I have just looked through pictures of Tbilisi, Georgia, which accompany a high end travel article about the city.  The pictures are stunning: architecture and lots of people having a fabulous time.  The photos I took of Tbilisi are very different and reflect what I saw and experienced.  The magazine pictures are of grand and beautiful buildings, rooms, cafes, restaurants and people enjoying idyllic outdoor pursuits looking very well dressed.  My photos are of a stunning yet crumbling city and any restaurant or café photos are more taverna and less white napkin.  Looking at resort pictures of late, it never ceases to amaze me the extent to which selective photography can completely alter a place and thus your impression of somewhere and whether you think you might like to go there.

I know it’s all about marketing and attracting a certain type of visitor and there’s nothing wrong or new about that.  It’s just that I find it fascinating yet bewildering.  I recently saw a leaflet for Folkestone, where I live, displayed in France.  It was dreadful.  I have since walked around Folkestone thinking about what I’d take photos of to encourage people to visit.  One thing that stands out is that I wouldn’t recommend or photograph the Bouverie Place Shopping Centre (ASDA, TK Maxx, mobile phone shops, Primark, a sports shop, Body Shop, a 99p shop, a newsagent and a few others).  It’s not so much the shops that don’t appeal, it’s just a relatively new, bland, could-be-anywhere-in-the-world shopping precinct.  It doesn’t photograph well, though I expect the shopping centre had something to do with the leaflet.  My shopping photograph would have been of the cobbled Old High Street with all its small quirky boutique type shops (ignoring the vacant premises).

However, it’s all about perception.  Some people do go to Tbilisi and live the high life, going to opulent restaurants and not wandering around beyond the centre, an area that has been and is being restored or redeveloped.  Maybe it’s the more wealthy who are likely to be lured there.  Likewise, maybe Folkestone will get more visitors if it appeals to people looking for a relatively cheap seaside town.

Review sites such as Trip Advisor are very useful, it’s good to read what supposedly independent visitors have to say about places you want to stay at/eat in, etc.  But it doesn’t really take into account that we are all different and while someone may enthuse about a holiday resort, how lovely it is, what nice people, etc.  Another may say they didn’t like it.  But one reviewer might have been there with a group of lads, met lots of girls, frequented a bar every night, caught happy hour at each one and spent the afternoon recuperating on the lovely beach and thus had a fantastic holiday.  Another review might have hated it because it was noisy, the bars and restaurants were catering more for the former holiday-maker, etc.  I guess you just have to use your best judgment.  But I think it’s a shame that I wouldn’t visit Folkestone if I had picked up that leaflet and I wouldn’t visit Tbilisi if I’d seen that article as neither appeal to me based on the selective information and pictures given.

All that, I guess, is why we should be careful about what we read and what we believe.  I think I’m usually quite careful and aware, particularly when reading marketing copy, but sometimes I just wish I’d ignore leaflets, articles and reviews and just go places with a completely open mind, not having read a guidebook even, and really truly make my own mind up.  That’s what travelling is about, discovery.  And it doesn’t matter that others have been before because it’s your first experience and only your reaction matters.  I wish I went more places with Christopher Columbus eyes.


                I hoped London wouldn’t win the 2012 Olympic bid and my conviction that London shouldn’t be hosting them has increased ever since London did win.  I am not against the Olympics; I think the games are a wonderful showcase for sporting talent and something inspirational and for young sportspeople to aspire to.  I also think it’s amazing that it’s a worldwide event.  I just don’t think London should have been the host city.

                Everything I write here is based on what I perceive to be the case, this does not mean it is accurate, it’s just what I’ve read, heard about or been led to believe.

It is inevitable that any host city will be busier during the Olympics.  But London is already overcrowded.  How will our already fragile (and extraordinarily un-air conditioned) transport system cope?  Oh, that’s right, people who work in London should work from home.  My work and that of many others is not possible to conduct from home.  Many train lines will run to an Olympics Timetable, something I have already ranted about.  In other words, the normal, wage-earning lives of possibly even most people who work in London is going to be affected dramatically.  For those of us hoping to go on holiday for the duration of at least the first few weeks of Olympic turmoil, coupled with it being the school holidays, prices seem higher than normal, particularly for flights.  I know some people who have been told they are not to take annual holiday during the Olympic period.  Erm, school holidays?  My blood is boiling as I write!

That Olympic merchandise appears to not be being made in the UK defies all logic to me.  Yes, it’s supposed to be a world-inclusive event but surely part of the deal for winning host city status is that everything should be made and designed in that country, a veritable showcase for how great Britain can be.  Unsurprisingly, the overspend on all things Olympic is devastatingly high.  So many of us are crippled financially at the moment, this all seems excessive.  As for the huge budget on the 2012 logo, I cannot look at that awful configuration without rolling my eyes and shaking my head in disgust.  Why were “people” paid an obscene amount of money to design a logo which has caused a lot of controversy and which I still can’t read as saying “2012” when we have school children around the country who I expect would have thrived on the challenge to design the 2012 logo?  They wouldn’t have been paid, the reward being the one-off opportunity to see their 2012 logo displayed all around the world.  Surely that would have been more in the spirit of the Olympics.  It feels far too corporate and decadent.  It shouldn’t.  That’s something I like about the Olympic torch relay, it’s actually sharing the host city status with the whole country.  It’s a lovely idea and more in the spirit of the Olympics being for all.

Ticketing.  Despite being anti-London-Olympics, I did apply for tickets.  I was living in London at the time and, as I lived in an “Olympic borough”, I foolishly thought I had a right of sorts to “win” tickets.  The whole system was a disgrace.  I couldn’t apply for too many as I couldn’t afford to win them all, but I didn’t realise I wouldn’t get any.  Friends of mine who live minutes away from Greenwich Park and the horse events are having their lives hugely disrupted with regard to parking and driving restrictions, plus Greenwich Park has been cordoned off for quite some time.  They didn’t get tickets either.  Most people I know didn’t get any tickets, others got a few sets of tickets.  I am not aware of anyone who got tickets who only got one lot of tickets, all those I know with tickets got them for a few things.  How does that work?  Something wasn’t right.

As for advertising, that is something that sends me into overdrive.  I can’t quite believe that spectators (and athletes, I expect) are only allowed to consume or use products that are official Olympic sponsors, from withdrawing cash using only certain cards to what you eat or drink.  Which food and drink manufacturers have the most funds to pay for advertising?  Junk food and fizzy pop ones.  At a sporting event.  Really?  Disgraceful.

I cannot envisage how London will cope, how the VIP lanes won’t wreak havoc with commuters, particularly those on buses who, for example, work in the shops and restaurants London wants and needs the influx of tourists to boost.  Some workers, mainly transport workers, have secured bonuses for the extra work.  Meanwhile, some of us will get no work or challenging commutes.  There are people who are benefiting enormously from the Olympics being held in London, but it does not seem to be your average London worker.

I do hope these Olympics go smoothly.  I know that wherever they are held a lot of compromises to everyday life have to be made, I just don’t think we have the infrastructure to cope with it.  I’m not even going to go into the security issues.  It’s great the venues seem to function and a previously largely ignored part of London is now pretty much centre stage, ie around Stratford, but there has been a price for that.  People have been turfed out of their homes, the “Olympic legacy” does not appear to be for the benefit of those in the vicinity of Stratford to the extent it should be and there is a chance that a once run down area, now full of modern buildings and sport facilities, could end up like the depressingly derelict looking Barcelona Olympics sites.  I hope I’m wrong to be so down about the Olympics in London, I really do.

{28/06/2012}   Favourite old TV adverts

As a child I loved TV adverts, probably because there were only two channels of them in those days!  Now I hate them and usually turn the sound down when they’re playing.  I saw a few old adverts being played at the British Design exhibition at the V&A recently and since then I intermittently think about old adverts I used to love and which I can actually remember, at least in part.

I’ve mentioned it before but the Levi’s advert, the one with a rather strapping, young Nick Kamen dressing down to his perfectly white boxer shorts while at a launderette under the excited surveillance of women waiting for their washes, to the sounds of “I heard it through the grapevine”.  Eye candy and a great soundtrack.

Was it Carling who did the advert with the squirrel doing the tightrope run?  Of course it was, for the whole advert was this squirrel doing a tightrope sort of obstacle course (again, I recall some good music) and at the end finally comes the brand: I bet he drinks Carling Black Label.  Fantastic squirrel performance.

I remember the Tango adverts too, not that I particularly liked them; I just liked the concept of a big orange person slapping your cheeks and declaring you’ve been tangoed!  Did they slap people’s cheeks?  (Refer to yesterday’s blog on my waning memory!)

The Flake advert with the woman eating a crumbly Flake in the bath was also of interest to me because I was always amazed how her steaming bath wouldn’t have melted the chocolate and, as it is the “crumbliest, flakiest chocolate”, I don’t know how she didn’t make anywhere near as much mess as I always made while eating a Flake!

The Milk Tray man.  My kind of man, prepared to do daredevil stunts, dressed in a tuxedo, all in the name of making sure the lady gets her chocolate fix.  Memorable for manliness display.

Oh, the Nescafe Gold Blend adverts, the ongoing saga of the neighbours who clearly wanted to jump each other.  I liked that the adverts ended with suspense and you wanted the next installment.  Did they ever get together?  I like to think they did.

T-Mobile.  Ok, so not an old advert, but I really, really enjoyed the one that was filmed at Liverpool Street station where all the dancers were mingling amidst the late morning travelers but broke out into choreographed dance when music blared from the speakers.  I think it was a genius idea and it was fun to watch, spotting different people’s reactions.

With the exception of the Levi’s advert and the T-Mobile advert, the rest are all food and drink.  Is that interesting or just coincidence?  Probably coincidence and by virtue of the fact I am interested in food and drink so maybe pay more attention to such adverts!

I have drawn a blank as to other adverts.  I know there are more.  I am picturing snippets from an Old Spice advert: waves crashing and that amazing classical music – I can hum it but no idea for present purposes what it’s called.  I also remember the Hovis advert of the little boy delivering bread up a steep cobbled road.  You shared his excitement as he finished his bread round and cycled joyously back down the road.  Ooo, remember Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo?  I suspect that would come under the guillotine in today’s society, if only because Um Bongo might not have been available for sale in the “Democratic Republic of the Congo”!

Ah, I’ve gone all misty eyed.  I also know that I have missed some absolute corkers.  I might have a YouTube search this evening.

Last night, I made moules frites using mussels I had bought the day before in France.  Every time I go to France I at least think about eating moules frites.  It’s a great, simple dish that doesn’t take long to prepare or cook.  But it turns out that most mussels from UK waters are exported, indeed I’ve only ever bought a bag of live mussels from our own shores maybe three times.  I am convinced this is as a result of bad PR that the UK isn’t associated with “mussels chips”.  After all, we’re known for fish and chips, though which in most cases are unforgivably dreadful.

In the UK, we have some fantastic produce, from fish and shellfish to meat and certain vegetables.  But what gets my proverbial goat is that we don’t seem to appreciate our natural resources.  Why, for example, do we sometimes go out of our way for New Zealand mussels?  Just because they’re bigger and have prettier coloured shells certainly does not mean they will taste better than those we could feasibly eat a day after being harvested, in fact even the same day.  But no, we’ve been brain washed into thinking that sometimes only New Zealand green lipped mussels will do.  What middle class fools we can be.

There are also a lot of food stereotypes, for example that toffs go shopping in Waitrose, Selfridges, Borough Market etc, and so can expect and afford better quality food, which mere Lidl shoppers can’t hope for (wrong!).  However, traditional Italian food has the right idea: a few fresh, seasonal ingredients can taste amazing.  A few evenings ago, with little in the house to make a meal, I made a pasta dish from three ingredients – tagliatelli (the only dried pasta in the cupboard), crème fraiche and good quality chorizo sausages .  I wasn’t particularly optimistic it would taste that great, after all how could three ingredients be enough.  But I was wrong.  I wouldn’t buy the three ingredients to specifically make it again, but it tasted really good.

I have recently discovered Lidl.  They do a Black Forest ham (maybe six slices) at, as I recall, £1.99, that for a treat I would happily pay about £6 for in Borough Market.  Likewise, they do a goat’s cheese roll that I would be prepared to pay about three times as much for as a treat.  But actually I don’t need to.  We’re all just a bit food snotty and often don’t appreciate that quality does not have to come at a price.  I have bought three bunches of spinach from Peckham’s various veg shops for £1.  You have to wash it and trim the stalks but the leaves are thicker, darker green and more full of flavour than most of the leaves you get in a supermarket for twice the price and maybe half the weight.  We – and by “we” I am probably referring to a label I detest, but our middle class, of which I resent being (probably) a “member” of – are brain washed into thinking quality does not come from street markets but from farmers’ markets and high end supermarkets.  But in the case of Peckham, no self-respecting West African is going to sell or buy puny, limp, baby leaf spinach.  Why?  Well why would you, it’s a fast growing variety grown for quick results; if you want a spinach dish to taste of spinach, buy proper spinach with a distinctive flavour, packed with iron, not a bag of “oo, it’s baby spinach which costs more, it must be the best”.

We do seem to have descended into a culture of the-more-you-pay-the-better-it-must-be.  Rubbish.  Yes, a budget pack of supermarket cheap meat can be chewy and tasteless  so you might think you’d be better off buying more expensive, say, steak.  You’re probably right.  But if you’re lucky enough to live in London or somewhere with a particular ethnic population, there’s a chance you’ll find cheaper steak from a local butcher than, say, Tesco Value.  I get annoyed that we as a whole seem to allow ourselves to be controlled by, largely, the supermarkets and food snob chefs.  We should trust our instincts more and/or pay more attention to simple, seasonal, local food.  We have long stopped being a nation of foragers, vegetable growers, etc.  What a shame – and I am guilty of thinking “more expensive = better” at times – so many of us have convinced ourselves that we can’t possibly have a good quality, delicious meal if we haven’t gone to Waitrose or bought Sainsbury’s Finest.  Every now and then for a special occasion, buy a punnet of Finest strawberries, then go and pick your own and taste the difference (note the absence of capital letters for Taste the Difference!).  One option will be cheaper and taste far superior, it will just take up potentially a lot more time, but it will be an adventure and a morning or afternoon activity – and think of the freebie potential!  I’m not saying we all have time for going to great lengths to source good quality food, I’m just pointing out that there are cheaper options for sourcing food that can be cheaper, we’re just becoming increasingly snobby, I think, about where our food comes from and how much it costs.  I think.

I am a PC user who desperately wanted to be a Mac user.  I have tried iPod, iPhone 3, iPad 2 and even iMac.  I have a desktop PC, a netbook and a laptop.  People are very much either PC or Mac, a bit like people being cat or dog.  Neither side will budge about their preference.
The reason I wanted to be Apple was that they are things of beauty, my iMac to me being one grade down from seeing the sea for the first time.  They are design gold, tactile, innovative, amazing and things to bandy about with pride.  They are the Ferrari of computer design.  PCs on the other hand are not things to get excited about, at least not aesthetically, they are Land Rovers.
While I never stopped loving looking at my iMac, I never loved it to work with.  I spent 18 months desperately trying to love it.  Apparently Mac are intuitive when it comes to using them.  I am not going to list the numerous simple things I could not do on my Mac.  Seriously, even sending a photo (I used gmail) was a mammouth chore.  Yes, yes, people have shown me how easy it is.  It wasn’t to me and it would drive me to distraction.  When a friend suggested that a Mac that hadn’t been used for a particularly long time had a good resale value, I realised I could get rid of it.  I had resigned myself to being stuck with it until it died and I could justify getting a new computer.  A friend bought it, and claims to love it.  With the money I got for my (overpriced) iMac, I was able to get a desktop PC (a bargain by comparison), which I still have and which has been easy to use.  The first thing I did was send a photograph.  It occurred to me that the right-click function of PCs is part of the key to my love for the PC.
As for the iPad, my netbook is the nearest equivalent.  The netbook takes yonks to fire up and get going.  The iPad meanwhile is buzzing away with ease.  The iPad is beautiful, except you pretty much have to have a case for it which detracts from the lovely smooth slimline appeal of the iPad.  I mean, I’ve had iPhone iSmash, an iPad iSmash would be even worse.  Yes, the swipey-swipey, tap-tap iPad usage is logical.  But that’s only a novelty when you don’t want to type anything.  I hate, hate, hate touch screen keyboards.  Yes, the iPad keyboard on its side is kind of keyboard sized but I can type at almost 90wpm, but I can’t type anywhere near that fast on a poxy virtual keyboard.  So here I am now on my netbook typing away.  So much better.  Just not as pretty or lightweight.  Oh, and I can transfer files and data from my netbook via USB and attach things to my netbook via netbook.  Now, what purpose do iPads have again?  Oh yes, they look lovely and you can view documents, photos etc with ease.  And you can’t do that on a netbook?  Hey ho.  Back to aesthetics and speed and image perhaps?
I have an iPod Shuffle, which served its purpose, but now I use my mobile phone for music.  I have an HTC Desire Z, which I love because it has a touch screen so I can swipey-swipey, tap-tap and there is a proper keyboard, a winner all round.  And it means I get my “it’s” and “its” right.  The iPhone 3 was a poor phone, the auto correct was unforgivably bad and iSmashes, or at least significant iScratches, were pretty much inevitable.  But the screen was lovely and the apps are good … until they freeze, crash, etc.
After almost five months, the novelty of my iPad, as with my iMac and iPhone, has long gone and I am back to my netbook.  Joyously, Apple products keep their value so it turns out I can sell my iPad 2 for enough money to make it worth getting rid of rather than having as an occasional toy.
One final (no, two) Apple issue is that everything I have bought (not the Shuffle though) I have ended up buying a lot of extras for, from screen saver stickers to cases, docks, photo attachment devices, bluetooth keyboard … oh, and when I was thinking about buying a car, it seems that if you don’t have an iPod or iPhone, you have to buy an additional attachment to use your MP3 player as a source of music in your car.  Clever.  But infuriating.
My final issue for now is that switching between Apple and Microsoft was one of the most stressful and infuriating things ever.  I got rid of my iMac maybe two years ago and I’ve only just got the photos from my iMac onto my PC (largely laziness but there have been numerous, and I really don’t mean “one or two”,  attempts – complicated stuff).  Either or both Apple and Microsoft do not make it easy to switch between the two.  I blame Apple but that may be because Apple seems like the exciting fling and Microsoft the dependable spouse.
Having tried so many different Apple products in a desperate attempt to embrace all things i, I feel it’s time to abandon Apple and my love of fantastic design and settle for Microsoft and all the subtle IT advancements that are making my new laptop a joy to use.  I do think that Microsoft have advanced their user technology more than Apple, Apple are just a long way ahead in terms of aesthetics and graphics and image.  Please, please stop me if I look poised to buy the next Apple invention, the odds are I will not love it once the reality has kicked in.

et cetera