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?