A Sunny Sunday Bike Ride

Summer is here, the sky is blue, the scent of freshly cut grass lingers in the morning air, the waft of BBQs fills the afternoon air and the evening brings a happy haze enveloping the woodlands along this part of glorious English coastline. It’s perfect for a bike ride! Come along for an evening cycle with me. And with Runkeeper.

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Let me show you Coy Pond, full of carp. And Branksome Chine, one of many chines that run through otherwise concreted neighbourhoods down to the beach. Under the arches. Over streams and brooks. Till we reach the golden sands of Bournemouth’s long stretch of coastline. Currently densely inhabited by foolishly revealed and slowly burning flesh. Maybe it wasn’t the BBQs that I could smell….

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Racism International Inc

How is Mexico better than the UK, asked no one ever. Well, there’s the weather. And the food. And the chicas. And the friendly faces. And especially the weather. And the fresh fruits. And the racists, too. Let’s big it up for the Mexican racists. They don’t, quite frankly, get the credit that they deserve. How so are Mexican racists better than UK racists, you might wonder. Well, I have no scientific proof, empirical evidence or hearsay to offer. Just personal experience.

I have been the ‘victim’ of racial abuse twice. The most recent episode happened just a couple of hundred metres from home, a week or so ago. I had seen the chap loitering about Westbourne, earlier. White, shaven headed, casual attire, chunky set of headphones stuck on his head. He looked a bit spaced out. Looks can be deceiving. Our conversation was more than simply ‘spaced out’.

Are you English?

Errr…(wondering where this is going)..yes.

No, you’re not.

I’m pretty sure I am.

No you’re f*****g not, are you!

Ok. But actually I am.

There was a strange pause. Where does the conversation go from here? I shrugged and decided to let him finish it with himself, and carried on walking. A moment later I heard him launch into a tirade of colourful language, with the gist being that I should go home to my own country. It was utterly surreal. For those who might be passing this way for the first time, I should qualify, or rather disqualify, his ham fisted attempt at racial profiling. I am white, 6 foot tall, blue/grey eyes, fair haired and when my skin does have any colour to it, after a little too much sun, you would most definitely associate the tone with English Lobster Red. I was born in London to parents born in London to grandparent born in London and so on. I have an unmistakeably English accent.

How did my racist friend get it so wrong? One can only assume that he’d made up his mind that I was a Polish or other European immigrant and felt it unnecessary to remove those bulky headphones in order to confirm his initial prejudice by actually listening to my responses. In the industry of racial ignorance and hatred, the bar for membership is already set pretty low. This guy dropped it on the floor. Dang, he buried it.

Once upon a time in Mexico, I was asked by a homeless chap for some pesos. I had none. After I had walked a safe distance past he started yelling. ‘Pinch ingles!!’ Over and over. Well, at least three times. Was I offended? No, I was thoroughly impressed. He had managed to identify my nationality correctly, and had not gone for the more likely and obvious Yankee critique. See, Mexican racists are better than British racists. They’re smarter, more thoughtful and more considerate. One nil to Mexico.

Racial prejudice is alive and well, everywhere. Sometimes it’s overt. Often it’s disguised by those who attempt to disguise their prejudice as ‘refreshing candor’. You know the sort. The sentence starts with, ‘I’m not racist, but…‘. And then there are those who are simply unthinkingly ignorant. The latter bunch are not necessarily a bad sort. Just poorly informed, or maybe inclined to speak then think, or perhaps just expressing negative experiences of their own.

The ethnic demographic did change noticeably during my time in Mexico. There are now tons of Polish people in the UK. I like them. They are easy to spot. They are the guys who are usually working that bit harder than the others. My racist friend should take note of that when next choosing a recipient for his ignorance. And amend his spiel – go back and work hard and be productive in your own country while I despoil the local environment and waste perfectly good air by my continuing refusal to cease breathing. Personally, I think we could do with a few more Poles and a few less Brits.

There is a downside to all this immigration though. I thought upon returning to England that I’d be safe to use my real name again when out and about.  Hugh Juan could be retired. Alas, it was not to pass. This was a better attempt that some, but it’s not the right spelling. And I do hope Mrs P didn’t notice her new name…

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National Trust Free Pass

My recent post about Chartwell House, Bodiam Castle and Scotney Castle was created because all three locations have something in common. They are all National Trust properties. Mrs P and I are National Trust members and are determined to get maximum value for money by visiting as many places as possible during our year of membership. We love the National Trust. They are a true jewel in this country’s crown.

Good news for you, lucky reader. Assuming there is a reader left out there somewhere. I have a couple of free passes to give away. This is rather short notice as the passes are valid for one week, 23rd to 29th June. But if you have a day or two spare to go out visiting National Trust places, then send me a message through the Contact page. There are bound to be some great places to visit, wherever you live. Providing you live in England, anyway. You can search for potential trips on the National Trust website. The pass is valid for two adults, and two children. Four people maximum.

If you fancy one of these free passes, don’t delay. Send me a message. First come, first served. Then join the National Trust yourself. You can even set off the annual fee against your tax bill.

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Come Rain Or Shine

We Brits like to grumble about the weather. To the casual observer, it may seem like a pointless past time. To the meteorologists amongst you, it might seem bizarre. We rarely suffer from hurricanes or other storms more commonly associated with the tropics. The temperature rarely goes above 25 degrees C. It rarely drops more than a few degrees below zero, although it does get rather chilly up north in mid winter. The floods of last year were an anomaly, and probably wouldn’t be regarded as a serious event in more equatorial countries.

The commonly held theory as to why we Brits spend so much time grumbling about the weather is its unpredictability. It’s impossible to plan ahead. The weatherman on the BBC may make all sorts of promises as to what lies ahead over the next day or two, but he’s guessing. As opposed to predicting. The sun will shine tomorrow, he’ll declare! You hit the beach with your BBQ just in time for a downpour.

I have an alternative theory though. I think we Brits complain about the weather because of its utter predictability. Let me give you an example. The week before last was glorious. Virtually unbroken sunshine all day long with temperatures in the low to mid 20s. Beautiful. I saw it all from my seat in an office. On Friday I strolled out of work a happy man. I had a week off starting now. And a weekend in Kent/Sussex booked to go see some castles and stately homes. The sun, alas, also went on holiday and disappeared for three days. We returned from our short break, and so did the sun, bathing Bournemouth in all its glory. Just as I went down with a cold. The weather is unpredictably predictable.

But the grey, overcast skies did not spoil our trip. It did put rather a dampener on the photography though. A moody sky with dramatic sweeping clouds can be photogenic. A blanket of monotonous grey is not. But such is life, one can but work with what one has. I, perhaps, overworked the filters in Lightroom to compensate. First stop was Chartwell House. A fabulous home set amongst splendid gardens and once home to Sir Winston Churchill. He described a day away from Chartwell as a day wasted. After a few hours of roaming around his former manor, I see his point. There are plenty of his paintings to view in his old studio too. It’s a treasure trove of Churchillian memorabilia for fans of the former PM. Click here to see the album on Flickr.

Then on to Bodiam Castle. It’s a romantic’s dream wedding location. Deliberately left to ruin in one of the earliest attempts to drum up an income through touristpounds and shillings, it’s a castle I once visited as a child. It was enchanting then and remains so today. It was the inspiration of the short break away. It’s well worth a long drive all by itself.  The complete photo set is on Flickr – click here.

The final stop was at Scotney Castle. Which was a two for the price of one sort of deal. You have the grand old stately home. And the old castle, moat et al, in the rather ample and well manicured grounds. This place warrants a longer visit than Bodiam. It was still occupied by the last surviving member of the owning family until 2006. The lady was 99 years old when she finally left this mortal coil. I can’t help but feel 99 is such an unlucky age to die. I know, most of us would gratefully accept that age if it were offered to us in advance. Gratefully? Gleefully! And yet, having made it that far, you’d surely be disappointed not to make the full century. Wouldn’t you?

She was a cat fan. There’s ample evidence of a cat lover all over the property. Magazines, baskets, paintings, ornaments, statues. She owned many cats during her long life and called all of them Minou. All of them except the last one, whom she called Puss Puss. I can’t help but feel that was the jinx that stopped her short of her century. She should have kept the Minou tradition going. Or maybe I’m just being superstitious. Perhaps, being a cat lady, 9 is the key number when it comes to lives. And she had her 99. I don;t know how many lives Puss Puss will get, but the staff there assure us the cat is still doing well and in continuing residence at Scotney. We saw her baskets and food/water bowls. But we didn’t catch sight of the cat. I caught sight of plenty else. Once again, the photo album is on Flickr – click here.

Flower Bay

Isn’t summer just the most fabulous time of year? Here’s a shot I took recently of the bay as it sweeps past Bournemouth to Old Harry Rocks. With early summer wild flowers blooming along the cliff top. I posted this to 500px, where it got quite a few views, likes and faves. I’ve noticed lately that shots I’ve uploaded to 500px have been getting a lot more views than normal. Why, I do not know. I didn’t renew my Plus membership, so I have only the basic free account now. And I stopped creating sets when they changed how sets are displayed on the front page. In fact, it was so ugly I removed all my sets.

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Every now and then I’ll look at the stats page on Flickr too. And every now and again there’s an enormous spike in views. I have no idea why. There is a box showing referrers but they all just come from Flickr. It seems odd that the norm of 500 to 1000 views a day is suddenly and inexplicably interrupted with a 6000+ boom in visitors. But they are all welcome visitors. Especially if they are buying. Which, sadly, they are usually not.

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The World Cup Prediction

Ok, so yesterday I teased you with a wallchart showing how England would triumph in the World Cup that kicks off shortly. This post is to return us to reality. Back down to earth we go. England crash out in the group stages. So who do I think is going to win this World Cup? I think Argentina will play a big part in lighting up the tournament. Don’t be surprised to see Messi finish top scorer. Not just because he’s the best player in the world, not just because he’s surrounded by some pretty talented team mates. Mostly because Argentina have the easiest group going, and he may well have the Golden Boot all wrapped up before the Knock Out stage begins.

If I have to pick a shock, I’ll go for Spain. They may well come up against a Croatia team fully of pacey and fearless players in the first round of knock out games. I wouldn’t be surprised if they faced and beat Italy in the quarter finals. But the semi finals are as far as they’ll go. The Belgians are highly tipped, as are Uruaguay. The former have a fantastically talented bunch of players, but a total lack of unity. The latter are defensively fragile. They’ll entertain, perhaps off the pitch as much as on it. But they’ll both be sent packing early doors.

What about Brazil? I just think they’ll do fine. Until they meet Germany. And it’s the Germans who I am tipping to upset the South American party, with victories over the hosts and their neighbours Argentina in a final that is the ‘decider’. They’ve battled for supremacy in World Cup finals twice before, in 1986 and 1990 and are currently one a piece. So…you heard it here first, as they say.

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The World Cup Dark Horse

Every World Cup throws up a surprise. A team that’s not expected to do anything, who ends up going far. In recent competitions, Croatia, Bulgaria and Uruguay have all had sparkling campaigns. In 2010 I picked Mexico as a potential dark horse. Which was, in hindsight, a bit silly of me. No, silly is unkind. I was simply overly optimistic about the chances of my adopted home.

a :  a usually little known contender (as a racehorse) that makes an unexpectedly good showing

b :  an entrant in a contest that is judged unlikely to succeed

Who could it be this time? There are a few candidates. But in the last few weeks, one nation has struck me as having real potential to surprise the world. That nation? Well, England. Could a case of over optimism be about to strike again? Possibly. I will admit that the closer to kick off we get, and it is just a week away now, then the more one is afflicted by irrational thoughts, hopes and belief. It’s called World Cup fever.

But hear me out nonetheless. I do have a certain amount of rational reasoning here. It doesn’t necessarily follow that we’ll win the trophy, but a good showing could be on the cards. Unlike most tournaments, when  the England squad is sent off to the host nation on a crest of euphoria, with the nation convinced that this will be our time, we have absolutely no expectation this time round that we’ll even get out of our group. We definitely qualify as a dark horse under part b of the description above.

However, Roy Hodgson has gone against what virtually everyone believed he would do. He has cast aside a string of traditional 30 something starters and picked a squad full of young players. It’s the second youngest squad England have ever sent for slaughter a victorious campaign. There’s little experience there. That’s fine.  There’s little taint of failure of previous tournaments either. There’s plenty of pace and energy. And anyone who says England can’t hit the target, clearly weren’t watching the game against Peru last Friday.

We’re going to play in the jungle first game against Italy and it will be a young guy’s game. Hodgson can make the most of Liverpool’s star players at the core of his team. Gerrard, Johnson, Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge have had a fine season. Paul Scholes has it dead right when he says we should play like Liverpool. Unlike most World Cup’s, there’s no expectation, no hype, no last minute injury concerns. We have a few important players. Joe Hart, the goalkeeper, for one. Other players can make mistakes, but the goalkeeper can’t. Well, they can. But it’s ever so costly.

But the key lies with our forward players. Daniel Sturridge seems to have gotten into the goal per game knack at just the right time. In Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana and Sterling we have wide players with pace who can go past people and create chances. And in Wilshire we have a player with a genuinely high level of technique and movement.

Whether or not I am suffering from World Cup fever is beside the point. There are plenty of reasons to have a lot more hope and belief than we had six months ago. I have my fingers crossed. We are, on paper, the third best team in our group of four. Only the top two qualify, so by rights, it should be a short ride for England fans. But truth be told, there’s not a lot between Englan, Italy an Uruguay. It’ll be a fascinating set of matches. And hopefully the springboard for England’s path to glory…

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Fuji v Sony

I’ve been admiring cameras again lately. I’m not in the market for one yet and will have to keep my trusty Olympus PEN EPL1 going until early next year. But then I have an exotic trip planned. Perhaps. And I’ll want a new camera. What to choose? I never did buy any lenses for the PEN, so I’m certainly not committed to any format. But there is on brand I’ve been eyeing up lately. Fuji were latecomers to the Compact System scene. But now that they’re here, they do have a lovely range of cameras and lenses to choose from.

I am a Fuji fan. I love the quality of their images. They have three main models I’d likely pick from. The bargain baby of the range the X-M1. Or the X-E1, which is an older model that can be had for a more reasonable price compared to it’s successor the X-E2. Or the range topping an utterly delicious X-T1. I’ve looked through shots on Flickr which show what the cameras are capable of. Look at these galleries for a selection of samples – X-T1 and X-E1. Fabulous noise free imagery of the highest order.

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So this is a camera lust post about Fuji, right? Well, I do love all three cameras. But there’s a problem. The X-M1 has no viewfinder, and actually I’d really like a viewfinder. I could buy a Sony Nex 6 for less and get a viewfinder. The X-E1? It has a viewfinder. But it’s an older model now and quite frankly the new Sony A6000 is the same price. As for the X-T1….the price!! Over £1300 for the camera and a kit lens! It’s in my dreams but out of my price range. As are all of the lenses in the Fuji X range.

I looked elsewhere. I have given consideration to buying a proper DSLR. Maybe a Nikon 5300 or a Canon T5i, and simply using my cell phone for out and about shots. But I know what I’m like, and you’d see loads of cell phone photos and very few camera shots. All too often I’ll pick the DSLR up, think twice and then leave it behind.

Which brings me full circle. I’m not just a convert to the Compact System format, but very much a preacher. But there is still only one manufacturer who has built a high end model that fulfils the promise of the mirror-less system. That will be Sony. They fit a proper DSLR sized sensor into a camera that can, with the right lens, fit into a jeans pocket. Just about. Although the Fuji X-E1 and 2 run it close.

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Sony lenses can also be had for less, which is another big pro. Here’s a gallery of A6000 (or ILCE 6000) shots. It’s a newer camera, so there’s less to choose from. The images show great noise control, dynamic range and colour. I was already a fan of the previous model, the NEX 6. I’m an even bigger fan of the new kid on the Sony street though. Roll on 2015.

 

 

Nelson’s Legacy

This is very much a follow on from my last post. Visiting London, especially for the first time, is an awe inspiring experience. It’s a vast city, awash with grandeur, rich is history and still one of wealthiest places on earth. Famously, it was the centre of the world’s biggest empire, which reigned over foreign territories for five centuries. Well, we can argue the dates, but I go by the dates of 1497  when the first English settlers landed in Newfoundland, to 1997 when the UK returned control of Hong Kong, the final ‘proper’ colony, to the Chinese. The dates are convenient if nothing else. But the main question that visitors might ask – how on earth did this small island end up controlling a quarter of the world’s land surface and up to a third of it’s population?

There is no single answer, most historians would agree. But I’ll venture to propose that if we had to whittle down the explanation of a small island conquering huge chunks of land across the globe, we can whittle it down to one man. You’ll see him and references to him across London and the UK. And his legacy envelopes London almost completely. The man is Horatio Nelson. Aka, Lord Nelson or Admiral Nelson. Britain’s most famous sailor. He came only 9th in the 100 Greatest Britons, which was a travesty.

You see, in 1783 Britain lay at a crossroads. The American colonies were lost. Enemies were circling Britain like lions round a wounded gazelle. Napoleon was wreaking havoc across Europe. In the minds of many, the British Empire was in decline, near its end even. Invasion by the French was a serious threat. If ever the nation needed a hero, it was now. As they say, cometh the hour, cometh the man. He revolutionised naval warfare, taking British fleets into conflict against often superior enemy formations and quickly annihilating them. Five battles  later, including the final devastating destruction of the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, and Nelson had won control of the seas for Great Britain.

He was a legend in his own, short, lifetime. It often helps to die in your prime to maintain that status. He had his controversial moments, for sure. But enemy admirals feared him. Just a mention of his name would have French fleets turn tail and head the opposite direction. His funeral was as grand as they come. Even today his flagship, the Victory, remains a commissioned Royal Navy warship in dry dock at Portsmouth. You’ll see paintings of him in galleries. Busts of Nelson always take centre place, even at Windsor Castle where you can also find the bullet that killed him enclosed in a glass cabinet. His sarcophagus in the crypt of St Paul’s is the most prominent. And of course, there’s Nelson’s column in the centre of Trafalgar Square.

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There’s a point to all this. The question was, why did Great Britain end up with the enormous empire it did? And not, as looked likely in 1783, a second rate European nation with a few rag tag colonies. You can see the ‘before and after’ maps of empire above. Nelson didn’t just win battles. He destroyed both the fleets and hearts of Britain’s rivals, the French and Spanish. Neither of whom ever again made any genuine effort to compete with Britain on the seas after the Battle of Trafalgar. The world’s oceans were now Britain’s almost exclusive territory, opening the way for trade, colonial expansion, industrialisation, invention and wealth creation. Admittedly, with a large dose of ethnic cleansing, exploitation and genocide included for good measure.

When you walk around London admiring the grand Victorian architecture, the Palace of Westminster, even the modern glass towers, they were all made possible by the wealth brought in by the British Empire which was itself made possible by Nelson. To understand London today, London’s history of the last two hundred years, the place Britain has taken in the world and even the history of much of the world over the previous two centuries you should take a little time to learn about Nelson. The man, his victories, his legacy. There’s a 90 second account of Trafalgar here. But here’s the funny version…

 

Three Days In London

I get asked the question sometimes. By people I know or by readers of my blog. What to do and see when visiting London. Every time I run up a suggested itinerary. Wouldn’t it be easier to just write a blog post? Well, yes it would. So here it is. A three day whirlwind tour of London, focussed on the budget conscious. This can be a phenomenally expensive city. On the other hand, it can be done pretty cheaply.

But how to devise a three day guide? I’ve given this some thought I’ve come up with a map on Google with a load of great destinations,  a suggested itinerary and I’ve included a few recommended eating spots and suggestions about what is worth paying for and what is perhaps best appreciated from the exterior. It’s a tough ask to come up with a three day guide. Because, quite frankly, even three weeks is insufficient to do much more than scratch the surface of this metropolis.

Google Maps are excellent. I started out using Bing Maps. But they have been left behind by Google’s latest mapping product. The map below really is a very integral part of this post. By clicking on the link (or on the image below) you’ll not only be able to see what is where, but by also clicking on the pins you can go on to the  Google+ page and/or website of each destination.

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 First Evening

Most people will find themselves with an evening to explore after they’ve arrived. So why not take a walk starting from Oxford Circus all the way to Big Ben to kick things off. Stop en route at trendy Carnaby Street, window shop down Regent Street, take photos of Eros an the illuminations at Piccadilly Circus before heading into Leicester Square.  And then just keep walking. Trafalgar Square isn’t far now. Then a stroll down Whitehall and, if it’s open, pop into Banqueting House. It’s only a fiver, doesn’t take long and has some great bean bags to lie on whilst you stare at Reuben’s masterpiece on the ceiling. The audio guide is actually very interesting too. Then on we go again, and before you know it you’ll be standing under Big Ben. You know full well that’s what you came here to see. Timing is key. You want to hear the bells chime on the hour.

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Plus, if it’s dark enough, then you’ll not only get great photos of the Palace of Westminster, but also of the river and the London Eye that sits on the other side of it. But don’t head off to the London Eye just yet. That’s for another time. Round the corner from your current location is Westminster Abbey, one of London’s most famous, and oldest, landmarks. Inside you’d find the last resting places of kings and queens going back centuries. But truth be told, it’s expensive to visit, the queues are often long and you’re constrained by both time and budget. So unless this is something you absolutely feel you must do, I suggest keeping your cash in your pocket and saving it for St Pauls.

Day One

Hungry? You need a Full English Breakfast. Garfunkels serves a pretty decent plateful at a reasonable price with unlimited coffee. There are branches all over the place, but the one in the Gloucester Arcade is my favourite. But let’s start the morning proper at Trafalgar Square. If you fancy taking in a West End show this evening, then look around for some cheap tickets – outlets are all over the place especially around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Then have a quick nose through the National Gallery. Some of the countries finest art collections are inside and it’s free to enter. Once your thirst for paint and canvas has been sated, stroll down the Mall through Admiralty Arch and on to see Buckingham Palace. During certain times of the year you can, for a hefty fee, go inside to marvel at how royalty live. Most people settle for the Changing of the Guard. Make sure you have the day and time right – it’s not performed every day, all year round. Let’s get on though. So much to see, so little time. You can cut through Green Park to return to Westminster. Because seeing Big Ben just the once, just isn’t enough.

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Stroll across the river and have a ride on the London Eye. It’s not cheap but it’s worth it for the photographic opportunity. Now for a stroll along the river to explore the South Bank. If you’re really missing Mexico, then across Hungerford Bridge is a tasty and authentic taqueria called Lupitas. Alternatively, cross further down at Waterloo Bridge and see Somerset House. It’s a great piece of architecture and always has an interesting exhibition or three going on. Just a little further down the road is St Clement Danes church, which has the best set of bells in town. You might also recognise it as the starting point for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral procession.

Double back now, and head to Covent Garden. Have you got tickets booked for a performance at the Royal Opera House? They can be had pretty cheaply sometimes, it’s worth looking and booking in advance. Have a wander through Covent Garden, enjoy the market, watch the street performers and find a nice restaurant – there’s an abundance of options. Then either go into the Opera House or head off to Theatre Land and watch the show you bought tickets for earlier this morning.

Day Two

Catch the Number 9 bus from Trafalgar Square. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s the most famous bus in the world. Ride for a little way until you get to Knightsbridge and jump off the back to go have a wander around Harrods. Don’t miss the food court. Back on the next number 9, which will give you a mini tour of London until you arrive at the Royal Albert Hall. Again, have you got tickets?? During the summer from July through to September, the BBC Proms are held here and tickets can be cheap. Just try and book in advance, although you can turn up on the day. Although you’ll be mightily lucky to get in to the Last Night of the Proms. There’s plenty to see nearby the Royal Albert Hall too.

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The Albert Memorial is just over the road, and a short walk away are the fabulous Natural History and Victoria and Albert museums. Both of which are free and both of which are well worth a quick tour. South Kensington itself is a lovely part of London – my favourite. Definitely stop for a coffee. If you’re looking to scrimp and save where you can, and providing the weather is up for it, why not go into a Tesco supermarket and buy a picnic? Stroll back to the Albert Memorial, find a nice sunny or shaded spot in the park and eat and drink your fill before Prom time. Although there is a small, and I do mean small, little restaurant called the Oriental Canteen in South Kensington which serves up generous portions for very little dinero.

Day Three

Catch the tube to St Pauls and prepare to lose the best part of one of those crisp £20 notes you got at a currency exchange. It’s well worth it. The Cathedral interior is glorious. Princess Diana got wed here. Winston Churchill’s funeral service was here. You can go up into the giant dome and practise your whispering skills. You’ll see lots of people trying, and failing to be heard by friends across the other side of the dome.  Most people just start talking into the wall. The trick is to put your cheek against the side of the wall and then just whisper. Try a few rude words in your own language to see if there are any other people from your part of the world around.

You then plough on up to the top of the dome where there are two exterior viewing platforms. They are, I’m afraid, the worst views in London. Because they are the only views where you cannot see St Pauls Cathedral. Such is life. Once you’ve had all the fresh air London can give you, head back down. Down and further down. To the crypt. Where you will find the resting places of some of the most important people in our history, including the Duke of Wellington and the legendary Admiral Nelson.

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Once you’ve had enough, head to the river, across the Wibbly Wobbly bridge, more properly known as the Millenium Footbridge, and into the Tate Modern. It’s another art gallery, but we’re not here for the art. We’re here for a cup of coffee, or maybe a glass of wine in the cafe. Take the escalator up. The views are wonderful. If you’re a fan of St Pauls, then they’re the best views in London. Next door, almost, to the Tate Modern is the Globe Theatre. If you have the legs for it, you can buy really cheap standing tickets. But you do need to have the legs for it – the shows can go on a bit. This call will come down to just how tight your budget is!

Let’s walk now along the river to London Bridge Station. Forget about the bridge though. It’s not the bridge you think it is. If you’re feeling rich then perhaps you’ve got tickets to go up the Shard, Europe’s tallest building. The views are spectacular. You can even see Wembley Stadium. If not then jump back on the tube. We’re heading to another of London’s oldest and most famous landmarks. The Tower of London. You’ve another call to make. Do you pay a King’s ransom to go inside the Tower of London?  The worlds biggest diamonds are inside. Beefeaters too. And a thousand years of history.

Or do you part with a much more reasonable sum to see the Tower Bridge exhibition? This is the bridge you wanted to see. I’ve done both and preferred the Tower Bridge exhibition. But that’s just me. It’s quicker though, and as I mentioned, cheaper. Whichever you decide, have a wander around. There is a spot which I like to call the Plaza de las Cuatro Culturos. Mexican visitors will know what I’m on about. I see your three cultures and raise you one. You will be able to see four very distinct cultures in a single frame. The Romans with a bit of their wall. The Norman with their castle. The Victorians with their bridge. And modern Londoners, with their glass and steel buildings. It’s not, of course, officially known as the Plaza of Four Cultures. But I just thought I’d point it out.

The Liberty Bounds pub is just a little way along the road from the Tower of London and is a great place to have a reasonably priced dinner of fish and chips. With a traditional English beer, of course.

The Final Morning.

Do you have a few hours to kill before you fly out? Why not head to Portabello Market. You’ll recognise the scenes from the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts film, Notting Hill. You’ll find plenty of cheap eats and antique stalls, but this is something to do on a weekend, not a weekday. In which case, perhaps Camden Market will make do. Or a flying visit to the British Museum. Perhaps you always really, really wanted to cross a Zebra Crossing? There’s only one place to do that, outside the Abbey Road studios following in the footsteps of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Did you enjoy your whirlwind tour of the world’s greatest city? Of course you did. Yet there is still so much to see. The British Museum, Greenwich, numerous galleries and other museums, landmarks, stations, architecture. You simply can’t fit it all into just three days. Perhaps you need to extend your trip here. Speak to your bank manager about increasing that overdraft. Or better still, come back again. London’s been around for a long time, and will no doubt still be here when you have the time and money to get here.

Places To Stay

London is full of reasonably priced meal deals. Even getting around isn’t really expensive. A London Transport Travelcard gives you unlimited use of the Underground and bus service. A lot of museums and churches are free. Walking is always free. Accommodation, though, can be pricey and is not always top quality. You don’t have to pay a ridiculous fortune though. Tune Hotels are a bargain given their locations. They’re quite new too. I’ve stayed at the Paddington hotel which is the best located of the bunch. There’s also EasyHotels, with the Gloucester Road, Victoria and Earls Court hotels all being handily placed for a tourist. But….don’t expect luxury, or space. You get a bed, clean sheets, a shower and a toilet. That’s it.

 

The Memory Bench

Different cultures deal with death in different ways. In Mexico, of course, there is a special day for the departed – Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. But then Mexico has a special day for every type of person, living or dead. The English method is simpler. A short service, then back home for some triangle sandwiches and crisps and a few beers. Then back to work.

Although that’s the short story. Wherever you walk in Britain you’ll see an inviting bench, ready to take the weight off your feet. The longer you’ve been walking, the more inviting it is. Benches are every where. Town centres, woodlands, along paths, in gardens. Everywhere. And most of them will have a small rectangular metal plaque. Upon which is a dedication to a loved on. It’s a memorial and a seat. We are such a practical bunch, us Brits.

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I never met Bill. But what a great name. It was a fine view too. I always read the plaques. It’s funny to think that there’s a life long story behind each one of them. Many of them mention how the person used to love sitting there for hours. I sometimes can’t help but be grateful they’re gone, or they’d be sitting there still, leaving no place for me to rest my weary bones. I used to wonder how you go about getting a memorial on a bench. So I ‘googled’ it. It’s a council run thing, unsurprisingly. In Bournemouth you dial 01202 451781 an go for option 1.

I’d like a bench with a plaque in my memory one day. Preferably a day quite some time from now, if possible. Does Bournemouth Council allow a little wit or sarcasm on the plaques? I’m guessing ‘stabbed to death with a spoon here whilst admiring the view’ is probably out of the question, although it would be fun to spook a few people. Humourous plaques do exist though, as can be seen here, here and here.

Where should my bench be? Perhaps along Gloucester Road in London. Or across from the British Museum. Both great places to sit and people watch. But no, I think if I am going to sit anywhere for a long time, it should be in Mexico DF. Where the sun shines its warm rays on the city every day of the year. Near the Obregon monument would be nice. Or along Reforma, maybe? No, my preference would be Avenida Alvaro Obregon. My favourite street in the whole city.

I don’t need the plaque to say anything much. It could state how much I always liked a shapely Latina derrière. Lechery beyond the grave appeals to me. But it should certainly be in English, just to bewilder the locals. Gary Denness, 19.10.1972 – 20.10.2073. Lived past a hundred and still never saw England win a bloody World Cup. Such is life. The dates are by far the most important thing…

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Bournemouth Wheels Festival

Bournemouth is not one of England’s ancient towns. Far from it. Little more than two hundred years ago there was nothing here but heathland. It’s grown somewhat since its founding in 1810 though, and stayed true to its heritage. That heritage is tourism. The first few villas built on the shores of Bournemouth were put there for visitors, mostly from London, to rent. Bathing in the sea was becoming popular as both as a past time and for its ‘medicinal qualities’. If you visit the area you’ll also notice an abundance of pine trees. They aren’t native to the region, and were planted by the towns founder to cater to the commonly held belief that inhaling the scent of pine was good for you.

Bournemouth isn’t a one trick pony, though. In more recent years, finance has become a key cornerstone of the local economy with JP Morgan, Nationwide, Liverpool Victoria and others investing heavily in call centres and offices in the town. There’s also Bournemouth University, which seems to be growing at an incredible rate. If you see a tower block being built or renovated in the town, chances are its for student accommodation. It’s an impressive story, given that it didn’t even officially become a university until the early 1990s.

This economic diversity is a good thing. An awful lot of England’s seaside holiday hotspots have died over the last twenty to thirty years as foreign trips became easier and cheaper to do. Some towns linger on, but quite frankly many of them should be booked into Dignitas for their own sake. But Bournemouth, along with Brighton and Blackpool, continue to thrive. I’ll argue that Bournemouth has been the biggest success story of the three of them. The town has advantages over both its rivals. It’s a lot closer to London than Blackpool and can feed off a larger and wealthier tourist base. And whilst Brighton is closer still to the capital, its beaches are of the stone variety – no competition for the golden sands a little further west down the coast.

Bournemouth is also a great base to set off from to explore castles, the Jurassic Coast and many fine stately homes. And despite the towns youth, there is history to be had as well. Lawrence of Arabia has a home and his grave a short drive away. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, is buried in the town centre. There’s Stonehenge and Salisbury with its towering cathedral. For TV buffs, you could always go and see the resting place of Mr Selfridge and his wife near Christchurch.

But most of all, Bournemouth has turned the screw on its rivals with some flagship events. The feather in the town’s cap is the annual Bournemouth Air Festival which is Europe’s largest free air show. Nearly one and a half million visitors come to see the four day spectacle.  To supplement the end of summer airborne extravaganza, Bournemouth has this year introduced a start of summer festival that is more down to earth. The Bournemouth Wheels Festival. Vintage cars, super cars, race cars, monster trucks, stunt bikes and everything in between arrived in town for a three day show in the Bank Holiday sun. Assuming you went, like I did, on the Sunday. And not the Saturday or Monday. Which had less sun, more rain.

You can have a sneak peak at the show in the photos below, or see the full set on Flickr by clicking here. There’s definitely a full days worth of stuff to see and do, including a fireworks display off the end of the pier each night. I hope they bring it back next year. The town was packed, which is a good sign the weekend was successful, so I’m sure it will return in 2015.

 

My Europe, My Vote

The right to cast your vote in secret is an important one to ensure a free and democratic election. I have cast my ballot today in the 2014 European elections. Just how free and fair an election process is can be tested by the willingness of the voters to forego their right of secrecy and declare the recipient of their vote, comfortable that whilst others may disagree with their choice, they won’t face discrimination or any other adverse effect due to their vote. I’m perfectly happy to tell you who I voted for. I voted for the lesser of two eight evils.

I keep threatening to run for election as an independent myself one day. Perhaps next year. If I can raise the £500 needed for the deposit. Any donors? If I get at least 5% of the vote, I’ll get my cash back. And so, therefore, will you.  But I’ll not bother running for a European election. It has to be the real deal. The General Election. Don’t be overly surprised if you didn’t get your donation back. But there’s always the chance you’ll see me in television, on a stage, waiting anxiously for the results to be declared, hoping that I get at least two votes. My own vote being pretty much in the bag…

So, now you know. I voted Labour. In between uploading those photos and getting on  to this paragraph , I had to pause for thought. Should I be posting photos of my trip into the polling station? You’ll note one of those photos shows a sign forbidding photography. In my defence, I noticed it on the way out, not the way in, and nobody said anything to me inside about not taking a photo.

The BBC has this article explaining the rights and wrongs of photography in a polling station. Essentially, there are no rights or wrongs, other than to photograph someone else making their choice – specifically, revealing their choice – is an offence. Polling stations have been told to put up signs forbidding photography even though it seems pretty clear that there is no law to support this policy.

So. To publish or not to publish my photographed ballot paper? Obviously, given that you’ve seen the photos above, I chose to publish. For several reasons. I object, albeit rather mildly in this instance, to being told not to do something when there is no legislation preventing me from doing so. Selfies have been going on for a while now, as have elections. If this were important, there should have been prior legislation. I have satisfied myself that my photo does not compromise any other persons right to a secret ballot. And also because, on the very next BBC page that I turned to, I see that they have published photos taken inside polling stations during this election to accompany their election coverage. Much as I have.

Back to the election. Which has mostly been about UKIP. I hate to generalise, really I do, but I’m going to just go ahead and make an exception. Active UKIP supporters….they do rather come across as a rather ignorant, arrogant collection of toffs and tarts who haven’t yet quite gotten around to acclimatising to the 21st century. It’s a rag tag collection of people who are just like other people, and enjoy other people’s company, just so long as they aren’t…you know…different. It’s a party for racists who didn’t know they were racist. It’s a party for people who can’t tell the difference between officious political correctness and plain old fashioned xenophobia.

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But I like UKIP. It serves a purpose. It splinters the Conservative party. Many of the rotten apples of the political world have gravitated around UKIP, identifying themselves. And, one must concede, they have put Europe on the agenda as a subject demanding action rather than empty rhetoric. Most intelligent people do not want the UK to leave the EU. They want to belong to a cohesive, efficient Europe that is flexible in meeting the needs of member nations, that is committed to upholding the sovereignty of individuals nations and that brings economic benefits. As opposed to a domineering, excessive and bureaucratic monster. It’s sadly closer to the latter than the former. Let’s fix it, not flog it.

So, did you vote? Would you vote? How did you vote? Left, right, centre or secretly?

British Socialism in the 21st Century

I must confess that when reading through Forbes list of the worlds richest people, you have to head quite a long way down the list before you find a Brit. There’s no need for a person to have tens of billions of pounds. Or dollars, for that matter. Here in the UK, we are strong believers of wealth distribution, and the idea of having a handful of mega billionaires is something we find rather distasteful. Instead, we have lots and lots of plain old fashioned normal billionaires.

Lots and lots of them. Over a hundred now, which is more billionaires per capita than any where else on the planet. London is home to the majority of them, unsurprisingly. A total of 72, more than any other city on the planet.  I’ve read repeatedly how London is reclaiming it’s title of Capital of the World. It sure does have the capital. And that loot is coming in from all four corners of the globe. You see, of the 25 richest people in Britain, only seven of them are actually British. And one of those has a bit of a question mark over his nationality. Just two of them are in the top ten.  Here’s a little chart I created, totalling up the cash per country. For convenience, I included the Ukrainian chap in the ‘Russia’ tab. He soon will be, anyway.

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To be clear, I’m not anti-rich people. I’m a fan of Bill Gates, and they don’t come any richer than him. But, am I really being controversial by stating the opinion that if the majority of the wealth that exists on this planet is concentrated in the possession of an incredibly tiny proportion of the population then something has gone wrong? Economics is a complicated subject, I know. But surely the status quo is not the perfecta ratio?

I imagine most people, of whatever political persuasion, do not wish to see fellow citizens who are prepared to do a fair days work but have no work to do, made homeless or starve. That is why we have a social safety net. But my little rant today are for those are actually do complete a fair days work. The Minimum Wage was one of the better policies introduced by Tony Blair’s government. The ratification of the European Working Time Directive in 1999 was also an important step forward.

If we’re not paying people a living wage, then they end up picking up benefits to keep their head above water. In other words, the tax payer is subsidising the employers, be they corporations or smaller enterprises. There are a few policies that I would like to see implemented by the next UK government. Assuming that the incumbent one is removed….crossed fingers.

I’d like to see the minimum wage increased to a living wage. I’d like to see the Tax Allowance increased to the amount set as the minimum wage. I’d like to see employers obliged to pay 1.5x the hourly rate for every hour that PAYE employees works over their contracted hours. I’ll wager that the Zero Hours contracts will disappear pretty quickly. I’d also like to see pay at 1.5x the hourly rate for all hours worked on Saturdays, and 2x the hourly rate for work done at night or on Sundays.

I’d like to see a couple of pieces of Mexican employment legislation introduced too. Particularly, a minimum of a three month pay off for all employees fired, let go or otherwise released from employment contracts, on top of any redundancy pay out that already exists in British law. Just to put a bit more onus on employers to choose their employees carefully, to ensure they give them a fair opportunity and to ease any period of unemployment for the employee. Lastly, a Christmas bonus. Two weeks salary, to be paid prior to Jesus’ big day in December.

Which of the main UK political parties will take these ideas up and run with them? I’d give them my vote. Alas, I’ll probably have to run for parliament myself…