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...