We’ve been travelling up and down the country over the past few days, and finding brief respite from the road in the institution of the motorway service station. Although visually unexciting, motorway services do in fact contain as full a cross-section of Britain as you are likely to find anywhere, and are fascinating for it.
Motorway services have this amazing captive audience, as they provide the only option for fuel, food or a WC stop for perhaps 50 miles. As a result everyone is forced to use them, irrespective or whether they’re landed gentry or chav, Jag driver or on a coach trip. What results is something of a spectacle of Britain passing through those doors – all strata of society forced together unnaturally and out of necessity. Regardless of whether they’re veering off into the Waitrose, or queuing up at the KFC, they are all there together, for a short while.
Curiosity demands a pause with a coffee to bear witness to this constant flow of people comprising this country of ours. Most stops take place far from both home and the destination, surrounded by unfamiliar accents that are in turn supplemented by an array of dialects even further out of place. You may be sat next to the sort of people you’d never meet in your life otherwise, and are briefly granted an insight into lives that are no less British but potentially entirely foreign to your own. All these people brought together, all trying to kill time by browsing the WHSmith or deciding whether £8.99 for a breakfast is highway robbery taken one step too far…
We’re recently back from 10 days in Malta. We spent all of this based in one hotel, which, if not the longest time we’ve ever spent in one hotel on holiday is certainly the longest for a great many years. The hotel dynamic is an interesting one, as the faces you start to see on a daily basis become part of the experience, yet at the same time nothing more than the most fleeting of acquaintances is established.
So it was with our stay. The earlier part of our stay was spent relaxing, especially around the pool, and it didn’t take long for some of the regulars to become known. We never knew the names of any of them – aside from the occasional poorly behaved child whose name was shouted in exasperation – so it became normal to use epithets for these selection of characters.
The Kojak Brothers were perhaps the most distinctive poolside faces, comprising Kojak himself with his penchant for iridescent shorts and glamorous wife, and his brother, similarly bald with a less glamorous wife in-tow.
No doubt other people have attempted to instil some common sense in prospective visitors to London before by
writing down some advice for would-be tourists. We feel that’s far too nice an approach. In the space of about an hour around town today, we’d come up with a list of over 30 possible rules (not advice, note) for visitors to London. For efficiency’s sake, we’re narrowing them down to 10 and mailing them to Boris Johnson so that he can have them handed to all people who cross the M25, whether by train, car or plane.
Thou shalt learn prior to your visit how to use the Oyster card/travelcard and shalt not stand in front of the ticket barriers on the tube trying to shove one or other of them in the slot the wrong way.
Thou shalt follow all instructions given to you on the tube, particularly with regard to standing on the RIGHT on escalators and travelators.
Thou shalt not talk loudly in an unsociable manner on the tube, particularly if you have a nasal accent from a continent we shall not name. Or if you’re from Liverpool.
Thou shalt be observant and notice the direction of the way out sign BEFORE attempting to leave the train, so that you do not block the doors.
Thou shalt not stand with your pushchair/large family/luggage completely blocking entrances to platforms/parks/stairways.
Thou shalt not walk slowly down the pavement, taking up all the room, staring at your map. Go ye unto a bus stop to do the same.
Thou shalt obey all queuing customs, i.e. that you do NOT queue-jump for any reason, and must meekly accept being tutted at if you do.
Thou shalt not take up an entire pavement in order to take photographs, forcing polite pedestrians to wait for you to finish.
Thou shalt, if you’re lost or can’t work the cash machine, ask for help. We won’t bite (unless you’ve broken commandments 1-8).
Thou shalt not yell the names of prominent world leaders across a room in the presence of Her Majesty. She doesn’t like it.
Basically, bear in mind that we work the longest hours in Europe, so we don’t appreciate people standing in the way or holding us up unnecessarily when we’re moving about the city. Abide by the rules and we won’t set the giant bulldog on you.
**Thanks to www.maskworld.com for the image. Do go there to buy your tourist costume. These are now the only legal garb for tourists in London – make sure you get yours soon before they run out.
The mule has just returned from five days in Belgium. We chose Bruges as our base and enjoyed four nights in Hotel Oud Huis Amsterdam, situated in a historic building overlooking one of the city’s trademark canals. We first eyed up the hotel as one of the many options offered by Eurostar in its train + hotel deals. There’s no shortage of hotel options for Bruges, however the sumptuous looking yet traditional surrounds of Oud Huis Amsterdam (henceforth OHA) won us over.
We had done our bit of research first, however, and noticed that the recent reviews on TripAdvisor were all glowing. This was very much our experience too. Our room was located in what appeared to be a relatively new extension added to the first floor, yet still part of the main building with views over the canal. The room was spacious, offering a blend of tradition, modernity and comfort that worked very successfully. Wooden beams sat aside glass tables and comfortable chairs in an ensemble that seemed inspired yet effortless. The tiled bathroom appeared at once to be clean and nicely appointed, with a stone style finish that retained an air not out of keeping with the rest of the room.
We’re off to Bruges for the week, so hopefully we’ll come back inspired to write something scintillating for your enjoyment. No doubt we’ll be Tweeting, though, so keep an eye on the right of this page.
Incidentally, I may finally have found an extrovert activity on public transport that doesn’t offend me: a man reading a book to his daughter on the rail replacement service. How lovely. Virgin trains would be inestimably improved by this service.
A promising sandwich board headline for the Evening Standard on Friday, promising “Oyster cards on all trains“. If it’s true it would prove a well overdue development. Although Londoners regards national rail services within Greater London one of the many elements comprising the capital’s transport network, most of the lines have until now not allowed use of Oyster ‘Pay as you go’ cards. From the point of view of the average commuter or resident this makes travel less coherent and straight forward as it should be. Ideally the smart Oyster card should convey you from A to B within London, on whichever form of public transport is necessary without difficulty, however on many suburban lines a ticket is required for the rail ticket and an Oyster card used elsewhere. Continue reading →
Anyone who’s had any occasion to have to use the West Coast Main Line railway between London Euston and the North West and Scotland over the past decade or so will have as likely or not come across some difficulties at some point or other. Indeed any attempt at travelling on any weekend since as long as anyone can remember will have almost inevitably resulted in journey times hours longer than those of weekdays and may well have required excruitatingly slow bus substitution services for substantial stretches.
December saw what we all hoped would be the turning of a new leaf for the line. Years of engineering would be all but complete and a new timetable would come into effect offering a greatly enhanced number of services. Rejoice! If only it was so…
The Guardian features an excellent article on the seemingly declining state of railway catering, and the passing of the traditional buffet car.
It poses the interesting question as to whether the often poor quality or indeed total absence of catering on-board trains actually puts travellers off travelling by railway. The same could I’m sure be applied to the aviation industry which, unlike the railway’s golden age of waitered on catering cast so seductively by the likes Agatha Christie, has always rather been a byword for substandard food. Of course one generally has more choice in the type of transport taken when considering to travel by train, whereas by plane you typically have to fly; it’s more a question of the carrier. I may also being entirely unfair on the aviation industry’s catering, given that I’ve never flown in the silver service first class standard.