Tag Archives: UK

Not a castle

I was planning a short break this week. It turned out to be a lot shorter than I expected, given that we managed only one night away.  But it was pretty good anyway, even if the castle that we saw was NOT a castle.  Since we only had a couple of days we decided to head down to the New Forest, which isn’t that far away from our neck of London. Or would have been only a short drive I hadn’t had to navigate through one of the worst thunderstorms I’ve seen in England and if Simon hadn’t confused the M4 with the M3 – but what’s a digit between friends?

They boy is now excited by fighting and knights and bows and arrows and such like, so I thought I’d hunt around for a castle to visit and Hurst Castle sounded picturesque and promising.  Not accessible by car, you can walk along a narrow shingle spit from the mainland or take a ferry from the tiny hamlet of Keyhaven.  We didn’t arrive in the New Forest in time to go to the castle on our first day, but we arrived at the ferry port bright and early the next day.  As we approached the castle, a long, low-slung thing hulking just above the water line (or so it appeared from a distance), I said to Simon “I’m not sure this is castle, I think that’s a Fort.”

Our ferry pilot was a very posh chap indeed, who dropped various tidbits of local history in our ears and waved generally in the direction of the castle and said “That’s the bit built by Henry VIII.”  But to be honest, I couldn’t see which bit he was referring to.  And then he pointed to the ferry ahead of us and said “The caretaker’s only just arrived, you might have to wait outside for a bit.”

To the lighthouse

My goodness.  I’m not sure I’ve EVER been early to any attraction – at least not with my late-rising husband in tow.  But we were happy enough to wander on the outside of Hurst Castle with its beautiful lighthouse next door and beautiful views of the Isle of Wight. We spent a long time chucking rocks into the sea. And then we paid our money and went inside.

Not a castle

I’m really really not sure why this was ever called a castle.  According to the Wikipedia entry on castles:

Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble.

But no lord or noble ever lived there, well…with the exception of the imprisoned Charles I, who was there for only a brief time.  The original fortification was commissioned by Henry VIII who feared invasion after he removed England’s faithful from the Church of Rome.   But the invasion never came.  The ‘castle’ was then expanded substantially during the Victorian era when apparently they had little else to do but build two vast wings of brick and stone and feared invasion from the French.  And it was occupied again in WWII as part of the coastal defenses, but never fired a shot in anger.

But castle or no castle, the boy had a fabulous time climbing up onto the parapets and touching the canon and seeing the WWII era guns.  And he loved the boat ride out to the fort.

I have to say that the display of the ‘castle’ was a little disappointing. The curators hadn’t really constructed a narrative time line through the exhibits. It would have been better if we’d been guided through the history of the castle by starting with the Henrician elements (yes, apparently Henrician is a legit adjective) – then through the Victorian era and on to the WWII bits. But instead we saw a hodge podge of exhibits explaining about the preservation of the shingle spit. (It’s a natural feature, but building of sea walls further west prevents further deposition of material so it’s always being washed away). We only found the original fortification by chance when we were about to leave and it’s probably the coolest part. But it was still a fantastic half-day out if you didn’t count the heart stopping moments when the boy was running across the roof tops and skipping up and down the steep stairs.
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.


A winning plan for Europe


So, I watched the Eurovision Song Contest last night. Surely, of all the things that America misses out on by not being Europe (long history, great architecture, pedestrianised city centers, affordable universal health care) this one has to be the greatest loss.

In Eurovision, a whole continent, plus honorary members Israel, come together to cheer and jeer a range of ridonculous pop monstrosities. From the positively suicidal dirge of unrequited love from a Russian group wearing moth eaten sweaters, to the somewhat surreal Spanish entry with dancing toys, to the epilepsy inducing Turkish strobe-laden entry complete with a self-harming robotknight to the straightforward catchy pop song of winners Germany it’s a wild collection of all that is cheesy in Europe.

But despite being pop behemoths and key sponsors of the televised event (meaning an automatic place in the finals), the UK has consistently done badly in recent years. And last night was no exception. A forgettable Josh D-something-or-other delivered a poor song in lack-lustre style.

A lot of countries want to win and a lot of countries put a lot of effort into it. Azerbaijan (linked above) brought in Brittney Spears choreographer and had a light up dress and a light up set of stairs and commissioned a song from a chart topper and yet still failed to crack the top 5. But the UK brought in a pop svengali Pete Waterman and used the tried and tested Idol style elimination competition to choose the singer. And while it wasn’t quite as shameful as nil points efforts of the past the UK finished DEAD LAST.

So here’s my plan for a winning UK entry:

1. Further devolution

The UK’s constituent countries, Norther Ireland, Wales and Scotland now enjoy their own assemblies or parliaments and so should have their own Eurovision entries. Upon splitting Yugoslavia has done much better in Eurovision – Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and FYR Macedonia have all done well in recent years – some even producing winners. Yeah, sure they’ve paid a heavy price for Eurovision glory, but I’m not suggesting civil war – just multiple entries. And England – the largest and only country without its own parliament and the biggest financial contributor via BBC television license fees would get the automatic pass to the final.

The benefits are that the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish could all vote for each other and through diversity a cool song might emerge. If they all have different International football teams, why not different International song contest entrants?

2. Pick a decent entrant

This second option could be deployed alone or in combination with the first plan. The BBC’s desperately sad Song for Europe competition hasn’t produced a winner yet. So why not take someone who’s been honed by the really tough competition and proven hit generator – The X Factor. But don’t pick the winner, pick the runner up, and then have the competition be related to the song. On one night only viewers could watch the nearly-had-it perform three different songs by proven, recent UK song-crafters and the voting public would choose the song they liked best. This year we would have had the lovable bouncy Olly Murs, last year we would have had the charismatic boy band JLS, and the year before we would have had the extremely odd Rhydian – well, it’s not a perfect plan. But surely it would save the UK from complete Eurovision shame.