Somewhere in the Eighties the National Health Service was partially privatised. By which I mean dentists and opticians. Neither of the changes are welcomed as a trip to the dentist now costs three figures and anything above the most basic scale and polish means selling a kidney.
By my rant today isn’t about dentists but rather opticians. In my hometown, Lymington there is an opticians that we shall call Grovel and Snobs. A stylish shop run by a man who clearly wanted to be a brain surgeon but had to settle for investing in some clever machines and selling overpriced Danish glasses to the socially climbing,townsfolk of Lymington.
My view is that the Opticians are as relevant as Saddle Makers and Milliners. Their job can and will be done by computers within ten years. Milliners will remain as long as weddings need hats. Once opticians have disappeared, then I’ll be spared stupid questions like “Do you do any hobbies where your sight is important”. Just think for a minute of a hobby where your sight isn’t important.
To cap it all off, I was quoted three weeks to make a pair of sunglasses for my wife. Boots in the High Street quoted one week but the kicker was trying to get a copy of my wife’s prescription. Rather than hitting Ctr+P and printing it from a computer, Grovel and Snobs insist on handwriting a copy of the 18 numbers and then charging you £17.50 ($24) for the privilege.
Unbelievable. Complete and utter nonsense. So they lost two customers in ten seconds.
I’m happy to report that I have left Las Vegas with more money than I arrived with. I planned to gamble $500 and left with $$640. So financially it was a success. However, I hated it. It bills itself as a place where you let your hair down and enjoy yourself and you can certainly do that. From guys selling beers out of suitcases on the street to mobile billboards for hookers, it’s all there.
However, at the heart of it all is a sad desperation. People willing themselves to have a good time to the soundtrack of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. If I had my way it would be illegal to play anything by those Gods within the city limits.
I was walking through the Casino at the Bellagio when I heard a woman doing a rendition of ‘that’ scene in When Harry met Sally. Full bore organism, I kid you not. I looked over and she was screaming “I won thirty, I won thirty”. I thought thirty grand was excellent until I discover she meant $30. Seriously, how small must your life be to get that excited over thirty dollars? I saw a man pouring chips onto a roulette table to try and impress his bored wife. He won something every spin, just less than he’d bet.
I was there to catch a flight home so watched the Bellagio fountains at sunset, did a small amount of successful gambling to pass the time between sunset and dinner but the highlight was probably the shower in my room which was first class. I think my problem is that I assumed that Bellagio would be glamorous. It is in the same way that Dubai is, namely, it isn’t.
Like Bulgari jewellery, it is all style and no substance. The croupiers are not all resting Victoria Secrets models. In all likelihood, they are cleaners for the Philippines who can count. Zero personality. Your fellow gamblers are divided between the seriously addicted to the clueless morons like me trying to fill time.
The whole thing is artificial; from the shows to the gambling, from the phoney bellhops to the waitresses, the whole thing reeks of insincerity. This was summed up by a slot machine I played. It had no rules or table of winnings. So I pumped in $20 with no clue of the odds or what I was supposed to do. I gave into the machine which spat out $160 dollars. I have no idea how but that was probably the idea. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
As I climbed into my cab for the airport I spotted the Trump hotel and casino. That summed up Las Vegas to me. Tasteless, noisy and stupid. Give me Albuquerque any day.
I have been in the US for four days now and I’m finding it very hard to eat anything. Let me explain. I arrived in Las Vegas on 2nd October and stayed at the Double Tree by the airport ready for a quick trip to the Grand Canyon the next day. I decided on room service (a hideous error I know) and had a chicken Caesar wrap so vast and revolting I was dumbfounded. The chicken tasted like a gel bra insert that had been briefly grilled.
Then I hit the road and every single stop was Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Burger King, or Subway. Nothing else. I would stop every hundred miles across Arizona and almost resorted to beef jerky but thought I’d wait for my nice hotel.
Sadly, the Bright Angel Lodge was a disaster as I couldn’t eat there as every time I tried I was told it was a 45-minute wait. Next morning I left for Monument Valley and sustained with a Snickers I avoided the endless Egg McMuffins on offer and made it to The View Hotel where I feasted on very good Quesadillas for supper. Huge, rather sickly but actual food. So far I’d eaten two meals in three days so pressed on to Albuquerque and ended up in a sushi bar for supper. Bliss. Fresh crunchy ginger, salad and green tea. At last, I’d had a good meal, in America, albeit a Japanese one.
The next day I had an astonishingly good and messy pork and bean burrito at the Balloon Fiesta but as I felt it congeal in my insides I thought about the other food on offer. Most of it fried and huge. I watched people eating deep fried turkey drumsticks, churros with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce not to mention varieties of fried cheese served on crisps (chips to Americans). The smallest drink size was a pint the largest about the capacity of a hot air balloon at 100,000 cu ft.
On Sunday I explored the Railyards Market and had a Vegan Tamale for breakfast hitch was fresh and delicious and in the evening another sushi restaurant, desperate to avoid anything fried. For lunch I went to the Church Street Cafe in Albuquerque hoping for new, Mexican cuisine what I got was old New Mexican cuisine. Cheese beans, beans, cheese plus suspect meat. Tasty but as satisfying as Benny Hill. Good for a few minutes but you’d rather not make a night of it.
On the way back to Vegas I stopped in Flagstaff and stayed in the Weatherford hotel that was built in 1896 which they thought was historic. No, just a fairly old hotel and nothing special. I ate at a southern BBQ place and asked for the smallest amount food I could get. Six brontosaurus ribs arrived surrounded by a couple of pounds of fried okra. Why fried !!!!! Still delicious but two ribs would have been enough. I asked for a beer and was presented with a Kilner jar full of beer. I know Flagstaff is trying to be achingly hipster but why? In fact, the whole town thinks it is a junior Seattle as I discovered when I tried to buy a coffee and was asked if I wanted a cold pressed, aerochinno, steel press infusion or a slow drip, mountain water, deep steep or some equally stupid offering. All I wanted was an espresso with hot milk. No chance and no Starbucks either. Still, Flagstaff is a pleasant place to break a 700-mile drive.
Eventually, I made it to Vegas and checked into the Bellagio. That will be the subject of another post but I went to Cafe Bellagio for a sandwich. I had a Bloody Mary which was excellent and a turkey club with Parmesan fries that wasn’t. The food tasted like room service food served at a table. Is it just me but does room service food tastes like the air in an aeroplane lavatory, slightly recycled and containing dubious ingredients? The sandwich was so dull even the hickory smoked bacon was drowned out by the blandness of the turkey. Everything was just limp. I didn’t care but at $23 it wasn’t worth it.
For dinner, I went to Yellowtail and had a well-grilled aubergine with miso paste and a good-ish sushi. Not up to Albuquerque standards but what is.
So, in conclusion, the food in America was a huge disappointment. The Mexican and Native American food suffered from a belief that there is no such thing as too much cheese or too many beans. That is true in the depths of winter but when the thermometer is touching 90 degrees it isn’t. The traditional American food was just revolting either poorly prepared or fried. We make jokes about deep fried Mars bars but in the South West, they would deep fry anything from auto parts to roadkill.
So I’m flying home dreaming of fresh vegetables, salad and a simple roast chicken. It’s a sad day when a Brit dreams about good fresh vegetables. So farewell USA, I won a few dollars in Vegas and lost a few pounds along the way.
All advertising trades on cliches, it needs to. Christmas is always snowing, Father Christmas is jolly and rotund; and families are always happy. This allows us to share a cultural stereotype and all feel slightly better about the annual liver destroying, gorge fest. The emergence of this years Christmas ads got me thinking about travel advertising and the tsunami of cliches involved including these classics
Holiday of a lifetime
Sit back and relax and we’ll do it for you (whatever it is)
Pamper yourself in our spa
Sun kissed beaches
This will be presented with stock photographs of smiling young couple in the waves, the totally ubiquitous photograph of a woman laying on a treatment bench with hot rocks on her bare spine. Has anyone every had this treatment and is it as unpleasant as it looks? If the holiday is a cruise, the images will be older couple (attractive with a touch of grey) man in natty white or blue blazer with Panama hat looking contentedly out to see. She will have a glint in her eye that says either I hope he doesn’t want sex or I could push him overboard for the life insurance. Or maybe that’s just how I read it.
The reality is of course further from the truth. After a six hour delay you arrive at the Hotel Bastardo and I find the pool has been closed by the health inspectors, the sun kissed beach has just suffered an oil spill and the tennis court has been over run with vile children who are screaming 11 hours a day.
I’m more sanguine. The travelling is never pleasant, the hotels not quite what you image and you make your own memories.
For over the years I used TravelPod to write blog posts while travelling and in all that time I had 6000 page views which certainly won’t give TripAdvisor sleepless nights. The site also informs me that during the period I travelled 104,156 km or 2.6 times around the earth, all of them wonderful trips.
TravelPod was a free travel blogging platform that was easy to use but lacked a compelling reason to exist. I fear it was killed by Facebook and Instagram where people were content to upload a snap and fifteen words and call it a day.
I miss the long-form content it allowed its authors to create and so I am in the process of migrating all of my old travel blogs to this site which is a painless if lengthy process.
I’ve noticed on Facebook in particular and to a lesser extent on Twitter a tendency towards a hideous self-righteousness that is driving me crazy. My town of Lymington has a Facebook page called Lymington Rumour Control that is supposed to be a lighthearted watercooler (or village pump if you go back that far). The plan was that local people could gossip about local events in a lighthearted manner, share a joke and generally get along with each other.
However, in the past year a hideous form of groupthink has arisen whereby you must agree to the following tropes or be denounced and verbally shat on by the scores of mouth-breathers who inhabit the site
Our local community hospital can do no wrong
All local shops and business are exemplary and must be supported even if they are feckless rip-off merchants
The armed forces are saints
Fireworks emanate from Satan’s darkest nether regions and should be banned as they scare dogs, cats and most importantly horses
You are a Nazi sympathiser if you don’t wear a poppy for Rememberance Day
Cyclists and gypsies should be banned from the New Forest
…and the list goes on
What I particularly dislike is self-righteousness of these opinions. Who would want an animal to suffer ? therefore no fireworks for anyone. If we don’t support local businesses we will end up with 23 branches of McDonalds in the High Street. It is so thoughtlessly binary; A or B, if you criticise the hospital you de facto want to destroy the NHS. There is no debate or nuanced discussion; just for it or if not for, against.
Our local hardware shop Knights closed and people rung their hands in nostalgic outrage. The fact that the owners plan to sell the land to a property developer to build retirement homes is conveniently overlooked. The news was greeted with the same degree of shock as if the National Anthem had been replaced with Gangnam Style and Winston Churchill was gay. Now we have Screwfix, a national chain, that are open longer hours, seven days a week and are, as a result a great deal more convenient. But God forbid you should mention the fact as you’ll be denounced as some disloyal, bourgeois interloper who’s only aim in life is to destroy our precious High Street which as it happens is filled with charity shops and coffee bars.
So my message to the pseudo-outraged of Facebook is calm down and get some perspective or as they say so eloquently in the United States. Take a chill pill.
A good friend and poet, Robyn Bolam asked me to join a project called Ferry Tales which is a group of poets, musicians, writers and a photographer (me) in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight who are running events, exhibitions and workshops for local people on the theme of arrivals and departures in their lives.
The plan is that I take photographs which acts as stimulus for the poets and musicians and we run a series of workshops and exhibitions from now until 2017 in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight showcasing the work.
You can follow us on Facebook at ferrytalesproject and please like/follow us. I’ll be growing the body of photographs as the year progresses but here are a few to get you started including a girl on her way to the Isle of wight Festival.