Sunday, 31 May 2009


I've just learned that people do actually read this.

It's cheered me up no end! :-)

Musings on a Sunny Weekend

Well, while it seemed that the rest of the world was enjoying our first real taste of summer, I’ve been working all weekend. Such, though, is the tourist guide’s lot. And with a couple of cancellations in the next few days, I have to make hay while the sun shines as it were.

On Saturday I did a London walking tour for a private group following the course of the hidden River Fleet, one of London’s many “hidden” rivers. It passes through some slightly grotty places but has some great things to tell people about: prisons, an unusual miniature underground railway, gangs, wells and even a piece of Cambridgeshire!

This is the sort of work I revel in: unusual and offbeat and – even on a sunny day in one of the world’s most visited cities – largely tourist free. Not that I hate tourists (despite my jokes asserting otherwise). It’s just that when too many people wanting to see or do the same thing are in the same place at the same time, it causes us problems and gives them an inferior product. No one’s fault but there it is.

This is why groups sometimes feel that they’re treated as inferior citizens in – say – hotels or restaurants. Although sometimes the case, it’s more a case of being difficult to give lots of people the same thing at the same time.

Anyway, to return to the subject, following an invisible river is an interesting exercise. People sometimes ask me how I put the more unusual walks together and it’s a question I find hard to answer. They just sort of “happen”. Equipped with maps, I walk routes looking around and finding (I hope) interesting or entertaining “things” along the way. Then I have to string them together into some sort of coherent story. This is easier in some towns than others but perhaps surprisingly it’s usually the more unpromising destinations that yield the best tales. Perhaps it’s because people’s expectations are lower, I don’t know. But nothing, nothing at all, gives me more satisfaction than when I drop a piece of a story into place, explain a word, legend or tradition or point out an otherwise unnoticed feature and smiles appear on people’s face. That’s happened a few times this weekend and it’s just great.

To anyone reading this who’s ever looked as though they’ve enjoyed something on a tour: thank you!

Today was Oxford. Far more mainstream of course and slightly dented by a rude passer-by and a smart-arse unlicensed tourist guide who decided to try to upstage me. This is a pointless exercise, though; rather like trying to stop Susan Boyle from doing that rather odd wiggle.

Now I’m in shorts and without a shirt. Not a pleasant sight but after spending most of this weekend in a blazer and tie, I think I’ve earned it.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Oak Apple Day

It's Oak Apple Day today, Charles II's birthday and the anniversary his restoration to the throne in 1660. Bign news in Worcester where they decorate the front of the Guildhall with oak apple blossom (or at least they used to).

Staying with matters vaguely horticulatural, I've had to replace four fence panels in the garden today. I knew I should have enrolled in that "Fencing for Beginners" thing that SPICE Birmingham ran a few weeks ago.

That (and loads of very dull paperwork) out of the way, we had a barbecue tonight. Good to see the patio furniture getting some use at last. (Not that I think we have a "patio"; I grew up calling it a "yard" but Louise insists.......)

Early start tomorrow as I've jobs in London and (on Sunday) Oxford. Coincidentally, they're both for different SPICE groups, so I'm happy to acknowledge SPICE London and SPICE Thames Valley as regular and much appreciated users of my services!

I bet I'll be the only bloke in London tomorrow carrying an umbrella.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

North Somerset Museum

Weston-super-Mare's rather splendid little North Somerset Museum is under threat of closure. Again.

The place, which is very imaginatively laid out, lurks in the old Gas Company offices in Orchard Street and is sadly missed by a lot of the resort's visitors. Admittedly, most people go to W-s-M for things other than going around a Museum but regular visitors, some from the Midlands and South Wales, are interested in the town's background and it provides a good "all weather" attraction, which is important in the sometimes fickle British seaside climate.

A pity therefore that it doesn't open on Sundays, surely one of the town's busiest days, at least in summer.

Bromsgrove in the News

I've just had a tour of Bromsgrove cancelled.

Apparently the people of Bromsgrove don't love me, so I know how Julie Kirkbride feels.

Sailing By

I've just come back by train from an evening job in London which entailed a drive home from Warwick Parkway station.

Slightly stressful that the M42 was closed in part but all made up for by the soothing presence of BBC Radio 4 for the journey. A Book at Bedtime was a serialisation of Radio Head, followed by listening to Sailing By and the Shipping Forecast.

Britain is a truly, truly sublime country sometimes and will always be so as long as there's Radio 4.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


Beards are funny things.

I've had mine for about 15 years (grew it on a canal boat holiday when I was too lazy to shave) and people always think it's just a question of "not shaving".

In fact, in order to look even vaguely presentable, it sometimes takes what seems like hours of trimming, cutting and shaping. Thus, I get more use out of the shaving gifts I periodically get than most people might assume.

Because of the work involved, I do periodically flirt with the idea of shaving it off but Louise has always cautioned against that (she's probably afraid of what lurks beneath!) and that would then, I suppose, lead to the slippery slope of a complete shave once or twice a day.

Ho hum.

A: "I had a beard like yours once and when I found what it made me look like, I had it cut off."

B: "And I had a face like yours once and when I found I couldn't get it cut off, I grew a beard!"

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Freezer Factor

I'm wondering why our new, bigger freezer apparently has a lower capacity than our old, smaller one. This became apparent earlier this evening when I was temporarily engaged in transferring the contents of one to the other. The whole process resembled one of those puzzles they used to set people years ago on The Krypton Factor. when I eventually managed it (sort of), I felt like stepping back and waiting from a round of applause from an unseen studio audience.

Talking of television, much of the rest of the evening seemed to be occupied by Britain's Got Talent. We've never really been ones for reality television shows. In fact, we don't watch that much telly at all. Just Doctor Who and Have I Got News For You, really. for some reason, though, we seem to have become fascinated by BGT all of a sudden. Quite a mixture of acts (putting it charitably). Fantastic little Welsh 12 year old though, with a name that I keep remembering as being not-quite-like "Jalfrezi".

Waiting for Godot (except it's a Zanussi)

I'm waiting for a new freezer to arrive.

It will come - apparently - some time between 9.00am and 1.00pm.

Why can the people who deliver things to go in the said freezer do two hour slots but the people who bring the freezer itself (which is coming all the way from, er, Bearwood) can't be more specific than four hours?

(Update: they've just called to say it'll arrive between now and er, 1.00pm.)

(Later update: it arrived at 12.20pm!)

Monday, 25 May 2009

I Want to Get Back to Work

Work is easy. Not for everyone of course. People struggle with medical emergencies, fight for our freedom, climb into burning buildings and so on. But for most people, work is, relatively speaking, easy.

It certainly is for me. Although I might moan about traffic, late groups, unreasonable expectations and all manner of other things, truth to tell, I just stand in front of things, reel off a few facts and then move on.

The difficult part, I’ve realised today, is much more likely to happen during what might laughingly be called “leisure time”. In the last few hours, I've had to deal with:

* Moving furniture around in a house with slightly less capacity than the furniture in it

* Carpet damage caused by a faulty freezer

* A terrified cat with a temporary but spectacular bladder problem

* A wrecked dustbin

* A broken fence

* A dead fox

* and maggots

Other than that, it’s been a blissful day. I can't wait to get back to work…….

Ian's Day Off: Must Be Trams!

Yesterday I had a rare Bank Holiday Monday off, which happily coincided with the 50th anniversary celebrations at the National Tramway Museum up at Crich in Derbyshire.

The Tramway Museum Society was founded in the mid 1950s, when most of Britain’s traditional street tramway systems were closing down. Unlike with buses, trams really needed people to band together to provide things like track and overhead power lines. To some extent getting trams was the easy part. Finding somewhere to store them and one day run them was a far bigger challenge.

In early 1959, the fledgling Tramway Museum Society discovered Crich, part of a mineral railway built by the great George Stephenson no less, to take stone from the Crich Quarries down to Ambergate. The line and quarry had closed down but there were only a few isolated stone buildings on the site.

Fifty years later, the “The Tramway Museum” is the “National Tramway Museum”, a place run on such professional lines that it has the coveted “designated” status, recognised by the government as the specialist in its field. It boasts one of the world’s most diverse collections of trams, with examples from all over the UK as well as South Africa, the Czech Republic, the USA and Germany. And its library is one of the most comprehensive anywhere.

The abandoned mineral railway is now traversed by a fully operational tramway, lined with buildings brought from elsewhere, with depots open to the public and a really imaginative exhibition hall, masquerading as a trade exhibition from the early 20th century, a way of showing off all the “bits and pieces” accumulated over the years.

The fleet of trams, well over 40, include many which run, carrying visitors along that “street”, then out into the Derbyshire countryside. The trip culminates in a surprise to first-timers: a splendid view across the Derwent Valley, with the trams virtually running along a ledge.

I first went to Crich in 1980 and have been going back regularly ever since.
Okay, I’m biased because I like trams (no, I don’t know why wither but there you are). But even for casual visitors, Crich really is somewhere different. For one thing, you get to ride on the trams, which means it’s a much more “engaging” experience than say on a preserved railway where you’re in a carriage, not generally on the footplate!

One of the joys of the place is that it’s not just about “going to look at trams”. The place has a real “streetscape” feel to it. You get the sense of what our ancestors experienced travelling along a town street by tram. Furthermore, it has some very pleasant woodland walks and those great views of the Derwent Valley.

Although minus both children and dogs, we noticed how friendly to both the place is. There’s a real sense of the Museum trying to encourage different types of visitor with walks, a playground, allowing dogs in most areas and even having a "smooth path" laid out for wheelchairs and buggies. It is also liberally sprinkled with places to picnic (one of the best I know for that), despite also having a tea room (with very hard working staff) and a pub (brought here from Stoke on Trent) which also does food. Someone has really tried.

So is everything there wonderful? Well no but the problems are few and far between.

The toilets could be better.

The entrance arrangements, especially on a busy day like yesterday can be cumbersome. For that matter, the entrance building is really uninviting, which is sad in a place where – once you’re in – there are some delightful views.

So that rather concludes my free advert for the place, other than – if you think you’re interested or not – to urge you to go there sometime!
Oh and it’s pronounced “Cry – tch”!

Photos at

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Charge(rs) of the Light Brigade

This is a very minor thing to start sounding off about but why couldn’t manufacturers of modern electrical equipment standardise on one sort of charger. It works for those “kettle” type things than computers, monitors and er, kettles, take.

So why do I now have entirely different chargers for mobiles, SatNav, cameras, iPod and so on? And of course my mobile’s charger is different from Louise’s and so is my camera’s. Actually I have two cameras and even their chargers are different from each others.

We now have a box full of the damn things, the inside of which resembles part of the inside of the TARDIS console and when we go away it takes more working out what chargers to take than it does clothes.

So here I am

I’ve been pondering for some time the idea of setting up a blog.

Those that know me will attest that I usually have quite a lot to say and this seemed like a way of getting to a slightly larger audience.

So why me and what do I have to offer the wide world of the, well, World Wide Web?

Born in the English City of Birmingham in 1964, I arrived, by a somewhat circuitous route, at a “career” as a professional tourist guide in the late nineties.

One thing I’ve always had a deep pride in is my native city. For all its bad points (and there are many), it is truly a city without equal and I am very, very proud to call it my own. In 1992, almost as a part-time hobby, I became involved in guiding on the then new open top tour buses there.

Work throughout Western Europe followed and – this is the abridged version you understand – I ended up a professionally qualified tourist guide in both the Heart of England and in London.

For a decidedly geeky bachelor (I list buses, trams and a Citroen 2CV among my hobbies, for goodness’ sake!) life took an unexpected turn in the new Millennium when I met and subsequently married a lovely lady by the name of Louise. (Yes, I’m biased but it’s still true.)

And here we are. I wonder what I’ll have to say?