Bookshops, log fires and trains

A few weeks ago, we had a quick visit to Northumberland for the weekend. From where we live in Yorkshire, it’s only a couple of hours drive away and to use that well used cliche, it is a hidden gem!

Castles, deserted beaches with seals , lighthouses and unspoilt towns all just a couple of hours away.

Our first stop was at the town of Alnwick…in summer very popular with visitors to it’s castle (the location of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies) and also the renowned Alnwick Gardens.

But our winter visit was focused on a warm and cosy tea shop for lunch, then some Christmas shopping in the town centre which has a great array of independent shops rather than the ubiquitous array of vape shops, tattooists and charity shops that seem to abound on many UK High streets. Alnwick also has the most wonderful second hand bookshop, Barton Books in the towns old railway station. It is huge and has a stock of over 200,000 books…that’s a lot of books!

It is wonderfully eclectic in style with a model railway above the bookshelves, several eating places in former waiting rooms complete with log fires and is very dog friendly.

What’s not to like?

A short post I know, and no earth shattering revelations of science, politics or general knowledge , nothing of great amusement to be repeated to your friends…but sometimes in life, its the simple things that are the best and this was one of those weekends!

I hope you enjoy these posts ….please do comment and share. Meantime I wish you a good weekend…..

Not for girls…

York is one of my favourite historical cities and yes, I am slightly biased having worked in the city for 5 years and lived in a nearby village for 10.

Residents of the UK will remember the politically incorrect strapline on adverts for chocolate Yorkie bars..suggesting that this bar in a very masculine blue wrapper was for macho male truck drivers.

There was then a limited edition pink wrapped bar..I can’t remember the strapline for that one..it might have been ‘only for girls.’..so not too much extra effort then for that one from the ad agency!

Things have thankfully moved on a bit since then, although York as a city (hence the product name) still does have a continued history of chocolate and confectionary making, albeit on a much smaller scale. At one time it boasted major production sites for two big names Rowntrees (now part of Nestle) makers of said Yorkie bars, polo mints, Kit Kats etc. and Terry’s (now part of Kraft) famous for the Chocolate orange and Terry’s All Gold.

York also has a great railway heritage having been one of the main train making cities from the steam era through diesel and then electric. It is home to the UK’s national railway museum home of the Flying Scotsman and literally hundreds of other exhibits. Somewhat amazingly this museum is free and is a magnet for rail enthusiasts and tourists alike.

My former employer in York was strongly engaged in the community and we would periodically visit primary schools to talk to children about the world of work and thoughts of future careers. Doing a Q and A with the class we were visiting I asked..’.so who has a Mum or Dad who works in the chocolate factory?’ ..response just one raised hand from a class of 30 . I tried again… who has a Mum or Dad that works on the railway?’ ‘ This time zero hands! A sign of the times. I am told Kit Kat production is at record levels from the York factory, but so is automation. Had I asked these questions in the 70’s or 80’s I would probably have covered the parental occupations of at least half the class. So what do people in York work at now…well the city has diversified with finance, and academia being two big employers. But the real big one is tourism.

Not only does York have it’s Minster (Cathedral), it’s Medieval streets and Roman walls

..it now also has Harry Potter! Many of the movies were in part filmed here and that is drawing the crowds.

The Shambles one of York’s ancient narrow and twisted streets has at the last count four Harry Potter shops!

Diversification but perhaps not as anybody had planned it.

Why this blog? Click to find out why.

Homeward bound

I am a frequent traveller in Germany and customer of Deutsche Bahn (DB). Lucky me! DB have been having a bit of a wobbly week on the rails meaning I have been changing trains in places I never normally venture. Now this is a sweeping generalisation but it occurred to me that many German train stations are almost identical to each other. Until you see the name, even as a frequent traveller you have no clue where you are if you didn’t look up from your book and spot any familiar city landmarks on approach.

There are of course notable exceptions – Berlin’s hauptbahnhof is a multi floored monument of intersecting railways. You will see swarms of people changing levels and actually resembling more of a giant department store with different travel opportunities on each floor ..you know when you have arrived in Berlin!

So is any country any different? Italy’s Florence station has a subdued underground garage feel about it really doing the ‘under promise, over deliver act’ for when you venture out into the sunshine and the city. Milano central has a cathedral like majesty to it, that is well, it’s very Milan.

Still in Italy, Venice station has the Grand canal on the station forecourt..not a taxi rank to be seen but plenty of gondolas.

In the UK with its history of competing railway companies there is many a monument ..the gothic London St Pancras,

London’s Paddington has Paddington bear sitting on a bench, London Kings Cross has Harry Potter Platform 9 and 3/4.

Even provincial Huddersfield has a station described by poet John Betjeman as a stately home with trains running through it.

But it’s not all British smugness here…Paul Simon wrote the song …(I wish I was) Homeward Bound in Widnes railway station. If you ever get a chance to go there, you will find out why!

Harry Potter and the unhygienic scarf

Anyone familiar with London’s Kings Cross Station will be aware of it’s Harry Potter connections. The infamous Platform 9 and 3/4 exists at least in terms of signage and a disappearing trolley embedded in the wall. As a somewhat regular traveller through the station I never cease to be amazed at the sheer volume of visitors to the aforementioned signage and embedded trolley. At peak times there will be a queue of 30 or more far travelled people neatly corralled awaiting their turn for a photo at this shrine. The organisers helpfully provide the use of a wand to wave and a scarf to wear to give authenticity to the photo. An official is there to give guidance and assistance to project it into the air for photographic effect. So all seems good. But this is production line throughput. Probably in the order of one every 2 to 3 minutes. By my reckoning that’s 20 an hour so probably 200 or so each day. Assuming even an optimistic changing of the scarf once a day for laundry purposes, that does raise a question on , shall we politely say freshness. Now as bodily parts go necks are probably fairly clean, but would you wear an item of clothing that 200 others have shared with you that day? However there may be a missing factor, maybe the swish of the wand delivers the same results as a 40 degree non-Bio wash. Who am I to question this?