Sunday, 29 June 2008


Our holiday has moved on to the south coast now. Our initial impression of Brighton wasn't great, as it was cool, grey and windy when we arrived, and the hotel was in a rather run-down square with peeling paint, surrounded by tower blocks and a ruined, burnt-out pier. Of course, it's not all like that. It's turned out to be a very colourful town, a strange mix of elegant and tacky, often in the same street - a bit like London crowded into a much smaller space.

I have to give a black mark to Brighton Museums. Although they charge £8.50 admission to the Royal Pavilion for tourists, they say "Filming and photography within the Royal Pavilion is not permitted anywhere in the building. However, access may be agreed for professional projects." There are already unofficial restrictions on photography in many public places (because of illogical fears over terrorism and child protection) and the last thing we need is for museum administrators to take a mean attitude. Visitors are obviously going to want to take photos and this arbitrary restriction suggests to me that they're only after our money.

On the positive side, admission to - and deckchairs on - the remaining Brighton Pier are free, and there were no restrictions on taking photos there.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

UK Tour

I'm back in Torquay again, having last visited 32 years ago. Obviously, looking at the number of years that have passed (already) since I was last here tends to make me feel old, but it's also been an opportunity to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. When I last came here I'd only just left school. It was my first proper holiday (without the parents). My companions were two old school friends, one of whom I'm still in touch with and the other sadly not, as he now lives in a far-off country.

Amazingly enough, the place doesn't seem to have changed much since August 1976 - the year of the big drought. Although the harbour area is still looking slightly down at heel, most of the streets are very well kept and attractive, and the coastline is just as spectacular as I remembered. We had a great coastal walk today from Daddyhole Plain to Anstey's Cove, with views as fascinating as the names. We also found a good hotel and an excellent restaurant, and the weather has stayed dry, if a bit cool. I'll be rather sorry to leave when we move on to Brighton on Friday.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Nibbling at my nuts

It's nice to see that some rain and (at last) some warm weather have brought out the best in parks and gardens. I'm pleased to see a healthy number of bees buzzing around our garden, and that the local tits are keen on my nuts (fnarr fnarr) - although they don't seem to be nearly as enthusiastic about the seeds put out for them. See more (perfectly respectable!) photos on my Flickr pages.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Tyneside Metro: 5 out of 10 - must do better

I've just spent a weekend in London, and looking at the cost of using the Tube brought home to me the shortcomings of the Tyneside Metro - specifically the cost. Using an Oyster card, each journey on the Tube costs £1.50, compared with £1.30 for a single stop up to a maximum of £2.80 on the Metro. Unlike Travelcards on the Metro, an Oyster card requires no great investment - you can charge it up with as little as £5 per time. I know that the London Underground is a vastly bigger system, but this makes me wonder how it can afford to charge lower fares when it has such enormous overheads, including staff at every station. Metro trains are almost always crowded and stop running from Newcastle city centre at about 11.45pm - in a time when we're all encouraged to use public transport, fifteen minutes earlier than they used to.

My feeling is that we have much more to complain about than users of the London Underground: infrequent, crowded and dirty trains (my 11 minute wait today at 10.30am on a Saturday is not unusual); frequent interruptions of service (part of the system has been off, I believe, every Sunday for the past several months); ticket machines that still don't take notes and very often don't work; and vandalised, graffiti-ridden stations where the No Smoking rule is regularly ignored. As the Metro system was only built in the 1970s, it doesn't have the excuse for poor service of Victorian tunnels and stations. About the only respect in which the Metro scores over the Tube is that the stations are smaller and easier to navigate than the Tube.

So why is this?

I reckon the answer is in how the Metro is managed. In the early years a couple of short-sighted and naive decisions were made, and we're all suffering for them now. 1) Having no customer services staff at any stations. Obviously this was done on cost grounds, but it may have backfired in the extra vandalism and fare dodging that has happened ever since. 2) Removing ticket barriers. How the Management could have failed to see the consequences of this is beyond me: an epidemic of fare-dodging. From anecdotal evidence and seeing how many people have tickets when inspectors come onto trains I reckon that, despite the official figures, fare-dodging is probably running at around 40%. Hence the honest ones are made to pay for the dishonest ones and the failure of the Metro management. There was a Press Release some time ago announcing that new barriers and ticket machines are coming, but without any details. So just when will we get these? Sadly, this lack of information is symptomatic of the disregard that Metro management often seems to have for its customers.