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Trip Report High season 2009 in the UK; a trip from Thailand

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THis is the first part of my observations on a recent trip to UK.........

My plan was to visit the West Country and then up to Warwickshire and Shakespeare country finally ending up in London for a few nights before flying home.

For the first time ever, I was visiting UK as a tourist. I haven’t lived for an extended period in UK for over a decade and this time the trip had to take in as much as possible in about 2 weeks.
I found myself looking at the UK from a new perspective........ I was forced to re-examine a country I thought I knew so well.....everything is seen differently - from the major tourist attractions to the quirky habits of pubs to the state of public toilets – things I usually take for granted are seen in a new light. Furthermore UK has a reputation as an expensive destination – just how true is this? What would I have to fork out for accommodation, transport, food, sightseeing etc.??

A first for me - I had to book flights, organise transport, hotel rooms etc etc... I have responsibilities...

To start with, my companion needed a UK visa. The visa company’s web site suggested this might take about 5 days – on arriving at the office in Bangkok we were informed that “due to demand” the projected time was now 5 weeks!
We had done 2 things right though – made an appointment on the net before going so there was no need to join a horrendously long queue to hand in documents, and secondly we had all the right documents and some extra ones for good measure....the visa came through in 7 days!
I must say I think it is extremely unfortunate that UK isn’t a signatory to the Schengen treaty as we really didn’t fell like going through the whole process a second time to get the Schengen visa – later we were to regret this.

We then booked the flights....

Getting there..... Flying with Eva air we were upgraded from battery to free-range class...for no apparent reason apart from asking if we could be seated together...just before boarding I was pulled over to one side - my instincts told me to brace for trouble – but instead I was told we were going to be upgraded. The wider seats in economy deluxe and extra leg-room and leg rests make sleeping on the 12 hour trip a more practical possibility. The service remains standard but when you’re asleep it doesn’t really matter.
I’m not sure what other airlines offer this halfway class between economy and business. It usually costs about 250 dollars for the upgrade so those wishing to avoid the crushing experience of flying economy might want to investigate the possibility of flying economy “elite “ with EVA and booking in advance.

So the flight was barely edible as always, but I have used EVA a lot now as they are consistently competitively priced and the obvious economy class alternative - Thai air – have got to be one of the worst airlines ever to leave the ground...and it’s amazing they even manage to do that at times!

Arrival at Deathrow was remarkably uneventful too.... – it’s still a rather grimy old place and very daunting for the first time traveller – fortunately the signing is fairly clear and there are plenty of places to stand to one side and collect oneself, get out the right documents etc.....the place s so over worked and worn down, even the new places look worn and shabby, but the huge crowds kept moving and we entered immigration.....two “officials” assured me it would OK to take my companion to the EU immigration desk (I have an EU passport) – on arrival at the counter the immigration official looked a bit miffed and insisted that I was my friends “sponsor” this seemed to appease him and he stamped our passports – the whole process taking only a few minutes ( I don't think my friend's insistence on wearing a mask to protect against H1N1 whilst standing in line was such a good idea though)...on to baggage reclaim and out into the arrivals hall.....push our bags to the car hire counter – the car is ready – the minibus to the depot and out onto the open road........

I can’t believe how quickly we got out of Deathrow - With a few hours of daylight left (good ol’ British daylight saving) we headed away from London towards Wiltshire and Stonehenge; we arrived at Holiday Inn after dark in the rain – it was colder than my friend has ever experienced - I thought that the standard accommodation offered by H.I. would be the least alien to my friend on that first night away from home.

Rather than drive all the way on the first night to Plymouth, where we’ll be based, it seems a good idea to stop off at Stonehenge.

Due to jetlag and the after effects of a long flight, we were up at the crack of dawn and couldn’t sleep – it was a cold wet morning - we packed and drove out to Stonehenge only to find that it was “closed” (until 9 am) – this was all the more aggravating as there is a crowd of people walking round INSIDE the stone circle – “special permission” I’m told. As a teenager I spent a lot of time lying around those stones and I didn’t need special permission to do it….now the number of tourists is so huge it has been fenced off and all the general public can do is walk around the perimeter at a respectful distance. I agree conservation is paramount but I must confess to being a little disappointed at not being able to actually touch those stones and “feel the vibes” again.

We go back into Amesbury and find a “café” for a traditional English breakfast – The Friar Tuck – just about as good as that sort of thing gets. -

On returning, we then are just about the first people in. Walking round the Stones we get us a foretaste of the weather to come – It’s July/August – the height of the British summer and the height of the tourist season and it’s 15 C and a light drizzle falls wafted along on the wind. Not for the last time out comes my anorak. I lend it to my friend making a note to buy another one ASAP.

For details of “special visits”, admission prices etc. look at -

At this point it might be worth mentioning that Admission is free to members of English Heritage and the National Trust. If you are a history freak it could save you a lot of money – just check that the places you want to see are under this scheme. You can get free or reduced entrance fees to hundreds of places. Standard adult membership for a year is about 43 pounds (reductions for students and couples). National Trust is about 47 pounds a year.

When it comes to seeing Britain I have to say that it is all about buying discount or membership cards. Admissions and travel costs in the UK can be terrifically high unless you carefully choose the right cards and schemes.
I knew where I wanted to go and for me the NT and EH cards were not the way to go but for some it could save the day.
Transport is another way that cards can save you money. For families –check out -

It is also a good idea to get an idea of which cards you might find useful before you travel – there is a bewildering array of discount schemes available to tourists and trying to sort out which ones are good for you can take a lot of time and research. You can also get most of them on-line.

I’ll talk a little more about cards later.

Driving in UK. – This is a surprisingly orderly thing and so long as you drive with precision, should present no real problems.

Drivers from Asia and Europe are used to dealing quickly with strange and varying conditions and usually find themselves easily adapting to driving in the UK ...... Amongst those foriegners driving around the UK, who possibly find themselves the worst off are drivers from the USA. UK driving involves small cars, many of them manual transmission in high density traffic. Road regulations and markings are strictly observed in the UK and the relaxed, casual style of driving in the States is totally unsuited to conditions in the UK. E.g. – if you think you can use cruise control anywhere in the UK you are probably making a serious mistake.....unless it’s to stay within the speed limit.

Beware – there are more speed cameras per mile in the UK than anywhere else in the world – your tickets will be sent in the post and either waiting for you when you return your hire-car of follow you back home. It’s no good thinking that leniency will be granted as an automated camera has little sympathy. You might try it on after you have received your ticket though.

The motorway and dual carriageway speed limit is 70 mph (112 kph) – on other roads it is 60 mph, in built up areas 30 mph.
There are now several other limits (e.g. 20/40/50) both temporary and permanent throughout the country. You will have to keep an eye out for these as they are rigidly enforced. Many road works have “average speed” cameras – so slowing down for one camera is not enough.

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    Sorry this is a bit long-winded....
    Our visit to Stonehenge was over by midday. A listed world heritage site – Stonehenge is well looked after and relatively untouched by the “Disney-esque” style or historical presentation that so mars other sites around the world these days. A small unobtrusive gift shop, some cafe facilities and loos just about sums it up

    As I said earlier - at the Stones we got a foretaste of the weather to come – It was July/August – the height of the British summer and the height of the tourist season and the temperature was a miserable15 C with a light drizzle falling, wafted along on the we headed off to the Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall, the counties of moors and rivieras.

    I also got my first pleasant surprise driving – a car flashed his headlights at me as I waited to join the main road, and I realised he was LETTING ME IN – not warning me he was not stopping for anyone – how refreshingly polite!

    Using “A” roads rather than motorways I been my intention as one always has the opportunity to stop more easily. Armed with bags of fruit bought in Amesbury – (Greengages!) – we were set for a pleasant drive.

    Here we began to get a view of the Brits on holiday. The transport has changed a little – the “grey traffic” is even more dominant; still with caravans (pulled by a 4x4 is de rigueur) but now the campervan is in the ascendency, vast palaces on wheels group into convoys followed by streams of impatient car drivers waiting their turn to move on to the next procession of geriatric driven mobile homes. Roof racks and trailers bulge with equipment for camping, boating, cycling, moto-cross, hang-gliding – the hobbyist will have his day!...and another invention – the bumper rack – when the roof is full you can bolt a huge trunk to the back of the vehicle – just don’t forget it’s there when reversing! – My companion asks if they are moving house! In the mean time roaring packs of motorbikes loaded with tents, girlfriends and waterproofs weave their way through the throng.

    Life on the road is very sophisticated in the UK nowadays.

    Late afternoon we arrived in Plymouth.
    A naval city for centuries, Plymouth owes its full and interesting historical background to its naval heritage – however this has been a double edged sword as the presence of a working navy in the town has blighted it’s development in respect to tourism – until the last decade or so that is.
    The navy is gradually reducing its presence - and consequently its influence on the city and the general shoddiness is being replaced by a local govt that has had to look to other sources for an income. It took a while but they are now grasping the idea that tourism has possibilities.
    The historic architecture of Plymouth has been under attack (quite literally) for centuries both by warring enemies and the more insidious assaults of urban planners and the jerry-built architecture commissioned by the navy in post-war years.
    Enough remains to make Plymouth worth a visit....not necessarily in chronological order here are some of the famous who were born, lived, made their mark on, or set sail from Plymouth......The Mayflower (Founding fathers), Francis Drake (not Charlie), Charles Darwin, Dawn French (TV’s Ab. Fab), David Prowse (Darth Vader and “Green Cross” Man!?) William Bligh (Captain of the Bounty), Michael Foot (politician), Beryl Cook (Artist), Charles Babbage (C19th inventor of Computer!), Isambard Kingdom Brunel (Tamar Bridge).
    Around the town monuments abound to admirals, Captains and other warlords who have in turn thrashed the Spanish, French, Germans or any other nation they could get hold of.....and of course memorials to the thousands upon thousands who lost their lives achieving all this.

    The 3 most areas you are likely to visit would be the old town – the Barbican -, the Hoe and the “modern” shopping centre.

    The Barbican – this part of the city survived both the German bombers and the urban planners – retaining the old streets and many of the old buildings, it is now the “seen and be seen” part of town with a plethora of wine bars restaurants souvenir shops etc and lots of cafes on the street and harbour front. The harbour is still in use and boasts 24 hour water now that the 18th century lock has been re-instated. It is used a lot by both pleasure craft and the local fishing fleet. There are plenty of seafood restaurants in the barbican to sample the produce from the market on the other side of the harbour.
    Some pubs still retain a traditional air, but for my mind the 2 places to eat are either the fish and chip shop or “Cap’n Jaspers” – still an essential part of any British holiday is to share a takeaway out on the quay in the rain. Oh yes – and for my friend the B-Bar – a great little cabaret venue just up a side street, this place was an amazing surprise – live entertainment (Jazz, folk, comedy) almost every night and THAI FOOD cooked by Thai people! - Needless to say we ate there more than once.
    To see at the Barbican – The Mayflower steps – no fuss just a few plaques and a photo opportunity, - surprising really for a small piece of architecture with a huge historical connection. The Aquarium - (it’s got one of those huge glass screens about 10 meters high or so??) - go over the lock to the other side – avoid rainy days the queues are endless!! Good pub-grub nearby. It’s a real yachters' paradise here so you can take a stroll round and spot the craft for your trans-Atlantic trip next year. For those less stout-hearted you can book a cruise up the Tamar river and back in time for tea.

    The Hoe – if you haven’t been up on the Hoe you haven’t visited Plymouth. This great open space curves along the sea front from the Barbican across the centre of Plymouth and down to Devonport, giving great views of Plymouth Sound (not the local Radio) a huge natural harbour that gives Plymouth it’s raison d’être. Featuring Seaton’s Tower –the 250 year old light house great lawns, gardens and a great swathe of tarmac – this is home to such things as fun fairs concerts etc. The road along the front has plenty of space to park and admire the views, lots of purveyors of comestibles for the peckish too. There’s even a lido – if you fancy a dip – though it seems to be closed most of the time. At the far western end we stopped at a pub/restaurant right down on the seafront – I’m afraid it has seen better days – stinking of stale beer and with sticky carpets and rather poorly cooked food it was a good example of the worst of British wasn’t helped by the bizarre behaviour of the barman or manger. I’m sorry I can’t remember the name. Was it the Waterfront?

    The Town centre was flattened during the war and the post war urban planners moved in – the dream was to create a modern spacious area in the middle of town for business and shopping. Firstly it is extremely likely that this project was mooted BEFORE the war and planners just took advantage of the chaos to overrun the old street plan. Secondly it didn’t work.
    Several attempts have been made to improve this shopping precinct; the result is an improvement but still a mish-mash of band-aid style solutions. Parking in Plymouth is the pay-and-display type, so you have to remember to find a machine, go back to your car and fix the ticket to the windscreen – I kept forgetting and missed a £70.00 fine - I returned to my car to find a traffic warden hovering over the windscreen, pen in hand.
    The centre is laid out in US-style grid formation; originally designed to accommodate motor traffic it is now pedestrianised – it really can involve a lot of walking up and down hill if you don’t pre-plan your shopping route. At the top end of the Centre is a new indoor shopping centre. What really is needed is for the whole centre to be covered over in some way; otherwise shopping can be a cold, wet and windy experience.
    The recession has not been kind to Plymouth’s shopping centre, many local and discount shops have gone under and several of the shops have been boarded up – not to an overwhelming extent I hasten to add.
    As for the goods on sale – well the usual high street brands (nice to see Ann Summers still open!) and one or 2 local specialities.
    Eating – M & S (Marks and Sparks) have an eatery in the Shopping Mall, and variety of cafes and restaurants - look in the bigger Department stores for a cheap self-serve snack (and clean warm toilets).

    There are also several PASTY shops. ......No visit to Plymouth or Cornwall would be complete without sampling a pasty. This “D”-shaped fold-over pie with hand-rolled crust is available everywhere and with a myriad fillings –Originally made for the Cornish miners to take down the pit for their “lunch”, there is much debate as to what was originally put in them. I believe the most authentic should contain minced lamb, potato, (swede?) onion and LOTS of pepper. They are now available with both sweet and savoury fillings such as “summer fruit, beef and stilton or “veggie” cheese and onion. The predominant name for pasties in Plymouth is “Dewdney” – Ivor Dewdney and his family have shops dotted all over Plymouth – and really t get the authentic taste of a Plymouth pasty, you should buy at least one from these shops – again, best eaten outside in the rain. I fed one to my Thai friend who politely ate half and refused any further offerings of similar delicacies for the period of our trip.

    One footnote – Union Street. This street was the legendary “R & R” street for the matelots – for hundreds of years its mix of bars and brothels served the needs of drunken servicemen not just from the UK but visiting allies too. It burgeoned into the night life centre for Plymouth and in the 70s and 80s was strewn with massive night clubs and dance halls. But the drunkenness and violence became too much for the local fathers and the place has now shrunk to a shadow of its former self. However if you are up late at night, it’s still worth a drive by, if only to see a fight outside a chip-shop or some of the ugliest ladies of the night you’ve ever seen!

    As for accommodation, for the duration we stayed with family and friends, so no hotel required I did however check a few “cheapies” out for a visiting friend.
    Plymouth has all the usual “chain” hotels – Novotel, Holiday inn etc – the Holiday Inn is right by the Hoe and at less than 200 per night could be a great place for a short visit. The roads leading up to the Hoe are full of houses converted to hotels and gust houses and the price and quality varies immensely. I would not commit blind to any length of stay in one as it might become necessary to move on! Prices ranged from 20 to 100 quid a night; some of these places make the legendary “Fawltey Towers” look good. Quite frankly some rooms I looked at were asking quite unjustifiably high prices – maybe trying to take advantage of the peak season to get them through the recession. 100 quid will get you a perfectly good clean double room at most chain hotels/motels so why pay that for some lop-sided, cramped dimly-lit backroom in a hotel with little or no facilities? I must mention one place I looked at – I think it was called the Quality Inn. (a Choice Hotel) – this small 60s tower-block building has seen better days – but it overlooks the Hoe and for about 65 pounds you can get a double room with a view from one end of Plymouth harbour to the other – I can’t speak for the service, but it seems to be about the best value along the hoe especially for those on a tight budget.

    Next – outside Plymouth – Devon and Cornwall – Brits in the rain

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    One of the bonuses of staying in Plymouth is its location. Sitting on the Tamar, the border between Devon and Cornwall, it is a great place to tour from and the surrounding countryside is some of the most picturesque in the UK.

    Some of the places we took in included, Dartmouth, Mothecombe, in Devon, Whtisands, Cawsands, Seaton, St Agnes, Truro and the Eden Project in Cornwall.
    Devon and Cornwall are counties with a heritage much of which is centred round the sea. The wrinkly coast is littered with small harbours, the old fishing fleets have mostly disappeared along with their catch. The towns and villages now make their living from tourism; leisure boats of all description fill the harbours. Along with the rocky inlets and harbours are sandy beaches, some especially on the North coast are good surfing beaches, attracting crowds of surfies who party away throughout the summer (some even stay for the big swells of winter!).

    A note here about the weather........By now I could see that my Thai companion was getting seriously homesick and depressed and the weather wasn’t helping..... We had spent nearly a week in UK and the weather had varied from poor to desperate. Cloud drizzle and cold were the order of almost every day. The house was cold and our hosts seemed oblivious to our suffering, we were spending more and more time under a collection of duvets. Showering was dreaded as the post shower chill was agony. Although we got out and drove about the relentless and monotonous weather was grinding us both down...even me – who had lived in UK, could not come to terms with the fact that this was meant to be the height of summer.
    Eventually, we went into town and purchase wet weather clothing....we found a great place in the shopping mall... - Mountain something – a wide range or weather-proof gear and all very well priced...(it’s not as if we would ever wear the stuff back home!). Armed with fleeces and anoraks/kagools we felt better equipped to face the vagaries of the British climate.

    I know it’s daft, but It is difficult not to blame the Brits personally for this weather.... our pleas for warmth were met with a nonchalant wave of the hand and we were told that the central heating didn’t come on till winter! .... and this kind of sums it up for the Brits – no matter what the reality is, what the temperature, wind or rain, IT IS SUMMER and therefore one behaves as if it is SUMMER. Nothing can prevent the Brits from enjoying their summer, even a few little drawbacks like it is as cold as bloody winter, everything is swathed in mist and the sky is a dark battleship grey.

    “..... Beside the seaside, beside the sea”.....

    So hopefully insulated against the weather we ventured out again – hoping to dispel some of my friend’s gloom with a look at the English seaside.

    If the Brits are on holiday by the sea...that’s where they’ll be – beside the sea.....whatever the weather it’s the summer “hols” and they have 2 weeks; and By God! Nothing is going to deprive them of their 2 weeks on the beach.....and from deep inside a fleece and kagool, my friend does mange to raise a smile looking at the strange ways the Brits pass their time on the beach.........

    Windbreaks, umbrellas and piles of sand covered in towels and mats all serve to protect from the worst of the a bedraggled army the tourists dig themselves in. Behind these defences beachwear will still be worn, swimming trunks, shorts, t-shirts and white pink and blotchy blue from the cold, the odd rain-shower is no longer a problem.

    .........then the earthworks continue....apparently in a frenzied attempt to change the beach before the tide returns, frantic digging starts in the sand all over the beach –children equipped with bucket and spade are encouraged to engage in minor acts of civil engineering;....castles erupt out of the sand, seawater channelled into a network of canals to irrigate their moats; any streams crossing the beach are dammed, elderly relatives are buried in shallow graves, only their faces protruding above the ground – a ghoulish activity preparing them for things to come?...babies sit legs akimbo feeling handfuls of sand and then stuffing fistfuls in their mouths turn crying to their mothers. Others simply dig enormous holes or tunnels...clumps of sand fly intermittently out of a hole as someone inside feverishly digs ever deeper.......people have given their lives doing this!

    As with all British work there comes a time for a break – tea!....or a picnic. Groups of pink and white semi-naked people gather round a mat laid on the sand for something to eat and drink. My friend was totally perplexed as to why one would want to eat it such a hostile environment....the beach on a wet and windy day is not the most obvious location for eating.
    Out comes the Tupperware - On the menu? –, home-made cakes, biscuits etc. and sandwiches, which by now all contain real sand!....turning eat mouthful into a gritty ordeal. From the vendor’s caravan nearby; the ubiquitous pasty – the traditional Cornish pie, resembling a Calzone in construction , usually filled with meat and potatoes, accompanied by ice-cream and soft drinks (sodas) and packets of crisps (potato chips to you) or even chips (French fries to you).....All served with a tooth grinding sprinkling of sand.
    And of course tea! – from a “Thermos” or brewed on a small camping stove, or even bought from the nearby vendor.

    After a brief rest the earthworks resume. We were able to witness some other beach activities too. To my friend’s horror, not only do people strip practically naked on the beach, they even go in the water.
    To a Thai person this presents several layers of strange, even unacceptable behaviour. Firstly few Thai women would consider wearing less on the beach than shorts and T-shirt, even when swimming, a one piece is bad enough, but a skimpy bikini is totally out of the question......when I say that topless is not unheard of, I’m looked at in disbelief. Secondly how could anyone go into the sea when it is this cold?? Unlike the British who are intrinsically bonded to the sea, Thai people regard it with suspicion or at least caution...going in under any circumstances is regarded circumspectly – to go into cold water and then swim possibly out of one’s depth amongst waves is regarded as downright reckless.

    Entering the sea also requires equipment. An array of inflatable devices meets these needs – rings, wings, bats, boats and li-los all quite capable of whisking their unsuspecting crew quickly out to sea on wind rip and tide never to be seen again........this is the bottom of the scale – next is the serious side; passion for outdoor pursuits……….

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    Yep the Brits love the summer. Did you know that per head of poppulation we have more open top cars than anyone else. I do myself and this is despite the fact that last year I never had it open at all as the summer was so bad

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    I am loving your report! Thanks for breaking it into readable paragraphs. I am rolling on the floor with laughter at some of your descriptions! Especially today's word picture of a holiday at the beach. You seem to be making the best of crumby weather and other less than ideal conditions. looking forward to more. Please keep it coming.

    Thanks in advance!

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    Love your anthropological viewpoint. Some of us do put our heating on, 2008 mine barely got turned off. You are clearly demonstrating why for people resident in the British Isles ice in drinks is not often necessary. Hot tea on the beach is the answer. Being buried or building sand castles keeps one warm.

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    Such a great report! I grew up in England, and well remember needing a wind-break on the beach. I don't turn my heat at home up to normal US levels, but I still tend to shiver when I go back to England, at least in the winter.

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    brilliant, khunwilko, just brilliant. you've got us down to a tee. [or should that be tea?]

    i have to go to work in Plymouth sometimes and you are dead right about the centre - it is a real punishment to walk up that hill, which of course you have to do if you are going to get from the Hoe [where the courts are] to the railway station. I confess that I normally drive. I have stayed in the holiday Inn on the Hoe and it does what it says on the tin - a reasonably priced chain with a decent restaurant and indoor pool, and it's close to the court. not a bargain, but reasonable if you are on business.

    I'm in the "putting the heating on if you need it whatever the season" school - we managed to go on holiday during the only decent week this year, to a place where it rained almost incessantly - LOL. so I know just how you felt.

    I find that a hot water bottle is a must for all but two or three weeks of the summer, and if you haven't got one of those, a passing dog or cat!

    do keep telling like it is,

    regards, ann

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    Despite the unpredictable weather, the Brits are very fond of any kind of outdoor pursuit; either on land or sea........for those who love the sea the range of options is enormous.


    After the beaches we explored some of the harbours and estuaries – Devon and Cornish fishing villages have got to rank amongst some of the most picturesque sights in the world. Narrow lanes wind down “combes” and valleys to ancient villages crammed into a small nook in the coastline – for centuries fishermen here have eked a living out of the sea. These secluded harbours a long way from the prying eyes of London based taxmen also made them ideal haunts for smugglers. Now the main industry is tourism.

    It’s amazing the difference a bit of extra coastline can make. Thailand is part of a peninsular and has some beautiful coast line together with a warm and in general friendly climate. Yet in general the populace turns their collective nose up at the sea and all it has to offer. Drop the “pen”, and in “insular” Britain, despite cold, storms, waves and tides the obsession with all things nautical is practically universal. In UK it’s impossible to be more than 80 miles or so from the salty water! And you’ll certainly be closer than that to a sailor!

    On the beaches gangs of surfers were chasing waves – following wide and tide from beach to beach, coast to coast. The normally rough water tends to eliminate such things as Water-skiers banana-boats and jetskis – my friend asked about these and I pointed out that your chances of staying on a banana-boat in these waters for more than a few seconds was minimal....anyway, who wants a bananaboat when you’ve got a boat of you own!? ....

    Where beach is replaced by harbour, estuary or rocks the British still know what to do...

    Harbours throng with small craft, fishing boats – or should I say “sea angling” boats? – Rowing boats, kayaks, outboards, inboards, and sailing boats of all sizes. Weaving in and out of each other or moored in sweeping lines up and down the river or docked in marinas and quays.
    Anything from a car-top dinghy to a luxury yacht, the Brits are born to float. The worse the weather the more rewarding the experience and the greater the number of tales to relate round the fire in the pub later.

    In places like Dartmouth and Salcombe sailing is King, (In general, larger motor powered boats seem to be sneered at - stink-boats to their detractors); herein the pubs, the middle and upper classes predominate with their artisans.....dressed for the part - “commodores” in Blue blazers sport a white navy-style peaked hat, bearded old men who bear a strong resemblance to Popeye sit in the corner drinking cloudy cider and look like they really do say things like “oo –aarr” and “shiver-me-timbers” and young “gorillas” who spend their yachting holiday by operating the winches on racing yachts and excessive drinking.
    Blue and yellow clothing is the mode, together with the odd splash of orange and if you haven’t got a pair of those shoes with a strip of leather woven in and out round the quarter, you will feel naked.
    I’ve never heard so many people speaking with plums in their mouths!

    Strangely as we walked around the narrow streets I noticed that everyone acknowledged you as you walked past with a smile and a nod. Being a bit paranoid I’m still not sure whether they were being friendly or it was some kind of check-up to make sure you were the right sort to be there.

    For those of you planning a trip to the coast, I can honestly say that it really doesn’t matter which fishing village you choose – I’m sure they all have merits and detractions. I like St. Agnes (North Cornwall) and the surf beach, also Bantham / Thurlestone (South Devon). For a lovely little family beach, I’d suggest Mothecombe (south Devon) – Access is through the Fleet Estate and they allow access via their footpath only on week-ends and Wednesdays. There’s a car park and quaint cafe at the top of the path. Any village is worth a visit; why not choose one by its wonderful sounding name......e.g. – Trewithian, Perranporth, Tywardreath, St Veep, Polbathic, Crugmeer etc etc.....

    One other place that deserves a quick mention is the Eden Project. - - This is a series of “geodesic” (?) domes erected in an old quarry housing both Tropical and Mediterranean climate biospheres or “Biomes” as they call them. They are big! – be prepared to sweat it out in the Tropical dome – (there is a cloakroom to leave your outdoor gear in(.

    Entrance – the standard fee is 16 quid – a measly pound off if you buy on the net – there is a range of discounts for kids, elderly and families etc. – at present they’re offering free pass for a year when you buy – great if you plan to re-visit the place.

    I love it.....the tropical dome is fantastic, my Thai friend complained because it was too hot – there’s just no pleasing some people !!! – For me, inside this dome it really was a home away from home. Outside the main domes the entire quarry has been beautifully landscaped. They try to run the whole place as “green” as possible – (I noticed they used either rainwater or “grey” recycled water in the loos). There are a lot of events aimed at keeping kids amused – and edified – and plenty of viewpoints for the “olds” to sit. There is even a movie theatre to chill out and watch some stuff on the environment.
    NB - You must take time to watch the nutcracker in the Core, the education centre!
    The buildings themselves are hoped to be examples of green architecture and the whole establishment is devoted to education in and demonstration of green issues.

    There are one or two eateries there – including a serious “gourmet” pasty stall – and although not the cheapest, I thought the food and menus on the whole was well prepared, imaginative and presented with thought...plenty of vegetarian options too.
    Al in all a great day out and it is not really affected to much by the weather.

    Next - the great outdoors and Dartmoor

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    Well when it comes to the weather you can either fight it or go with it – and let’s face it if you fight, you’ll lose. Firstly I decided to leave the West country a day early, but there was still one place left on my list for this region..........So, having looked at the beaches, I then thought lets go actively LOOKING for bad weather – Remember my friend is Thai, in Thailand they travel up North “Pu Kha Dung” in December to look for “frost” or fog – I thought if my friend is suffering from the cold – let’s experience the worst weather we can find......and there’s one obvious place; Dartmoor.....the military do survival training here and the unpredictable weather is legendary.

    Just a short drive up from Plymouth will get you onto Dartmoor. We were now accompanied my friend an Australian psychoanalyst. (Or is that an Oxymoron?)The day we chose the temperature was about 16 C and there was a drizzly mist being blown across the moor; visibility was a few metres and the rain of the last week has swollen rivers........
    We drove up through Princetown (the Prison) and Two bridges and back to Plymouth via Tavistock to look at the great Victorian architecture there. As for views, you couldn’t see a thing – but it really didn’t matter, what we could see was wild weather and wet sheep! Through the mist the livestock could be seen – The Moor is largely an unfenced area, and livestock roams more or less freely; sheep, cattle and ponies appeared, slashes of yellow gorse brightened up the mysterious rock-strewn landscape continually shrouded in mist and rain. My friend was curious to see the sheep had been dyed in various colours – presumably to denote ownership or maybe “tupping”. Visibility was so bad at times they were having a job distinguishing between sheep cow and pony.

    We were glad to have kitted up with our gear (The place was called Mountain Warehouse, BTW) even so my friend was reluctant to get out of the car –until some close-ups of some sheep and gorse were called for. Apart from the livestock it was also apparent we were not alone – other people were also braving the weather to experience the moors.......shadowy figures would appear out of the mist kagool-clad families sporting waterproof everything; hoods, trousers and walking boots – they were here on purpose – they were enjoying themselves!!! – and I have to say so were we – outside, cold and wet can be fun. I think it is a Norwegian saying that there is no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothes.

    Folks here have changed the bright blues and yellows of sailing for brick reds and olive greens – complicated hiking boots and thick walking socks – but as it is summer – shorts are still worn by many! – I was constantly reminded of the “knobbly knees” contests of the old British holiday camps. Again as we walked around slipping on the rocky paths we were greeted by groups of passing walkers with a smile and a nod – as if to say “Ah, I see you’re crazy too!” Couples families and groups, all hiking for all they’re worth, laden with back-packs of supplies for the day, food, drinks and layers of clothing. The age-range is enormous - Elderly guys with chin thrust out forge on, followed by their female companions, slightly flush cheeked, but not far behind, families; the father carrying the youngest on his shoulders and the mother carrying the newly bought pink rucksack that she insisted on overloading with her favourite dolls and now can no longer carry. Cameras and binoculars swing from necks, belts are loaded with canisters and zip-up bags, enough to put Batman’s Utility belt to shame....hoods and hats of all description protect from sun and rain.

    We found a pub and some pub-grub washed down with a “real ale” (“Why is this beer brown?”) and then set off back to Plymouth..... on the way back I noticed a sign – everywhere in UK you will see the diagrammatic sign for a caravan and tent – CAMPING – we turn into a campsite to marvel at another British holiday obsession - - not content with braving the weather by day the British then decided to spend the night either under canvas or in an aluminium box.
    I remember when my father bought a frame tent in France and the first time we erected it in the UK a small crowd of khaki-shorted holidaymakers gathered to watch us.... (my Dad had anticipated this and we had done several practice set-ups in the garden at home before going out on the road with it, to avoid making fools of ourselves in public) ....things have moved on since then – even the tents are palatial and the mansions-on-wheels are quite stunning with their tailor-made awnings, outhouses, TV aerials, gas and electric sockets, solar panels etc. Huddled in neat rows in the mist, I have to say they looked quite cosy. I’m not sure what the figures are but I get the impression that if you really want to meet the British on holiday in UK, you’ll have to camp.
    My Thai friend was slightly puzzled by all this; camping is in its infancy in Thailand – there, some people still HAVE to live like that year in year out, as they can’t afford a “proper” house – why would you do it on purpose if you can afford somewhere to live? I wonder if we’ll ever see a “Buccaneer” or a “Bluebird” being towed around the lanes of Prachuap Kiri Khan.

    Having taken hundreds of photos we returned to Plymouth having had a really great day out....but we hadn’t quite finished with Dartmoor....

    The next day the three of us were to move on to Warwickshire, so I decided to take the route through Dartmoor and join the A30 at Exeter – the weather was much better so I thought it would make for a pleasant trip.
    The moor was transformed – all was revealed, the sweeping open spaces and rolling hills, craggy outcrops, wonderful views. My Thai friend had no idea what had been hiding behind all that mist and out of the car, the camera clicked away.........we stood ancient bridges across streams stained brown with tannin and, climbed up a couple of tors found another great pub with lovely nutty beers and much to the disgust of my friend – ate rabbit pie! Further across the moor we stopped at a Cider barn. A lump of slate standing inconspicuously by a stone gateway had the word “CIDER” scrawled across it in Chalk....we turned into a rather scruffy and obviously old farm yard. An old barn, it’s thatched roof replaced by corrugated iron, stood surrounded by mud and farming flotsam and jetsam. An old lady seated on a deck chair stood up and beckoned. We climbed up a small slope and entered through a low door into our eyes adjusted to the light we began to make out the interior....the floor was lined with straw and a large vat on our left was connected via a shoot to an enormous wooden contraption – the cider press. How old this press was I don’t know, but it was the technology of centuries gone the dim light the aroma of apples pervaded the place.
    The press it was explained is filled with alternate layers of chopped apples and straw and then the whole lot is squashed and the juice runs into the next room.....we went through....the next room was filled with huge barrels – lining both sides of the barn. Here the apple juice is stored, – after a few months it contains about 10% alcohol.... The smell of apples and alcohol permeated the whole place. - a very dry drink but deceptively strong. The cider-makers art comes in here and they were offering dry, sweet and vintage ciders – my 2 friends took some small samples from a tin mug – my psychoanalyst, bought himself a large plastic bottle filled with the cloudy liquid.
    We then set off toward Exeter and the Midlands – within ten minutes of leaving the farm both my passengers were sound asleep – strong stuff that cider.

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    Yes, I think the paint on sheep comes from the paint on the ram's front, to indicate which ram has been the most obliging. The traditional red variety was known as raddle, hence the word raddled to mean - well, work it out for yourselves.

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    hi wilko,

    having just spent the afternoon driving across a very foggy bodmin moor [well, it is bank holiday monday, what would you expect?] I empathised with your description of Dartmoor in the fog. on the way "up country" on Friday though, it was warm and sunny, so we stopped off at our favourite Dartmoor spot - Belstone - for a pie and a pint at the Two Tors Inn. views to die for, and a great little locals' pub with lovely food, great beer and no musak.

    I'm glad you enjoyed Eden so much. some locals are a bit sniffy about it, but we think it's great, and usually get a year's pass every year. I agree with you about the food too - it's not cheap but consistently good quality. we were having lunch there one day and Tim Smit was at the next table, so if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for us.

    keep up the good work!

    regards, ann

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    Yes - Patrick - take your point - we call it "tupping" a ram is referred to as a "Tup" - however on a large open moor I suspect that they may have been to do with shearing or ownership - or a HUGE ram!

    Annhig - yes I've heard that the locals are not impressed with Eden - I think they were promised a lot of work there that didn't materialise. I have friends in Truro who mentioned it but we didn't have time to go into the whole issue.

    BTW - I forgot to mention a gem of a Thai take away I found nr Truro - driving along one of the main roads approaching Truro there is a lay-by with the usual food serving caravan parked in it - except this one serves Thai food! It's called "Thai - K - away" - run by a English/Thai couple they have been serving Thai food in UK for 8 years and it's great. If you can understand a bit of Thai listen in on what the Thai chef says about his more "butch" customers - he's hilarious.

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    Warwickshire – Drive up the M5 and across through the Vale of Evesham and we arrived in Stratford on Avon in the late afternoon.
    My friends I used to come here as teenagers armed only with a Frisbee which we would use to entice visiting female American students into a game.......S-o-A has always been a tourist rap – the other places I visited I was amazed at the increased volume of traffic but S-o-A I was prepared for.
    We actually only spent a few hours there, and promised we’d return in a couple of days which we never did. Largely because when compared with other midland towns there’s not an awful lot to do there. The theatre was being rebuilt and my Thai friend would not have followed a Shakespeare play......

    I’m sorry but I feel an anecdote coming I may have mentioned I was educated in UK and for our “O” levels which was then the national exam for 16 year olds, we had to see Julius Caesar at the RSC – a matinee specially for the schools who were studying this play. You can imagine the discipline problems in a theatre full of hormone charged 16 year olds mostly being held against their will. Teachers ran around shouting threats such as “detention!” - “Hampton-Smythe and Jones – I can see you there!” these were greeted with howls of derision and mirth.
    Eventually we all settled down and the play proceeded.....until towards the end – in a scene where Antony (Was it?) sits on top of a hill waiting for news of a battle.......well the theatre didn’t have a hill – it had a trapdoor and the centurions delivering the news would appear up through this hole in the floor. Unfortunately one centurion came up through the hole and when Antony asked “What news, Centurion?” ...he took a step back and fell straight back down the hole – the entire audience erupted – slap-stick – just what we had been waiting for – it must have taken 5 minutes for the auditorium to resume a semblance of quiet – this was then further disrupted by the reappearance of the centurion, this time with a pronounced limp and bent helmet. Every time the poor man moved he was greeted with cheers and renditions of the Laurel and Hardy tune. (I got a “B” for English Literature)

    So Stratford in the present, lots of pretty gardens, expensive tweedy clothes shops, and restaurants.........

    And the river Avon (Avon means “river” which explains why there are so many river Avons in England - the river River).......if you want a row in a traditional river rowboat – just like “Tales of the Riverbank” - then go to the Boathouse, ask for “Eddy Rose” and mention my name – you won’t get a discount but you’ll raise a smile. He’s a wonderful man who inherited the boat business, it came down through the family – so they’ve been there for generations. The upper floor of the boathouse is now a Thai Restaurant – sadly we didn’t eat there.
    I like the marina – apparently you can navigate from the extensive UK canal system to the sea at Gloucester now. This gives you another glimpse into an exclusively British lifestyle – life on “the CUT”. The canals of Britain were hand-dug in the 18th century and facilitated the industrial revolution, they were displaced by the railways and slowly fell into partial disuse, but they somehow survived more or less intact and now provide a wonderful and unique tourist attraction. You can hire beautifully fitted out “narrow boats” and cruise the canals of Britain. As they tend to follow the contours they follow different routes to the roads and railways and you get to see parts of the countryside that others never see.
    Looking round the marina you will also notice that many people live full-time on the cut, with central heating bathrooms, kitchens and all the comforts of home their narrow boats are as well equipped as any house could be and beautifully maintained. They are adorned with traditional paintings and decorations including pot plants and hand-painted watering cans.
    Elegant swans glide around amongst the boats and gather near restaurants to feed on scraps thrown by the customers. A trip up the river will give you a glimpse of British riverbank wildlife, ducks, moorhens and coots etc, don’t expect to see and otter or river-vole these days though. And, at the right time of year amongst the weeping willows sit anglers, spaced apart at respectful distances, sitting under their umbrellas waiting for that elusive bite, which when caught will, at the end of the day be weighed and returned to the river.

    So we took a few more photos of statues of “Billy Waggledagger” and his characters and set off for Warwick. The road to Warwick takes you past the Welcome Hotel – a grand building set in landscaped grounds – now I might be wrong but I’m sure I heard somewhere that the grounds were the location for the filming of another great British institution; the series of those stalwarts of pre-school development; Dinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po......the “Tele-Tubbies”. –

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    KW - The Thai Boathouse is a lovely restaurant and PACKED with Thai furnishings and LOVELT thai food. (not as good of course as food in Thailand) BUT it is run by Thai people and i have had many a good meal there.

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    hi kwun,

    I i have spotted that caravan a few times but it's never been my lunch-time. I will have to try harder.

    there is another thai-brit establishment in cornwall- the thai kitchen in Hayle - only I think that the chef is the mother-in-law! Great food anyway and a BYO too.

    i had a very similar experience with O level shakespeare only for us it was Macbeth at the Birmingham rep. Banquo's children came in balanced precariously on stilts and his ghost was wearing a rather tatty sheet. by the end those of us who were still paying any attention at all had got hankies stuffed in our mouths.

    on the river at Hampton wick the other day we saw a family of great crested grebes - fancy that!

    regards, ann

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    Wow, sorry to hear about those school trips. I still remember a trip up to London to see Shaw's "Joan of Arc" that was just my class and a regular matinee audience. The performance was mesmerizing (at least for me).

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    “Historic Warwick’

    Now, I know Warwick pretty well and reserved a room over the phone –I had used the net with other hotels and car hire. ........... 2 mistakes; firstly I got the wrong hotel – I got the Lord Leyster and The Warwick Arms mixed up and accidently booked the Lord Leyster, secondly I didn’t use the net – this cost me an extra 10 quid a night– which seems pretty daft to me – if I’d cancelled my booking, gone to the local internet cafe and booked again I’d have saved the money – I could probably have used their internet access or done it from my room on my Laptop – go figure.

    Actually the Lord Leyster is not too bad – it is a typical old hotel, compromises are made between character and convenience – the rooms are pretty small and the floorboards creaky, but it had a lovely hot bath-tub, but I couldn’t get anything more than tepid water out of the shower. I love a bath and my Thai friend usually takes a “cold” shower (at home anyway) so we were both quite happy. The weather had improved and my Thai companion was now demanding Air-con! Well that’s not common in UK country hotels – I don’t really like it in any circumstances except a car – even in Thailand. I demonstrated the opening and closing of a window.

    What’s good about the Lord Leyster…….well car parking – lots of it at the back, I also enjoyed the breakfast – sometimes a buffet or sometimes a la carte – I had smoked haddock – bliss! My Thai friend had come to terms with fried egg on toast with bacon or cereals; I thought the haddock would be OK, but apparently not. But most of all, the hotel is in a great position, right on the High St and literally only a few yards from the entrance to the castle – did I mention there was a castle??

    Of course the main attraction in Warwick is the Castle, not just any castle, it looks like a castle should and in castle top-tens, this one is frequently number one, it is to castles what Michael Jackson is/was to pop. ……and the similarities don’t end there.

    I read somewhere once that Warwick castle - - is – or was - the biggest single tourist attraction outside London..... Has it changed? Well, armed only with a full English breakfast, a camera and some waterproofs, we were about to find out.

    I will make another confession here, I have on several occasions in the past, entered Warwick Castle when it was closed – it wasn’t B&E or anything like that – we didn’t break anything or steal; it was just that we considered it to be our own back yard. One of my friends’ fathers was employed there too so we had detailed knowledge of the place to back us up. I remember a group of us taking a girl from New York into a dungeon in the middle of the night to see a body-shaped hanging cage....entry would not be so easy now so we chose to buy tickets......things had indeed changed....

    In the 1970s, the castle was bought by Mme Tussauds with assurances it would have its integrity and character maintained with a minimum amount of change. Tussauds is in turn now owned by Nick Leslau’s Merlin Entertainments who took possession of the place for a £1.....sounds like a good deal! Actually Nick owns a lot of things and Merlin seem to lease them – Alton towers, Legoland, The London Eye, London dungeon etc....he’s even done stuff with Disney – which sends a shudder down my spine - Merlin are the second largest operator of amusement parks in the world after Disney.

    We got up early walked over to the Castle entrance and on up towards the ticketing area, it was not really what I’d expected in fact I was somewhat taken aback...throngs of people were already buying their tickets, cups of tea, eating snacks and checking their bags. Tartrazine-charged children ran through the crowd as “Costumed interpreters” mingled, shouting jovial insults to each other. Their costumes reminded me not so much a historical period, more of a circus, and even included a stilt-walker. Were we visiting a castle or “Neverland”?

    Tickets are around 20 quid....more if you want to go into the dungeons. This was the most expensive single entrance fee we paid. Would it be worth it?

    The weather was in our favour, a nice sunny day, not too hot, great for strolling around. The main crowd was gathering outside the main gate for the “raising of the Portcullis” – to get everyone in the mood his was accompanied by some amateur theatricals about being recruits the King –

    “Are you ready to fight”
    “YES!” answered the crowd
    “Do you come as friends?”
    “NO!” Answered the crowd – the “Interpreter” sighed – he then pointed out that they DID in fact come as friends – they were recruits.........the question was repeated....
    “YES!” roared the crowd
    “NO” roared the crowd – well at least they hadn’t lost all sense of reality – just yet.

    The portcullis was raise to a cheer and folk started to move into the Castle...I spotted a gate labelled rose garden and we walked away from the crowd into a quiet, well kept garden – not a lot of roses still in bloom but a wonderful oasis. Before joining the throng we strolled around the grounds, down by the river and the gardens, there was little to spoil the peace and quiet. The river Avon floated by, ducks and moorhens paddled about, we took in the old powerhouse and the weir with its eel trap. We got some good shots of the outer walls which are pretty impressive...and then back into the castle.

    The visitors are not left without some form of stimuli for a moment. When you enter you get a program and the day is full of events and spectacles...their connection with the history of Warwick can be somewhat tenuous, even the connection with any history at all, but it does engender the atmosphere of one of those 1940s and 50s Hollywood movies about Knights in armour and “Merrie Olde Englande”. I expected to see Errol Flynn stroll across the sward at any moment (he of Tasmania and Northampton fame)
    “By the way do you English say “Cheerio” or “Cheero”?”
    “Well, “Cheero” actually”.........

    I read somewhere that you shouldn’t give things like long sticks, baseball bats etc to kids below a certain age as they have difficulty in empathising, so striking another person with the said stick is purely an interesting exercise and the victim’s pain is not considered. Well to add to that, I’m sure it is equally bad practise to sell reproduction swords to children of this age then junk them up with high sugar drinks and let them loose in a real such child is a nuisance but dozens are downright dangerous!

    The crowd gathers at different points in the grounds to witness various displays – falconry, archer, sword fighting etc. two displays of note – the Jousting and the trebuchet.
    Historical re-enactment has come a long way in the last few decades the sword fighting etc really was impressive – the guys must have been really fit. However a special note must be made of the Medieval society who took re-enactment to its limits – where or who they are now I’m not sure but unlike most enactment societies who are content with pushing each other around a field this bunch of nutters developed or re-invented the sport of jousting – there’s no way you can really fake it – you just get on a horse in full metal jacket (literally) and run hell for leather at another chap mounted on a horse and try to knock him off with a big stick – and its very dangerous! This was on the program at 3 pm every day at Warwick castle - I’d seen it before and knew it would impress my Thai friend no end ------- shock and awe were already being expressed at the quantity of executions and the variety of methods used in UK days gone by, so this could be the icing on the cake - but alas – it was cancelled due to wet ground –
    ...but the trebuchet was still there – this is the biggest in the world – a record holder it can hurl a rock 300meters – or something like that. Loaded by men in costume using a treadmill it is set up to a theatrical commentary by yet another costumed interpreter – orders are shouted back and forth and the huge wooden machine swings into action....silently ..... they must have wished they could use pyrotechnics or something but they don’ can imagine the scene of a siege 4 hundred years ago with these huge machines silently working away to the background shouts from their us so used to bangs and explosions it would have been a strange sight.
    To most visitors, the castle is really an outside attraction; events in and around the ground can keep a family well occupied for a day. Ice-creams and pop are available at conveniently placed stalls, and extra portaloos cope with the summer crowds, I sometimes felt that most visitors were completely oblivious to the massive architecture and the ancient trees of the arboretum as they watched the various sideshows unfolding before them.
    We spent some time (and effort) climbing the towers, which actually involve climbing a lot of steep stairs – it’s a one way system and frankly if you aren’t fit or have a gammy leg – don’t attempt it; there’s no turning back once you’ve started.

    Up on the roof though are some great views of Warwick – photo-opportunities not to be missed.

    So I suggested we head indoors...... let’s see what remains of “Art History and Culture” we walked across the courtyard, a disturbing new attraction caught my eye – in the corner, a queue of children almost exclusively girls trailed up to one tower labelled in PINK!
    Now I don’t know what this colour and hello Kitty etc does for you, but it turns my gut.....One Christmas, I upset my baby sister by giving her a “My Little Pony Humane Killer” outfit or was it a “Hello Kitty will be Spayed Kit”?
    I’m sorry but I loathe pink and all that it stands for these days – and here it was in the middle of good old Historic Warwick.........

    “Here lies the Princess Tower,
    An enchanted place with magical power.
    Fairy tales, princes and dressing up is the way,
    Enter all princesses you’ll have a wonderful day “

    Sorry but that was all I could take we headed for the interiors, and as if in sympathy down came the rain....

    The interior of the castle is quite interesting, it contains some interesting paintings, Armour costumes and interiors and for me as a furniture buff, the Kenilworth Buffet – looks medieval but in fact it was a 19th century Arts and Crafts tribute to Warwick wood carvers. Made from one single oak tree.

    Unfortunately the rain brought about a similar behavioural change in everybody else and we became part of a shuffling procession past the various displays inside the building. It really is difficult to appreciate much if you are part of a conveyor belt that is almost impossible to get off, but we hung on and got through hopping off here and there to take a closer look.

    In the basement a few tableaux explain be preparations for battle and the roles of various members of staff, we didn’t try the restaurant, but did spend some time and money in the shop...mostly pens to hand out at work and souvenir chocolate.

    I don’t intend to be too harsh on the Castle – it does manage to keep some of the historical atmosphere of old, but the rampant commercialisation is not to my taste – did I enjoy myself – yes most certainly if only from the (false) feeling of superiority I got over the other ice-cream munching baby-screaming “kiss-me-quick hated, “emmits and grockels”.

    My friend was genuinely impressed – “I never see before” was a repeated comment and I must say I felt proud and even a little lump in my throat from time to time that this was part of my culture.

    I promised myself I’d return out of season.

    Next – one or two places you might have missed

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    hi kwun,

    maybe Kenilworth Castle would be more to your taste?

    I think it was one of the ruins that Henry VIII knocked about a bit. we used to go there on a sunday afternoon for a walk. it's the antithesis of Warwick.

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    Yes i have, a friend of mine came over from Holland about 15 years ago and i thought he may like it (he did) not been lately though but i drive past it about twice a week.....

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    Yes - my impression is that those who live near famous locations.monuments etc tend not to visit that much. For a while I found myself taking a string of customers to Warwick - but the same as you that was over 10 years ago.
    I think if you went in now especially at high season you'd find that things have changed a lot.

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    KW - Totally agree i went to the natural History museum for the first time about 2 months ago!!! shameful.
    I plan to go to hampton Court palace too (i drive past that once a month and think i MUST go there)
    We always make more of an effort to see another counries sights i guess cause we don't know when we will return.
    I should buy a UK guide book......

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    Ah - the natural History Museum! - I went there too. My Aunt used to live in South Ken.......

    I will do a bit on London next week - I actually don't have a computer at the moment - but that is another saga involving incompetence, deception and downright niggardliness by HP

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    Next – one or two places you might have missed.

    As mentioned above – Kenilworth Castle is only a few miles away and rather a different thing altogether. This magnificent ruin is open to the public, - (as my Thai friend observed - "it'll be great when they finish it!") - there is a small shop and some guides. The surrounding area – Abbey Fields is really a pleasant park – quite a nice place for a stroll or a picnic. There are some rather quaint old pubs nearby too.

    Kenilworth is a small town, really a dormitory for Warwick and Leamington, but it has a good park and quite a lot of history. In the centre is a holiday Inn – really a good place to stay for anyone wanting a look around Warwickshire.

    Towns nearby are Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa, Coventry (of Lady Godiva, Jaguar and Triumph fame) Rugby (of Rugby fame), Banbury (of Banbury Cross fame) Birmingham (of Quakers and Chocolate fame)– if you are looking for fame in Leamington it centres around the people who live or lived there.......e.g. Alduous Huxley and Napoleon the Third, and several pop musicians....and Danger man/Prisoner - Patrick McGoohan

    Outside Warwick on the road to Kenilworth is Guys Cliffe – this eerie “Munster Style” house built on the river there is really worth a look – there’s a lot of ghost stories associated with this place which had work done by Arts and Crafts Designer Voysey. It was damaged by fire in the 70s. There's no public access, but the fields around it and along the rive make a great walk. Go to the Saxon Mill restaurant nearby and you can cross the river and walk down the bank opposite to the old house.

    For nightlife in Warwick Leamington or Kenilworth the locals would choose Leamington Spa as the place to go … is really the dominant town of the three.

    To the visitor it offers some well maintained parks and gardens, the river Leam for boating, be sure to check out the pump rooms and find out why it is a Spa town – you might be allowed to taste some of the Spa water – a truly revolting experience!

    Famous people - As I said Alduous Huxley and Napoleon spring to mind – there is a “blue plaque” for Napoleon in Clarendon Square.....Mr Huxley would sooner be forgotten by6 the good people of Leamington. Frank Whittle inventor of th e jet engine went to Leamington College, and the place was once claimed to have more pop musicians per capita than any other town in UK.. Outside the town hall is a statue of Queen Victoria – it was knocked askew on its plinth by a bomb in WW2 – they say if a virgin ever walks by it will right itself! It was not the Queen who gave the town the title of “Royal” that was a visiting Prince. It seems nothing in Leamington is quite as it first appears.
    We did find a good Thai restaurant - “Sabai Sabai” on Regent St has all the usual stuff, plus a few extras if you ask. The proprietor is from Chonburi Province. It is a midrange place with great decor and the most marvelous hi-tech loos. A meal for 4 cost just under 90 quid.
    “Leafy Warwickshire” as it was known has some beautiful countryside; it was devastated by Dutch elm disease in the 70s but has recovered, although not as “leafy” as it used to be, it is still fine rural county with great views.
    To places to visit.
    Chesterton Windmill – this unique (well almost) Georgian windmill designed by Inigo Jones sits on top of a hill surrounded by a classic patchwork English farm scape; wheat-fields, sheep cattle and horses...... you can seethe Malvern hills in the distance and on a really clear day the shadowy forms of the Welsh Mountains. Take a thermos and some “sarnies” for a lovely picnic. Chesterton is also the site of an old Roman fort which guarded the “FOSSE WAY” the old Roman road that runs East/West across UK – (and is still in use!). Part of the old site is now underneath a service area on the M40....... (“chester” in any town name derives from the Latin word for a military camp - “castra”) - I love English town names as they usually refer to the location or some ancient history, rather than duplicating an existing name or referring to some self-inflated man who “founded” the place. (e.g New
    York or Pittsburgh).

    South on the Warwickshire/Oxfordshire border are the Burton Dasset Hills. These have been featured in a few movies – I was surprised to see them in the all time Hollywood classic - “3 men and a baby” - this cluster of hills provides great views, is recognized as a prime site for UFO sightings Try the local Cider or Beer and you'll understand why) and has old stone quarries where you can see fossils in the old rocks.
    History freaks – there is a treat here for you – the Church has ANGLO_SAXON murals – re-discovered in the 60s they are now (hopefully) preserved and on view free of charge. On top of the hills is a stone tower – this you will be told was one of the beacons lit to announce the imminent and unsuccessful invasion by thew Spanish Armada – this is in fact twaddle – it is the remains of a windmill = you might also see the remains of a wooden one that use to stand next to it.

    From here you are only a short drive to the M40 motorway and London......

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    hi khun,

    ahhh - leamingtom spa. a name to conjur with. well, it is for me. it is where my grandparents would take me when I was with them for the day, to go to the park, visit Bobbies[ the department store in the main street] and finish up at the Leamington Fancy Bakery to buy their wonderful cakes for tea. my favourite was a chocolate box - a cube with 6 pieces of chocolate making the sides, and filled with chocolate sponge and icing. delish.

    needless to say there were no Thai restaurants then, just the odd chinese or indian takeaway. but it was still classy place to go and your comments on the attractions of the warwickshire contryside are spot on. one very lovely spot you dodn't mention is the village of Brinklow where the canal goes through - it is a quintissential english village, with pubs and a church, and behind the church a little hill where we used to picnic and then run down to the bottom. It seemed massive to me when i was a child but now it looks like a pimple!

    regards, ann

    I'm looking

    regards, ann

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    Brinklow - yes - lovely place, but I think it's actually in Leicestershire?

    THe canals around the midlands are really a great place for a different kind of holiday and Brinklow has a centre for renting narrow boats.

    Bobbies is gone now - as are all the other wonderful "Grace Brothers" style department stores.
    THere is a mall - of course!

    THere used to be some tea rooms on Regent street with an interior designed by Voysey - pretty sure they got "refurbished".....

    I now have my new computer - but the problem is to work it?!?!?! - then I'll do the bit on London......

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    Motorway service areas – If you choose to drive in The UK, you will inevitably end up stopping at one of these; if only just to fuel up or maybe to use the loos or buy food!!!
    Well I have to tell you, you've missed out; the truly bad days of the service areas are a thing of the past, so if you think what you saw just now was pretty awful think what it must have been like before.
    I guess they've changed the system whereby companies leased the whole area and any money they made was duly taken off them in rents which increased with profits.
    I now see that “chill serve” and designer coffee are the order of the day, with companies like “Marks & Sparks getting in on the act. They're still not cheap but at least someone cleans the toilets.
    It still seems that in order to fit in in one of these places, you have to wear a shell-suit ; this pinnacle of sartorial elegance seems to be the prevalent mode of dress for British when not at work – whole families parade about in matching blue and white...or for the more adventurous – metallic pink and white. There's just something incongruous about a 75 year old overweight granny in track-suit and trainers........

    By now the weather was getting quite warm......the trip down the motorway took about an hour and we headed for Olympia where I was going to get rid of the car.
    I really can't think of a reason for having a car in London – except perhaps for getting out of the place – it will end up a millstone round your neck.....London is the one place in the UK where public transport rules and the systems are actually quite good. Besides that, there is a charge (8 quid per day?) for bringing a car into central London and parking is difficult and the cost astronomical.

    We dropped off the car –

    (BTW – navigating a car in London isn't that bad so long as you know whether you're heading North South East or est or which town your going to as the signing for this is pretty good – remember to get in the correct lane too!)

    I'd got the car on one-way rental from Deathrow, which actually only cost a little extra drop-off fee. Booking on the net I also got a free model upgrade.

    It is a continual source of irritation that all rental companies charge extra to take the car to mainland Europe – this really is inexcusable price gouging.......a similar practice regarding mobile phones and roaming has just received a lot of bad publicity resulting in reduction of fees – perhaps the car-hire firms should take note.

    Back to London – our hotel was in Earls Court/South Kensington just a short ride by taxi (10 quid) which gave my friend the opportunity to clock up the experience of riding in a London cab....I adopted my best London “cock-a-nee” accent so he would understand me(!?!?) and Yes!!... The cabby was chatty...and pleasant and helpful; when he/we experienced a little difficulty finding the hotel, he volunteered to stop the meter and round the price down to 8 quid, so I “bunged 'im a cockle (CRS = tenner) leaving 'im a deuce for a drink”.. ...and he still carried some bags up the “apples” to reception.

    Bit about the hotel – Base2Stay – The Hotel is one of the new breed of “Compact yet Bijou” Hotels; A twin room was 130 quid per night.

    I chose the place for various reasons;'s really close to both Earls Court and Gloucester Road tubes. Earls court is also on the Piccadilly line and a direct service to Deathrow.

    The rooms although small are fitted to a high standard. They have flat screen TV (the Hoteliers dream – a TV that doesn't take up space) internet on the TV and connection for your laptop.

    The en suite shower is a REAL power shower in a large room, with nice white fluffy towels and quality shampoo, gel etc.

    It has cooking facilities in the room – a kitchenette with microwave,kettle, sink fridge, crockery and cutlery etc... this was particularly useful for us as there was a Thai supermarket just round the corner (I kid you not!) so we could stock up on “mama” and other Thai snacks.

    The hotel realises that to get a room cheaply in London doesn't mean it has to be shabby, and the compactness only reflects the sky-high value of real estate in London.

    If you are not a tidy person, you might find a prolonged stay in this kind of hotel gets a bit cramped and messy, but for us it worked well, especially as we were to spend very little time in the room. A lot of care has been taken in designing the room every bit of space is utilised there's even storage under the beds for your cases...i would have liked more hanging space.

    For 189 quid we could have stayed at the Holland Park Hilton, another ggreat location, but that extra 50 quid a day can pay for a lot of admissions and meals, especially over a 5 day period.

    Over the past few days, I had noticed that my friend was getting more relaxed and confident in this “crazy farang” country. Shopping, language and day to day needs were proving to be a less daunting prospect as time went by.......but there's always a surprise in store......

    As we had arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon, I suggested that we “get stuck in” to the tourist thing and go to the nearby museums for the remainder of the day and then check out some local nosh. We left the hotel and walked up the road towards Earls Court tube – on approaching the pedestrian crossing opposite the station, my hand was grabbed - “I cross road with you!” - this was the first time this had happened....buses thundered past, sirens wailed, horns honked and motorbikes roared, the pavements thronged with a busy cosmopolitan crowd...this was unlike anything we had encountered in the previous 2 weeks...and my friend was clearly in a state of “sensory overload”!

    Not to worry – I had lived I London and knew the ropes.....but next it was going to be my turn for a bit of a shock.....
    I confidently lead my friend across the road and into the, tickets......where to get and HOW?
    Let me explain...I used the Tube every day for years and was one of those people you see, head down, charging through the crowds ….. knows exactly where they're going, walks or even runs up escalators instead of standing still and treats other less confident passengers with the distain so typical of a local towards confused the tables were about to be turned...

    I'd done some research and was planning to get some form of travelcard but not until the next day, for now a quick single would suffice......
    First, I took a “butchers” at the machines – a whole wall of slots and LEDs...that would take some time to figure. I then saw a row of windows marked “Tickets & Information”. I followed the empty queuing system and zig-zagged towards a window from which a ticket officer watched my progress.

    I mustered my best London accent;

    “Two to Sowf Ken please, mate” (this is ONE stop on the District line)
    “single or return?”
    “Oh, ummm, return please – bin on me plates all day - too much current abaat to be trudging araand the old frog today eh? don't fink me scotches will take much more!”
    “That'll be £11.40”
    “HOW MUCH?” - my air of confidence dissolved revealing confusion and disbelief.
    “You haven't been in London for a while have you?” (well at least the local accent appeared to have worked)

    “about 10 years” I confessed.

    He explained something about zones and being valid for 24 hours in zones 1 & 2.....actually he explained it very clearly in a clear and friendly manner with no sign of impatience at my apparent total ignorance. I was just too tired and confused to take it all in at that time. Anyhow – what the hell – I paid with my card and just as my bravado was returning, I realised I had no idea where to go next.......
    He must have read the look on my “boat”
    “Over there and follow the signs for District east - Upminster.............” - still calm and reassuring. l ”scarpered” feeling not a complete twit. Next time I'd use me “loaf”.


    Let me take time out here to say something about the Staff, customer service and information service in London – or even the rest of UK too.

    I live in Thailand where customer service is non existent, or at least only skin deep – in Thailand they are all mouth and no trousers. In UK I found evidence of enormous bulging trousers, full of competence, training and knowledge. It was a constant source of delight to me throughout the whole trip to ask questions and get an intelligent, coherent answer from someone who actually knew what they were talking about.

    Now I know some people will put their hands up here and say things like language problems etc etc but basically I speak reasonable thai and and you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.....if they don't know the answer or haven't been trained, no amount of smiling is going to tell you what train you need or when the
    castle opens etc etc.

    It is fairly obvious that anyone who works in London and is likely to come into contact with tourists has received some pretty comprehensive training. You can ask ANY member of staff on the underground for train info or directions and the chances are they can help. Most of them seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of timetables, and those who don't can direct you CLEARLY to someone who does.

    It was SO REFRESHING! I felt like making up extra questions just to see how far I could stretch their knowledge. I also spent as much time as I could eavesdropping on others asking for information – the language problem didn't seem to phase them at all.

    It's hard to be polite at the end of a shift when someone asks you the 500th stupid question of the day. But most of the people we encountered were still able to give a well informed civil answer – this takes discipline and training.

    “They're right behind you ,sir, you're standing in the doorway”
    “Oh, sorry, thanks”
    No problem,sir...need anything else, just ask”

    It's not just the transport workers either, I think in general Londoners are proud of their city (and the money they make out of it) and are keen to show how much they know and share that knowledge with visitors

    It makes me all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.......

    I think it's not just that they have improved, it's also in contrast to the last decade or more spent in Thailand and even Australia where these skills either don't exist or are in their infancy....and also I'd forgotten how back in the 70s and 80s various campaigners (e.g. Plain English etc) rid the UK of the legions of “Jobsworths” that accumulate in such places as large Transport Companies and Government Offices.

    So how does this affect the average visitor to London? Well just ASK.....anyone who's wearing a peaked hat or a uniform, taxi driver, traffic warden, Bobby, or a store assistant, gardener anyone who looks as if they work locally and you'll be surprised how helpful they can be......

    OK it wasn't ALL a bed of roses there were exceptions – some were quite brilliant in their ineptitude, but an exception only proves the rule and I feel that any visitor to London should go head and ASK “don't be shy – just try”.

    Other observations about the London underground – there was a lot of “maintenance “ going on at the time. On one Sunday a whole line and sections of others were completely shut down. Well it has to be done, and I guess disrupting tourism actually costs less than disrupting the other businesses of London.

    The toilets – all UK toilets were until recently a source of utter shame to the nation – whether it was the influx of cheap labour from the new EU countries and elsewhere or just the realisation that you can't be respected if you have dirty toilets, I can only guess, but the result is a huge improvement in the standard of cleanliness in public toilets – especially in their Underground. It was the Victorians who introduced the public toilet; constructing porcelain palaces, with brass fittings and white ceramic bowls designed by companies with names like “Crapping & Son”....sadly they are mostly gone – I believe there is a guide to what remains, but now the main problem with toilets in London is there aren't enough of them.

    Foreign Language signage – throughout UK this is really pretty poor – but then there is always the question of what languages do you sign in? I think a little research might reveal a need for more signs in Chinese, Japanese and even Russian,,,these are the areas that the new tourist money is coming from. Lots of the major tours and attractions did however supply commentaries in a wide range of languages – I hope they are translated better than the efforts of Thailand to write/broadcast in English.

    An example of poor service – The shop assistant near Parliament square who didn't know where Big Ben was.......... but prize for complete apathy must go to the waiter in Dartmouth restaurant on the quayside, who, when asked a few questions about the menu, replied
    “Look I just take orders....I don't know what goes into it or what its like” and walked off......


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    Brinklow - yes - lovely place, but I think it's actually in Leicestershire?>>

    nope, Khun - definitely Warwickshire - my granny was born there. but I agree with the rest. it was threatened recently by the proposed new midland airport but fortunately they drew back. there would have been blood split!

    i love your description of you trying to be a local again - it's just what I do when I go back, with equal success. I even tried to pay my fare with money on a bus! fancy that.

    looking forward to more,

    regards, ann

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    So the mysteries of the Tube put to one side, we went off to catch a museum before they closed.
    The Natural History was chosen. ( )

    Every English (even British?) school-kid has at some time been on a school trip to these Museums. The brainchild of Henry Cole and Prince Albert who decided to set up a “science Park” in a run down part of London – Brompton – what a great idea – bring together all the Arts and Sciences so that EVERYONE could catch a glimpse, show off Britain's wealth to the world and do a bit of urban regeneration at the same changing the name to South Kensington..... (and giving some work to my great uncle to boot – he was involved in the design of V&A). everyone's a winner!

    You have to marvel at these museums......not just the contents, but the buildings and interior fittings – everything is palatial...they are a true monument to everything good and bad about the Victorians. Free and open to all, they are a monument to or in the case of the Natural history Museum, a Cathedral of, democracy.....stuffed with treasures from all over the world they are also monuments to Empire and the way the Brits wandered around the planet and grabbed whatever they could lay their hands on and took it home.

    The negatives aside these places are truly wondrous – forget about stomping through the Amazon, people STILL discover new species of animal hidden away in the drawers of the limitless collections stored within the walls of the Natural History museum! - these establishments are not just monuments they are functioning institutions still on the cutting edge of their fields.

    Ok – there has been a little “dumbing down” or thinning out of the displays...or at least it has not totally escaped “Disney-fication” but the iconic stuff is all there – T-rex, whales and creepy-crawlies (including a sad wasp whose bum had fallen off and rested ignominiously in the corner of his case). I still remember opening drawers in cabinets and gazing on hundreds of butterflies impaled in glorious patterns in their cases. The Victorian collecto-mania that peaked at the turn of the century was responsible not only for these collections but also for the extinction or near extinction of several exotic species of insects and other animals.

    If you took all the exhibits out of the Natural history Museum, I'd still go there just to marvel at the Gothic architecture.

    Round the corner, the science Museum - - encased in a solid Neo-classical style building was unfortunately closed by the time we left the NHM. It would have to wait for another day, as would my personal favourite the V&A. - -

    In the end we never got to see the science museum but did go to the V&A. I'd recommend this place to anyone who simply wants a break from the madding crowd. Much less crowded than the Natural History, the place is a dimly lit temple to Art and Design. Groups of waif-like girl students drift about with sketchpads and murmur to each other; presumably about such things as light, texture and proportion. Old academic-looking gents gaze wistfully at stone genitals protruding from a Greek statue, we look for the Thai exhibits – only to be rather disappointed to find only a couple of cases in a corner of the S.E. Asia corridor where Thai artefacts rub shoulders with their “Khmer” neighbours. Something they find hard to do at home. A lot of the furniture seemed to be “on loan” and my enthusiasm for the Arts & Crafts movement wasn't shared by my friend who started to look a bit I curtailed my enthusiasm and suggested lunch.....I left disappointed I hadn't seen more, but I wasn't sure whether that was because of work going on, it wasn't on display anymore or that I just hadn't looked hard enough.....i found it rather unclear when it came to navigation there.

    BTW – the souvenir shop is wonderful – really “Hi-So” stuff!!

    Look just because these places are free, don't underestimate them; they are some of the greatest treasure houses in the world....and if you include the Art Galeries...Tate, National gallery etc you could easily O/D on culture! Firenze is the only other place in the world I can think of where this might happen.
    It's not only the contents but the displays and the architecture that are interesting too.

    However if you want to see a museum beautifully preserved in it's original Victorian form, you'll need to go to Oxford to the Pitt Rivers museum. - - ....a rare treat!

    One little place that deserves a mention if you are into everyday “objects of desire” is the Design Museum on the South Ban it's not free but a lovely collection and great exhibits.

    Our first day in london and by 8 pm we were “cream-crackered”. - Some mama for my friend and a hot pie from M&S for me and that was it for the day – I fell asleep in front of the flat-screen TV.

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    The Tube......
    The subway in london is called the “underground” - but everybody calls it the TUBE – if you go to the older or deeper stations you'll see why.

    The next day we were to get down to serious sightseeing. But, before doping this it would be necessary to sort out the tickets. I'd had a chat with the guys in the newsagent at earls Court the night before and was getting some pointers. I'd also spent some time on the net. Essentially it looked like we were going to need a 4 day travel card which would likely as not cover all our travel needs. In the end we did something a little different.

    We bought Oyster cards with 20 quid each on them – this came to 23 quid including the deposit. Oyster will round of your days travel to the max discount so they work out the same as a travel card – which you can put on an Oyster anyway.......we also bought 2 tickets for a topless bus....this allows you 24 hours to get on and off any of the bases owned by them and you get a riverboat rip thrown in too. Cost 24 quid each.
    There is a veritable maze of different discounts and tickets on offer – you could spend hours ion the net trying to work out which is best for you – in the end you could end up restricting where you can travel or how or at what time........

    So I'm sure someone can recommend another way of saving a couple of quid here and there but for the sake of simplicity and user friendliness - ….. I'd recommend that if you are going to spend more than a day in London and it looks like you'll be travelling about a bit –
    get and Oyster card.
    They work for Tube and bus and a few other things too. They can be pre-paid just about anywhere, in shops at stations in cash, by card – slots for cash and cards in the stations or over the counter in a shop.....and the beautiful thing is, once set up all you need to do is touch a yellow disk with your card when you pass through a tube barrier or get on a bus.......and you can get on and off wherever you like – i.e. if like us you find yourself travelling in the wrong direction – no problem!

    When you leave you can return it and get your deposit back and a limited refund on your top-ups (large amounts take time). But quite frankly if you ever intend to return to London, why not keep it? Or simply keep it as a souvenir – mine came in a plastic wallet with an advert for IKEA – a firm that hasn't penetrated Thailand yet.....(I wish they would though!

    It's worth noting that you can sort out your Oyster Card etc on the Net BEFORE you arrive in London.

    OK – here are some web addresses for transport in London -

    Guide in Various languages.
    Oyster Card....

    visitor Oyster cards....

    Travel Card....
    1 and 3 day


    ...a useful selection of Maps – download and print if you want.....and journey planner.

    I love the London Tube – some of it is really deep! I love the way a wind rushes up the platforms and passageways pushed by the trains as they zoom along the tubes...And the whole place is full of ….. stuff! There seems to be a hushed almost studious atmosphere there and a sense of constant earnest motion....the crowd is about the most mixed and cosmopolitan you'll ever see - people watching is well rewarded here – the self-absorbed make their way to and from work, gaggles of kids laugh and joke, buskers play, pickpockets “hang out”, groups of foreign tourists peer at maps, security watch out for suspicious packages, down-and-outs shuffle and mumble.....reading a book or newspaper is definitely “de rigeur” - smoking is now banned – I once watched a rather distinctive (American?)man sitting opposite me reading a newspaper and holding a giant Romeo and Juliet cigar, of which he didn't take one single drag for several stops...I felt like leaning over and and reminding him it was still there!!!! ..... and then as if to make it more absurd he reached into his pocket, pulled out a packet of “Gaulloise” took one out, lit it and smoked it.

    Along the corridors buskers play – to who? I'm not would stop and listen so you hear them only for a moment – I had a theory that if you could play any instrument for about 3 minutes and no more, that would be sufficient to earn a living on the Underground. Not so I fear – I suspect that to get one of these jealously guarded pitches you have to be a musician of some ability or at least well connected.I saw a huge range of instruments too – a harp – not a lyre or a folk instrument but a fully-fledged harp, guitars, violins, violas, cellos, double bass, accordions, clarinet and bagpipes....I didn't see trumpet or trombone – perhaps they are simply too loud for the echoey subways. However I did note that many use electronic amplification and effects....i also din't notice anyone playing the spoons – I guess you have to go to Covent Garden for that.

    Advertising on the Tube has followed the same conventions for decades – it's rather nice – they have small pleasantly framed ads on the walls all the way up and down the escalators advertising anything from shows to bras – (or was I looking at the same thing?); then opposite the platforms, large posters advertise usually shows, exhibitions and movies – I noticed that the new Tarantino film doesn't have the title on the posters!....heaven forbid that after gazing at bra after bra I should get the terrible come-down of seeing the word “bast**d” misspelt in giant letters before me.

    .. In the carriages themselves small ads are placed along the frieze – usually for employment agencies, language schools the middle is a map of the single line the train is travelling so you can see exactly when to get off – so long as you remember your station name. All of these ads wherever they are are interspersed with the map of the Underground which is a work of art in itself and the “Mother of All Subway Maps”.
    It's so clear and easy to understand - a work of design genius....a 4 year old child could could understand it...”run out and find me a 4 year old child” etc etc...

    As the train stops and the automatic doors open a voice tells you to “mind the Gap” at some stations where a slightly larger step is required to dismount. It reminded me of a wonderful Horror Movie (Blood Line?) I saw in 1974 starring Donald Pleasance where a monster dwelt in the underground and the only thing he could say was “Mind the Doors!” - you wouldn't want ever to be alone in a Tube station after seeing that movie!

    Back in the sunlight, we soon found that by keeping an eye on which bus numbers were going past, it was quite easy to jump on and off the buses for those short fact I think my friend quite enjoyed being able to hop on a bus and simply touch the Oyster card on the yellow disc and then hop off as and when the mood dictated.

    That leaves the Topless bus – well, we decided to spend at least half of the day on that – as it happened we realised that for the centre of London it's quite a good alternative to the regular buses and trains. You do get a good view – if you get an outside seat and plenty of photo opportunities. In the afternoon after some frenzied sightseeing in Central London we took the boat on the Thames; the trip was fine – a great “Cockney Commentary” from the crew with one or two innuendoes that sailed over the head of my companion and the other non-native English speakers......we took the boat to Greenwich........I was trying to explain the “Zero” longitude line and the division between East and West...but it didn't seem to be working – anyhow we managed to straddle he Hemispheres at the Observatory before it shut. On returning back through the park I noticed there was a “THAI FESTIVAL” going on at Greenwich that day – I'm afraid I couldn't find any part of it.......this is a shame as the Thai guitarist Sek Loso who I'd met once before was performing and I'd like to have said “hello” again - but sadly this was not to happen.

    One thing about the topless bus though – if the weather is bad – and it often is – you might just as well use your Oyster card to do the trip and see it through the upstairs window of an ordinary double-decker.

    Well that's about it for getting about....but what did we actually look at??

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    I suspect that to get one of these jealously guarded pitches you have to be a musician of some ability or at least well connected>>>>

    Nah. You just have to apply and pass an audition, which is really just to keep the loonies out. You then get one of the pitches for a certain amount of time. If you try and play anywhere else you'll get nicked.

    BTW - I'd pay good money to go on a topless bus! We call them open-topped buses to avoid any confusion.

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    Oyster cards and Tourist London

    After a good night's kip, we ventured out quite early to Earls Court tube station to purchase our Oyster cards and “Big Bus” tickets.....we got these from the newsagent at the station; I pre-payed 20 quid on the Oyster cards (plus a 3 pound deposit) and paid another 24 for the Bus ticket.......we were advised to get the bus from Victoria...although this isn't really necessary as you can get on and off anywhere for 24 was great too being able to just hop on and off buses wherever we like and dart into any tube station without having to worry about queuing or buying tickets.......the next few days would be the touristic crescendo of our trip.....

    August in London is not really what London looks like for the rest of the year – the usual denizens of the City and govt offices have shut up shop and gone -they know what is going to happen – a city usually full of suit clad, brief-case carrying business people suddenly changes, the streets clog with khaki short clad tourists like bondage victims they struggle under the straps a collection of miniature luggage; of camera bags, hand bags, fanny-bags bum-bags, back packs, bottle holders, waterproof coat bags, umbrella bags and even bags to put other bags in – lost property offices swell with dis-owned and mislaid bags – there must also be a whole department for the brains that people seem to leave behind when they step onto the streets.......groups of loud check golfing trousered Japanese, the women sporting ever larger peaked sun-hats, overweight Americans crushing their 200 dollar trainers and bursting their Lacoste sweat-shirts, packs of foreign school kids taking a course in English language and shoplifting, Eastern Europeans with a dress code that seems to be based on the brothels of Miami – so much for their TV service.......these crowds don't move with the same purpose as a normal London workforce crowd, they dither and swirl....stand in and block doorways discussing where to go next......step out into the traffic forgetting high direction it is coming from......peer quizzically and plates of food in restaurants, and photograph everything – I get the impression that some folk don't actually see anything of Britain when they are there, it's only when they get back to their home country and download the photos that they actually see what they were standing in front of....

    this is the multi-ethnic, polyglot maelstrom into which we plunged......


    Day 1 – This was intended to be largely orientational; the bus trip would give us an overview of central London. My friend had a few ideas about places to visit but not really a lot so I though maybe on the bus we would see some places to return to later. –
    a visitor to London may have heard of many of the sights, but putting them in context and trying to make out an itinerary is a different matter.

    If you're staying in London for any length of time, you might consider buying an London A to Z street map – it contains the minutest details and is available in a range of sizes – you'll need your reading glasses for some of the smaller streets – a cheap fold-out map will give you a better overview and you could use this to crayon in the places you want to see. I regard all these maps as disposable after the trip or at best souvenirs – my A to Z cost about 6 quid.
    The bus was great, I spent a lot of time watching my friend just to see the change of expressions as we looked down on the Streets of London we got off at Piccadilly - packed with tourists – and made our way to Chinatown, where we bought a large bowl of noodles each – advertised outside at ₤3.80, we were told after we'd eaten that was the price for take-away, eating in was an extra 20 pence. (UK takeaway food is not subject to VAT)

    Back on the bus we entered Trafalgar square, I thought ihere was a good place to get off and do some photo shoots.....
    … is difficult to get a photo of Landseer's lions due to the large numbers of people crawling all over them......the lions didn't seem to mind though.....

    (If you wonder why they keep reminding you of dogs, it's because they are sitting in an anatomically incorrect pose for Lions)

    From Trafalgar we headed off on foot for a while. We stopped and looked at the horse guards. In my day they were stationed, mounted on their steeds in large boxes, but at present they have moved inside, ….outside some major roadworks not only made it impossible for the guards but it made entry pretty difficult too.

    I think it is wonderful how the public are allowed into really close proximity with these guys – who I realised for the first time are little more than boys – teenagers looking nervously back at the crowd, some of whom don't seem to realise that inside each uniform is a real person. You can actually stand either side of one poor guard who has to stand motionless whilst groups of tourists stand, giggle and pose all around him – I'm sure his boots were a size too big – he didn't look an inch over 5 foot 3!

    However, I witnessed another over-curious tourist get his comeuppance – in a corner of the yard, a guard was standing unmounted near a “private” entrance – the tourist seeing a good photo opportunity was edging closer and closer. This guard was not remaining stationary – every time someone got near he would quickly turn his head in their direction and sometimes stamp his foot – clearly it was not advisable to get too near....however this particular tourist was oblivious to all this body language and posturing and crept closer and closer - nearly fell over backwards when the soldier's voice ripped through the air

    “GET BACK!” - he screamed!

    The whole crowd turned to see this very abashed tourist making a hasty retreat.

    It reminded some of us that they weren't manikins or ornaments at all, but real soldiers! Gay, maybe – but soldiers nonetheless.

    After our brush with the military, we had a brief stroll around the Horse guards' Parade and then carried on until we ended up at Parliament square.....

    Big Ben – dominates this areas of London – or rather the clock-tower - which has come by default to be referred to as Big Ben - does – Big Ben is in fact the Bell inside the got to be one of the most photographed buildings in the world; as part of Barry's (and Pugin's) delightful exercise in Victorian Gothicism, the Houses of Parliament (or Palace of Westminster), it stands for a lot more than accurate time – England is the mother of parliaments and here is the symbol of democracy that the nation spawned. I hope, watching the crowds milling around it from all over the world, that some of this “spirit” might rub off on them and they might then go home with a little more of an idea what democracy really entails and apply it there. The Victorians with one eye on the future and one one the past, were good at grasping the fine details involved in setting up a democracy, and this is reflected too in their expressed all sorts of optimism and high values.....

    In the past 150 years, Big ben has witnessed bombings, blasts, shootings,rocket attacks, riots and demonstrations, the passage of kings, governments and prime ministers and still it tolls throughout the world every hour on the world just goes to show you don't have to be the biggest, tallest or even the most expensive or prettiest to be one of the most familiar pieces of architecture in the world to be famous.

    Across the river from Big ben a relatively new London icon can be seen – the London Eye hangs precariously over the Thames it's strange geometry gives it a gravity-defying of the few “must-dos” on my companion's list. Very much an underdog at the time on Britain's list of millennium projects, it has proved to be just about the most popular and successful in the long run. I wouldn't recommend a “flight” as they call it on the great wheel at the beginning of a visit – I think it might be better to see some of the sights close up first and then take a gander at them from the Eye. It was decided to do the Eye the next day.......

    Anyhow this was what we chose to do, so as mentioned before we took the river trip included in our “Big Bus” ticket. There was still enough time left in the day to get to Greenwich..... We got some great photos of the Thames, the banks, bridges and the traffic. Unlike many big city rivers I could mention, the Thames is not so polluted, the water is in constant motion so it's full of sediment and looks muddy and “uninviting”, but appearances can be deceptive, even trout and salmon have been caught there. Of course the fact that London is no longer a major port and all the docks are now trendy apartments helps a lot.

    We also got to see/photograph The Tower from the river, the “Gherkin”, Canary Wharf and of course Tower Bridge. (I wonder if those US businessmen are still kicking themselves for buying the wrong bridge in the early '70s? – the story goes they thought they were buying Tower Bridge rather than the much older London Bridge - “som-nam-naa” as they say in Thailand.).

    In the mean time my Aussie psychoanalyst had come to London too and was SMSing me from a Dali exhibition on the South Bank – a fitting meeting of minds?.........we couldn't get back in time for the exhibition but we met up for dinner.

    My “local” Thai supermarket had recommended an Issan restaurant in Shepherd's Bush – this HAD to be tried.

    For those of you not familiar with Thailand, Issan is the largely rural North eastern Region of the Kingdom; amongst other things, it is famous for it's really hot/spicy foods and sticky rice.....Dishes such as Laab - spicy salad, Som-Tam poo para– spicy papaya salad with fermented fish sauce and pickled crabs, and Yam Pla-Duc Foo – spicy fried "fluffy" catfish salad are typical of this region......Issan food is to me what bells are to Pavlov's dogs.

    My friend and I could hardly wait!
    About a half a kilometre's walk from Shepherd's Bush tube is “Isarn Tieaw” (approximation) Thai friend and I met my Psychoanalyst at the Tube, he had brought along and old friend. So we set out for our meal.

    It became apparent that we were going to have problems when my Psychoanalyst's friend chirped up “What's Issan food – I hope it's not spicy”. The ordering took ages – I suggested chicken and cashew nuts – nice and simple - “Mae Sai prik” don't put any chilli in it - the blandest thing on the menu – as this guy went through the menu and debated every dish with the staff.....

    “You see in England nowadays we only eat breast of Chicken off the bone” - he explained. (I wondered what the hell we did with the rest of the chicken) …..
    Sticky rice? - “NO”

    …....Steamed rice? - ”Oh no! I couldn't eat rice without you have fried? Is the chicken off the bone and breast” -

    this was turning into a breast fetish – my psychoanalyst friend was beginning to take note......well, the staff did their best – I think they probably ordered out for his dish – and the rest of us had a passable Thai meal. (Soggy Som-tam though). As Thai meals are generally eaten communally from the centre of the table, this guy sat in the corner carefully guarding his breasts of chicken did rather give the whole event a restrained atmosphere. Anyway my thai friend got another fix of friendly food.
    Finally, at the end of the meal our new friend stood up and said.....

    “Well that wasn't very memorable, I shan't be eating Thai again”

    I felt like pointing out he hadn't really eaten Thai – he's just satiated a breast fetish in a Thai restaurant – quite a different thing.

    For my friend and I it was Tube and back to our hotels beds.

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    there must also be a whole department for the brains that people seem to leave behind when they step onto the streets.>>

    oh how true, and not just in london.

    this is not a new phenomenon - when I worked in london during my university summer vacations, what seems like a life-time ago, working one's way along Oxford Street was a real education. in the end i got quite ruthless, elbowing them out of my way with abandon.

    your story about your "friend" who didn't want "hot" food in the Thai restaurant is a hoot - we have the same problem with my mother! though she is NOT hung up about chicken breast. and since when have people in england not eaten chicken on the bone?

    still loving your report.

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    "I felt like pointing out he hadn't really eaten Thai – he's just satiated a breast fetish in a Thai restaurant – quite a different thing."

    My absolute pet hate, fussy non adventurous eaters. Stabbings to good for them. OK rant over, carry on. :-)

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    rhkkmk - I'm happy to lay out my views on that - I and I have a HUGE amount of experience in that field - but preferably on either the Thai side of Fodors or another site altogether.

    wellididntknowthat - total agreement there!

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    The next morning we got up quite early and made our way to the London Eye.....another one of Merlin entertainment's attractions - their raking it in from me and my friends - I had been meaning to go on this ever since my cousin had his birthday party on it a few years back and I had been unable to go.

    I had booked tickets on the net – stating an early “flight” time. Furthermore, as it was high season, I spent the extra and got “FAST-TRACK” tickets...... over 24 quid each! I have to say that I'm glad I did – by the time we got there – I think our flight was 10.30 – there was already a huge queue!....but with fast-track we were directed past the lumpen masses huddled on the loading ramps like livestock – and up towards thee wheel. I felt very privileged – in fact I was thinking of giving the “Royal Wave” to the crowd as we passed, but I got too self-conscious forgot how to walk, tripped and fell into the fencing. Karma has a way of pulling you back in line from time to time. Despite the public humiliation, I would recommend the Fast-track ticket especially at high season – it might be an idea to check before you buy though. Don't ask a ticket seller though – they will always advise you tat it's REALLY crowded and you should get the most expensive ticket available.

    So what goes round comes around – it seldom stops – unless it's to let on a slow mover – you get on, you go up round, you go down and you get off – all this for 24 quid?? - Well actually we'd all like things to be cheaper, but I don't regret spending my money on this, even the extra fast-track cash – it really is a wonderful experience – the weather was clear and you could see beyond the limits of London, - strangely though as people circulated around inside the pod, it was the Houses of Parliament that stood could see more London landmarks than you could shake a stick at, but time and again I found myself trying to get that perfect snap of the H.o.P. My guess is that even in poor visibility there would be plenty to entertain whilst doing the can also get a “night flight” which might be nice.....or a sunset one???
    one thing – when taking photos, look out for internal reflection from the glazing – although once I realised what was happening I found you can get some interesting effects with it

    Souvenirs – I cannot return home without about 100 to 150 items to hand out to my staff as souvenirs – even at a pound a time that starts to add up, but it is pretty much unavoidable at work. Consequently I keep an eye out for ultra-cheap mementoes of the places I visit – the London Eye produced pens etc and all sorts of things that were either oval or round. Now I have a bit of a complaint here......It's very hard to get playing cards in Thailand, and London eye sell souvenir packs of oval cards – now when I was a kid you could buy circular cards – I would have thought that of all places to sell them, the London Eye would have been the place, but no sign of them I had to settle for oval cards – they'll do but it just doesn't seem logical – just imagine the ride if the wheel itself was elliptical......

    Just had a thought – sign outside the Wheel “Sorry London Eye closed – for puncture repair” - (only a joke!)

    My Australian psychoanalyst ( No-one has as yet pointed out that it is an oxymoron?) did not make the flight...too early for him to come in from Kingston – he had yet another viewing of the Dali exhibition and we arranged to meet met after lunch.....and then went to meet my friend's sibling who was staying in London for a few days. An employee of an airline there was an entitlement to a little R & R between flights – so we met for lunch.

    A Thai Restaurant again... at Shepherd's Bush again.....this time the Jasmine – it was lunchtime and the place was nearly empty, but the food......oh the transported you back to Thailand – if anywhere we had eaten deserves the title “authentic” then this place does. I asked if they had any Issan food and the chef came out of the kitchen with a big grin on her face “I from Udon Thani!” - it was the best Laab, the best Som Tam etc etc. we had eaten in our whole stay in UK – I was quite happy to pick up the tab.....less than 30 quid for the three of us.

    My friend's sibling was staying at the Holland Park Hilton, so we popped back there to freshen up and then then set of back towards Buckingham Palace. We thought we'd go unannounced. - We couldn't get in - this wasn't a problem; the weather was pretty warm and I wasn't wearing Corgi-proof boots. (I really couldn't bear the thought of those crustless cucumber sandwiches that had been left to curl up in the sun for a few hours) – I'm not even sure if she was in, I forgot to check the flag and couldn't see any of the family hanging out of the windows shouting at the gardeners....

    Britain has a love hate relationship with the monarchy, they love to lampoon, criticise and generally take the mickey, but hate the idea of having a President of something similar. I think my Thai friends were rather taken aback with the apparent lack of respect shown for the monarch, it is of course all part of the democratic system and I think many still store great value in the actual institution itself – the Crown. Perhaps Thailand should chill out and take a leaf out of the UK book in this case. Can you imagine the Thai royal family being portrayed in the same way as the UK family were on Spitting Image in the 80s????

    I noticed that the guards weren't wearing Busbies.......just this because of the reaction against the amount of dead bears it takes to cover a regiment? One brown bear per hat apparently. Or was it simply that it was summer and quite warm?
    It made me wonder how many blondes you have to shave to make the plumes for the horse guards......

    The Army has always said it can't find an artificial substitute that works – but quite frankly at that distance behind the railings they could be made of fibreglass and no-one would know the better. “When I were a lad”, it was different – they stood in sentry boxes in front of the railings where you could get a good poke at them.....if you'd had the forethought to bring a stick that is.....

    If you don't do the tour there's not a lot to keep you around the palace - a few photos - not a very inspired building, I guess the very “low-key-ness” of it also what's best about it – nothing worse than some over-ornate house for a head of state – sends all the wrong messages.

    So we clicked away for a while.....Thai people seem to have adopted the Japanese methodology of taking photographs – this involves running round the world, standing in front of famous landmarks adopting a semi-comic pose – usually this involves framing one's face with thumb and forefinger – and clicking.......this is repeated in various group configurations until everyone is satisfied they have recorded their presence at that particular site – then move on to the next.....
    I get the feeling that if you asked any of these people to describe the famous sites or monuments they had “visited”, they couldn't do it, as they spent their entire holiday with their backs to them all..

    Next a stroll in St James' Park - Many visitors are bowled over by the amount of green spaces right in the middle of London. My companion had even as we planned the trip insisted that a visit to some the parks of London was a must......after a few calls on the mobile we were joined by my psychoanalyst whom I found disentangling himself from a bush he'd tried to photograph at too close quarters and we continued our promenade along the side of the lake. There is even a little nature reserve there.....not a new thing; some birds were presented to the park in the early C19th and there has been a bird-keeper and cottage there ever since.

    Not just the big parks, there are many smaller, quirky parks and gardens to visit; for those who'd like to find out more about the green spaces of London... here's a couple of web addresses to start you off arks/st_james_park/

    After ice creams the park, we moved back off to Parliament Square, hoping to get into Westminster Abbey – unfortunately it was closed, unless you wanted to join in a service. There's a nice piece of greenery by the Thames next to the houses of Parliament, there I found a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst the famous campaigner for women's suffrage....a movement that a lot of my own family were involved. If you look around these parks, you'll find all sorts of wonderful statues to all sorts of people …. some great names of history and others you'd need to research a little to find out about.

    So that was about it for that day, My Thai friends wanted to go to this point my psychoanalyst made his excuses and returned to Kingston, rampant consumerism mixed with snobbery were not his cup of tea......

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    Is it a shop? Is it a theme park? Is it a show?

    Well its a bit of all that's the only shop I know where you can buy souvenirs of the shop when you didn't actually buy anything there.....except the souvenir of course.......

    It's a bit like
    “We didn't see the lions at Longleat, so we bought this stuffed toy instead”
    “I “heart” New York but I bought the T-shirt in Scunthorpe.”

    Known as “AY-RODS” by the locals - It's a great building, with completely OTT interiors and full of amazing people - almost caricatures – it's as if Harrods have hired hundreds of extras to walk round looking like the kind of customers you'd expect to see in their store.......Arab oil millionaires dressed in full jellaba and kaffiyeh, their wives carrying the green bags bulging with bangles and beads bought from the jewellery department....staff dutifully follow with the other purchases.....Sloane rangers – (are they still called that?) armed with nothing but their father's bottomless credit card, hold up miniscule pieces of designer clothing that by weight are worth a million times more than 22 carat gold........”Daddy's going to be SO angry when he sees this” - peels of girlish laughter in pinstriped suits look at all things leather-bound – it doesn't seem to matter what the object is, do long as it's leather-bound.

    “Excuse me, what's this?”
    “it's a toilet-roll holder, Sir.”
    “Is it real leather?”
    “Indeed, Sir”
    “OK, I'll take two please....can you gift wrap them for me?”..........

    intermingled are the tourists – not a penny between them – they've just come to look at the rich and famous shop......

    I did my bit...........I collect Parker I went to the pen department----I saw Cross, Mont Blanc, Sheaffer, Waterman, but no Parker. I approached a “shopwalker” and asked,

    “Where are the Parkers?”
    .........the man's tone of voice belied the withering look I received....

    “I'm sorry Sir but I'm afraid we don't stock Parker....maybe you could try W.H. Smiths?” (I'm SURE that's what he said!).....

    Roughly translated I took this to mean
    “Sling your 'ook you 'orrible little oik, can't you see we only stock POSH pens 'ere?”

    Retaining what dignity I could I strode over to the Moleskine counter and bought myself a new note book.....

    “Are they real leather?”
    “OK, I'll have one anyway”.

    My Thai friends needed Harrods bags – but at 25 quid a throw they weren't impressed – they retreated to the souvenir department – where the Hoi Polloi and impecunious muster to buy a little souvenir of what they couldn't afford......
    Harrods chocolate, ballpoint pens, little teddybears lodged in a small “replica” Harrods bag....something for everyone.........

    “We've just been shopping at Harrods, you know!” least my Harrods bag was free, it came with my “Moleskine”.......I was a genuine customer after all.....wasn't I - ?!?!?

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    lol, khun,

    too funny.

    real people do occasionally shop at harrods I believe, but less and less frequently. the food hall is too expensive, there are better clothes at Harvey nicks, and it's much too full of tourists!

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    My God there's still 2 people reading this!

    It's got awfully long, I missed out a couple of Harrods incidents, the Food dept and the toy dept.....maybe another time.

    Yes - Horrids!!

    The soldiers were at the Tower too......couldn't find out why......

    I'm changing jobs this week so I might get somee time off and finish it off too......

    Not much to go...Tower of London, and a couple of footnotes - shopping and food.

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    I'm still reading--a wonderful treat after day of substitute teaching in 7th and 8th grade. You need to write a book! And do tell about the toy dept and food dept at Harrod's! PLease, pretty please with sugar on it, and please again.

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    PS – Harrods – the Toy Department.....

    I've always loved the Toy department a Harrods – more than Hamley's even..........and there in the middle was my all-time favourite – boyhood obsession....brought to an abrupt halt by puberty and ten rekindled when I hit middle age........some kids were having a go.....they just couldn't do it....I stood by and watched for a bit but it was all too frustrating; in the end I pushed forward, said “Excuse me” reached down and grabbed a controller from the smallest boy's hand – startled he looked up and released his grip instantly.....

    “This is how you do it” I said......smiling and gritting my teeth at the same time...

    Spent the next 10 minutes fending off all opposition, sons , fathers - none could outclass KhunWilkhamilton!!! - even some shoppers and a couple of shop-walkers stopped to see what was going on.......

    I then saw the young lad whose controller I had taken approaching with someone who could only have been his father.....time to go.

    I'm sorry but I simply can't bring myself to relate the fish in the food hall....anyway it was a long time ago and not on this wasn't my fault anyway......

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    As Patrick different regiments have the honour of guarding. When they change you get the oddity off the Gurkas (short Eastern guys in bent brimed hats) handing over to Guards ( large mainly european sized with tall furry hats)

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    Next day...
    Tower of London. -

    Well it couldn't all be a bed of roses........the Tower was, as it has historically been for so many who ended up there, the low point of the trip........I guess we should count ourselves lucky at least we entered and came out again.......but those unfortunates who didn't, didn't have to pay, did they? - Well not in cash....

    There's something about the whole organisation of the Tower that is just not right....I get the impression, they have the attitude that they are the TOWER and consequently don't need the help and advice of others – they have the crown jewels and the history......the litany of the famous, infamous and the downright unlucky, so what do they need with any of this new-fangled stuff like “interpreters” crowd management, display consultants....etc etc.?

    A bit of research on the net, common sense, and a Beefeater all suggested that if we were going to see the Tower, we should arrive as early as possible. I could have but didn't pre-purchase tickets on the net – I would recommend in high season that is a good idea. I agreed to go ahead early to get the tickets and my 2 Thai friends would meet me half an hour before opening.

    On Sundays and Mondays the place doesn't open until 10, on other days it's 9 am......but neither do the ticket offices so a queue starts to form about an hour before opening.....

    The British are wonderful at queuing -it is almost an art form – it is certainly an important part of the countries social fabric, unfortunately many of the visitors are not British so queue jumping and general inappropriate behaviour is common-place.
    I really think it would be a good idea to open the ticket booths a bit earlier so at least some would have tickets and be ready when the Tower itself opened.
    If you pre-booked your tickets you could collect them from a nearby office....whether that opened earlier or not I was unable to check....I was wrestling with the “bootless and unhorsed” to maintain my place in the queue........”Excuse me, this is a queue” - To most people that is a fairly fatuous expression merely stating the obvious, to a British person it is loaded with meaning – even menace.......anyway it had little or no effect here.
    After an hour and a bit of queuing and watching people fumbling with strange (to them) money, having credit cards rejected (“the Bank of Нигде-stan has refused your card, Sir) - I was rewarded with my tickets.

    My Thai friends had arrived seen me in the queue - “Oh, you here already, we have coffee”...OK they brought me one after a while, but I don't queue well and the whole thing was getting on my nerves....this was the first and only attraction where I felt the queuing was unreasonably organised.

    Armed with the tickets i urged my friends onwards towards the gate – I ignored their pleas for toilet or any pause whatsoever......”You can go in the Tower” - Before entering we look behind us and see the crowd approaching a wave of people is about 100 yards behind us.......on entry we stopped against my wishes to buy a rather heavy-looking guide book – I hurried my friends along – no stopping to look at anything – straight to the crown jewels......

    Once inside the pressure was off – you are paraded past the gold and silver and jewellery that has formed part of British pomp and ceremony for years.........I still think its understated beauty is its main attraction – when one sees these, it makes one realise how gaudy are the baubles bangles and beads that other countries display around the world that have clearly either imitated of or been inspired by these “originals”.....but I have a problem with the display – low light – OK if that is needed for conservation – but this linear approach – these are all the maces, these are all the crowns – could we not have then arranged in a more meaningful way – we are in an ever-thickening crowd and it really is getting more and more difficult to to anything but “go with the flow” of the traffic.

    I have to say that I think this sudden display of incredible wealth and al things shiny, somewhat caught my thai friends off- guard – gold is a very respected commodity in Thailand and I don't think they expected to see quite so much of it in one place.

    After a short while we emerged blinking into the bright light of day. By now we were all busting for a pee – my friends still seemed puzzled by my haste to get to the crown jewels – I showed them the entrance now....a queue stretched from the entrance to the Crown Jewels and backed up for about 200 yards. If you don't get in early, you'll just be part of an endless long crawling line that drifts past the exhibits with no opportunity to stop and really look.
    I do think that the Tower should take a look at this and take measure to break up this queue – either allow sessions inside the rooms or is not satifacroy a present...neither in my opinion is the rest of the Tower.

    The guide book we bought,although a great souvenir was useless on the day – it was too big too heavy and not well organised at all – we needed a concise guide and map – well I couldn't find one – maybe we overlooked it – but then again that sort of thing should be well displayed and available everywhere.
    There really was no sense of cohesion in the tower....there were the towers and a few rooms here and there but nothing to bring it all together – it was just a series of disconnected exhibits that you may or may not understand, but any context or meaning was either lost or obscure.

    Signing – With age comes glasses – for reading that is......I get very frustrated in restaurants that keep the lighting to a minimum and then present you with a menu with miniscule writing and on an art-filled least then I'm sitting down and ca get out my reading glasses and continue to order........but come on!THe Tower of London is not some chic restaurant for the young, it is open to one and all – including the hyperopic!

    There was a lot of restoration going on may well be that this had to bee done in high season.....but I was left to wonder if a bit of forethought could have avoided so much of the place being a work-sight.

    The tale of the “Princes in the Tower” was made a lot of and they did indeed admit to some extent that there is no strong evidence to suggest it was anything more than a piece of propaganda made popular by Shakespeare – but at the end they had installed some bizarre voting machine where the now particularly ill-informed public could vote whether they believed the story or not.....I'm not sure but despite the evidence to the contrary they seemed to be voting Yes – true. I think we can draw more insight from that into the general attitude of today's public, than any historical knowledge......

    So I felt I was wandering around aimlessly, left to peer at signs here and there and try ad work out what was going on......and really not that much – I did however find one little corner that made me happy.....tucked away near the gents toilets was a “Butt of Malmsey” or rather a replica and an explanation.

    Anyone who has read “1066 and all that” will remember that there are a lot of references to the “Butt” in that book. I was never really sure what it was – it seems it was a kind of fifteenth century form of water-boarding – except usually fatal; Malmsey being a sweet Madeira wine. The Duke of Clarence was drowned in a butt of Malmsey in that very room (allegedly) near the gents! Apparently of his own choice – maybe he thought he could drink his way out......better than the other options I would guess... (hanging drawing and quartering or beheading) – nice of them to offer him a choice really -

    “Hmmmm, I think I'll take the Butt of Malmsey”
    “OK Drowning by Butt of Malmsey it is then.....take him away. Igor!”

    This story unlike the Princes in the Tower, is quite possibly true! Although beheading and subsequent pickling of the body in alcohol for transport purposes is also a possibility.

    Well my friends seemed to enjoy themselves, standing in front of whatever and smiling back at the camera....

    ”What is this?”
    “It's a screen, the building is closed for repair”
    “Not old then?”........

    There is some interesting architecture there and I love the way everywhere you look 500 year old buildings stand before a background of the ultra modern as the City continues to build and change.....a mix you only really see in Europe.

    So that was the Tower then – not what I remember from my youth – the Ravens were still there the Beefeaters, (the guards without Busbies – actually they wore light blue berets – Marines?) but somehow they seem to have lost the charisma of the needs an “impresario” - not quite the right word, but you know what I mean - to come and breathe life back into it.

    After that we headed back to Holland Park where my friend's sibling had to get ready to fly back to Thailand. Before we parted we went for one more meal.

    Most Thais I know are very conservative diners, preferring the familiar to any of the strange British dishes on offer. i.e. a bowl of fried insects over a plate fish and chips any day - This time we went to a Chinese restaurant and they lead the way – for the first time I wasn't navigating, and as a result I simply can't remember where it was (somewhere near Holland Park?) – it was called the 4 Seasons and they specialise in Roast Duck with Pak kanaa – that Chinese cabbage in oyster sauce – scrummy! – and very good it was too..... there were a lot of Thai airline employees there too...I think the Chinese were outnumbered here by Thais about 2 to 1.

    Before departure there was just one more thing we had to do – shopping for food to take back. Morrisons were the nearest supermarket (who said Jim was dead? He's alive and well and running a supermarket in Holland Park!)

    As my friends sibling was an airline employee, we could load them up with stuff for home...........
    My friend was particularly keen on some dark chocolate, and various confectionaries.....I bought some Cadbury's Roses and a few small bars to hand out.....but my main concern was tea....lots of it....Tetley's Extra Strong, “Builder's Tea”, Typhoo, and Yorkshire Gold – presumably from the rolling tea plantations of Yorkshire (?!?!?!).....altogether I bought about 500 teabags.

    It doesn't matter where I am, I must have good STRONG British tea. When I lived in Australia they had several “English” brands of tea, but all manufactured for the Aussie market or elsewhere and all terribly insipid......the same is available in Thailand, but a really GOOD cup of strong English tea is just about as rare as rocking-horse poop.........I am now set up for months.
    My only other indulgence was to be a Stilton cheese, unfortunately Morrisons didn't have any. TIP – if you want really, really good Stilton, go to a Co-op, they own or owned some of the farms in the Stilton region and produce some of the finest you'll ever taste.

    After leaving my friends sibling at the Holland Park Hilton under a pile of groceries we found ourselves on a bit of a low, our flight was the next day, we were tired and my friend was a sibling we just mooned around for a while, had an un-memorable evening meal and retired for the night.

    So that is about it really –I'll finish not so much on a bang but a whimper....the last day is always a bit of a non-event for me. Whatever you plane there is always the spectre of having to be at Heathrow on time....packing, checking documents etc and getting there on time.

    In the morning we did manage to check out the V&A as mentioned way back....and buy a few more bits and bobs to take home, in fact we even made another quick visit to Harrods.

    I should say that I really liked my little hotel. The location is really convenient and local facilities are good – especially if you are Thai. The staff were very helpful and pleasant...I can't say a lot more than that as we didn't really test them – I find that you only discover a hotel's true metal when you have a serious problem to solve or a complaint – neither of which applied in our case.

    Packing and checking out done we dragged our bags up to Earls Court tube and took the lift down to the Piccadilly line, from there it was a direct line straight to Heathrow, we arrived with plenty of (too much) and still failed to get a good seat on the plane (if there are 2 of you, try and get seats right at the rear, they are in rows of 2 and have a lot of space round them.

    Deathrow is not my favourite place – straining at the seems, loaded to bursting capacity – I admire the ability of those that work there to keep it running despite the enormous volume of traffic. The departure area is pretty dismal and uncomfortable and as everywhere, tax free shopping just seems to be an opportunity for the shops to make more money per item by increasing their prices to the point where they are almost the same as tax included.

    One bright spot - There's a good bagel stall there – salmon and sour-cream – brought back memories of my days in Golders Green.

    I had mixed feelings about leaving, I'd had a good time but really would be glad to get som warm weather and a good plate of “Laab Moo, sai Dtap”. My friend was positively excites at the prospect of going home.........nearly three weeks in England for you first time EVER out of your home country is quite an endurance test....

    “Come again?”
    “Maybe next year...or two or three”

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    "actually they wore light blue berets – Marines?)"

    More likely RAF, Royal Marines wear green berets or when in dress "blues", white topped cap with red band and black peak.


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    khunwilko: An excellent review of your travels in the UK, especially Plymouth. It is the city where I spent the first 21 years of my life and experienced the Blitz too. I will be visiting there (with my London husband who thinks everyone born South of the Thames is a Country yokel)in May. The last time I visited was 30 years ago, so I will indeed see a change! When I left all those Summers ago, I think the weather was exactly the same as you experienced. Good old wet, chilly, windy Plymouth Hoe! Of course the first thing I will do is find a Pasty shop (even my husband loves pasties) Ivor Dewdney, here we come!
    Incidentally, if you think Heathrow is dreadful - come and visit Los Angeles. It must be the worst International airport in the world.
    We also buy pounds of good, strong, British tea (loose of course, not bags)to bring back to L.A. And, anyone that visits us must bring an extra duffle bag filled with tea. Our American friends call it "the British Penicillin" meaning everything can be cured with a "good cuppa tea"

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