Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The return of the work horse?

Years ago I ran a horse-and-cart waste-paper collection system in Bristol, convinced that horses would do a better job than lorries. Well, they did, though the area they worked in was limited to a smallish circle. People queued up to help, to clean out the stables and to ride the beast. The local council even turned blind eyes to every council property 'stable squat' we used, though horses were never seen to squat. Eventually the horse and cart moved on to Radstock when the driver fell in love with her supervisor. But I remember interviewing an elderly Polish man for the job; he had worked horses in Poland before the war and then in Bristol for the railway company, shunting carriages about with heavy horses. So I was utterly delighted to bump into an old friend, Julian Rose, who has gone to live in Poland and is devoting his vast energies to helping to save Polish agriculture from the fate that has befallen ours - with few now on the land, communities struggling and farmers facing rising costs etc. He has been hugely impressed by the continuing and efficient use of horses, so much so that he plans to open a retraining centre for horse-handlers here in the UK.

Have a look at his website

Monday, August 11, 2008

Coat hangers from Marseille...

It is good, if painful, to be reminded of the grim impact of some hotels. Here is a letter, edited, from one of our editors. She was responding crossly to the following PR announcement from a Moroccan hotel:

When we designed our Hotel , we set out to create the ultimate luxury hotel in Morocco. A project of passion, blood, sweat & tears, and a big dollop of romanticism, has resulted in one of the finest, luxury Marrakech riads available in the city. Our Marrakech luxury hotel is not really a hotel, but is more our home from home. It is a cool, romantic, sophisticated house right in the middle of the Marrakech medina, just a two minute stroll from the main square with its fire eaters, jugglers, snake charmers, and ancient story tellers.

Attention to detail is our mantra – our toiletries are imported from Paris, our water comes from Norway, and our coat hangers from Marseille. So, if you're looking for a contemporary, luxury riad in Morocco, then we are here waiting to welcome you.

Each room in our luxury Moroccan hotel has the wow-factor, with stunning rooms and funky designs. This really is…pure indulgent chic.

Our editor's comment: "And their initial handout says "situated in the affluent heart of Marrakech..." The old Arab city! the medina! where some of the poorest people still live. And they are proud to be part of the transformation/elimination of this authentic culture, have not the slightest idea of the destructions they wreak."

My own thoughts are similar, with a special plaudit for the Marseilles coat-hangers. Now that is a serious case of supporting the host-country's economy....

Monday, June 23, 2008

Do we alway want more tourists?

Costa Rica has long had a reputation as a model of eco tourism. They had gone for high paying tourists instead of mass market bargain chasers and, in doing so, had managed to build up their tourist dollars and create protected conservation areas without having to build vast sprawling resorts. Other countries that had taken the opposite approach watched ruefully at the Costa Rican tourism scene gently developed.

But no longer. The country seems to have changed tack, opening its coast line to rampant and often unplanned development.
This article shows the sort of damage that tourism can do when greed is involved, and where quick profits are pursued over long term sustainability. The Spanish Costas have suffered a similar fate - the only sort of tourism that their wrecked, overbuilt shores can support is low-end and bargain, bringing only a trickle of income to the local economy and leaving little room for conservation. Countries that are just beginning their journey into tourism have many similar examples from which to learn (areas such as Goa, Thailand and the Med), so it's a massive shame to see history repeating itself. It couldn't be further from the whole philosophy of 'slow travel', which we think offers the most poetic alternative to this madness.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

More on B&Bs Under Fire

This is going to run and run: Fire Regs and the world of B&B. I hope it is more helpful than tedious.

The latest story is of a B&B in Suffolk that has now had four visits from the Fire Officer, each one costing hundreds of pounds in alterations, such as re-hanging a door or blocking up an entrance.

Meanwhile, the B&B in the South West that kicked this story off is now threatened with closure unless it installs £000s of computer-based kit - during the height of the season. She may have to close.

It is entirely possible that Fire Officers all over the UK are out of control and the whole system needs to be revised. (Many of them, upon retirement, set up installation services, strangely enough, and become Fire consultants.) They are almost certainly being 'disproportionate' in their application of regulations to small B&Bs. I have heard of one who forced a B&B to close on the spot - at huge cost in lost business - in order to fit a couple of fire doors.

Any further thoughts out there? What would you do in my position? Of, more to the point, what would you do if you were a B&B owner threatened with closure after you ahve done a respectable Fire Risk Assessment and consider your house to be utterly safe?

Monday, June 16, 2008

The end of cheap flights?

posted by Toby Sawday

News would have it that the US airline industry, the world's largest, is struggling to stay afloat as the new price of oil adds $30 billion to their total annual fuel bill. Airline closures are predicted and industry analysts forecast major economic ripples across a country that relies heavily on air travel to connect its disparate towns and sprawling economy.

Are these the first signs of the unravelling of the aviation industry as we know it? What starts in America will, no doubt, spread across the pond and we can expect to see climbing prices for flights and, perhaps, a shift in travel and tourism patterns.

There had always been a whiff of madness about the sort of short-haul, pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap tourism that had been driven by low-cost flights. It was so dependent on a source of energy that was being devoured like never before by the emerging middle classes in Indian, China et al, but which had also reached its peak of production.

Tourism that is 'light' on energy use is more insulated from spikes in energy prices or changes in exchange rates. So, fostering a healthy domestic tourism scene that doesn't rely on air travel not only avoids the carbon emissions associated with long-haul voyages, but goes some way to avoiding the risk attached to relying on a single energy source whose price is so fickle.

We made a decision in recent months not to promote any more long haul destinations, but to focus instead on European places to stay. And we plan to work hard to promote those places to which you can travel by train. We made this decision for environmental reasons, but it now looks to have been a prudent decision for other reasons too. Let's just hope the dreary British summer doesn't drive people onto planes in spite of the new prices.

Monday, May 19, 2008

British B&Bs under fire

I am gathering evidence for a nation-wide discussion on Fire Regulations and B&Bs.

Just to whet your apppetites: a clutch of them are under immediate threat of closure unless they install, under pressure from their Fire Services, very sophisticated and expensive (£3-£8k) alarm systems that are linked to a computer screen. In fact, should this handful close the threat will then hang over thousands and thousands of them.I understand that one of the main purposes of the system is to reveal the source of the fire!

I suspect that institutional madness is gripping the Fire Services, as it grips those Councils who chop down good trees because they may pose a Health and Safety threat. (See previous blog). If a house, equipped with fire alarms, detectors, fire blankets etc, is unsafe for B&B guests it may well prove also to be unsafe for visiting grand-children. The logic is unstoppable.

Does anyone have views, experience, information? Please try to make it specific to Fire Regs and B&Bs! Thank you.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Make the world a safer place - chop down all the trees

I have just been reminded how far down the road to institutionalised lunacy we have travelled.

Big handsome trees in fine condition have been felled by the Council this week in Bristol because of Health and Safety fears. If their branches were to fall, they might hurt someone. More trees are in line for the chop. In fact, would it not make sense to fell alll the trees in the city? They are all dangerous.

More worrying than the Council's position is our own complicity. We see these things happen and do nothing, for we are busy, or rushing off to a meeting, or believe that the Council knows best. We get the institutional behaviour we deserve, don't we?

I'm off to capture all the local dogs - they are a hazard. As for those bloody birds that wake me up in the morning.... But somebody somewhere is no doubt working on a genetically modifed warble-free blackbird. Thank Heavens for science.