Being the anorak that I am, I often take notes as I wander around to be used later for blog posts. To be honest, I don’t do it anywhere near as often as I should and most of what flashes through my grey matter is soon forgotten, anyway, here’s a few notes taken during the UK trip.
In the UK, there exists a yawning gap between menu description, or expectation of something and what actually turns up in reality. To read most menus or the description on the packet, of sandwiches for example, you might be led to believe that what you are about to eat will knock you flat with its deliciousness. Trouble is that it never does, it always falls short of expectations, often woefully short. In Poland by contrast you can find very straightforward descriptions, okay perhaps occasionally they will throw in a “po krolowesku” but most of the time what turns up exceeds expectations.
This over exuberance is not limited to food & drink, although that’s certainly where it is most prevalent, it is applied to almost everything; bus tours, attractions, cities……. I have to wonder if the UK has not now surpassed the US in the bullshit stakes?
Here’s a place we ate at, attracted by the relative lack of bullcrap, restaurant “Charles” in Matlock Bath;
Home made steak & kidney pie, chips, peas and plenty of gravy. Yum! Another sign outside said “bikers welcome” and if you look carefully, the guys behind us have lowered their leathers. Matlock Bath is always awash with bikers (motorbikes) and has been for many years. My father used to hang around there with his Matchless 500 back in the days before my birth.
Talking about food, the latest craze to hit the UK is obviously “local” produce. I noticed amongst all the flowery descriptions of food items that declaring your product to be local is a big selling point. We were tempted by the Derbyshire strawberries and East Midlands milk available in Tesco and almost every restaurant or cafe had billboards declaring their food to be made using local products, even the humble Charles restaurant. Apparently, this craze is not so much a case of supporting your local food producers as to be nice to the planet and shrink your carbon footprint. The theory is that these “local” products have not been driven around the country from producer to warehouse to packaging plant to chiller to store. They just walked in a very eco-friendly way from the field / slaughterhouse to the nearest Tesco and jumped on the shelves! Something tells me this is just another cynical marketing ploy, but perhaps I’m just an old grump?
To be fair to them, they have attacked this “local” thing with gusto, more often than not they go as far as to name the farmer, the farm, all his pet dogs and the next door neighbour’s budgie just to convince you that it really is local with a capital “ee-by-gum, that thar sheep’s getting prettier every day!”. Take this for example, Channel Island Milk. Not exactly local to the East Midlands but I didn’t give a shit because this is damned good milk. Milk like it used to be, milky, a little creamy, not white water!
It says on the bottle –
- Pasteurised Channel Island milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows
They could have left it at that but concern about the lack of local appeal to all except Channel Island residents led them to add the line,
- Made using local milk by Stephen Cole of Braywood Farm, North Petherwin, Launceston, Cornwall.
Interesting twist that. Milk that comes from Jersey or Guernsey cows can be called “Channel Island” milk, even if those cows are a long way from the Channel Islands in Cornwall? It was good stuff anyway, wherever the cows came from.
The next topic has to be Poles, they were everywhere we went. Just as a small example, in Llandudno (of all places), the people serving in the restaurant were Poles, the guy who set-up the spare bed (for Zosia) in our room in the hotel was a Pole, the hotel barman was a Pole and so was the waitress at breakfast. As a result we got free drinks, larger servings and a chance to chat po polsku for a while. Of all the Poles we spoke to, perhaps 15 of them, only one intended to come back to Poland. All had been in the UK for 3-4 years. None of them had a higher education (degree level) and none of them were from Warsaw. Almost all gave the reasons for staying as;
- Easier to live on low wages. In the UK on their salary they can live well, in Poland on the same wages this would not be possible.
- The UK is a much nicer place, the people are so much more friendly than in Poland and if they ever did come back, this politeness is something they would try to introduce to their own country.
- Polish goods are fairly easily available in the UK and often cheaper than in Poland.
Okay, lets talk about planes! We had booked all return flights (Warsaw-E.Midlands + E.Midlands-Edinburgh) with bmibaby as we were generally impressed with the value for money last time. The day trip to Edinburgh cost around 140 GBP for all three of us and this also seemed very good value compared to any other form of transport, especially considering that any other form would have required an overnight stay. Most things worked well but what annoyed the bejesus out of me was coming back from Edinburgh.
We’d been up since 04:00 that morning and had had a really busy day in Edinburgh so when we got back to Edinburgh airport we were not in the mood to see “flight cancelled” against the 21:00 last flight back to E.Midlands! We were told this was caused by “technical problems” but I don’t believe a word of it. Somebody in charge of saving bmibaby money had seen that they could easily combine the Birmingham and E.Midlands flightsand so we were offered either a refund (and make our own way back from Scotland) or a flight to Birmingham and a coach on to E.Midlands. The Birmingham flight was supposed to take off at 21:05 but was delayed to 22:35 so by the time all this was finished we got home four hours later than planned at 02:00, extremely tired.
The other interesting thing was that on the flight back to Warsaw we were boarded onto a plane that looked like this;
I’d seen these planes hanging around on the tarmac and wondered which airline it was as they have no name written on the fuselage. Turns out they belong to Titan Airways, a charter airline specialising in corporate and VIP travel. They also make planes available to other airlines who are having trouble with their own. Bmibaby had obviously been having more technical trouble, this time for real, and had decided not to cancel the flight (because it was a full plane-load) but to rent from Titan instead. Good for us, the plane was a fair bit nicer than the usual bmibaby ones and if it hadn’t been for two idiot Polish farmer’s sons who had presumably never flown before, we would have been on time. As it was, Bolek & Lolek cost the other 200 passengers their slot and so we all got delayed by nearly an hour. It turns out there were considerably more of the lunatic fringe on the plane as we had a hearty round of applause when we landed followed by half the plane standing up and emptying the overheads while the plane was still taxiing to the stand. Oh well.
Cost wise, the UK was pretty much as expected. Big things like TVs, washing machines, computers, ipods and other goods are cheaper than in Warsaw. I looked carefully at the Sony Bravia TVs for example in John Lewis and they were between 30-50% cheaper than I can buy one in Warsaw. I have yet to understand why that is. Food is about the same cost but for better products, at least when comparing Tesco UK to Bomi Warsaw. Where the UK really kills you though is in all the ‘incidental’ costs that fall outside of household items and basics like food. In our case this was mostly things that a tourist needs to do like tickets to get into castles and other attractions. These were costing us a minimum of 20 GBP but more often costing nearly 50 GBP, when you’re doing a lot of things, this soon adds up! It seemed almost impossible, actually, to do anything that did not involve taking a 20 pound note from my wallet and getting three very heavy coins back in return.
One tip for saving money is to say your child is 4 years old. For whatever reason the age of 5 is considered to be adult in the UK and the prices jump considerably. Zosia is 5 so we could get away with it, we just needed to make sure the ticket person and Zosia were far enough apart for Zosia not to be saying to me “Daddy, I’m not four, I’m five!”. Thankfully such embarrassments were avoided. It is cheating, yes, but at those prices and for what will be only one visit, I’m happy to cheat.
Those UK coins are a ridiculous weight. By the time I’d been through a few 20 pound note scenarios I could hardly walk for the 50 kilo of coins slopping around in my back pocket! They really do need to do something about that.
What amused me was the fact that everyone in the UK is complaining about petrol prices. This is a bit like the “local” produce in that it’s the UK’s latest fad. It didn’t matter if we were talking to friends, relatives, waitresses or castle car park attendants, they all managed to refer to how crazy the petrol prices are. To be honest, I didn’t notice any difference. Petrol has always been a stupid price in the UK and it still is. So what’s new?
Nearly finished now!
Very noticeable was the quantity of disabled people we saw everywhere we went. I don’t know if the UK has more disabled people than Poland or if this is just because it is easier for them to get around in the UK but the difference between the two countries is striking.
Tattoos!? What’s that all about then? Perhaps we were frequenting the tattoo epicentres of the UK but it did seem that every second person had one. I started to feel like I was standing out by not having a dragon’s head with “Polish Hard Boys Forever” taking up most of my right shoulder!
Last impression is just the sheer quantity of things to do in the UK. Take a drive in any direction starting from any point in the UK and within an hour you will have found more than enough for a very busy day out with the family. Even if you don’t know what’s there, there are plentiful brown signs to tell you what’s available and how to find it. We had our agenda pretty well planned but we did follow a sign to a canal to see some boats navigating their way through a series of three locks where Zosia enjoyed helping them to open and close the gates.