Phil's Travels - Leeds, England (07.21)
Phil's Travels - Leeds, England (07.21)
The weekend before Leeds, we popped down to Dawlish again to retrieve our darling daughter from her doting grandparents. She had been in Dawlish for a week, providing the doters with running tuition on their newest acquisition - their first ever smartphone. Twenty first century technology has finally caught up with our Silent Generation. Next trick will be to get them to actually turn the thing on, and to keep it on them. One step at a time. On this occasion, our sunny evening barbeque was not titillated by exposure to Great Tits. Parents and kids were long gone, to the Great Tits in the sky.
We came back Sunday night to a hot and sticky London (over 30C), just in time to see Cav miss out on a fifth Paris win and a record 35th stage win in the Tour de France. Next year Cav.
I may not be the most tech-savvy bloke, but I do find the internet is not necessarily the best medium through which to find the ideal journey. On a few occasions in the preceding week and whilst in Dawlish I tried to find the ideal journey on LNER - to no avail. I gave up and decided to get an expert to figure it out for me.
So, Monday morning, I found myself at the Hogwart's Express Terminus chatting with a very nice train chappie behind plexiglass. After much typing and muttering (much like myself during my online explorations), he came up with an ideal journey. His first quote was £235 return to Leeds. By the end of his magic ministrations my fare had fallen to just £90, with the outbound in First Class! Amazing how real people can still pull a rabbit out of a hat and beat the all-conquering internet. More real people, people, please.
Even though it was BoJo's 'Freedom Day' (or was it not meant to be 'Terminus Day', I get confused with the veritable torrent that is Bojo sound bites), First Class was empty (I did not visit coach, the seat was way too comfortable to be wasted by walking about) - so why is it so difficult to find the ideal journey on the internet? My service left from Platform 3, not from 9 and ¾, so no chance of experiencing any further magic.
Freedom (Terminus) Day was a beauty in Leeds. Glorious sunshine, a slight breeze and virtually no one around. Despite Freedom Day missives to relax, the city was covered in caution and masks and gels. In fact the entire country appeared to be taking Freedom Day in a much more measured and far more sensible manner than HMG had said was permissible. Many local businesses (like here in London, where our favourite café remains closed, still) remained very cautious about re-opening, particularly with so few staff available (between economic uncertainty, furlough de-risking options, sickness, pings and Brexit it is any wonder that hospitality is able to provide any levels of service at the moment).
On arrival in the pocket-powerhouse that is Leeds, I checked into my hotel immediately. Here below a quick critique for the record:
- Bedroom was small and a melody of brown (not quite a symphony as the bed linen and ceiling were not brown), whereby the desk-chair, desk, wardrobe, mini-bar cabinet, carpet, bedside tables and wallpaper were all varying shades of brown. It reminded me of my time in post-Soviet CIS countries in the early 1990s.
- My room had a stunning view of the hotel's air-conditioning units and the back wall of Leeds Railway Station, and just a snippet of sky for colour.
- I could hear every whistle, PA announcement and revving diesel engine until midnight and again from six next morning.
- Not sure what building materials were used in its construction, but the windows rattled in harmony with the thunderous diesel engines and the whole room shook when my neighbours banged their bedroom doors (I thought the headboard was going to fall on my at around 3am). Come morning I hunted for the Lego logo, but evidently the building materials were being kept a trade secret. In a Three Little Pigs context, this hotel was definitely not a brick house, unlikely to be of sticks and almost certainly made of straw (or medieval wattle and daub, perhaps).
- On first entering my room, there was a chap in the service riser between my room and the next. Yes, the riser was big enough for a full-grown chap to wander around and poke at pipes and stuff. Not sure what he was up to, but I was suddenly reminded of that scene from the 'The Mechanic', when Jason pops through the wall to poison a bad guy. Fortunately, my chap was gone when I settled in for the night - he must have been aware of the night-time noise levels and done a runner well before dark.
- Despite the evidence of air-conditioning units on the roof outside my window and their humming, and the whirring coming from the fans in my room, the air-conditioning did not work as an air-cooling device and could not be switched off. So, between extreme heat and endless, unstoppable noise, Monday night was a not a night of deep sleep.
- A PhD was required to work the bedroom lights. Not high-tech, but definitely strangely wired to be energy saving and guest annoying.
- The desk-chair developed a nasty habit of nipping at my toes, like some kind of rabid dog. It was a big desk-chair affair, which in such a small room with little light led to many stubbed toes on its enormous, extended wheels.
- Me thinks - time for a major refurb, or, better still, a complete redevelopment.
The folk of Leeds were super nice throughout my visit and very helpful and my two days were richly rewarded with information and data. It is a remarkably compact city and very efficiently laid out. For such a small city, it really does punch above its weight. Not only is it the financial capital of the north of England, but it also seemed to have more shopping malls than London (including the gorgeous Victorian Victoria Quarter), is home to Europe's largest covered market (Kirkgate Market) and hosts all the big-name luxury brands. North, south and west there were regeneration projects underway, and all this dynamism was clearly reflected in the entrepreneurialism of the amazing City Council team. And in the centre, many of the fabulous heritage buildings have been retained and repurposed into modern day viable uses and looked resplendent in the summer sun.
On my hotel tours, I passed by 42 The Calls. I remember visiting back in the 1990s (on one of those brief occasions when I wasn't enjoying brown rooms in post-Soviet CIS) when it was hot off the press and a stunning product for such a destination. The 42 The Calls of today though was closed and looking very derelict. I hope the current owner is able to fund a full restoration soon. It would be a pity to see a UK hotel icon pass into history in this way.
My return to Kings Cross unfortunately did not bring me into Platform 9 and ¾ either, but it did bring me into Platform 0. Where else would you find a Platform 0? Only at Harry's station, surely. Specialis Revelio!