The word “reception” has a variety of meanings – we talk about a drinks reception; there are reception classes in primary schools; it is a word, above all, suggesting a welcome and, hopefully, the open arms of friendship. I am travelling to Edinburgh for a couple of meetings, one in the Scottish Parliament (see earlier post – Cross Party Groups) and another meeting at the Stroke Association office in Leith.
I drive down from Deeside the evening before and spend the night at a budget hotel in Leith. This hotel has recently been renovated. Amongst the improvements are:
- a skip full of rubbish occupying one of the disabled parking places
- a “lectern” behind which the receptionist stands rather than the desk behind which he used to sit
- an automated check-in which involves typing your name and other details into one of two large touch screens in front of the lectern, making verbal or eye-to-eye contact with the receptionist unnecessary (one of the screens is out of commission)
The staff at reception are unfailingly friendly, despite the building they have to work in. I ask the receptionist if he prefers standing behind a lectern rather than sitting down at a desk. “We have asked for chairs”, he replies. Then I suggest to him that the touch screen might eventually lead to the absence of any human being at all at reception, perhaps even the disappearance of the job of receptionist. “I don’t think so,” he says, adding perceptively and optimistically, “we’ll always need humans.” I think of all the stroke survivors with aphasia to whom this automated reception procedure would present a real challenge. This is a hotel chain whose computer system usually generates a customer feedback questionnaire after each visit. Mentally, I’m already filling mine in, but I wonder how much research or staff feedback has been involved in introducing these “improvements”.
Next morning, I drive through the rush hour traffic to the Scottish Parliament. That sentence does not, of course, do full justice to all the driving activities involved: queuing patiently, stopping and starting at traffic lights, negotiating endless road works, avoiding buses, lorries and construction traffic and so on. Living on Deeside, we rural dwellers are protected from much of this. It is a bright, very cold, sunny morning. I am wearing dark glasses to minimise the sun’s rays, and I have a thick scarf round the lower part of my face. I always carry with me a small leather rucksack containing items for meetings. It is only as I approach the security check-in at the Parliament that the thought crosses my mind that a man with a beard, dark glasses, a scarf round his face and a rucksack on his back may not be what these security guys want to see approaching them at 9 o’clock in the morning. I am stripped of all metal objects, mobile phone etc and given a good frisking, before being allowed to proceed. But the staff are friendly.
Meeting over, I drive back to Leith to the Stroke Association office. Parking is always a problem here, but I squeeze into a small spot between two vans. The office is one of several in a large building not too far away. There are two flights of steps and a revolving door to negotiate before reaching the door of the Stroke Association office. There is disabled access to the rear, but I’ve never bothered with this, though I would have to use that entrance if I was a wheelchair user. Luckily for me, the steps and the door constitute good physiotherapy rather than a barrier. As always, the staff who work here are welcoming and friendly. There is no touch screen and no security check – just a good deal of banter and a sandwich lunch.
After the meeting I drive to Deeside with the sun at my back and revel in the empty roads. I wonder what sort of reception I’ll get at home? A good frisking from a dog in search of a biscuit is guaranteed.