Tag Archives: Life

Early Days, 1955 Part Three – Disney, McDonald’s and La Résistance

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“The people of McDonald’s need guidance. They need to be told that Europe is not Disneyland…. It should look like a normal European bistro and nothing to tell you from the outside that this is a McDonald’s except for a discreet golden arches sticker on each window and a steady stream of people with enormous asses going in and out of the front door.” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here Nor there

The year 1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.

Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time too many.  My young children enjoyed it of course but I tired of the theme parks fairly quickly and looking back I would have to say that I liked EPCOT most of all and here in Walt’s own personal dream my favourite was the World Showcase.

Disney World Epcot

In 1955 Disney and McDonald’s almost got together when Ray Kroc wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.” The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter himself so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

I am not sure just how big a set-back that was because since then McDonald’s has globalised and like a giant tsunami swept into every continent  in the World, the company has more than forty thousand restaurants in over a hundred countries, with two million employees and serving nearly seventy-five million people every day which is a staggering 7.5% of the World’s population – but perhaps some people go twice!

Although a lot of us deny ever dining there most of us secretly do.  Take the French for example.

The French are famously snooty and protectionist about all things Gallic and they didn’t take very kindly to Micky Mouse when plans were revealed to open a Disney theme park in Paris and the proposal was a subject of fierce debate and controversy.

I like France but the country has a massive unjustified superiority complex and the French are so up themselves about things like wine and food and language whilst they turn a blind eye to dog poop on the pavements in Paris, too much garlic in their food and Charles Aznavour as a cultural icon.

As Disney threatened, French intellectuals and conservative republican traditionalists denounced what they considered to be the cultural imperialism of Euro Disney and argued that it would encourage in France an unhealthy American type of consumerism.  But they were powerless to stop it and it opened anyway in April 1992.  There was one final act of defiance in June of the same year when a group of French farmers blockaded Euro Disney in protest of farm policies supported at the time by the United States.

As heirs to the revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1968 French farmers in gilet jaune  need of course only the tiniest excuse to raise a barricade, shut down motorways and burn tractor tyres.  Booking a ferry ticket from Dover to Calais always includes that inherent risk.

Today the theme park, rebranded as Disneyland Paris, welcomes over fifteen million guests a year and half of these visitors are from France and that is more than 10% of the population of the country!

And this statistic raises another important issue.  The French boast that with over eighty million people a year they are the most visited country in Europe but it turns out that 10% of these visitors are going to Disneyland and think they are in the USA!

EPCOT France

After language the French get most uptight about food and for McDonald’s the battle for France was one of the most difficult.  The first outlet was opened in the Paris suburb of Créteil in 1972 and in 1999 a farmer turned environmental activist and anti-globalisation protester Jose Bové gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘drive-through’ when he vandalised a McDonald’s in the town of Millau in the south of France by driving a tractor into it.

jose-bove

At the time he was running for President and must have thought this would be popular with the French electorate but he was no match for Le Big Mac and this act of folly completely scuppered his chances. The French it seems didn’t want a modern day Asterix the Gaul swinging a battle axe heading up their government. The first round of the presidential election was held  and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, getting barely one percent of the total vote.

By then, the Gallic dam was well and truly breached, McDonald’s was expanding rapidly in the land of classic cuisine and fine dining and had three hundred more restaurants than when Bové began his futile campaign.  The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was even in the United States.  Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a sticky landslide of mayonnaise, milkshake and ketchup.

He spent a few weeks in jail but unbelievably went on to become a representative at the European Parliament.  Little wonder the people of the UK want to leave!

More evidence of French snobbery…

“Lots of people around the world are completely bemused by the fact that French people want a McDo at all. Many of us see gastronomy in France as something to be cherished and a visit to McDo is letting the side down and a slap in the face to the heritage of French cuisine.” – a patriotic French website

Even though the French still maintain that they despise the fast food chain an awful lot of people eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants and in Paris alone there are almost seventy restaurants under the golden arches with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the population.  McDonald’s, or “McDo” as it is known, is France’s dirty secret.   In 2017 sales exceeded five billion euros.

That is more than it generates in the UK and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself and it has the most locations per capita in Europe and the fourth-highest rate in the world ( USA, Japan, China are the top three, the UK is seventh).  It is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance which is probably why over eight million people visit the Museum every year, not to see the most famous painting in the World but to get a Big Mac and Large Fries!

Mona Lisa with Fries

Statistically (but questionably) France is the most visited country in the World but most likely because most people want to go to eat at McDonald’s.

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In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina.  Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria was restored to the status of sovereign independent state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.

In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties was, and hopefully always will be, the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.

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Simple Pleasures – I-SPY Books

I-SPY Badge

I-Spy books were small paperback volumes that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s.  Each book covered a subject such as I-SPY Cars, I-SPY on the Pavement, I-SPY on a Train Journey, and so on and so on.

The object was to be vigilant and spot objects such as animals, trees, policemen, fire engines, sea shells etc. etc.  and they were recorded in the relevant book, and this gained points.  More points were available for the more difficult spots.  Once you had spotted everything and the book was complete, it could be sent to Big Chief I-SPY for a feather and order of merit.

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Early Days, 1955 Part Two – From Little Acorns to Globalisation

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Some World changing developments were happening around about the time of my first year, most of them in the America where the USA was emerging as the wealthiest and most progressive country in the World.

Apart from the Atomic Bomb no development was more dramatic than the hamburger.

The  original McDonald’s restaurant opened in San Bernardino, California in 1940, with a diner owned by two brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald.  The present McDonald’s Corporation however dates its founding to the opening of a franchised restaurant by Ray Kroc, in Des Plaines, Illinois in April 1955.

The McDonald brothers were interesting, some would say rather eccentric characters who were inspired by the assembly line manufacturing method of Henry Ford in his car factories and in 1948 without warning they suddenly closed their traditional and popular establishment for several months and set about applying the principles of mass production to the restaurant industry.

1955 mcdonald_brothers

They pared the service back to only the essentials, offering a simple menu of hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes, which were produced on a continuous basis rather than made to order and with no alternatives on offer.  Basically just ‘take it or leave it’.  This was whole new idea that they called ‘fast food’ that went against all service conventions which could be served to a formula, almost instantaneously and always with absolute consistency.

They also removed any distractions like jukeboxes and payphones so it wouldn’t become a hangout spot for young people and that there would be a continuous turnover of customers.

mcdonalds speedee

The brothers reduced labour costs because there were no waiting staff and customers presented themselves at a single window to place and receive their orders.  They made the food preparation area visible to the customers to demonstrate its high standards of cleanliness and they eliminated all plates and cutlery serving only in paper bags with plastic knives and forks.

Their introduction of the ‘Speedee Service System’ established the principles of the modern fast-food restaurant. The original mascot of McDonald’s was a man with a chef’s hat on top of a hamburger shaped head whose name was ‘Speedee.’  Speedee was retired in 1962 and replaced by Ronald McDonald which I always thought was the weirdest possible merchandising mascot.  He was just plain scary!

1955 ronald mcdonald

Ray Kroc was a multi-mixer milkshake machine salesman and he was intrigued by an order from the McDonald brothers who had purchased eight of his Multi-Mixers, which to him seemed rather a lot for a small restaurant.  Immediately after visiting the San Bernandino restaurant he became convinced that he could sell exceptional numbers of mixers to every new restaurant that they opened and so he offered the McDonald brothers a deal.

Although they were truly innovative the it turns out that the two brothers were not especially ambitious and were they were satisfied with their one restaurant that provided them with a comfortable lifestyle and regular income.  Their only indulgence was to treat themselves to a new car every year.  But Ray Kroc realised the potential of their idea and with much bigger plans proposed a chain of new McDonald’s restaurants and he tried to convince them to expand the operation.  They refused.  He eventually became frustrated with their lack of vision and forced them into an agreement.

Kroc prepared a business proposal but insisted that he could not show all of the details to the potential investors so the agreement was made with a handshake (as opposed to a milkshake). The brothers dithered and Kroc became impatient and annoyed that they would not transfer to him the real estate and rights to the original unit.  Kroc walked away from the transaction and then refused to acknowledge the royalty portion of the agreement because it wasn’t in writing.

The McDonald brothers were clearly poor businessmen and no match for the ruthless Kroc, they even neglected to register the name McDonalds so to force the issue Kroc opened his new McDonald’s restaurant near the brothers diner which they were forced to change to “The Big M”.

In 1961, he finally purchased the company from the brothers. The agreement was for the McDonalds to receive $2.7 million for the chain and to continue to receive an overriding royalty of 1.9% on future gross sales and very specifically 1.9% because when negotiating the contract the McDonald brothers said that 2% sounded greedy.

Nowadays McDonalds and Greedy are virtually synonymous!

McDonalds didn’t reach the United Kingdom until 1974 and now there are over a thousand of them and the Company business plan is to open thirty new restaurants every year.  I don’t remember when I first started using McDonald’s, probably at about the time my children started to request it as a dining option, and now, apart from the occasional breakfast bun, I would only use it if I am absolutely desperate!

One place where Kroc failed to make an impression was at Disneyland.  In 1955 he wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.”  The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter personally so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

mcdonalds world

Favourite Places in Spain, Palencia in Castilla y Leon

This is the last (for the time being) of my favourite places in Spain…

palencia 03

“Sometimes the Spaniard will resent your attempts to use it (Spanish).  Sometimes he believes it to physically impossible for an alien to understand it.  Sometimes he cannot actually convince himself that you are speaking it…”   Jan Morris – ‘Spain’

Catedral?” I enquired and the poor man (victim) that I had selected just stared back at me with an expressionless face as though I was a visitor from the planet Mars.  So I tried again but this time, remembering that upside down question mark thing at the beginning of the sentence I tried to sound a bit more Spanish, ¿Catedral?” but his face went so blank that I thought that he had surely died from shock and premature rigor mortis had set in.

Directions

I don’t know if you agree but I have to say that Catedral sounds a bit like Cathedral to me so I don’t know why this was so difficult but his solution was to call someone else over who was an obviously educated man who spoke excellent English and with optimism I tried again ¿Catedral?”

To my horror he adopted exactly the same blank face as the first man so I tried again in various different accents and voice inflections. ¿Cat-edral?”  “¿Catedraaal?”  “¿Caaatedral?”  Nothing, Nothing, Nothing.  I really could not understand why this should be so difficult.

If a Spanish man came up to me in Lincoln and asked for directions to the Cathedral, however he might pronounce it, I am fairly sure that I could make out what he was asking for!   Eventually I gave up, added the Anglo-Saxon h sound and just asked in English for directions to the Cathedral and amazingly I immediately made myself understood and the man smiled and said “Ah, Catedral!” which, I am fairly certain is exactly what I said in the first place and then having cleared up this little confusing matter he went on to give very clear and very precise directions on how to find it.

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Favourite Places in Spain, Ciudad Rodrigo in Castilla y Leon

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Last time in my favourite places in Spain I was in the tourist town of Ronda in Andalusia in the South, today I am three hundred and fifty miles north through sun-baked Extremadura and into iron-hard Castilla y Leon.

After several hours of motoring we came to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is the last city in Spain before reaching Portugal, a fortress city built to protect the western border of the country and as we approached we could see the walled castle and its fortifications standing proud and defiant on a rocky outcrop in a commanding defensive position.

Gone now are the whitewashed Pueblos Blancos, the click of the castanets, the flash of flamenco and the swirl of the matador’s cape because there is a demarcation line in Spain roughly along the line of latitude of Madrid which divides the country in two,  to the north the environment becomes harsher, the landscape is more severe and the towns and cities are made of stone.

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And some views of the Rio Agueda from our hotel room…

Ciudad Rodrigo river and bridge at nightCiudad Rodrigo in the FogCiudad Rodrigo from the Hotel Molino

 

Favourite Places in Spain, Besalú in Catalonia

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Besalú is designated as a National Historic Property but it is rather small and as we were staying here for a couple of nights we thought it best not to rush around and see everything straight away.  This plan suited me just fine because it was exceptionally hot by mid-afternoon so the best place to be was in the main square under a parasol with a big glass of cool Estrella beer in a frozen glass and several plates of local specialities for lunch.

Eventually the bars and restaurants began to close down as the owners and staff cleared the tables and started to think about the afternoon siesta so we took the hint and moved off to go and explore the streets of Besalú.

Away from the medieval main square we melted into narrow alleys with cobbled streets with weathered stone buildings and balconies with terracotta pots host to effervescent flower displays, wooden doors with heavy metal hinges and rusty locks and several coats of paint attempting to conceal the damage of hundreds of years.

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Tea Towel Souvenirs – St. Mary’s Lighthouse at Whitley Bay

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In 2018 the most viewed photograph on my blog pages was a picture of a tea towel that I took in a shop in Puglia in Italy.

Puglia T Towel Map

On account of that I thought that I would begin an occasional series of posts of tea towel souvenirs that I have brought home from my travels and I begin with St. Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay in Northumberland.

“To me a lighthouse was meant to be lived in. It was part of working life. And ships passing, day or night, knew there was somebody there, looking at them.” – Dermot Cronin, the last Lighthouse keeper in United Kingdom

Since 1998 all of the UK Lighthouses including this one are fully automated.

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This is my post on pointless souvenirs in Spain –

Travels in Spain, Pointless Souvenirs