Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Beat

A few weeks ago, I read that The Beat were heading to Edinburgh. I immediately dropped everything and purchased tickets to see the legendary ska band. I've seen The Beat several times now and they never disappoint - Saturday's gig in Scotland's capital city was a brilliant as ever.

In the intimate, although some might say claustrophobic, atmosphere of The Liquid Room, Ranking Roger and son belted out all the classics much to the delight of the appreciative audience. Mirror in the Bathroom, Too Nice to Talk To, Hands Off, She's Mind and Tears of a Clown were greeted with raucous applause. Even three decades later, Stand Down Margaret  - an 80s plea to the former Prime Minister to go - brought a huge ovation, particularly from those of us who suffered under the policies of the Thatcher government.

A great night, as I had anticipated - and, as always, The Beat always deliver.

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Leaving of Liverpool

The guvn'r and I decided to try to banish the winter blues with a wee mini break in Liverpool. It's been a few years since I've been in the city and much has changed since my last visit.

What hasn't changed is the pride Liverpudlians take in their city. Strolling through the city centre, I was struck by the vibrancy of the people just going about their every day business. Scousers are proud to be Scouse and quite rightly so. In the bustling city centre, people move purposefully in search of bargain buys from shops eager to attract custom by declaring sales, buy one get another free and that all stock must go. As in other working class cities such as Glasgow there is a sense of togetherness, a sense of an army of working class people joining the fight against austerity and, consequentially, poverty.

Although we were there only a couple of days we managed to take in the hugely impressive Beatles Story Museum, the very moving The Museum of Slavery and the informative Titanic Exhibition. The following day we visited the truly magnificent Liverpool Cathedral - the older one, which was a sight to behold both outside and inside.

However, much as we enjoyed our trip to the north-west of England - battered as it was by hurricane winds on Wednesday night - the leaving of Liverpool left a stain on our visit for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, we opted to travel by train  - and by First Trans-Pennine Railways. Those of you who have read these pages before (and I give thanks to you both) may have noted my various diatribes about First Group who try and run bus and train services across the country. Our journey down to Liverpool via Wigan was reasonable enough; the train was on time and we got complimentary coffee and sandwiches which is customary for travelling first class. However, our return journey on Thursday afternoon was not quite as smooth.

We checked the news regarding the chaos the winter storm had brought the night before. The west coast main line had been closed for two hours on Wednesday evening due to the severe weather so we expected there would be delays caused by the knock-on effect. Upon arrival at Wigan North-West at 2.30pm for our connection back to Auld Reekie, we were greeted by the news that our train had indeed been delayed. There was no indication of how long; the station announcer merely stated the train 'had not yet left Manchester Oxford Road'.

We sat in the chill of the passengers' waiting room at Wigan North-West station along with other disgruntled passengers. As we did, the14:38 Virgin train to Glasgow Central pulled in - bang on time. This seemed something of a curiosity as this train had left Manchester some half an hour earlier - the same route as the delayed First Trans-Pennine train. After half an hour in the freezing waiting room, the announcements about our train had ceased. The arrivals/departure screen merely flickered that the 15:38 Virgin train to Edinburgh would also be on time. Eventually, the news on the screen was that our train was scheduled to arrive at 15:41 - nearly one hour late. Once we got on the train and settled down, trying to get some feeling into numb bones, the train conductor apologised for the late arrival. This wasn't down to any weather conditions, or any weather-related debris on the track. It was down to the train driver not turning up. Mother Nature, I could take. Human nature i.e. a thoughtless action from a Worst Group employee, I couldn't. There was to be no offer of a hot drink until we reached Preston 20 minutes later. Another down-trodden Worst Group employee scampered on to the train at that point, his arms full of hastily prepared sandwiches and a catering trolley. When I asked for a cup of hot chocolate, he returned with a bottle of cold water. I was beginning to think Worst Group were paying me back for my criticism of their operations all these years.

We arrived back in Edinburgh more than an hour late. Once home, I checked my credit card details on-line as I regularly do. I was concerned to discover a pending transaction of £75 which I couldn't account for. When I telephoned the credit card company in the morning they advised it was the Thistle Hotel in Liverpool. When I checked out there on Thursday morning they charged me the agreed amount and gave me a receipt. A telephone call to the hotel on Friday morning resulted in the news that, once I had left the hotel, they charged another £76 for meals for two nights - despite this having been paid for. Eventually, this was sorted out but I was somewhat alarmed that the hotel had, in effect, used my credit card without my permission. One the one hand, the hotel did apologise. On the other hand, I was furious that they had deducted this amount without telling me - they had my email address and mobile telephone number but chose to use neither.

It put a wee bit of a dampener on what was, overall, a decent wee break. Liverpool is a fine city although customer service is not always a strong point (querying a departure time of a city tour with the bus driver I was told I would need to go round the corner and wait for half an hour - 'I'm on me break' she told me; the following day, another driver from the sightseeing tour operator told us it wouldn't be worth getting on his bus as half the city had been closed due to storm damage) However, the Thistle Hotel charging us twice for meals did nothing to allay the stereotype built up by some people of Scousers being prepared to rob their own Granny.

I think the guvn'r and I shall return to Liverpool. Only next time, we'll travel south by Virgin Trains rather than Worst Group. And we we'll be giving the Thistle Hotel something of a wide berth.

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