I've just spent a few days in London with my old friend Brian, whom I've known since I lived there several decades ago.  So - just for a change - I thought I'd take some pictures while I was there and post them here, so you know what I get up to...

 Whenever I'm in London, I always make a point of visiting the Covent Garden area.
This photo was taken just east of Leicester Square Underground station.  The street ahead is Long Acre, which leads to old Covent Garden market.  The revitalised area known as Seven Dials (see later) is just to the left.  St Martin's Lane leads off to the right towards Edith Cavell's statue (which also see later) and Trafalgar Square.
The crowd of people on the right are loitering outside a very trendy burger bar called Five Guys.  We've tried their burgers.  They're awful.

 This is the emporium that constantly tempts me to Covent Garden:  Stanford's - probably the biggest travel book shop on Earth.  Three floors of total, unalloyed bliss for the likes of me.  Most of my journeys - including my next one to Scandinavia - started life during an idle browse of Stanford's heaving bookshelves.  It has a great deal to answer for.

The gates of heaven...

..and yours truly, about to enter in...

A little further east up Long Acre, at Covent Garden Underground station.
The market itself is down the street to the right.
The imposing building at the end is the HQ of British Freemasonry.

 Inside Covent Garden market.
The church just outside is St James', known as 'the actors' church' or 'the church with its back at the front'.  It was designed 'the wrong way round' by Inigo Jones.

Inside the other 'arm' of the market.
The string quartet in the centre of the photo perform the classics in a highly entertaining, 'relaxed' kind of way.  They're wonderful.

This is another reason I make a beeline for this area - the London Transport Museum.  I'm old enough for it to bring back many memories of my time working on London's buses in the early 70s.

Exhausted - and enjoying a well-deserved ice-cream after my pilgrimage to Standford's.
 The Royal Opera House
Because Brian is a balletmaster, I've seen many world-class performances here.  But I have an uneasy relationship with it.  It sucks in millions of pounds of arts subsidies whilst remaining well out of the reach of ordinary people.  Only the wealthy can afford to go...

Taken with Brian's 'candid camera' at the Edith Cavell statue.
The building in the background is the National Portrait Gallery.  Trafalgar Square is just off to the left.

Edith Cavell - 'patriotism is not enough...'

The amazing and flamboyant George Skeggs, whom I (literally) bumped into in Covent Garden Tesco's.
He was born and bred in the area, speaks with a wonderful London accent, works as an artist and is still very much a ladies' man.  If you don't believe me, Google him.

Slightly to the north-west of Covent Garden is Seven Dials.  For generations, it was a neglected and unsightly part of central London.  Not now, though.  It's become an atmospheric and very lively maze of courtyards and alleyways devoted to whole foods and craft-made perfumes and beauty products.  The photos above and below are of yer actual Neal's Yard.

The north side of Trafalgar Square after dark.
The National Gallery is on the left.  Beyond it is the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Part of London's awesome transport infrastructure are its riverbus catamarans - every 20 minutes from 0600 to midnight.  We took a trip downstream from Westminster to Greenwich.  This view looks north from Blackfriars Bridge.  The office block in the middle is the 'Cellphone Building', to its left is the top of the 'Gherkin' and further left is the 'Cheesegrater'.
Overshadowed by the Cellphone Building is the gold-topped column known as The Monument.  It's a memorial to the Great Fire of 1666 and stands 202ft (61.5m) high, being exactly that distance from the bakehouse in Puddling Lane where the fire started.

Me - nithered - at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

The princely Tower Bridge.
The Cellphone Building is visible to the right and the 'Shard' to the left.

And so homeward, beginning at Brian's local Underground station - Northfields.
During the refurbishment of the system in the 1920s and 1930s, architect Charles Holden designed many station buildings in this startling, 'utilitarian' style.  Londoners love them and all of them are now listed buildings.

The wonderfully-restored facade of King's Cross.
It stands cheek-by-jowl with St Pancras, next door (below) and, even though the stations differ markedly in style, they were built within a couple of years of each other.  Fairytale Victorian gothic splendour and down-to-earth utilitarian design hand-in-hand.
The King's Cross clock was taken from the Crystal Palace when it was moved to Sydenham.

This - and the topmost photo - are of Brian's taste in exotic Venetian masks.
* * *
* * *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
See question 17...


This is the quiz Ross set for his willing victims last weekend.

Give it a go - it’s a stinker!

1  In the Tour de France, what does the leader of the young rider classification wear?
2  Which airport does the International Airport code 'LHR' refer to?
3  What is the name of Peppa Pig's younger brother?
4  By what name is the detective Jimmy Doyle better known?
5  Which two cities lie at opposite ends of England's Grand Union Canal?
6  What word means ‘the study of rocks’?
7  What type of building was Martin Luther King standing on the balcony of when he was assassinated in 1968?
8  Which Celtic rock band took their name from a character in the Beano?
9  What musical instrument’s name means ‘bell play’ in German?
10 Who is currently the longest serving manager in English League football?
11 Which philosopher famously said ‘the only thing that I know is that I know nothing’?
12 Who rolls first in a game of Cluedo?
13 What is the name of the specific area in mathematics that deals with the relationships of lengths and angles of triangles?
14 Who had a hit with Bird Dog in 1958?
15 Which European city has 40 islands within its limits?

16 Who wrote the novel Trainspotting?
17 What is the name of the world’s highest waterfall (above)?
18 By what other name is the Flying Fox known?
19 From what material is the Taj Mahal constructed?
20 Which Scottish football club is nicknamed 'the Arabs'
21 Which region of the earth's stratosphere traps most of the sun's UV radiation?
22 Which cartoon character lives in Bikini Bottom?
23 What is the name of the trophy awarded to the NHL playoff winners?
24 What is the name of the Northumberland dish consisting of layered potato, onion and cheese?
25 What connects the above?

26 Last week the French government indicated it was likely to support a bill to ban what?
27 Glastonbury has named its headline act for the festival this year. Who is it?
28 Microsoft this week announced it was killing off its much hated Internet Explorer browser and replacing it with a new browser in Windows 10.  What’s the new one called?
29 Which stadium hosted the final match of the Six Nations Rugby Tournament on Saturday?
30 A comic book store in Stanley was recently on fire, but the blaze was judged as ‘not deliberate’.  What was the name of the store?

How many goals for Man Utd did Ryan Giggs score?

From 1978 to 2008, in it’s entire run, how many episodes of Grange Hill were produced?

I only got 9, which isn't much good by any standards.

Answers next time.
* * *
* * *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com

In blogposting 553 I mentioned the visit my brother and his wife were making at the time to ─░stanbul.  It’s a city they love; in fact, many decades ago, they used to live there and were married there.

Arriving with all this baggage of affectionate expectation, they immediately took a photograph from their hotel bedroom window - a view which did not exactly encapsulate any of the wonderful things that they knew were out there waiting for them.

It proved, if proof were needed, that you can’t see the Blue Mosque - or much else worth looking at - from every ─░stanbul bedroom window.

Their experience has prompted Brenda to send me her recollections of a couple of holidays she recently took in Scotland.  And, as you’ll find out, they involve a lot more than a poor view - although poor views crop up, too.

Now, read on…
* * *

'In February 2011 my boys and I did a ‘Freedom of Scotland Railpass’ tour of Scotland.

We spent the first night in a Travelodge in Glasgow which was a bit like
Beauty and The Beast; from logging in to getting breakfast, everything was done by computer and machine.  There was a thing in Reception where you put in a code and your credit/debit card and it spat out keys and vouchers for breakfast.  We did actually see a human at breakfast who just took the vouchers and vanished. 

Which is OK - except that the things thrown out onto the flat roof outside our window made me blanche and pull the curtains.

We took the West Highland Line to Mallaig where we stayed in a hotel right next to the railway station and literally yards from the ferry landing.

It was mid-afternoon.  The door to the hotel was locked but the bar was open so I went in.
It was one of those Scottish bars where you half-expect a piano player to stop playing as you walk in.  There were a few customers and a very well spoken black barmaid.  I only mention her colour because you don’t see many black faces in the West Highlands, and it added to the air of surreality.

I asked her about the hotel and when and how we could check in.

‘Oh, I can give you the keys but you’ll have to give me £50 cash’.

I told her I’d already paid a deposit by ‘phone, wasn’t prepared to hand over my limited amount of cash but would be happy to pay using the debit card.

‘The machine’s upstairs in the office’.

I suggested she might go and fetch it, but she demurred because she was the only member of staff ‘until Bessie gets in at 5’.

So we left our bags behind the bar (I had to ask, she didn’t offer) and went out to explore Mallaig and find some tea.

On our return we were led to the office upstairs, our card was used, and I asked what time they served breakfast and where.

‘Oh it’s out of season and we’re being refurbished - we’re not doing breakfast – I’m sure Bessie would have told you’.

By now I was so fed up I just thought ‘bugger it - we’ll get something from Nisa’.

This grey Scottish wall is what confronted me when I entered the room I was sharing with David.
But if you opened the window as far as it would go before hitting the facing wall, leant out as far as possible and looked to your right this is the view of the sea.

This is the view from Michael and Tommy’s room.

We got the ferry to Armadale, the bus to Broadford then Kyle-of-Lochalsh and the train to Inverness – wonderful.

We’d booked rooms in the Premier Inn which claimed to be in ‘central Inverness’.  Hmmm - ‘central’ as in a good half mile walk along a busy road from the railway station and poorly signposted at that.

The next time we stayed in Inverness (February 2012) we went to the MacDougall Clansman Hotel, which was truly central, a dream of dark wood and tartans, architecturally interesting and really nice and friendly. 

Because of the two boys and autism, I’d booked the family four bedded room.  It was right at the top of the building, under the eaves, and provided Tommy with wonderful views of passing buses (his passion).  When we arrived, the landlady, in the nicest east Scottish accent, asked if we might prefer two twin rooms, at the same price as ‘we are very quiet at the moment’.

The family room suited us better, but it was nice to be asked.

Also they didn’t demand money on arrival and did lovely breakfasts....'

Brenda isn’t just an accomplished ‘extra’ and clog-dancer; she is, amongst many other things, a skilled writer.  I see yet another alternative career looming, Brenda.  Thanks for sending me this.

You’re a star.

Anybody else care to add their two-penn’orth?
* * *
* * *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com

There's an important election coming up on May 7 - and I don't mean the vapid political pantomime whose predictably dreary soundbites are already boring half of us to tears and sending the other half to recreational drugs.

On the Big Blue Bus programme a few years ago, we had the temerity to ask the RSPB why England had no National Bird.  After all, the USA has the bald eagle, India has its peacock and even France has a cock (naturally).

Well, you should never underestimate the clout of local radio.  We must have ruffled a few feathers* because, even though it's taken several years, the British are at last to be given the opportunity to vote for a National Bird.  Leading ornithologist and broadcaster David Lindo has drawn up a shortlist of ten birds and we're all invited to vote for our favourite - by or on May 7.

*I'm hoping this will be the only avian pun in this blogposting.

Here are the contenders...

Mute Swan
One of the largest flying birds on Earth - it can weigh up to 9kg.
And mute swans are by no means mute - they grunt, whistle hoarsely, snort and hiss.
Barn Owl
The silent, haunting - and slightly unsettling - hunter.

One of the commonest and most welcome sights in the land - complete with its silken song.

Blue Tit
Amongst the most colourful of Britain's birds - and thankfully not uncommon.

Hen Harrier
It's been persecuted almost to extinction in England and its numbers elsewhere 
aren't looking too good either.

It can easily be overlooked - despite its flamboyant colours - because 
it spends so much of its time completely motionless.

These lovely birds never look 'clownish' or remotely 'comical' to me.
I prefer their common Scottish name - 'sea parrot'.

Thankfully quite common in town and country - although not commonly seen.

His 'red' breast indirectly gave rise to my own surname.

Red Kite
A re-introduction victory for a bird that was previously on its way 
to extinction - as the hen harrier is now.

Call me picky but I can find a couple of faults with Mr Lindo's idea.

Firstly, I'd have preferred each of the countries that make up the Union to have its own national bird - perhaps the raven or the chough for Wales and the golden eagle or the ptarmigan for Scotland.

And secondly I have to deplore the omission of my all-time favourite - and far too often overlooked - candidate: the wonderful little chaffinch (at the top of this blog and at the top of my list).

Notwithstanding, you can make your choice known at votenationalbird.com.

For the record, here's a list of some of the more exotic national birds that grace the earth's skies...

Himalayan bulbul (Bahrain)
Lilac-breasted roller (Botswana)
Trogon (Cuba)
Palmchat (Dominican Republic)
Turquoise-browed motmot (El Salvador and Nicaragua)
Resplendent quetzal (Guatemala)
Doctor bird (Jamaica)
Dodo (Mauritius) - a little bit late to save that one
Bare-throated bellbird (Paraguay)
Andean cock-of-the-rock (Peru)
Siamese fireback (Thailand)
Cocrico (Trinidad and Tobago)

And the record goes to the African fish eagle, which is claimed as the national bird of Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Sudan and Namibia.
 * * *
A woman on the bus this morning called today's solar eclipse 'a damp squid'.  If, like her (and me), you didn't get a good view of it, take comfort.  Compensation of a sort will arrive, cloud-permitting, with a total lunar eclipse on September 28.  


If there's still time, please remember to celebrate St Cuthbert's Day today, Friday 20 March - the last day of winter.
* * *

* * *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com

Here's a final flourish of photographs to remind everyone - as if a reminder were needed - of how important Hildie was to us truckshunters.  And of how important we were to her.

Thanks to Vivienne for sending me the pictures.

In Mowbray Park, Sunderland, with Vivienne and Gerry

Artless pose in Mowbray Park

Less posed but just as artless

The Victoria Hall Memorial in Mowbray Park

With Ada at the Sage

And again

And yet again

At The Biscuit Factory with Gerry, Paul, Ada, Vivienne and Sid

With her infamous packets of 'ambient' sausage rolls

And finally...at the Sage with Lawrence, Ada, Maureen, Sid and Vivienne
* * *
* * *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com