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Bank holiday days out, Basil Fawlty, lovely Blackpool and a Twitter mystery

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John Penrose

John David Penrose is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Weston-super-Mare

So how was bank holiday Monday for you, eh? Manage to get away? Day trip somewhere?

And if you did, was it all a bit awful, “supplemented with painful, until-then-suppressed memories from childhood of being stuck in bank holiday traffic for hours with the distant promise of seeing half-cut morris men stagger about a village fete”?
Probably not. But that, apparently, was the experience of one chap writing in The Observer a couple of weeks ago. It seems that he has become so disenchanted by the quality of the UK’s tourist destinations that he’s written a book about it, rather in the spirit of Stephen Pile’s 1979 book Heroic Failures, which was described as “a book written in celebration of human inadequacy in all its forms” and which was, and is, achingly funny. This latest one plays nicely into Brits’ national delight in what an article a few pages further on in the paper calls our “national pastime of self-deprecation”. But it still, for all that, doesn’t feel quite right to me.

“A bit small and rubbish”

Is Stonehenge really “a bit small, and rubbish” as he describes it? And is it strictly fair to attack Buckingham Palace for “charging the taxpayer, who are already paying for the upkeep of the State rooms…to see their money being spent on corgis”? Well, okay, you and I can probably agree that both these institutions are big enough to shrug this kind of thing off, but it’s less comfortable when the targets get smaller. Attractions like the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival, which our high-minded friend singles out for a slap, have been raising pots of money for charities, and providing a perfectly charming family day out for nearly 30 years, while Somerset’s Stanton Drew Stone Circles, an archaeological curiosity with a local legend thrown in, never pretend to be anything other than what they are, but get the same treatment. There’s a faint aroma of disdain in it – cynicism where affection might sit more happily. Like pouring scorn on the acting in a school play, he’s kind of missing the point.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Because the blindingly obvious truth about our, or any other country’s tourist attractions for that matter, is that not everything on offer is intended for, or will appeal to, every visitor. It’s all about variety and choice. Anyway, I’ll leave the last word on this to Basil Fawlty, who we find responding to a complaint from Mrs Richards, a rather deaf visitor to his Torquay hotel, about the view from her bedroom window:
Basil: “May I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically…?”
Mrs. Richards: “Don’t be silly. I expect to be able to see the sea.”
Basil: “You can see the sea. It’s over there between the land and the sky.”
Mrs. Richards: “I’d need a telescope to see that.”
Basil: “Well, then, may I suggest you move to a hotel nearer the sea? [mutters] Or preferably in it.”
Mrs Richards: “What?”
Basil: “Nothing.”
Mrs Richards: “Anyway, listen. I am not satisfied. Nevertheless, I have decided to stay. But I shall expect a reduction.”
Basil: “Why, because Krakatoa’s not erupting at the moment?”

Blackpool Tower


And staying with the subject of really excellent seaside resorts for a moment (without mentioning Weston – damn, I’ve just done so; sorry), may I commend to you the north western success story that is Blackpool, whose visitor numbers have soared this summer, I’m told? The lights will be switched on tomorrow night and will be delighting visitors for the next 66 nights, as they have been doing for the last 132 years when they were described in the local media as “artificial sunshine”, a description that is all the more appropriate these days, as more than a million bulbs are deployed in hundreds of set piece displays, along with neon, lasers and floodlighting. Whether it passes muster with the author of the book above, I cannot say, but it always goes down a storm with the public and rightly so.

Bank holidays

I started this little piece off with a line about bank holidays and some of you will recall that we have been having a think and, more to the point, seeking the public’s views on whether the present distribution of these days is quite right. A number of people in the industry suggested we give some thought to shifting the May Day bank holiday to either the autumn half-term, or possibly to become a St. George’s Day holiday in England with equivalent national days off for the other home nations.
Well, we haven’t quite completed the detailed analysis of what people said they wanted, but one thing has been coming through loud and clear. And that is the not-at-all surprising news that a number of people rather liked the idea of a new bank holiday on one or other of the suggested days but that, no, they didn’t want to lose the May Day holiday as part of the deal. An extra day off for everyone every year would clearly go down well, it seems. I think I speak on behalf of the Government when I offer the response “nice try” to that one. We’re all about reducing the deficit and growing the economy at the moment, so the suggestion we write off an additional 20 million or so working days each year is unlikely to send a shiver of delight up the Treasury’s spine, I suspect.
As for the rest of it, all I can say at this point is that we remain genuinely open-minded about the question of where bank holidays should fall, and the argument clearly goes way beyond the particular concerns of the tourism industry. I’ll keep you posted.

And finally…

I’ve got a stalker. Or maybe it’s a tribute artiste. In any event, someone has this week set up an impressively official-looking Twitter account in my name, with the DCMS mug shot at the top and, at the time of writing, 35 tweets which rather flatteringly mostly seem to be truncated comments and bon mots lifted from this very blog. There’s some fairly odd stuff about Batman and the prospects of architects entering the Kingdom of Heaven too, which are entertaining but, like the rest, not I fear the real deal.
All very mysterious. The cloned Penrose also has 73 followers, I note, which he (?) managed to accumulate in less than 48 hours. If you’re one of them, please disregard any future tweets that report ‘me’ slagging off the PM, bragging about boudoir exploits or declaring a previously-undisclosed interest in promoting Marxist revolution. They’re unlikely to be genuine.

Stonehenge photo ©Crown copyright. Blackpool photo by Emyr Jones on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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