My son-in-law has been trying to get the DVLA to return ID documents he needs for a visa appointment so that he can go on his honeymoon. We’ve been told that it can’t make a search for outstanding applications in order to return supporting documents, and it can’t say how long it will take to process applications. It is still receiving and advertising applications, but an online search shows that thousands of people are unable to travel, work, drive or sell vehicles – all due to its inability to process the backlog or implement an interim process.
Among those thousands is the mother of ACM of Coventry, who has been awaiting the return of her Irish passport since she applied to renew her licence in May. “Mum needs either her licence or her passport as she is moving house and has to provide ID,” she says. “I have tried to ring the DVLA at least 50 [times] a day, but it is constantly engaged. I’ve tried using the chatbot service, and been told to stay in a queue. Then, after waiting for hours on end, I have been disconnected. I’ve also tried to email, but have been told this service is currently unavailable.”
SF of York was also required to submit a passport to renew her licence as an Irish national and has been waiting more than two months for its return. “Since it expires soon I’ll be left with no photo ID,” she says.
LM of London is trapped at home unable to contact the DVLA, four months after surgeons officially declared her fit to resume driving. “They have taken away my independence,” she says. “I’ve also spent a day on redial to the helpline after applying for a provisional licence. The website announced that my session had ended with the loss of all data due to 20-minute inactivity, the same second that I clicked the payment confirmation button. The £34 fee was duly debited, but the application has vanished, unacknowledged, into the ether.”
The DVLA tells me that while normal timescales apply to online applications, paper applications, which must be processed in person, are taking “significantly” longer than usual because social distancing rules has limited the number of staff in the workplace. It says more than 250,000 paper applications have been arriving every week since lockdown and it’s recruiting 400 extra staff to cope with the undisclosed backlog. Full photo licences due to expire before 31 August will be given an automatic 11-month extension, and the estimated 790,000 drivers over 70 who have applied for a renewal since March may be able to drive while the agency is considering their application, unless a doctor or optician has declared them medically unfit to do so.
The DVLA told the Observer that all of the above cases have been resolved. It has no plans to allow customers to contact customer services by email while the phone lines are overloaded and merely stated that customers should search the website for answers.
• This article was amended on 4 September 2020 to was amended to reflect the announcement by the DVLA on 1 September that the extension has been increased from seven months to 11
Cocktail of the week: Robin Wylde’s Mary Shelley – recipe | Cocktails
This blend of hedgerow fruit and local Dorset vodka is one of our signature drinks. If you can’t get hold of fresh berries, defrost the same amount of frozen instead.
300g blackberries – hold back 6 berries, to garnish
1 pinch salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp apple balsamic vinegar – the best you can get hold of: we use Liberty Fields’ six-year-old aged one
1 tsp lemon juice
50ml vodka – we use Black Cow, which is brewed locally to us in Dorset
Sparkling wine, well chilled, to top – again, we use a local one, namely Furleigh Estate Classic Cuvee
Put the blackberries, water, sugar and salt in a pan and bring up to a simmer, stirring constantly. Cook over a low-medium heat until reduced by half, then turn off the heat and stir in the thyme. Leave to infuse for 20 minutes, strain into a jug through a fine sieve or muslin, then stir in the vinegar and lemon juice, and taste – adjust the sweetness and/or acidity to suit your personal tastes.
Divide the six reserved blackberries between two coupes (at the restaurant, we rub the rim of the glasses with more thyme first, to enhance the aromatics), add 25ml vodka and 50ml syrup to each glass, and muddle (ie, bash) the fruit. Top with sparkling wine and serve.
• Harriet Mansell, Robin Wylde, Lyme Regis, Dorset
Scotland’s ski resorts in limbo with potential bumper season looming | Scotland holidays
The future of Scottish ski resorts hangs in the balance as they confront two starkly different scenarios for the winter to come. On the one hand, they might see record visitor numbers as British skiers head north as an alternative to the Alps; on the other, continued local restrictions could leave them facing prolonged closure and financial struggles.
This week the French, Italian and German authorities announced they would not open their ski resorts until January at the earliest, and called for other European Alpine nations to make the same commitment. Scotland’s five resorts could be beneficiaries of this but travel restrictions currently forbid residents of England, Wales and Northern Ireland from travelling north of the border. And those in Scottish areas categorised as “protection level” – which includes Edinburgh and Glasgow – are not allowed to leave their local area for tourism, so would not be able to visit the Highland resorts. Scottish operators hope the restrictions will be lifted soon, but Nevis Range has already announced it will remain closed until at least February.
“There is certainly a big demand for skiing and snowboarding at the moment,” said Andy Meldrum, majority owner of Glencoe, Scotland’s oldest and steepest resort, “and it is likely to be even bigger than normal this year due to the staycation effect.”
The Cairngorms National Park Authority board convener Xander McDade said: “Skiers coming to the park to enjoy winter sports and spend money locally will be welcomed with open arms,” adding that it would bring a much-needed boost to the local economy. Although the summer season was busier than usual this year, lockdowns meant it was much shorter, and insufficient to counterbalance the negative financial impact of the pandemic.
All Scottish ski resorts are introducing new health and safety measures in case they are swamped by skiers missing their usual foreign trip. There will be limits on the number of people allowed on the slopes each day, and social distancing on lifts, in queues and on the mountain.
Cairngorm Mountain’s interim chief executive Susan Smith said the resort was doing everything possible to remain Covid-secure and would be more cautious than in previous years with the numbers of skiers and snowboarders allowed on-site each day. “This is difficult to predict and depends on snow conditions, number of lifts operating, the day’s weather and so on,” she added.
Glencoe will limit the number of skiers on the mountain to 500 per day. Meldrum said the fact that lifts are open-air and only take two people per chair means he is “extremely confident we can provide a very safe environment for much-needed outdoor exercise”.
At Glenshee, in the eventuality poor snowfall means only lower runs that use manufactured snow-cannon snow can open, ticket sales will be limited to 150 a day.
Cairngorm plans to introduce an online ticket system for advance bookings and ski hire, and will move some of its ski-hire off-site, where people could collect skis the evening before. People will be advised to only share two- and three-man chairlifts and T-bar lifts with people in their bubble.
Nevertheless, for now, only those living in Scotland’s local authority areas in protection levels 1-2 will be able to enjoy the slopes, said Steve Duncan, senior regional planning manager for VisitScotland. “Although we understand the reasons for the new restrictions, this is difficult for the industry at the point they were looking to gain income during the winter holidays and ski season,” he said.
There are around a quarter of a million skier days each winter in Scotland, injecting almost £31m into the local economy, according to the Scottish Parliament Information Centre’s last report in 2018.
VisitScotland estimate that for every £1 spent on Scottish slopes, a further £4 was spent in the areas around Cairngorm, Glencoe, Glenshee, Nevis Range and the Lecht.
The resorts desperately need a good season this winter, as closing early last March was disastrous for their finances.
“Lockdown in March was pretty horrific,” said Meldrum, boss of Glencoe, which usually stays open into May. “We shut on the 23 March and then experienced six weeks of bluebird conditions and perfect all-over snow cover right through until early May. This has had a significant impact on the businesses ability to invest.”
Early closing cost the resort £750,000, money which was supposed to help rebuild the mountain cafe which burnt down on Christmas Day last year.
Other resorts say plans and investments would have to be put on hold if the season is a flop. Kate Hunter, ski patrol director at Glenshee, said: “If we were unable to open this season we would survive with financial help, but any planned projects would be put on hold until better times”.
Cairngorm Mountain Resort, which is owned by public body the Highlands and Islands Enterprise, will go ahead with repairs to its funicular, which has been closed since September 2018, after securing £16m of government funding last month. The government found it would cost more to remove the railway. Work has begun but will be paused over the winter and completed next year in time for the 2021/22 season.
Scotland’s outlook will depend somewhat on what happens at continental resorts. Austria and Switzerland have intimated they will not agree to demands by the leaders of France, Italy and Germany to keep ski resorts closed until at least January in a bid to stop skiers flocking to those that remain open, potentially spreading and importing the virus. Some resorts, such as Verbier in Switzerland, are already operating.
But the fact remains that none of the main Alpine ski destinations are on the travel corridors list, and even the new “test and release” system, cutting quarantine from 14 to five days for those willing to pay for a private test, is unlikely to be enough to salvage the overseas ski holiday market until a vaccine is rolled out — something the ski industry only dares to hope will happen in time for Easter.
One argument for keeping ski resorts closed in the Alps is to relieve pressure on health systems that receive an annual spike from injured skiers, but this isn’t deemed a significant problem in Scotland’s resorts. Meldrum argues the positive health benefits of being active in the mountains outweigh risks: “A bigger challenge in Scotland than Covid at the moment is mental health, and for many people it will be absolutely vital they can get safely out into the mountains this winter.”
With the best snow usually falling from late January-April there is plenty of time to go, and anyone planning a trip should see VisitScotland for updates on restrictions and snow conditions, and monitor resort websites for further updates.
Those living in England might find an alternative at one of several small ski clubs which set up temporary draglifts in the North Pennines when there’s snow, and which are also predicting a busy season ahead.
“The four northern snow skiing clubs [Yad Moss, Allenheads, Weardale and the Lake District] usually have a reciprocal agreement for their season ticket holders to ski for a reduced rate at each others’ facilities. This year, however, that has been suspended in the possibility that weekends might get too busy,” said Peter Stockton, chair of Yad Moss in Cumbria, which opened on eight days last winter. “There might be more interest in English skiing this year but we are still dependent on the snow actually falling in sufficient quantity to at least partly cover the grass!” he said.
I’ve become a serial takeaway eater. No shame. No guilt. Just eat on repeat | Life and style
One of the few positives of lockdown is being able to order takeaways and feeling like a hero for doing so. I always answer the door to the delivery driver expecting some sort of congratulations, or maybe even a medal in the shape of a pizza. What actually happens is I am once again surprised by a brand new interpretation of “no-contact delivery”. So far, it has ranged from leaving the food on a cardboard altar in the middle of the driveway and throwing stones at the window to let us know it’s arrived, to a knock at the door and a kiss with tongues to thank me for my custom. The rules seem arbitrary.
Then there’s the question of what exactly can be considered safe levels of human consumption. I have the same calorie intake during lockdown as a heavy-set man who is cycling across Europe. Also, I’ve been using the extra time in the day to research new snack foods. Only last week I discovered popcorn seasoning (chilli and lemon is a particular favourite). For seven days solid you couldn’t enter our house without hearing kernels popping in the microwave, followed by the sound of my rage at the number of stubbornly unpopped kernels. Then I would eat it all and put another bag in the microwave. While that was popping, I would look at takeaway menus. The other day my wife actually asked me how I was able to eat this much. She wasn’t having a dig – she genuinely couldn’t understand how I was physically able to eat as much as I do.
My wife is far more health-conscious than I am, and so will rein in my requests to order in. But I have found a way to sidestep this, by using places that have “healthy options”. Don’t get me wrong: it can be frustrating to watch my wife fritter away a takeaway opportunity on something from the “lighter bites” page (mmm, that reminds me: fritters). It’s unlikely that science will ever find a way, but I would love it if people could consume calories as a couple. My wife would leave spare calories for me to mop up every day, although I can’t even imagine her response if she ended up putting on weight as a result.
There was a low point recently, when a new takeaway opened in Crawley that I got excited about. I’m nervous to name it, partly because I don’t like advertising, but also because I have slagged off the seating arrangements at this restaurant on stage, at length. Takeaway is a whole different prospect, however, at the place that has a name ending in a sound like “mother”, and beginning with what a dog’s tail does.
My wife was not interested in getting anything because she felt “takeawayed out”, and, reader, I confess: I ordered and ate the food alone, while she and the kids had something homemade. I mean, what the hell is wrong with me? This poor woman thought she had been asked, “Do you fancy getting takeaway tonight?”, when what she was actually asked was, “I’m getting takeaway tonight, do you fancy joining me, not because I want you to, but just to ease my feelings of guilt?”
As we sat and ate our separate meals, I should have felt shame. Instead, I ate my meal thinking to myself: “This was hard, but now it will be easier to do it next time.” I have the mind of a serial killer.
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