Blog Archive

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Mary Rose, Niqabs in the UK, Rotterdam, Tripadvisor Disaster, Chuck one a day and Downton Abbey. 1st October 2013

The Mary Rose Museum
HMS Victory
We had the pleasure and the honour of visiting Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard recently where the highlights to my mind are the Mary Rose and HMS Victory.  I last visited HMS Victory over 40 years ago, with my grandparents I think.  I was so impressed at the time that I painted a picture of it which my parents kept and is still a family favourite!  I was equally impressed on my second visit two weeks ago. The ship is 250 years old and is famous because it was Admiral Nelson’s ship in which he defeated the Spanish and the French at Trafalgar despite the fact his fleet was greatly outnumbered.   It was his brilliant planning and innovative techniques that led him to win this celebrated battle.  But it wasn’t all good news.  He was shot and died at the scene.  His body was preserved in a barrel full of brandy and transported back to England.  In case you are wondering, Trafalgar is near Cadiz off the Spanish coast.  The ship is beautifully restored and preserved and is quite fascinating to visit for all sorts of reasons.   The Mary Rose on the other hand is a ‘new’ exhibit that is 500 years old and opened to the public in May.  She sank on the 19th of July 1545 in the Solent near the Isle of Wight whilst Henry VIII watched his fleet battle against the French.  It is thought that it sank due to over-crowding, a gust of wind and water entering through the cannon windows – as usual an exceptional set of un-related incidents that happened at the same time.  Hundreds of men died, but what made the Mary Rose exceptional is that she sank and was rapidly covered in tons of silt.  The silt prevented the usual underwater life forms from devouring the ship and her lower half is almost intact.  So we have tens of thousands of 500 year old artefacts (and skeletons) preserved almost like new.  The museum brilliantly brings all this to life; from cannons through pots and pans to the ship’s dog.  So much has been learned that certain parts of history have been re-written.  The ship with 400+ men had no beds, no toilets and the daily menu was 4.5 litres of beer, 450 grams of biscuits, a small piece of meat or fish and a trace of butter.  Visit.

Few of us can have missed the debate on the wearing of the niqab in the UK.  The niqab is a face cover worn by some Muslim women that usually covers the face apart from a small slit for the eyes.  A niqab covers the face while a burqa covers the whole body from the top of the head to the ground.  The first recent event widely covered by the press was when a woman refused to take off her niqab at her trial.  The judge finally ruled she must take it off so jury and legal team could see her but that she could be shielded from the rest of the court.  She plans to appeal.  Judge Peter Murphy made the ruling at Blackfriars Crown Court in London where the woman is due to stand trial for one count of intimidating a witness.  The 22-year-old from Hackney had refused to remove her niqab and reveal her face in front of any man.  Interesting comment from my friend Phil Friend who is a champion for disabled people:  “Big discussion about whether if the face is covered the jurors can properly assess the demeanour of the accused.  I thought jurors based their findings on the evidence rather than the appearance and demeanour of the accused. One further thought what does this mean for the selection of blind jurors”.  The second case was two niqabbed women attending Birmingham College classes who were asked to remove their niqabs in class.  After a local outcry, the college has reversed its position.  My view on this is very clear: I respect local customs when I visit foreign countries.  I expect anyone visiting or living in the UK to respect our local customs and rights.  The only people I know of who cover their faces in public are bank robbers.  France and Belgium have recently banned full face cover in public.  I doubt the UK will follow but I expect we will see restrictions in places like airports and the NHS.
I spent 24 hours in Rotterdam on business this month and I always find my visits to the Netherlands refreshing.  I went to see our local business partners.  The people are business like, no-nonsense and fun (and tall).  In the 24 hours, we agreed a business arrangement, had a tour of the port and city centre, met an entrepreneur who bought a tiny soap manufacturer in Galilee that makes soaps and creams now on sale in Selfridges and 26 other countries, had amazing Spanish tapas in a Dutch Golf Club, and  agreed a global distribution arrangement with Logitech.  The City has some amazing modern architecture – most of Rotterdam was flattened in the war so is new – my favourite of which is a terrace of yellow houses built as cubes but instead of being built upright as you would expect, are swivelled 45 degrees.  And suspended so you can drive underneath them.  The people of Rotterdam have a reputation locally for doing; they say the people of Amsterdam (an hour away by motorway) have a reputation for talking.  And everyone speaks perfect English wherever you go!  The only negative part of my trip was at Heathrow Terminal One I am sorry to say.  I ordered a cup of tea at Caffe Nero and was asked if I wanted milk.  I said yes and was given a tiny jug of milk.  When I sat down to pour it I noticed the milk was hot and frothy as if from a cappuccino.  I took it back and they quickly replaced it with cold milk and seemed to find it amusing.  Sacrilege!  And terrible staff training!  Business opportunity.

Cube Houses Rotterdam
I use Tripadvisor fairly regularly when I am choosing a hotel or looking for a restaurant.  Although there is some rubbish in it, if you take care you can usually get good advice and avoid the lousy places.  We have had some very good meals by following Tripadvisor carefully. Every now and then, they send me summary details of the number of people reading the reviews that I post and which countries they are from.  I find this interesting and it is designed to encourage me to post more reviews.  Recently they told me I had posted 21 reviews, that they have been read by 1,457 readers, of which 31% were in Italy, 27% UK, 18% Germany, 24% other countries.  Most interesting of all, one of my reviews, a very recent one posted a few weeks ago, is by far the most popular having been read by a staggering  581 people.   It is the one I headed ‘Disaster’!  What does that tell you about Tripadvisor and its readers!  A bland review is of little interest to most people.  What is exciting is a real disaster (like my stay at the Mercure hotel) or something exceptionally good, like a meal I had in Leamington which I said was ‘Fantastic’ and 14 people have voted this ‘helpful’.

My latest resolution is to chuck or recycle one a day.  You may have heard about a group of professionals who are part of the 100 Thing Challenge.  They believe in reducing clutter and living their lives with just 100 items.  I find the idea appealing but there is no way I can live with just 100 things!  I am too materialistic.  So instead, I am going to select one item a day that I can give away, recycle or throw out.  I have also switched to digital wherever possible so I can save documents and books electronically rather than buying more bookshelves.  I am hoping I can get rid of some bookshelves after a while.  Over the years I have kept and collected no end of stuff and the problem is that it takes time and great decisiveness to get rid of boxes full of stuff.  Instead I am hoping it will be simple to select one item a day to go.  Just need to make sure I don’t acquire stuff faster than I shed it!
Finally, we went back to visit Highclere Castle (pronounced High-Clear) which is about 30 minutes from our house.  We first visited this stunningly beautiful palace about 10 years ago.  It is designed by Charles Barry who designed the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and you can see the resemblance.  It is has been owned and run by the Carnarvons for several generations.  The current Lady Carnarvon has a very commercial mind and it has now become Downton Abbey and it is virtually impossible to get tickets to visit now, such is the fame the ITV series has brought it with visitors from all over the world.  A big hit in America, it is now airing in China and cross Asia.  It is also famous for its Tutankhamen exhibition in the basement.  The former Lord Carnarvon sponsored (paid for) Howard Carter to explore in Egypt until he discovered the famous tomb.  Another great historic treasure that has been brought back to life in modern times and is well worth a visit.
Highclere Castle / Downton Abbey

Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.   Terry Pratchett

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