Friday, 5 August 2011

…due to a fault on the train which cannot be rectified at Aachen

Perhaps the next time my journey to work is disrupted due to a “Failed train at Balham”, I’ll be a little more understanding.

I always thought failed train was a euphemism for “you know what, we can’t actually be bothered”. The sheer number of trains that appear to fail in South London on a daily basis had me wondering how our trains can be so bad, when, for example, the German’s are so reliable.

Except, I found out today, they are not.

Whilst I was sitting on my train in Aachen station waiting to head back to Köln there was a train on the adjacent platform.

It was already 10 minutes late and getting later by the minute, which I’ve discovered is not as rare occurrence as one might have thought on German railways.

After another couple of minutes a member of staff could be seen kicking at something underneath the doors. He stepped back, looked at it, kicked it again, stepped back and repeated for a good six or seven times.

He then walked away and a couple of minutes later returned with several other members of staff. They all took it in turns to kick whatever it was underneath the door, then tried opening and closing the doors.

There was much staring and pointing, and then a decision was made.

30 seconds later there was the sound of an announcement being made in the train, within a few more seconds everyone on board the, pretty busy, train got up and disembarked.

I think that officially makes it a cancellation?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A Rome from Rome

I’ve just been out for a wander on a balmy summer’s night.

Walking round by the Imperial Baths, with the large ruins, able to visualise them as they were nearly 2000 years ago when new, with the Cicada’s defying any noise abatement instructions in the greenery around, I can realise why this part of the Roman Empire must have felt just like Rome.

I’m sure that’s could never be said for the poor legionnaire on a nights sentry duty up at Hadrian’s Wall hoping for a quiet night from the Picts.

Friday, 29 July 2011

It really was a cold winter

It’s the very end of July. Eight months ago was the beginning of December (now there’s cutting edge fact for you!)

Last December was cold, it was very cold, in fact across Europe it was a freezing month, the fourth coldest ever in Germany and the coldest since the early 1930’s (Source)

And now, eight months down the line, it really is starting to show.

Because, when the snow cuts the power off, and it’s cold and dark…

I think Germany’s aging population statistics are about to take a significant spike.

What’s odd, is that the UK had an equally harsh winter, but there are far less heavily pregnant women walking around than there are in Germany.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

And I thought they were law abiding

I’m finding I’m having to reign in my natural instincts as a Londoner when it comes to crossing the road.

Usually, if I’m at a set of lights and there’s nothing coming I’ll cross. Yes, I’m fully aware that’s against the green cross code and I should wait for the green man, but who does.

Well, in Germany, the answer is everyone. As I’ve mentioned before they’ll wait even if there are no vehicles in any direction for miles, wait and wait until the little green man appears and only then will they cross.

Up until today I had assumed that this compliance with traffic signals was across the board. Certainly I’ve never seen a driver jump the lights or speed through on red.

But then three times in the space of an hour I witnessed cyclists jumping red lights.

This leads to an important question. Is it something about cycling that make people jump the lights?

Or given that cycling is not the world’s safest of transport modes does it automatically mean people cycling are more likely to take risks?

And let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than the look of utter disapproval from an elderly German lady when you have cross the completely empty street on a red man.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


It’s an unfortunate condition, only suffered by a few places, but most have a severe case.

Unfortunately, Heidelberg is one of them

The symptoms of Bruggeitis are pretty clear, during the day your streets are awash with thousands of tourists clogging up the pavements, stopping en-mass at every notable sight in the town. Of an evening you return to a quiet existence with just a few people walking the streets.

Whilst Bruges has probably the worst case of this ailment, Heidelberg isn’t too far behind, and Wednesday’s would appear to be a particularly bad day with hundreds of tourists off of river cruises wandering around the town centre following their tour guides.

All I can say is they are missing the best bits. Of an evening, when the day trippers have gone places like Heidelberg and Bruges become much more interesting as you can see everything without falling over tourists.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

That’s the sound of A. J. P. Taylor spinning in his grave

OK, I’ll admit that I’m being a bit of a history snob about this. I’ll admit that there are a lot of complexities to the nationhood and status of the various islands and bits of islands that make up the British Isles. I’ll accept that the various royal families of England and Scotland can get a bit confusing.

However, it still doesn’t stop me grimacing when I hear other people making some quite interesting “factual” statements about, what we’ll generalise as, “British History”

The tour guide round the castle today was talking about the Elizabeth gate, erected overnight by the Prince Elector to impress his 19 year old bride Elizabeth Stuart. She was the Granddaughter of Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots).

The tour guide then went on about the part of the palace where Elizabeth lived and described it as “fitting her as it was in the English style”. And I know with that statement a small part of Alec Salmond dies. Technically it’s true, it is in what is called the English style, and with her Dad having been King of England as well as Scotland, she may well have felt more English than Scottish, it’s just deep down, this bit of the castle looks more like Linlithgow palace near Falkirk than anything I’ve seen in England, so I’d say it’s more in the Scottish style, fitting her ancestral roots (though trying to explain the difference between England, Scotland, Britain, the UK etc. would take several blog postings, so instead you could watch this short video)

The comment by another tourist that Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots) was married to Henry VIII had me wanting to hit my head against a brick wall. Not because it was wrong (which it is), but because it was backed up with the authority of – it was in a mini-series I watched last year. This same tourist then wondered how it was Henry kept managing to attract all the ladies given how fat an ugly he was.

Yes, I’m happy to take it as read that by the time he died Henry was a particularly unpleasant human specimen (look up Wikipedia for the full gory details), bloated, gouty and partly responsible for sowing the seeds of sectarianism in the UK. However, prior to the over indulgence he was, by most historical accounts one of the most eligible and handsome royal bachelors in all Europe. But again, because the mini-series had only portrayed him as this overweight tyrant (obviously married to Mary Queen of Scots at the time), this tourist felt it was perfectly acceptable to try and correct her friend when she queried it because – it was in a factual mini-series I watched last year, so it must be true.

If the walls of the castle at that point hadn’t been 21 feet thick and likely to cause lasting injury, I would have been tempted to bang my head against them until something broke.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Cover blown

I was doing so well, I was blending in, I was being mistaken for being German.

And then I fell to an elemental mistake…

I’d booked my tickets online in advance and printed them at home. The tickets were all in German so that wouldn’t be the give-away. All you have to do is present your identification, in this case the credit card they were booked on.

And that’s where my cover was blown. I’d forgotten across the front of my credit card, in very big, very obvious letters, even larger than the MasterCard logo is the name “”. Not “” not “” but quite clearly ein Engländer.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

But I did know then…

As I climed up the viewing tower in the Killesberg Park I remembered the last time I had assended it.

That was back in 2005 and a couple of days of increadibly hot and humid weather were just about to very spectacularly end.

I can remember getting about halfway up and watching the thunderstorm race across the sky.

At the time, in my diary I even wrote “With even my a basic understanding of science I realised that standing at the top of a large metal object in the middle of an open space during a thunder storm is not particularly cleaver, so I quickly descended”

Which in hindsight is actually a silly thing to have done.

True, I managed to make it to the café so I didn’t get absolutely soaked, but in terms of physics I actually put myself into a more dangerous position.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I am fully aware of Faraday Cages and standing inside a structure made entirely out of metal during a thunder storm is actually about the safest place to be as anything that does strike it is deflected away from you by the structure:

Wikipedia definition of a Faraday Cage

However, the fact that it’s completely open to the elements would have meant I would have gotten a soaking!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

They still haven't fixed it

A couple of years ago I took part in the proving trails for Heathrow's Terminal 5.

Shortly afterwards it proved that what I'd actually done was to waste a couple of days of my life on a pointless exercise that served no purpose.

On all the trials I took part in the feedback that I and everyone else gave was "lovely looking building, do you think you need some more seats".

At the time we were told that the seating wasn't a problem and everything would be fine.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to the now infamous failed opening of Terminal 5 and guess what - biggest complaint (after lack of information and why didn't you test the place out first) was the lack of seating.

So I would have thought that a couple of years down the line this would now have been addressed.

It appears I thought wrong.

Yes, today was the first weekend of the school summer holidays, so the airport was experiencing one of its busiest days, but everything was running pretty much to time. There were a couple of flights with 20 minute delays, but nothing major and certainly not plane loads of people stuck for hours waiting for a delayed flight that may or may not ever get them to their holiday.

Instead, it was a very busy, but not exceptional day. In other airports it would have meant people getting cosy, but everyone who had wanted to sit down would be able to.

Not so in Terminal 5, still there is insufficient seating, and still people have to sprawl out on the floor or sit up against shop fronts.

I don't know what the going rate for a day of your life is, but if they still haven't fixed it after all this time, I'm seriously considering asking BAA for a refund of two of mine.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Note to self

I must update my blog more often
I must update my blog more often
I must update my blog more often
I must update my blog more often
I must update my blog more often
I must update my blog more often

I'll update it whilst I'm in Germany. Apologies for the lack of updates for the last couple of months. It's been interesting times!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Well, you can get a snack

I thought that Manchester had been invaded by them, but it’s positively spartan compared to Bristol.

I’m talking of the rise of the supermarket convenience store, personified in Sainsbury Local’s (and Centrals) and Tesco Express’s (and Metro’s)

In the time it takes to walk from the centre back to Temple Meads I actually managed to loose count of the number of stores there were.

Not though, that I’m complaining.

I remember a time not that long ago when if you wanted to grab something after about 6pm there was nothing, other than a couple of massively overpriced corner shops, and even most of them closed by 8pm

Whilst it would be nice if there were more independent stores or small chains, Tesco and Sainsbury’s have obviously spotted the massive gap in the market and are in the process of filling it (possibly using the Noah method of just flooding the place.)

There is a very funny episode of the Simpsons where Bart gets his ear pierced. In the time it takes him to get it done all the stores in the mall have been converted to Starbucks.

At the time (early 2000’s) it did appear that Starbucks were going to take over the world, but then the fight back started from the UK chains and now in some places you can’t throw a stone without hitting a Nero’s or Costa’s.

Perhaps now is the time for smaller chains to get in on the act and mount a similar fight back, after all, being able to buy shampoo at 10pm at night in the city centre when you’ve realised you’ve just run out is a bit bourgeois, but it is awfully convenient.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Getting round just got that little bit harder

Over the last couple of years I’ve done quite a bit of travelling around England, from the Northumbrian borders with Scotland down to the English Riviera, and the thing that has kept striking me is actually how easy it is, usually, to get around, even without a car.

There’s been a few places that I haven’t been able to get to either because I’ve left it too late in the day, tried to go on a Sunday or in a couple of very rare examples there just isn’t any public transport to get you there.

I’ve taken the bus from Berwick to Alnwick on a Sunday morning, full sized double deck with just me on it the whole way, but I’ve also been wedged into a bus from Torquay that was so full I had to give up any chance of visiting the castle I was aiming for as I would never have been able to get off.

But now, it appears, things are about to change.

Standing in Wells waiting for the bus to Cheddar I noted, with some disquiet, the signs on the back of the bus shelters informing customers of the “amendments” to bus times that were due to come in force from tomorrow.

I think Amendment is a bit of a weak word to use when you actually mean whole scale slash and burn.

The most obvious example was the buses to Cheddar itself.

Today there are 15 buses, with the last one leaving Wells around 22:15, from tomorrow everything after 17:00 has been cut.

It means that in the height of summer, even if the weather is lovely and you were really looking forward to having an evening meal in Cheddar before heading back to Wells, Bristol, Bath or Weston you’ve got to be on the bus by 18:00 otherwise it’s going to be an expensive taxi ride.

Whilst I know there is a massive black hole in the public finances, and cuts do have to be made, it does appear that some of these are being made purely out of spite rather than any logical reason. Given how many people got off the bus at Cheddar this morning cutting the service will have an effect on the numbers visiting. At a time when we are supposed to be trying to encourage people to spend (and the tourist Pound, Dollar, Euro and Renminbi are now significant parts of the economy), it does appear a little illogical to make spending it more difficult (though some taxi drivers may disagree with me on that one!)

Perhaps it is just North Somerset council that are carrying out such large scale mutilations to their public transport infrastructure, but somehow I don’t think they are alone, and in future it’s going to take that bit longer, and be that bit more complicated to visit places that aren’t slap bang in the middle of a large urban space.

Given they don’t appear to be cutting, perhaps it’s time to focus on travelling Wales and Scotland instead.

It’s probably far too early to say public transport in England is dying, but it’s certainly suffering from a number of serious knife wounds and at present is stable in hospital, unfortunately we’ve also just cut funding to hospitals…

Friday, 15 April 2011

Paddington is a dangerous place

Walking across the concourse I was concerned about what I could see. Everywhere there were small people carry what where quite clearly concealed machine guns.

It was like something from 1920’s Chicago.

Everywhere I looked there were more of them, all casually walking along, police ignoring them, swinging their cases of death.

Of course it could have been that they were all kids off to violin practice, but that would sound far less dramatic.

It’s still a little odd, the sheer number of them.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Boozy Britain II

The main reason for coming up to Northampton was to go to a friend’s house re-heating party (long story, don’t ask!)

I’d been out with him and other friends for most of the evening, and we went back to his around 10pm before finally heading back to the hotel just before 1.

I’m from Croydon. I’ve walked through Croydon at 1am, I’ve seen the town centre when the clubs are turning out.

However, nothing prepared me for quite how edgy Northampton is at 1am.

Police everywhere, broken glass over the streets, people standing in the middle or roads screaming at each other.

It really makes Croydon look like some small Cotswold village!

Save it, or let it slip away?

Two very different locations.
United by the most momentous events of the 20th Century.
Both incredibly important in the history of World War II, both decaying.

For a couple of years there has been a debate raging about what to do with some of the most important locations in World War II history.

In Poland it’s costing more and more each year to keep Auschwitz from decaying away, and a debate is raging that as to whether it should be allowed to rot away, or kept for future generations. The debate even made it into the British press in 2009
Cash crisis threat to Auschwitz

But it’s not just sites in the former occupied territories that are at danger of disappearing.

Here in the UK one of the most important locations, not only in the history of World War II, but also in the history of communication and computing, is slowly decaying.

Bletchley Park, nowadays on the edge of the Milton Keynes sprawl, was the home to the code breakers who helped the allies win the war.

It was from the unassuming small huts, many long since gone, and some of those that do remain in very poor repair, that people like Alan Turing cracked the Enigma code and enabled allied forces to read Hitler’s most private correspondence at the same time he was.

Today the site is a series of museums to the history of code breaking and computing. Much has been done to preserve parts of the site, and from where it was a couple of years ago when the “Saving Bletchley Park” campaign (Campaign Website) was set up large parts of the site are now back from the brink, but there are still parts of the site in danger of decaying to nothing.

Walking round Bletchley Park leaves you with an inspirational feeling for the work of the people who helped win the war from here.

Walking round Auschwitz is an incredibly moving and sobering experience. I’m not spiritual, but even I could feel something very odd in the atmosphere. I’m convinced that even if you didn’t know anything about the site or the Holocaust you couldn’t walk around the site without feeling that something very bad happened there.

And it’s perhaps for those very reasons that we need to keep these sites for future generations. It doesn’t matter how much you read about the places, no matter how many TV programmes you watch, nothing comes close to the feelings you get when you visit these places. Bletchley for all the right reasons, Auschwitz for all the wrong.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Boozy Britain

Hmm, Northampton, it’s an interesting place.

In the 30 or so yards between the cinema, where I’d caught a late film, and the hotel I was amazed by the number of “surprises” that awaited me.

It was a positive obstacle course of what the papers might describe as “broken binge-drinking Britain”.

Firstly were the pools of previously digested alcohol and curry (x3)
Second were the three police vans screaming past towards the centre of town at full speed
Third was the couple “enjoying each other’s company” in the shop doorway opposite the hotel entrance.

The only thing that stopped it from being the full house was there was no sign of a lady screaming after a man “leave it xxxx, he’s not worth it!”.

Then again, that had probably happened immediately before I checked into the hotel.

Friday, 18 March 2011

It’s a novel way to check in

Perhaps I should be more concerned than I am.

It’s certainly a slightly unnerving welcome to a town

To be checked into your hotel by a police officer means either there’s nothing for the police to do, or they have a very active interest in the hotel.

On arrival at the hotel there were a number of people standing around outside being urged to go on their way, some of them a little worse the wear for drink.

Entering reception I found the bar area was closed off by a human shield made up of Police, Community Support Officers and private security contractors.

The Policeman who checked me in to my room explained there had been a small “melee” that they had just cleared and the hotel staff were just writing up witness statements.

That’s always slightly disturbing when police use euphemisms like “melee”. If they had just said drunken brawl in the bar I would have been pretty accepting, but melee makes it sound like youre trying to hide the true extent.

Though, to be fair the bar area looked in perfect order, no furniture even out of place, so perhaps they were using the word melee to mean a small brawl which they were able to intervene in before it fully kicked off.

However, that wouldn’t explain why the staff were filling out witness statements, why the police were checking me in and why there were security guards riding in the lifts!

Welcome to Northampton, we hope you enjoy the entertainment we’ve laid on for you!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

That’ll explain the prices

When I booked this trip I had originally intended on staying in Cadiz rather than Jerez. Partly because I hadn’t looked at how frequent the buses from the airport were (that partly put me off, but I could have changed onto a train in Jerez) and partly because I thought there would probably be plenty of accommodation in Cadiz.

When it came to booking a hotel room I found it was incredibly expensive, heading close to £100 per night for even a one star hotel.

By the time I finally found a hotel with reasonable rates it was the Ibis out the back of Jerez, which appeared to make some sense, as that was the airport I was flying to.

I have, though, now found out the reason for the lack of accommodation.

It’s not that Cadiz is short on hotels; it’s just that it is very short on rooms if you try and book into hotels during the annual Carnival.

If I’d actually looked at a calendar before booking the trip I might have realised (though to be fair, it would normally be in February, it’s only because Easter is so late this year that Carnival is taking place in March)

I’ve obviously started to get a little slapdash with my planning recently, in the past I would have spent weeks planning looking up key dates and comparing lots of days before booking, now I just pick a week and get booked up.

Perhaps it’s time I went back to a bit better planning.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The rain in Spain falls mostly on Jerez de la Frontera

OK, once was odd, but twice is really rather strange.

Yesterday the weather in Jerez was pretty poor, in fact it was dire, with the rain ranging from heavy mist through drizzle to downpour every 20 minutes or so. By the time you went anywhere you were soaked, and the sandy soil in the Alcazar was closer to quicksand than paving material quality.

However, by the time I got to Cadiz in the early afternoon it looked as though it had never rained, the skies were clear blue and the weather was warm.

Perhaps is hadn’t rained out here?

Well today the same thing happened again, weather in Jerez very wet, weather 20 miles away in Cadiz gloriously sunny.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Make is slick, make it profitable

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve experienced two very different approaches to what is effectively the same thing

A sales pitch from a booze company.

In Porto the Port wine lodges run regular tours, In Jerez the Sherry Bodegas do exactly the same thing.

In Porto the tours are a 30 minute wander through the cellars with a brief explanation on the making of port and the difference between a Ruby, White, Tawny, Vintage and LBV, followed by a couple of samples

In Jerez the tours are about 90 minutes long, include wandering around lots of storage areas, a film presentation and then a couple of samples.

In Porto the tours are free, in Jerez the basic tour is almost €10, and if you add in extra Sherry sampling and Tapas at the end it goes up to almost €20.

The numbers on the tours were pretty similar, which would suggest that either the Bodegas owners of Jerez are running a very profitable monopoly, or the Port wine lodge owners of Porto are seriously missing out on a trick.

Of course, the major difference is the Porto tours are definitely a very quick tour round as the visitors are basically after the booze. In Jerez the tour is very much part of the attraction.

Which proves a point, if you make it that little bit slicker, you can charge through the nose for it.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Build them big, use them as a gym

I’d forgotten quite how humongously big Barajas airport in Madrid actually is.

When I landed from the UK yesterday I arrived in at the Satellite terminal, which is enormous, as it handles all the non-Schengen international flights, so it’s the really big planes.

But the Satellite terminal is, if anything, smaller that the main terminal building, which only does domestic and Schengen zone flights.

As I had time to spare before my flight down to Jerez (I’d left my usual two hours, forgetting that it was a domestic flight and that airports outside of the UK can actually handle passengers flows) I decided to have a wander around the terminal building.

After about 30 minutes walking I had managed to walk down from the centre to one end and back and decided that perhaps I wouldn’t go exploring any more.

At this point my gate was announced, at the far end of the terminal that I hadn’t yet walked to!

By the time I got to the gate I must have walked the best part of two kilometres and was wishing I’d been lazy and used the travelators.

Still, it must be good for you all that walking.

Spotting the loophole

The Catholic church is very good at creating loopholes (they need to at times, papal infallibility creates some issues when the pope issues an edict that directly contradicts something a previous pope has said!)

But it also appears that a pretty Catholic country’s population is also not adverse to the loophole.

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence before the start of Lent, and definitely no eating meat.

And of course, a very large number of Spaniards were keeping to this to the letter (if not the spirit of the law).

In Madrid they always eat late, and by the time I finally gave in to my grumbling stomach at 10pm I thought I wouldn’t have too much problem finding a restaurant that was open and serving.

I eventually found a couple of Plaza Mayor, with a handful of tourists in them.

I thought that even in Madrid they would have started dinner by now, and then I saw the sign. Tonight the kitchen will be open until 2am.

Sneaky, you can’t eat meat and you have to fast through Ash Wednesday. However, 00:01 is Thursday, and you can now eat as much meat as you like without feeling guilty about breaking your Ash Wednesday fasting.

So, us small band of tourists sat in the restaurant having our dinners at the (for anyone other than Spanish) incredibly late hour of 10pm, whilst the Spaniards wouldn’t be eating for another two hours.

I have to wonder, if I had been here on Tuesday evening would they have been eating early to get their dinner in before Ash Wednesday started?

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Once they get their hooks into you…

I’m not a religious person. I used to be, I used to go to Church every Sunday, but, apart from Funerals, it’s been more than 15 years since I last went to Mass.

Which is why I found it slightly disconcerting this morning that, in spite of not having been to mass for so long, and it being in a completely different language, within a couple of seconds of walking into the Cathedral I could tell that they were coming to the very end of the service with the closing prayers.

Sure enough 30 seconds later the priest was exiting the sanctuary and the handful of Saturday morning worshipers were leaving.

This leads to an interesting query as to where the borders are between faith, indoctrination and brain washing!

Friday, 25 February 2011

A fix for the Portuguese Economy

The Economists have been gleefully predicting that Portugal will be the next major economy to collapse under its own debt, following on the heels of Greece and Ireland.

However, I think I may have found a solution which will prevent the Portuguese Economy from imploding.

It’s a simple economic solution – diversification.

The Portuguese need to get away from what appears to be their major trade


Everywhere I looked today there were shoe shops. In some areas there where nothing but shoe shops, and at the current rate I think almost half of all the shops I’ve seen were selling shoes.

So perhaps the Portuguese economy can be saved, just at the expense of some loafers and a pair of brogues.

Thursday, 24 February 2011


I’ve just had a very pleasant meal in a little restaurant down in the Ribeira area of Porto, overlooking the Douro and the Port houses in Gaia.

One thing struck me though about the food, and it’s something I’ve noticed before in Lisbon (but only one or twice and not to this extent), was the slight addition of salt to the cooking.

Actually, slight is a bit of an understatement. When it came to the vegetables the main flavour was salt with the hint of vegetable matter underneath.

The Salmon was again very nice, but the skin had been pretty much encased in salt which had then leached into the fish.

Not that I’m complaining, the food was very nice, very well presented and exceptionally good value. It’s just a little concerning that I’m probably getting my weekly allocation of salt in one hit, it can’t be that good for you.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Bagshot Grange exists in North Yorkshire

One of the funniest radio programmes I have heard is the Museum of Everything. They only ever made three series (see the Wikipedia entry for more details), but one of the running themes was that of Bagshot Grange.

Bagshot is a stately home where the owners had fallen on hard times and have, grudgingly, been force to open it up to the public as a way of accessing funding (there are several references to English Heritage and the National Trust).

Visitors, who are left in no doubt that they are not particularly welcome and beneath her, are taken on tours of the building by the Lady of the house.

Whilst the experience today didn’t include a tour by the lady of the house my experience of visiting a certain North Yorkshire castle left the distinct impression that the only reason the public are being let in is to raise some extra funds to keep the house.

First sign was the entrance fee. It’s on a par with Dover and Edinburgh Castles, but at those sites there are multiple attractions and a full day’s worth of museums and other attractions on site.

Second sign were the carefully placed signs telling visitors to “stay away from the house”

Third was the total lack of any furniture, interpretation or even poorly designed wax works in the rooms, just one single small description panel which, in most instances, duplicated the information on the guide you are given on the way in.

Fourth was the dampness in the rooms, condensation running down the walls and the windows. At one point a selection of bins had been placed in the middle of the room to collect the small waterfall that was dribbling from the top of the ceiling.

Reading every panel in full, taking in every nuance from the hand-out, and stopping to take lots of pictures, I was still round and out in little over 30 minutes.

I’ve spent longer looking round the bare ruins of a small castle which English Heritage don’t even bother to charge for.

Now, where in North Yorkshire is Badgerland…

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Invest now in land at Gravelly Hill

OK, perhaps it won’t make much of a return for you today, or even your children or their grandchildren, but some point in the next 200 years it will pay off.

Firstly, for those of you who know it better by its nickname, I’m talking about the salubrious part of Birmingham otherwise called Spaghetti Junction.

You wouldn’t want to live there today, what with all those lanes of fuming traffic (and fuming drivers sat in the endless tailbacks).

But 200 years ago if you’d told someone that the noisy, messy and smelly inland harbours in Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds would one day become some of the most desirable residences in their respective cities they would have had the same reaction to someone telling you to invest in housing by the M6 today.

Over the last couple of months I’ve spent several days in all three cities and in all cases the big developments have been around the canals.

Some of the most exclusive developments in Birmingham are around Old Turn Junction, the 18th Century equivalent of Gravelly Hill. The area around the Clarence Dock in Leeds is heaving with luxury flats, high end retailers and even a Casino.

It’s all a massive, and positive, change from the way canals were treated in the past, spending many years slowly decaying into little more than industrial tips and derelict waste grounds.

So, if you’re looking for a long term investment, just remember 200 years ago railways didn’t exist and 150 years ago the idea of the horseless carriage would have gotten you locked up in an asylum. Who knows what the next big thing in transport will be, and if it doesn’t require roads then Gravelly Hill will be the 22nd Centuries dream regeneration site.

Admittedly, it will probably also be the setting off site for a lot of those 22nd Century HGV driving holidays where you take a vintage 2002 Eddie Stobart lorry round the parts of the UK motorway network that are still navigable, but that will be “quaint” and post-post-industrial.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Whisper it, but they may be better off without the train

The railway line between Darlington and Richmond closed in 1969. They weren’t part of the Beeching cuts, but they didn’t survive for that much beyond his cuts.

Today the branch lines round this part of the country that do survive have roughly hourly services, many of which end early in the day (In particular the line from Darlington to Bishop Auckland)

However, between Darlington and Richmond there is now a regular bus service. In fact there is a bus every 15 minutes throughout most of the day and it runs late into the evening.

It does lead you to wonder if a level of service that good could ever be provided if the branch line was reopened.

Add in the fact the buses stop in the town centre, and the station is nearly a quarter of a mile away and at the bottom of the valley near the river, and the implication is actually the current set up, whilst perhaps not as environmentally friendly, is certainly more tourist friendly.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Perhaps we might have to demolish the Olympic stadium

There has been a row brewing in the regional press this week about what will happen to the Olympic Stadium once the 2012 games are over.

BBC News: IOC Chief wants running track left at 2012 stadium

One plan sees the site being remodelled slightly as an athletics and football stadium

The other plan sees the site being demolished and a new football stadium built. A much older athletics ground south of the river would be regenerated, so the Olympic park would be left without a stadium.

Personally, I think the idea of tearing down a brand new (tax-payer funded) stadium just 8 weeks after it has opened is wrong, not least of all for the horrific waste of money and resources.

However, walking between St Pancras and Kings Cross stations this afternoon my certainty about this has started to waiver.

St Pancras International station opened in 2007 after a complete refurbishment. The underground link from the domestic high-speed platforms to the tube station didn’t open until much later.

Today, walking along the passageway I was intrigued to see areas fenced off and signs reporting that “To help with the improvement of St Pancras International station this area is having new flooring installed”

Forgive my ignorance, but surely when you build a new bit of station you build it to last a good few years, not to have to close of bits for “improvement works” a year later.

But, on that basis, perhaps the best option for the Olympic Stadium will be to pull it down. After all, at the end of the six weeks of Olympic Games it will need to be closed for “Improvement works” to fix everything that’s falling to pieces.