Notting Hill Carnival

When I was a youngster, I didn’t much want to go to London’s premier carnival. It wasn’t much of a multicultural event. Not much in the way of diversity, not very inclusive. Many things have changed over the years. It’s gone from a troublesome street party known best for after dark riots, to a riotous jamboree of colour, smells, flavour and fun. And now I do want to go. So I did. Although there is still some trouble, sadly. Every year a number of people will have a less than pleasant encounter. And as you’ll see from the boarded up windows, the local shop keepers know what’s best for their businesses.

We were early to arrive and early to leave, so any potential trouble missed us. Except for one very troublesome chap. He’s called many things, mostly starting with curse words. But you know him best as English Weather. He was in a foul mood. And he let everyone know it. It rained from dawn to dusk and through to the next dawn. It often came down cats and dogs. Sometimes it eased off. Just some cats…

But a spot of rain wasn’t going to stop the party. And the drop in temperature wasn’t going to get the girls in the parade donning sweaters. Which was a good things. There’s nothing like a skimpy costume to warm everyone else up. There’s a taster below. For the full booty call, click here and Flickr will provide…

 

To Blog Or Not To Blog

It’s a question I often ask myself. What is the purpose? I did once have a defined purpose. Once upon a time in Mexico. I sometimes redefined that purpose, changing the ‘theme’ or style of my content. But it always had a purpose. Once upon a time, I used to earn money from my blog, from revenue brought in through running sponsored posts. Alas, that market is currently dead and the Mexile is revenue-less. I have sometimes used my blog to praise companies or products. And if I’m displeased? It’s a great place to vent my displeasure, publicly. Although I’d be well advised not to do so in France.  Nowadays, I seem to blog out of habit. Is my blog dying? Just a little bit. A bit of bird flu at the least. But some do say the concept of blogging is dead anyway. Perhaps I should lay the Mexile down to rest in peace in the bloggers graveyard.

Not so many people read my blogs these days. The stats page of WordPress confirms that the world was far more interested in my adventures in Mexico City than it is in my daily grind in Bournemouth. My readership nosedived in March 2011, the month after my return to the UK. It is but a third what it once was. But you know what they say about quantity. It is secondary to quality. And so it is with the little band of readers I have here. Many of whom have blogs of their own, which I in turn read. I may have departed Mexico in the flesh, but my blog list shows I am still very much in Mexico in spirit.

The thing about blogging is that you own who you are. You can present your favourite version of yourself to the world. It doesn’t have to be the real you. But then, the blog concerned would be less engaging and less believable. In my opinion. This isn’t to say that everything must be revealed unto the world. But it is good to get to know the real person behind the virtual pages of the web. The chaps and chapettes on my blog list certainly let themselves be themselves. Or else do a fabulous job of pretending. Either way, it’s why I follow them.

I think most of us also blog simply because we enjoy it. Writing can be therapeutic. Fun, even. I’m sure there’s a number of us, myself included, who’d like to write something of importance one day and gain a few minutes worth of fame. I’ve had a few ‘minor moments’ of international renown with the Mexile. This won’t be one of those posts though. I’ve already been scooped. Which brings me to the point of the post.

I’ve met a few bloggers before now. Some have been a bit of a mystery. There was, for example (and I hope he doesn’t mind being an example) the legendary commenter on Mexico’s many blogs. His first name gave away nothing. Male or female? Could be either. Korean or Danish? I couldn’t tell. There was no second name to help out. He had, at the time, no blog of his own. The great Sherlock Holmes would have had a job deducting the story behind the internet moniker of Mexico’s most famous blogging participant. He was, as I found out, a great guy.

On Friday I met another blogger. A meeting that has long been in the making. Our paths have crossed before, but alas it wasn’t to be. This is a guy who runs a very open blog. I expected my every expectation to be met. He’s very much a Ronseal type of blogger. Maybe you need to be English to ‘get’ the analogy. For the record, I’m not suggesting that anyone put Steve through a human sized blender and smear him against a door. But he is every bit the person you’d expect the Mexpatriate to be. He is what it says on his virtual web based tin. Which is a good thing. The Mexpatriate is great. It makes my life easy as well. I don’t have to convince you of his general decency and joviality. I can just point you in his direction and let him do the job. But if you read this blog, then you probably read his already.

So I’ll keep on blogging. Less often, I suspect. Although things can change. But alongside the therapeutic nature of blogging, the enjoyment of recording my adventures, there’s also the benefit of keeping in touch with the Kim G’s and Steve’s of the world. There are other bloggers I wish to meet to one day, though I’ll need to return to Mexico. To places like Puerto Escondido and the Pacific Coast. Until then, I present you with the sole photograph I took on Friday. Just one? In more than four hours of being in a fancy part of London. That’s unlike me, I know. It tells you how good the conversation was.

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Paddington’s Bench

There are a ton of colourful new benches all over London right now. Fifty of them in all. Each one decorated in the theme of a book. A specific book. There was only one that I really wanted to see. I didn’t look for it, but life is full of funny coincidences an surprises. The first book bench we saw was the book bench. Paddington Bear. The original Latin American illegal immigrant in the UK. A trendsetter. Years ahead of his time, with Mrs P following, legally, in his pawsteps. His TV series is decades old, but every bit as enchanting today as it ever was.

We are big fans of Paddington Bear. He’s a true English icon and worthy of his bench. We’re pleased to have sat on it. I’d like to buy it. Once the display is done, the benches are all being auctioned off. I suspect my bid will fall short. I would have liked to have seen a John Le Carre bench too. He has been my favourite British author of the last 20 years. Alas, he has none. Or if he does, one needs the help of the great masterspy Smiley to find it. And you? Is there a deserving author that has entertained you that is worthy of a bench?

London Parks

London is the world’s largest urban forest. True fact. Apparently. I can believe it. There are parks and woodlands everywhere, and the account for about 20% of the total area of Greater London. They are there for the residents more than for the tourists, although the famous London parks will see plenty of foreign footfall. They are a respite from the traffic, the fumes and noise and bustle of everyday city life. I worked for a while in Gloucester Road, South Kensington, and liked to go up to Kensington Gardens after work on a sunny weekday afternoon. I sat underneath a tree and read my way through John Le Carre’s ‘The Russia House‘. I don;t remember which summer it was, but it was a long, hot one. I know this because the book was a long, long read and I did finish it, eventually, under that tree. I have a few photos of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park – click here.

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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.

 

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…

 

 

Happy New Year

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year. A prosperous one too.  May 2014 be fun, different, safe and everything you wish it to be. And may we read all about it on your blogs. This is how I celebrated the turning of 2013 into 2014. No, not on the Embankment. Tucked up in bed watching it on television. You get the best view of it this way, although I’m sure the atmosphere riverside is worth standing in the rain for.

I hope you enjoyed the video. The New Years fireworks in London used to be pretty third rate. Then, as 2011 turned into 2012 and the Olympics beckoned, someone with a bit of clout in the government decided we must do better and financed a proper fireworks display. I feared that it would be a one year only deal, but last years show piece was the equal of its immediate predecessor.

As you can see from the video above, the trend has continued. Albeit this year with a freaking awful soundtrack. There was a bit of Pink Floyd, which is always appreciated. But they picked the wrong song. I’d have picked Brain Damage, and I’d have put it as the final track for that incredible, sustained and almost senseless barrage of rockets and bangers.

But anyway. Happy New Year!

Christmas Home Videos

Christmas is the time of year when families gather together  get drunk, fight and remember why they don’t bother keeping touch the rest of the year  get merry, fatten themselves of turkey and sausage meat and go through photo albums and old video movies. Or cine movies, if I were writing this blog thirty years ago. To be honest, we don’t always do the photos and videos bit. But this year we did. I’ve cut away considerably at the 25 or so minutes of the original.

Some of the video is really just family stuff. But if you’ve been following along with me awhile, maybe you’d like to join me on a trip down memory lane. Other parts of the video might interest you for other reasons. Let’s see. Take a seat and get yourself comfortable. I may have cut the video, but it’s still over five minutes…

We start off one summer at least 30 years ago. Probably in Bayhurst Woods, north London. We often went there for a picnic. This clip features mum, brother, sister, aunts and cousins. And grandad. I’m wearing the grey top with a big red stripe down the middle. Just after the 45 second mark we jump to our back garden. It’s shot on another day, but with the same cast. Plus two new members. Sadie, our German Shepherd. She didn’t take any nonsense. A true GSD. With her younger buddy, a collie called Charno. He and I were good buddies. But he died of a broken heart just weeks after Sadie departed for Dog Heaven.

At the 1 minute 40 second mark we jump back in time. A long way back. I was minus 4 years at this stage, or somewhere thereabouts. Meet my grandfather, grandmother and uncle. My mum was about 18 and cooking up dinner. The dinner table still exists. I’m using it now, as my computer workstation. On to the 2 minutes 40 seconds, and another collie dog. I always assumed that our dog Charno was named after our house, Charnwood. I have now discovered that this wasn’t the case. Here is the original Charno, who lived in Italy.

Now the video gets a little more interesting. It is the late sixties and my grandfather is blazing a trail. Package holidays by air had started in the 1950s, but remained prohibitively expensive for most people until the 70s and 80s. Only the wealthy took package holidays by air in the 60s. The wealthy and employees of British Airways. Or British Overseas Airways Corporation as it was at the time.

He worked for them for more than thirty years. The benefits were great by todays standards. Generous pension and lots of free flights. Alas, my grandmother had a terrible fear of flying, and despite some early trips to Italy and Prague and elsewhere, he never got to make the most of those flights. Shame. Still, how does Pisa look to you?

I know the quality of the video isn’t too spectacular. But there really isn’t much in the way of amateur tourist video from the 60s, so don’t grumble. Grandad has on a shirt and tie. You can’t see his shoes, but you can bet they were polished good enough to use as a mirror. He was in the army in WW2. Some habits die hard. Straight tie, check. Starched shirt collar, check. Polished boots, check. Fly into fascist country and start shooting, check. Luckily, it was just video this time…

On to 4 minutes and 17 seconds. Who hasn’t been through London Heathrow? Seriously. If you haven’t landed at LHR, then your credentials as a traveller are laughable. Maybe. It’s long been the worlds busiest international airport. But you probably won’t recognise this Heathrow. This Heathrow has an awful lot of green and much less grey concrete than you’re used to. It wasn’t even in London proper back in the day. Of course, it wasn’t long before it was swallowed up by the growing metropolis.

Finally, we approach the end of this video. Are you still watching? Excellent! This is the best bit. We are back to a family shot. I can give you a fairly precise date for these few seconds. This video was shot on the 29th October 1972 by my grandmother. She records my grandfather pulling his car up the driveway. He jumps out and goes to open the back door, to let the lady out. It was how things were done back then. Out gets my mum, after a 10 day stay in Perivale hospital. And, for just a fleeting second or two, is me. The reason for her hospital stay.

In Defence of Money

My recent post urging (meh – suggesting) my fellow Brits to vote Labour at the next election was a twisted piece. Twisted, because I am a contrary fellow, who appreciates both sides of every argument and would rather like to both have my cake and eat it. Twisted, because I am apt to change my mind at the drop of a hat at the best of times. Twisted, because I am in a constant state of political conflict. The latter is the most difficult issue and quite impossible to resolve.

I gave a longish list of principles that I’d like to see the country run by. But in truth, I could have summarised my position more concisely and more accurately. I think I may have done so in the comments section. I very simply believe that people in Britain shouldn’t go hungry, go without shelter, go without heating, go without medical treatment or be otherwise unfairly treated. Because, as a society, we should be better than that.

But how dull would a society be if we were all equal? We are not born equal. We’re all born different. That we should be born with equal opportunity is another thing entirely. But it’s natural that some rise to the top in their professions. It’s natural that some will earns riches beyond their wildest dreams. It’s natural that some sportsmen will earn medals. And it’s equally natural some will have to satisfy themselves with middling jobs, normal salaries and a pat on the back for taking part. Many would say it’s also natural that some people will be shunted to the sidelines, fail to make ends meet and be social misfits. If that is true, let’s try to be unnatural.

I love how Americans admire and applaud those who get to the top of the ladder, and instead of plotting to bring them down to earth, they plan on how they will get to join them there. Us Brits are rather reserved when it comes to wealth. No one likes a show off. It’s ok to be rich. Just don’t let anyone know about it. And besides, no amount of money will buy class. Because class most definitely still opens doors. Just make sure you’re wearing the right school tie.

I rather despair at the fact that the ladder is held a little too high from the ground for far too many people to even get on, but that’s another story. My admiration or contempt for a person isn’t determined by how rich he is, but by who he is. I’m a big fan of Bill Gates. I’d not shed a tear if the Kochs were to be come to a sticky, public end. I’d frankly be tempted to push Donald Trump in front of a train, given the opportunity.

I am, sad to say, one of those with a middling job, a very normal salary and the occasional pat on the back when I complete a 10km run. But I benefit from the wealth of others. Not in the ‘trickle down’ sense. Nor because I have any genuine belief in getting some of that for myself. No, I receive the benefit of wealth in a different way entirely. Every time I go to London and see the grand architecture, palaces and fabulous shops. Every time I go visit a beautiful old castle in the countryside. Every time I enjoy a trip to a museum. Or see a priceless work of art, commissioned at ridiculous cost.

My senses are brought to life and stimulated by other peoples wealth. And if I work hard enough, maybe, just maybe I can be part of that impossible dream. If only temporarily. Afternoon tea at the Ritz, perhaps. For a moment, I can pretend to be at home amongst my surroundings. Or I can walk around a car showroom and make my choice. Not any old showroom. If you’re going to dream, do it properly!

London is a fabulous place to be if you like cars. You won’t have to wait long in Westminster or Chelsea to see the latest Ferrari, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls or Lamborghini. There are some choice showrooms on Park Lane. Paganis and McLarens can both be found there. But we strolled around some fine motors in a dealership on Berkeley Square. Mostly Bentleys.

But there was one shiny blue beast of Italian descent, now based in Germany. A Bugatti. I know I’ll never drive this Bugatti, let alone own it. It’s extraordinarily unlikely that I’ll ever get to ride in one, even as a humble passenger. I may even be chased away by an irate salesman if I dare get too close. But, nonetheless, I’m glad it exists. The world is a better place because of this Bugatti. My spirits are lifted every time I see such a creature. My socialist sentiments are put back in their box for another day. Viva dinero!

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Restless Nights

I absolutely love this video. I keep promising to get out one of these days and do something similar. It’s really not that hard to create a decent timelapse video. The two most important ingredients are time and patience. Two things I lack. But I have a plan. And a resolution for the New Year. I think I may have a couple of spare weeks to do a little something…

The London Taxi

The London taxi, properly known as a Hackney Carriage, is the best in the world. Really. It has no rival. Is this news surprising? It is news. Not my opinion. From comments I’ve read around the world, it appears so. Which I found surprising. Unlike most taxis around the world, the Hackney Carriage is a purpose built vehicle. Unlike most cities around the world, the drivers know every nook and cranny of the city they serve. Their training course, the Knowledge, is thorough. The charges come from a regulated meter, and aren’t too outrageous. And the cars are comfortable.

I tip my invisible hat to ye, Hackney Carriage drivers of London. Never was a taxi so easy to get into and out of, nor swallow so many bags, nor sit so many people comfortably. It also looks fantastic. Along with soldiers wearing bearskin hats, red post and phone boxes, double decker buses and Big Ben, the Hackney Carriage is an instantly recognised London icon.

Where did Mexico come? Tied fifth, a great result. I don’t know whether to be surprised at this result or not. Taxis in Mexico City have the worst reputation ever! And yet, providing you’re not going too far (it’s a big city, and I’ve been in more than one taxi where the driver got lost on a south to north jaunt) then it’s cheap, cheerful and there’s a plentiful supply of taxis to choose from. You do need a choice though. Some times the ‘meter isn’t working’. Which is taxilingo for ‘it’s a gringo, he’s got the cash, why not milk him of as much of it as possible’. Which didn’t work on me. It shouldn’t work on anyone….just take the next damned taxi that will come along in about…oh, say about fifteen seconds?

Tory Tribute

At the centre of London sits Trafalgar Square. If you’ve visited London, you’ve been there. Surrounding Nelson’s column are four plinths. Upon three of them are statues to heroes of the past. The fourth, until recently (as in the 1990s) was empty. But now it hosts temporary displays of various art works and tributes. The current piece that sits on top is clearly in honour of the incumbent prime minister. Decked out in finest Conservative Blue, the statue gazes directly towards Downing Street, the home of ministerial power in the UK.

I’m hoping that the obvious pun can remain unspoken, and that I won’t need to elaborate and point out that there’s a massive cock up there on that plinth. Oh darn it, I’ve gone and said it anyway…

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Banqueting House

London hosts a treasure trove of hidden secrets. As do most cities. Let me introduce you to one of them. It’s far better hidden that most of the capitals secrets. It’s hidden in plain view. If you’ve been to London, you’ve almost certainly walked past it. You almost certainly glanced at it. It’s name might even ring a bell. But unless you’ve really been through the depths of your guidebook, or have an especially deep interest in the history of Londinium, then that first glance probably isn’t followed up by a second glance.

I’m talking about Banqueting House. It’s on Whitehall between Trafalgar Square and Westminster. But it’s on the wrong side of Whitehall. Tourists march down to the Thames with ‘eyes right’ to see the curiously helmeted soldiers outside Horseguards and to see Downing Street. Else they are looking behind at Horatio atop his lofty perch, aka Nelson’s Column. Or are looking forward, perhaps with starstruck eyes as the Elizabeth Tower, aka Big Ben, looms into view.

Poor Banqueting Hall. No one looks to the left. Not for long. Yet this imposing building isn’t simply on Whitehall. It is Whitehall. Well, the last remaining piece of the Palace of Whitehall. The Palace was, at its height, the largest in Europe, overtaking both Versailles and the Vatican. The origins of the Palace date back to the thirteenth century, but it was the infamous Henry VII who took it on (or rather took it from – Cardinal Wolseley was the victim) and developed it to a state of unrivalled grandeur. He married two wives there, and eventually died there. For more than a century and a half it was the official residence of the English monarch. Until one day, just before the end of the 1600s, a fire broke out and reduced almost the entire structure of the palace to ashes. But Banqueting Hall survived.

 And still survives. There’s a massive Reuben on the ceiling commissioned by Charles I, which is still in situ. It cost three thousand pounds, an extortionate amount in those days. Was it worth it? You could have asked Charles I himself. Maybe someone did, but perhaps we’ll never know. It was the last piece of art he saw, we do know that. Or at least, can safely assume so.  He was lead through Banqueting House, pushed out one of the windows onto a temporary scaffold and beheaded one cold January day. He probably had a lot of things on his mind, other than that pricey Reuben of his.

Visiting Banqueting House today is a less traumatic event. At just £5 per person it doesn’t exactly cost an arm and a leg, let alone your head. If you’re up in London and travelled by train or coach, you can get a two fer one, making it even more of a bargain. The audio guide is genuinely interesting (as opposed to the dreary monotone monologues that most places pass off as audioguides) and best of all, the hall has a half dozen bean bags littered on the floors. You can lie back and admire than Reuben and listen to the audioguide at your leisure. And let’s face it. A morning of walking through the streets of London is tiring work. This is a nice opportunity to grab forty winks.

Photos? Of course. But just a few. My preferred photo viewing experience, 500px, is here and my traditional host, Flickr, is here. Criminally, I neglected to take a photo of the outside of the building. This is truly poor form, and I apologise most sincerely. The outside of this building is so important. It was the fruit of the great Inigo Jones loins. Not as famous as Christopher Wren, but every bit as important, if not more so. You may have seen countless British stately homes and mansions and marvelled at the architecture. The designs of which were all inspired by the fabulous architects of Italy. Inigo Jones, however, was the first.

He went to Italy. He saw Italy. He came back and copied Italy. And Banquesting House was the first of those creations, inspiring countless recreations across these green miserable, drizzlely grey and pleasant lands. He pioneered this large scale theft of continental design and engineering. He was rewarded handsomely for it, I’m sure. These days, he’d probably get a Cease and Desist writ.

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