouldn’t see that because I filled it in online.’  Have it.

I wait for an acknowledgement (her having it, as it were).  Nothing.  So I ask for the number and ring off.

The clinic tell me in the most straight forward way that yes, they can do all the vaccinations but they will charge me.  GP surgeries do this a lot apparently – referring people to a private clinic for vaccinations that they could provide for free.  ‘Go back to them,’ she said, ‘there are some they will give you for free.’

So, I ring back for round two.  I remind the lady who I am.

No, we can only do vaccinations for people going to one location.  It’s how we weed out the work (I agree this is effective, but imply it is ridiculous and inconvenient), the nurse does it for free, you see – voluntary.  It’ a lot of work for her.’  Requisite guilt on my part.

But Nepal and Thailand require the same vaccinations, it almost is like going to one place (hear pleading).  The best she will promise is for the nurse to ring me.  In four days.  FOUR DAYS.  My eight weeks is shrinking.

Hastily Googled, I dial another local surgery.  Yes?  You do vaccinations?  That’s no problem, I’ll come down and register now.

I race over shabbily dressed from working at home all day, full of anxious optimism.  At the desk, I explain I have come to register and book an appointment with the nurse for vaccination.

‘When do you go?’

Blah, blah, blah.

Cue look of delight (sure I was not mistaken about that).  ‘Oh, well it’s too late, you need an appointment eight weeks before you go.  You won’t get one.’

I like to think I have the monopoly on negativity.  I am tempted to try to out negative her, a duel of barbed words and opinions, but no, I am aware of my surroundings, this is the GP receptionist; treat with caution.  ‘Okay, but I need to try.’

‘And, you can’t book an appointment today, you’re not on the system.’

‘What?’  F**k caution, ‘computer say no?!’

‘Yes.’

I slink over to a quiet corner to fill out the forms, pass them back and tell her I’ll call tomorrow.

When I do, fingers crossed and praying I speak to someone else.  She gives me a date six weeks before departure.  Will that be ok?  I want to know.  You usually start at eight weeks, do you know why is it usually eight weeks?

She didn’t.  A nurse would.  She would have to get a nurse to call me to discuss it.  She could give me a time slot – five weeks before departure.  Do the maths.  So, I give up and hang up, picturing my rabid self, driven crazy by clear liquids, becoming paralytic and dying.

But seriously.  The NHS do not vaccinate against rabies, you do have to pay.  It is a three course vaccination, each 7 days apart.  Nor do they provide Japanese Encephalitis or Hepatitis B (among others).  My advice, from lessons learned; read the NHS website and get in touch with the GP as soon as possible.

And finally, even if you do want to pay for the Rabies vaccination (advised) you can’t, there is a WORLD shortage at present…MY CONDOLENCE!