Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Less is More

At this time of year the UK enters its annual sweet spot of public holidays. Most countries spread their public holidays throughout the year. In the UK we're a little top-heavy and squish most of them into the first half of the year.

This year we have four days off in a period of seven working days. Woo and indeed hoo. First we have Easter Friday and Easter Monday, then at the end of next week we have another Friday off for the royal wedding (neither I nor the BBC it seems can decide if it's Royal Wedding or royal wedding) and then the following Monday is just a regular bank holiday. We have another day off at the end of May. That makes for two four-day weeks with a three-day week between them and another four-day week a few weeks later.

We have only one public holiday from the end of May until Christmas - a barren time for the wage slave.

Forward thinking types have planned ahead for this and apparently two million of us are fleeing the country in the next week - many I suspect wishing to be out of the country for the wedding.

I tend to favour understated decoration. Less is more. Below is Regent Street in Central London. One of the most elegant streets in the country; a fact confirmed by its premium price and location on the Monopoly board. Do you think they've gone a bit too far and turned it into what looks like a cheap souvenir shop?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

I'd Like to Officially Apologise for....umm...Everything :)

In recent years there seems to have developed a fashion for national governments to apologise for acts committed by their country throughout history. The descendents of the perpetrators of an injustice apologising to the descendents of those against whom the injustice was perpetrated.

The British have a long history of imperialism and many events in our history we should probably rightly not feel proud of. But I'm not sure of the significance of these apologies or what they are meant to achieve.

The latest of these involve the Prime Minister David Cameron accepting Britain's responsibility for "many of the world's problems" and in this particular case the poor job we did in 1947 in the partitioning of India and Pakistan. As the article points out, in recent years we've also apologised for famine in Ireland in the 19th century, our participation in the slave trade and to children that were shipped to Australia during the middle half of the 20th century. The comment in the article “This is typical of the UK’s schizophrenic relationship with former colonies where it is both proud and embarrassed about its past." I think is very accurate.

Where India/Pakistan and Australia are concerned I see the significance as there are still many people alive who were wronged and to whom an apology will be relevant but I don't detect in these often very cautiously worded apologies that they have anything more than soundbite relevance. There's an element of political grandstanding to them that suggests to me that the politician offering the apology just feels a little judicious faux contrition about events long gone by will ease the passage of the more immediate objective they might currently be trying to achieve.

There is also the way that we attempt to project 21st century morality onto people and the way they acted sometimes hundreds of years ago. Many people find it difficult enough to compare their own outlook on the world with that of their parents or grandparents so how we can project back the way we think now onto people hundreds of years ago bemuses me.

I'm not sure I'm the right person to judge this situation. I'm the product of an education that taught us that the British brought a lot of good to the world by their activities and whilst I'm not dumb enough to accept that is completely true I don't think everything we did was universally bad either. As far as I can tell, children today are taught a rather different version of history to the one I learnt. I have, in recent years become increasingly uncomfortable about the way we always seem to be front and centre and first at getting involved in events currently taking place around the world. There is still a strange mindset in this country that believes British diplomacy - either verbal or on the end of a terrifying piece of military hardware - is more even-handed than most other countries are capable of administering which I think is a dreadful arrogance.

You can't rewrite history and you also cannot with any accuracy work out how the world would have turned out were certain events not to have taken place. The world, for better or for worse, is the way it is now and apologising for events gone by is not going to change them nor is it going to change the current circumstances that those events created.

Are there whole nations and peoples still out there harbouring resentment about events from history? If there are, I'm not sure an apology is going to help that nor will it give them the "closure" that we are so often told they crave when one of these apologies is offered or sought.

I'm not saying we are blameless, I'm simply not sure these mealy-mouthed reversals that it now seems fashionable to hand out will achieve anything and the more that it happens will inevitably mean that each apology is a little more devalued than the previous one.

The world is not perfect now but it is better than it was then (whenever "then" was). We should think to the future and how to improve that and stop thinking we can change history by apologising for it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Peppermint, Camomile or Raspberry...

Why are some hotels such unsatisfying places to stay? They have the novelty and excitement of being somewhere else in the world which instantly endears me to them but generally their claim to make you feel at home makes me feel exactly the opposite. They manage to create the most unhomelike experience you can possibly imagine. They offer things that I never get at home (because I don't care for them) and all the creature comforts I do want from home, they manage to reproduce in a strangely unsatisfying manner.

Let's start with the basics. Hotel beds. Who still uses sheets and blankets at home? Not me. And nobody I know does either. My mum was a bit of a radical back in the early 70s when she introduced duvets to the family home but since then they've become the norm in just about every home I know. But hotels still persist in giving you a bed made up with sheets and blankets. The first thing I do to a hotel bed is pull the whole thing apart so the covers do only that - cover me. I don't enjoy being clamped into a bed with sheets and blankets strapped across me as tight as a drumskin.

The TV. Why are the batteries in the hotel TV remote controls always just about one millivolt short of being completely flat? I suppose people pilfer the batteries if they're any good...I have no idea but hotel TV remotes never work quite right. Hotel TV channels? Who actually watches CNN when they're not imprisoned in a hotel room? Nobody I know does. When was the last time somebody asked you over the watercooler if you saw that show on CNN last night? Yet it's piped into every hotel room in the world as far as I can tell, churning out their 30 minute looping diatribe of flypast news reporting. The only pleasure is watching news from your home country being misreported or misinterpreted by the reporter. Movie channels? The best you can hope (?) for is the latest Adam Sandler vehicle and some generic globalised soft porn.

Tea and coffee-making facilities in every room boasts the literature. Yes, that'll be a tiny limescale-encrusted kettle with a lid that’s impossible to open and when it is open you can’t get it under the tap in the bathroom so you have to fill it via the bathtub. It will take 10 minutes to boil half a pint of water. They then supply you with a few sachets of lo-grade instant coffee or bloody Liptons Yellow Label teabags. If my home ran on a 200 dollar a day budget then it would have a NASA designed kettle and the finest coffee I could buy. My home runs on about 10% of that budget and I don't have to scrimp on the coffee or the peripheral electrical appliances.

The bathroom. Have you ever tried to take a shower and use a hotel supplied bar of soap? There are two types. They're either the size and shape of a large pebble or alternatively appear to be modelled on slightly chunky credit card. Both are deeply unsatisfactory if your preference is still to use a bar of soap to wash - which mine is. Give me a large family bar of soap and I’ll use it for the duration of my stay so you don’t have to replace it every day and it doesn’t need to be made by a goddamn Parisenne parfumerie. I’ll probably bring my own shampoo (no jokes about what a bald guy needs shampoo for, I just still happen to use it). I cannot comment on hotel hair driers as I have no need of them but I know many women that do pass comment on them and it is rarely complimentary.

The breakfast. Don't try and present me with what you claim to be an authentic English breakfast if you have never actually seen an English breakfast, and trust me, most hotel chefs around the world have never seen a proper English breakfast. British cuisine may have a pisspoor reputation but an English breakfast, properly done, is a life affirming joy. Fat juicy pork sausages, proper cured bacon, eggs (fried, scrambled, or joy of joy, poached) and real HP sauce. Eggs should be prepared on demand - you cannot keep eggs prepared in the above manner and keep them in some sort of warming device – their condition deteriorates rapidly in such an environment.

If you’re really going to go for it an English breakfast can also include mushrooms, fried tomatoes, kidneys and black pudding (personally I think black pudding is disgusting but it’s an essential colour in the English breakfast spectrum). Beans are eaten at teatime when you come home from school and are served on toast – not at breakfast. And Mr. Hotelier, if you really want to go authentic English at breakfast time then how about a kipper or some kedgeree? Delicious.

Hotel toasters? They are usually the size of a small filing cabinet and look like they cost a fortune yet seem unable to do much more than heat, or at best, slightly discolour the bread.

Coffee? The world has become addicted to weak milky coffee. Thanks Starbucks ya bastards. I like coffee that stings my eyeballs when I drink it. You can’t get it any more unless you’re in Paris, Brussels or Rome. Tea? We English are admittedly a bit quirky about our tea but tea the world over should be prepared with boiling water. Yes, BOILING. You can’t make tea with water below 95 degrees. Most hotels seem to consider anything exceeding about 60 degrees qualifies as “boiling”. Breakfast tea should be black Assam. If I ask for tea I don’t expect the response to be “Peppermint, camomile or raspberry sir?” These are not even teas – they are infusions and should be given their correct nomenclature. And stop calling me sir as well - I don't get that at home either.

The truth is of course that not even hotels in England will attempt a breakfast spread like the above. Some top hotels will make a decent stab at it though. I think the full-on, heart attack on a plate English breakfast died out in Edwardian country houses some time before the First World War started.

I would actually prefer a local breakfast when abroad. When in Rome ‘n’ all that.

I love to travel – business or pleasure. I actually don’t mind staying in hotels mainly because they are not home and that means I’m somewhere else in the world – hopefully somewhere fun and interesting. What I resent is hotels telling me that they are like my home when I find it hard to believe that they are like anyone’s home. They should market themselves as not being like my home and I would like them even more.