Please come and visit us!

Visitors to the UK from North America are often bemused by the complexity of choice in our ‘next generation’ coffee shops.

A university degree in coffee is really most helpful when bombarded with questions and choices. Flat white?, Americano?, Latte?, Machiatto?, Espresso?, Latte?, to name just a few; then choose your milk – full, semi or skimmed?

Yes but from a cow? or an almond? or a soya bean?

Then there is size..and of course confusing terms here..is ‘large’ bigger than ‘grande’?, do you want to eat in?, do you want to take away? do you want to use your own cup?, would you like to contribute to clogging the oceans by having a plastic straw? And so on. Even the tiniest of coffee shops doesn’t feel satisfied if they can’t answer every answer you give….with another question..

But that is just the world of coffee….

Despite the UK being smaller than California, we helpfully have a bewildering range of regional accents that are challenging enough for those of us that live here to always tune in to correctly. And these really do vary dramatically by such small distances…for example Liverpool and Leeds are only 70 miles apart..but you could be in two entirely different countries comparing Leeds Yorkshire dialect to Scouse (Liverpudlian). Head 70 or so miles south from Liverpool to Birmingham and it’s totally different again. North from Leeds up to Newcastle on the train for an hour..and it’s Geordie you will hear.

As if that’s not confusing enough for the visitor try asking for a bread roll….

And when I say bread roll, I mean a plain bread roll…not Artisan, Granary, seeded, wheat germ, fancy pants bread.

For these we just use the correct and proper name of ‘Artisan, Granary, seeded, wheat germ, fancy pants bread’ everywhere.

No, I mean for simple white rolls to make a simple sandwich.

..a bread roll is a Stottie Cake in Newcastle , in Manchester it’s a tea cake, further south and it’s a Bap and so on. And there a numerous other regional variations.

Despite the internet, movement of people, international tv and movies in English the accents, dialects and localised terms have against all odds survived a blending that although simplifying things in a way would have been a sad loss.

For how long , I am not sure, but meantime enjoy and be bemused if you come to visit us.

Just add salt…

The town of Saltaire just north of Bradford in Yorkshire was founded by philanthropist and mill owner Titus Salt.

Salt had mills in the city of Bradford but decided to build a large new textile mill, known as Salts Mill and create an entire model village on the banks of the River Aire, near Shipley.

This allowed him to provide much improved accommodation for his workers away from the slums of the city.

The name Saltaire derived from his name and the name of the local river, the River Aire.

Salt created a village of stone houses for his workers with running water, bath houses and even a hospital and an institute for recreation and education.

The village also had a school for the workers children, allotments for the families to grow fresh vegetables, almshouses and a park.

In December 2001, Saltaire was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

So what now…rather than just be a preserved relic of past Victorian ideals, Salts has a vibrant new life.

The mill is home to art by way of permanent exhibitions of Yorkshire artist David Hockney’s work, a truly amazing book shop and some other specialised retailers.

This is no ordinary bookshop..on the ground floor of the mill it has a cathedral like feel, grandeur and ambience.

On the higher floor, a more esoteric style where presentation and space is the emphasis.

Every window provides a backdrop of Salts vision..rather than a shopping mall, retail park or mundane high street.

I can’t think of many bookshops adorned with fresh lillies!

Everywhere in the building there is evidence of both Hockney and the original purpose of the building and this just adds to the magic of the place.

Salts mill draws the crowds for its history, the books, the art and even the restaurant and tea shop.

I visit regularly – its a great place on a winter sunday, a rainy summers day or whenever the mood draws you.

If you are visiting West Yorkshire it’s a “must do” visit. A great example of getting preservation just right.

Salts is very alive with many one off events and opportunities to embrace books, music and art in a wonderful setting…oh and yes it’s completely free other than special events.

Sure you have to buy books if you want to take them home..but otherwise it’s there to enjoy!

Why this blog? Click to find out more about me and why I write the blogs

Salsa with cows

Little did John Constable the artist realise that he put the beautiful river stour and the hamlet of Flatford Mill and the village of Dedham well and truly on the map.

This sleepy and pretty riverside area on the Suffolk and Essex border in Eastern England is visited by many …some to see the unchanged scenes painted all those years ago such as Willy Lott’s cottage,

Flatford Mill and the riverside meadows also featured in many paintings. Others visit just to enjoy the countryside almost unchanged from the days of Constable.

Last weekend visiting family who live in the nearby area we too decided to enjoy the area and walk and picnic by the river. The weather was perfect, the wasps were confining themselves to sharing drinks at the nearby pub, and we were a well prepared group with picnic rugs and copious supplies of food. What we hadn’t prepared for were the cows. Now I too live in the country and have a healthy respect for cows, particularly when with their calves and we stay well clear when dog walking to avoid frightening them, disturbing them or even being perceived to be invading their territory.

Now at Dedham the herd seem to have been there a while and know the score. Totally unperturbed by dog walkers, noisy children, people launching dinghies into the River but what they have mastered is picnic raiding! And this is not collective herd tactics.. it is one stubborn bullock. He was determined to have some salad, then bread, as we desperately tried to scoop up plates, wrappers and indeed anything that might cause real harm, he then emptied the Bombay mix container and finished it by licking out an entire jar of salsa.

Nothing would move him. It was only when everything was removed he gave a final lick of his lips, a cursory glance at the devastation he had left and moved on up the field to the next unsuspecting victim.

Now this individual gave the impression this is tried and tested cow behaviour for generations of animals in this area. It does make me wonder if amongst the well known paintings of Constable such as The Haywain, Flatford Mill or Dedham Lock there is an unknown hidden and lost masterpiece ….’The Cow eating Salsa ‘. For sale at an auction room near you shortly.

Why this blog? Click to find out more.

Birthday greetings?

Today it’s my birthday. Ok, well to be factually correct it’s only my birthday if you are reading this on Tuesday 16th July. When you think about it, it’s actually no great surprise as there was a 1:365 chance it would be and I think that is greater odds than you get for winning anything over £10 had you bought a lottery ticket.

At one time, only close family and friends (and the HR department at work) actually knew this date and excluding the HR team (unless you worked for a very touchy, feely company,) family and friends would be the only ones communicating it to you.

Social media and electronic communications have changed all of that……but only possibly for the better.

So without question you should think of this first group as the top tier or premier league. Remember these ‘Friends and Family’ are the people who might actually go to a shop, buy a card, and somewhat importantly know where you live, make the effort to write and stamp the card in advance so that you have it for the day. Now that is commitment.

Anyway to the next Level..Level 2.

These too are real people but they will know the feeling of lateness. These are the ones people who when they turn on their phones will get nice Facebook reminders saying it that it is your friends bitthday today…….yes today!!!!

A quick five second whizz around the phone keyboard and birthday greetings are sent. Duty done 😁

There are sometimes awkward feelings of guilt when you see the last communication to that ‘friend’ … was, yes a whole 1 year ago when you said ‘happy birthday!’ Oops, looks like we haven’t been in contact for a year…..

For those who use Linked In…it’s a bit more awks . Lets call this Level 3. So on Linked In, again you get birthday reminders. But the resulting communications really can be very cringeworthy . You can just tell when you are getting the dutiful greetings of your suppliers or service providers sitting on a train or in starbucks.

Or worse still that boring accountant you met at a conference 6 months now sends you birthday hugs…… even deciding how to reply then is difficult 😱

And then at the bottom of the pile there is the world of customer loyalty and marketing. My bank want to wish me happy birthday and as a special gift a chance to review my finances or sell me some insurance.

My energy supplier wants to reward my loyalty and my age with a new fixed price tariff. And my local pizza company wants to give me a bottle of Prosecco if I would only come to see them and buy two pizzas.

And the list just goes on and on….. discounts on ink for my printer and buy one get one free on toiletries…..etc.

Anyway, happy birthday to all of you too…I might be anything up to 364 days early! Did someone say cake?

Why this blog? Click to find out more…..

Blooming lovely…if you can wait until 2020

The RHS or Royal Horticultural Society creates an image of an aged botanist, carefully crafting a selected rose for an ancient vase in a royal palace.

You could be forgiven for thinking this and to those of us resident in the UK the prefix royal will often create an assumption of exclusive, high end and certainly not cool or leading edge.

Yes their origins go back to 1804 when John Wedgewood son of the Pottery industrialist Joshua Wedgewood called together a meeting of like minded people in Hatchards bookshop and things got moving from that.

You can sort of see the connection..often this pottery had beautifully hand painted flowers on them.

But old and stuffy… well think again…

The RHS for sure have not been on a trailblazing expansion rampage of creating new facilities and experiences in the style of Walt Disney or Lego…but when they do something new, they sure do it right.

They literally only have a handful of gardens in the country – Wisley in Surrey, Harlow Carr in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Risemoor in Devon and Hyde Hall in Essex. Five gardens and a few annual flowers shows each year may not seem like a stellar performance but sometimes in life it really is about quality, not quantity. I am perhaps being a little unkind here…their flower shows are amazing…Chelsea Flower Show, Tatton Park and Cardiff are all sold out events, but you get my point.

However, on the horizon is another. For years the RHS have been looking for a suitable location in the North West of England and they really have struck gold with this next one.

RHS Bridgewater is in the grounds of the ruined Worsley Hall and truly is going to be a jewel in the crown. Not just for the sheer scale and the restoration of magnificent gardens but for it’s inclusiveness and breadth of opportunities for local people to be involved. And that will extend to those on the fringes of society. Yes, this garden is located in leafy affluent Worsley but is located near enough to the more challenged parts of the wider Manchester area.

Sometimes things do take time to be nurtured but when they bloom, they will amaze. I feel sure this will do that and more. 2020 will be worth waiting for.

Why this blog? Click to find out more……

The bees knees….

My grandfather was a doctor and naturally inquisitive and always striving to learn more. Even with something as simple as looking up a word in the dictionary he said you should whilst the book is open read the entry above and the entry below. In this way you will learn more things, admittedly maybe not things you need to know, but that might enrich you.

In the electronic world we live in some will argue that these opportunities don’t arise now…but I disagree. In our news feeds etc. there are often adjacent articles that may catch our eye and will be worth our attention.

I can testify to this as recently as yesterday. The said adjacent article intrigued me…’Large Investment for Bee Network’.

From more detailed scrutiny I learnt of a brave and bold initiative to create 1000’s of miles of cycle tracks in the Manchester (England) area including links to major tourist areas , city centre and outlyng towns to revolutionise cycling in the city.

Now I don’t live in Manchester, not really cycle that much but I do strongly support anything that gets people outside, doing healthy stuff and reducing polution so a tick in all three boxes there. I also embrace any kind of good news story so for this alone, I thank my grandfather. Manchester has been in the worldwide news spotlight in the past but for very troubling reasons – most recently the terrorist attacks at the Ariana Grande concert in the city’s arena.

Oh, and in case you are wondering why the name Bee network? The bee has been the symbol of Manchester seen in city emblems since the 1800’s representing it’s tradition as an industrious city. A very apt name for the evolution of transport in this resilient and growing city.

Sometimes in life you need to go and find the good news, it doesn’t come to you.

Why this blog? Click to find out more….

Dirty old town

For those who are fans of the Pogues, they will know the lyrics of this song are something like ‘ I met my love by the gas works wall, Dreamed a dream by the old canal, I kissed my girl by the factory wall, Dirty old town’ . Now I don’t think that town had a name but somehow I don’t think it was Bellavista, Beaumaris or anything remotely suggesting anything looking nice . Naming of towns isn’t driven by people ..having said that for new towns it perhaps is (we have a few of these new towns in the UK and these probably have had a committee or a focus group to name them).

Yes, unlike children whose parents spend many hours hours of researching popular names. Hopefully being sure that the trendy name you give your child is really what you intended and will survive the years without causing undue embarrassment in the playground or on the school bus. In our family at the time of great grandparents era we have at least one relative who was proudly named Fanny. Say no more..but trust me, it might be not so cool to be called that in North America, in the uk it really is decidedly awkward.

Its not just the names , another example is the regretful parent of David Ian McDonald when it came to initials being marked on schoolwear.

Generally speaking town names have just evolved from some simple geographic description or derivation from a Latin or Roman name from the past. This usually tends to work, but just occasionally you end up with some tidy and pleasant town or village having a name…well that makes it sound rather not so nice, or even having connotations of…well anything but the intended name.

In the UK we have numerous examples of these…I could probably name about 50 with ease…but in the interests of brevity, here is my top 5.

Snodland – as a child when being driven along the motorway and seeing the road sign, for this inoffensive Kent town , my childish brain and equally childish humour saw this as Snotland… causes much hilarity when you are aged 12!

Ramsbottom – include the name ‘bottom’ in any town name and immediately it opens itself up to some suggestion of toilet humour, add the word Ram and you have a sure fire winner. Ramsbotton does have a connection with Rams for sure being in North Pennine sheep country but that is where it ends . Not a bottom in sight and in facts it is a very friendly and bustling market town.

Seaton Sluice – the very name conjures up some kind of porcelain contraption with a not very pleasant function. Now I have never been to Seaton Sluice but I am told its actually a most appealing village on the Northumberland coast.

Grotton – the human brain seems to want to focus on the first four letters here and just think Grot! In reality Grotton is a very pleasant semi rural residential area to the east of Manchester bordering Saddleworth. Nothing grotty about Grotton.

and finally…..

Upperthong – yes, that is the name, not to be confused with nearby Netherthong. Not surprisingly Upperthong residents dread that moment when doing a telephone order for goods or services and being asked their address…. the responses they get back are inevitable and yes probably funny the first time, but I imagine it gets a bit tiresome after 10 years!