Warner Weekend 2020

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Yes, it’s that time of year again! We’ve got our annual long weekend planned with our Warner ‘Brothers and Sisters’ – Geoff, Rhonda, Paul and Sue – aka ‘The Northants Nutters‘!

Holme Lacy House

Last year – our first get together – took us to Warner’s Littlecote House, this time, we’re in Herefordshire and staying at Warner’s rather splendid Holme Lacy House.

Click on the map for directions

It’s a Grade I listed mansion, completed in 1674 and was reportedly visited by Charles II. Set in 20 acres of the Wye Valley, it looks and feels massive!) and is one of Herefordshireโ€™s treasures. It’s now managed by Warner’s and offers mid-week/weekend breaks that are great value. There’s also plenty of entertainment provided including Crossbow Shooting, Pitch ‘n’ Putt, Rifles, Swimming, Trivia Quizzes, Tai Chi, Gym and much, much more!

On these sorts of weekends, the evening entertainment is normally themed and this one is no exception. It’s called ‘RE-MIXED’ and stars Jayne Middleton as Annie Lennox and Nicola Marie as Amy Winehouse.

We’d only been to Warner’s once before, and we were therefore all interested in seeing how all of it compared (as last year’s experience was excellent!) ๐Ÿ˜


As we counted-down to the weekend, a number of things made us re-consider our plans. First, Rhonda wasn’t feeling too well and eventually wasn’t able to join us – and that counted Geoff out too. Second, the developing Coronavirus pandemic, where things were changing by the minute, meant we were waiting to hear the Press Conference from the PM announcing whether there would be any travel restrictions! In the case of the latter, luckily, no restrictions were announced, so, in the end, the four of us still planned to go! ๐Ÿ˜

Day 1: Friday

We picked up Paul and Sue around 11am and headed off on our two-hour-plus journey to our weekend destination. It was to be made more interesting by some roads being closed nearby – but at least Warner’s had err, warned us in advance!

Well, that was the theory anyway! We managed 99.9% of the journey without incident, only to find that the diversion signs near our destination, were in fact, pointing in the wrong direction!๐Ÿ˜ฎ Cue a few miles of needless driving, exploring the quaint back-roads of Hereford before ending up back where we started! ๐Ÿ˜–
OK, time for ‘Plan B’ where we chose to ignore the diversion signs completely and see how far we’d get, by following the normal signs to Holme Lacy House. It worked a treat! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

1.35pm: We were soon parking, unloading, and then plugging-in Robert for its FREE treat – Warner’s charging for electric cars! A quick review of the dashboard revealed the ‘tank’ was about half empty, and we needed to charge for just 5ยฝ hours! ๐Ÿ˜

After a little bit of confusion on Warner’s part over Geoff and Rhonda’s cancellation, we were soon on our way to our rooms. Room 235 for us with Paul and Sue next door!

First Impressions?

Our first impressions were good ones! It’s a massive hotel (and I do mean massive!) – you almost need a map to get around, and it’s fortunate that they have these on the walls every so often! They’ve even got a cinema!! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

The Staff are SUPER friendly, very helpful – and there are plenty of them!

Once we’d checked-in, all we needed to do was find our room. It was a bit of a trek, but worth the walk. I’m not sure the signage was the most logical, but we got there in the end ๐Ÿ˜‚

Our room (recently refurbed) was well-appointed and larger than we expected – and contrary to what we’d been told, a free bottle of red wine – a Shiraz – awaited us, kept company by some chocolate cookies and a couple of bags of crisps. Nice touch Warner’s! ๐Ÿค—

2.30pm: Next stop? Register our debit card, confirm our table in the restaurant, and book our events whilst we’re here. Thanks to Sue’s organisational skills, it was easy-peasy, and we all got our own personalised itinerary! ๐Ÿ˜˜

That’s Saturday and Sunday sorted then!

3.30pm: With everything arranged, we headed for the Lounge – and the opportunity to try out their Gin selection! With three of us settling for a Rhubarb and Ginger (doubles!) and one of us on a large Dry White Wine, the next 75 minutes passed very quickly!๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿฅด

4.45pm: Time for some fresh air and with the alcohol now taking full effect, our next stop was the pitch-and-putt green. Safe to say, it wasn’t a game that played to any of our strengths (but it was great fun!), but with the plummeting temperature, we called it off two-thirds of the way round! ๐Ÿ˜Š (I won! – just sayin’).

5.45pm: Just time for a quick recharge of our batteries, before getting ready for tonight’s meal and entertainment.

7.00pm: But first, nibbles and wine round at ours! We toasted absent friends (especially Geoff and Rhonda) and polished-off the free crisps and a bottle of fizz! ๐Ÿคช

7.45pm: Off to the restaurant for our first evening meal. By choice, we were one of the last group to arrive, and by the time we got there, most tables were on Dessert. It was a good-looking menu but as delicious as it was, it wasn’t quite up to the standard of Littlecote House – the service felt a bit rushed too! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

9.10pm: A quick check to see if the free charge for Robert had completed – it had, and we now had a full tank for the journey home!!! ๐Ÿค—

9.30pm: The highlight of the evening was The Amy Winehouse Tribute Act aka Nicola Marie. She turned out to be a truly fearless performer who was 110% ‘ballsy’ – and just a tiny bit scary (to me anyway!). If she wasn’t really a cock-er-ney, she did a good impression, and when she wasn’t singing, she kept us all entertained with her quips.

From my limited knowledge of the star herself, Nicola was pretty authentic. Whether it was all part of the act or not, she came across as the type of girl your mother never wanted you to meet – but she was strangely alluring in a mockney/Essex kind of way.

As hard as she tried though, she couldn’t get many of us to get up and dance, as the majority of the audience just sat there in their typically British ‘restrained-kinda-way’. (I actually think they weren’t sure what to make of this entertainer). My guess is that the typical Warner guest here is more likely to be a fan of Andy Williams than Amy Winehouse. Having said that though, a flock of red-hatted women who are also here for the weekend saved the day by populating the dance floor where others feared to tread! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

All-in-all then, it was very good entertainment (if you like your women slightly edgy and loud). But But actually, it was just as much fun watching the audience watching her! ๐Ÿ˜

10.45pm: It had been a long day and a boozy one (something we’re not quite used to – yet!). We left Paul and Sue to dance away the evening whilst we headed for the duvet! Another action-packed day tomorrow! Nighty-night! ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด

Day 2: Saturday

6.30am: I was ‘up with the lark’ and a strong feeling that I may have slightly overdone it on the alcohol yesterday! (note to self: get into training for this next year!).

Room Facilities

An update on my initial impressions: Actually, the bathroom is a bit dated and the shower/shower head looks like a cheap update from B and Q!

8.30am: Breakfast with our chums. Well, at least I started with something healthy!

…but the lure of the legendary Warner’s Full English was simply too great and I succumbed to the sins of the sausage and its close friends! ๐Ÿค” I guess the justification was that I needed the energy for what was to follow…

10.00am: Ahh, the infamous ‘Warner’s Trivia Quiz’! Clearly, a popular option based on how many of our fellow guests attended. Our Quiz-master did a good job, injecting some humour along the way! And so it began… we started well, lost our mojo a bit in the middle, but did better towards the end. The result? 8ยฝ out of 15… (it was actually quite a toughie!) but we did come a respectable second (beaten by the now famous ‘Red Hatted Women’). Note to self: Perhaps get a red hat!

11.30am: My appointment with the on-site Beautician. Obviously, a large job that required a full site-survey and a quotation due to the scale of the work required! Luckily, they weren’t too busy ๐Ÿ˜Š

3.00pm: My next activity was rifle shooting with Paul. Safe to say that Paul did much better than me, and judging by my target above, the safest place to have been was in the centre of the target! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Worse still, I had FOUR pellets!

4.00pm: Movie time! Ann and I headed for The Chinese Room on the 1st floor aka the ‘Cinema Room’. RocketMan was showing and it enjoyed a full-house (of around 30 of us!). It was well-produced, and we enjoyed it even more the second time around (having seen it back in July last year).

6.45pm: Slightly earlier than last night, we headed to Paul and Sue’s for Fizz and Nibbles. We’re hoping that by bringing everything forward a tad, we might get better service in the restaurant. We toasted our absent Nutters – Geoff and Rhonda and tried out the veggie crisps (delicious!)

7.25pm: Nice fizz! Now it was off to the restaurant for our second evening meal here. Happy days! Our plan to arrive earlier paid-off. The service was much sharper, and all our courses were delicious (and the mains were hotter!)

9.30pm: We grabbed our reserved seats in The Pavilion for tonight’s entertainment in the shape of Jayne Middleton as Annie Lennox.

A classy act and she certainly sounded like her. Her ‘spot-on’ voice covered pretty much all of Annie Lenox’s hits from her Eurythmics’ days and solo career including:-

  • No More I Love Yous
  • Walking on Broken Glass
  • Talk To Me Like Lovers Do
  • Angel
  • Don’t Ask Me Why?
  • Here Comes The Rain Again
  • Sweet Dreams Are Made of This
  • There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)
  • Who’s That Girl?
  • …and for her encore – Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves

Once again though, the audience (apart from us) seemed to get through it all without showing any emotion at all (apart from the obligatory clapping at the end of each song) – a real shame as it was a well-polished act.

Three changes of outfit plus all Lennox’s big hits made it an excellent performance where once again, just like last night, the ladies in the red hats filled the dance-floor during the encore! ๐Ÿคฉ

10.45pm: It’s been a great day! With plenty to do, with shed-loads of variety, and the food and restaurant service back-on-track – a day to remember. Nighty-night! ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด

Day 3: Sunday

8.30am: Breakfast! Today’s conundrum? Could I resist Warner’s sizzling sausage and its close friends? Err, NO!!!! ๐Ÿ˜‹

10.00am: It was that time again, where we returned to The Pavilion for the daily Trivia Quiz. We had high hopes of improving on yesterday’s score of 8ยฝ (where we came a respectable second).

It wasn’t to be! The winning score was 17 and although we were just three points behind, the standard was high, and we had to settle for 4th place! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

10.15am: Whilst the girls went off to do their thing, Paul and I headed for the snooker-room. Unfortunately, it was already being used, so we headed back to The Pavilion – and the table-tennis err, table. Three games followed, where I was soundly thrashed by Paul!

11.15am: Paul and I acted as spectators to the ‘Name that Tune’ competition. It was very well attended, and the groups certainly knew their stuff. In fact, Lisa the Quiz-Host had them pretty much singing all the answers – they certainly were experts in music from the 50s and 60s ๐Ÿ˜‰

12.30pm: A new activity for Paul and for me was to be Crossbows. Given my success with both Archery and Rifles, I wonder if they’ll even need to re-order any targets after I’ve shot??? ๐Ÿ˜


I needn’t have worried, as (luckily for my pride) the bad weather stopped the crossbow activity completely! Instead, our Warner’s Host, Ben, offered us a game of snooker followed by a game of Pool. But even with Paul and I teaming up, we still managed to lose both matches to Warner’s!

At least with sport, I’m consistent! ๐Ÿ˜

2.00pm: Paul and I headed for the organised ‘Back-Stage Tour’ – an opportunity to see behind the scenes of how Warner’s provide their entertainment. A fascinating 45 minutes followed, with a chance to see how technology plays its part in providing the music and AV support. We also saw the ‘living quarters’ back-stage and where (and how) everything is stored. Totally fascinating, and for me, probably the highlight of this break.

“Good Evening everybody”…

We finished the Tour by going out on stage to experience how the performers see things as well as how live music is set up and managed. Again, fascinating stuff! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

We weren’t that bad – there was no Round 3 or 4!

3.00pm: After enjoying some success at the two Trivia Quizzes, we felt confident enough to progress to the much grander and larger Pub Quiz! This consisted of three rounds, including one round of pictures (20 questions), one round of true/false (10 questions) and one round of famous catch-phrases (10 questions). This was a ‘Premiรจre League’ type quiz, much harder than the Trivia-types we’d been used to so far. It was well-attended too with 60+ people there.

An hour later, it was all over. We scored a total of 33 (out of a possible 40) which sounds good, but we were beaten into 3rd place. No bottle of Chรขteauneuf-du-Crap nor Cake Voucher for us! ๐Ÿ˜Š

4.00pm: Ann, Sue and Paul planned to go for a walk but the weather had deteriorated, so we all headed back to our rooms.

Surely the strongest-flavoured crisps on the planet??? – Walker’s ‘Cheese and Jalapeรฑo’

6.45pm: And so, for the final time this adventure, Paul and Sue dropped into ours for pre-dinner nibbles.

7.20pm: Off to the restaurant, and our final evening meal here. As usual, it was busy but I’m sad to report that the service was a tad ‘relaxed’ (AGAIN!) and the quality of our food varied (AGAIN!) – from ‘Overdone’ to ‘OK’ to ‘Delicious’. On a more positive note though, I did get my portion sought-after Salted Caramel Ice-Cream! ๐Ÿ˜

9.15pm: Whilst we waited for the main event, we were entertained by the err, Entertainments Manager, David James. An old-style crooner, he had a voice so smooth and natural, you could have spread him on toast and called him ‘Honey’. What talent! ๐Ÿคฉ

9.35pm: Tonight’s entertainment was entitled Abba Fantastic – a set piece that called-on the singing talents of the in-house entertainment team.

Well, they certainly lived up to the name – FANTASTIC!, and unusually for this weekend, the dance-floor started to fill up from the off. They rattled through pretty much every ABBA hit without a pause (literally) and as a result, created a GREAT party atmosphere. Good choreography too, supported by the house-band who played at their funkiest and best!

Their set seemed to be over in a flash (I barely had time to sort out my two left feet!) and the performance was very well appreciated by everyone there. It was a perfect end to the weekend’s entertainment and hat’s off to everyone at Warner’s that put this together.

10.35pm: We lasted to just after 10.30pm, leaving Paul and Sue to wave the flag for the Northants Nutters! zzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Day 4: Check-out


What Did We Think Of It?

So, what of this weekend? Well, we all enjoyed ourselves, and I guess that’s the main objective. The Warner’s staff are one of the friendliest group of people I think I’ve ever met – nothing is too much trouble and they’ve always got a smile on their face. The food was plentiful, but the quality did vary a bit. Overall, for me, I don’t think it’s up there with our previous Warner adventure at Littlecote House, last year, but it’s close. A special mention must go to ‘Lisa’ part of the day entertainment team – she is a natural ‘people person’ and every time we saw her in action, she managed to fully-engage her various audiences. The House has a beautiful interior and it was a shame that there aren’t tours on the weekend as there are during the week. Would we do Warner’s again? Yes, probably! But maybe not next year, where we’ll explore some the alternatives.

Celebrating Sainsbury’s!

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A short tale of how, many years ago, one person influenced the career paths of three others – and today’s reunion! ๐Ÿ˜

The Back-story

In 1972, I joined Sainsbury’s at their flagship store – Central Croydon as a Saturday Student – working Friday nights and all-day Saturday. By late 1974, I was still uncertain as to what sort of job I wanted, after leaving school, I started my first proper full-time job with them.

Trouble was, Mum and Dad’s plan was for me was to do a ‘posh job’ – first choice: join the Civil Service, or maybe a Bank (job-for-life in those days!) or an Accountancy practice. But, in true Palmer fashion, I rebelled, and they weren’t impressed at all!! ๐Ÿ™„ They felt I’d deserved something ‘better’ after going to a Grammar School, better certainly than ‘working in a shop’!!! In spite of acquiring an appreciable bundle of O-Levels together with two A-Levels and already passing the entrance exam for the Civil Service, I really felt JS might be the better more enjoyable career for me ๐Ÿ˜. From my side of things, I’d thoroughly enjoyed the physical and mental challenge of it all, having worked through the Summer Holidays at JS pretty-much full-time. A great working atmosphere, fab teamwork and lots of interaction with people.

Sainsbury’s Whitgift Centre Croydon
ยฉ Sainsbury Archive

At the time, Central Croydon was their largest (but small by later standards) in the newly built ‘Whitgift Centre’ (Branch ‘332’ since you asked) off Wellesley Road – and one of the first stores to open there (Boots, next door, being the first). Opened in JS’s centenary year of 1969, the management there were all hand-picked, as being the best in the company. The store went on to become a ‘pass-through’ for rising stars of the organisation, and in turn, that always created a fantastic buzz about the place. Yes, it was hard work… really hard work… but exceptionally rewarding!

Ken, in later years, as Regional Manager

During that time, I got to know a certain Grocery Manager, Mr Ken Barden, then in his mid-20s, really well. And as expected, he went on to command some very senior positions across the brand.

My Early Years

‘Rewarding’ it certainly was! From a humble Saturday Student earning less than 30p per hour, I joined the trainee management scheme (a recommendation by Ken) briefly at ‘332’ and then onto their store in Orpington (Branch 747), and completed the scheme in a record 11 months. Mum and Dad finally came round, and supported me all the way from there! Phew! ๐Ÿฅฐ

Next stop? Into junior management in Bromley (Branch 464) and after about a year, I joined the Area Training Team on secondment. My two-year secondment lasted around 4 years (!!!) and then came the BIG promotion. I was appointed Area Training Manager based in Romford (house move and divorce adding to the mix!). And finally, a spell at head office managing the company’s customer care programme and liaising with all the other training departments across the organisation.

Leaving JS

The unrivalled grounding that JS gave me in terms of training and development, provided me with a great insight into the importance of ‘people skills’, leading me to shed a tearful farewell in March 1989 – to start my own business training others in guess what? Yes, ‘people skills’.

Finally, the Reunion

By coincidence, Ann, and our good friend Sally, had learned, through separate casual conversations, that they too, having all worked for this mighty food retailer, had also crossed paths with Ken at different times. He had strongly influenced their career path too! – what are the chances ehh??

So, fast-forward (in my case 45 years!) and today was to be special in a number of ways. Although we’d all lost touch with Ken many years ago (although Ann and I had seen Ken briefly in the intervening years at a JS ‘do’) the three of us decided it would be good to catch up, with a view to reminisce about those heady days working for the champion of food retailing – and most of all, to thank him for pointing us in the right direction. We all realised, without his influence, we wouldn’t have been where we are today, nor enjoyed our careers so much!

I tracked Ken down through Facebook, and we all agreed to meet up at his, and then on for a spot of lunch. After a quick coffee and a natter, meeting Carol, his wife and their dogs and cats, we headed off to the Pub for 1pm!

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Pub so busy! The food was excellent, but for once (for me) that didn’t matter at all! We had so many years to catch up with, individually and collectively and I don’t think we stopped talking (and laughing) for the whole time we were there! And surely, it was a good sign that we didn’t leave the Pub until just after 3!

What a fantastic day! We’re certainly going to do it all again sometime with Ken – there are so many more stories and experiences to share! We dropped Sally back at hers and headed home.

Happy memories! ๐Ÿ˜

We’re out!!!

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Clock symbolising EU exit

It’s 11pm here in the UK and midnight in Brussels
– and after 47 years, we’re out! OK, technically, we’ve got a period of ‘transition’ (whatever that means!) but the people have spoken!

I voted remain, and I can’t help think that this is the worst decision ever for our country. Our children (and children’s children) will surely look back on this day in years to come, and wonder what drove us to this madness! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

The RSC: King John

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This afternoon was a unique opportunity to see Shakespeare’s rarely performed production of ‘King John’ at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

We met Chris and Gill at theirs and headed over to the Theatre in time for a spot of lunch followed by the performance at 1.30pm. (The lunch incidentally, was superb!)

I wasn’t familiar with this production at all, but any performance that features a live food-fight (warning those in the front-row that they ‘may not escape the fallout‘ gets my vote! ๐Ÿ˜„).

On a more serious note, it’s billed as: ‘a tale of a nation in turmoil that vibrates with modern resonance‘ and tells the story of John’s turbulent reign from 1199 to 1216. Now that sounded like something worth seeing! ๐Ÿ˜

So, what of the production itself? If you like your Shakespeare productions on traditional side, then this most definitely WON’T be the one for you. And unlike many of the Bard’s other works, there’s no well-known characters in this, nor any famous one-liners to hang onto!

But overall, none of this really mattered!

For me, although the plot was difficult to follow (no change there then!) the acting, costumes, lighting, music and stage were all definitely something to remember! Everyone gave an excellent performance, and the very wacky production design didn’t distract at all. In fact, the ‘dad-dancing’ (yes, really!), the additional short dance routines, the fight scenes and the encouraged audience participation, made the aforementioned food-fight feel quite appropriate! And yes, some the audience will have had a cleaning bill! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Quite a lot of blood too! ๐Ÿ˜ซ

In conclusion, a thoroughly engaging production but not one for the traditionalists

and maybe it was just me, but the fact that they brought on two Henry vacuum cleaners to clear up the stage during the interval made me giggle – ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2’ perhaps???? ๐Ÿ˜‚

China – By the numbers!

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A Chinese ‘Sanpan’

Welcome to my second – and final – piece reflecting on our recent holiday in China, (the first was posted HERE yesterday). Our 19-day adventure included shiny modern cities, smaller towns, rural locations, large retail malls, small local shops – and pretty-much everything in between! We saw the uber-rich, the rich, the poor and the very poor. We people-watched a lot of time whilst travelling by train, mini-bus as well as by foot, and this offered us a great understanding of modern China. Unsurprisingly, my figures DON’T reflect Hong Kong (it felt very different!).

Our China Holiday in 2019

China – By the Numbers!

Best read with your tongue occasionally in your cheek! ๐Ÿ˜

0 motorists giving way on the roads (from ANY direction!)
0 locals understanding ‘cold milk in a jug please’
0 awareness of a Westerner’s need for ‘personal space’
0 locals prepared to queue
0 rickshaws seen in action
0 lbs weight-gain (Ann). Only 2 for Steve! – see the last item on this list!
0.25 metres of toilet roll in the whole of mainland China
0.33 bars of soap in total when out-and-about
1 person in a wheelchair
1 canal trip
1 phone/laptop portable charger confiscated (ironically on our final internal flight)
1 beggar
1 Audi e-tron
1 McDonald’s visit
1 lake
1 location where my VPNs didn’t work all day
1 Irish Bar
1 sound-and-light show
2 languages on most major road signs (English & Chinese) in/near the big cities
2 pieces of cheese (they don’t appear to ‘do’ cheese in China!)
2 river trips
2 international flights
2 motorists signalling (surely a mistake!)
2 locals using the toilet cubicle with the door OPEN
3 paper hand-towels (but not in the same place!)
3 Stellas
3 scooter riders of 300 million (official ownership stats!) with their lights on when it was dark
4 different scooter riders (only!) wearing skid-lids
4 glasses of Guinness (ยฃ12 a pint!)
4 mozzy bites
4 Brits trying to make sense of it all
5 domestic flights
7 Temples
7 tour guides (Michael, Mona, Nina, Jeremy, John, Stephen and Mark)
8 is THE lucky number of you’re Chinese
8 cities
11 Chinese lunches
11 Teslas
14 teas tasted, ranging from ‘English Breakfast’, ‘Earl Grey’ to ‘Habiscus and Rose’
16 local beers
18 blog-posts
19 pagodas
23 coffees (they were found with the ‘hen’s teeth’)
125 quid for a new electric scooter – and you don’t need a licence to put it on the road
350 km/h – top speed of China’s ‘bullet’ trains (that’s a mighty 217 mph!)
430 km/h – top speed of the Shanghai’s ‘Maglev’ train (270 mph!) – Kettering to St Pancras in 15 minutes!
580 people in the cast of the sound-and-light show
800 metres of silk thread from a single silkworm’s cuckoon
806 Photos
23,247 Chinese flags (OK, we didn’t really count them all, but the Chinese are very patriotic!)
225,616 steps (including 28,102 in Hong Kong) – we DID count these using our phones!

Phew! ๐Ÿ˜

My camera-roll (and less of my chat!) HERE

China – What we learned!

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Shanghai Nights

After almost three weeks immersing ourselves in ‘the Chinese way’, here’s the first (of my two-part) light-hearted look at our experiences. Part 2 is tomorrow.

The People

  • With a population of around 1.4 billion, in the big cities it certainly felt like it. In the more rural locations, however, you’d never know!
  • Families used to be limited to one child, now it’s two. Heavy (multiple annual salary) fines if you over-do it!
  • A law that stated that stated when you’ve owned your property for 70 years, it had to be returned to the government was recently repealed
  • Many Chinese don’t respect the West’s need for ‘personal space’ – expect close encounters!
  • Queuing is not a concept the Chinese understand nor respect
  • Some Chinese like to touch you when communicating
  • Angry Chinese tend to shout (very loudly) first – and reason with you later!
  • Like the West, the youngsters are glued to their phones
  • Chinese travelling around on push-bike has been mostly replaced by Chinese on electric scooters

The Places

  • Most big cities are dual signed (Chinese/English)
  • Hardly any police were seen on the streets (despite what you might read)
  • Passports are needed when visiting some tourist-type places
  • Plenty of CCTV cameras about!
  • The roads are pretty much pothole-free
  • Many of their road bridges over rough terrain are spectacularly long
  • If you find a hand-towel in a toilet, keep it for next time – they’re a rarity. So is toilet paper in most womens’ WCs
  • Soap in toilets is also a collector’s item (and I think there’s obviously a lot of collectors in China!)

The Customs

  • The currency in mainland China is called ‘RMV’ or ‘Yuan’ (about 8 to the ยฃ)
  • Getting a coffee is a challenge when out and about, especially away from big cities
  • On the road, there is no such thing as ‘give way’ (to the right, to the left – or any direction!)
  • Indicator bulbs will last forever out here as signalling is a rarity
  • They love their electric scooters, but they hate putting their lights on
  • Chinese food here is much like Chinese food back home – but it’s mostly warm (rather than hot)
  • Wealth is sometimes spectacularly obvious!
  • The big cities look very capitalist for a communist country
  • No-one jay-walks
  • ‘Hairy Crabs’ is a delicacy not a disease
  • Squirrel Fish has nothing to do with squirrels

The Tech

  • Most modern hotels have English three-pin plugs
  • Free wi-fi is not as abundant as in the UK (only in hotels and SOME shops). Shops that DO have it, don’t always advertise the fact, so you have to ask for the SSID/password (which they happily provide)
  • You cannot access any Google services from anywhere in China. Facebook as well as most other western social media platforms are blocked/banned
  • VPN is a must if you need any of the above
  • VPNs’ efficiency sometimes tails-off in the evening (frequent connects/reconnects)
  • VPN is NOT a perfect solution. It mostly works, but then it doesn’t!
  • If you’re serious about communicating online out here, best to have TWO VPNs
  • …and set them up BEFORE you arrive in China, otherwise it’s almost ‘mission impossible’ once you’re there.
  • No-one from China uses WhatsApp, they use WeChat instead
  • Traffic lights in mainland China have a countdown clock so you can prepare for them changing (they don’t have the ‘orange light’)

Coming tomorrow… “China – By the Numbers” (Our holiday in figures!)

My holiday camera-roll (and less chat!) HERE

London Mini-Break – Day 1 (of 3)

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We’re on a three-day mini-break in London that’ll incorporate my birthday celebrations tomorrow.

Last time we visited the capital was back in August when we stayed ‘up-west’.

This time though, we’re on the opposite side (literally) and heading for east London where Stratford will be our home for the duration.

9.35am: OK, the weather forecast suggested we won’t need factor 30, but it was far better than when we looked yesterday. Valerie dropped us at the station in good time for our 10.01 departure. The train was slightly late, but made up for it as we sped towards the capital. It was the first time that we noticed the numerous and regularly-spaced new gantries above the track (in preparation for electrification).

Those that know us will not be surprised to hear that whilst we’re down south “We’ve got plans”.
On the list – The theatre; tracking down some new technology; therapy (of the retail kind) and a spell in ‘tourist mode’ sightseeing – courtesy of the popular ‘2-for-1’ deals offered by the railways.

11.05am: We arrived in London pretty much on time. First job was to head for our hotel and either check-in (if they’d let us, as we were early) or failing that, just dump our bags.

The ibis, 1A, Romford Road, Stratford (Gawd blimey guvnor!)

12.15pm: After a tortourous journey by Tube, due to an ‘unspecified incident’ that halted the train (meaning we had to switch to the Northern Line at Bank) we eventually arrived at the ibis. Check-in was super-quick, and we were soon on our way to Room 320.

Not bad for just ยฃ85 per night (including a cooked brekky!)

The room impressed us. We’ve stayed in larger (much larger) affairs, but this had a very modern feel to it and contained everything we needed. One example of how modern it was – it’s the first hotel we’ve stayed in where there wasn’t a phone in the room, replaced instead with a WhatsApp number! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Penny-pinching or smart – you decide!

Location-wise, we’re well positioned here. With Stratford station just down the road, we can get pretty much anywhere in the capital without too much of a stretch.

1.30pm: After catching the 1 o’clock news (Oh, Boris, what have you done!!!) we headed out into ‘darkest’ Stratford. Wow!, it’s certainly changed a lot round here since we both worked in and around the area. The numerous shiny new skyscrapers and apartment-blocks now punctuate the skyline, visually transforming the area from ‘old and run-down’ to a modern city.

Absolutely no sign of the Mitchell Brothers though – EastEnders this most definitely (now) isn’t! ๐Ÿ™„

1.45pm: We began our retail therapy with a visit to Westfield, a short(ish) walk from the hotel. Opened in September, 2011, it’s a gigantic retail space, some 1,910,000 square feet of shops, shops and more shops! Perfect then for us two and our therapy! ๐Ÿ˜ต

2.05pm: After a bit of window-shopping (there’s a lot of windows!), we took a break and stopped off for lunch at The Real Greek. We’d not heard of this chain before, but apparently (at the time of writing) they have another 15 outlets around the UK.

Very efficient service and mouthwatering food meant they’re now definitely added to our list called: ‘Must try some of their other restaurants’. Sensibly priced too! ๐Ÿ˜

2.55pm: With lunch out-of-the-way, we continued our retail therapy and headed for the TK Maxx – probably one of the largest of their outlets we’ve even been to! They were busy too – really busy – with the queue for the (many) checkouts snaking round the displays more akin to a Post-Office queue.

…Meanwhile the nearby M & S was struggling! We played ‘spot the customer’, a game that was over very quickly! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
Happily, the Food Hall was doing better and we picked up a few snacks for our evening meal. ๐Ÿ˜

We called it a day shortly afterwards, and headed back in the direction of the Hotel. With a reasonable step-count for the afternoon, we reflected on the impact of Stratford’s transformation of its retail landscape together with the explosion of new buildings in the immediate area. In my eyes, it was completely unrecognisable from the Stratford I knew back in the 90s.

And yet, even though the architecture had changed, the locals still looked very familiar! Consequently we couldn’t help feel an irrational sense of unease as we mingled amongst the residents of E20. It was nothing we could put our finger on – we love our fellow man – but it was the Stratford of old, pre-Olympics – a place where it was probably wise not to wander the streets after-dark! ๐Ÿค” I did see the Mitchell Brothers and plenty of other ‘dodgy geezers’!

Also on our to-do list was to chase-down some technology! That technology was ‘5G’. In spite of being armed with quite a detailed map, it was nowhere ot be found.

A quick conversation with the nominated ‘tech expert’ in John Lewis proved that he was none the wiser, and he suggested that I try ‘further south’. When we got back to the room, I rang ”3′ my phone provider only to be told that their 5g service has NOT been launched yet in London for mobile-phones (but it had for home-broadband) in spite of what the map suggested.

Well, that’s one less thing to worry about whilst we’re here ! ๐Ÿ˜•

Dining in!

6.00pm: We ate in tonight! The Duck Wrap was very pleasant, but the Gluten/Wheat-free Piri-piri Chicken Wrap (that I’d picked-up in error) was the work of the Devil! ๐Ÿ˜ฃ

The Changing Face of Stratford

It’s been an interesting first day and by way of a change, we’re sight-seeing in central London tomorrow!