Sunday, 23 September 2007

Needled by the Needles

or 'The Isle of Right' pt II

Having heard of the coloured sands at Alum Bay and The Needles, we planned a trip there towards the end to the week. This proved to be the low point of the week for me - every other place we visited in the rain proved to be more pleasurable.

Having negotiated the South Coast Road, descending to Ventnor seafront by the Isle's equivalent of Lombard Street and then braved the South Coast Road * we had great expectations for a good time.

As soon as you enter the area, your heart sinks. It is just one mass commercial amusement park, designed to extract your money for the lowest cost they can get away with. The main area is a dreary amusement (ha!) park with tatty rides, bits not working and insufficient staff so that you have to hang around expectantly until a ride gets opened (This was mid-August, hardly a slack time). The souvenir shops are worthy of any street trader hanging around the tourist traps of London.

Alum Bay is still there although you are not officially supposed to collect sand from it 'due to the risk of landslides'. Instead you can purchase a tacky placky shape and fill it with Alum Bay sand from the trays scattered about the shop. Once you have fought your way around this you can join a queue to have it 'finished'. The 'finishing' staff, to give them their due were competent, no slouches and not fazed by answering the same inane questions day in, day out. Shame that there weren't enough.

We went down to Alum Bay, eschewing the rickety chairlift that looked recycled from one of the first ever ski resorts and instead descended the wooden steps down to the sea front. There was plenty to see. The Needles - at a distance, the bottom of the chairlift, 10 metres of coloured rockface with tourists scooping sand samples into plastic bags like detectives hunting for evidence of a long-lost idyll. Oh, and detritus - bottles - glass and plastic, bags, wood, bits of clothing, the odd shoe, all contributing to the 'je ne sais quois' of the area.

It's a shame. It's an historic site and if they can get it right at the Zoo or Dino World or, in fact, anywhere else on the island, then you ought to be able to expect a better standard at somewhere as full of history as Alum Bay.

From Wikipedia: "Guglielmo Marconi moved to Alum Bay in 1897 to experiment with radio. He set up a 40 meter radio antenna outside the Needles Hotel in Alum Bay. He was able to successfully transmit to the Haven Hotel in Poole 20 miles away." I wonder if that chairlift was causing interference then?

*The South Coast Road welcomes careful drivers.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Thank you. I'll have a 0.5682 Litre

On September 11th this year, the European Commission gave up waiting for us to renounce Imperial measures. According to the BBC website,

The European Commission has tired of waiting for the UK to give up imperial measurements, and now says it can use some of them for as long it wants.

The pound and the ounce can continue to be used alongside the kilogram and gram, in markets and delicatessens, for an indefinite period.".

Hands up those who think that this is a Good Thing? One, two...three, fifty...Oh, most of you. Why?

OK, quick quiz.

Question 1. How many inches are there in a foot? Feet in a yard? Yards in a chain? Chains in a furlong? Furlongs in a mile?

Question 2. How many ounces in a pound? Pounds in a stone? Stones in a hundredweight? Hundredweight in a ton?

Question 3. How many fluid ounces in a pint? Pints in a quart? Quarts in a gallon?

Question 4. How many millimetres in a centimetre? Centimetres in a decimetre? Decimetres in a metre? Metres in a decametre? Decametres in a kilometre?

Question 5. How many grams in a kilogram? Kilograms in a tonne?

and finally...

Question 6. How many millilitres in a centilitre? Centilitres in a decilitre? Decilitres in a litre?


Q1: 12,3,22,10,8
Q2: 16,14,8,20
Q3: 20,2,4

Q4: 10,10,10,10,100
Q5: 1000,1000
Q6: 10,10,10

Now, all those of you that are nostalgic for pints and inches, which of those tables do you think it would be easiest to learn from?

I am old enough to be brought up learning ounces, feet and tons, but young enough to also be conversant with grammes, metres and tonnes. Anyone younger will struggle with the former and anyone older will consign the latter to the same bin as the Video remote.

A system based on just one number - 10 has surely got to be better than one based on average lengths of thumbs or feet. Guess which unit comes from the Latin 'mille passus' - one thousand steps?

In the same way that if tobacco was to be discovered today, it would be classified as a Class A drug, no-one in their right minds would get away with inventing the Imperial system of measurement today. Everyone would run 1.609 kilometres.

An infinity of Last Nights

A quaint British tradition, The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC - or 'The Proms' as it is generally known has come to an end for another year. They were started in 1875 by Henry Wood and, despite a sticky patch around WWII, have continued annually to this day, with about 70 concerts this season.

The 'Last Night' is the evening most people associate with the Proms, trotting out perennial favourites such as 'Jerusalem', 'Land of Hope and Glory' (Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1) and Wood's 'Fantasia on British Sea Songs'. Admission is very much oversubscribed and to get a ticket nowadays, you have to have attended some of the others during the season to stand any chance.

It is a testament to the Proms that it has evolved over the years. Classical music is not everyone's cup of tea and the Proms could have withered away to an inconsequential annual gathering of music anoraks or even died out totally. However, with the support of the BBC and the rise in popularity of Classical Superstars - Leslie Garrett, Vanessa Mae, Katherine Jenkins, Nigel Kennedy et al, Classical Music has become 'Cool'. To this end, in 1996, Hyde Park had a screen and stage and many thousands picnicked and watched and sang. This year there were five 'Proms In The Park', each with their own programme, but all coming together for the Finale. The parks were packed with people of all ages out to have a good time. It wasn't just classical music - each Park played on its Nationalistic origins - I particularly enjoyed the Irish music from the band Beoga - complemented by an Irish dancer at the end. Fireworks added the finishing touch.

One day I hope to make one of the Park Proms and, weather permitting, it will be a good way of soaking up some classical music. Anyone else up for it? As I've nearly said before - 'You've got to try everything once'

More info at Wikipedia and the BBC website