Outsider In an easy(ish) ride with Italian car hire

I step up to the Budget car hire desk in Turin airport in trepidation, tensed in expectation of the Inevitable Issue.  Just next to me, a group of young British men have already encountered theirs: despite having paid for their luxury class automatic drive Audi, the named driver needs not one, but two, credit cards to cover their worst-case-scenario-deposit.  They can sum up two credit cards between them but nothing can be done; it was written in the small print.

With slight stomach butterflies and sweaty palms I hand car hire voucher, driver’s licence, passport and (one) credit card over the counter.  The first question I’m asked is whether or not we have much luggage.  Well, we do a bit, I think, slightly perplexed: skis, snowboard, three cabin bags and a sizeable suitcase. That’s why I’d opted one up from the “mini” class of cars when booking.  After much deliberation, I’d reckoned that we could jam all our gear into a Ford Fiesta ‘or equivalent’ and so splashed out on an “economy” range of car, a whole £20 more than the dinky Fiat Panda (or equivalent…) that I’d otherwise been considering.

“Because a Panda is very small, eh?” the Budget car hire lady continues.

Erm… what?  Oh, ok, so it appears we have found my car hire issue…

Despite the hours (and hours, very literally) researching, comparing, reading reviews, recommendations, dos and don’ts, and tying myself in knots – what insurance do I take?, should I go for snow tyres (double the cost!)? or just make do with snow chains (gah – will it snow or no?!)?, and which brother-fudging car will fit all our gear?! – it seems that I have still missed a trick on my first go at being responsible for hiring a car abroad!

Grrr…

Oh well, I have nevertheless learned some general points always to be considered and, for my own future reference more than anything, I’ve included them here:

  • Go for the most basic insurance that the car hire company offers you (always included in the price) because you’ll pay an arm and a leg for full coverage with them.  BUT
  • Choose car hire where you pick up and return the car with a full tank.  Everywhere says to do this, so I see no reason not to comply!
  • For sure go through a comparison site to find your car hire deal cheaper but do be aware!  Autoeurope.co.uk offered far more categories of car than existed for the individual hire companies, e.g. seven, as opposed to Budget’s three.  In my case, I’d opted for a slightly bigger car at a more expensive hire cost to only find myself with the too small car that I was trying to avoid but could have paid less for at the outset, and all my crucial, mental car packing completely come undone!  (I’m still waiting to see what Autoeurope have to say about that!).  Double check on the company’s site to not get caught out!
  • Paper counterparts to your driver’s licence are becoming obsolete, so you may need to get a code from DVLA to give to the car hire company which shares the extra information not included on your driving license card.  Super easy and quick to do here.
  • Finally, expect the unexpected.  If you’ve covered all the above, then you shouldn’t have too many nasty surprises other than a different car from the one you booked… the more unexpected bit, however, was that, although car hire companies have a reputation for giving you an unpleasant sting somewhere along the line, that doesn’t mean the employees behind the desk have to: our Budget car hire lady saved the day by throwing in a ski rack for free (!), taking pity on our too much luggage for a Fiat Panda situation.

Remaining calm, polite and even friendly probably helps matters, I think, as I walk away from the desk, leaving my compatriots with their credit card mishap still wrangling with a now slightly angry Italian car hire man.

I am relieved.  I was expecting worse and, although we still have to play Tetris with our luggage, it should now all fit.  My relief is but momentary, though.  Slight stomach butterflies and sweaty palms rise again as my thoughts turn to the next, probably even more stressful step ahead: car picked up, I now have to actually drive in Italy.

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Outsider Investigating co-working: Exchange at Somerset House

My current means of making ends meet sees me sat in front of a laptop, wherever there be a decent internet connection, mobile phone by my side.  For various reasons, I’m looking for a change.  These posts outline my attempts at trying to make that all happen and here I’m finding out about co-working in Somerset House…

I was pretty excited about Somerset House.  A beautiful and historic building on the northern bank of the Thames, off Waterloo Bridge, it is easily admired on three sides.  Most Londoners would likely know Somerset House by sight, and probably name, but its purpose, what exactly goes on there, is – or was for me – vaguely shrouded in mystery, broadly covered by the brushstroke description of an ‘arts and cultural centre’.

I knew Somerset House mostly by the Courtauld Gallery, occupying one corner of the building, and claimed by my dad to have “one of the best collections of impressionist paintings in the world”*.  A few pleasant afternoons have thus been wiled away there and in the accompanying tea room.  I’ve also wandered a couple of the free exhibitions on the river side and glanced at the odd installation in the courtyard.

Today, I’m going to see about the possibility of Somerset House becoming one of my regular work haunts.  Full of arts stuff, history, and in attractive settings, I reckon it could be a tad more inspiring than your average desk-in-a-cubicle, sofa-in-a-cafe or, even, super charged contemporary-tastic specifically designed co-working espaces.

To virtually prove my hunch, on my way to meet with Aniela, the Tenant Liaison Manager in charge of the Exchange co-working space in Somerset House, I get a chance to listen to some free acoustic music in the courtyard as part of their live music programme.  Brilliant – off to a good start!

I was expecting to be mostly explaining, even justifying, what it is little me would be getting up to here.  Not having an arts and culture-related job (yet) makes me superficially seem like an odd fit.  Instead of asking my own set of questions, however, I am surprised to be started off with a little history lesson on the place, followed by the announcement that I was to have a tour (Shit!  Might be late for my next co-working space meeting – Somerset House is bloody huge!).

I think I was already sold on the place before my visit, so I am eager beaver-like, in case this does turn out to be some kind of informal interview, as we walk, talk and marvel at the ‘estate’.  With her comprehensive but succinct chat on all things Somerset House, I realise that Aniela is very proud to be a part, and that is entirely infectious; I want part too!

By the end of our tour of the best part of an hour, my head is stuffed full of facts and figures, past history and future plans and I’ve negotiated a labyrinth of lifts, halls and offices, cafes, corridors and courtyards, staircases and studios, meeting rooms, receptions and restaurants, galleries and foyers.  Without my guide, I shall surely never find my way again!  And all that knowledge imparted will positively, slowly dissolve from my mind…

So, purely from my flimsy memory, here are some things that I learnt about Somerset House:

  • A lot of Somerset House used to be occupied by the Inland Revenue until they were persuaded, after the financial crash, that the space could be better used in tough economic times, and that they should move out.  Hooray for the creatives and small businesses, who could now take over some of the vacated offices, and renovations could take place to create more flexible and interesting spaces that could be dedicated to arts.
  • Somerset House is a charity.  Maybe not a massive surprise but now you know if you didn’t before.
  • Over the course of 2016, Somerset house is going to be used as an exhibition and arts space that any of its community members can have a part in.  Members even include those that hot desk in the co-working spaces (so could be me!) and ideas put forward for installations have every possibility of being realised!

So… I’m excited, convinced, and sure I want to become a member of this community!

For now, though, I’m late – late to get to my next appointment to see another, rather different, co-working space just a short hop, skip and jump away in Bedford Square…

*My dad says all things with authority and conviction, and spent the chief part of his career as a graphic designer after having studied at the London School of Printing back in the seventies. I therefore swallow, hook, line and sinker, everything he has to say on art (to despise everything pre-impressionist) not having enough of my own knowledge to rebut his views!

Outsider Investigating co-working: What is this co-working nonsense?!

My current means of making ends meet sees me sat in front of a laptop, wherever there be a decent internet connection, mobile phone by my side.  This could be in bed, at a kitchen or cafe table, or in a beach hut in Bali (as yet untested).  Those are the perks.  The negatives are my lack of passion for the job, lack of variety and challenge, loneliness, and too much screen and sitting on bum time.  So I’m looking for a change: a child of the “everything is possible generation” I still refuse to admit defeat on finding work that ticks as many of the boxes as possible.  These posts outline my attempts at trying to make that all happen…

When I first heard of the term co-working, it came from the mouth of my short-term flatmate, occupying the rotating-flatmate other room of our two bed poisonous wonderful shit-hole of dwelling in London Fields. It was poisonous to both body and soul; damp, mouldy and rotting, it crumbled all around us, as our lives and minds went with it… but that’s another story.

Stuck as we were, the three of us (my boyfriend and I were occupying the larger zone of the botched together living arrangement), mostly working from home, my flatmate often described our set-up as “like being in a co-working space”.  Although easily deducible from the composite elements of the term, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around this alien concept, co-working-space.

I suppose, thinking back now, my lack of willingness to understand, or even have my curiosity slightly piqued, came from the association of co-working with other nomenclatures such as ‘start up’, ‘tech’ and ‘coding’, which also tumbled from her mouth.  “I don’t understand these things”, I would say, technology wise born into the wrong era.  And, to myself, “I don’t think I want to understand these things”.

So that was it; it was clear that these nonsensical concepts had no place in my life, and I essentially closed my ears and mind to them.

What a complete IGNORAMUS I was!, as I find myself, almost exactly one year on getting jolly well excited about a whole new chapter in my life that completely intends to make co-working a central part of it, making it the saviour and salvation, the key to ending all my working woes (you can see how the bottom might fall out before it’s even begun)!

So, I have started the trawl of the co-working spaces.  Naively, I thought that it would be easy to find and identify three or four different spaces that I might like to work in.  It turns out, however, that there be near to 200 (and mushrooming) co-working spaces in London, with no area left neglected, from Putney to Farringdon, Brixton to Islington.

Unsurprisingly, the east has the highest concentration of spaces set up for freelancers, entrepreneurs, creatives, start-ups, innovators and any combination of those.  That would explain to me then, from my brief spell of living east, what the inhabitants were all up to.  As I would sit in one of the many cafes that put up with poor leachers like me, spending hours warming our seats and eking one cold tea out longer than ever previously thought possible, I really did wonder what the hell all my fellow hanger-outers or passers-by were actually doing, 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon, say…  Well, they were all obviously freelancers, entrepreneurs, creatives, start-up geneii, innovators and blah blah blah, on the way to or taking a break from their super flexible hip and cool work spaces.  And that is now going to be me!  No more lonely days and hours spent confined within the same four walls!

After hours on tinternet and having my eyes assaulted by websites filled with images of various exciting, modern, urban, vintage, reclaimed timber and steel, and hanging plant decorated spaces, I’m starting to feel a little sick.  And wary.  A short conversation with ex-flatmate later and I’m pointed onto the right track of places worth giving a visit and those worth steering clear of.  My suspicions were confirmed that, for many a money grabbing business type, traditionally rentable office spaces are now being rebranded as co-working zones thanks to a splash of colour (and/or modern, urban, vintage, reclaimed timber… etc etc).  Essentially desk space for travelling city-types but sold in a different exciting-feeling on trend package.  Nah, not for me.

Having finally narrowed it down to a few spaces, my research officially starts tomorrow as I’ve booked in to have a look around a few… reviews to come.