Shipping to France

Unusual for me but this is a bit of rant …. but ultimately a helpful one.

As we were on a short visit to France we flew out this time on that ‘Irish airline’ from Bristol to Bergerac.  To avoid their complex baggage costs we put all the heavy and bulky stuff in box, taped it and strapped it and booked it with DPD to ship to our house in France on their 2 day door to door service.  Potentially this would arrive a day after us and we would have some clean underwear.

DPD are usually excellent …. you book the package, take it to one of many local nominated stores who act as agents and two days later the package is delivered in France.  I can never understand how this is possible for the price.(20kg for GBP30)

This time it didn’t go so well.

The package dimensions and associated weight did not allow drop off to a local store but instead had to be collected by DPD themselves.   I booked the consignment at 9am on Tuesday and immediately got a message to say the package would be picked up that day before 5pm.

Which it wasn’t.

Contacted customer services, apologies, new shipping label issued, pick up tomorrow promised.   Strangely enough after the re-booking I received an acknowledgement giving me a pick up time slot which I did not receive after the first booking.

Now we were leaving early next day (Wednesday) by the aforementioned Irish airline so we would not be home to hand over the parcel.   Customer support pointed out that we did not need to be there for the pickup but we should leave a note on the porch door indicating that the parcel clearly visible inside the porch was the item to be picked up and taken.   Without this the courier would not pick up the item even though it had a DPD label clearly in view.  It was pointed out that the package would not be insured until collected which is clearly the correct approach.

On arrival at Bergerac we received an email to say the package had been picked up, was on its way and would be delivered on Friday.   Great news.

Now our house is on the edge of a village.   We have no house names and no house numbers in the village.   French postcodes are totally useless.   Their postcodes can cover an area the size of Greater London so the courier is between a rock and hard place.  We are somewhat spoiled in the UK where postcodes only cover maybe 10 houses maximum in a very tight local.

Given the knowledge that the courier is not going to easily find our house we give a mobile number which appears on the DPD label and as a belt and braces I taped ‘finding our house’ instructions to the outside of the box including the GPS coordinates.

You can see where this is going …… Friday morning in France we received an email from Chronopost to say the package will be delivered that day between 11am and midday.

I sat patiently waiting until noon when an email arrived saying the driver needed more instructions …. follow the link and give more details.   The link box provided allowed 70 characters.  Ever tried fitting instructions into 70 characters when Rocamadour is one of the words ?

Gave up and just wrote along the lines of ‘the instructions are on the box for all to read and so is the telephone number.   Read and use please’.

Reply comes back – package will be delivered on Saturday between 8 and 12.

Package did not arrive on Saturday …. contacted DPD via their interactive web dialogue.  Lots of apologies,  Chronopost need more instructions etc.   Told DPD to tell Chronopost to forget it, I would go to the depot on Monday and collect it.

Monday morning at 8 am email arrives from Chronopost to say the parcel will be delivered that day between 11 and noon.   I now had the local depot contact details so I rang them and asked if they really meant it.   They said they had instructions on the parcel on how to find us.  Revelation indeed.

And yes the package arrived at 11.30 am on Monday.   The two day service via DPD to France had taken 6 days including the weekend.

The conclusion to all this is that I suggest if you send a parcel from UK to France, perhaps with DPD, then when booking in the shipment, in the Company name field, put in capital letters and brackets ( ITINÉRAIRE À CHEZ NOUS SUR LA BOÎTE).  This will appear on the courier address label and will also appear in their master routing manifest.   If you have a French phone number use this rather than a UK mobile.   They do not seem to like ringing a +44 number judging it to be a potential franglais session or just too difficult or not allowed.   Then on a separate label, in French (use Google Translate as a starter) and in large bold print, detail exactly how to find your house and stick it to the box.   If you think it might help add a picture as appropriate and also add the GPS coords.

This should give them zero room for wriggle and you might get your package in the promised 2 days …. but remember that as ever in France …. ‘demain’ rules.

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France Visit – Managing Expectations and Martel Railway

It has been a bit quiet due to a visit to France.  As ever France continues to be a contradiction to me.

We are having some work done on the house – a terrace and balcony on the rear of the property and a new wall bordering the driveway to define the terrain.   This has been ongoing for nearly a year since first discussed and agreed with the builder.  There is always a reason why the project is delayed be it weather, subcontractors etc.   Like many other similar encounters there is no communication either positive or negative to let you know what is going on.   You arrive expecting to see something as promised and it is not done.   It results in a confrontation, a shrug of shoulders and ‘tomorrow’ (Demain).   I used to think Peter Mayle was joking in his book ‘A Year in Provence’ but now I am not so sure.

I can’t help but contrast this with when I was in business when I always stressed to my team that they must manage the client expectations.   If the job was going to be late tell the client early on so there are no surprises.   If you are going to delivery before expected then also tell them so they think you are wonderful.  This clearly does not fit with the French psych.   That having been said they are nice people and we have some great times out there.

Anyway the light is at the end of the tunnel and the work they have done looks excellent and very well engineered.   It has just taken a very very long time …..

Martel Steam Railway

Speaking of tunnels we had a friend staying and we visited the Martel Steam Railway for a steam train ride.   The Martel line is a few miles long and has a very steep gradient from the village of Martel down to the valley side overlooking the Dordogne.  The society runs both steam and diesel engines and the carriages are really just open trucks with a roof over them.   It was busy and it was hot (mid 30s).   We had the added pleasure of a brass band on the journey playing ‘umpahpah’ music.

View from the trackside over the Dordogne Valley

There is a lot of history regarding the line.  For a steam engine the gradient is very steep and the engineering of the line involved a number of tunnels of varying length.  During WW2 the line had to be pressed into service for all mainline traffic following resistance action on other routes.  If you are in the area it is worth a  visit.

Martel Steam Engine in the Dordogne

http://trainduhautquercy.info/en/steam-train-martel-le-truffadou/

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IT issues in France – Google Backup and Sync + Port 25

As you might have guessed from the above we are in France and the weather is somewhat hot being in the late 30s centigrade.   It is too hot to sit outside so I am inside playing IT.

For the past three visits I have seen an issue with my desktop having long and erratic ping times and download speeds as tested with Okla speedtest.   I have had support visits from the service providers and still no joy.

I brought out my new XPS13 and discovered that if the resident desktop machine is not online everything is normal for all connected devices (25ms ping and 8Mbps download) (That is fast for rural France …).  If I boot the desktop everything goes very pear shaped.

Huge frustration to say the least with all sorts of things on the desktop being checked and services stopped etc to no avail.

I noticed last night that when ever I turned the desktop off, the shut down process was held pending Backup and Sync closing down.   A search today revealed that Google Backup and Sync is a connection killer.   While I wasn’t really aware I had every loaded it in the first place, I certainly know now that I have unloaded it.   Normal service resumed.  Magic.

The other issue that has arisen which I had forgotten about is that in France the use of Port 25 on POP connections is regarded as spam by France Telecom.  The XPS was not sending messages due to being set to  25 and it now is set to 587 outgoing (110 incoming).

So a useful hour (or two) spent inside from the heat has got me two ticks on the problems to be solved list.

Time for a Pimms and lemonade to celebrate.

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French Tablecloths and Fusion 360

OK this is a silly one I know but follows on from my theme of just how valuable a 3D printer is to own and how it makes you think outside of the conventional box when solving simple problems.

French markets always have a stall selling brightly coloured table clothes in various materials.   These rarely have a prepared hole in them for your sun umbrella to slot through as you sit quaffing and nibbling in the sunshine.   If they already have a hole it usually doubles the price.   If you make a hole yourself then it will fray and degrade.

Up steps “Fusion Man” and in five minutes you have a design for a locating boss and ring to sandwich protect the hole in the material and keep the cloth fixed on the table.   Design done and its off to the Sindoh 3DWOX to print it.

Lay the table cloth on the table where it will be used and ensure it sits square all round.   Crawl under the table and with a Sharpie pen or similar, draw the shape of the hole on the back of the table cloth.

Remove the cloth from the table and flip it over.  Place the printed ring over the marked circle and remark the circle position to the ring ID.  Cut out the marked ring circle but make the cut about 3 or 4 mm smaller all round.  (Nail scissors are ideal for cutting curves).  Test fit the boss. Because the hole in the cloth is slightly smaller than the boss diameter, the material will naturally turn up the vertical face of the boss.  Check it is not causing wrinkles in the cloth when on the table.

Put hot glue around the boss at the horizontal/vertical interface and then push the boss through the cloth to let the glue hold it in place.

Apply glue to the locating ring and push this in place over the boss to sandwich the material between the ring and the boss.  Here is a greatly exaggerated cross section.

Job done.   Siesta time.

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