Toasted Sandwich Naked

This isn’t my What Three Words location, although a good one to have as my actual one is not very memorable and certainly won’t spring to mind if I am shipwrecked, stuck up a mountain or just lost in Ikea’s one way customer flow.

Never a cross word

It is also not a crossword clue for a Danish Open sandwich. It was actually an unfortunate message I sent to one of my sons and his fiance. I was at the top of ladder at home clearing our attic and found various items of possible use to the next generation and decided the best way of determining if it stayed there or was destined for a new home was a quick What’s App to ask the question as and when I found items. The message ‘Do you want a toasted sandwich maker?’ becoming ‘Do you want a toasted sandwich naked’ unfortunately was a result of auto-correct and my haste!

I do actually have to confess to an earlier mishap with predictive text. Some years ago a more junior colleague was seeking my approval to attend a meeting in Latvia as I had already made it clear it had to be a low cost airline trip. When asked about what they could book for the journey, my text message of ‘you can only travel there by Air Baltic …unfortunately got corrected to…You can only travel there by…. air balloon caused some stress, calls to HR and the company’s insurance department!

Just a lot of hot air

Anyway, back on the home front…I think the wedding is still on but some doubt as to whether any thoughts of a father of the groom speech being a good idea …..

We are family…….

Anyone reading this hoping for a blog about the 1970’s band Sister Sledge who had a hit of that same title…be prepared to be dissapointed now when you read on, to see that the post is about genealogy.

And for those aged 40 or younger, do take note, and look them up…you will probably one day find you have a serious gap in your musical knowledge as questions about Sister Sledge and their profusion of similar sounding hits will often feature on ‘pop music’ quizzes and you will be none the wiser.

Time now to dig out your parents compilation cassettes..and find a device to play them on…..

Teenagers…just ask your parents

Anyway having recently had another birthday ending with a zero, it focussed my mind on not only where do I come from, but who were the people and what were there lives like? A recent gift to me of a DNA analysis test identified that I was 97.5% Irish…so no surprise there, but also 2.5% Akenazi….huge surprise there. But it’s not just the country or culture, I want to know more about the people.

My mother’s family tree is well documented and my origins are from mostly shop keepers but also an assortment of engineers, doctors and other professions.

In the scale of things, quite prosperous and financially comfortable people owning their own homes and businesses, employing people and in some cases having domestic staff!

On the contrsry, my father’s family had previously not been documented but now armed with some family tree software, some sketchy notes of 10 years ago collected from a now deceased relative, I have been tracing my paternal blood line.

Emigrants from Ireland to the UK but a very different story – many of my family including my paternal grand father and great grandfather lived and worked in Bermondsey, London as labourers in the docks. There are also a number of my female relatives working as chars (cleaners), washerwoman and domestic servants. So several generations of people working in tough and not well rewarded roles.

It was not until the last generation that life improved. My own father and one of his brothers were the first to go beyond this and study and train to go into professional roles.

As I unfold more detail it is very evident to me that life in my grandparents generation was really harsh and challenging…but considerably better than the Irish potato famine that they had fled that had killed over one million people literally wiping out half of the country.

So we are a family of two halves…different measures of good fortune…with one half being able to afford the domestic staff and the other providing it…but also united in a shared cultural history.

I have to admit to almost being obsessed now with this genealogical investigation and how uplifting it is in these strange times to understand and feel a connection with my descendants.

Dummies guide to?

As I write this, its the Late Summer Bank Holiday Weekend in most of the UK …..but not Scotland…they are holding out until September for theirs. And theirs is known as the September Weekend…no Marketing consultants or focus groups for naming things required here folks!

Unfortunately, so far it is actually the coldest August Bank Holiday weekend for 20 years according to the weather statisticians. Forget any ideas of picnics, walking in the moors, trips to the sea or al fresco dining of any kind. What the weather did invite however was a trip to our nearby independent bookshop.

Our local town Holmfirth (known to many 40+ year olds in the UK and perhaps beyond, for the Fictional TV Series ‘Last of the Summer Wine’) has a good mix of craft shops, eateries, cafes, independent stores and a recent addition of a small bookshop.

As covered in a previous blog, Bank Holidays are a somewhat curious quirk of the uk and yet another example of our use of the English language using a term that is blindingly obvious to us native speakers, but very confusing to others.

Yes for sure the bank staff get a holiday on these days but so do many other people in industry , commerce, education and government but of course not those in essential services or indeed shop workers who rely in some ways on the rest of us not being at work to give them some added footfall through their shop doors.

So on the subject of shops, back to this one. There is actually not a moments doubt as to what is sold in this shop….. it is books …its called Read. Holmfirth is a tourist destination so even for non native speakers you will know what the offering is here.

Its a great little bookshop with well selected fiction (and many of the books are signed) The only downside is, you may have to queue to get in…its not a huge shop, and with current social distancing rules, if one family enter the store that’s it…until they vacate to make a space for you

It did strike me that actually very few shops in the UK have such a simple and obvious name. We rely on tourism in many parts of this country so why not make things a bit easier for visitors?

Ok, for those of you who are UK residents or at least familiar with the UK High Street you are now reeling off a list of names and brands that provide ‘what it says on the tin’, so as to speak. Yes, I too can think of a few UK examples past and present : ‘eat’ is a chain of outlets that sell …yes, eat in and take away eats; Toys ‘r’ Us, (sadly departed) , ‘Patisserie Valerie‘ (ok, of course Patisserie is a French word, but you get the idea) , The Perfume Shop and so on.

However the ones that may confuse a non native speaker are far more commonplace: ‘Curry’s’ are not a restaurant selling Indian food, but are an electrical goods retailer; ‘Boots’ are a chemist with not a chance of any footwear being on sale other than perhaps a Dr Scholl sandal; ‘Lakeland’ – garden pond accessories? …sorry, its a cookware retailer; ‘Jigsaw’ – not a single children’s puzzle for sale here. You get the idea……

Anyway, this is just nothing compared to what we at least historically named our pubs (and our beer!) …but that’s another story for another blog for another day.

I’m off to the Bulls Head for a Pint of Old Peculiar now……….

A nice mini break, shame about the aliens

This last week we had planned to be in Holland and Germany visiting family. Quarantine rules however meant that trip has had to be postponed so we rather rapidly formulated an alternative of a few days away in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, England.

Like many things that are on your ‘doorstep’ one does just not appreciate them as they are so near and always accessible. We live in the neighbouring but rival county of Yorkshire and are just only an hour or so away. away.

The War of the Roses might have ended in 1485, but as far as many locals are concerned, it might as well still be going on today. Certainly in terms of Sport and pride about who has the finest countryside, notable persons and so on.

The Ribble Valley really has it all. Beautiful countryside, lots of walks and plentiful pubs and tea shops.

Any downsides? None other than we were convinced we were being followed home by Aliens one night as we drove back from dinner at the wonderful Inn at Whitwell.

Strange lights were illuminating the sky and appeared to be chasing us. You may be assuming this was just the effect of too much red wine, but our designated driver consuming only water also experienced the same. Having seen the Northern Lights, I knew it wasn’t that (although it was similar, but only white light, not the wonderful colours of the Aureora Borealis). So we were genuinely mystified.

Fortunately our Air bnb hostess was able to help us as we shared our bizarre experience with her on returning that evening. She too had observed the same one day earlier that week and likewise had the view that aliens were following her home. She did however have the answer once she had shared the experience with local friends. It seemed there was an outdoor music event nearby with a strange lighting system of an array of searchlights that were literally lighting up the clouds above us! So no close encounters of the Third kind!

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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