Air bnb: A seasonal warning

My wife Julie and a group of seven of her friends recently planned a trip to London, to meet up. They were coming from all over the UK, so a central location was preferred for easier travel. One of the group found an ideal apartment, a short walk from Hyde Park Corner. She booked the place for the desired night, and sent a link around, so everyone could see the ‘luxury’ flat they would be staying in.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be a scam. The online photos were ‘stolen’ from a flat that was for sale, and the advertiser had no access to the premises, and certainly did not own the flat. Fortunately, this was discovered in time, and the lady received most of her money back. So she tried again, using a website called ‘’ to source an alternative flat. They found one in Covent Garden; very central, handy for transport, tourist sites, and restaurants. From the photos, it seemed to be basic but comfortable, and suitable for the group to stay in for one night.

However, when they arrived and were let in, they discovered that the flat they were expected to stay in was not the nice one advertised. It was dirty, with condom wrappers and drug paraphernalia evident, as well as blood spatters on a wall, and unsuitable, dirty pillows and bedding. They complained, and went out for lunch while the place was ‘cleaned’. That cleaning consisted of a quick tidy up, and the replacement of two sheets, as well as the removal of pillowcases with no clean ones provided. The seating accommodation provided for eight people was just two small plastic chairs, and two bar stools. Others had to sit on beds that would be slept on later, or on the floor.

Of course, they could have just left, and tried to get the money back. But after travelling for many hours to spend one night together, they were unlikely to find, or be able to afford, alternative accommodation in the heart of London during the busiest tourist season. So they did what British people tend to do, and they made the best of it. Julie has formally complained online today, through However, I think this story warrants more coverage, and suitable outrage.

***Update*** As of this evening, and following complaints from Julie’s group today, has removed that particular rental from its website. So, it pays to complain, if only for the benefit of others.

So, be warned. Be very careful with any choices from both Air bnb, and You might end up travelling a long way to stay in somewhere different to the place you booked, and find it filthy on arrival. Even worse, you might find it doesn’t exist. If you know anyone who is considering doing this, then please make them aware of this post.

***I can only talk about our own experience. I am sure that most Air bnb owners are genuine, and many dealings with are trouble free.***


Saturday thoughts, for a change

This week, part of our electric oven stopped working. The fuse blew, and had to be reset on the board. When the cooker came back on, the hob was working, and the small top oven and grill seemed to be OK too. But the main oven, the ‘big one’ with fan-assisted cooking, was as dead as a dodo.

What to do? We can still cook of course, and there is always the microwave too. Modern convenience, and if all else failed, a small gas-bottle camping stove for emergencies. As well as that, it is still unbearably hot in the house as the heatwave continues, so no need to worry about cooking casseroles, or roasting meat.

I could get someone out to see if they can fix it. There will be a call-out charge, naturally. Then there is the potential cost of replacement parts. What if the fan has shorted out? Perhaps the heating element has failed completely too? It all starts to become one of those times when you have to think about whether or not it’s worth replacing something, even though it is only six years old. Some investigation revealed that it might cost as much as close to half the price of a new replacement cooker to fix the old one.

So we bought a new one, and it is arriving late next week.

This made me remember the ‘old days’, as such things do. When something broke when I was a child, replacement was rarely an option. The outlay on a new item was beyond the financial reach of most working-class families. I recall a hair-dryer used by my Mum. Not unlike the modern equivalent, it was much larger, as well as being heavier and noisier too. In use, the motor at the side would glow red, and one day it just went ‘bang’. There was no thought of buying a new one. It was a luxury, not an essential. My Dad had a go at fixing it. After what amounted to a full disassembly and rebuild, it reappeared covered in sticky black insulation tape, and it was working again, albeit with a strange whirring sound added.

Not long after, it went ‘bang’ again. This time, it was taken to a small shop located in a nearby shopping street. I went with my Mum, and was fascinated by the miles of jumbled wires, and the stacks of non-working valve radios, primitive toasters, and the rows of dead electric fires. The man gave my Mum a small ticket, and told her to come back in a couple of day’s time. When she collected it, the handle was a different colour to the rest, as the man had cleverly cannibalised parts from a similar model. The cost of the repair was less than 5% of buying a new one, and it worked well for another ten years, until I was in my late teens.

Much later, and I was married, living in a house in Wimbledon. We had a washing machine, something of a considerable expense in those days, at close to £400. That was almost a month’s salary then. One day, it started to leak as it was operating, and that leak turned into a veritable flood of soapy water all over the floor of the small kitchen. After managing to stop the machine working, I contacted a local company advertising repairs, and they came out. Something metal in the washing (later discovered to be the underwire of a bra) had damaged the main rubber seal, allowing the water to escape. The man replaced the seal, found and removed the wire, and charged us £15, including the cost of the seal. He had only been there for fifteen minutes or so, and was very efficient.

But now, we just throw everything away. If a hair-drier costs less than £20 to replace, who would consider paying that much to get it repaired? A washing machine is now less than one week’s pay in most jobs, and a similar repair close to £100 or more, including the dreaded ‘call out’ fees. And those shops with clever ‘little men’ surrounded by dead electrical items are all long gone, as business rates force everyone like them off the High Streets of England. These days, we have to make online appointments with ‘authorised repairers’, from companies who act as if they are doing you a favour by actually turning up at all.

We live in a disposable society, to the detriment of the environment.
‘Repair’ has become ‘Replace’.

Great Albums: Bedtime Stories

Most people either used to really love Madonna, or dislike her intensely. There was little middle ground with the talented singer and actress, who seemed to spend her career reinventing herself in a variety of ever-increasingly provocative personas. I always liked her from the start. As well as being great to look at, she was different, fun, and could really sing too. I bought her albums, watched her film roles and great promotional videos, and defended her to her detractors. Fair enough, not all of her many album releases could be considered to be great music, but she was never less than diverse, experimental, and interesting.

Then in 1994, she returned to her pop roots and film-star glamour style, with the release of her sixth album, ‘Bedtime Stories’. I heard the single release ‘Secret’ on the radio, and immediately bought the album, without hesitation. Eleven tracks, and collaborations with The Isley Brothers, Babyface, Herbie Hancock, and songs written by Bjork as well as Madonna and Dallas Austin. This was a concept album, attempting to tell a story as each track played. And I loved it.

Track one was ‘Survival’, a straight pop record alluding to her notorious past.

Next came the huge-selling single, the wonderful ‘Secret’. Just listen to how good her voice is, as you watch the cinema quality promotional video. And how great does she look? If you didn’t think she was a good vocalist, just try to sing the song yourself. It’s really hard!

Track nine is the plaintive ‘Sanctuary’, with a laid back feel, and multi-tracking of her voice.

This was followed by the title track, ‘Bedtime Story’, with a hypnotic beat behind her vocals.
The video is great, and you really get the feel of Bjork’s involvement too.

The album ends with the lovely ballad ‘Take A Bow’, a beautifully constructed song that also had a brilliant promotional video.

Of course, Madonna hasn’t gone away. She made some outstanding albums before this one, and went on to release many more, always changing themes and styles. Still working at the age of 59, she is one of the most successful female performers ever.

Geography: Our place in this world

I recently published a post about History. I was lamenting what I perceived to be a lack of interest in, and knowledge of, a subject I consider to have great relevance and importance. The response was very satisfying, and the debate in the comments was a heartening example of what ‘good blogging’ is all about. Talking about the exam syllabus, and good and bad teachers, got me thinking about Geography.

As a child, I always loved to look at Atlases, maps, and my metal globe. I also had an encyclopedia that listed all the countries in the back, with pictures of their flags, the names of the capital cities, size of populations, their main industries and exports too. I would look up a certain country, find it on a map or on the globe, and imagine life there across an ocean, or on the other side of the world. Once I started to study the subject at school, I soon discovered that it was as much about geology, natural formations, mighty rivers and ice-caps, as it was about the countries that claimed their national borders. I also found out that most of my fellow school students had little or no knowledge or interest in the outside world, and dropped the subject as soon as they were allowed to.

Later on, I had some first-hand examples of this lack of knowledge. Some of it shocked me, especially when it concerned our own country, Britain. I met people who thought they had to travel south to reach Scotland. Others who thought Ireland was next to Wales, and not separated by any water. Even one man I met as a teenager who assured me that if I went to Australia, the people would be walking upside down. I presume now that this was him teasing me, but I didn’t think so then. Although this was at a time when many people had not travelled far from home, we did have a huge amount of men living nearby who had served in WW2, and had travelled extensively. That included my own father, who had been to India, Burma, South Africa, and Egypt. Their tales of distant lands inspired me to discover more, and to get better maps, and adult encyclopedias.

Much later, I was playing a game of Trivial Pursuit at work, during some down-time. My own crew-mate at the time was asked to name a country that bordered Pakistan. After some thought, he answered, “Spain”. I was smiling, and thought he was being silly, as he didn’t know a correct answer. But after some discussion, he told me that he really didn’t think Spain was that far from Pakistan. And this from a man who had been to Spain, and also worked in Australia for a year at one time. Years after that, I was on holiday in Turkey, with my wife and two of her children. One of the girls (14 at the time) asked me if we were anywhere near Ibiza. I remarked that she should have known how far we were (over 2,500 miles) from that island, and she replied “It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to know where somewhere is, to go there”.

That got me thinking. Was it just me? Does it matter if someone knows that Scotland is north of London, when their Satnav will tell them what road to take? Why should anyone care that Abuja is now the capital of Nigeria, if they have no intention of ever going there, or being remotely interested in that country? And if you think that Pakistan is close to Spain, unless you suddenly decide to drive from one to the other, it is perhaps of little consequence. In our lives, we are unlikely to ever find ourselves blindfolded, abducted, and left alone in some remote place, needing to discover how to get home, or where we might be. For everyday use, the majority of people can ask their phone or tablet anything they need to know about a travel destination, or holiday resort. If a family is going to holiday in a beach resort in Cuba, does it matter a jot if they know that they are only 90 miles south of the mainland of America?

I wonder if anyone still looks at maps, or has a globe? Is the electronic equivalent enough now? Does that interest in the world now only come in chunks the size of a phone screen, that you can scroll down? My own opinion is that History and Geography are inseparable, both linked to politics, and the world we live in today. Lines drawn on maps by colonial powers, the proximity of warring nations, the lust for natural resources, living space, and fertile land and water. Geography impacts on our daily lives more importantly every year, just as those resources diminish with use. It would be a shame if it became yet another ‘forgotten’ subject, dominated by the map-makers at Google.

What do you think?

If I was in Star Trek

This popped up as a suggestion from You Tube today. I wasn’t a huge fan of the series, but did watch many of the early episodes, those with Bill Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy. Whoever put this together may have intended it as mockery of Londoners, their accent, and expressions, but it really worked for me.

If I had written the script, and starred in Star Trek, this is just what it would have been like.
If anyone needs a translation, please say so in the comments. 🙂
And if you ever wondered what my voice sounded like…


A lot of people these days have scant regard for history. Whether local, national, or world history, they think it has little or no relevance to their lives. It was something that happened at a time that didn’t concern them. A time when there was no Internet, video games, or fast-food outlets. Not even a phone, let alone a mobile phone. History is falling out of favour. Less people are studying it, and fewer people than ever before have an active interest in it. An unscientific random poll of younger people I know shows an alarming lack of knowledge about it, allied to an active and vocally expressed disinterest in anything to do with it.

Personally speaking, I cannot imagine any subject more interesting. How we got to where we are today, what caused the international issues and problems we experience on a daily basis, and how the iconic buildings we admire came to be built. The origins of language, our genetic make-up, and everything we are. It’s all history. Once you have read this post, it will become part of history. Everything we touch, make, discuss, or admire. All of that is tomorrow’s history. It is inescapable, yet hardly given a moment’s thought. Wars, religions, ruling dynasties, lines drawn on maps, and empires built then fallen. The amazing story of the modern world, overlooked for a Facebook page, or a chat on Whatsapp. Send a tweet, a photo of what you are wearing, or what you had for lunch, and it becomes history, whether you appreciate it, or not.

The Internet has made history personal, in a way that could never have been imagined, when monks dutifully copied books, or women sewed the Bayeaux Tapestry, in 1067. We have memorial days for historical characters, remembrance days for those fallen in wars. But how long will all this last, if younger generations decide that it is no longer of interest, and does not need to be celebrated, or remembered? Wherever you live, you are surrounded by history. The history of indigenous peoples, ancient stones and monuments, churches, cathedrals, statues, and art. But if it no longer matters to you, then it will be lost, possibly forever.

People visit amazing countries like Egypt, then describe it as a ‘lot of old stones’. Some wander around iconic sites, with no comprehension of how old they really are, or their importance in the development of mankind. Just get that selfie, with it in the background, and job done. Others visit Mayan and Aztec remains, then complain about the heat, or the lack of facilities, somehow expecting history to be sanitized to their modern tastes. For many, the dates merge. One war seems much like another, until they are unable to separate WW1 from WW2 for example. Go back further, say to the English Civil War, and a blank expression comes over their faces. Every country suffers from this lack of interest, it seems. From British people who know little or nothing about the Romans, or Anglo Saxons, to Americans who think the world began in 1776.

Perhaps the school system is to blame? I recall much of my official history teaching centred around things like the Industrial Revolution; railways, and the invention of machinery. The Corn Laws, the electoral reform, and the progress during the Victorian Age. It needs to be more interesting, to adopt a wider scope, be relevant to localities, and things you can actually see, without having to make a trip to a dusty museum in London, or any capital city. When we watch things on the news, whether 9/11, the wars in the middle east, or terror attacks in cities, that is all about history. People ask, ‘Why’? But they have never been taught the background, those very reasons why. And even if they have been, they thought it was something that they didn’t need to know.

There is a very old adage, penned by George Santayana.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
George got that right. Let’s all try our best to inspire younger people to get interested in history again. Stop them repeating all the mistakes that are there, for everyone to see.

Escaping ‘That Wedding’

I might be busy on this blog tomorrow. As well as that, Ollie will certainly be getting a longer than usual walk, I assure you. Unless you have been in a coma for a very long time, you cannot fail to be aware that there is to be a Royal Wedding in Windsor on Saturday. Prince Harry is to wed his American bride, with all the trappings of the traditional pomp and ceremony adored by the people of this land.

Not adored by me of course, as anyone who knows me will tell you. I am not a Royalist, and if you have ever glanced at my other blog, you will be aware that I have made that clear, in no uncertain terms.

The circus has well and truly come to town. Thousands of television network reporters from all over the globe have claimed their spots and vantage points. The usual gang of deluded Royal fans have established themselves alongside the railings on Windsor’s streets, with many being in place since last week. News coverage of the event started last week too, and has now reached constant fever pitch on the BBC here. They go over and over about the route, what the bride will wear, and who is invited, or not. Recent ‘Breaking News’ declared that The Duke of Edinburgh is well enough to attend, quickly glossing over the fact that the bride’s father will not be around to walk her down the aisle.

Drilling into the tiniest details, we hear that she may, or may not, wear a tiara, loaned to her by the Queen. The wedding cake is in the hands of an American cake-maker, flown in for the job. It is going to contain no less than 500 of the finest organic eggs, sourced from Suffolk. Flavour will be supplied by 10 bottles of Elderflower cordial from the Royal estate at Sandringham, and 200 lemons all the way from the Amalfi coast. Sweetness and softness will be covered, as 20 kilos of butter and the same of sugar will be added.

I am sure that this is heartening news for the women who will spend their time visiting local food banks, to get enough stuff to provide their children with a meal today.

Let’s not forget the young lady’s engagement ring. This features a huge central diamond, flanked by stones taken from the ring of the late Lady Diana, Harry’s mother. A ring of such quality would ordinarily cost anything up to £100,000, but as it includes stones from the ring of Lady Diana, it is described as ‘priceless’. So, a few million at least, I’m guessing.

Great consolation for the workers in Windsor, earning £320 a week, on a minimum-wage, no-hours contract, I’m sure.

Whatever I think, and this is just the tip of my thought iceberg, the world will be watching, (including my wife) with one notable exception. Me.

And before everyone gets too excited, have a think about what happened the last time a member of the Royal Family married an American Divorcee.
I feel sorry for the girl. Life as she knew it is over.