Sunday, 24 June 2012

Who's idea was muzak with the Cornflakes?

There is nothing quite like hotel living. Or at least, not when you’re staying in a hotel for work.

At home, for instance, you don’t have to face muzak with your bacon and egg. Shown to the furthest corner of the dining area first thing on Thursday morning, The Other Half was growling instantly: “Who thought I needed cheerful music with my breakfast?”

Perhaps it was a deliberate technique for getting guests in and out as quickly as possible, because after bolting his fodder with more than usual alacrity, he bolted outside for a fag, muttering grimly that, if he didn’t escape quickly, he was going “to murder someone”.

But we were in sometimes-sunny Bournemouth for a full week, so there was no escape. And although I am well over the original strangeness of it, there is something rather odd about meeting colleagues, bosses (clients) and members at breakfast for an entire week.

Odd – and not perhaps conducive to relaxation.

My own responsibilities involved penning reports on this year's UNISON conference.

That is, in effect, the union's parliament, and the debates are as impassioned and varied as one might expect.

Of course, as a member of the team staffing the conference - albeit a freelance member - obviously I cannot contribute to the debates. But like anyone else in that position, I suspect, there are times when I desperately want to say something.

So I have to make do with little notes to myself in the margins of my spiral-bound reporters' notebook.

At other times, I simply long for one of those rolly-eyed emoticons, when hearing something that i Personally find risable.

But there are always, of course, highlights. TUC president Paul Kenny turned up and delivered an entertaining speech while making me wonder if he was Ray Winstone's long lost twin. I kept expecting him to turn to Dave Pentis at any moment and say: "You're the daddy".

Neville Lawrence addressed conference on Friday and reduced much of the hall to tears with a quiet and dignified retelling of how he heard about his son's murder and the struggle for justice that has followed.

And he went on to say that privatisation of the police would be a dreadful step, with profit coming before solving crime.

When you look at the case of his own son or that of murdered private detective Daniel Morgan - let alone many miscarriages of justice - that's a salutary reminder of just how negative a step such a sell-off would be.

Carmen Mayusa, a nurse and trade union lead from Colombia, where they murder and 'disappear' trade unionists as regularly as most of us take a shower, made everyone realise that things could be a lot worse, while four of the wives of the Miami Five highlighted the injustice of the continuing imprisonment of their husbands by the US.

Our own little team was based in a bunker - sorry, room - surrounded by tons of cable and the usual piles of conference documentation, trying to keep the tech running while filing a mass of reporting from the conference hall.

Away from the serious stuff, there were chances to enjoy the banter - I know who the Manchester United fans are and had great fun joining delegates to watch the England v Ukraine Euro 2012 match.

I admit to having been one of three England fans (the others, a father and son, are pictured here) running through a remarkably wide repertoire of about four songs, while several Scottish (Ukrainian for the night) members drowned their sorrows as the co-hosts failed to score.

A very rapid lunchtime trip to the Bournemouth Oceanarium, after reading that it had introduced a pair of otters last year, proved thoroughly enjoyable.

Stan and Roxy are Oriental small-clawed otters aged two, who have been at the Oceanarium since last November.

Otters are very sociable – but only within their own family groups. It's hoped that Stan and Roxy will breed – and so their group will get larger.

One of the staff was feeding them when I was there – and explained how they help to keep them active and alert. We've thankfully come a long way since animals were simply stuck in an enclosure without any thought to their mental state.

With just the iPhone for this trip, I managed a rather splendid shot of a spiny tailed lizard.

It's well worth a visit anyway, as I skimmed around some of the other exhibits: lobsters - impossible not to think, 'dinner!' There were sharks too and a little turtle (or similar) that spotted me at the window and turned to swim right up to me

The otters gave me a much-needed dose of cuteness, that sent me back into the conference hall with a glow about me.

But for sheer, much-needed serenity, there were moments of total calm in the early mornings, sitting outside watching the sea, with the sounds of the wind, the waves and the birds soothing. There was food - and there were some personal moments of note - but that'll have to wait for another day.

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