Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Never trust the Welsh with your finances

Stephen and Kate visited this weekend.

Ben, especially, had been very excited about their visit and kept asking all day when they would be arriving. Arriving they did, around 6pm, and Ben rushed to the door to welcome them in.

After a few teas/coffees and a curry, we settled in for a quiet night in front of the telly and a sociable few drinks.

Our conversation increasingly turned to an informed discussion-cum-debate on the criminal justice system, the practicalities of our transport system and much more, and although it could have continued much longer, I decided to turn in at midnight to save myself for our pub night out on Sunday night (it was a bank holiday weekend).

The next morning we awoke at around 7.20am thanks to Ben, and after a small breakfast, went to Milton Keynes for a walk around the Peace Pagoda park. The weather wasn't great and we took the football and frisbee with us to play with the kids/us.

Escaping the rain, we went to The Barn restaurant nearby for some lunch and then back home, before a pub night out at The Swan.

Monday was spent recuperating and playing a good 'ol family classic board game - Monopoly.

We were playing the relatively-new credit card edition (there are so many editions launched these days - even world cup editions) - no cash - and while property prices had increased just a bit, the game had been given a much-needed make over.

I hadn't played it for years and after blowing the dust of, we agreed on a time-limited competition to tie-in with lunch. By the end of the game, the two welsh novices were nowhere, not a monopoly between them, and I had amassed an unenviable wealth at their expense.

Stephen was sure he'd come second, but upon calculation, he edged out Kate, who got the wooden spoon.

It was a nice weekend. The weather had been crap, which is a shame as I wanted to take them to the Dunstable Downs for a nice hill walk.

Maybe next time.

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Monday, 9 August 2010

Anniversary in the Docklands

Have you ever got that feeling that your wedding anniversary celebrations are becoming a bit samey?

As our seven wedding anniversary approached, I felt our events to note this celebral event had become a bit repetitive of late, more unspectacular than spectacular, or more accurately, an evening spent in an Italian restaurant.

The last four had been spent in Mamma Mia's Bedford and Bella Pasta in Milton Keynes in equal portions, and although the food and ambience had always been good, I just wanted to do something different this year.

And, anyway, surely the missus was worth a bit more than 2 hours labour?

So, I reconciled myself on doing something different and told her I was taking her to London - I wasn't sure where - but London.

We looked at various options two weeks before, eyeing up a low cost, high value last minute deal.

We narrowed it down to two, but Ellen was keen on the 4 star 'secret' hotel destination with a pool, jacuzzi, sauna, gym, in central London on the banks of the Thames. I gave in.

Yes, it was a risk, as we didn't have a clue where it was, and would only find out where when we paid. But Ellen had her heart set on the river-side location and 4-star status.

So we booked it.

The booking confirmation hit our inbox in minutes. Where would our mystery hotel be?

It was The London Hilton, Docklands, on Rotherhithe Street.

I was getting increasingly miffed by the second. The Docklands is not, in my book anyway, central London. Anyway, the Docklands, I thought, was a dive (Ulster slang - look it up).

After some research, I noted that it was well served by various transport modes that could get us into central London - that is central London - in about 30 minutes, via either the Thames Clipper riverboat service or a courtesy minibus service every 15 minutes to Canada Water tube station.

We set off from home early on Friday morning by train and after various connections, we arrived at The Hilton via the Thames Clipper riverboat.

Although, our room was tiny, we were pleasantly surprised by free buffet breakfast that we thought we have to pay £10 a head for and by the Rotherhithe area - clearly, a lot of property developers got rich very quick during the 90s/00s.

We went straight to the Canary Wharf estate for lunch, via the famous Cabot Square (pictured at top of article) and onto to so-called 'Reuters Square', a bankers paradise with huge plasma screens and digital tickertapes flashing the latest stock values to the munching masses on their lunch breaks.

It was breathtaking.

How many office workers have two shopping malls on their doorsteps? Or a grand plaza? Or all sorts of pretty wharfs and inlets with tall ships moored?

After lunch, we went into central London, along Regent Street, for a drink in my most recent favourite pub - The Pontefract Castle on Bond Street - a stroll along South Bank on a balmy summer night as the sun set (honestly. I'm not writing a romantic novel here), before stopping off at an old, 19th century watering hole by the name of JD Robertsons for drink.

We then supped one last drink outside the Hilton, literally, opposite Canary Wharf, watching skyscraper office lights go out and go on as the world's money markets went to bed and got out of bed, got washed and went to work.

The next day, Ellen went nuts over the buffet breakfast. I'm very much a buffet 'stacker'. I go up, pile my plate high and wide with food to minimise the need to queue up and get seconds and thirds, and tuck in. Ellen doesn't. She went up about 5 or 6 times. The staff must have been sick of the sight of her.

We departed the Hilton and went for one last stroll around the Canary Wharf estate, stopping off at the magnificent Museum of London Docklands on the Isle of Dogs.

Words cannot describe how fascinating that place was.

Not only was the museum itself located in a grade I listed early 19th century sugar warehouse, I was blown away by the romance story of the regeration of the docklands from Peckham reject to world financial capital wannabe - all in the space of 20 years.

What a story, and the history of the River Thames and London was fascinating too.

I'll never think of 'The Strand' in the same way again, other than an ancient nudist hot-spot for Germanic tribes who fancied a beach holiday in a former Roman outpost that was now under new German management, although an up-and-coming Danish investment group had recently expressed an interest. The word 'strand' is German for beach.

I told Ellen that next time we were back in London, we were eating al fresco in the Docklands - how many other eateries afford you a river view, with pretty boats and skyscrapers as standard?

We'd had a great time.

Now how can I beat that next year?

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