Five star….

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Maybe I am just not a five star person?! Give me a good four star Intercontinental or a Marriott anytime.

Now don’t get me wrong I appreciate excellent service, good surroundings, a wonderful location, and a nice bathroom with a walk in shower as much as the next guy. But sometimes – most times – I just want to shut the door on the world and hole up with a half decent movie or Twitter, a steak, and the contents of a mini-bar.

I have just stayed one night in the five star splendour of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria. It is one of Vienna’s finest if Tripadvisor is to be believed. Which, though rarely the case, may well have been true.

I was greeted like a pop star (or mistaken for Paul Hollywood again – he seems to be a little more current than my other doppelgänger, George Clooney) from being dropped off by the taxi. My luggage was swapped for a ticket by a man in a top hat. He could have been anyone. He could have been the infamous top hat thief of Wien who hangs around the receptions of top Austrian hotels stealing the luggage from unsuspecting travellers. But, thankfully, he was the real deal doorman and my luggage was safe and sound…..

The concierge ushered me to reception and the receptionist expressed genuine (not) interest in my day, my plans for the evening, and my life prospects over the next week or so. The conversation was sealed with the swipe of my Amex card, at which point the same receptionist took me on a mini-tour of the elegant ground floor, explained the location of the gym and spa (I am blessed with the kind of natural athletic physique that strangers just assume I must work out regularly…..), before showing me to my room.

It was nice. No, it was much better than nice. But was it worth paying more than twice the rate I typically pay for a stay in London?

I think that the room had far too many towels for one person and far too many drawers for someone living out of an overnight bag. It had far too many light switches – whatever combination I pressed there always seemed to be one left on, which required me to walk across the length of the room to turn off. And, to be honest, I didn’t sleep too well, fearing that the grand chandelier may fall and crush me….

But, in truth, the room could have benefited from a much better air conditioning unit – it was mighty hot even with the dial turned down to 11 (minus). I would have like firmer pillows, and free water. I awoke several times feeling thirsty and dehydrated, a consequence of the heat and the inefficient air conditioning.

As it happened, the location was wasted on me. I arrived after 7pm and had an hour of calls, by which time it had begun to rain outside. So, by the time I had found the hair dryer (hidden I one of the myriad drawers) and figured out how to change the TV so that it would talk English to me, it was pretty much time for bed. No sightseeing.

It might have been five star luxury but I couldn’t help wondering just how many bathrobes and pairs of slippers could a person get through in a stay. And I still had to phone down to ask for an iron and ironing board to be delivered….

Indeed, I had several visitors to the room – the receptionist who showed me around, the housekeeper who brought the iron, the guy from room service who delivered my meal, and the other guy from room service who cleared my empties (you’re not allowed to just leave it outside your door in a five star establishment!).

And on every occasion my visitor seemed to linger and hesitate before leaving. Either they were thinking of asking me for my autograph or maybe a selfie to show to their friends. Or, they assumed that if I could afford to stay in this place then I could damn well leave a tip. But, I couldn’t steal from my Company with a clear conscience….

Which brings me to the subject of the food. Now, I realise that I missed the opportunity to sample the Sacher Torte for which this particular establishment is renowned, but my food choices seem to have been limited to fried chicken, ham and grilled cheese. If it hadn’t been for the German of the TV I could have been in the American Deep South….

August 14, 2014 at 2:26 pm Leave a comment

Don’t take the high road….

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On the 18th September this year the people of Scotland will vote on whether they should become an independent country and leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Well, in truth, only people living in Scotland will get the vote. Scots living elsewhere have been disenfranchised. As have the rest of us in the UK.

It is like going through a divorce when only one party gets to go before a judge. Worse still, they have opened up the vote to the petulant youth – 16 and 17 year old teenagers who have sufficient energy to drag themselves out of their pits will also be able to condemn the Union to history.

Now I am not a Scot. I am English, British and European. But, some of my best friends are Scottish. I once regularly drove for ten hours from Nuneaton to Aberdeen to date a proud, flame-haired Scottish lassie. And I, for one, do not want to separate.

Scotland is a beautiful land. A proud nation. A wonderful culture. And, a country which has consistently punched above its weight!

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I am keen to avoid the more obvious stereotypes – ginger-haired men in skirts, deep-fried Mars bars, and a Yorkshireman devoid of all humour and generosity.

And, I am reluctant to get drawn into debate over ownership of the pound (however, both of the Bank of Scotland and England were founded by a Scot) offshore oil reserves, membership of the European Union, the split of debt, and the fate of Trident.

Instead, I prefer to celebrate just a few of the successes of this great country and give just a few examples of how these British Isles and wider world have been enriched by those from North of the Border.

Scotland has led the world in the field of communication and technology, giving us the fax machine, television, film and the telephone. Many lives have been saved following the discovery of penicillin. Radar, the toaster, the bicycle and the thermos flask, Bovril and modern road construction are just a few of the myriad inventions, creations and innovations all of Scottish origin.

imageA warrior nation with a proud military heritage – it has been said that the British Empire was built on bullets from Birmingham and bodies from Scotland (and Ireland). And, the Scottish influence has also spread far and wide in peaceful times – a Scot published the first English language Bible in the USA; the first millionaire in Australia was a Scot, as was the founder of the New York Herald, and the Buick car company. To name but a few.

I could go on.

I have no doubt that Scotland would flourish as an independent country. I know that the United Kingdom would be diminished if there was a separation.

Of course, it hasn’t all been good news – you gave us Gordon Brown, Ian Brady, George Galloway and Frankie Boyle. But, the benefits far outweigh the few downsides.

But, as in any successful marriage, one partner can only succeed if supported by the other. It is about give and take and mutual respect. It is about communication, working together and having each others’ back.

I hope you vote “No”!

August 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

Just b*ke right off will you…..

tgbbo

The country has gone mad. The media has gone mad. It’s driving me mad. What is it with The Great British Bake Off?

It is one of those annoying TV programmes that gets shortened to an acronym – TGBBO – like TOWIE, TOTP and BBLB. One of those shows that is so popular it must have a spin-off  – An Extra Slice.

And it seems that the whole country, with the exception of C and I, are watching it, talking about it, or writing about it. It is all over the TV, newspapers and the internet like a rash. And, I just don’t get it……

nigellaNow, I can fully understand the sex appeal of Paul Hollywood. I can see how a female audience would go weak at the knees watching him kneading his dough and waving his rolling-pin around. He is after all a Middle Man lookalike…..

But the same could not be said so easily of Mary Berry and the rather unfunny comedy duo which is Mel and Sue. Nigella Lawson, Holly Willoughby and Claudia Winkleman they are not! And neither is Jo Brand, although you can at least see why she applied for the role. And, she can be funny.

This is a show in which people watch other people baking in a large tent in the middle of rural England. It is a flurry of flour, eggs, aprons and pinafores, and emotion without the benefit of the sequins, lycra and high heels of Strictly. It is all pies, bread, biscuits and cupcakes without the swimming costumes and gymnastic dexterity of  Splash! or the, I would have thought, broader appeal of a MasterChef. And yet it seems to be the Talking Dog Show to everyone else’s Puck (an Episodes reference), being on its fifth series, even without the benefit of Ant and Dec or the financial backing of Simon Cowell. It has won a BAFTA and with 9.1 million viewers it is BBC Two’s most watched programme ever, beating Top Gear into second place, and as a reward for its popularity now has a prime spot on BBC One.

Recruitment to the Women’s Institute must be at an all time high….and to Weight Watchers.

August 7, 2014 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

On a lighter note….

jaws

C and I went for a walk yesterday in the vicinity of Audlem, taking in parts of the South Cheshire Way and the Shropshire Union Way.

The weather was kind – it was sunny without being too hot, if a little windy in sheltered parts. We were correctly attired and had everything we might need – short of alcohol – in the rucksacks on our backs.

We survived. In truth it is always a relief when these old bones of mine survive the rigours of even gentle exercise. Even the dodgy knee seems fine this morning. But, at certain points along the way it was if nature itself was trying to get at me. It was as if some of my worst horror movies had combined and I was unable to awake from the nightmare.

cornAt one point, the farmers had clearly decided that they did not want to go to the expense or trouble to maintain the public footpaths across their land and had planted maize where otherwise the path should be. The maize was tall. Six or seven feet tall in parts. And, tightly packed together. C and I were forced to push our way through without the aid of a machete (note to self: need to add to the “everything we might need” list). It was like a scene from Children of the Corn or that truly shocking Mel Gibson movie, Signs. I kept expecting to hear a little whimper behind me only to turn around and find C gone……

So, it was somewhat of a reprieve when found ourselves inthe birds the open on the towpath of the canal. Except on a couple of occasions, like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds, when we found ourselves beneath a clamour of fifty to a hundred or so rooks. They seemed agitated and were swooping and diving en masse – we suspect in an attempt to chase off a buzzard or two.

It was a relief that the rest of the fauna alongside the canal was a little more benign – the odd mallard, a heron, Canadian geese. At least, those animals that were visible to us. If someone had started playing the Da Dum, Da Dum music from Jaws I would have half expected to be snatched by a Great White….

I needed a pint of Shropshire Gold to steady my nerves.

August 4, 2014 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

One Hundred Years….

Albert William JonesMy granddad, Sapper 72094, Albert William Jones was just twenty years old at the outbreak of the First World War. He was a machinist in the locomotive industry in Irlam, Lancashire where he lived above his father’s post office and newsagents.

He volunteered, joining the 42nd Territorial Signal Company. A Pals Brigade. It was part of the 42nd East Lancashire Territorial Division. The first Territorial division ever to volunteer for foreign service and the first to leave England in the first naval convoy to leave these shores since the Napoleonic wars, on 9th September 1914.

He fought at Gallipoli, in the Dardanelles, Sinai, Palestine, and occupied Jerusalem, Damascus and Constantinople. He fought alongside Lawrence of Arabia, the Anzacs, and other Commonwealth troops from India and elsewhere. He returned home in 1919.

Albert William Jones was mentioned in despatches for gallantry as a result of brave action during the Battle of Armageddon in September 1918.

He went to Hell and, unlike so many others, came back.

He died in 1960. I never met him.

Lest we forget….

 

August 4, 2014 at 12:07 pm Leave a comment

One hundred years…..

Joseph Hoolahan photo

My wife’s great-grandfather volunteered, served and was killed in the Great War.

At the time the First World War broke out Joseph Hoolahan was thirty seven years old, a married father of six children, who was living and working as a labourer in Hadfield, Glossop.

Like many, and together with his older brother Thomas, he volunteered, joining the infantry on the 2nd September 1914. On the 6th of March 1915 Private 14111 Hoolahan sailed from Southampton with the 2nd Cheshire Battalion to join the British Expeditionary Force in France.

Joseph was part of an 800 strong reinforcement force which was immediately ordered into battle around Bailleul. After just four weeks of fighting in France Joseph died of shrapnel wounds to his head on 4th April 1915, having been wounded on 1st April as the  Battalion sought to re-enter Bailleul.

Official notification of his death was received by telegram on 16th April but the news had got back home before this. This was a Pals Brigade full of friends, family and neighbours. Joseph’s wife, Anastasia, had already lost her brother John William Kane on 12th March. He was also serving in the 2nd Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, Joseph’s brother and comrade in arms.

Heroes all.

August 1, 2014 at 4:16 pm Leave a comment

The simple pleasures….

wifi

I am writing this offline in my comfortable first class seat on board a Virgin Pendolino from Crewe to London Euston. And, I’m bored. The free wi-fi is down and so the various multi-media and technical devices currently available to me have all been rendered useless.

While it was a two sausage toastie day (and therefore a good day) for me, I am slightly miffed to have had only one mug of tea offered. You would have expected a little more in return for the £379 ticket – maybe a dancing girl or three. Or a working wi-fi at least…

So, I am sat watching my iPod’s battery drain and listening to the fat guy across the aisle from me snoring gently as he sleeps, his brown sauce spotted napkin still tucked into his shirt after his three course breakfast of granola and juice, full grill, and toast and croissants with butter and marmalade. He may only have got one cup of coffee but managed to compensate in other areas.

I have read the newspaper, completed the killer Sudoku and concise crossword and so, in the absence of email, I am forced to people watch. As it is not busy – it is the start of the school holidays – even the people watching is not great.

The guy opposite me is completely bald and slightly geeky looking with a look which is quite reminiscent of Lex Luthor (the baddy in Superman). He has made a bad choice in tie for that striped shirt. In fact I notice that I am the only guy in this rather sparsely populated carriage not wearing a tie. It appears that the tie must be making a comeback. It also appears that my male companions are probably not married or gay – C would never have let me leave the house sporting one of these monstrosities….

Lex and I have not hit it off. He chose to sit opposite me because he had a seat reservation (as did I but I sat down first) despite the many options to spread out available to him. And he has been playing footsie with me enough that I now have my legs tucked tight up to my chair. Anyway, this personal space encroacher is doodling very minutely on his paper place mat. It looks like a quite intricate technical design or a schema for a new machine. Things aren’t looking good for Clark Kent’s future right now. Lex is plotting something. And, that could be kryptonite on his tie….

There really aren’t that many people of interest here today.

There is a fresh-faced graduate working on some spreadsheet, wearing an impossibly narrow designer suit (blue) and designer stubble. And pointy brown shoes. I still don’t get the brown shoes with blue suits – and he didn’t look or sound the least bit foreign.

There is one relatively attractive lady in her early fifties who has made several trips to the loo and caused the few male heads to turn because of her ridiculously tight dress, ridiculously high heels, and, ridiculously short skirt. Nice legs.

There are two men on their phones. One is loud and brash; the other is quiet and almost apologetic to be speaking in such a public space. I prefer the latter. But both their conversations seem to be broken, both beginning with “I’m on a train” and ending in “Hello? Hello? Can you still hear me? Are you still there”. Virgin really does need to up its ante in the wi-fi and mobile phone connectivity stakes!

virginThe train staff are similarly uninteresting – one jovial camp steward taking breakfast orders and trying not to scream at his clients’ choice of ties, and a couple of more subdued ladies who served the one beverage while looking slightly unhappy, presumably a result of having being squeezed into uniforms a size or two too small for them. While that might be a good look for your average Virgin flight attendant, for these two not so much….

And now they are preparing the train for their next departure. Why do they insist on clearing up so early? We are still twenty-five minutes out from Euston and they have cleared our one-use-only mug and other breakfast detritus and replaced it with nice, shiny new stuff which is rattling all around us. They have even changed Lex’s place mat. So, unless he has got a very good memory the Man of Steel may just have earned a reprieve.

It is annoying though. It reminds me of those teenage years at home when I was constantly being asked to lift my feet so that my mom could vacuum around me, while my dad plumped the sofa cushions.

I need only the simple pleasures of life – a cup of tea and working wi-fi and a personal space which is not encroached upon….

July 29, 2014 at 2:36 pm Leave a comment

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