Category Archives: Hotels

Travelling – Complimentary Shampoo and Shower Gel

Complimentary Hotel Shampoo and Shower Gel

“I still enjoy travelling a lot. I mean, it amazes me that I still get excited in hotel rooms just to see what kind of shampoo they’ve left me.”  –  Bill Bryson

Just like Bill, I too get a thrill from throwing open the bathroom door, turning on the light, waiting for it to flicker into life and the accompanying hum of the extractor fan and looking straight away for the complimentary shower gel and shampoo all neatly arranged as though in a chemistry laboratory next to the wash basin.

Never mind the number of stars the place boasts on TripAdvisor or proudly displayed as a certificate at the reception desk for me this is the really true measure of a hotel.

I can’t really accurately remember when these little gifts first started to appear in hotel bathrooms, certainly not on my early overseas adventures that’s for sure. On my very first holiday to Sorrento in Italy in 1976 I am absolutely certain there were none and there wasn’t a lot else either – no mini-bar of course and no television and it was light years before WiFi and Internet access.  I think it may have had a small bar of soap!

Guests were expected to provide their own toiletries in those days and without baggage weight restrictions holidaymakers used to lug an entire bathroom full of lotions and potions half way across the World and then take most them back home again!

Thinking about it, I suppose they first came to my attention in 1995 when I was on a coach tour holiday of some of the National Parks in the USA and each motel bathroom that we stayed at had these little bottles of gooey bathroom goodies and every night I greedily collected them up and secreted them in my wash bag.

Soon the bag was full and the zipper was straining fit to burst but at some point along the trip we stopped at a shopping mall where there was a ‘dollar shop’ and my brother, Richard and I found some nice little wicker baskets that were perfect for keeping them in and giving away as gifts for family and friends when we returned back home.

The beauty of this of course was that none of my family and friends had ever come across complimentary give-away cosmetics before either so they all thought that they were getting a really genuine gift.

I had never been to one of these out-of-town shopping malls before either and I remember thinking that they were really dreadful, sadly, we now have these soulless, pointless places all over the UK as well.

Complimentary potions

Who started it I asked, well, claiming credit on its web site for introducing complimentary gels is the  Canadian international luxury, five-star hotel chain, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts but I am certain there will be some conflicting claims from elsewhere.

These days any self-respecting B&B or hotel has free shampoo in little plastic bottles.  Except those that have large squeezy containers that are screwed to the wall so that you can’t take them away and for me this always loses the place a couple of points when I complete the post stay satisfaction survey.

When staying in the room I always remain reluctant to use the giveaways because I view them as a sort of holiday bonus, a trophy and together with the sewing kits and the plastic combs, the pointless shoe horn and cheap toothbrushes I collect them up and take them home (except the plastic shower caps which always remind me of the rain bonnets that my mum used to wear and look completely ridiculous).  I mean next time you are tempted to pull one over your head make sure that you lock the bathroom door and then just take a moment to take a look at yourself in the mirror.  I guarantee that you will look ridiculous!

I can’t explain why they excite me, they are not top-quality products after all, I’m sure that most of them are based on some sort of industrial soap that probably doesn’t have many scalp or skin improvement qualities anyway.  Sometimes Kim gets carried away and will say something like “Oh look, there is Moulton-Brown products in the bathroom”, I know that it is really cheap washing-up liquid but I say nothing and tactfully keep this devastating information to myself.  In fact I am almost certain that although they may be different coloured liquid in the bottles that they are all the same product anyway with a bit of food colouring added and the shampoo works just as well as bubble bath and vice versa.

Back at home they sit in a box in the bathroom and every so often it overflows and the cabinet door won’t shut properly and it has to be cleared out and the little bottles disposed of – these days I take them to a homeless charity in the town and hope they come in useful somewhere.

 “Hotels have plenty of items, all cute and travel-sized, waiting in store rooms and all you have to do is pick up the phone and ask. And checking out from the hotel isn’t like going through airport security. No respectable hotelier is going to want to pry open your luggage and search for shampoo. We hope you take the amenities. We want you to use them later and think of us.” –  Jacob Tomsky – ‘Heads in Beds’

Apart from complimentary shampoo and shower gel what else do you own up to when taking things from a hotel room?

1 The tea bags and the coffee sachets?

2 The Kettle?

3 The Coat Hangers?

4 The Bottle Opener in the Mini-Bar?

5 The Gideon Society Bible?

6 The Notepaper and Pencil?

7 The Towels?

8 The pictures on the Wall?

9 The Carpet?

10 The Bedside Cabinet?

Hotel Shampoo

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East Anglia, Dad’s Army and the North Sea

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I visited the Norfolk town of Thetford a year earlier but didn’t do my research properly and the Dad’s Army Museum wasn’t open.  The reason was that it is run by volunteers who have jobs to go to and only opens on a Saturday so this year I made sure that we went there on the right day.

This post isn’t going to make a lot of sense to overseas readers because Dad’s Army was an English situation comedy which was first broadcast in 1968 and fifty years later remains one of the funniest and most popular of all BBC programmes.  I am a huge fan and will happily sit through endless reruns of the shows.

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It is set during the Second World War and is a story about the British Home Guard which was a amateur defence force army made up of local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service either because of age (hence the name “Dad’s Army”) or by being in professions exempt from conscription.  Their job was to defend Britain against a German invasion force of Panzer Tanks and battalions of crack Wehrmacht troops. This was most unlikely and is the real basis of the whole series of programmes.

The show called the fictional town they defended Walmington-on-Sea which was said to be on the south coast of England but it was actually filmed in Thetford in East Anglia.

In 2004 Dad’s Army was voted fourth in a BBC poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom. It had previously been placed thirteenth in a list of the one hundred Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000.

English humour is the finest in the World but doesn’t always travel that well but just watch this little scene which was voted the funniest ever Dad’s Army gag line of the entire series (over eighty programmes) to get a little flavour of the show…

Don't Tell Him Pike

Funniest Scene

American humour especially struggles to cope with British wit and interestingly a pilot US show based on Dad’s Army was tried and piloted.  It was called Rear Guard but flopped badly and never made it into a full series.  If you watch this disaster then you will understand why…

This is the US version of the same scene

The little museum turned out to be a real treasure store, crammed full of memorabilia relating to the series, pictures, video clips, scrap books, newspaper articles and pictures and photographs of all the stars.  Kim is not such a big fan of Dad’s Army as I am but enjoyed this place just as much as I did.  We stayed longer than expected and then finished with a cup of tea and a cake at the Marigold Tea Room which is a recreation of one of the sets famous from the series.

Mainwaring's OfficeMarigold Tea Rooms

The star of the show was an actor called Arthur Lowe who played the lead character of Captain Mainwaring.  There is a statue of both of them, as it were, in the centre of the town by the riverside (The Little Ouse) so after the museum we made our way through the town and the Saturday market and found the Captain sitting pompously as ever down by the waterside.

Mainwaring Thetford

It was always going to be hard to follow the visit to the Dad’s Army Museum and so it proved when on the way back to the car park we visited the Ancient House Museum which had a few interesting items but didn’t detain us very long and soon after we were on the road again and on the way to the caravan park destination.

Along the route we chose another National Trust property and forever keen to get maximum value for our annual membership we called in at Ickworth House bear Bury St. Edmunds.

It turned out to be an interesting stop at an unusual eighteenth century stately home built in the Italianate style with a huge central rotunda and two complimentary wings to the east and the west.  There are a sequence of rooms to pass through, first the servant’s quarters below stairs and then the largely Victorian rooms of the nobility and upper classes who once lived there.

We stayed for an hour or so and then completed our journey to the village of Kessingland on the extreme east coast of England.

Ickworth House

We had intended to arrive first at the caravan so that we could organise the arrival of my daughter and grand-children in an orderly way but we were delayed by supermarket shopping and they arrived before us and by the time we turned up Sally and the children had the place looking just the way they like it – rather like England would have looked like if the German Panzer Divisions had successfully invaded and passed through in 1941.

We dealt with the unpacking as best we could and then in early evening to satisfy the children made our way to the nearby beach and although it had been a very warm day I have to say that I didn’t expect to find myself swimming in the North Sea at seven o’clock in the evening.  This was probably my first time in the North Sea for about fifty years or so, since I was a boy on family holidays but under intense pressure from grandchildren…

North Sea Swimming

… the North Sea, let me tell you, is not the warmest water in the World!

Thetford, A Disappointing Hotel and a Revolutionary

Thomas Paine Hotel

After leaving Oxburgh Hall we headed south towards the town of Thetford where we would be staying overnight.

The road took us across a stretch of land called The Brecks which is quite possibly the most dreary piece of countryside in all of East Anglia with a landscape of gorse and sandy scrubland.  Eventually we came to Thetford Forest which relieved the tedious boredom of the open countryside.  The Forest was planted in the 1920s as part of a UK project of reforestation.  Environmentalists complain that the Forest has destroyed the true nature of the area but I thought it was all rather attractive.  Even the surface of the Moon would be an improvement on The Brecks.

Arriving in Thetford we struggled with the confusing one-way system and drove around in circles for a while until we came eventually to our overnight accommodation at The Bell Inn.

The reason for staying in Thetford was mostly because the TV show Dad’s Army was filmed around these parts. This little nugget will mean nothing to readers from outside the UK but Dad’s Army is one of the most successful sit-com programmes  ever from the BBC in the last fifty years and remains one of my personal favourites.

Bell Hotel Thetford Norfolk Dad's Army

I had chosen the Bell Inn because  the cast of the show used to stay here fifty years ago and I wanted to stay there too.  I hoped I might get lucky and get the very room that Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) used to sleep in.

Sadly the Bell Inn turned out to be a massive disappointment, yes there was some Dad’s Army mementoes but the place was a complete dump and the room we were allocated was tired, uncared for and dirty.  Kim refused to stay there and sent me to reception to get a change of room.  I was told that this was not possible so we decided to leave immediately.  A real shame, I was so looking forward to staying there but I had to agree with Kim that it most likely hadn’t been decorated or cleaned since Arthur Lowe himself stayed there in the 1960s!

Close by we found (after inspection) a suitable alternative and checked in there instead.  This was the Thomas Paine Hotel.  I may not have got to stay in the same room as Captain Mainwaring but at the Thomas Paine we got the Ronald Regan suite!

Ronal Regan Room

I was happy about that because in 2005 in an American TV series poll of viewers Ronald Reagan was voted the Greatest ever American, coming in ahead of Washington, both Roosevelts and even Abraham Lincoln.  You might find that hard to believe and may need to Google it to confirm that I am telling the truth!

The 100 Greatest Americans

Before he turned to politics Reagan was a Hollywood actor; in 1951 he made a movie called “Bedtime for Bonzo” which was a silly film about a clever chimp living with an American family which is somewhat ironic because now all of America has to live with a silly chimp living in the Whitehouse.

Satisfied with our choice of hotel we wandered around the attractive town centre and came eventually to the statue of Thomas Paine, the most famous son of Thetford and arguably of Norfolk and all of East Anglia, perhaps even of all of England.

Paine was a radical revolutionary, a sort of proto-Marxist, a latter day Leveller, a real trouble maker, an all round (excuse the pun) pain in the ass to the establishment of late eighteenth century England and he didn’t come from London or Bristol, not even Ipswich or Norwich but from sleepy little Thetford.

In his writings he explored the origins of property, openly challenged the concept of monarchy, introduced the idea of a guaranteed minimum income, supported the abolition of slavery, questioned the very concept of Christianity and inspired The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen of 1791.

How wonderful it is that history often delivers theses delicious little curve-balls and reminds me that I am privileged to live in the greatest country in the modern World.

In a BBC television viewers poll in 2002 “The Hundred Greatest Britons” Paine was included as one of only two British political philosophers.  He was voted thirty-forth and Thomas More thirty-seventh, no place then for Thomas Hobbes, John Locke or David Hume.  By comparison the list included ten modern pop stars and a radio DJ!

Thomas Paine Memorial

Paine supported both the American Revolution (one of the Founding Fathers no less) and the French Revolution and his most important work was The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law.  In 1792 he was elected to the French National Convention.  The Girondists regarded him as an ally, the Jacobins, especially Robespierre, as an enemy and eventually he was arrested.  He only narrowly escaped the guillotine during the reign of terror and was then (not being welcome in England) allowed to travel to the USA.

The Declaration is important, it is included in the beginning of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and Fifth (1958) and is still current. Inspired by the philosophers of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Rousseau, the Declaration became a core statement of the values of the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and Worldwide.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is so significant that it is considered to be as important as Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights and inspired in large part the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That I suggest is a fairly important legacy and it is rather smug to sit here and think that an Englishmen shaped the American Revolution and the Constitution of the USA except of course we now have Donald Trump and poor Thomas Paine in his grave somewhere in the state of New York is probably on a permanent Hotpoint fast spin-cycle.

After dinner we walked around the town after dark and came across another interesting feature of Thetford.  It has one of the largest Eastern European communities in all of the UK and if you want to know what it is like to go out in the evening in Poland then Thetford will give you a clue as the town was busy and vibrant as people sat outside and spoke together in foreign tongues which created a very pleasing ambience in complete contrast to many bleak and soulless evening town centres across the UK and it seemed entirely appropriate that this was in the town of Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine Thetford Norfolk

Later I had great pleasure in giving the Bell Inn a really poor review on the Booking.com website.

Coming Up – A Week in Suffolk, UK

 

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Earlier in the year my daughter invited us along on a camping holiday.  Not being a fan of tents I turned the opportunity down but offered the alternative of a modern luxury caravan.

She didn’t take a lot of persuading, it turns out that she is not such a big fan of camping either!

Suffolk

Northumberland, St Mary’s Lighthouse

 

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Get timings wrong and you will get wet feet coming back.  Local people regularly turn up here at high tide and watch and see if any unsuspecting tourists get cut off and have to either swim for it or spend the night on the island.

Clearly entertainment in Whitley Bay is seriously hard to come by!

St Mary's Lighthouse Whitley Bay

Northumberland, Seaton Delaval Hall

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A year ago we went to Northumbria for a weekend break, bought National Trust membership and visited as many places as possible just to get our money’s worth.  One of these was Seaton Delaval Hall.

I liked this place immediately. I could imagine living there. Sadly the main block is almost derelict, destroyed by a massive fire in 1822 but even though it is soot blackened and blaze scorched (it reminded me of one of my garden BBQ attempts) it remains a magnificently impressive building.

I liked it so much that we returned for a second visit a year later in the Summer of 2018.

What a tragedy that a place has magnificent as this should be destroyed in a single night and after two hundred years or so still be left as a great ruin.  Now it is a place frozen in time, agony twisted metal, flame seared alabaster statuary, fire coloured bricks of multi-colours and ash blackened floor tiles.

It was designed and built by Sir John Vanbrugh who had been previously responsible for Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and although this one is much smaller in scale historians and architects today consider it to be his finest works.

The Delavals were rich landowners and early industrialists who made their money from coal, salt and glass and by all accounts they worked hard and partied hard and weekends here of parties and shagging went together like dog’s tails and wagging! Everyone in Georgian society looked forward to an invitation to a weekend rave popping through their letterbox!

Of all the places that we had visited this weekend this was my favourite, I could have stayed and poked about in the corners and the recesses for a whole day. The west wing (not destroyed by the fire) was lived in until relatively recently by a member of the modern day aristocracy but upon his death the owner had a huge bill for inheritance tax and unable to afford it sold the place to the National Trust.

If you missed the full post first time round then you can find it here…

Northumberland, Seaton Delaval and George Washington

Travels in Spain, Barcelona and The Palau De La Musica

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