Thursday, 22 July 2010

European Travels

During the months of July, August, September and possibly October, I will effectively be AFK due to the pressing matter of a big fuckoff holiday I'm going on around Europe.

Blog posts will return when I get back to Beige Britain, until then, satiate your need for my portmanteus and general sloppy grammar by visiting:

I'm doing a travel blog you see, and Andy is taking most of the pictures. You'll be able to tell which one's are his because you'll be able to make out what they are of.

Have brilliant summers you slaaaags. See you when it's time to stat getting excited about Christmas.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Wetherspoons Effect

"It sounds to me like that would be too much of a concentration of pubs. It would have been nice to have a restaurant there. That would be quite welcome." - Beverley and District Civic Society Chairman Sandy Patience.

A familiar quote from a familiar source. When Wetherspoons look to target their next expansion project, the local councillors raise their wavering objections, and the locals engage in polite uproaraty, dismissing plans over cups of tea and adding unhappy comments to the bottom of online local news stories. JD Wetherspoon might be one of the country's main success stories during the recession, but this alone does not appear to be winning proprietor Tim Martin any brownie points.

It's hard to imagine the cities of Britain without Wetherspoons pubs. What they lack in sophistication and character (despite the efforts of renovation to keep up the pretence of happy and traditional local pubs) they endeavour to make up for in low prices and a fairly wide menu - although I challenge anybody to choose poached salmon when there's a perfectly good Beer and Burger offer sitting right next to it. They have long been the starting point for any hen night pub crawl or cheap celebration, and in the setting of a city centre, they perhaps only slightly add to the Binge Britain epidemic that still powers through the streets every Friday and Saturday night. In villages though, should there be different regulations? After all, small town inhabitants crave a steak night as much as their metropolitan counterparts.

[The Winter Gardens in Harrogate - Picture courtesy of CAMRA]

There seems to be something almost adolescent about Beverley's transformations. Once a pretty little market town, this be-minstered cluster of thatched cottages and butchers' shops has grown steadily into a large town, which in my own mind is likened to the size and gangliness of Morecambe (a cruel measurement to use, I apologise). With a college, several schools, new housing developments and most recently the much bemoaned Tesco sprouting up out of the ground, Beverley is less like a village, and more like those strange boroughs of Leeds, which were once seperate, but are now only distinguished by their own church and a quaintly-named local boozer. Beverley has thankfully retained it's character and grace for the most part, but would a Wetherspoons make an Armley's-worth of difference in a town that has a large Mexican-themed fun-staurant and more pubs per square centimetre than market stalls?

It seems a shame that despite Wetherspoons' lacklustre reputation, it remains the fastest-growing aspect of the leisure industry in this country. There are similar one-sided disputes whenever the JDW renovation van sputters into town, but as with similar projects, such as the huge Winter Gardens Wetherspoons in Harrogate or the recently opened Bowling Green in Otley; they open, they wait, and the customers arrive.

Perhaps if you truly oppose the idea of a corporate pub on the end of your street, you shouldn't frequent it when it opens.

[Some information was found within the pages of the Hull Daily Mail - read their somewhat biased story on the Beverly Wetherspoons proposal here.]

Monday, 12 July 2010

Glimpses of Humanity

It's not often you see real generosity and kindness in corporations. When ringing a call centre or customer services, you expect scripted apologies, unhelpful solutions and a lot of waiting. Beethoven's third gets played straight into eardrums a lot these days.

In a world filled with irritating malfunctions and robots on the helpdesk, it's easy to forget that the well-rehearsed sentences on the other end of the line are actually being formed by a real human mouth, stuck to a real-life person. Sometimes, these people are kind, helpful and empathetic. I want to tell you about the man I spoke to this evening.

I am poor. This is no secret, I have been poor for most of my life. Sometimes it's difficult for people like me to keep on an even keel when it comes to finances, and when the unexpected happens, it can often lead to total bank balance disaster. It shakes me up when I get bank charges. I can rarely afford to pay them off. Today was no exception - I logged in to my account to find out how much money I owed, and it turned out money that should have been credited did not materialise at all. Distraught, I called the bank to find out how much my charges would be at the end of the month, while opening another tab to see how to apply for a job at MacDonald's.

The man on the other end of the line was a gent. He kept me calm, and assured me in no uncertain terms, that he totally understood my predicament - as a recent graduate from last years' influx of finishing students, he had spent nearly a year looking for a job himself, finding a bank call centre the only employment he could find. "We're all in the same boat", he said. "Don't worry. We can work it out."

We spent a good half an hour reshuffling my finances, until he had an idea. "Can you hold a sec?" he asked. I could of course, being a jobless waster on the sole of society. After 5 minutes he came back with a solution to my main issue - the bank charges. "We can't do this often, but you've got a good case. We'll sort this."

And so it was, my bank account rescued from the clammy grasp of death, all thanks to a man who's made it his job not to be a Customer Service Adviser, but a person who's job is simply to help as much as he possibly can.

Be nice to your advisers, one day you might come across my magical, soft-spoken Geordie, and he'll solve all your problems. The one drawback being that you'll want to marry him.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

A self indulgent rant about Graduation

"It's not the grade, it's the actual being there that counts ...did you know Michelle from EastEnders got a third?"

Do you ever get that feeling of doomy realisation? The feeling that sounds in your head exactly like when your cover gets blown on Metal Gear Solid? That "PANG" with a floating vibrant exclamation mark of horror, that so often denotes something terrible has happened, or is about to happen. I had that feeling on the night before my university results were due to be revealed. I realised in one horrible wave that not only had I neglected to correct all of my bibliographies, I had even written an entire essay based on a question that didn't exist (I had re-worded it by accident) and had handed in my dissertation a day late, purely by mistake. I was never going to graduate. Instead, I was going to be sick.

For some reason unbeknown to science, I did in fact get a good enough grade to not only graduate, but I did quite a lot better than I expected to. I was pleased. I bought cheap Prosecco and "Waaaay"ed while popping the cork into the garden. I had enough marks to potentially follow studies into pragmatics and etymology - subjects I am geekily fascinated by, and until this point had written myself off as "too stupid" to study them. Happy face prevailed for the next week or so, and I had a justifiable reason to eat cake and drink £2.99 M&S Buck's Fizz (my current vice).

That's all a graduation is though, isn't it? The sound of a door opening. Then you get on with your life. That's what I wanted from my degree anyhow - I hated nearly every second of university, and gaining my degree during seriously tough times both economically and health-wise to me in itself was celebration enough. I had done it. I had reached the top of my metaphorical K2, and now for all I cared, as long as it was down on paper, it could melt and burn and earthquake itself into the ground. My struggle was over.

Now, however, it would appear fresh hell has been unearthed in the form of the graduation ceremony itself. Correct me if I'm wrong, but do I not already have my grade? And so the reason for me to travel all the way to Leeds to wear a cloak and be given a roll of paper is what? I understand that parents want photo opportunities as much as they want a cup of tea every 20 minutes, but is this really worth the time, effort and money? Traditions are upheld for a number of reasons, and generally I am a sucker for all things traditionalist, but in this case, I am lost. I am grateful for my degree, but in the same breath, I worked bloody hard for it, and as much as the University helped me with it's resources and classes, I'd say the split was 20/80. A whole ceremony dedicated to how awesome my institution was, and how great we all are and ooh didn't we do well just seems a bit nauseating to me. Also, it is partly because I can't be bothered to attend. I went to my boyfriend's graduation last year, and it was boring as hell. The best part was the free food at the end. We have to pay for our buffet.

I am being frogmarched to my graduation ceremony on Wednesday, under pretences of it being my "special day" and a "reward for my hard work". A better reward would be a trip to Belize, if you ask me. As for it being my "special day" - everyone knows my specialest day is Christmas. Mortarboards and having my picture taken and having to stand up and walk somewhere in front of over a hundred people is my idea of awful. If I didn't have to go to this glorified assembly, I'd have set off on my trip around Europe a week ago! What an excellent compromise!

I want to know - did you go to your graduation? Was it worth it? Should it be updated? Is there a need for it anymore? Come on, I can't be the only person who hates the idea of curtsying to the dean of the faculty for a grade I already earned and received.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Harry Potter and the Enraptured Generations

It is safe to say that I adore Harry Potter and all of its forms. I love the books, I love the films (despite a stubborn few years after the release of the Philosophers' Stone where I refused to watch any Harry Potter related film or TV-related concoction, lest it "ruin the perfect images" in my head. It did, but meh. Alan Rickman makes a better Snape than the blonde version of my maths teacher I was imagining.) and I love all sorts of spin-off rubbish and tat that comes with it. Remember Ubos? Loved it. Harry Potter PS2 game? I wanted that. It was my generation's all immersing obsession, and it was much healthier and less noisy than my Muse fixation, so my mum let it slide.

I was first given a Harry Potter book in my first year of high school. Being the weedy, bullied sort of child, I spent a lot of time in the school library, and the librarian had taken a shine to me ever since I shunned the Northern Lights series of books in favour of Terry Pratchett and my secret shameful love for Jaqueline Wilson (I like to commend myself that even when I was eleven, I knew reading about boyfriends and diets and shoes was cringe-inducingly rubbish). She handed me copies of the Philosopher's Stone and the Chamber of Secrets and said something along the lines of "It's teacher training on Monday - you'll get through both of them by the time you get back". She was not wrong.

It's rare for something you loved as a child to transcend age limits and stay with you into adulthood. As many times as I've been called lame for reading Harry Potter on the train to London for Big Adult Work Stuff, I have equally been commended for never succumbing to the versions with adult covers. Everybody loves harry Potter. if they claim they don't, they are missing a vital part of their psyche where the engaging personality should be. As the books continued to be written, they got longer and more involved. I grew to love Ron Weasley as if he was a real person (Rupert Grint, if you are reading this, call me). They got scarier and more challenging, and I loved it. The most commendable part of the Harry Potter series is that JK Rowling never condecends to her target audience. She understands that kids want to be treated like adults, and will read past the parts they don't understand if the story is engaging enough. I have cried and laughed reading her creations, and I am not ashamed to yell it from the bottom of my usually cynical heart - I LOVE HARRY POTTER!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is out in the UK this Novemeber.
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