Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Going out on a whim

I normally plan my trips away quite carefully.

Researching where to go, looking at various accommodation options, making sure I’m getting the best deal.

So I took myself by surprise this afternoon when on the spur of the moment I booked a holiday in Shropshire.

To be fair, I’ve wanted to go to Ironbridge for some time, and with everything being closed because of the weather it really did require me to come back.

The winning factor though, was the stunning food in the pub I had lunch in.

They had rooms, they had rooms free when I wanted to stay, I think that counts as fate dictating the decision.

At 2pm I’d had a brief look around the town. At 3pm I’d booked a holiday there.

Probably best if I don’t make a habit of this.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

It isn’t Gluttony, its medicine

This is a long shot at trying to cover myself

The main reason for going back to Cadbury World, barely 10 months after last visiting was the free chocolate, and to stock up for Christmas.

So it’s entirely co-incidental, but exceptionally (cough, cough) convenient that (cough) this should (cough, cough) appear on the (coughing fit) BBC News (cough, hack, cough, cough) website today:

'Chocolate cough remedy' in sight:

Well, that visit to Bourneville appears to have cleared up my cough quite nicely.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The new exercise regime

I think I may have discovered a great new way to get fit, build muscle tone in your arms, and lose weight.

Unfortunately, it’s quite a specific plan and it does require nature to intervene.

To follow the fitness plan you need:

  • 1 heavy suitcase on wheels, but with very low clearance between the wheels and the base of the suitcase

  • 1 heavy fall of snow either having just taken place, taking place, or best of all both.

  • A short walk

I’ve walked for miles before with a suitcase and it’s not been anywhere near as exhausting.

I dragged a very heavy suitcase the three miles from Hammerfest airport to the town centre without feeling the need to stop for water, though that was over heavily compacted snow so the wheels were able to turn easily.

However, both the walk from New Street to the Novotel on Saturday, and this evening’s walk from the Novotel to the Travelodge, were exhausting.

Partly not helped by the design of my bag acting more like a snow gathering device than a piece of luggage on wheels, but also not helped by it being “the wrong kind of snow”, or more importantly the wrong kind of re-frozen slushy stuff with a fresh heavy fall of snow over the top.

By the time I got to the hotel I felt like my arms were ready to come out of their sockets.

I’ll just have to hope that by Wednesday morning when I come to check out the snow has hardened into a compacted surface over which the wheels will run, otherwise I might have to be a lazy git and get a cab round to the station.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

New Eyes

Today was a weird experience.

I was wandering around the city I’m visiting taking in the sights.

Nothing new in that, it’s what I’ve done in virtually every place I’ve been to.

Some places I’ve been to so often (Berlin, Cologne, Edinburgh, Glasgow) that I know the city centre pretty well.

But Birmingham is different. All those other places I’ve been to as a tourist and found my way round the city as a tourist. Birmingham though, I already know.

I’ve been to Birmingham for meetings on so many occasions that I’ve lost track of the number times I’ve wandered along New Street going between the station and a hotel or the hotel and a meeting or a meeting and the station or any other variation on that theme. There’s been periods when I’ve spent more time in a month in the city centre of Birmingham than I have in the city centre of London.

So none of the streets were new, none of the shortcuts a discovery no sudden squares opening up in unlikely places to reveal a cathedral.

But I was amazed by how much more of the city I’ve seen today, actually taken in through wandering slowly through looking at the buildings and the streets.

Of course I’ve probably really annoyed quite a lot of Brummies by walking slowly down the middle of the main shopping street on the last weekend shopping day before Christmas.

The main thing that was obvious was the number of really nice Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the city centre. Yes there are a few pretty awful buildings, it’s kind of what the West Midlands are famous for these days, but, Birmingham is still a really attractive city, particularly around the Canals.

It makes me wonder what I’d discover if I went for a holiday in Croydon…

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Never Give Up

Well, I didn’t make it to Frankfurt.

But, undeterred I have adapted my plans and am now, less than 24 hours later, sitting on a train heading towards Birmingham.

It’s not what was in the original plan, but as the weather forecast deteriorates, and virtually every airport in the south closes its runway, I’m starting to think that I’ve had a lucky escape.

I could have gotten away yesterday, but I could, by now, be stranded in Germany.

There is still every chance that I could come a cropper in Birmingham, but the options for being able to get back are much greater when all that separates you is 150-odd miles of relatively flat land, rather than over 500 miles of land, three borders and the English Channel.

On the plus side, the weather in Birmingham is looking pretty good for the next couple of day, cold but very sunny.

And just to make things that little bit sweeter, I’ve booked myself for a revisit to Cadbury’s World on Tuesday. Mmmm! Chocolate (wipe drool here)

Friday, 17 December 2010

Well it looks pretty

I’d admit that the snow looks pretty, but unfortunately, it’s a bit difficult to see the beauty of the snow when it’s completely ruined your travel plans.

15 minutes after it was due to depart BA officially cancelled my flight, though with the cunning use of the internet I’d found this out 10 minutes earlier, and as I was leaving the terminal they had only just started the announcements that the flight was cancelled.

So, instead of enjoying a Bratwurst and some Glühwein in the Christmas market in the Römer, I’m having an Indian takeaway and some Orange juice at home.

Still, I’m not going to be defeated.

Part two of the trip was Birmingham, so I’m heading there in the morning (assuming that Southern can be bothered to run a train service to get me into London), I’ve got a really good deal on a last minute hotel room in the city centre

I’m suspecting the deal may be because someone who should have been spending the weekend in Birmingham but is trapped in Germany because we can’t handle the snow. In which case, can I recommend the All Seasons Hotel in Frankfurt. Not actually been there, but the staff were really helpful and friendly when I had to cancel my booking!

So, it’s less a tale of two Christmas markets, and more a tale of slightly longer in one than I was planning.

Still, it could be worse. I could have gotten stranded in Germany for Christmas if the weather had continued this badly

I could still get stranded in Birmingham…

When carol singers go bad

On the way up to the station I had to pass the Carol singers who have been standing outside East Croydon for the last fortnight or so collecting for charity.

They were singing the same part of a carol over and over again

“Let it snow, let it snow”

Well they got their wish

Within a couple of minutes of going past them it was merrily snowing.

And City Airport where I was flying from was merrily closing its runway.

Remind me not to give to Carol singers again…

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Refunding the Toast

Subsequent to my recent “Interesting” stay with the Mercure in Salisbury, I’ve had a very apologetic email from the manager of the hotel and the full cost of the breakfast refunded back to me.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Not having your toast or eating it

I have no problem with a hotel wanting to make best use of its facilities, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the guests. After all, surely the key priority for a hotel is its paying guests?

This would not appear to be the case for the Mercure in Salisbury. It appears to have its eye solely focused on bringing in extra money, even if it is at the expense of its guests.

This morning was an eye opener to truly bad planning and poor customer service.

The hotel was being the venue for a “Holistic and Psychic Fair” which meant that the bar and restaurant area was being used for that so there was nowhere to offer breakfast. This wasn’t going to be a problem as they were going to offer free room service to all the guests.

In theory this should all work fine with no problems, and if this were the only event taking place then it would probably have all worked fine.

Unfortunately, the hotel had also taken a booking for a pretty large wedding on the Saturday evening, and strangely, if you have a large wedding party in a hotel, it was full to capacity with guests.

All of whom needed breakfast, all of whom would have to have breakfast through room service, all of whom would probably want breakfast around a similar time.

Now if I were the manager in this instance I would spot that there was a potential problem here. If 50 rooms all want room service in a very short period of time it’s either not going to work, or you are going to have to draft in lots of extra staff.

The hotel just didn’t appear to think that there would be a problem, and consequently by the time my breakfast was due at 09:30 they were already running over an hour behind.

I wouldn’t have minded breakfast at 11:00, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had to check out by then.

The added problem was that I had already pre-paid for breakfast and this is where the really poor management came into its own.

By now the hotel realised they had a problem, they were phoning guests to let them know their breakfast would be “a little late” which in itself is pretty poor, if you’ve messed up, put your hands up to it, don’t try and make it look like it’s only a minor mistake.

So, you would have thought that they might put some plans in place for the inevitable when a guest who hadn’t had the breakfast came down to ask for a refund.

But no, instead I was met with a “that isn’t possible, if you’ve paid for breakfast you’ll just have to wait for it to arrive, we won’t give a refund”

I decided not to take the receptionist up on her offer of getting me the duty manager (which she only offered when I said I’d be writing a formal complaint) as by now I was in a pretty bad mood and I doubt I could have kept my language civil.

So, I’ve documented it all, I’ve written it all down and sent a letter to the manager, to ask what they think of the service their hotel offers.

Let’s see what the response will be. Although I can already predict, some pleasantries, a gentle denial of any liability or inability to manage and an apology that company policy doesn’t permit refunds.

I’m hoping I’m going to be wrong. If I am, I’ll review the rating I’ve given the hotel, if I’m right then perhaps it might have to be a letter direct to Accor Hotels.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Pack it in

I think I generally pack quite a few things into each of my days when I’m visiting places. But today, I saw a group who have taken it to an extreme.

By the time I was wandering around the Cathedral at 10:30 they were finishing off their tour and were about to head on to Stonehenge. The tour guide was recapping what their itinerary for the day was and it was pretty packed.

From Salisbury they were due to head out to Stonehenge, then onto Bath, before finally finishing the day at the theatre in Cardiff.

Assuming they had started the day in Salisbury that’s a pretty packed tour, but I got the impression that Salisbury may not have been the starting location, it may not even have been the first stop of the morning.

It’s probably a very good (if exhausting) way to see large parts of the UK in limited time, but it does appear to be collapsing an awful lot of the country into a very small period of time.

In one day they were going to do what’s taken me more than a week (Bath 2 days, Salisbury 2 days and Cardiff 4 days) and that’s ignoring Bristol in the middle, which itself is worth a couple of days.

But then, there are people who do Edinburgh as a day trip from London, so on that basis perhaps they are on the slow tour.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Just to be sure

The train I caught down to Salisbury was made up of six carriages. The rear three terminated at Salisbury, the front three continued on to Gillingham.

This isn’t particularly rare, it happens all the time all over the UK

And what happened just outside Andover is also pretty familiar.

I was sitting in the middle of the front carriage and just after Andover the guard broadcast a reminder message that at Salisbury the train would be splitting.

About 2 minutes later at least three people walked down the carriage and tried to get through the locked door at the end, into the drivers cab.

They started to panic that they couldn’t get through, until someone told them this was the front carriage.

They asked if they were absolutely sure it was the front carriage as they wanted to go to Gillingham, and they took a fair amount of persuading that they were in fact well into the front, so far into the front three carriages that if they went any further they would no longer be in the train.

I know people want to be certain, but when the guard has mentioned that the train is six carriages long, and you’ve walked through four, basic maths must come into play?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Middlesbrough – Why

A couple of days ago I posed the question, Why Middlesbrough as a destination for a holiday.

Well, I think over the last couple of days I’ve found an answer

Why Not!

I’m not quite certain what I was expecting from Middlesbrough, and certainly if you believe the London centric press it’s the epitome of it being “Grim up north”.

And yes, the final approach into Middlesbrough through the car breakers yards, the heavy industry and the empty derelict lots doesn’t fill one with masses of hope.

However, the same could be said in the good old days of Eurostar trains running into Waterloo, the final couple of miles through the breakers yards and gas works of Battersea and Brixton are a pretty bleak and forbidding introduction to London.

Once you’re through the grim outskirts, and better that the grime and industry is on the edge of town rather than in the middle, you reach a little gem.

Bustling, lively streets with lots of shops and lots of shoppers. And unlike some other towns further south, sorry Coventry I am thinking of you here, a good mix of stores from the odd couple of “Poundland” derivatives up to high end department stores and specialist shops. This is not an area that is mired in abject poverty.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty certain there are areas of depravation in Middlesbrough and the surrounding areas, but in the city centre it’s probably healthier than many Southern “wealthy areas”.

Middlesbrough has a large number of attractions, a series of good museums, stunning art galleries and an industrial heritage that the locals are fiercely proud of.

It’s got a strong history of industrial innovation with the world’s first passenger railway only a couple of miles away in the neighbouring town of Stockton.

And it’s provided the world with some pretty important people. James Cook, largely credited for discovering, or at the very least properly mapping, Australia, is a local son that is evident in streets, car parks and shopping centres named after him.

And, when you’ve exhausted all that Middlesbrough has to offer it’s perfectly placed for the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Coast, County Durham and both Wearside and Tyneside.

True it may not have the number of attractions of a Bath, York or Newcastle. But it’s got enough to keep you occupied for some time and at the end of the day, that’s what you want in a city break.

So if you’re looking for somewhere a little off of the beaten track with lots to do, stunning countryside surrounding it and good transport links, then why not consider Middlesbrough for your next city break?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

They still don’t get it

The government is cutting left, right and centre (though mostly left if the truth be told).

The Public appear to accept that cuts are needed, but there is also the feeling that we have to pay the price for banker’s recklessness and greed.

So it was a little alarming to overhear the conversation that two “bankers” in both senses of the word, were having on the train between York and Durham today.

I’m not going to name the bank that one of them mentioned they worked for, but it is one that owes the UK tax payers quite a bit of money.

Their discussion revolved around the issue of expenses.

Now before I get accused of glass houses I will put my hands up and say that yes, in my job, occasionally, I have to claim things on expenses. Usually this is for dinner when I’m away at a conference and then I stick well within my employer’s guidelines of keeping bills at under £25 per head.

When you think about it, £25 per head is still quite a bit for dinner, but then I am happy to eat quite cheaply if I’m doing it with other people’s money.

On the other hand my expenses claims are only ever living expenses whilst away from home for work, I’ve never had to “entertain clients” and really can’t think of a reason why I would want to.

The two “bankers” were discussing one’s complaint that his employer was not giving him his entire expenses claim. His employers limit was £70 per head (I don’t think I’ve ever had a meal that cost more than £40 per head, including booze and that was in Iceland!), and he had spent £75 per head “entertaining clients”. He felt that only getting £70 per person back and having to personally take the hit for £20 (there were three “clients”) was grossly unfair.

Now forgive me for being naive, but if an employer sets a limit that’s the upper amount you can claim for. This is only to be reached in exceptional circumstances. It’s not a target to aim to get your claim up to that amount, if you can submit at £40 a head than do that, don’t look to bump it up another £30.

Perhaps I’m in the wrong sector, perhaps I’ve just been stirred up into moral outrage against bankers by the popular press, or perhaps I’m not in the minority of thinking it morally wrong to try and get as much as you can rather than only as much as you need out of expenses.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Bleed it dry

With all the hype, with all the mentions, with all the themed shops, restaurants and museums you would have thought that Bram Stoker had set the whole of Dracula in Whitby.

Instead it’s just three chapters, three important chapters, but still just three chapters.

I dread to thin what the hype would be like if the whole book had been set here.

And yet, there’s no need for the hype (down to only offering “blood” rather than strawberry sauce as an ice-cream topping – it should be noted that “blood” is in fact strawberry sauce!)

The town has more history and fame oozing from its little lanes than many places several times its size.

Ignoring the whole “StokerWorld “theme, it’s home to a stunning set of ruins in the Abbey, an Abbey which, when it was in full working order before Henry VIII had his little falling out with the pope, boasted nine saints from it’s ranks.

Its literary links go beyond Vampires to Walruses and Carpenters, it was in Whitby that it is believed Lewis Carol wrote one of the most famous poems for “Through the Looking-Glass”

But perhaps more importantly, it’s from this small Yorkshire port that a ship called the Earl of Pembroke was launched in 1764. In 1768 it was renamed the Endeavour. Its captain had done most of his training from the same port and so the Endeavour and Captain James Cook helped to create the map of the world as we know it.

Yet there is only one small museum to the Captain, and no real monument to one of the most important ships in history.

Vampires on the other hand, you can have dozens.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Is it Regeneration...?

Visiting the “largest piece of Public Art” – Temenos, you have to walk through the heart of “Middlehaven”.

They have the catchy name, they have the marketing, they have the logo.

They also have a wasteland of rubble and weeds, with only a few filled plots.

Yes the Middlesbrough College building is stunning, and the football stadium at least ensures the area gets the punters in, and yes the tax building does contain my personal file!

But these single buildings and the giant piece of art work can’t get away from the fact that the rest of “Middlehaven” is currently rubble.

Now I could have been unfortunate and I’ve arrive the very weekend after all the demolition teams have moved off site, and just before all the big cranes and builders move on site to build “Middlehaven”.

But, I don’t think, even weeds, grow that fast.

This leaves a question.

At what point does regeneration grind to a halt and officially just become a wasteland.

At what point would that wasteland go back to being a regeneration (does the first luxury flat a regeneration make?)

Hopefully, it’s all just a blip and once this “slight dip in the economy” has been gotten over then “Middlehaven” will become the rival to the loft apartments of Gateshead and the swanky flats of Liverpool’s Albert Docks, but I’m afraid to say I’m not convinced.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

So that’s where that is

Today has been a bit of a revelation in my understanding about the Geography of North East England.

So many places I’d heard of, but had always just put as being “up north”.

I knew roughly where the key big towns and places were, Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool, it was all the other places that I’d heard of but hadn’t realised were so close.

First one of the morning was Stockton. It took a couple of seconds for it to sink in as to why this was a town name I knew of. In fact it’s only when you add the phrase “and Darlington” onto the end of it for it to trigger it’s importance. From here the world’s first railway left. The pretty ropey bit of railway line I was travelling along in a glorified bus on rails was genesis for railways, and it felt that in 180 years, up here at least, not much had changed (except there was a roof on the train-bus)

Two stops further on and we reached a town that until a couple of years ago wasn’t particularly known to the outside world but since “Mr Canoe” of Seaton Carew (it even rhymes, that only adds to it.), John Darwin did his infamous reappearing five years after he died trick (see this Wikipedia entry for more ) the town has gained some level of knowledge in the public consciousness (and probably for a better reason than Seascale nee Winscale almost due West on the Cumbrian coast).

Later in the evening on the way into Bishop Auckland I saw road signs pointing to another town that was only a short distance away, Sedgefield.

Which brings me to two famous ex MP’s in a day. Hartlepool had been the constituency of Lord (Peter) Mandelson. Sedgefield his erstwhile boss Anthony (trust me, I’m Tony) Blair.

Political Naivety here, but I hadn’t realised quite how close their constituencies were, not actually touching, but less than 20 miles in it!

Still, that’s unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon, so if someone say’s “Oh, it’s near Sedgefield” I’ll know exactly where they mean.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Why Middlesbrough?

Strangely, this is a question that I haven’t asked myself until recently.

The biggest reason is of course the wonders of a Travelodge sale. Where else can you get five nights away for under £50?

It’s also partly that despite all the outwards demonstrations to the opposite that I give off, I am, at heart, a bit of an optimist, so on the basis that it hasn’t featured on the evening news with pictures of burning cars or riots it can’t be that bad (note to self, avoid France for while for same reason!)

However, I’m also aware that, especially given the spending review this week, Middlesbrough is the place least likely to be able to take the hits that the coalition is pushing out

North East ‘least resilient'

And even the website of the local tourist board can only offer me things to do in nearby places (once you’ve taken in the Transporter Bridge) – Hartlepool, Whitby, North York Moors all appear to have more things to do than the city (though once again the BBC comes to the rescue with a mention of an art gallery that the tourism site appears to ignore - Mark Easton's Blog

I suspect that this still hasn’t answered the question, as Travelodge can't be used as a full reason, perhaps by Wednesday I’ll have an answer...

Sunday, 26 September 2010

CathDaq Torino Market Report

After a couple of days of very sluggish trading on the CathDaq in Turni, Sunday has seen a surge in stocks.

Two nuns who were either members of the “Little Sisters of the Fabulously Well off” or the “Conventi di Bling” spotted with Gold crosses and Louis Vuitton handbags (are those standard garb issued by the Vatican I wander)

Then later in the day a very rare spot. A monk in full brown robes (complete with sandals, no socks), in the company of a lady, near the Capuchin Monastery. I’m assuming it was a female relation or friend...

Saturday, 25 September 2010

What a difference a day makes....

...24 little hours. At 20:30 last night I was walking along the edge of the Piazza San Carlo trying to avoid getting soaked looking at a completely empty square.

Tonight, with the last of the evening sun having faded away, but the warmth still in the air, the square was heaving, with lots of people sitting at the cafe’s and restaurants, including me at a particularly pleasant (if slightly expensive) restaurant at the southern end.

This feels much more like Italy!

Would that be because of the Footballers strike?

I couldn’t help but notice that around 14:30 today there were van loads of police (of varying types) all over the city centre.

There didn’t appear to be any protests taking place, and I couldn’t spot any major event taking place.

Is it just possible that they would normally be out at the football stadium keeping the fans apart, but with all the top flight Italian footballers out on strike this weekend, and the entire fixture list cancelled they haven’t got anything to do.

But surely, you would then just cancel the overtime and tell them they don’t need to work...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Thank you for the architecture

Turin is a grand city, full of arcades, piazza’s and squares.

However, on a particularly foul Friday night, I think it was the arcades that I found most interesting, or should that be useful.

It’s incredibly easy to get around the centre of Turin in a hefty downpour without getting absoultly soaked thanks to all the arcades. The only time you actually have to get wet is the short dash across a road on a green man.

Despite all the arcades it doesn’t stop the local street merchants trying to sell their wears, which tonight appeared to be exclusively umbrellas.

I can only assume that there is a warehouse somewhere on the outskirts of Turin which has weather appropriate items in store for the vendors (though it should be pointed out that I don’t think these are licensed by the Torinesi town fathers!) and that at some point this afternoon the cry went up, rain clouds coming, fetch the umbrellas.

Still, they appeared to be doing a brisk trade, which seamed a little pointless, given all the arcades.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Coffee Shop etiquette

I’m not suggesting that we go the whole hog and put a maître d’ on the doorway, but perhaps there needs to be some signage in the coffee shops in Stratford that you actually buy something before you all sit down at a table.

I’d been queuing up to get a very late lunch (a Panini at nearly 5, could have been described as an early light dinner) and had noticed that there weren’t that many free tables left. However there were some.

In the time it took me to put in my coffee order and pay two large groups of tourists had walked in and plonked themselves down on most of the spare tables, without any of them bothering to actually come up and order anything.

It was pretty obvious to even the least observant person that the system here was queue up, pay up and collect your drink, there was no table service.

Thankfully a table did become free as I was walking away with my piping hot Panini (not something you want to be holding for a particularly long period of time looking for a table), but it was a good few minutes before a final member of their group walked in and one of them went over to order.

Of course, I haven’t ruled out the possibility that they were just being plain rude.

Monday, 16 August 2010

I have a dirty little secret

It’s time to make a confession. It’s time to admit to something that no self-respecting Londoner should admit to.

It’s time to come out in the open and say the unmentionable.

I quite like Birmingham

There, done it.

Birmingham is quite often the butt of jokes.

Yes, it’s not the world’s most stunningly attractive cities, a lot of the architecture is very badly dated and some bits are a bit shabby (see for example the Palisades shopping centre above New Street Station).

Yes, the local accent doesn’t have the beauty and charm of a Morningside or a Welsh Valleys, but it could be a lot worse (and I include my foul South London accent in with that group)

Yes, it’s a pain to get to from quite a large number of places. It’s the hub of both the Cross-Country rail network and the motorway network, making it the hub of the UK’s delays and conjestion

Yes, it’s not an historic city like York or Liverpool, having still been a sleepy market town up until the Industrial Revolution

But for some reason that I can’t quite work out, I quite like it.

I like the compact city centre and the friendly atmosphere.

I like the way that it unashameably tries to compare itself to locations well out of its league (“We’ve got more Canals than Venice, we’re Britain Venice” being one of the main culprits)

But most of all I like the fact that the city centre feels much safer than most other city centres I’ve been in.

I’m sure that when you get out of the city centre there are areas which you don’t want to be wandering around, but you get those in most places, however there isn’t a feel of that actually in the heart of Birmingham. Wandering around New Street feels so much safer than walking down Oxford Street in London (and that’s before you include the fact that Oxford Street still has traffic running up and down it.)

So, there, I’ve admitted it, I’ve outed myself as a Brumophile.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

OK, so it is doable in a day

I’ve always been a bit concerned by some towns tourist activities.

The main one I’ve always thought was a bit dodgy was Stratford-upon-Avon’s attempts to make itself a day trip from London for tourists staying in the capital.

Hampton Court is only 20 odd miles from the city centre, Windsor around the 30 mile mark, these are not massive distances if you set off early and make a day of it. But Stratford is well over 120 miles from London, it’s the other side of the two hour mark on the train, how can you do that in a day.

However, I will now willingly renounce my incredulity on Stratford being a day trip.

I caught the train from London just after 10 this morning up to Leamington, walked over to my hotel, dropped all my stuff off, wandered back out and then caught the round the houses bus to Stratford and still managed to squeeze in most of the major sites by 5pm (and they were still open for another hour).

So, using the open top busses to hop from one site to the next (assuming you do the sites in the order the busses serve them) and getting into Stratford earlier than I did it would be possible to do the whole “Shakespeare Experience” and be back on a train to London the same day.

On that basis, maybe Edinburgh isn’t such a silly idea for a day trip...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

How the other 0.002% lives

I treated myself for the ferry back to an upgrade to the best cabins on the ship (the difference between steerage and Commodore for a single person was actually only £200).

And my fellow Commodore’s are an interesting bunch.

There appear to be a fair number of other oiks like me who have paid that little bit extra for the unlimited free beer, snacks and breakfast (and with costs on board, you don’t have to go spectacularly overboard to be making a profit!)

Then there are a couple of clearly very well healed people who I think don’t like the idea of the lower classes being allowed to upgrade.

This really came into focus earlier when I was having a snack in the lounge washed down with two gallons of beer.

There was a small family group, and one of the kids was getting quite excited, so excited that their accent slipped from the kind of received pronunciation English that you can’t place to any particular part of the UK other than “well-educated” to what was very noticeably South West, and I’d even go so far as to say a full Bristol.

The reaction from the parents was quite swift with a stern telling off about “not using “THAT” accent in public” and comments to the effect that they weren’t spending good money on pronunciation lessons for their daughter to keep reverting back to “THAT” accent every time she got excited.

Now I know it’s not the nicest of accents, but then I can hardly talk with a nasty South London accent (or Sauf Lunun accent), but at the same time I really didn’t think that accents mattered so much any more. But obviously for a very small number of people they do (and for an even smaller number of people they represent a way of making an awful lot of money by beating RP English into people)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Have you met the rest of us?

According to the bike tour guide in Copenhagen (though I can’t find a trace of this “research” anywhere on the internet) a survey carried out for one of Denmark’s main newspapers asked the Danes what nationality they would like to be if they weren’t Danish. Over 70% emphatically came down on one nationality.


Why?, have they seen England, more importantly have they seen the English?

Perhaps the 30% that didn’t say English all lived in Copenhagen where they experience the “full English” in all it’s Stag and Hen do glory on a regular occurrence.

Perhaps for those Danes who live a long way from the Capital, don’t venture there very often and the only English tourists they see are the ones who have hunted out their city or town for the art, music or museum, then yes the English might appear to still be a nation of genial bumbling idiots (although that does now conjure up an image of an army of thousands of Boris Johnson’s spreading out across the globe!)

Part of the reason for this liking of the English (and for this I can only assume the usual mistake of lumping all “British” as English, ignoring that the Welsh and Scottish (and Cornish, and Northern Irish, and Manx and Yorkshire and Essex and...) are separate nationalities) is the fact that it was “English” troops that liberated Denmark at the end of World War II and this really came home today when I visited the Occupation Museum (Besættelsesmuseeti) and saw the display on the outpouring of emotion that was shown when in May 1945 after five years of occupation, the English rolled into Denmark and asked the Nazi’s to leave (“I say old Hun you wouldn’t mind tottering back off to Germany would you, there’s a good chap”)

I don’t want to break the spell that the Danish have, but isn’t it about time that we told them the country has changed a bit since then. Perhaps it’s time we let Sky TV export some of their “factual programming” to Denmark, then let’s rerun the survey and see how many still want to be English.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Hope the trip was worth it.

As I boarded the train south to Århus from Aalborg I noticed a number of people getting on who had obviously just come from the airport and were heading deeper into Denmark and it reminded me of the lady I had seen at the baggage reclaim belt at Aalborg on Sunday.

Her bag came off just before mine, and as she was taking it off the belt it was pretty obvious that she had just come off of a mammoth trip.

I think the longest tag I’ve ever had has had two airport names on it (Tallinn via Helsinki, Hammerfest via Tromso) but this lady had two tags on her bag as one was full and they had had to go onto a second tag.

In order the tags were LAX, FRA, CPH, AAL. In short to get to Aalborg airport at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon she had come into Aalborg on the flight from Copenhagen, where she had arrived from Copenhagen, where she had arrived from Frankfurt, where she had arrive from Los Angeles, where she had arrived from who knows where.

Firstly I dread to think how long she had been travelling and I hope that the trip was worth it, and secondly it shows that the system does work. The bag was loaded into the system at an airport somewhere within a single flight of Los Angeles and has transited through three separate airports never once missing the connecting flight.

What’s the betting that if one of those flights had been with British Airways that the bag would currently be going round the baggage carousel in Kuala Lumpur with the confused baggage handlers going, Aalborg, Aalborg, where the hell is Aalborg?

Monday, 2 August 2010

Out of the Darkness, Light

Denmark suffered, for five years (the Dark Years as I have heard them described on a number of occasions) the land was under the control of Nazi Germany.

As with other places they invaded the Nazi’s wanted to protect their gains, and where there were coasts involved keep them secure.

And nowhere needed to be kept more secure than Grenen at the top of the country.

At Grenen the Skagerrak and the Kattegat meet. These are the entries (or exits) from the North and Baltic sea respectively and so a vital area to control.

With carefully built fortifications and big enough guns you can stop anything you don’t want entering the Baltic Sea entering.

Move forward over 60 years and the sand dunes on this part of the coast have helped Mother Nature reclaim most of the area, with many of the fortifications long since buried and slowly being crushed by the dunes.

But a couple of the bunkers have survived and today they are still serving their original duty of providing excellent views over the peninsular, only today rather than Guns it’s camera’s firing off regularly as holiday makers clamber over the ruins to reach their roofs for the views.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

I hope they are just errors

I have a lot of respect for the people who have to write guidebooks. The have to do a lot of work, much of which ends up getting condensed into a short sentence. Perhaps not quite as bad as the Hitchikers guide to the Galaxy where the whole of the earth is condensed into the phrase “Mostly Harmless”, but it still must be quite hard and at times pretty unrewarding (especially if you’ve got lumbered with updating the guidebook to a crime riddled dump, not that anyone has published a guide book to Croydon yet!)

However, occasionally, I’ve come across real howlers of errors that have caused me to think that not much research has gone into some sections. Today I think I may have come across one such incident.

I’m not going to name the guidebook series, but the errors imply that there is a chance the person doing the work either forgot to check when they were in Aalborg, or never even went.

The first error was the frequency of busses from the airport. The guidebook said every 15-30 minutes, it’s actually every 60 minutes.

The second error was on the opening times of the Aalborg tower, they claimed during July it’s open until 7pm every day, except at the tower they show they close at 5pm every day.

I actually asked the person at the tower about this and they gave an explanation which slightly concerns me:
They have never been open to 7pm, but they did, a few years ago, for a couple of weeks, have an error on their website which said they were open until 7pm, rather than 5pm.

Looking at the website for the local bus company you can see that there are buses on route 2 every 15 minutes during the main part of a weekday, but route 2 splits and goes to various different places, only some of the buses actually serve the airport.

I have a nasty feeling that a lot of the research might have been gleaned from the internet without being checked for accuracy or that they were even reading the correct information.

I would gladly like to be proved wrong, but at the moment, I’m not convinced.

When two worlds collide

I witnessed an interesting interaction on the bus yesterday which threw into stark contrast the different approaches to organising transport around the world.

Copenhagen, in line with most other sensible cities (and I deliberately exclude everywhere in the UK in that statement), operate a single ticketing system with tickets that are interchangeable between any form of transport in a set period of time after stamping. The system works on honesty as there are no barriers, the only difference to the system in say, Rome, is that when you board a bus you have to do so through the front doors to show your valid ticket to the driver.

I picked on Rome specifically, as it was two Italians who had the interaction with the driver (I’m assuming they were from Rome, they could have been from anywhere in Italy, but it’s only in Rome that I have seen similar disregard to signage)

On the rear and middle doors there is a no entry sign. It’s not a complex sign in Danish, it’s the international red circle with a short white line in the middle.

In Rome, no attention is paid to this and boarding takes place through any available door, in fact the only people who follow the signs appear to be tourists (after a couple of days in Rome I found even I had given up on bothering to queue up for the correct doors with the other tourists and was leaping on through any open door.)

However, this isn’t Rome and the bus driver was less than impressed with these random people ignoring a no entry sign. There were some words said in Danish, with no response. In the end the entire interaction was played out in English. It was almost like being on a bus in London when someone fare evading gets caught by the bus driver boarding by the back doors. The shrugs, the mangled used of the English language, and then the international signal for an unhappy driver, the engine being switched off.

At this point a helpful Dane who obviously spoke some Italian (so not satisfied with being fluent in both Danish and English they had obviously learn Italian as an extra!) let them know that they needed to get off the bus, and board properly.

Once they had done this, all was fine, but I suspect that when they get back to Rome it’s going to take them a little bit of time to get back into the swing of boarding through any door that’s open.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Ailment Spotting

A sister-thread to Wound Spotting, I’ve been in Copenhagen for two days and I can’t help but notice that an awfully large number of people appear to have colds.

Everywhere I’ve been there have been people sneezing, coughing, sniffing (and more unpleasantly snorting).

I checked, it wasn’t me, though will I be able to get to the end of my trip without catching Købenflu?

Just how many links do you need?

As I was walking through the city centre earlier today I noticed there was a bus stop for the airport express to Copenhagen Airport.

Normally this wouldn’t be a particularly odd thing, most airports have an express bus link.

It’s just with Copenhagen, it’s so well connected to the airport that does it really need this extra one.

To put it into context, Heathrow is the UK’s largest airport, and one of the most important airports in the world. Copenhagen is certainly the most important airport in Scandinavia, and certainly comes in the top 10 of major European airports.

  • Quarter hourly train service taking around 20 minutes at the cost of around £20

  • Tube every 10 minutes or so, taking well over the hour, but only costing around the £6 mark

  • Coaches pretty regular, taking well over the hour, but again costing only a couple of quid

  • Buses, local buses from nearby train and tube stations, nearest advertised link is in Feltham taking 30 minutes and costing £1.20

  • Train every 10 minutes, taking around 10 minutes, cost £4

  • Metro every 4 minutes, taking less than 15 minutes, cost £4

  • Bus every 4 minutes, taking less than 30 minutes, cost £4

Which brings me back to the question, why, on top of 6 trains, 15 metro’s and 15 busses an hour (and that’s only the buses from the city centre, not the local ones closer to the airport) would you need a coach service?

And then, in small writing, I discovered the real reason. And it’s an old favourite, it’s RyanAir.

The “Copenhagen” airport express is actually to take you over into Sweden to an airport on the outskirts of Malmo that RyanAir use as their “Copenhagen” base.

They used to actually call it Copenhagen, but then some busy-body in the EU decided that landing at an airport in another country which uses a different currency to the city your advertising you are flying to is a bit misleading and perhaps they should be a little more honest. Just who do these EU Bureaucrats think they are? Next they’ll be saying the plans to rename Birmingham as London-Birmingham International are not on!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Ah, so it’s not just Britain

I thought it was something unique to Great Britain, that nowhere else in the world would hamstring themselves in the same way, but the Danes have proved me wrong.

For an eight week period a large chunk of the S-Tog network is replaced by buses whilst they carry out engineering works.

I have to say every place that the replacement bus went near the tracks there appeared to be lots of people working and getting on with stuff the whole length of the line that was closed, which is more than Network Rail ever manage in the UK (one bored looking bloke with a pickaxe picking at a bit of track in the distance is all I think I have ever seen.)

It’s obvious that there are major works going on, and they intend on getting many kilometres of track re-laid and several stations rebuilt in the, in the grand scheme of things, short closure.

It also helps that there are multiple replacement buses, including ones running express from a station on another line to Hillerød (where I was headed) without the need to sit on a bus stopping at every stop along the line (perhaps something someone at Southern could learn about perhaps?)

The whole operation appeared to be running very smoothly, with no issues, excellent signage (in more than one language, recent experience has shown that Network Rail and most of the train companies struggle with the one language) and comfortable replacement coaches.

If engineering works were carried out like this in Great Britain then I doubt there would be so many complaints.

So come on Network Rail, I’m not asking for the signage in English and Danish (just intelligible English), just get engineering works to work and not turn into their usual farce.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Getting back to the rat race

It’s amazing how quickly you get out of the habit of certain things.

For the last couple of day’s I’ve been wandering round Tórshavn with the roads all closed off for the national day celebrations so haven’t even had to think about traffic.

On the few occasions I did come across traffic there were zebra crossings. In the whole of the Faroes (according to the tour guide on Tuesday) there are four sets of traffic lights. One set controlling access to a narrow crossing in the Northern islands and three sets in Tórshavn, and those were switched off today.

Thankfully, I did remember in time when I got to the first crossing in Copenhagen, but only just I was just about to walk out when I remembered about the little green man.

For how much longer

It’s been an interesting couple of days on the Faroe Islands.

Seeing their national day has show how fiercely proud of their Faroese culture, language and life the islanders are.

Whilst they may technically be part of Denmark, you get the distinct feel that this is a separate country.

And that’s been highlighted by some of the language I’ve heard to describe Denmark.

It’s been said in jest, and I get the impression that the chance of an armed uprising to remove the colonial power is not likely to happen, but on lots of occasions I’ve heard the Danish (and more importantly the Danish Navy and Army who have bases on the islands) described as the Occupiers.

One phrase that I think hints at an underlying sadness that the Faroes are still part of Denmark was “When the British left one set of occupiers were replaced with another. We still invite the British back”

The British invaded the Faroe Islands shortly after Denmark had fallen to the Nazi’s to stop the islands falling into their hands and to secure the North Atlantic supply lines. The Faroese, in turn helped to keep the British alive through fishing and running goods to Scotland. The cost in terms of Faroese lives lost was high. Following the end of the war it looked as though the Faroes could become a separate country, but by 1948 all the plans had been watered down to effectively “Home Rule” within Denmark.

Whilst the language is more civil it’s very reminiscent of the issues raised by the Scottish regarding the UK.

I doubt either situation are tenable in the longer term, so perhaps the question should be, which one will happen first – The Faroes gaining their independence, or the dissolution of the UK?

Small facts of Island Life

According to the tour guide on Tuesday, the Faroes get their fruit delivered on a Monday. Fresh fruit is therefore only really available on a Monday or a Tuesday, except for the Banana’s which are delivered green on the Monday so they ripen up towards the end of the week.

So, no popping to Waitrose on a Thursday for a fresh ugly fruit and two kiwis then!

(The sound of a Londoner, well out of their depth with Island life!)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Feel sorry for the cleaners

I’ve never been particularly sporty, so have never participated in sporting celebrations, which appear to be emptying champagne over yourself, your competitors and anyone else in range.

I’ve always felt that the correct place for Champagne is in a glass and then shortly after down my throat, not all over the floor.

So I’ve never experienced what the aftermath of these celebrations is actually like.

Wandering back through town from the restaurant this evening I wandered past the area where the prizes for the rowing competition had been handed out.

The winners had been given trophies and medals and then had done the customary champagne spraying ritual.

A couple of hours later and the area absolutely stank (and I’ve had to walk through Car Parks in Croydon on a Saturday morning before, to put it on a scale). It was also incredibly sticky.

I’m assuming that they are going to clean it up the same way they prepared the area last night, by getting the fire brigade trucks to blast it with their hoses.

However it was a bit of an eye-opener (or more a nose-opener) and I now can only feel truly sorry for the poor person who has to clean up the podium after a Formula 1 race or other Champagne fuelled celebration.

Góða Ólavsøku

Good St Olaf’s Wake!, today is the eve of Ólavsøka, a national holiday in the Faroes and as with all good eves, it’s when all the boozing and celebrations take place before the serious business of the day proper including religious ceremonies and the opening of the parliament.

The population of the Faroes is around 48,000 people, and it looked as though every single one of them and quite a few more had crowded into Tórshavn today to celebrate.

The streets were filled with people wandering around in national dress (including young kids), and everyone was in a party mood.

I couldn’t help but notice a couple of interesting points:

  • I think the Faroese must have a target of smashing the 50,000 mark as the number of babies was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large number of buggies in the same place at the same time.

  • The big sound of the event was the very Faroese Vuvuzela, and the Irn Bru stand appeared to be doing a roaring trade, but apart from those small examples of Globalization the rest of the celebrations were very much Faroese.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Interesting interpretation of day

The Faroese appear to take a different approach to the concept of a day.

For most people a day lasts for 24 hours. Here in the Faroe’s they appear to have made that up to at least 60 if not more.

Of course, it’s not every day, just on particular day.

Thursday is the Faroese national day – St Olav’s day.

Except today is Tuesday afternoon and the national day celebrations have already started with the town centre completely closed to traffic and bands playing live in the streets.

Then again, perhaps the Faroese have a slightly more mature attitude to dealing with their national day than other people.

The really heavy party is tomorrow night, so the hang-over’s from hell take place during National Day and not on the day afterwards.

Of course, that’s assuming that it doesn’t just turn into a 60 hour drinking marathon, in which case the hangovers won’t strike until Friday.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Did it shrink in the wash?

It’s pretty wet in the Faroe Islands. So you would expect that some things might shrink a bit in all that water.

I’m slightly concerned that it appears to also be shrinking the planes.

When I checked in at Stansted I was assigned seat 17F a seat on the back row.

The fact that the plane only went back to row 17 already indicated that this wasn’t the largest of aircraft.

We were called forward to the gate 10 minutes early and I was one of the first people to board, which was lucky as I walked down the plane and got the distinct feeling that there was something missing.

What were missing were rows 16 and 17.

They did sort of exist, in so much as there was a 16 A, B, C and a 17 A and C, but no D’s, E’s or F’s for either row.

I checked with the stewardess who suggested I sit in 15F for the moment as the flight was almost full, but they didn’t normally fill those rows.

Thankfully nobody boarded with a boarding card for 15F, but it’s a bit of a concern that between the details being loaded into the system and the plane arriving it had shrunk by two rows.

Of course, there is always the chance that it was just ServiceAir being incompetent...

Sunday, 11 July 2010

When Speedy Boarding goes wrong

I’m quite happy to buy speedy boarding when it’s going to be to my advantage, but I’ve learnt quite quickly where to spot when it’s not such a good deal.

If the price at Gatwick is £8 and the price on the way back is £8 then it’s probably fair to assume that it’s an air bridge in both cases. When it is £8 at Gatwick and £5 at Cologne there is a pretty large chance that there is likely to be a bus journey involved.

And this is where the problems arise.

The Speedy Boarders get called forward first and take their seats on the bus. Then the Families with young children and those with special assistance board the bus, then the general boarding starts, onto the first bus, and then onto the second bus behind.

This means that the very last person to walk through the gate (me in this case) squeezes themselves into the bus, jammed up against the now closed doors and the buses set off.

The buses get to the plane and open their doors. First out of the doors and up the steps would be... me, I was right by the doors not jammed in the middle of the bus, in fact the very last people to board are those who have paid for speedy boarding.

Yes, you got a seat on the bus for the 5 minute boarding process and the 90 second drive to the plane, having paid at least £5 for the privilege.

I got the first choice of seats for the 60 minute flight back to the UK having paid nothing, and been able to stay seated at the gate until there were only three people left to go through!

Get to the gate on time

It was once called being a little odd, why would you want to be standing at the departures gate an hour before the plane is even due to land.

Today, with the low-cost airlines and the scrum of boarding (or Self Loading Freight as some in the airline industry refer to the passengers) there appears to be nothing wrong with running straight from the front of the checkin queue through security and to the gate to be the first to board.

The airlines appear to have everyone so well trained now that you end up with the bizarre scene I witnessed today at Cologne airport.

As the flight was back to the UK, outside of the Schengen zone, you have to pass through a passport check before you leave Germany. This means that the gates for the flights to the UK are the other side of some passport booths and a screen.

Once checkin had opened the first waves of passengers flooded through only to be stopped in their tracks at passport control by the total lack of any border police.

And there they stood, for the next 45 minutes, not bothering to wander through the terminal building, not bothering even to sit in the very pleasant restaurant right by passport control that I had settled myself into.

Then, 30 minutes before we had to be at the gate, a border police officer got into a booth, and within a couple of seconds a 60 person, at least, queue had formed for people to file through, so that they could wander down to the departure gate, where there were no facilities.

I finished my meal and drink and was about the one before last customer to go through, as the police officer who checked my passport appeared to finish his shift as soon as he had seen me through.

Perhaps there might be a happy medium between rushing for the gates and waiting to be final called.

Oh yes, it’s speedy boarding...

Saturday, 10 July 2010

There must be a very empty flight somewhere

I’m currently reading a very funny travel book “Ruinair: How to be treated like shite in 15 different countries... and still quite like it” (no prises for guessing which blue, white and yellow, Irish based, low-cost airline is the target).

One thing that keeps coming across is the concept of the “Load factor” that’s the number of seats sold on a flight. Ryanair and easyJet both coming in at the mid 80%’s

Which is odd, as the last few times I have flown easyJet the planes have been almost, if not actually, 100% full.

So who’s on the easyJet flight where there is only one other passenger?

Dutch Love

I can’t help but notice that the Germans have suddenly discovered a deep and undying love of everything Dutch.

A lot of the houses are flying Dutch flags next to their German ones.

Orange appears to be the colour of choice.

I can’t work out if it’s a sudden desire to be friendly with their neighbours, or more a reaction to being knocked out of the World Cup by the Netherlands opponents in the final, Spain.

Friday, 9 July 2010

An ode to chambermaids

This morning when I left the hotel I opened the window in my room to try and let some air in to try and keep it a little bit cool, given the weather was forecast to be slightly warm.

When I got back late this evening I was slightly concerned as I approached the hotel to see that the window in my room had been shut. How boilingly hot was my room going to be.

So imagine my surprise, and delight, when I opened the door and stepped into a veritable fridge.

At some point in the morning when the chambermaids had been round to make up the room they had obviously realised that having the window open wasn’t going to help keep the room cool, so they had closed the window, drawn the curtain to keep the sunlight out and then whacked the air conditioning on arctic.

I dread to think what it has done for the carbon footprint of Ibis, but frankly, after a day of 35C+ temperatures and humidity bouncing around the 90’s I couldn’t really care!

So to the chambermaids at the Ibis in Bonn, thank you

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Köln/Bonn – Not just an airport, instructions as well

When I last came to the airport in 2004 they were in the process of finishing off building works on the new terminal train station.

The trains were going to link the airport to the city centre in speed and comfort and replace the coach journey.

Unfortunately, I’d taken that to mean both city centres, not just Cologne.

Bonn is still linked by a pretty slow (especially at 6pm on a Thursday evening) bus link which crawls into the centre of town.

In fact when I searched VRS’s website (the local public transport authority) they suggested that as the bus takes 35 minutes I might have wanted to consider going via Cologne and the train and taking five minutes longer, all for the same price.

I think I know how I’ll be getting back to the airport.

Köln/Bonn isn’t just the name it’s the instructions. To get to Bonn, go via Cologne!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Have you tried switching it off an on again...

Modern technology is a wonderful thing, but when it goes wrong it can create problems that wouldn’t have happened in simpler times.

Today I experienced this on my journey back from Great Yarmouth.

I’d timed leaving Great Yarmouth so that I could go back a slightly different and possibly more scenic way that the way I had arrived.

There are two lines into Great Yarmouth, one via Acle which most trains go along, and one via Berney Arms which only one or two trains a day go along.

Berney Arms is possibly the remotest station in England. It’s not that it’s very far from anywhere; it’s just that the only way to get to Berney Arms station is by train or on foot or by bike; it isn’t possible to get there any other way. The nearest road access is miles away.

The train merrily made its way along the tracks to Berney Arms. The driver pulled into the station and then went to open the doors.

And that’s where the problems began.

These modern trains use GPS to tell themselves where they are. In theory this means that a train will always know where it is. If it’s in a station it will know which platform it’s at, so it knows how long the platform is compared to the length of the train and only open the doors that are actually in the station.

Unfortunately, this does require the GPS to be working correctly.

I’ve been on trains before where the GPS has gone wrong and it’s not been possible to open the doors. In those occasions the driver has apologised profusely to the passengers wanting to get off and then driven on to the next station.

This isn’t a problem if there is a train every fifteen minutes. It would be a pain if there were only a train every hour, but it still wouldn’t be impossible.

However, when this is the second and last train of the day, and the next one isn’t due for another 20 odd hours, and there are 10 people waiting to get on it does start to become a problem.

Try as they might the train just refused to accept that it was in a station (I think it thought it was either still in Great Yarmouth or perhaps on a beach in the Maldives)

In the end they resorted to the oldest trick in the book. They switched the train off, and then used the emergency door release to get the doors open and let the people back on. They then closed the doors and fired up the engine (and I’m assuming the computer) again. At this point the train proudly announced "We are now arriving at Berney Arms" and promptly opened the doors, then refused to shut them again for about five minutes.

It was starting to look a little problematic, how do you deal with a train load of passengers when the trains broken down. Normally you would make them wait for the rail replacement bus, but when there is no road to get the bus to you, what do you do?

Eventually, after lots of going backwards and forwards (and some pretty hefty kicks it sounded like to the doors) the doors finally closed and stayed closed and the train was able to pull off.

But I don’t know if they ever properly fixed it. All the way into Norwich the train was still merrily displaying a message that "This is Berney Arms".

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

And how are you spelling that... II

Having commented yesterday on the people of Norfolk setting little traps for the unwary tourist (which I witnessed being set off today on the bus as a passenger asked for a ticket to Hunstanton and was told "do you mean Husten",) I was reminded that the same thing happens down in Cornwall.

The sleepy fishing harbour should be spelt Mouzell if it were written as it’s pronounced. So how it became Mousehole (other than a particularly spectacular bet) is a mystery.

Beyond their Piers

1996 was the "Year of the Pier", where there celebrations up and down the country of the UK’s piers.

Just 14 years later you could never have told that it had taken place.

Today Colwyn and Blackpool North are slowly decaying.
Southport is looking bleak
Brighton’s West Pier met a fiery fate, a fate that Weston-Super Mare’s has also succumbed to.
Hastings Pier has been closed as it’s unsafe and if you believe the story that was on the local news up in Norfolk last night, Cromer’s will go the same way within two years.
And if it hasn’t been hit by a ship or caught fire in the last 12 months Southend Pier will have one of those things befall it within the next 12 (It’s always either being cut in two by ships or spontaneously combusting)

Given the numbers using Cromer pier when I visited today, it would be a shame to see them go.

However, at the same time they have lost some of the sparkle that started the craze for building them in the first place. Whilst Victorians marvelled at the thought of being able to walk above the water we barely give any thought to the fact that it’s several satellites in space all working together that tell the Sat Nav how to get to the car park for the pier.

Perhaps the pier is just too much a 19th century institution. Will they last another 14 years, yet alone to the 22nd century?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

And how are you spelling that...

The people of Norfolk have a trick up their sleeves.

They’ve kept their powder dry whilst the Welsh have gone all out to advertise it.

The trick - that their place names are spelt nothing like they are pronounced.

With Welsh, you know you’re not going to be able to pronounce it correctly. With Norfolk you walk straight into the trap without realising.

Lets face it, Hunstanton looks like it should be Hun-stan-ton. Wymondham looks like it should by Wy-mond-ham.

So how the hell do you get Hunsten from Hunstanton and Windem from Wymondham?

Monday, 31 May 2010

Would the Muppet with the cigarette please leave the building

Just spent an interesting 25 minutes standing on the pavement outside the Travelodge.

I’d come back from a wander round the town and the first thing I thought as I entered the hotel was, that smells like something burning.

However, given the hotel appeared to have a quite sophisticated fire alarm system, and it wasn’t going off, I didn’t really think much about it.

I hadn’t even taken my jacket off inside my room when I was deafened by the alarm suddenly going off (with an attractive red flashing light to accompany it).

Hmm, that probably was burning I smelt then.

Everyone wandered out of the hotel to the assembly point (a Travelodge employee holding an “Assembly point” sign gaffer taped to two long poles!) where the fire brigade had already arrived and were assessing the situation.

After 25 minutes we were allowed back in (most of the time waiting had been spent with the fire brigade using a big fan to try and clear the smell from reception)

Turned out that someone had been smoking in their room, out the window, and had managed to drop their cigarette (still lit) into the bins below and set them smouldering. Interestingly, the fire brigade thought it might have been going for some time before the alarm was raised, which would indicate that whoever dropped their cigarette wasn’t going to own up to it!

Perhaps they know what happens to people Travelodge catch smoking in their hotels. Still at least, unlike Newcastle, they weren’t trying to cook...

I should add, as a post script, that the staff at the Travelodge were exceptionally professional, perfectly calm, and as helpful as they could possibly be, despite the chaos happening around them.

Dis-Jointed planning

I booked the travel for my trip to Norwich in the middle of March, at the time the really cheap tickets were released.

The journey back on Friday no problem, all booked. However, I couldn’t find any cheap tickets for the journey up on the Monday.

I knew that given it was the bank holiday it might be a little more problematic to get up, but it’s only when I checked the tickets available and realised that they were nearly five times as expensive as the cheap ticket that I suspected something more complicated was going on.

So how was it recommending I make my journey from Liverpool Street to Norwich (bearing in mind the sensible answer is the hourly direct train).

First walk from Liverpool Street Railway Station to the Underground. Catch the tube to Kings Cross St Pancras. Walk from the tube station to Kings Cross. Catch the train from Kings Cross to Peterborough. Change at Peterborough for a train to Ely (changing part way for a replacement bus). Change at Ely for another train across to Norwich (changing part way again for a replacement bus).

If that was the suggested route, what where they doing to the direct route to make that more complicated.

Today I found out!

From Norwich, so the reverse was true from London, catch the train to a random station between Colchester and Romford. Get off there at take a 45 minute coach ride to a random tube station at the far end of the Central line. Catch the central line into Liverpool Street.

All well and good.

Except large parts of the central line were closed for engineering works meaning that there was a heavily reduced service and yet more replacement busses.

Can someone remind me of this the next time I book to start a holiday during a Bank Holiday Weekend!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

You can ignore the rules sometimes,

Whilst I try not to stereotype a nation, there are times when the populous kind of force it on you.

The Germans are stereotyped as being sticklers for rules and always obeyning by them.

It’s not always the case, but today I found that one rule appears to be golden.

  • You must only cross the road when the green man in showing.

  • Not even if there is a gap in the vehicles that you can see you can make it across in.

  • Not even if there is nothing coming for a while.

  • Not even if there is nothing in sight.

  • Not even if all the roads are closed due to a marathon taking place, no vehicles will be down this street for the next five hours and it’s not on the course of the marathon.

Yet, despite this, the locals were still carefully waiting at every junction for the Green Man. It was at this point that I finally decided that I had to put my foot down, or in this case forward, and actually cross the completely empty roads before I lost it with the locals.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

For a nation so healthy

One thing that has really struck me is the number of adverts of cigarettes that there are up in Dusseldorf.

I’ve become accustom to not seeing advertising for tobacco in the UK since it was banned a couple of few years ago, so you do notice it when you see it elsewhere.

What’s also noticeable is the bizarre split between the advertising messages and the German health warnings.

One brand was happily advertising (for no apparent reason in English) “Life tastes better with [Brand name]”. I’d be intrigued to see the scientific research for that one. Could they actually provide evidence that you can taste things better if you smoke, I thought the general scientific consensus was that smoking dulled your taste buds, but then again, when was the last time that someone working in marketing actually paid attention to the science!

So whilst the brands are getting as close as they legally can to telling you that smoking is good for you, the Government health warnings are a little less ambiguous.

“Sie Rauchen, Sie Toten!” quite literally “You smoke, You Die”, and no matter what the manufacturers might want to argue there is 100% scientific proof that everyone who smokes will die, eventually (death may not be caused by a smoking related disease)

Friday, 30 April 2010

A world of Pork

It’s been a few months since I was last in Germany.

This is probably for the good, as I have a tendency to over-do-it a bit when I hit Germany.

I don’t know what it is about the place that makes me crave pork.

It’s not my favourite of meats (it ranks slightly above lamb, and a long way behind both beef and poultry), yet stick it in a sausage, smother it with Senf (and it has to be proper German Senf, no other type of mustard works) and sell it from a small counter in a dubious corner of a train station and I can’t get enough.

There have even been occasions when I’ve only eaten pork, or pork related products for days at a time.

Needless to say, a diet this poor invariably leads to issues with “regularity”. I certainly know that a couple of years ago after visiting Germany twice in about five weeks I managed to give myself some real problems for a couple of weeks after.

But, will I learn from previous problems, or will I be hunting out the nearest Wurst stall with the urgency of a junky.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Domestic flights

I’ve had to wait a bit for my train at Preston, so I’ve heard quite a few announcements about the disruption that the Eyjafjallajökull Volcanic ash cloud is causing.

The key problem appears to be that people who would normally fly from London to Scotland have all descended onto the railways and they can’t cope.

The trains coming up from London are packed to capacity and people are struggling to get on.

I’m all in favour of trying to get as many people off of domestic flights and onto the railways, but based on today’s evidence the railways just can’t cope.

Perhaps this is the clearest evidence needed that more railway lines are needed, or perhaps it’s proof that we have become too reliant on being able to zip around the country on cheap flights.

Perhaps its also evidence that it always helps to read the timetable when you’re booking your train. The trains from Glasgow, packed, my train five minutes later started at Lancaster, one stop up the line, virtually nobody on board when I got on!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Sorry NW England Closed

Over the course of the day it’s been becoming increasingly obvious that there is major disruption being caused by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

This has been really brought home on my way back from the station this evening.

Where as this morning there was a mix of vacancy and no vacancy signs on the B&Bs on my walk into Blackpool town centre, by this evening every single hotel and B&B was displaying a No Vacancy sign.

I had to get my key card reprogrammed as it had decided to stop working, and the people in the queue in front of me were desperate. They had tried hotels close to John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, and then they had tried over a slightly wider area. They had then driven up to Blackpool in the, very sensible, idea that as it’s got so many hotels there would be spaces.

Unfortunately, many other people had already had the same idea, and gotten here first, so there were no spaces. The very helpful lady on reception was looking for them, but the best she could offer was Carlisle.

So whatever disruption the cloud brings, for UK hotels there is quite a profitable silver lining.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

I’m trying to like it, really I am...

Sorry Morecambe, you’ve dropped down to a distant fifth. Blackpool’s gone straight in at four, and is possibly climbing

I’m not quite certain what it is that I’m disliking about Blackpool, but I think it could be it’s identity crisis.

Is it the Stag and Hen capital of the UK, in which case stop trying to draw the family crowds.

Or is it a major family seaside resort, in which case might it be wise to loose some of the seedier sea front attractions (three “gentlemen’s establishments” spotted already and counting)

Perhaps it also doesn’t help that directly behind the sea front appears to just be a car park, stretching for as far as the eye can see.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Seaside resorts

A few years ago a book was published called “Crap Towns: The 50 worst places to live in the UK”. Needles to say there was an outcry, but this being Britain, it was mostly from people who were deeply offended that their local town hadn’t been included. How can [Insert name of a Crap Town] be a worse place to live than [insert own home town] was said on a number of occasions.

Obviously this had to be rectified and a year later a second book “Crap Towns II” came out.

Third in the original list was Morecambe. I’ve only spent 25 very wet minutes there in 2006, but from that experience it does go quite high up my list.

Up until today, though, topping my own list was Colwyn Bay.

However it’s come under a strong challenge today, and I’m thinking of starting my own list highlighting my personal “Crap Seaside resorts”

On the whole it’s been a close run thing, but I think from today’s experiences Colwyn’s hard won first place has been lost to the unremitting bleakness of New Brighton. At least Colwyn was on the sea rather than at the mouth of river estuary.

As for Morecambe, it’s been knocked into a distance fourth place by my other place of interest today, Southport.

Supposedly, it’s the quintessential English seaside town. If it is, it kind of explains why so many Brits go to Spain, Greece and Turkey for their seaside breaks.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Yes, it’s appropriate, but is it necessary

I hope they don’t do it when it’s a commuter service. I can only imagine what it does to the mind if you have to hear it every day, then again perhaps it just disappears into the background.

It certainly is prominent during the day when it’s being a tourist service.

What am I talking about?

It’s playing “Ferry across the Mersey” on a Ferry crossing the Mersey.

Alternatively, could this be the start of a whole range of transport operations adding “Theme tunes” to their services.

Perhaps a continuous stream of Gerry Rafferty at Baker Street,

Maybe a constant invitation to do the walk at Lambeth North

Or worst still a very, very long and slow sea crossing to China.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Town Centre Mathematics

There is a different form of mathematics at work in the UKs town and city centres. It’s a mathematics which re-writes the concept of fractions.

And it’s all down to the humble ¼ (or more importantly Quarter)

I was in Bristol for work a couple of days ago and in walking around found at least five quarters. Having looked around Liverpool for a short while I’ve already spotted six areas referring to themselves, or being referred to as quarters-

  • The Cavern Quarter

  • The Cathedral Quarter

  • The Waterside/Docks Quarter

  • The University Quarter

  • The Museum Quarter

  • The Shopping Quarter

So, according to Liverpool six quarters make a whole. Yet Bristol thinks that five quarters make one.

More alarmingly is my home town of Croydon, which appears to only be able to muster two quarters (an Arts Quarter, which might be better described as an Arts sixteenth due to its size, and a shopping Quarter). So if you believe Croydon Council two Quarters make one.

Perhaps the maths needs to be looked at on a wider scale, maybe, over the whole of the UK if you add up the number of quarters it does add up correctly. But, perhaps for the sake of simplicity could we stick to four Quarters making one.

In which case, could Liverpool give Croydon two Quarters, I think the Cathedral and the Waterside Quarters would be quite nice, don’t know quite where we put the Cathedrals, and it’s a bit difficult to have docks when your only river is a muddy little stream that runs in a sewer, but I’m sure we can find a way around that.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

An average is just that

The average rainfall in Malaga in March is just 62mm (just over 2 inches). This compares favourably with a number of other places such as Bergen in Norway which has 109mm.

However, what you never get from these figures is that you can achieve that monthly average in one sitting.

Today I was given a demonstration of this with a quite spectacular downpour in the early afternoon.

Call it an inbuilt British sense of impending rain, I had taken the decision to stop for some late lunch rather than go directly to the Picasso museum and within a few seconds of sitting down in the dry the skies absolutely opened.

It is a horribly schadenfreude thing to do, but it is quite fun to sit in the dry and watch everyone one else suddenly have to dash for cover.

Of course, it took nearly 40 minutes for the downpour to abate, which meant I just had to have a largish lunch, with some tapas, and a beer, and some coffee, and think about desert...

Saturday, 13 March 2010

It helps to remembers yesterdays dinner

Last night I had a very nice meal in a little restaurant off of the main shopping street. Along with a particularly pleasant white Rioja and a very nice mint consommé I had the “Black Paella”. Black Paella is made using squid (or in this case Cuttlefish) ink to turn the rice black, in with the rice is diced seafood.

But, crude as this may sound, everything that you put into the system, usually within 24 hours, makes its way back out again, and when you have forgotten what you had for dinner the previous evening the outcome looks as thought you are seriously ill. It took me a worrying few minutes to work out that there wasn’t something horrifically wrong with me, just the Paella making a re-appearance.

Friday, 12 March 2010

It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does

Perhaps it’s an experiment I need to repeat at a busier time, perhaps it was just a statistical anomaly that every so many people they do it, or perhaps it does show an in built prejudice in the system.

As I had been in work in the morning I went to Gatwick in a shirt and tie. Having checked in I made my way over towards the security screening area.

The area wasn’t busy at all; in fact where there would normally be queues of people waiting to have their boarding cards checked there were instead staff sitting around trying to attract people to come over to their desks.

To get to the main entrance to the security area you have to walk past the entrance to “Fast Track” this is the speedy line for those people travelling business or first, which, when the security checks are besieged by thousands of people off on holidays, probably does make sense.

Two large families had already walked past and been pointed in the direction of the main entrance to the security area, which is where I was heading, when I was invited to go through fast track “as it was very quiet”.

Now, was that because I was travelling by myself, or was it because I was smartly dressed?

And if anyone is wandering, there is no difference between the fast track lanes and the normal lanes, other than green coloured flooring!

Monday, 22 February 2010

An historical question

Having visited Kenilworth today and over the last few years a large number of other ruined castles an interesting question is posed regarding one of the most device men in British History.

Did Oliver Cromwell effectively create English Heritage?

A large number of castles around the country were destroyed, or slighted, on the orders of Cromwell following the Civil War so that they couldn’t be used again to hold out against “the will of parliament”.

Over time these have become picturesque ruins which have then become tourist attractions and today have spawned the heritage industry.

So rather than the curmudgeonly, Irish massacring, Christmas hating, puritanical dictator that history has left us with, perhaps we should remember him as the founding father of today’s Heritage Industry.

This does of course mean he is also responsible for “living history”, inane audio guides and battle re-enactments.

Digging up his corpse was too good for him (to paraphrase the Daily Mail)

Sunday, 21 February 2010

At least co-ordinate your lies

It’s the usual story, a small amount of snow falls in the UK and the transport infrastructure grinds to a halt.

I got up early today because I wanted to have the maximum time in Stratford-upon-Avon. As the first train to Birmingham wasn’t until 08:37 it wasn’t that early, but 07:30 on a Sunday is still unpleasant.

When I woke up I looked out of the window and noticed that there was a small amount of the white stuff on the ground, so I had an idea that there might be disruption.

I got to Coventry station and the train was still showing as being on time.

It was still showing as being on time at 08:39. Then it started to update itself, first to 08:42, then at 08:43 to 08:47, at 08:49 it disappeared from the display at which point someone finally decided it might be useful to make an announcement.

The train was still running, but it would now be leaving from another platform in four minutes time, so we all troop over the bridge to platform 2.

Four minutes later, still no train. Finally just a couple of minutes before 9 as the train pulled into the station there was an announcement apologising for the delay caused by frozen points just outside the station.

OK, we had a reason, we had a train, I wouldn’t have thought much about it, until a minute or so later as the train pulled out the guard apologies for the delay caused by the train that was supposed to be forming this service having broken down and having to get a replacement.

So London Midland, what was it, frozen points or a broken train. If you are going to lie to your customers at least get everyone telling the same lie.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

The industry to be in

There might be a recession on (OK so we have supposedly come out of recession but it still feels like there is a recession on), but there is one industry which appears to be thriving, growing, almost as rapidly as Swine Flu didn’t

In the time it took me to walk the ½ mile or so from the station to the hotel I lost count, they were everywhere...

The Pound Shop

Poundland, Everything a Pound, PoundWorld, The £1 store, Poundzilla (actually I’ve made the last one up, but if anyone does open the chain I want it made clear that I thought of the name!)

There are even the sub pound – 99p store, Everything 99p

All these, several of them with multiple stores, in that short walk.

I know that Coventry has been particularly hit by the down turn of manufacturing, but even then, how does a town support that number of £1 store without destroying all of the rest of its stores.

I have this horrible image of Coventry in a couple of year’s time just made up of pound stores.

Oh, and Greggs, there were several hundred of them as well!

Sort it out Boris!

I suppose it is partly my fault for assuming that the tube would be running OK, that on a day when several London football clubs were playing at home TfL wouldn’t have most of the tube closed for engineering works.

Unfortunately, TfL did have engineering works, lots of engineering works, in fact the Victoria line was about the only line which didn’t have line closures and consequently was very busy.

This in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, except that when it gets busy the train bunch up and the have big gaps between them. The big gaps mean lots more people waiting on the platform and that then means the next train is even fuller, more people get left behind and the platforms slowly get so full it’s dangerous.

That’s pretty much exactly what had happened a minute or so before I arrived at Victoria tube station (with 50 minutes to spare to make the 10 minute journey), and when I got to the ticket barriers they had all been locked off.

They kept announcing that we would be let in very shortly as soon as the next train cleared the platform.

Unfortunately, for a line where there are supposed to be trains every 3 minutes or so, there appeared to be several missing, as the next train took over 10 minutes to arrive, and strangely, was absolutely bursting at the seams so not very many people were able to get on and they had to wait another 5 minutes for the next train to arrive to empty most of the platform.

By the time they finally released the gates my comfortable 50 minutes had shrunk to a less comfortable 25 minutes.

The next train was due in 2 minutes and then 12 minutes. I knew full well that if I didn’t get on the first tube I would almost certainly miss my train at Euston.

So I called upon all my years of being a Londoner put my head down, elbows out and piled into the scrum around the door, managing, just to squeeze both myself and my luggage into the train, displacing a couple of people heading to Highbury for the Arsenal match, though having to bend into an awkward shape to avoid being trapped in the doors as they closed.

As the train was so full it, of course, took longer at each station to empty and load so by the time I surfaced onto the concourse at Euston I was down to just 10 minutes to my train (and very thankful that I had made it onto the first train I could)

Now I’m willing to accept that it’s partly my fault for not checking in advance and taking the inevitable disruption into account when I decided what time to set off, but at the same time it is slowly getting impossible to travel round London at the weekend as more and more bits get closed down.

Perhaps it’s time that the blond haired buffoon actually did something rather than just doing Hugh Grant impressions!

Friday, 22 January 2010

A confession

I’m going to put my hands up to making a very basic error, and one that has taken me over two years to realise.

When I visited Swansea back in August 2007 I went for the afternoon to Carmarthen. Part of the reason for going was to look at the castle, because I had heard lots of people going on about how good the castle was.

I didn’t think much of it, all there appeared to be were a couple of walls and a small bit of rampart. I thought I must have missed some really big site (to be fair I had already been to Kidwelly castle that day, and had to get back to Swansea to pick up my luggage and the train home, so I didn’t have lots of time to investigate.)

It was only with the planning of my current trip to Holyhead that it suddenly dawned on me that rather than Carmarthen castle people might have been talking about Caernarfon castle.

And yes, Caernarfon castle is spectacular.

To paraphrase a well respected Russian – Aleksandr Orlov
Carmarthen, Caernarfon, don’t even sound the same, Simples!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Not drunken Stag parties

The problem with Travelodge’s are that they are fantastically cheap, and consequently are first choice for anyone looking to book lots of rooms.

This does mean that in some towns (Newcastle, Edinburgh) you can be woken up at 2 or 3 in the morning by the sounds of groups of drunken people coming in from a stag or hen do.

Things at Holyhead are a little different.

I can’t think that anyone who’s not from Holyhead, or the surrounding area, would actively choose the place for a Stag/Hen do. It’s a very nice town, but it’s not renowned for its range of bars or nightlife (unlike a Newcastle for example).

Consequently you aren’t woken up in the very early hours by people coming in from bars. You are woken up though by people on their way out.

Both yesterday and today I’ve been woken up at 4 am by people leaving.

For this is the curse of a port town. Whilst there may not be stag parties, there are people hoping to catch the 5am sailing to Dublin, and if you don’t live in Holyhead, or want a night kipping in the departures lounge, then the hotel is probably your only choice.

I’d just wish some of them would realise that not all of us want the ferry to Dublin, some just want their sleep.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Why make it easy

There are two buses an hour between Holyhead and Bangor

However, they are not at half hourly intervals

One is the X4, it’s supposedly the express route, but wanders around the houses quite a bit

The other is the 4, except it doesn’t go to Bangor it goes to the town of Llangefni where you can connect onto Bangor on the 4A, except in Llangefni the 4 just becomes the 4A without anyone mentioning it. (Is your head hurting yet!)

Neither route goes down the direct route to Bangor, both crossing over the A55 main road on multiple occasions heading off down to random villages (I know that’s the purpose of a bus route, not sure its the purpose of an express route though).

At one point we even went through a village called Llanddaniel Fab. I don’t think Fab has the same meaning in Welsh as it does in English though.

I thought that the locals would know what was going on, but on several occasions I heard comments like “Oh, this ones going this way today”.

Perhaps I should have just taken the train instead!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Heavy Snow

Is falling somewhere in Britain tonight, but its not in North Wales.

As the train entered Wales the clouds started to clear, and as we ran along the edge of the North Wales Coast sunlight was sparkling off the still sea and the distant wind farm.

By the time I got to Holyhead this had turned to haze rather than full sun, but it was still better than had been predicted.

Of course, I know I am just being lulled into a false sense of security and by tomorrow evening will be suffering from acute trench-foot.

However, this evening, with the blue sea lapping gently on the beach, the sun setting behind Holyhead mountain and the light breeze rustling the ropes on the masts of the sailing boats in the Marina it was easy to forget that less than a week ago it took me more than 10 times the normal length of time to commute into work because of the snow.

And then I was woken out of the relaxing picture of the sun, sea and light breeze by the sound of a jet fighter roaring overhead as it headed back into RAF Valley on the edge of Anglesey.

Why Holyhead in January?

This is a question which I have started to ask myself over the last week or so as I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather.

I booked last June based on the last couple of years when January has been crisp, cold at times, but generally very dry.

I thought that there might be a pattern developing, that January might be becoming a very good month to visit the UK.

Then the Met Office started to jinx it all

First they predicted that 2009 was going to be a barbeque summer with long hot days.

“The UK is "odds on for a barbecue summer", with no repeat of the washouts of the last two years, according to Met Office forecasters.”

Queue one of the dampest summers on record.

Then they predicted that the winter was going to be mild, queue the worst winter in 30 years.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that the weather has taken a turn for the worst, and earlier this week the predictions were for “Continuous Torrential Downpours across Wales with the potential for serious flooding”

As my train leaves Crewe the weather forecast has been upgraded to light showers and some sun later in the week, so I’m expecting snow drifts!