Tuesday, 27 January 2009

At least take an interest in the display.

As I was wandering around the exhibition on Scotland’s Crown Jewels in the castle I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by a comment that another visitor made to their partner.

“So what’s the big stone got to do with all this”, pointing to the large stone next to the Crown, Sceptre and Sword.

I could have forgiven them if there had not been five rooms of information boards and displays prior to getting to the Crown Jewels which explained all of this.

I could almost have forgiven them if they had spoken in an accent which didn’t make them clearly English.

But no, despite all the boards, despite all the information and despite all the controversy that it has caused they didn’t appear to have the faintest idea what “the big stone” had to do with the Crown Jewels.

For those who haven’t visited the exhibition, or who don’t have a bit of knowledge of the “Rocky” relationship between England and Scotland here goes.

The stone, the Stone of Scone AKA Stone of Destiny AKA The Coronation Stone, was used to crown Scottish kings from around the 9th century up until 1296 when King Edward I of England, having beaten the Scots into submission, took the stone back to Westminster on the assumption that no King of Scotland could be crowned without it, and it was a pretty big sore point on Scottish/English relations right up until it was returned, in quite a shower of publicity, to Edinburgh in 1996 (Ignoring a short period in the early 1950’s when it was stolen by a group of Scottish students and taken back up north).

Perhaps it's just me then who actually takes in any of the information on the display boards or pays any attention to important things that have happened in my lifetime.

To misquote words put into a famous Scots mouth by Hollywood.

"You can take our lives, but you'll never take our ignorance"

Weather to agree...

Last night I caught the weather forecast at the end of the local news programme for the “BBC in NE and Cumbria”. The forecast appeared to be relatively OK, except for the massive rain belt that was hanging over southern Scotland, making Edinburgh look like it was in for a very wet day. Not what I really wanted to see, but as the regional news programme stopped at the border, nothing north of the border is discussed, especially not on the weather, I just resigned myself to getting wet.

Straight after the regional news and weather the BBC have a national weather forecast. At which point I started to get very confused.

The national weather forecast for the NE region was the same as the one on the regional news, but the massive downpours which had been deposited across southern Scotland on the local forecast had disappeared on the national. Instead it was going to be grey and overcast, with the odd spot of rain, but not the torrential downpours forecast just moments earlier.

I can only assume that in the NE region they get quite protective of their good weather and try and make it look like nobody else is having any.

That or the weather presenter had let the Work Experience trainee plot the graphics for them.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Bathroom Design, 14th century style

There is a very funny sketch in the 1980’s series “Not the Nine O’clock News” where a character played by Rowan Atkinson is designing his new bathroom with the help of a character played by Mel Smith.

Smith’s character is trying to help Atkinson’s lay out his bathroom with all the mod-cons, but Atkinson appears to develop a toilet obsession. What starts as a single toilet rapidly ends up with seven toilets arranged around the edge of the bathroom, with another toilet in the shower cubical (the bath being got rid off to create space for some more toilets).

The sketch is hilarious, and I though the workings of an insane, or at least twisted, mind.

But today, I discovered that it was not, the person who wrote the script must have, like me, visited Direlton castle in southern Scotland and seen the obsession that the families that built the castle had for guardrobes. I lost count at the half dozen mark, and everywhere you turned there appeared to be another one in the corner.

I know castles needed a few for all the guests and staff, but the frequency of toilets here outstripped anything I have seen before!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Public Transport as a Public Service

Being a Londoner I am pretty used to crowded public transport, even on a Sunday.

I know that once you get out of London the frequency and coverage of public transport is hit and miss, given that a lot of it has to be done for a profit, and if the local council doesn’t support it, it doesn’t run.

However, I was pleasantly surprised as to how easy it was to get from Berwick to Warkworth on a Sunday, quick connections and a service every two hours.

I was even more surprised by how empty the buses were. On the first leg of the journey to Alnwick I was the only person on the bus for virtually the whole way, and from Alnwick onto Warkworth there were only a handful of other people.

Virtually the same back, less than half a dozen people on the bus from Warkworth and only me and one other person for most of the way from Alnwick to Berwick.

Whilst the tickets may have been quite expensive (only just the right side of £10 in total), it still couldn’t possibly have paid for the trip, and if I hadn’t been out today one of the legs would have had nobody on it.

So a thank-you.

To the people of Northumberland, thanks for subsidising my journey today. Your council taxes enabled me to go and visit a castle that I couldn’t have otherwise reached.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Berwick’s Scottish Roots show

There is a thing that the English are not good at, and that’s celebrating feast and special days. Yes there is Christmas, but ask most English people what day St Georges Day is, or when Shakespeare’s Birthday is and you will probably be greeted with a blank expression.

It’s not something that our neighbours to the North have any problems with. Hogmanay, St Andrews Day, Burns Night, all are important days in the Scottish calendar.

Sadly, for me, Burns Night turns out to be January 25th and this being a Sunday, it would appear that a lot of people have decided to make a weekend of it. So when I went over to Holy Island I wasn’t expecting virtually everything to be closed, including the Information Centre (open 7 days a week all year round, closed for Christmas and Burns!) and the local shop.

Whilst the Island and Berwick may be within England, they have changed hands on numerous occasions and it was becoming increasingly evident that when it comes to having a knees up, the area knows which side of the border it wants to be.

This was confirmed in the evening as the hotel was busy with people staying for the night as they were going to Buns night celebrations in Berwick.

Perhaps in future, when I go away, I should really make a note to check what festivals are on.

Friday, 23 January 2009

When Google maps go bad

Prior to heading up to Berwick I had checked online to see where the hotel was, using Google maps.

The hotel, I knew, was on the outskirts of town, next to the large supermarket. And according to the map I looked at it was there, just the other side of the road from the Supermarket.

Now, technically, I should have double checked on the Travelodge website, or perhaps looked up the postcode before taking this for certain, but I was in a hurry, and it looked easy to find.

Come 7pm I walk past the supermarket and start looking for the hotel. Only there are a couple of problems. The first one being that the road it’s the other side of is the A1, the main North South road linking Edinburgh to London, and whilst nowhere near as busy as the four lane monstrosity that carves through North London, it was still two lanes wide, and quite fast.

Eventually, I managed to cross over, nearly killing myself in the process, walked to where the hotel should have been and found that instead it was a pub.

By now I was getting quite concerned. It was very dark, no lights except for the headlamps of oncoming vehicles, and a few stars. I started to retrace my steps heading back towards the supermarket, deciding that I would go to the supermarket and check there if they knew where the hotel was.

Then, as I was approaching the entrance to the supermarket I saw it, the hotel, clearly signed, sitting at the back of the supermarket car park, and when I later checked online, the location given by the third and fourth placed results.

Something makes me think that someone has a sick sense of humour and enjoys sending people to their deaths on the A1, that or its a cautionary warning not to take everything you see online as the truth!

The (other) hidden costs of Ryanair

Flying Ryanair you always expect there to be hidden extras.

A fiver here to checkin at the airport rather than on-line, £10 for a bag, £20 for a decent meal (£25 if you want Oxygen in the event of an emergency – not yet, but they are probably considering it!)

However, I’ve just been stung by yet another hidden Ryanair cost, caused by their happiness to change the schedule at will.

I’m due to be going to Granada in March, and originally my flight would have been at a 5pm, meaning I could go into work in the morning, leave at lunch to be up at the airport before 3.

However, last week Ryanair e-mailed to say they had made a “minor” amendment to the flight times. A half hour, or maybe an hour I thought, oh No, I forgot this is Ryanair, the company that thinks that 100Km from the airport to the city you think you are flying to is a “short distance.”

The change was more brutal than any I’ve encountered before. Rather than leaving at 5pm the flight now goes at 8am. Checkin is a 6, and for someone living in South London, and who doesn’t drive, that’s the 3am night bus into town and the first train of the morning.

So, not only do I have to take an extra day’s leave, I now have to consider do I get up at 3am and get the night bus, or do I stay in a hotel and get up later. In the end my brain overruled my wallet and I decided to take the hit and pay for a night in a hotel, except there are no cheap hotels anywhere near Stansted, that aren’t a 20 minute expensive cab ride away, so I’ve ended up with a compromise. A night in the Travelodge at Liverpool Street station with two hours extra sleep on coming from home, and the first train of the morning to the Airport.

Thanks Ryanair, I’ve just doubled the cost of my flight!