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‘Coffee and Vinyl’ – the new music cafe in town – opening soon – or maybe not

I know these two retired guys (68 year old pensioners) who are neighbours and friends. They love coffee, red wine and music, particularly modern jazz /funk. They lives are happy and busy with family and various interests but they want to feel productive, increase their income and have some fun.

They come up with an idea for a hobby cum part-time business which they can share. Most of the details of that plan are inspired by fantasy and cognitive impairment brought on by age and alcohol.

You’ve probably guessed that the business proposition is a music shop (selling new and pre-owned cds and vinyl records) which is also a coffee bar and licensed to sell wine. They wouldn’t want to work full-time so opening hours would be limited to a comfortable 5 hours a day, 3 days a week. The business will be in a small rented property conveniently situated about half a mile away from their homes in a small northern district centre.

When fuelled by alcohol, they convince themselves that there is a market for this business and that the business model might even attract a big investor. They would be able to drink and listen to music tax-free whilst supporting the local community. They would become local celebrities, reverse the trend for coffee bar mediocrity and become the saviour of so many people who have never been introduced to good music.

One day they did a little bit of research whilst completely sober. They found a small, cheap 700 sq ft shop unit on the main road at the edge of the centre. Taking into account the rent, business rates, energy costs, insurance etc. they were looking at £1,500 per month or £21,000 per year. Start up costs for equipment, fittings, signage, furniture and stock could be limited to a miserly £12,000. There would be other running costs of course.

Six grand each didn’t seem a big initial investment – even for two pensioners with dwindling savings and static pension pots. But what about takings? Surely they could source stock easily enough and could make a decent coffee with the right equipment. At least a 50% profit on everything seemed feasible.

In the cold light of day they worked out that they would be lucky to make a £200 profit on sales per day. Taking account of limited opening hours and holidays, they would make about £19,000 per year after tax, significantly less than just the rent and rates. Altogether, it would be a very expensive hobby.

It was dead in the water!

Devastated by this injection of reality, they blamed the government, greedy landlords, the state of the UK economy, the cost of living crisis, unreliable supply chains etc. but most of all their own naivety, stupidity and crazy imaginations. As they grew to accept their lack of judgment, they saw the funny side of it. They reflected on what a typical day might have been like……….

Partner 1: Good morning, Now what can I get you?

Customer 1: Coffee please

Partner 1: What type would you like?

Customer 1: Have you got any Nescafe?

Partner 1: No

Customer 1: OK I’ll leave it then. I’ll go to my usual coffee shop

******************************************************

Customer 2: What music are you playing?

Partner 2: Oh that’s ‘Shuftokan’ by Snarky Puppy. Cool isn’t it?

Customer 2: Not my thing I’m afraid. Have you got any Neil Diamond? I love him.

Partner 2: No, sorry. Well not sorry, really. We have some great music though if you want to look through.

Customer 2 : I’ve not heard of most of them. And I’ve noticed your second hand cds are much dearer than the charity shop.

Partner 2: Yes. That’s because our cds are sought after albums and feature great modern jazz artists. Not albums that people want to get rid of.

Customer 2: Oh. Do you think anyone round here will like jazz? You want to get Spotify. Its saves buying and messing with vinyl and cds. You can listen to anything from Neil Diamond to ABBA.

Partner 2: Yes I know. But I think some people want to explore non-pop, to own their own physical music collection with the artwork and information that goes with it and like to ensure that artists get more reward for their efforts and talent.

Customer 2: I’m not bothered about owning records. They just take up space and get damaged by the dog. For one of your CDs, I can listen to anything I want at any time for a whole month on Spotify.

Partner 2: Give me fucking strength!

********************************************************

Partner 1: Yes, What would you like to drink?

Customer 3: Have you got any red wine?

Partner 1: Yes, Any particular type?

Customer 3: I’ll have some Merlot please.

Partner 1: I can recommend the Chateau Los Boldos Tradition Resérve Merlot 2019.

Customer 3: Not sure I’ll like that. Have you got any of that Isla Negra ? Its quite nice. Tescos sell it.

Partner 1: Then I suggest you go to Tesco. Also, you might prefer the music they play there.

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Partner 1: Over the last 3 hours, you’ve had 4 wines and 3 coffees. Would you like me to get you the bill?

Partner 2: Ha ha. Funny. I think I’m getting a bit light headed. Could you take over the coffee making while I have a lay down or are you a bit pissed also?

Partner 1: Seriously, we’re cutting into the profits big time. I’ve been through the accounts with Dodgy Dave and he says we can’t claim tax relief for wine and coffee testing.

Partner 2: What does he know, he’s not a real accountant, he runs that rubbish removal firm ‘Van Morris & Sons Make it Disappear’

Partner 1: He’s never paid tax though, so he should know what he’s talking about.

Partner 2: We just need to get more customers. We need to advertise and do some marketing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all those.

Partner 1: Are you on them?

Partner 2: No. Wouldn’t have a clue anyway.

Partner 1: I’ll lock up shall I?

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Yes. You’ve guessed. I’m one of those old guys

Coffee Shops – wake up and smell the coffee!

Have you noticed that many coffee shops are no longer the inexpensive, quick-fix, cup of pleasure, relaxation and place of social interaction they used to be?

I’m sure it’s not just me. These coffee bars need to wake up and smell the coffee!

Like most people, when we’re out and about – shopping, having a walk or visiting nice places, we usually like to fit in a coffee break in a nice independent cafe in some nice surroundings. In recent months though, this has proven to be a rather hit and miss experience. When we choose what looks like a nice cafe in a lovely town or village centre, garden centre or a visitor attraction it will normally be run by clueless aspiring millionaires who want to rip us off, and staffed by teenagers who are paid a pittance, have received no proper training and don’t give a shit. Consequently my black Americano espresso coffee will be cold, weak as piss, served with milk in and missing any sugar offering. If I’m really unlucky, it will be served in a huge paper cup which, consequently, will contain far too much water and not enough shots. If I complain about the amount of hot water, the barista or coffee serving person will explain that I should have asked for a Regularando as they assume most people will want a Tallerando or the Grandarista. I explain that whatever ludicrous Italianate names are used, they might as well be buckets and no one could drink that much coffee if it was made to the correct strength without serious risk of getting as high as a kite or serious heart palpitations.

My wife will normally order tea – expecting quality tea leaves brewed and served in a teapot with a separate pot of milk. Increasingly, her tea will involve a cheap tea bag served in a paper cup with milk included at the start. For this they will charge over £2.50.

I do feel compelled to provide real time customer feedback and insist they get our drinks right or I will insist on a refund. One can’t always avoid the paper cup but I make it my mission to question its use when the cafe is charging over £3 for a coffee. Often, the coffee shop’s excuse is that they changed from crockery to paper during the covid lockdown because it was more hygienic. But why, I ask, do they change from cups to massive paper cups without increasing the coffee content proportionally? Also I don’t believe it is more hygienic and more sustainable to use paper cups.

I think I may have spoilt the coffee shop experience for my wife as she doesn’t like confrontation and there is always the expectation that after one sip of my coffee, I will marching back to the counter to return it and provide my explanation in front of the staff and customers. However, I feel it is my duty to let them know where they are going wrong, in a polite way of course, otherwise they will never learn.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule and I do like to give positive feedback when it is justified. Sometimes though, I am tempted to stick to a major chain like Cafe Nero where I know that it will be served in a cup and most of the time the coffee will be consistently reasonable, strong and of course, hot.

I’m sure you will agree that the coffee shop ambiance and quality of our coffee experience also depends on our fellow customers. In some cases I find them quite challenging and I imagine the coffee bars do also.

First, there are the table hoggers. It is not uncommon to find one or two people hogging a table for 4 persons when there are small 2 seater tables available. I am happy to share the table with them but they often don’t seem as keen to share with me…… specially newspaper readers, internet users and phone obsessed teenagers. Coffee shop managers must tear their hair out when a table hogger is into his second hour whilst still on his first coffee.

In some cases I would prefer not to share a table, especially with those selfish, self obsessed and intrusive people who who feel the need to video chat. They usually do it at a volume you can’t tune out of and candidly waffle on about their personal relationships, health issues, relationships, what cake to choose, their financial status and what happened on Love Island. I often wonder if they are oblivious to their surroundings and other customers or if they just want to sound important and show everyone how popular they are.

And why do people turn up their smartphone notification bings in cafes? Do they need to hear every message or notification that arrives in real time? Do they not feel self conscious and embarrassed when people jump in shock or grab their own phones to check.

I have noticed that since everyone stopped going to the office to work, there are more and more meetings being held in cafes. Also, more and more people are working on their laptops and are in fact setting up office and spreading their stuff all over the tables. I would feel awkward and would be unable to concentrate properly working in a cafe. Go home or go back to the office! I recently had no alternative but to listen to a job interview being conducted at the next table. This involved the interviewee, the interviewer and someone else over his laptop. Normal conversations I can tune out of, but when I am confronted with loud interview questions like what qualities could they bring to the job (I think it was some sort of social work) and how far they would go for the client in various scenarios, I found myself being sucked in. Annoyingly I felt like I was in an office rather than a coffee bar. And I had no say in whether they got the job.

Of course unruly children can spoil the coffee bar experience, but in fairness, it is usually the irresponsible adults in charge who are the real problem. There are some adults who think its OK for kids to treat the coffee shop as an adventure playground and I have been known to confront those adults. Only once have I taken direct action against a kid. She was laid on the floor seemingly taking some pleasure in blocking an isle. I apologised for tripping over her and she moved surprisingly quickly.

What are your thoughts? Do you think I’m being unreasonable? Have I been unlucky in my choice of cafes?

Espresso your views!

Don’t let coffee shops mug you off and grind you down.

Support the ones that care!

Thanks a latte!

Our Holiday in Bodrum, Turkey

We have just spent a week in Bodrum, Turkey. It is a nice place. Full of character and ‘Turkish Delight’.  It is a chilled out place in late season. It is not too busy and most things are still open.  The people are hospitable.  It is inexpensive.  The temperature is perfect for us (around 26 degrees centigrade in the day and 18 degrees in the evening). 

My wife and I spent the week there with our recently widowed female friend and her sister and husband who joined up with us. In my previous blog post, I wrote about the stress of booking and preparing for a holiday, something that seems to get worse as one gets older. 

This post is an account of how it actually went. Hopefully you might be amused by our up’s and downs.

It started well.  We found the Leeds-Bradford ‘Sentinel’ airport car park at 3 am without any problems.  We handed the keys over, the car was securely parked on site and the bus shuttle got us to the terminal within ten minutes of arriving.  (A brilliant service in case you are considering using them.)   We were one of the first to arrive and so we queued for the check-in which frustratingly opened nearly 20 minutes late.  

The Airport Experience ….

What got me stressed straight away was that there was a lot of Jet2 staff who had arrived with us and who just stood around for 20 minutes, chatting with each other and ignoring the passengers, rather than speak to us to explain why there was a delay.

We had ‘checked-in’ online and printed our own boarding cards but I am at a loss to understand how this is more convenient for us than the old desk system.   We had to queue to get to a machine (which was not a ‘one touch’ affair as was advertised), weigh our luggage, print off our labels, stick them on the suitcases and then queue again to present our cases to a Jet 2 porter in a corner of the room so he could remove them on to a trolley. Others who hadn’t checked in online queued at a desk, handed over their bags and beat us to the security gate.  Why don’t they just admit it is a cost saver, not a better service for the passenger? 

After zigzag queuing we negotiated the security check and I was body scanned and searched – no indication as to why. Afterwards, I was asked to move away from the conveyor belt to replace my shoes and belt but to where?  The place was congested so I ignored the security guy and carried on in situ. 

Once through into the departure lounge we decided to have an early breakfast and a coffee.  We had been up since 1.00 am and we needed something. This is the sausage sandwich I was served – freshly nuked and presented with such artistic flair.  I would have complained except no one would give a shit would they?  How do they get away with serving such crap at ridiculously expensive prices?  We certainly weren’t going to buy food on the flight so we bought a Boots meal deal to take on which was probably the only good value food in the entire airport. 

Thankfully, after the standard pre-flight airport experience, the plane took off on time.  The flight was quite uneventful but far from comfortable – claustrophobic, cold, and with the added ambience of lots of coughing people. Also, the expensive refreshments lived up to expectation.  We only had tea and coffee but both were horrible.

The Arrival …..

We arrived at Bodrum airport and enjoyed a smooth transition through baggage claim and security procedures. 0ur taxi to the hotel was waiting for us.   Everything went swimmingly up to the point we were shown to our rooms at the hotel.  We had paid for a sea view but after cricking our necks and standing on tiptoes we were forced to conclude there wasn’t one.  The hotel management seemed to have no record of a sea view but as we had it in black and white on it on the booking confirmation, they had to accept that a mistake had been made.  They told us that, unfortunately, there were no sea view rooms available for the first night but they would move us to a ‘very, very nice’ room with a sea view tomorrow.  Oh well.

Sea view from room
Sea view from room

Our friend’s sister and husband who had joined us in the hotel for the week didn’t book a sea view but managed to secure a partial one – if you looked through the gaps in the wall which separated their patio area from the hotel’s outdoor stage.  As the disco speakers were just yards away, their first night was a rather late, noisy one. After complaining, they managed to get a better, quieter room.

The Kung Flu strikes …..

Day two arrived but it was 2 pm before we were taken to our new rooms and were able to unpack. Still, there was a sea view and it was very nice one indeed.  Later in the afternoon we went to meet up with our friends.  It was at this point that our friend started feeling unwell.  The following morning she was feeling worse and asked our travel representative where she could contact a doctor and before you could say “iyi değilim ve öksürüğüm var”*, she was taken to a local medical centre, accompanied by her medical insurance details and my wife, where she was promptly diagnosed with corona virus. 

(* I’m not well and I have a cough)

Sodding hell! 

Over a several hour period, she was given a chest scan, fluids, blood tests etc to assess her risk and to provide some stability and was told she would need to isolate in the hotel.  My wife got a taxi back to the hotel and our poorly friend arrived back in an ambulance some 2 hours later.   

She had no option but to isolate in her room in the hope she has a negative test in time to fly home.  Her holiday was effectively kyboshed.  The staff would bring food, water and essentials and I have to say they were very diligent and very supportive.  In effect though, our friend was imprisoned. 

And what were we to do?  The three of us could have been exposed to our friend’s pernicious droplets and aerosol particles.  We decided if any of us displayed any symptoms we would test ourselves and review the situation.  This led to an uneasy couple of days. We thought about how the various scenarios might play out if we were also to become ill, were consequently confined to quarters and couldn’t catch the flight home.  Would we battle through and say nothing?

Of course we regularly called on our sick friend to check she was coping ok and to bring additional/alternative refreshments and provide moral support.  It was clear over the next few days she was starting to feel better and that this was a mild case.  We began to relax.  So, we got on with trying to enjoy ourselves and as it turned out we had a very nice time pottering around Bodrum and the local area and relaxing in our lovely hotel complex on the beach. 

Intermission – Visiting Bodrum ….

If you are thinking of visiting Bodrum, these snippets might be of some help:

Eating out is generally inexpensive and good value.   Going ‘All inclusive’ is even better value although it does have its limitations.  Seafood is better in the restaurants and the hotel’s alcoholic spirits are poor imitations of the real thing.  But I’m not complaining. The hotel food was good, varied and there was a lot of it.  But there are only so many kebabs I can eat and so many cocktails I can drink before I fall asleep or get ill and so I didn’t overdo it.  Some hotel guests didn’t seem to have that problem or that self restraint and you could see they had devoted their life to eating and drinking and getting very fat.   

There are plenty of attractions to enjoy.  There are plenty of historical and archaeological remains to visit.  The Castle and museums are worth a visit. Check opening times though because some museums are closed on random days.  If you like boat trips, you’ll be spoilt for choice.  If I went again I would do the trip to Kos. Some of the big advertised all day trips look wonderful but take a good part of the day to get there and back so check out journey times.

The taxis are cheap, but not for the feint hearted.  Here are some tips.  Choose an older driver….  They are less likely to think they are immortal and have the skills of Lewis Hamilton.  Younger taxi drivers are reckless and seem to have a death wish.  Choose a newish car…..  We found the seat belts in the older ones didn’t work and were disguised by seat blankets.   Pretend you know where you are going ….. Drivers will take you twice round the block if you sound timid.  Tip the taxi driver… if he doesn’t try to kill you.  They don’t get paid much.

It’s worth learning a few Turkish phrases and greetings  I can see why Turkish is one of the hardest languages to learn and many holiday makers are put off for fear of getting words wrong. I struggled to pronounce even a few phrases and greetings and it probably sounded gibberish most of the time but it seemed to be appreciated by the locals if just for the comedy value.  I’m sure that appreciation manifested itself in the speed of waiter service and the amount of gin in my gin and tonic.  

There are a lot of shops   Fancy a Rolex watch, Gucci bag and a smart Boss shirt?  Well, you can get these for a fraction of the price you’d pay in Harvey Nichols.  Because they are fakes!  Honestly, I’ve never seen so many Rolex watches in my life.  If you are looking for real bargains, check out the leather goods (I mean the non fake leather goods), carpets, clothes, and jewellery.  There are reputable independent jewellers who know their stuff and offer great end of season prices.  My wife’s 70th birthday is coming up in November and after 43 years married to me I thought she deserved a new engagement ring.  So the most unimpulsive man ever bought one.  I am now poor but well loved! 

Conclusion

So, did our friend recover in time for her flight home?  Yes she did.  Our flight was, however, delayed for an hour and forty minutes. This was because the pilot wanted engineers to check that some debris which blew across the runway on landing (known as FOD) didn’t enter and damage the engine turbines. Fair enough.

So we took off and soon a number of people around me started coughing.  I had read that in the UK one on 30 people have covid at present. On the basis that our plane had a capacity of 180 passengers it seems likely that some of these had covid. Therefore, if we haven’t already picked up the Kung Flu, there’s a reasonable chance we will by the time we arrive home. 

We arrived back without further incident but some two hours late. No sooner had we dragged our bags from the terminal to the ‘Sentinel’ bus stop, the bus arrived for us. “Mr and Mrs Simpson I presume”, said the driver. Brilliant!

Post Script

We don’t seem to have any covid symptoms so far and I am getting to the point of not caring.  Its getting too much of an inconvenience and an obsession with people.

I need a long rest before thinking about our next holiday.

I’m going on Holiday. Why am I stressed?

We have just over a week to go before our holiday to Turkey and we are stressed as hell.  Why?

We’re not worried about the cost.  We have a decent planned budget and we’ll stick to it.

It’s not that we have unrealistic expectations. We never get carried away and we are always pleasantly surprised when things are as advertised and go to plan.

It’s not worry about the unknown, the prospect of visiting a different place with a different religion, customs and etc..  We respect the country we’re going to and its people, and I would expect them to respect us.

We are not worried about getting along with the people we are going away with.  They are damn good company and easy going.

Nor are we stressing about how to spend our time there.  We will explore a bit and relax a bit and plan most of it when we get there.

We are thoroughly organised on the health front. We have our medication packed, our hearing aid batteries, we have our flight compression socks, and I have had my ears syringed so I can hear properly. (With my substandard ears, flights are bad for solidifying any ear wax that might be lurking).

So what are we stressed about? Well, this is what we’re thinking ……..

Will we die on the way there or back? We don’t have any real safety concerns about flying other than the take-off, landing and that bit in between.  Have we put all our affairs in order?

Did we do enough research? Did we book the right hotel?  This holiday is part of my wife’s 70th Birthday celebrations and those of another two in our party who have turned 70 this year.  So we expect the hotel to be as advertised and up to its rave reviews.  We have already had to cancel a holiday in the same resort after reading some horrendous reviews after we had booked it. That was a stressful process, let me tell you. 

Have we got all the necessary documentation?  Have we printed out everything we need?  Will I ever be able to find anything on my phone if I need to?  I am slightly challenged using my smart phone and it won’t help that my phone bundle doesn’t work in Turkey so I will be charged £1 per megabyte for data and God knows what to send and receive calls.  I will need to rely on the wi-fi and my wife’s ancient phone.

Have we packed everything we need? Well, I think we’ve packed enough clothes. In fact my entire summer wardrobe has been packed. Yes packed already.  My wife likes to be organised and has everything in my suitcase, leaving me with only my gardening clothes, winter jumpers and gym kit to go out in over the next week. But have we got all the other necessities? Have we got all the little bits and pieces that are necessary for us to function happily whilst we are away. Having piled together our electronic devices, gadgets, toiletries, guides, sun cream, etc. I can see these will require their own suitcase. Will our luggage be over the weight limit?

What happens if we need medical help on the trip? Our party straddle 70, so one of us is bound to be ill. Will our travel insurance be up to it?

Will we get to Leeds-Bradford Airport on time and will we find our car park? We have researched and planned this thoroughly, but I know when it matters, I am bound to get lost driving there, or there will be impromptu night time road repair works, or some BMW driver will cause an accident and cause a road closure. What zombie like state will be in when we get there as we need to arrive three hours before a 6 am flight?

What nonsense will await us at the airport?  I hate the airport experience.  I can honestly say I’ve never had good one. How long will the queues be? How long will it take to check in, zig zag through customs like sheep at a cattle market and go through the security scanning fiasco?  (It’s uncanny how many times my wife is called back for a search after walking through the body scanner). Will we have time for a nice coffee before being herded to the claustrophobic departure lounge where we will be sat on a window ledge because all the seats have been occupied? Will there be flight delays, cancellations or overbooked flights? If so, will airport staff lock themselves in a dark cupboard so as not to give us any information about what is happening and why?  

Will our house be safe whilst we are away?  What if we have a storm and the roof blows off or what if we have a burst water pipe?  What will we do?  Did we remember to unplug the electrical appliance and turn the gas off?  Did we lock all the doors and turn the burglar alarm on? We will have our doubts all holiday despite doing umpteen checks before we go.  Will our neighbour remember to check the post and lock the porch door? Will we be able to contact our daughter? Will DPD parcel service leave parcels on our front drive?  This has happened even when we didn’t order them.

I could go on and on but I should really try not to focus on the negative.  I think it is an age related thing worrying about stuff like this. We are still exhausted from booking everything online. We have severe brain and eye fatigue thanks to the many user-unfriendly web sites we have had to navigate and their confusing interfaces. I have now run out of printer ink printing the pages and pages of stuff we’ve been asked to take. And now I have to print my own baggage label because Jet2 don’t supply them. Is it me or is it getting harder and more time consuming to book holidays and flights on the internet?

I think we will be able to look back on this holiday and agree it was worth it.  But the next time we book a holiday, it will be through a travel agent, and I will also investigate what Class A drugs I can get hold of to ease the pre-holiday stress. Or, we could just book a few short breaks in the UK instead. (Check out my posts on Short Holiday Breaks)

Celebrity Speak and Millennial Mumbo Jumbo

I am always complaining about the things celebrities say and preach to us but I am getting increasingly irritated by the way they do it.  I mean the way they speak.  And now, people are copying them.

Celebrities are celebrities because they are famous for having a talent (a debatable description in some cases), entertaining us in some way, or for just being famous.  Many are able to rise to celebrity status and sustain it due to their extrovert personalities, their confidence, their massive egos and their single-mindedness in pursuing fame.

More and more of them are using their fame to be ‘celebrity activists’ and to tell us how to make the world a better place and to prattle on about the causes they believe in.   Of course they are entitled to their own opinions but if I want serious advice on a subject I will listen to an expert, not a celebrity.  I’m sick of them telling everybody that if they try hard, they will be successful and accomplish all their dreams.  I really don’t think it’s that simple.   Of course many celebrities who have championed a cause have done so for publicity and some have been caught out further down the line for not practicing what they preach. So I tend not to listen to celebrities very much, and if I do, I will take what they say with a pinch of salt and a roll of the eyes.

The problem is that even when they are talking shite, it’s very difficult to not hear them. Some are expressive and charismatic and I am full of admiration on how they can command your attention and power talk their way into your consciousness.

I think many celebrities have gone to celebrity school and one of the things they are taught is ‘power talking’.  This includes voice training, using body language such as hand-waving whilst talking (Gordon Ramsey is really good at this) and something that I believe is called ‘linguistic supersizing’.  This is where normal words are not good enough and extreme ones need to be used to stand out.  A celebrity wouldn’t be able to call anything they experience ‘good’ or ‘nice’. They will say ‘awesome’ or ‘insane’. Bigger and louder is the way to go.

You know what?  They also use meaningless terms to grab your attention. See, I’ve just done it.   

When celebrities overdo these things, I switch off.  

It’s not just celebrities that can annoy me merely by speaking.  There are some speech patterns commonly used by younger people that make my ears hurt.  Some of these have been inspired by celebrities and copied.

The first is, ‘uptalk’.  This is where people under 35 finish a sentence with a rising tone of voice so that its sounds like a question. It’s irritating to the ear and it makes me wonder whether they are sure about what they are saying or not.

The next is something called ‘vocal fry’. This is a kind of creaky, throaty, exhaled speech sound which is particularly used by young women to create a deeper pitch of voice to sound posh and authoritative. The female cast of ‘Made in Chelsea’ use this lot.  It just sounds smug and very un-authoritative to me.

Using ‘filler’ words is very common and the most irritating one to me is, ‘like’.  It is superfluous and ‘like, totally annoying’! The next is ‘literally’. It ‘literally’ drives me mad.  It must be the most misused word ever.

Using meaningless phrases is another irritant.  I hate, ‘at the end of the day’, or ‘at this moment in time’, and especially, ‘it is what it is’.  ‘Going forward’, we should ban these.  That last one is a favourite of managers and politicians. I also hate ‘forward planning’ or the ‘plan going forward is…’.  How can a plan be about anything but the future? Planning the past would be rather pointless.

I also can’t abide people who are over familiar and use cringy terms (often of American origin).  My wife and I are often referred to as ‘You guys’ and I am apparently a ‘mate’ or ‘bud’ of many a tradesperson. If anyone calls me ‘hun’ or ‘babe’, I will explode.

Its not just the things people say that annoy me. Its the silly dramatic gestures that go with modern communication, often copied from celebrities and actors. Whenever I see a female wafting their hands in front of their eyes as a sign of getting upset, I feel I want to slap them across the face.

I know I am an old fart and getting grumpier by the day. But I can’t help feeling irritated by these things.  Of course, every generation has its own speech trends and these will go out of style and new ones invented all the time.  But I fear they will be just as annoying.  I think it will only get worse because it is the younger generations and celebrities who influence the media and therefore their use of language will dominate.

Am I being too harsh on the way celebrities speak? I have a boring, quiet voice and am not a natural conversationalist.  I struggle to tell jokes and I’m not very expressive unless I’ve had a few glasses of the something alcoholic.   (I could never have pursued a career in media.) Though I might be reasonably articulate, I am rubbish at linguistic supersizing and ‘power talking’.  But I don’t think I would annoy anyone either.

I’m taking a Reign Check on the Monarchy

I’m not a monarchist,” wrote the Labour activist Tom Bowell, “but I’m a patriot, I love this country, I respect our institutions and I always carried a deep respect for the Queen. For most of us, she was a constant in an ever-changing world.” That pretty much sums up my own feelings.

For years I have been convinced that the British monarchy is not as beneficial to us as we are led to believe.  Even though it is a constitutional monarchy and quite different to other monarchies throughout the world, I’ve always thought it to be outdated, out of touch, pointless and expensive.  Its hereditary principle means it is based on privilege and accident of birth.  By definition, it is not democratic, and could never reflect the experience of most British people. The successor to the throne will always take the crown regardless of his/her suitability, character, previous scandals etc.  I was never sure how it had benefitted the ordinary working person of this country. As much as the monarch and the royal family may try to understand economic and other hardships we face, they will never suffer them.  They are cushioned from the difficulties of economic pressures, health care availability etc. 

I have no idea how the monarchy would work as a kind of constitutional barrier against a dictatorship or a rogue Prime Minister.  I have no idea what the how much the monarchy and all the hanger-ons cost the taxpayer (though I read it cost us £100m in security alone), nor have I seen any accounts relating to costs versus income* generated (*e.g. through tourism, trade deals etc.).  

I have always struggled to get my head around the monarchy and the aristocracy in general.  I don’t understand the peerage and its relevance these days.  And I have no wish to understand the difference between a Duke, a Marquess, a Baron, an Earl, or a Viscount. All I know is, it stands for hereditary wealth and privilege and for me, it doesn’t sit easily in a modern democracy. The pomp and traditions have never offended me though.  They reflect our history and the development of the United Kingdom.  However, some of them seem unnecessary, bizarre, financially indulgent and slightly embarrassing – given we are trying to portray a modern, forward looking UK to the world.  Being British is about other things too. The Queen made some modernising changes but there is still a long way to go if the monarchy is to survive. 

I have to admit that I do have respect for, and even like some members of the Royal Family.  I think some have an impressive sense of duty and are intelligent and hard working. I have always had a soft spot for the Queen and our new King because I think they have substance, positivity and I think they are nice people. I suspect they work hard although how would we really know?

The recent death of our Queen has resulted in an outpouring of grief and affection here and abroad and like many people I have been glued to the telly, fascinated to listen to the reasons she meant so much to people.  I watched the many heartfelt tributes on news feeds and I have to admit to becoming quite emotional.  I saw more affection for King Charles and more confidence in his future rule than I expected.

Of course, the anti-monarchists will remain respectfully quiet for a while but they will resume their abolition campaign after the funeral.  That led me to wonder what a post monarchic state would be like.  If the monarch gets the boot, surely the House of Lords and all those with hereditary titles must also get the boot?  There would need to be a new elected head of state to meet and greet and make speeches whilst the Prime Minister does all the critical stuff. 

I have to wonder though, would this be any better and would it cost less than having a constitutional monarchy?  Would there be more risk of a Government being hijacked by a Hitler, Putin, or Trump?  How would our politicians foster that sense of national identity, unity and solidarity which many people feel the monarch helped to create?  If the monarchy is abolished, will people miss having a head of state that is independent of party politics and can represent the country regardless of short term political interests? Does it actually do that effectively anyway?

I do know the answers. I just cant get away from thinking the monarchy cannot be justified. That said, I wont be protesting in the streets. I am happy to leave it to the consensus of the British population. 

I feel sure the British monarchy is safe for a while at least. Both the main the political parties seem happy with the monarchy and even north of the border where republicanism is stronger, its easy  to see an Independent Scotland retaining a monarch. 

But I think King Charles has a big job to do to convince me and others that it should continue long term.  He is nowhere near as popular as the Queen.  He will need to prove that the monarchy is relevant and benefits people from all backgrounds, ethnic groups, religions and young people.  Hopefully, he will share the Queen’s undoubted qualities – intelligence, integrity, humility, grace and dignity but he will also have to show good judgement in promoting a modern and relevant monarchy and ensure that the Royals as a whole are good value for money.

To me, he certainly seems to have potential.  He seems to be more affable than the Queen, intelligent, insightful and innovative, and he has shown he is prepared to take on the modernisation of the monarchy. The Prince’s Trust is one of the most innovative and successful charities in modern Britain.  He has spoken out on architecture, the state of the environment, urban deprivation, and agriculture – which has sometimes landed him in trouble.  I have to say, I think many of his comments were justified. And I think he was ahead of the game when he campaigned on the benefits of organic production, spoke out on the dangers of climate change and pointed out mistakes in urban design and conservation.  As King, he will have to keep his personal views out of the public realm but I really hope he will take the opportunity to privately bend the ears of politicians and world leaders. We know he is good at rituals and ceremonies and will do his public duties impeccably.  But I if he becomes a Royal ‘robot’ and does not use his influence to effect changes for good, he will become pointless.

Finally, my thoughts are with the Royal family at this time. We know what they are going through. It makes you think of your own losses and all the wonderful people we’ve known who of course will never receive the same level of recognition.

Lily of the Valley, Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite flower

Short Holiday Breaks – Whitby

View of Whitby and River Esk from West Cliff

We have been to Whitby many times, but this time we arrived in a very different Whitby.  The buildings and the scenery were as gorgeous and as familiar as ever but there was something very different about its visitors.  Whitby has always attracted a good number of what I shall call (for the want of a better word) ‘characters’.  These include the types of characters it does not deserve – like drunken, shouty blokes on stag parties, feral kids and the dog owners from hell who can’t control their dogs. Other more engaging characters include those of the folk community, the Goths, international visitors and other groups who flock to the many festivals in Whitby’s annual calendar.  This weekend we were introduced to a community straight out of a Victorian England which seemed to have gone futuristic.

There were men (hipsters?) in well-ironed suits with waistcoats, top hats and long, straight coats.  Some wore high leather boots, gloves, and goggles. Others were dressed as engineers, pirates or wore military attire carrying an assortment of old and futuristic weapons, with accessorised cogs, clockwork devices and pipework.

Women were wearing dresses complete with petticoats, corsets, gloves and hats decorated with feathers, flowers and antique jewellery . A few were dressed as pirates, pilots or engineers wearing riding jackets, flight jackets and carriage coats.

We saw children from age 5 dressed in similar attire.  You will have guessed by now that these people were ‘steam punks’.  And they were in Whitby to enjoy a steampunk festival weekend.

We didn’t know this was happening when we booked, but what good luck as it turned out, because it was a fascinating and enjoyable side-show to our trip.  I don’t mean in a derogatory geek-show way.  This was a colourful event enjoyed by an artistic and fun group of really nice people.

If you are like us, you will have some idea what it steampunk is visually, but probably baffled about what it stands for and why it is so popular.

Let me help because I was so fascinated I asked Google to enlighten me and we spoke to a few steam punks for their take on it.

Let me make clear first of all, steampunk does not embrace any particular political standpoint, religion, or music genre. 

But it does embrace:

A love of Victoriana and a fascination with the technological advances of the time – most obviously steam power.  One older couple told us that they loved Victorian fashions, dress sense, manners, societal behaviour and morals. Another said that the world seemed a safer, more secure place then whilst at the same time technological, economical and political progress also made it an exciting time.   

A love of steam power. Their love of steam power and the physical beauty of machines is understandable to me.  Steam power might have had an environmental downside but it is a technology that you can see and understand – unlike microchips, computers and AI.

A love of science fiction.  Technological advancements must have made the average Victorian wonder, what is next?  What else could be powered by steam, and will science soon help to advance air flight and ocean and space travel? Steam Punkers are drawn to early science fiction novels by Jules Verne, H G Wells but also later novels written between the 1950s and 1980’s (by authors such as Michael Moorcock, K. W. Jeter and Edmund Cooper).

A love of dressing up – particularly in the Victorian style and in styles reflecting the Belle Epoque in France (1871-1914) and the Civil War era in the United States (1861-1865). I was amazed at the variety of styles and the individuality of the costumes and accessories.  It is clear that many steam punkers are flamboyant and very artistic people and so even those outfits intended to reflect the austere and strict Victorian styles were often playful, decadent and amazing works of art.  Some of the ladies’ creations were quite sexy, taking influences from Goth fashion,  French dancers and post apocalyptic warriors – but not, from what I saw, rude or over-suggestive.  I did notice that for some gay participants it provided an opportunity for cross-dressing.  Each to their own.

I hope that helps a bit. 

During the weekend we called at ‘The Pavillion’ where the Steampunk convention HQ and retail emporium was based.  Anyone could enter free of charge to browse the many stalls selling all sorts of steam punk clothing, art and accessories.  You could buy metal clocks, dials, cogs, goggles, flying hats, customised steampunk mobile phone covers and radios, gin and steam punk books and novels.  Outside there were musicians playing Beatles songs, punk rock, folk, sea shanties and vaudeville. We were also entertained by steampunk folk and Morris dancers.  All along West Cliff, steampunkers perambulated up and down, only too pleased to be photographed and to chat.

The organiser Andy Dolan was quoted in the Yorkshire Post.  He said, “Steampunk is a future that never was and it explodes people’s imaginations and the only limit is your own. It gives people a new lease of life. It is a great thing to be involved in, people come for the weekend, forget every day troubles, let their hair down and be who they want to be.

We would have enjoyed Whitby without Steampunk.  It is a wonderful place to explore, walk, eat out, drink and relax.  But the Steampunk festival certainly added to our weekend.  Steampunk is good fun and I totally get it.  Have I bought my hat and goggles yet?  Well, let’s not get carried away.

Monday Window – Whitby Windows

We have just spent a couple of days in the wonderful historic sea-side town and fishing port of Whitby, Yorkshire. There will be a post coming very soon on our trip to Whitby, but for now here are some Whitby Windows – my contribution to Ludwig Keck’s weekly photographic challenge Monday Window.

The first picture is an old street in the centre of Whitby. The variety of building types and the fenestration gives the street so much character and interest. As is typical of these older buildings, many of the window frames are far from straight but amazingly quite a few are the original windows.

Old shopping street

The second picture is one of the many shops selling jet (a locally mined black gemstone) and jet jewellery. This is in one of the backstreets and I was drawn to it because of the unusual wonky shop window (and because I’m a Simpson).

Jet Shop

The picture below is an unusual ‘arts and crafts’ period designed house. Its a bit over the top for me but architect has certainly spent some time designing the windows.

Fancy house on a hill

The last one is a more a picture of ‘missing‘ windows. It shows the remains of the 7th Century Christian Monastery which later became a Benedictine Abbey. Most of what you see was built just after the Norman conquest in the 11th Century*. The lack of windows in these beautiful weathered stone arches is as a result of Henry VIIIs dissolution of the monasteries, the bombardment of Whitby by a German battlecruiser at the start of World War One, and the plundering of what was left by locals. (*The original abbey fell as a result of the invasion of the Danish Vikings.)

As many of you will know, the ruins of Whitby Abbey which dominate the landscape, and the eerie setting of the ruins, gave Bram Stoker the inspiration for his book ‘Dracula’.

Whitby Abbey

Monday Windows – Andalucia

Welcome to Monday Window – a weekly photographic challenge hosted by photographer/blogger, Ludwig Keck.

This week, my photographs are from Andalucía, Spain.

As we struggle with the current heatwave here in the UK, we should take a tip from the Spanish. Windows are for keeping sun and hot air out during the day, not for letting air in.

Nerja
Nerja
Rhonda
Nerja
Rhonda
Frigiliana

Hope you liked these. I think they are full of character and so colourful against those white walls.

Visit Ludwig’s latest Monday Window post to see his latest post and other bloggers’ wonderful windows.

Short holiday breaks – Oswestry (where Shropshire meets Wales)

My wife and I have just spent a couple of days enjoying a spa hotel break in Shropshire. We like drivable short breaks in the UK . They give you a change of scenery and culture without travelling for hours and hours, and you don’t have to cook. There is so much less stress and pre-planning involved than with a long holiday or holiday abroad. And you don’t need passports, travel insurance, loads of documents and foreign money. You don’t have to go to an airport and queue in zig-zag lines to take your shoes off and put them back on again to do an 8 mile walk to the departure gate. You’re not restricted by baggage allowances and language, you don’t have to drive on the incorrect side of the road, and from experience there is less chance of getting funny tummy or malaria.

Its not all plain sailing (or rather plain driving) however. You do need as much luggage for two days in the UK as you do for a fortnight in Spain because you will need to pack your winter coats and shoes (even in the summer) and you will take home-comforts and gadgets just because you can fit them in the car. Also, you do have to you have to be prepared for traffic delays unless you are rich enough to go by rail and there are no strikes or feathers on the tracks. In fact ‘traffic obstructions on the road’ are a big thing these days – just ask my satnav – as more and more herberts crash or breakdown for the fun of it.

Anyway, this time we went to a hotel in Oswestry. Situated in a quiet corner of Shropshire, Oswestry isn’t the prettiest, most buzzing and fashionable place but… it is a tidy, pleasant market town, has plenty of character, a good few independent shops and we found the locals to be extremely friendly. Its big plus point is the fact that it is surrounded by history (castles and heritage attractions), and attractive countryside. It is also close to, in fact half surrounded by, Wales and close to little Welsh gems like Llangollen.

During our stay, we visited the wonderful British Ironwork Centre and Sculpture Park. Here you can put your arm in the mouth of a shark, walk with elephants and meet Spiderman, Robocop and SpongeBob SquarePants, all in the same afternoon– whilst following up with a coffee and meal in the Forge cafe.  We walked the 90 acres of land, exploring the amazing sculptures, browsed the artisan workshops and the showroom filled with the most eclectic and funky collection of iron goods and home accessories The centre also has a social conscience – focussing on sculptures of endangered species and promoting awareness of national and global sustainability issues. Here are a few of the photos I took.

Other highlights of our trip was the Stonehouse Brewery on the outskirts of Oswestry where we enjoyed a great meal and some fine beers in a wonderful setting adjoining a babbling brook and an apple orchard. And believe me, we needed a drink having walked there from the town and getting lost on public footpaths on a hot day. If you are in the area and fancy a visit, go on a weekend when you can catch a train (the Cambrian Heritage Railway) from the town to the Western Wharf ‘period’ station adjoining the Brewery and join one of the brewery tours. I was so in the moment enjoying my beers and meal I forgot to take photos!

The photos below feature Cae Glas Park – one of the nicest and most pristine town park I have been to for some time.  Packed within its 7 acres there there is a bandstand, a ‘Sports Village’, a bowling green, children’s play area, areas of spring and summer bedding displays, a pavilion, greenhouses and a house which is rented out. After a good ‘pottering’ and a game of crazy golf, we crossed through the Memorial gates across the road to our hotel for a rest and spruce up before setting out for our evening meal.

On Wednesday, we sampled the busy and colourful Oswestry street and indoor Market. I had to be dragged away from the two vinyl record stalls after (according to my wife) spending too much time rummaging and talking to the Welsh stallholders.

Oswestry was never on our bucket list of places to go. My sister in law suggested it after finding a good hotel deal and we knew it was an interesting area. I’m glad we went. It just shows you how much there is out there to see and experience within 100 miles or so and without giving yourself stress and silly expense.

Here are some more images of Oswestry……

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