Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard


Although my parents and teachers always told me they didn’t have favourites and favouritism is basically a bad thing,  I do break the rules when it comes to street names.   Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard is definitely top of my list.  Its actually a street in San Francisco, perhaps not surprisingly. 

Nobody has ever really been able to explain where the name derives from – I get the Beach Blanket bit. I could also almost accept the Boulevard part as well,  although as far as I can recollect,  it doesn’t really resemble  Boulevards as one thinks of them in Paris or Berlin i.e.  a wide street with majestic buildings, often trees and sometimes side carriageways.  Let’s not even start on the Babylon part…… but despite all that I love the name.  I believe there is a quite a famous stage show of the same name and also now a couple of restaurants in London as well also using that name.

As with any favourites,  it is good too to have a second choice or backup…for me that street is Wych Elm Rise.

I haven’t really researched if there are multiple variants on this in different towns.  

This one is is in middle class, leafy Guildford in Surrey, England. Well one would expect Elm trees to feature in a leafy town!

Guildford gets many adjectives and descriptors. A town in the Stockbroker belt is one of them – the town certainly has more than its share of well heeled commuters at the station each morning heading to their city jobs on the train.


I realise that anyone not an native English speaker is probably now lost in a web of confusion with all these adjectives – ‘well heeled’? we could just say wealthy but the etymologists will show a link to good shoes being a sign of prosperity; leafy, we could just say nice streets with trees and so on.  But of course the English language at times is designed to confuse! 

 Only yesterday one of my very ‘English fluent’  German colleagues asked me why my ‘out of office message’ on my e-mail said I was taking a days annual leave.

To him that was a complete contradiction – I am  taking  a day off not a year off!

So back to Wych Elm Rise – why do I like that name?  I used to live on a road adjacent to it (called Warwicks Bench…but that’s another story)   and when giving a friend directions to find the house,  on hearing the Street name he was convinced I was giving him a crossword clue (14. Across.   Scottish origin tree on slope,  11 letters).


I could very easily do a top 10 of favourite street names, but for now I will just leave you with number 3.  Nothing at all cryptic or exotic about this one.  It is Hill Street in Glasgow (and I’m sure there are many other Hill Streets in the world)

I had to walk up this hill every day to go to  secondary school and it often vexed me that the great Victorian city planners of Glasgow (which unusually for a UK city is based on a grid system like so many US cities) couldn’t come up with anything more imaginative!

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A monk, a policeman, Darth Vader, a pilot, oh yes and Two Fairies and many more……

I was travelling on a suburban train in Germany early on Thursday evening. It normally looks just like this.Without really paying much attention to my fellow passengers initially…….. then I looked up and saw that in my carriage was a Franciscan monk, a nun, Darth Vader, two policemen, a pilot, a selection of fairies, an elf and some more people whose ‘uniform of occupation’ baffled me but I assumed they worked in ‘entertainment’ of some shape or form. I was slightly troubled by the monk swigging from a beer bottle and the nun applying more make up. Being one of only one or two ‘normally’ attired individuals, somewhat ironically I felt out of place and the object of attention rather than them!Yes, its carnival time in Germany…only really celebrated in a few cities such as Cologne (yes, they really do it big time!!!!) and nearby Dusseldorf where although the celebrations are big, they don’t quite match near neighbour along the Rhine. You really don’t go out that day to have fun unless you are suitably attired in fancy dress.I am a very regular traveler in Germany for both work reasons and also socially with having family there, but I realised this was the first time I have been there for Carnival weekend.Ok, its not quite the Mardi Gras of Rio but Germans do know how to have fun and use the opportunities that avail themselves. In the same way that Oktoberfest starts in September and not October, celebrations of Carnival start way in advance of the last day prior to Lent starting.In the Uk we too do something that day, but in a very low key way.For those not familiar with UK customs, on this same day we have Pancake Tuesday (also called Shrove Tuesday – Shrove derives from the old English word Shrive which is to obtain absolution for ones sin, hence the tradition to be Shriven before the start of Lent)Anyway, yes, we eat pancakes. For the vast majority of the population, it is the one and only day of the year when we will have a pancake. I can hear the horror now from our US and Canadian cousins who have these as a regular part of breakfast fayre and from our French cousins , likewise ‘desolee’ that a Crepe never passes our lips from one end of the year to the next.So why eat pancakes then – the tradition being that eggs, flour, fat and sugar were being used up before the fasting that took place in Lent.Oh and being the UK, some further traditions have evolved such as races with people tossing pancakes in frying pans as they run….well, why not?Happy Pancake day to everybody!Enjoying this blog or bemused by this blog? Please subscribe and share on Social Media.Please also feel free to comment if you feel so inclined.As is very evident, this blog has no particular theme other than thoughts or observations what would otherwise only get shared with ‘captive’ listeners such as the supermarket cashier, or my more polite and tolerant family and friends.

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.

Seizing the moment…..

Travelling back to Yorkshire from a family event in Essex last Sunday was not a rushed journey, so we took the opportunity to stop off at Cambridge. Cambridge is probably just over 2 and 1/2 hours drive from our home when the traffic is being kind, but we never really go there, so making an en-route stop was a sensible and long overdue idea.

I lived in London for 10 years and although I saw and did a lot when I lived there, as a (regular) visitor now, I probably make many more purposeful visits to see things now far more than I ever did when I lived there.

And actually, Scotland is an even more valid case… I lived there for 18 years but really saw none of it other than Glasgow

where I lived and its very near neighbour Edinburgh.

Now Glasgow and Edinburgh are great places and I commend them both to everyone , but there is of course so much more to the country.

I really have a lot of catching up to do there in Scotland……..

Meanwhile back in Cambridge…. it was a relatively short visit this time but with already reaffirmed intentions to visit more.

We parked just by Kings College on the other side of the Cam, and walked in to the city and with unseasonably sunny and mild weather, Cambridge looked good on that Sunday afternoon.

Whether it the buildings, the punts on the Cam

or fantastic open air market, or just the historic bookshops, there is plenty to please the eye.

Later in the week I was chatting to my hair dresser and as you will have read in a previous blog Do you want conditioner these are not conversations as you would expect that include the three standard hairdresser questions * , but we talk about everything and in fact I had been asked ….where is the most amazing place I have visited….now to be fair, that conversation was really more linked to exotic places that my current and previous employers have dispatched me to, to go and drink coffee, or attend a meeting! …and the answer by the way was I think Mauritius…. but I think if I had been asked for a UK town, Cambridge would certainly have got in my top ten!

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  • The three questions are : Have you been to work today?, Are you going out tonight?, Got any holidays booked?

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…….

BMW, Mercedes or Porsche?

Ask someone about what is a really great German export and if they are ‘into cars’ they may well name one of the above…with apologies to Audi who I really should also have included on the list.

But cars are not unique and any proud Italian will counter this and reel off the names Ferrari, Lamborghini or Alfa Romeo and so on.

What Germany has cornered and no other country can match for both home markets and to export is the Christmas Market

And now in so many other European cities too with the warmth and ambience that is unique to these events. But they are at their best in their country of birth!

My first Christmas Market of this year was a couple of weeks ago in Dortmund.

..and it us hard to beat this one with its amazing centrepiece tree…made of 1000 individual trees!

However earlier this week I was in Dusseldorf and had the chance to visit their Weinachsmarket, spread across a large part of the Altstadt (Old Town).

And there amongst the Gluhwein, Bratwurst and beer……

..a new treat for me.

Crepes with Marzipan…

For someone who loves marzipan (as well as pancakes) Christmas really has arrived early for me 😁

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When I became an Elf…..

I first visited Germany at age eleven. Like many eleven year olds I wasn’t really captivated by continental European culture, gastronomic delicacies or really much at all that was on the ‘must do’ list for a visitor……..

My idea back then of how to spend summer holidays was about being out on my bike or playing with friends……

Furthermore I actually celebrated my birthday on that trip and was more than somewhat non-plussed to be told by numerous elderly couples (on reflection now, they were probably aged about 40) staying in our hotel when finding out my newly acquired age, “Ah you are now elf”. My knowledge of German, even basics such as numbers after 10 was very limited!

Wind the clock on a few decades and I have come to love the place. Indeed I actually work for a German employer now, but based out of home in the UK; I also have one branch of my extended family located there so my involvement and appreciation of the countries and the people is very regular and advanced.

What is best is the simplicity of many things and the approach to leisure.

By simplicity I mean the problem solving applied to every day challenges…..Oktoberfest is an amazing tradition.

As there are only for 4 weeks in October for this event , it needed to be longer …so now it actually starts mid September so it can last long enough!

And not to be outdone…the winter Christmas Markets with amazing things to eat and drink are just the same. Advent starts at the first Sunday in December …but in reality you will find people thronging to these events with these starting in mid November!!

And it’s not just food and drink.. there are very few pieces of German engineering thst have failed to impress me over the years ranging from Bosch power tools, to AEG domestic appliances and of course cars I have had both Audi and BMW and really nothing can surpass these.

Anything Germany cannot do….well really the only thing might be to produce a decent cup of tea!

…..but given time, even that may happen.

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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Romantic Paris?

There used to be a TV advert on CNN International many years ago advertising Long Distance phone calling .

It showed a picture of a young American businessman with a beautiful nightime Parisian scene in the background calling his wife with the caption…here I am in the world’s most romantic city ………… and I am stuck here with a cost accountant from Cleveland , as the camera pans round to a suited and accountant type figure sharing his dinner table complete with spreadsheet and calculator.

And of course no disrespect to accountants or people from Cleveland, Ohio but I know how he feels.

I have had the good fortune to visit Paris many times for work and pleasure but each visit I always see just as a taster and I want more.

Earlier this week, work took me on a very quick Paris trip and this time like the CNN man I was accompanied by a colleague.

The difference was this colleague had lived and worked there and in fact after our work day was over, he was on a mission to revisit a shop he had frequented when a resident. To quote another famous advert (HSBC) you really can’t beat local knowledge. The mission for cheesecake took us to the most amazing shop in the 4th Arrondissement. These kind of places are gems and long may they last and survive against globalisation.

A further meander around this area was rewarding with typical Parisienne variety of sights – quirky graffiti,

some unusual street furniture

and even “pride friendly ” pedestrian crossings.

So today was Paris..but actually most cities have the streets just beyond “the top ten must see locations” and these are the places that in my view are the ones to find on visits 2, 3, 4 to a city that you think you now know!

It’s over to you…..

Bath time ….lights, camera, action!

I unexpectedly made a visit to the city of Bath last weekend. As is often the case, it’s the short unplanned visits to places that are sometimes the best ones. I only had a short time for a walk before our restaurant reservation for dinner, but the dappled evening sun reminded me how much I like this place and made me question why we don’t visit there more. As is always the case the answer is simple …we are spoilt in the UK with so many places like this just a few hours away, we become totally nonchalant about them.

If you have never been (…and if you live in the UK) that’s perhaps no surprise as people often see it as another York, Harrogate or Cheltenham ..but where it trumps these is that you are literally tripping over wonderful buildings, Roman Baths, history and Jane Austen literary heritage at a far greater density per square mile than the previously mentioned towns. If you are from outside the UK and made a touring visit of major UK places …it was probably on your itinerary as it is just a short drive from Stonehenge, Avebury and many other gems.

There is much to see in Bath but you can cover a lot in one of the free walking tours or (not so free!) city bus tours.

Even the ‘ordinary’ buildings that populate both the city centre and suburban streets are a real joy to the eye.

Bath Abbey is one of the sights thst draws the crowds, but if you can …just meander in the small streets and alleys ..they will not fail to please.

Any downsides?…not really…easy to get to with plenty of car parks, and worth noting is the out of town park and ride…as the city layout can be confusing even with the assistance of Sat Nav/GPS.

It is not surprisingly, a film makers paradise and we wandered into one of the city squares somewhat surprised to see it looking so ‘historic’ until we realised we were ‘on set’ , unfortunately not looking anything like the Jane Austen characters around us….oops!!!!!…. nice job for the editor to remove the imposters😁

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