Eurovision

It’s that time of year again, the Eurovision Song Contest.

I enjoy the ESC, and have done as far back as I can remember. It started proper in 1956, and I would have been too tiny to remember watching that, but I do have early memories of watching the black and white early 60s ones, Matt Monro and the like.

Most of us remember Sandie Shaw, who was the UK’s first big winner, Lulu and even Cliff, and there have been many great highlights since then, in the 60+ years. Abba, Riverdance, Johnny Logan, Alex Rybak, Bucks Fizz, even the wonderful Nicole:

My friends make fun of me, especially when I say I would love to go, if it was in the UK. Not much chance of that, I hear you say. We need to produce a good song by a decent singer first. They say that the voting system has been changed slightly this year to make it easier for us to win fairer.

It always looks like one great European party. People in the audience seem to be having a great time. Sure some of the songs are duff, and some are wonderful, but that doesn’t matter – everyone gets a cheer. You have ten or twenty or thirty thousand people from all over Europe showing that we are all the same, all nice people.

And not just from Eurore of course. It is Eurovision, so any country that takes the Eurovision programmes can enter, hence Australia, who have appeared for the past few years, produced really great songs and done very well. Wish they could win. It’s a truly bonding experience, and it’s good that the UK will still be in it after Brexit.

And, before you scoff, the presentation and the technology are astounding, and don’t forget it is the second most watched tv programme in the whole world, after the Superbowl…

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.

 

 

Trump

It’s too easy to make fun of Mr Trump. Because of how he is, what he does.

We know he is stupid, we know he is unhinged, we know no-one can stand up to him. His irrational tweets show us, and we don’t need to read books to know this. You look at the family, the friends, people in the White House, senior Trump advisors, who used to be fashion correspondents.

But Mr Trump is the President of the USA, the leader of the western world, the most powerful person on this planet.

Doesn’t that scare you?

So, i am off to New York city. I will meet people and talk to locals. They will not talk about Trump. In NYC, you cannot get away from Trump. He ‘owns’ so many buildings, but it’s like he doesn’t. Get something about Trump from a local, and it’s generally disgust. They don’t like uncouth, common people.

Trump’s buildings have his name all over them. A tv programme said that Trump Tower has been shown to be the least ecologically efficient building in the world. There was a fire recently. Someone died. Had Mr Trump chosen to install sprinklers, to protect the people and the building, this would not have happened. Mr Trump dismissed the whole thing with “well built building”, in a tweet.

All Mr Trump wants to be is the most famous person in the world. Possibly he is, and, for many, a source of amazed laughter.