YouTube etc

I do sometimes watch YouTube and similar sites. I look for videos that are instructional or informational mostly, or mathematical puzzles.

I immediately switch off (actually I ‘dislike’) if there are glaring spelling errors. You may think that’s harsh as I know people can have problems with spellings, but it seems to me that if you are setting yourself up as an ‘expert’ in some field, and know that you have word issues, it wouldn’t be that hard to spend an extra five minutes checking, or getting someone else to check, that the captions you include make sense.

I also hate when you pick a video that sounds helpful, like “How to do X”. You get through lots of crappy adverts and the person telling you to click subscribe and hit the bell, and lots of waffle about ‘sorry I haven’t done a video in a while because the cat had fleas’ and then you get to the substance. The first thing the presenter then says is “well, I’m not really an expert in this field…” by which time I am gone.

Even worse is when they contradict themselves.

There is a woman who does videos about Americans in London. I am not going to put a link, but you can find her easily enough if you really care.

One is about things not to do if you are having a short trip to London. It includes going up The Shard, and going on the London Eye (The Shard is the tallest building and the Eye is the big wheel, both giving you lovely views over the city and beyond).

Two reasons given are: expensive, but cheaper if you book in advance, and, weather may not be great and you may not see much.

Well, I could argue about those straight off. They are lots of money, but not as much as, say, the Empire State Building, which makes them look good value.

But there’s another video by the same person, about essential things to do while on holiday in London. The London skyline is “iconic” she says, so why not try the London Eye or The Shard.

Really…?

Sightseeing

London is not a big place, in the sense that it is not an urban sprawl, especially for the places you may want to sightsee on your first visit, but it’s also not walking distance between all the major attractions. Well no, that’s not really true, you could do it, but if you are here for a limited time, you want to make the best of the time you have and interminable walking is not the thing to be doing.

It’s best to have a plan, and to be realistic in that, you’re not going to see everything. Listen, on and off I have lived here for 40 years and I haven’t seen everything (whatever that means). There are always hidden gems, and things changing (and also stuff to avoid like the plague).

So, do your research and have a plan. Make a list of must see places, and then see what other things there are in the same area.

For example, if Tower of London is on your list, see also Tower Bridge, the river, the Bank of England, St Paul’s, the Monument… thie list is endless. Be prepared to queue, and allow time to just amble around to look at the world and soak up the atmosphere. A holiday where you dash from one place to another, tiring yourself out and barely remembering what you saw, is not, in my opinion at least, a holiday, certainly not restful.

I know people who visited London a few years ago and top of their list was the Natural History Museum. They spent their first day there. The next day they went back. The next day, the Science Museum, and so on. And they absolutely loved it. It was something they did not have at home, it was free (actually) and they had a great time.

Call me a taxi

Someone mentioned to me the other day that getting a taxi in London was a problematic things. So, here are some tips. Most would apply to any big city in the world, I suppose. No-one can deny that a taxi is a great way to travel. Door to door, of course. Usually they are clean.

Not all black cabs in London are black. There are some with different colours, and some with advertising on. You can recognise them all by the yellow hire light in the top part of the roof.

Do not try to hail a taxi if the yellow light is not on. They won’t stop. Also, don’t try to hail a taxi at a bus stop, road junction, pedestrian crossing or anywhere that is unsafe, or narrow. Or get out ditto.

Before you get in, tell the driver where you want to go. If you have a written address, this often helps. If the driver has stopped, and your destination is within a reasonable distance, they have to take you. If the driver had his yellow light on but says “I’m not going that way”, get his or her number (on the back) and report them. Very long distances can be refused.

All cabs take plastic cards, but double check with the driver before you enter. It has become a ‘thing’ to get a taxi and then say to the driver “I need to call at a bank machine before I can pay you”. I’m surprised this is not illegal. I know some drivers will accept this, but tell them first.

There are a lot of taxis in central London, but sometimes they are all busy. Theatre coming out time, for example, can be tricky.

Taxis are metered. You pay extra for bags etc and there is a minimum fare. In rush hours, you still pay if you are stuck in a traffic jam. You can ask the driver what it will cost to get to yor destination, roughly, before you start. There are companies, such as ComCab, which allow you to book taxis in advance but they are still metered.

Taxi drivers like a tip. Once upon a time, they expected it, but now they are just grateful. If they help you above and beyond the call of duty, a nice tip is essential. There is no set rule. 10% to 15% of the fare is OK, more is nicer. Rounding up is a good idea, if it makes sense. so, a fare of £17.50 might become £20 and “keep the change”.

If you can plan ahead, a minicab service, such as Addison Lee, may be a better choice. You can book in advance on-line or using an app (or telephone of course), pay by card and it would be a fixed fare (ie you know what it will cost before you set off).

The TfL site is very helpful: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/taxis-and-minicabs/taxi-fares

Cash

I am told that visitors to the UK, especially from the USA, find English cash virtually impossible to understand. So let’s have a bash at trying to sort it all out.

Although we are part of the EC (for now), we do not use Euros. Traveling between Belgium, France, Spain etc is easy because they all use the same currency. Eire also uses Euros. We use pounds (usually written as UKP on computers, and £ on prices).

There are shops in London that accept some foreign currencies, but you pay for this convenience, so you may be better off paying by card. Banks, the post office and many booths and shops will convert currency. It pays to shop around for the best rate, but not too much as to waste your valuable holiday time.

The pound is divided into pence, or pennies, and there are 100p in the pound.

Notes are used for £5 and above. As with nearly all other countries, the notes are different colours and sizes and it is very difficult to get them mixed up, unlike the USA where notes are basically identical and you have to be careful to check you are not handing over a $100 bill thinking it is a $1. Also, notes vary with some being plastic (currently £5 and £10) and some paper. Make sure you are not given an old note in change that is no longer legal.

Very few shops will accept notes of £50 or above for small purchases. Some Oyster card machines will accept cash.

If you go to Scotland, you may be given Scottish notes rather than English ones. Some shops in England get rather sniffy about accepting these.

We have a lot of coins, of values 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. This is where it could get confusing.

The picture shows the appearance and relative sizes of the coins. The design of the £1 coin has changed recently, so make sure that you are not given old coins.

Shops have a right to refuse you if you want to pay in piles of coins. For example, buying a £5 book with 10p pieces may not go down well. They call it ‘legal tender’. On the other hand, some shops really appreciate it if you have correct change (but don’t spend hours counting it out and holding up a queue).

The price you see on the sticker is the price you pay. There are no hidden taxes to add and no rounding to do.

It is very easy to accumulate pockets full of coins, but there are shops where you can serve yourself (eg supermarkets) at a machine, and it is a great place to empty your pocket of coins. If you find yourself with a pocketful of coins and leaving the country, eg at an airport, there are charity collecting boxes.

The worst coins to get rid of are 1p and 5p.

As for taxi fares, some taxis do accept cards, but check with the driver before you start the journey. If you need the driver to stop so you can get cash from an ATM, tell the driver before you get in. Many will not accept your fare. Since the taxi fare can vary depending on the distance, traffic jams, extras etc, it is best to make sure you have lots of cash, or book through a system that allows credit card payment on-line, or use a minicab that quotes a fixed price.