Seattle, London or Glasgow?

We seem to live in a world of measurement and accolades and we all are constantly asked by friends, families, surveys and even in job interviews to list our top three’s.

Top three skills, top three achievements are likely questions from a poor quality job interviewer struggling for questions to ask.

Tell me your three favourite places is a sure fire way for well travelled friends to trump your Scarborough , Skegness and Southend with their Malibou, Mauritius and Miami.

As a child, I remember ‘occasional visitor Auntie’ s and Uncle’s’ who would on various visits to our home would repeatedly ask me to list my top three subjects at school. Perhaps in the hope that one day one I would stun them and the assembled family with my answers and reel off English, Mathematics Religious studies rather than the usual respone of ‘er, dunno…let me think, woodwork ‘.

I also once had a slightly scary girlfriend who asked me to rank the top three meals that she cooked me. As her repertoire was actually extremely limited, and in reality really only consisted of about three dishes, thus was a challenging question.

It was a test of my diplomatic skills (that could probably have secured me a peace keeping role at the United Nations had I wanted it) , as really none of the said items were really likely to be on anybody’s list! Her cooking skills evidently had yet to peak at that tender age of 21. She did however have encyclopedic knowledge of the Bay City rollers…the 1970’s answer to Take That or Boyzone!

Much more recently in life in a random conversation with a stranger on a train, I was asked for my top 3 films. We were obviously generationally divided as my top 3 drew a blank from my fellow traveller and the look he gave me suggested that he thought I had just made up at least some of the names. Likewise when it was his turn, I tried to nod knowingly but I think my face said it all and I too drew a blank on his.

However as I have a wide demographic reading this blog, I will take the risk and share it here.

In reverse order…number 3 is Sleepless in Seattle , in second place Gregory’s Girl and in first place Sliding Doors. In some ways all very different films with their locations of trendy Seattle, 1980’s Glasgow and a Notting Hill ‘esqe’ London backdrop for Sliding Doors. But in some ways they are all similar films in their ‘feel good, people are kind, and life can be good to you’ kind of sentiment.

I know everyone wants to get different things from films…to be excited, to be scared, to be amazed, to be inspired and so on…..so from these three, probably not a tick in these boxes then….but to watch the final credits and feel positive about people, these truly are winners.

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The Wheels on the bus go round and round

The wheels on the bus was a very popular song for my children and their generation.In fact it seems equally loved by the next generation , as our our prime minister during electioneering for his current post some 6 months ago decided to do a quick verse of it when visiting a primary school in a vote garnering exercise.

Three important lessons – one: only sing a song if you know the words; two: only sing if you can sing and three: (the relevant bit now) …be careful what you wish for. Boris, did you really want to become Prime Minister? To be fair, he probably thought the worst demons he would have to face would be Brexit (both the remainders and the leavers), angry Northern Ireland Unionists and even more angry Scottish Nationalists.

He most definitely didn’t get the memo saying there would be a pandemic.

Boris actually has quite a history with buses. Being a keen cyclist he got rid of bendy buses when he was mayor of London, and then had a new jump on, jump on bus designed to replace the old iconic routemasters that had the open platforms. Very convenient but not very high on health safety…or warmth.Anyway, back to the wheels on the bus……We live quite near a senior school and we see the school buses trundling by at the beginning and end of each day and it reminds me of my school days…or at least the travel to and from.I was fairly ambivalent about school, not really falling into either camp of ‘best days of my life’ or ‘worst days of my life’, but I did enjoy going on the school bus.The school bus was the place where you caught up with homework on the way there; caught up with the gossip, used it as a taxi service to get you to other places you wanted to be after school such as friends houses, shops or wherever.Homebound it was generally a journey where you let off steam and had fun, be that playing stupid games, flirting (actually, that perhaps also was in the stupid games category) , or even fell in love. I went to a catholic secondary so many of the pupils were from Glasgow’s large Italian community, and being an impressionable 13 year old boy with an eye for the girls, my heart was broken a few times by the blossoming beauties in my midst…but just for the record Francesca, I’ve got over you now!In the UK we don’ t generally have the specific purpose built school buses, normally yellow in colour, that are common place in the US, Canada and some other countries, but would just get any vehicle that a local bus opertor could provide.When I say any vehicle, I really mean that!Somewhat unusually, my secondary school was completely newly and opened with an intake year one and therefore only 1 years worth of pupils initially, we only needed one coach from my local area.The contract was awarded to a ‘one man and dog ‘ operation with an ancient coach, but a very personable driver Henry Crawford (aka the owner of the company).The bus didn’t even have radio, but after Henry learnt the hard way from a few noisy journeys that a radio would drown out the noise of the pupils, he found an old car radio and fitted it to the charabanc.Designed for a car , it needed amplification so he rigged up an old record player loudspeaker in the bus to assist in amplification.As the school added a new intake each year, so did demand for the buses and Henry grew his business to become a sizeable and respected Bus and Coach hire company .Many years later, I remember seeing a sleek, modern, very new , state of the art coach parked on London’s Park Lane opposite the Dorchester Hotel bearing his name….I am sure Henry is no longer with us, but it seems the next generation have really developed the business to a new level.Conversely, my own children have a habit of seeing their school buses in unexpected places. One of the more unusual locations was high up a mountain in the Austrian Alps when it pulled into the car park alongside our car!It is a small world!

Things just got a whole lot better…

This might seem a strange title when at the time of going to press, here in the UK and indeed the wider world things are not too rosy.

Coronavirus, although not yet at pandemic level is causing much mayhem and indeed economic distress by scaring the pants off the financial markets.

Weeks of rain has caused considerable flooding in many parts of the UK, and I could go on and on.

But in the words of Monty Python, Always look on the bright side of life.

We currently have some house guests and conversation turned to where was an optimal place to live in London when young and single. For the avoidance of doubt, that ship has sailed for me many years ago but anyway, we had the conversation just in case I became young and single again!

Many years ago I lived in the London/Essex borders and my lengthy and boring commute took me through Stratford in London’s East End. Stratford was a miserable place…poor quality housing, industrial grime of railway yards and general decay as the jobs diminished and nothing came to replace them. Standing on the station platform to change trains was fairly depressing and in reality gave me a guilt complex as I realised this was home for many people, not just a transit point, as it was for me.

But then came the Olympics in 2012. And then more importantly the Olympic legacy.

This area is now one of the best connected in London with new tube stations, a station on the International network with trains to Paris, Brussels and even Disneyland; a world class home for their local football team and a fantastic area of Parkland housing the newly orientated Olympic acquadrome and stadii.

And a very large shopping mall with not just shops but also numerous restaurants, bars and entertainment options.
Given the opportunity now, a great place to live at that stage in life.

So what makes me write this, quite simply the fact that not all change is bad , and that generally speaking we overcome the difficulties and move on.

In the same way that we embraces the seasons, we have to embrace the changing world we live in, learn, improve and move on.

One of the interesting “fall outs” from the Coronavirus situation is that Chinese pollution levels have dropped for the first time in years…little comfort for someone impacted financially by not being able to work, but a telling fact all the same.


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Saint Pancras

For those not of a religious nature and in fact those without a specific knowledge of 14th century saints, the name St Pancras means nothing, other than it being a somewhat magnificent London Railway Terminus.For those who may want to know more, St Pancras became a saint due to his martyrdom and rebellion against the Romans in defence of the Christian faith. He is not really a top ten rated saint compared to Animal loving St Francis, travel insurance expert St Christopher, snake repelling St Patrick and many others who get regular top billing both in the church and popular literature and films. Anyway if a St Pancras question comes up at quiz night, you will be the hero of your team now. St Pancras station however really is out there making a name for itself. This magnificent building which has a gothic cathedral like appearance from the outside was constructed in the 1860’s and was in good use for the first 100 years of its life but fell into gradual decline from the 1960’s and was nearly derelict by the 1970’s with only a small number of departures to the Midlands of England with most other services having been moved for various reasons to other stations nearby such as next door neighbour modernist Kings Cross,and near neighbours St Marylebone and Euston.Then a stroke of luck…the newly created international services of Eurostar to Paris and Brussels needed a larger terminus; the newly created high speed domestic trains to the Kent coast likewise, and also some other commuter services needed a station that could accomdate increased train lengths introduced due to traffic growth.That’s just the background and the ‘raison d’etre’ for the stations rebirth.And what a transformation….light, sculptures, classy shops, restaurants and champagne bars truly have brought the romance back to train travel.The full story of this transformation is worth a read…well documented on Wikipedia. For those not looking for the detail….just try to visit it if ever you are in London. You really won’t be disappointed.

The only way is….

TV viewers of a certain generation in the UK will be familiar with TOWIE. For those not in that demographic, its a reality TV programme, ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ following lives of 20 somethings living and nightclubbing around Romford, a London suburb but actually in the neighbouring county of Essex and holidaying in Magaluf and Benidorm.

Full of stereotypes and predictable storylines of who has cheated on who, and who has had what cosmetic surgery!

Why mention this…well I informed a German colleague that I was going to a family celebration in the county and he said ah yes, I have seen it on satellite TV.

I felt an explanation was required!

TOWIE… So is this a representation of Essex life?To a degree yes but it’s a large county and go to the other end…i.e. the bit not bordering London and you find picturesque villages more akin to John Constable country than dodgy nightclubs!

I am a bit biased..having lived at the London end, but having family connections in some of the more rural parts, that’s where I would always want to be. Even the district names remind you of the deep history of the place .

The Essex seaside towns of Clacton, Frinton and Walton in are in a district called the Tendering Hundred. Why? Hundred was unit of English local government and taxation,an intermediate between a village and shire, which survived into the 19th century. Originally, the term probably referred to a group of 100 hides (units of land required to support one peasant family)

I could write so much more about the good side of the county…but that will take time….

And on the subject of hundreds…my last subscriber was number 100…I was amazed when I had one so to have 100 of you I feel flattered and humbled.

I appreciate that not every post, is for everyone but I sincerely hope that in my 100 plus posts to date, there has been someting that at some point has amused or informed you….or perhaps just made you glad you don’ t live in the UK!

With my heartfelt thanks for hopefully enjoying what I write…….

Lost in London

London, like many cities mostly presents its underground railway maps in a topological format.

And when I say underground I mean the metro, but it is rarely called that in the uk. The normal colloquilism for London underground being ‘the tube’ . Topological maps show the stations and lines in an ordered and geometric way, which gives great clarity but totally distorts distance and indeed direction.

Native Londoners when outside their immediate geographic comfort zones of suburban home or city street will have a hazy and simplified comprehension of the geography of their city fuelled by these maps.

Tourists are even worse off with few if any reference points to assist in computing real distance and direction rather than just ‘living the tube map’.

I read recently that despite Covent Garden and Leicester Square stations being only 400 metres or so apart,

and a mere 40 second tube journey, some 800 people per week buy tickets for this journey between the two of them…blissfully unaware that a 4 minute stroll along the street will take them from one station to another in much more comfort and lots to see along the way…..

These are London’s two tube stations that are closest to each other but these are not unique with others equally near their neighbours.

Meantime back at the world of what to call the underground……

The metropolitan tube line in London was the world’s first such railway and the name, ‘ metro’ has been used worlwide for city underground trains. Except in London where the name tube has just stuck and is what everybody refers to it by.

In Paris, the abbreviation as well as the full name Metropolitan is in widespread use .

but in numerous other cities in Europe and beyond, the underground trains are called metros. Ok in New York it’s the subway,

and funnily enough in Glasgow, that same name too,

although colloquilly referred to there by some as the ‘Clockwork Orange ‘.

Why, well the trains are bright orange and it’s just one continuous circle. A unique experience with it’s own smell that cannot be quite defined! The continuous circle is now used in its logo branding for the stations too.

If you ever get the chance to visit Glasgow, give it a whirl.15 stations and a lot of people watching!

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Two cities, two canals , one name

Anyone who has the pleasure of arriving in Venice by train will appreciate the almost mesmerising experience of walking out of the station to see the Grand Canal.

It’s fairly hard to beat that, and really that is just your starting point for the beauty of Venice.

Not been? If circumstances allow then do go. It’s a place you will love despite the crowds and the expensive food and drink (but much cheaper off the main streets), ditto the ridiculously expensive gondola rides (and again cheaper off the beaten track)

If Venice is going to happen for you (and even if it does) have you also actually embraced a waterway near you? Like many cities London has more canals than you might think, ok so not more than Venice which is always assumed to be st the top of the leader board. Although actually Birminham (UK) does have that honour of more canals than Venice being at the hub of the UK’s canal network! Now there’s a fact to remember for quiz night!

So speak to many a Londoner (there are about 10 million of them out there so it shouldn’t be difficult to find one.) Ask them which, if any London canals they use for leisure and it will be a dissapointing answer. Even regular commuters through London Paddington station may be unaware of what awaits them if they were to exit and join the tube at the western end of the station. Anyone there emerging into the sunshine from the gloom of the station will find their way to the Grand Union canal in an area called Little Venice. Not quite the real Venice but cafe culture and an openness for new opportunities in the city abound. Sometimes great things are very near you.

Summer in the city ..so sex, coffee and rock ‘n roll are on hold

The UK has its fair share of coffee shops , some more esoteric than others and on day when there is drizzle, a chill wind and an outside temperature barely in double figures (and that can be a day in May) the city dweller is drawn to these places like moths around a lamp.

But come the summer we are transformed into ‘al fresco’ eaters and drinkers.

There are some unwritten rules of how to behave when the sun comes out in the uk:

1. Have a barbecue, even if you are vegetarian or just don’t like them…not having a barbecue is frowned on.

2. Complain that it’s too hot

3. Have all food and drink outside . Even if a. The establishment or licensing laws don’t allow it, b. Even if there is no space, c. even if inside is cooler and comfortable with available tables and chairs

It only takes a walk slightly off the main streets of the west end to see the smallest London courtyards can be transformed into something of almost meditterean charm.

For the city centre pubs its a case of just let the drinkers spill onto pavements but with barely a table or chair to accomdate them at some.

Some local bylaws have strict ‘where you can stand laws’ and you will see a white line chalked on the ground. The white line cannot be crossed as if so some major heinous crime would obviously be committed and a huge electronic force field woukd annihilate the offender. Ok I made up that last bit on the force field but the rest is true. You can even see it in this picture.

And finally, even a troupe of Morris Man may turn up..baffling the tourists and ignored by locals.

However our summers are sometimes short and always unpredictable. This is who we are and what we do in summer and I wouldn’t really want to change it.😎

Unexpected item in the seating area ..why wear Fluffy slippers on the Jubilee Line?

Hot on the heels of wearing your hair in rollers when out in town, is wearing your fluffy slippers on public transport.The Liverpudlian trend of being happy in a hairnet and managing to look cool and trendy back in 2015 soon spread. No longer did people assume that these millenials were escapees from a salon hostage situation but that these were people on the leading edge of fashion.Things have moved on and it seems it is now acceptable to wear your fluffiest slippers wherever your mood draws you. Travelling on the Jubilee line in London recently, I was dutifully following protocol and not engaging with or making eye contact with other humans and so staring at my feet. It was a bit of a surprise to see their neighbours attire!This is not just trendy London. This week I found myself in Germany in a large town not normally associated with extreme fashion…and I see the same again.So we live in a growing culture of just wear what you want..no bad thing at all in a world where the pressure to conform has at some times been a very damaging one.Enjoying these posts? Please like, subscribe if you want to get notifications of new posts and share on your social media platforms using the buttons.