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Monday Window – Blackwell Arts and Craft House, Windermere

In a recent post about our trip to Ambleside in the English Lake District, I mentioned that we we visited Blackwell Arts and Crafts House near Lake Windermere. It features some awesome windows which I thought I should share with you courtesy of Ludwig Keck’s regular ‘Monday Window‘ photo challenge (where you can check out some wonderful window photos contributions).

Just for information: Blackwell House is one of the most impressive arts and crafts building I have seen. This Grade I listed building was designed by noted architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and was built as a holiday home for wealthy brewery owner Sir Edward Holt who was made Mayor of Manchester twice and who worked for numerous good causes, especially improving buildings, libraries, water and sewage works for the people of Manchester.

Monday Window – Nantwich Windows

My last post was about our recent trip to Nantwich and included some snaps of the wonderful stained glass windows in St Mary’s Parish Church. Ludwig Keck, photo enthusiast and computer wizard, who runs several blogs, including ‘This ‘n That‘ liked the post and thought I should share my photos over at ‘Monday Window’.

So here they are. I’ve included some more of my photos of Nantwich which feature what I think are pretty attractive windows.

Hope you like them.

St Mary’s Church stained glass windows
More windows reflected in curved glass shop window
Nice Georgian shop front
Stunning Tudor timbered elevation with early 19th Century shop front
Georgian and Elizabethan windows

Our visit to Nantwich – A town that’s worth its Salt.

I had to give our apologies to art class and our pub quiz team. I explained, “We will be giving it a miss this week. Were going to Nantwich for a short break”. The quite reasonable reply was, “Nantwich, what’s at Nantwich?” After all, it isn’t a famous visitor destination.

In fact it had never occurred to us to do a stay-over visit to this corner of Cheshire before we watched the BBC series ‘Coming Home’. One episode featured comedian and actor Ben Miller revisiting his home town of Nantwich. In the programme he takes a long-cherished personal journey in search of his Welsh ancestors, discovers a tale of heroism in WWI and a surprising family link to the White House. What stood out was that Nantwich seemed an attractive and interesting town.

And we went there and found that indeed it is. It is a medieval market town but with a modern edge. It is situated on the banks of the River Weaver, and is famous for its Tudor timbered buildings and Georgian architecture. The shops, pubs, cafes, bijoux boutiques, antiques dealers, contemporary craft shops and artisan food shops give the centre a vibrant feel. The town also has its fair share of canals and waterways, including the Shropshire Union Canal.

We also found it has an interesting history which we wanted to know more about.

We booked in for a couple of nights at the Crown Hotel – a Grade I listed building which has been a central feature of Nantwich for more than four hundred years.  In fact the town has one of the highest concentrations of listed buildings in England. There are 132 listed buildings and structures, with three classified as grade I, seven as grade II* and 122 as grade II. The original three storied Crown Hotel was burnt down in the fire of Nantwich in 1583 and quickly rebuilt with money donated by Queen Elizabeth I, with timbers from the nearby Delamere Forest. In my view it was rebuilt a little too quickly and another few pence to buy a spirit level wouldn’t have hurt. The floors, ceilings and walls slope in all directions and negotiating the main staircase took some concentration, especially after a drink or two. See the photo of the staircase below.

Pottering round the town centre, we visited the imposing St Mary’s Church, a medieval parish church and Grade I listed building. It is an absolute gem and worth a visit. See photos below.

St Marys Church, Nantwich

Looking around the shops, it was clear that this is an affluent area where customers don’t need to see a price on clothes in the boutique windows and can afford to pay the exorbitant prices charged for artisan cheeses, bread and other basic foods. Typical of many towns in Cheshire, Range Rovers, Ferraris, Bentleys and the like seem to take up most of the on-street parking spaces although some owners prefer to park on double yellow lines or footpaths.

Still, with affluence comes more investment, tidyness and feelgood vibes.

Speaking of good vibes, I managed to find a record shop called Applestump Records where I had a good rummage through the vinyl records.

We visited Nantwich Museum which is small but nicely put together. It is free also, but like most people we left a decent donation. I’m glad we did as (we didn’t know at the time) donated funds from an event just weeks earlier were stolen.

There, we learned a lot about the place. Including………….

Salt and Nantwich

The name “Nantwich” is derived from the Welsh name “Nant yr Heledd Wen” meaning the stream of the white salt pit. The Romans are known to have made salt from brine in underground streams in the area during the second and third centuries. Salt was then made in the town for the next 1600 years. In the days before refrigeration it was the main method of preserving food.

The Great Fire of 1583

In 1583, a Nantwich brewer accidentally started a blaze which burned for 20 days, destroying 150 houses, inns and other buildings. The fire made around 900 people – half the population – homeless, but fortunately, only two people perished. The support of the town by trade and industry was a matter which concerned Queen Elizabeth I and her Privy Council. As a result, she ordered a nationwide collection for funds to rebuild Nantwich, to which she contributed £1,000.

The English Civil War and the Battle of Nantwich

Nantwich was a hotly contested town during the English Civil War with both the Royalists and Parliamentarians attempting to gain a foothold in the second most important town in Cheshire. Having garrisoned the town in 1643, the Parliamentarians were drawn into battle on 25th January 1644. The large Royalist army was destroyed, resulting in the first major Parliamentarian victory of the war.

Cheese, Leather Production and the Clothing Industry

Cheshire cheese is one of the oldest recorded named cheeses in British history and there has been a long history of making Cheshire cheese on  farms around Nantwich. Nantwich markets sold cheese and attracted buyers all over the north of England.

Leather has always been produced in the town, but by the 1860s, shoe making reached its peak and one third of men and a sixth of women being involved in the production of shoes and workman’s boots. Nantwich boots and shoes were transported to cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. The last tannery closed in 1972.

Fairs and Festivals

Nantwich is also well known for its annual International Cheese Show and for a Food Festival. Other festivals, such as the Jazz Festival and Words And Music Festival, attract many visitors. Every year Nantwich would hold initially three, and after from 1819 four, fairs. Fairs these days seem pretty tame compared to what went on years ago. Check out this report (courtesy of Nantwich museum) from the Nantwich Chronicle, Saturday 14 February, 1948, which gives a fascinating insight.

The following day, we visited the busy Nantwich Marina and after a snack in the Marina Cafe we took a pleasant walk along the Shropshire Union Canal to the quiet open fields where the Battle of Nantwich was fought in 1644. Coming back we passed a friendly fisherman who was keen to show us his catch. In his enthusiasm, he lost hold of his rod which floated away to the middle of the canal. Waders on! Awkward !!

Wooden horse sculpture next to Canal towpath

The Weaver Riverside Walk is also very pleasant and whilst we saw Nantwich Lake, with its ducks and geese, we missed the adjacent memorial to 1st Lt. A.L.Brown, a USAAF pilot. In January 1944, this gallant airman made the supreme sacrifice, staying at the controls of his doomed Thunderbolt fighter so that it wouldn’t crash on the town and its people. He was only 23 years old.

On our final day we visited the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker a few miles away in the Cheshire countryside. For more than 50 years the vast underground bunker was kept a secret and it would have been the centre of Regional Government had nuclear war broken out. It was originally a ROTOR radar station during the Second World War but was converted into a nuclear bunker between 1979 and 1983. Many of the rooms have been restored to reflect their former purpose and all the artefacts and equipment are real. It made you realise just how close we all were to nuclear oblivion. On display were weapons such as the 400-kiloton WE 177, Polaris and Chevaline, the forerunner of the current Trident missile. Standing just inches away from something that is capable of killing millions in a blinding flash made me feel a bit sick. The tourist guides say kids can have a really fun time. They can follow the famous Soviet Spy Mouse Trail and get a free Small Spies Training Manual, where they can find out all about the history of the bunker and the Cold War. Looking for hidden mice might be a good way of distracting kids from the brutal reality of what the bunker represents and I wish I had focused more on the mice. I still remember the three in one talks in the late ’60s and with the recent nuclear threats from Putin, it all seems a bit too real and familiar. As informative and interesting as it was, I wouldn’t go again.

But I would be more than happy to visit Nantwich again.

The NHS is terminally ill.

I’m 69 in May. Which means I am officially old. Being old, I am going to develop aches, pains and other problems with increasing regularity and which require investigation or treatment. I am resigned to the fact that in the next ten years, something is bound to drop off, my knees or hips will give way, I will need my food mashed up or I will no longer remember my name. Its depressing! More depressing is that the NHS, who is supposed to look after me, is very ill itself. People say that if you have anything immediately life threatening like a heart attack or cancer symptoms, the NHS is there for you and will act quickly and efficiently. I’m not convinced that is true any more. And I know, listening to people’s experiences, that if you have other illnesses, the NHS is not a service you can rely on.

Back in the old days before covid, I used to be able to see a doctor when I needed one. I could ring the health centre or doctors’ surgery, get through to someone and make an appointment – the same day if it was serious or potentially so! Quite often, it was the same doctor. If asked, I could give you the name of my regular GPs, even though I might struggle to pronounce some of them properly.

In lockdown, you could only be ill with covid and if so, the doctor told you to stay away and go to hospital if you thought you might die. So hardly anyone was allowed in the GP surgery. Even after lockdown, our wonderful modern, state of the art health centre continued to look like the Mary Celeste for quite a few months and even now the seats in the waiting areas are only 10% occupied. And where are all the doctors?

Now, when faced with a health issue, my first port of call is Google or the NHS web site, or I might pick the brains of relatives and friends if my issue is not too personal or embarrassing. Sometimes I ask a pharmacist but they usually say if its no better by tomorrow, see your GP. They have a sense of humour don’t they?

So, I start the stressful process of ringing the surgery. The surgery opens at 8 am and I ring at 8 am (along with hundreds of other sick people) and usually spend over an hour on the phone waiting to speak to a receptionist so they can tell me that all the day’s appointments have gone. And its no good saying, “Well, can I have an appointment tomorrow or in the next few days?” because that’s not allowed. You have to ring up at 8 am the following day and stay on the phone to be told there are no more appointments left and that I should ring at 8 am the next day.

Now I don’t bother ringing up. I set my alarm for 6.50 am (the middle of the night for me) and get to to the surgery for 7.30 where I wait in the queue which if I’m lucky will only have 30 odd people in it. This means that I can just about squeeze inside the building and don’t have to wait in that part of the queue which is outside (and it is not pleasant standing outside for half an hour plus when its freezing or raining.) There are some really ill, frail and elderly people in that queue (and with no partner or carer for support) and I feel awful for them having to do that. There are only 4 seats in the queuing area so I see them struggle with obvious discomfort to stay in line for fear of losing their place. I told one doddery old guy with a walking stick to sit in the main waiting area and I would come for him when it was his turn.

Last time I arrived at 7.30 (and this is only my second GP visit since spring 2020) I was number 26 in line which means I got to speak to a receptionist around 8.20. I say receptionist. The lady I spoke to was a trained KGB interrogator who demanded to know why I didn’t go to Accident and Emergency or ring 111 and that if I wasn’t ill enough for that, why I didn’t Google my problem and have a chat with a pharmacist. I exaggerate here, but they are hardened operatives and trained to protect the doctors from as many sick people as possible. They are not to be messed with and have posted ‘Polite Notices’ everywhere that ‘abusive behaviour, violence or bad language will not be tolerated’.

The Receptionists now sit behind a strengthened perspex screen with a small hole at the bottom blocked by their pc monitors. Consequently for someone who is a little deaf standing only a metre away from two other interrogations and adjacent to a noisy, disgruntled queue I couldn’t hear half of what she was saying and she struggled to hear me. I worried about raising my voice too much in case it was interpreted as ‘threatening’ (in which case I would be ejected from the building and struck off form the surgery’s patient list). I was certainly loud enough for anyone else within 20 feet to hear all my personal health issues.

As it happened, she took pity on me for my symptoms and deafness and said she would put me down for a telephone appointment. No-one gets to see a doctor until they have had a telephone consultation. That’s the law here. She asked me which number the doctor should call me on and I told her to call me on my mobile. She did say the name of the doctor but despite her repeating it several times, I left none the wiser. She said the doctor would call after his surgery ended but didn’t know when whether that would be late morning, or in the afternoon. Luckily, I was in when the doctor rang on our landline.

To cut a long story short, having explained my health issues, the doctor offered me a face to face consultation later that day. So, in effect that was like taking up two appointments instead of one. My friends and neighbours are in awe of me managing to get a ‘face to face’ without pretending to be dying or threatening to sue the practice. They were even more impressed when I said the doctor seemed nice, switched on and prescribed something.

On this occasion I got somewhere despite it being a stressful and convoluted process. But I am far from satisfied with my GP surgery. And that goes for over half of its patients in a recent on-line poll of Oldham residents. What’s more, our GP surgery isn’t even in the worst top ten Oldham surgeries for booking a face to face appointment. I could bore you with several posts about our poor hospital and dental experiences but I would depress both of us further.

Hospitals’ and GPs’ performance was worsening before covid hit. Unless the Government implements radical changes now, Hospitals and GP surgeries will become completely broken and not fit for purpose. Our health services are inefficient, not joined up and badly managed. They are also underfunded and the funding that is available is not used properly and fairly. A massive number of adult users of the system have contributed nothing in taxes and so the situation gets worse.

I don’t believe the problem with services is anything to do with inadequate salaries not attracting doctors, nurses and medical professionals. Junior doctors under 30 may be underpaid but asking for a 35% pay rise is ridiculous in the current financial climate. Trained salaried GPs earn an average salary of £91,000! There’s no denying the dedication and hard work of many doctors, nurses, especially in hard-pressed A and E wards so no one needs to point that out to me. But in the aftermath of Covid, many doctors have cut back their hours because they can easily afford to and that means they are handling fewer patients. So yes, we need more doctors. But Universities and Medical Schools charge far too much and in any event would rather offer courses on ‘Communications’ or ‘Stand up Comedy’. And it takes so long to train a doctor, it would be years down the line before we have more of them.

My conclusion ………

Our politicians need to realise just how many users of the National Health Service are pissed off. If they don’t, then hopefully they will when it comes to election time. In fact my wife and I are so pissed off we have taken out private medical insurance. And the cost of that pisses us off even more. But at least we stand a fighting chance of getting what the NHS used to be able to provide when we need it.

I worry though that this is the Government’s plan. That is, underfund the NHS, stop it working and when people get angry, privatise it so everyone will need private insurance. Then the Government can spend our taxes on weapons, duff deals, crony contracts, pointless regulatory changes, badly planned transport infrastructure, propping up a broken asylum/immigration system….. etc. etc.

A busy morning in a Health Centre near you

Ambling around Ambleside

The Bridge House, Ambleside

We recently spent a few days in the Lake District. As a present from a good friend for my wife’s 70th birthday, we booked a short break in a traditional stone cottage in Ambleside thinking that in mid March we might enjoy some spring-like weather, a Lakeland landscape full of colour and daffodils, and enjoy some of the local attractions before the big crowds arrive.

Weather-wise, needless to say, it rained, then it snowed and then the sun came out and it got bitterly cold. Not ideal, but one cant help but feel better for seeing the mist moving over Windermere, the snow on the hilltops and buildings and the colours in the landscape when the sun came out.

The crowds hadn’t arrived so it was easy to drive places and park the car. You could get a table in the better restaurants without having booked months in advance and you could walk without being intimidated by seasoned walkers in high tech hiking gear with OS maps in plastic bags.

The cottage was OK, if expensive for what is was. I have been pestered by the booking company to review it and if I do I will tell them that on a freezing day, the heating should be on when they are expecting guests to arrive. With no instructions on how to work the heating controls and the complicated ‘Hive’ thermostat, I was struggling to maintain a decent temperature. I’m convinced that this was partly due to the owner remotely overriding my attempts to turn up the temperature to save money!

Ambleside lies at the northern end of Lake Windermere and is a good base for exploring the Southern Lakes. It has some nice shops (although far too many outdoor clothing and equipment shops), nice cafes and restaurants and pubs, and the remains of a Roman fort. It is also very easy on the eye. The buildings and the layout are very pleasing, so its not surprising most of the town has been designated a conservation area.

We enjoyed pottering around the town and visited Bowness and the landscapes around Coniston and Hawkshead. A couple of local attractions we visited – and which I would recommend if you’re in this neck of the woods – were the ‘Blackwell Arts and Crafts House’ just outside Bowness and the ‘Windermere Jetty Museum’. Both attractions are under the management of ‘Lakeland Arts’ (not ‘National Trust’) which means the prices are reasonable and the tea rooms are better run! Click the titles below which link to their web sites.

Blackwell House is the most impressive arts and crafts building I have seen. This Grade I listed building was designed by noted architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and was built as a holiday home for wealthy brewery owner Sir Edward Holt who was made Mayor of Manchester twice and who worked for numerous good causes, especially improving buildings, libraries, water and sewage works for the people of Manchester.

I agree with its claim that it is one of the UK’s finest examples of Arts & Crafts architecture, (a style inspired by the natural world, while embracing traditional craft skills in an age of increasing mechanisation and mass production). Almost all of Blackwell’s original features survive, along with immaculate furniture and beautiful decorative flourishes. The setting is something special also providing tremendous views over Windermere and the Coniston Fells. The house also has art and craft exhibitions, a gift shop and tea room (I recommend the scones).

Windermere Jetty Museum is an impressive collection of boat houses and a gallery. It contains some great examples of local boatbuilding, including SL Dolly, one of the oldest mechanically powered boats in the world; Margaret, the oldest sailing yacht in the UK; world record breaking speed boats; Esperance, one of the boats that inspired Captain Flint’s houseboat in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, and even Beatrix Potter’s rowing boat. The gallery was currently hosting a photographic exhibition titled ‘40 Farms’ and is the work of British Life Photographer of the Year, and Cumbrian farmer, Amy Bateman. These stunning photographs of people, farm animals, wildlife and landscapes document the stories of 40 Cumbrian farmers.

In conclusion, it was a nice three days. Of course, despite all the walking (a good bit of it uphill), I’m pretty sure we took in more calories than we expended. I suppose that is inevitable with so many good food eateries and local beers available.

Self Obsessed and Delusional – Just two of the qualifications candidates need to compete in ‘The Apprentice’.

I’ve just watched another episode of the British BBC TV show ‘The Apprentice (2023)’. Take it with a pinch of salt and it is quite entertaining. But there are some cringeworthy moments that can make it a hard watch. In fact each episode has moments when I feel I want to knock the contestants heads together to see what’s inside them. Jeremy Clarkson described the contestants as ‘gelled up wide boys and pouting Love Island cast-offs’. A good description! In fact, I’ve noticed that this year nearly all the female contestants have had lip enhancements, so they are mouthy in more ways than one. The men, preened and power dressed, swagger and disappoint just as much as the ladies.

They compete against each other to be Alan Sugar’s business partner and to win a £250,000 cash injection into their investment idea. It seems clear their drive is to get rich with the minimum of effort. They want success and they want it now. They are not prepared to wait. They have a level of self belief worthy of an SAS operative but none of the knowledge, skills and business acumen to justify that self belief. They have more confidence than competence. Some contestants may be quick witted and driven but overall they seem to lack general knowledge, the ability to spell or even speak English. Most are incapable of strategic thinking and lack any understanding of teamwork.

Their business plans make ridiculous financial projections, they bluster their way through the tasks and stab each other in the back. They quote one bragline after another. One says he is “the James Bond of business”. What? Does he murder his competitors, shag his female colleagues and have an ejector seat fitted to his BMW 3-series?  

No doubt some of these characters will succeed in making a reasonable living for themselves although I wonder how many people they will stomp on or rip-off along the way. But really, they want to be a Jeff Bezos or an Elon Musk and make billions and then move to Monaco and potter round in a luxury yacht and drink champagne. They will want to flaunt their success on Instagram and pour scorn on those on modest wages who work hard.

I applaud anyone who wants to run their own business, unless of course they are drug dealers. I understand the drive to be your own boss and use your own resourcefulness to make a decent standard of living for yourself and your family. In my working life though, you didn’t feel you had a right to expect overnight success or make a fortune. Now it appears young people do.

Especially Generations Y and Z. They want it all and they want it now. They have thin wallets and expensive taste. They haven’t the patience to work at success. They haven’t the patience to save or budget. They moan about price of food and energy when they have just taken out a PPR loan on a new BMW. Today’s students live a lifestyle which I could only dream of in the 1970s when I was a student (and I had a grant and a part time job). When I was saving for a house in the 80s, I didn’t spend £3.50 on coffees everywhere I went, or buy takeaways or order avocado toast for breakfast.

They have such a sense of personal entitlement it is frightening. Their parents tell them they are amazing and can achieve their dreams. And dream they do. Maybe they’ll be a tv star, social media influencer, marketing executive or a video game tester.

Full marks for those who want to be doctors, virologists, engineers, astronauts etc. but it is hard to wing it in those professions and that makes them less desirable as career options.

If only people would aspire to real jobs that most of us need and value. I would value anyone who could mend a road properly, but, ironically, it seems there can’t be openings for an ‘Apprentice’ road mender to be taught the right skills any more.

If you want to have a successful business, you have a have to borrow shedloads of money, and spend time creating an app, a website, and a marketing strategy etc. in order to fool customers into thinking you have a successful and trustworthy business. Actually doing a proper job, providing value for money and being accessible and accountable to your customers seems very much a secondary or inconvenient consideration these days.

Maybe I am being a bit unfair on Millennials, especially Generation Z. When I look back on the 1970s and early 1980s, many people then were lazy and delusional. A lot of workers didn’t want to work and many employers had no clue how to run a business. Ambition was dealt with suspicion and mockery, especially in working class areas. In the ‘loadsamoney’ generation of the 80s and 90s, the drive to become an entrepreneur was stronger but many everyday jobs and skills were undervalued. Back then, ‘The Apprentice’ would have attracted candidates just as suspect as those on the latest show. Harry Enfield’s character ‘Loadsamoney’ would surely have featured.

So maybe I’m just a grumpy old man who needs to accept the world is changing, that young people should dream more than my generation, that the TV show is really just entertainment and to hope that those Apprentices will pay lots of taxes towards my future geriatric care.

Finally, let me leave you with a few words of wisdom from none other than Lord Alan Sugar himself ……..

Youngsters have got to stop thinking about becoming the next Zuckerberg. It’s a trillion-to-one chance. What they need is mater and pater to say, ‘Get a job, son.’ “

‘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.


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?


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! 


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)

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