Saturday, 29 November 2008

Cooler Climes & Mushy Peas

It snowed in London. The flakes were not large but they were enough to cover park benches in Russell Square(see photo below).

Having just spent two weeks in the UK the cool climate proved to be a welcome change from the stickiness of Singapore.

The fourteen hour flight from Changi to Manchester airport was long but relatively pleasant as only "cattle class" in a jumbo jet can be.

I confess to some nerves as the BA flight turned out to be a code share arrangement with Qantas who have developed the nasty habit recently of having major maintenance instances enroute. Fortunately this proved not to be the case on our flight.

Being a night flight I popped half a sleeping tablet and slept a good six hours enroute. It is the only time I take such medication but is an old trick learnt from businessman who was a frequent flyer.

I had expected dark satanic mills so it was a pleasant surprise to note that the streets were wide and the environs more modern than my original expectation. Manchester was primarily a business destination for me so I saw little of it, except for a guided tour of the Manchester United facilities at Old Trafford, where my conference was being held.

ManU. is a spartan but impressive set up behind the scenes. One of the more interesting challenges they have is to get the grass to grow.

Large light banks resembling irrigators roll around the pitch on wheels, attached by an umbilical heavy duty power cable. This deployment encourages photosynthesis although the swath still looked patchy to me.

The Macdonald Manchester Hotel has much to commend it with large modern rooms and appointments. It was here that I sampled once again that great British staple, fish and chips with mushy peas. I also renewed my acquaintance with another English breakfast delight - the black pudding. This was not such a pleasurable experience and I only sampled it on one occasion.

After three days in the north of England we flew south to the capital. London was drier and more mild on the day of our arrival. The Grange White Hall Hotel is located in Montague Street, Bloomsbury and is a typical Edwardian styled establishment.

The hotel's web site praises its "sumptuous comfort" but that is stretching credibility. It has great location with a short stroll across Russell Square to the Tube and the No.7 bus from Oxford Circus stopping a few yards down the street.

The rooms are clean but 'compact' as most London hotels of this vintage are. The staff are all of foreign nationality, friendly and helpful.

The exception was the Japanese room cleaner whose poor grasp of English saw her recycling our wet towels back on to the room racks, despite the fact that the written room instructions clearly requested that guests place dirty towels in the bath for collection. She was under the mistaken impression that towels in the bath meant that we did not want to change the linen so she dutifully hung them back up.

Heating was provided by water filled radiators which meant that we slept with the windows ajar to avoid suffocation.

I walked into Trafalgar Square each morning with business colleagues who were staying in our hotel and it was a pleasant experience striding through Convent Garden and weaving our way through small back streets.

As stated above, the weather was variable from milder temperatures to the odd snow flurry but a good coat, scarf and gloves saw us well protected. With the onset of winter is got dark early in the evening but by that time we were safely back in the hotel.

During the weekend I visited the British Museum which backed on to our hotel. This was my second visit and it proved as popular as ever with tourists who crowded around the Rosetta stone and other treasures. Not that one could actually see the Rosetta Stone as a Chinese tour group had surrounded it and were taking turns posing for pictures. Their behaviour was as usual boorish.

The Museum had a series of modern sculptures in it galleries (see image above) and a gilded Kate Moss posed as a contortionist was a crowd favourite. I would like to think that she did not have to pose for the artist in the course of its making.

The other trip highlight was the mulled wine and lunches at nearby The Plough pub, a friendly establishment in Museum Street.

See the photos in this gallery.

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