Oh my Darling, I’ve hungered for your touch…

I’m not sure that I have ever understood the purpose of a pre-election budget. It is almost laughable how obvious this farce is; the BBC describe it as a “giving budget”, but I think that “giving bullshit” would be more apt. I haven’t read the budget from end to end, nor did I listen to Alistair Darling’s 58 minute dramatization of it in the Commons, so I am probably not the best person to respond to it or give my humble opinion, but it strikes me that most journalists won’t have read it from cover to cover and they get paid to lick red Labour bum or present a blistering attack on it, so I might as well have a go.

If you thought about a general election six or nine months back, it seemed fairly much agiven that the blue sun would rise once more and the Tories would storm back into number ten with excitement, enthusiasm and unstoppable force. But now they have managed to squander their massive 28% lead in the polls to just 5% and that is after the budget announcements! I’m not that educated when it comes to politics; I spent a year of my life in Government and Politics lessons, but whilst I learnt a great deal about my teacher’s life as a local councilor this didn’t seem to be that useful when it came to the actual exams. However, I did learn a little about voting habits and people believe that you will inherently follow your parents vote and whilst I’d like to think that we are more individual than that, I am aware that I would naturally follow my parents vote unless they did something bad or another party did something amazing. Plus, our voting system is incredibly biased for a third smaller party, so people find it increasingly disenchanting to vote for the Lib Dems because they know it won’t get them anywhere.

I live in an area that is traditionally very conservative; when Tony Blair first stood as an MP it was for Beaconsfield and the joke was that not even he could turn Beaconsfield in a Labour constituency. Since 1997, we have been looked after by someone who may well have spawned Harry Potter; I’m desperate to sweep Dominic Grieve’s fringe aside to look for the fabled scar. All joking aside, he’s not done a bad job; he is one of the few politicians that hadn’t been caught buying a duck house or getting his moat cleaned. According to Hansard and a handful of more dubious websites, our esteemed MP has attended and spoken more than the average MP, which has got to be a good thing. The wonderful powers of the internet also tell me that he has used three word alliterative phrases (such as “she sells seashells”) 1170 times in his speeches, which is well above average for an MP. Quite why we needed to know that fact is totally beyond me, as is how he managed to fit those sorts of phrases into quite so many speeches.

I’m not sure which way I lean politically because the parties all crowd onto the same soapbox to give their identi-spin and Darling’s budget was a typical example of this. For a Labour government to suggest selling our student loans to a private company is preposterous. Now, I understand that student loans cost the government £1.2 billion a year, which sounds like a hell of a lot, but when you consider that our national debt is about £697 billion, it suddenly pales into insignificance. However, they feel that this amount is too high and there are various ways of dealing with it. Firstly, they could raise the interest rates to a more normal level to ensure that the administration gets paid out of that. A slightly more underhand method to raise the interest would be to keep the payments the same, but extend the length of repayment. Most people wouldn’t notice this – I couldn’t tell you how much I’d paid off of mine without some calculations. So the third way would be to sell the company to a private owner. Now I might not have the best knowledge of politics, but I’m pretty sure that when the Tories did this, it was called privatization and it was absolutely ripped to shreds by Labour. I just don’t really understand how any of these ideas fit into a Labour constitution. After Tony Blair, the Labourites were excited about getting back to true Labour with Brown until they realized that he was just like Blair. Obviously as an ex student, this is an issue that concerns me.

I read an article in the Torygraph by a UCL professor who claimed that student loans were not lending people enough money and that the majority of people can’t live on their student loans. Lending more money to those who can’t afford it is such a poor idea; most people I know have come out of university with between £10,000 and £20,000 debt and this isn’t even looking at doctors, lawyers and vets. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a parent or someone to pay my tuition fees or bills for me, so I lived at home and worked part time whilst I was at university. This isn’t the typical university experience and I will never get that back, but I couldn’t justify it otherwise. I was also extremely lucky because I went to university before they started charging £3500 a year. On paper, I owe the student loans company just over ten grand, but in reality, I have some of that sat in a bank account, so my true debt would probably be around £5000. So I would consider that I have got away with the university experience very lightly, but I will still be paying it back over the next fifteen years. But if they chose to privatize the student loans company, we have no idea what they will do to it; interest rates could rise and the conditions that we are paying it back under could change drastically. I find this highly scary, but so little has been made about it in the news. Perhaps this is because it is a long term plan and with the upcoming election, there is a chance that it won’t come to fruition. This government seems to hate students; the majority of them went to some of the best universities in the country on a full grant and now they are pulling the rope ladder up behind them. Whatever way they look at it, by raising costs, adding top up fees and altering the student loans interest rates, you are making the possibility of going to university more and more elitist. Then they have the audacity to claim that they want everyone to go to university so they are freeing up more spaces and creating more weird and wacky courses. I’m not sure that you want everyone to go to university; otherwise it loses its gravitas. If 80% of the population are graduates, then it gives you no advantage whatsoever. Surely it would make more sense to offer work placements and practical training for those who want to develop themselves but not through academia. I don’t know that I’ve got the right solution, but I’m not being paid to make these decisions. These politicians have to question whether they would have made it to where they are today if they hadn’t gone to study at somewhere like Oxbridge for free. How many of them would have been put off by the albatross of £20,000 debt hanging around their neck?

Despite my most wishful thinking, I’m not a student any more, so I have to look at the other things in the budget that will also affect me. There is only one word I can use at this time. Cider. This calorific, sugary pint of golden goodness is what sees me through a long day. Well, I mean the thought of it sees me through the day; I’m not your stereotypical cider drinker who drinks in the day and idolizes Wurzel. For those that aren’t aware of Darling’s blunder, he has decided to raise tax on wine, beer and cigarettes by a mere 1 or 2 percent and cider by 10%. What have the cider drinkers ever done to him? Is he single handedly trying to obliterate the West Country? I thought that a Labour government was all about maintaining industry, yet they are suffocating one of the biggest things to come out of the West Country since cheddar cheese and Bill Bailey. This is such an affront to the orchard owners of the country. Why don’t we put tax on things that don’t come out of our own industry? Such as wine; we do not have a big wine industry, 98% of it is imported in. I can practically hear Darling coming back to me, saying “but it’s your health we are concerned about”. Ok, that’s very sweet of you to care, but if you are so concerned about my health, why don’t you raise the tax on cigarettes? We know just how damaging smoking is and yet the government is too scared of the massive corporations and their inherent money and power to do anything about smoking taxes. After all, let us not forget Bernie Eccleston’s influences over the Labour party when they attempted to ban tobacco advertising in the past. The other argument is that it’s relatively cheap and therefore encourages binge drinking. I would agree with that, but when I was at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday, it cost £5.40 to buy half a pint of Magners and a packet of crisps, which I don’t consider to be that cheap. What about other cheap drinks? Alcopops, super lagers like Tennants, Thunderbird and not forgetting Buckfast. I just think that cider is a bit of a strange thing to attack.

I could go on about all sorts of peculiarities in Darling’s budget. The old favourite, petrol prices, cropped up again. This time they claim they will only put the price up by 3 pence over a year. Do they think we haven’t noticed that it’s steadily climbed back up to about £1.16 a litre? What happened to people caring? A few years back we would all go on strike, refuse to buy petrol and blockade the lorry tankers. And now? Well, we barely notice the increase. Sure, I complain when I manage to get £40 into my roller-skate of a car, but I never do anything to change that. Continuing down the budget, we get to the big spend; road maintenance. A whopping £385 million to be spent on road maintenance, which is brilliant, isn’t it? But then you start to think about the sheer number of roads in the United Kingdom; there must be at least 40 in my village alone, so countrywide it must run into the tens of millions. There are 98 motorways and major dual carriageways and countless others. When you work it out, it will be a pitiful allocation per road and after a winter of heavy snow, many of our roads are already in dire need of repair. All the same, this spend is the biggest forecast by the Labour government and you have to wonder where they will find the money from. Perhaps it’s from the raise in petrol prices? Oh no, I see where it’s come from; that’ll be the £343 million slash to the judicial system. What a grand idea that is. They say that about 70% of British crime is petty and so it’s obviously the natural conclusion to close down over 20 magistrates courts across the country. I’m not quite sure they have connected the dots in the most logical order there. With fewer judges and courts, the pressure will be firmly placed onto judges to make quick decisions and pass people through the court conveyor belt as quickly as possible to ensure they get through the figures regardless of whether the individual concerned has been given a fair trial and the best possible treatment for them. Another monetary cut that they didn’t publicize in great detail was the £1.1 billion from Ed Balls’ department for children, schools and families, which I suspect would go down like the proverbial lead balloon.

Don’t get me wrong, there are good points to the budget as well; the lifting of stamp duty up to £250,000 for first time buyers and other things, but lets be honest, writing about things you agree with is a lot less satisfying than debating those you don’t. I’m sure that I heard every comic in the country cry with relief when they saw the news about cider.

Sorry Darling, sorry Brown; I don’t think you get my vote. Let’s see what the others have to offer. Word on the street is that Vince Cable is the man for our economy.

British Blogs

Advertisements

Today I put a monkey on a donkey

When I meet people out and about and they ask me what I do, I dread telling them, especially when I am in the company of my esteemed friends who all have very exciting and/or worthwhile jobs. Amongst them are a meeja/television person, a writer, a clever dick science PHD, someone who works in psychiatric hospitals and someone in a snazzy events management company. The minute that I mention I work for a laboratory, everyone always says the same thing; “oh, animal testing is it?” I’m not sure it was funny the first time, but I smile on. Now I realise that I’m not helping my reputation when I tell people we had a dead cat arrive in the post or I blog about stacking animals on top of one another, but between you and I, I quite like shocking people. I work in the office of a veterinary laboratory, so we do regularly get misdirected samples in the post. But I can assure you,  we have never had a whole monkey in the post and I certainly haven’t been trying to make them ride donkeys. Anyway I digress, I wanted to tell you a little story about my day. I was actually referring to a bit of dodgy rhyming slang, which incidentally I can’t even begin to understand. Why do we call £500 a monkey? I’m sure you all know the answer and about 0.45 seconds on google could probably tell me, but I’m not that interested!

A workmate of mine had today off work to go to the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and spurred on by this, I had a little flutter on the geegees. I’m not a big gambler; I bet in the National every year, but apart from that I don’t tend to bother. However, I spent the week keeping an eye on the tips of a serial gambler and time after time, he picked winners. So, drawn to the illicit light like a mutant lemming moth, I decided to put some bets on. I was initially reluctant because after a massive stroke of luck last year, I wasn’t sure I could beat it.

If we roll back to April 2009, Shelley and I spent a day poring over the Grand National form in Horse and Hound and we eventually convinced the family to put some bets on. The conditions were that you were to place two Each Way bets; one had to be an outsider and one could be a favourite. Certain family members were a little more conservative than others! I think that Gareth’s outsider was at 25-1. I would love to say that I knew a great deal about the horses and had a strong knowledge of the form, but in truth, Horse and Hound told me that Mon Mome had won the Welsh National and was nifty at getting out of trouble. I put £5 each way on him and the same on Comply or Die. Comply or Die spent the entire race in the top 10 and as a rank outsider of 100-1, Mon Mome wasn’t mentioned at all. So imagine my absolute shock and surprise when Mon Mome shoots to the front and pushes Comply or Die into 2nd place by 12 lengths. I was absolutely dumbfounded and even after collecting my £670 winnings, I couldn’t even begin to understand how I could have won such an astronomical figure for no good reason.

So now you can see why I wasn’t sure I wanted to gamble again; nothing could beat luck like that! But today I wanted to put a quick bet on the geegees. After a tonne of work and impending job interviews, I hadn’t even had time to see who was running and when I forgot my wallet, I didn’t have time to wait for Honest Andy’s tips. So I had a quick look in the paper and chose a few horses to back in various races. When I did eventually see Andy’s tips, I was gutted that none of the horses I’d chosen were on his list. In a moment of panic, I popped a couple of his picks on. I saw Mon Mome was in the Gold Cup, this time at 50-1 and couldn’t resist backing my lucky talisman once more. Quite bizarrely, the horses I selected came in at 2nd and 3rd and those I backed on the tips of others bought me nothing. Despite throwing money away on useless bets, thanks to Mon Mome, I have come out of it with a profit; not a huge profit, but enough to buy my nice friends a drink on Sunday night.

I haven’t come away from the day under any kind of pretence that I understand racing or gambling, just grateful that Lady Luck was smiling down on me again today. So many things in life seem to be down to chance. Being in the right place at the right time  and I tend to let my life run along in this manner. I think that everything happens for a reason we have to go with the flow; there will be times when life chucks us a raw deal and there is very little that we can do to try to change it, we must just weather the storm in the best humour possible. Equally much, when we get a big stroke of luck, one must remember that it is indeed a stroke of luck and not necessarily an amazing super power that you have suddenly developed. I have always believed that I have this view on life because I’m a little lazy and it stops me from beating myself up over life changing decisions, but I’m beginning to think it’s quite a wise and sage way of looking at life.

The Seven Stages of (Wo)man.

This week I had the relative misfortune of suffering from a birthday. In truth, it was a lot less painless than I had expected. As my birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, I decided that the only commonsense thing to do would be to take a little visit to the Comedy Store. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it but I thought it would be nice to see my friends, so as is standard in this age where no-one communicates, I sent some nonchalant text messages publicising the said event. Everyone replied saying no, they were busy/couldn’t afford it or whathaveyou. I was a little more sulky about this than I liked to let on and was subsequently delighted to find that the sneaky, sly bastards had snuck up to the Comedy Store to surprise me. I can’t help but wonder at the genuine loveliness and generosity of my friends who deceived me and travelled all that way (some over a hundred and sixty miles) to surprise me. I had a truly delightful evening and was given some amazing gifts; playdoh, a Matt Munro cd, a pen, a build it yourself VW Campervan and a 1986 Manual of Horsemanship. I’m not sure that this is what the majority of people receive for their birthday, but I was delighted with each and every one of my gifts.

As happens with every birthday, I began questioning my age, wisdom, maturity and general journey of life; I realise that my twenty-third birthday was quite a premature year to start a mid-life crisis, but it pleased me. When I was told “but you are younger than the Comedy Store Players”, I realised that indeed, I was just a kid and had a good deal of birthdays to survive in the future. I have always respected the wisdom and maturity of my elders and I think that must be what makes me want to watch the Comedy Store Players frequently. They are perhaps some of the wisest and most mature people in the world; actually, this sounds mocking, but they (especially Andy) do have an encyclopaedic knowledge. Another of my elders who I respect immensely is Jo, of http://thatjoeden.wordpress.com fame. She has an innate ability to write funny, incisive and cutting prose with little thought. I suspect that this is what she learnt in the six months before I was born. To be entirely honest, I think I spent the first three months dribbling anyway, so I think her head start must have widened at this point.

Scientists, swots and the genuinely clever people Ok, Shakespeare divided human life into seven stages, which I have attempted a rudimentary recreation of here.

Bryony showing off

Infantius Dribblus

From the moment of birth, the female infantius dribblus soon learns how to succeed in life; a small smile, a giggle or clasping a finger in the hand is enough to get all kinds of adoration from the adult breed. I remember very little about myself from this time, but am reliably told by a completely impartial bystander (my mother), that I was a delightful scrumple of wrinkly skin. I giggled, cooed and charmed my way into everyone’s hearts. These charms carried me through into toddlerhood. I can be seen on the left here, practicing my charm offensive and in my defence, they have remained useful in my later life. I continued to hone these skills during a short stint as a living statue last summer.

Until one is required to go to nursery or school, the infantius dribblus is the apple of the collective family’s eye and as long as they remember to keep that cheeky smile close to hand, they can do little wrong.

Swotius Intellectica

It can come as a huge shock to the infantius dribblus when they have to leave the bosom of the family for a few hours a day, but they soon develop the habit of succeeding in the classroom. Little do they know that this work thing is a habit they will not be able to shake for the next sixty odd years. The swotius intellectica is not worn down and jaded by the years of hard work, so they treat every piece of school work as a race and a challenge to win and be the best.

To get a true reflection of myself in those early school years, I turn to my school reports. Now, before I do this, I must tell you a little about my primary school; it believed that all children were individuals, so we had no school uniform and we had a large array of animals including Bucephalus the pony.

At the earliest stages of my swotius intellectica:

“Bryony is a bright, sensible little girl. She is quiet and well-behaved. She likes to be independent and can be rather impulsive. She is eager to please and works well.”

They say that I was independent and impulsive, but I wonder whether what they meant was a loner and didn’t listen. However, it wasn’t just in my personality that I excelled.

In English:

“Bryony listens attentively and speaks clearly. She reads fluently and with enjoyment. She is writing creatively and imaginatively. Her handwriting is well-formed and her spelling is good.”

In geography:

“Bryony has seen a local map. She used her enquiry skills to compare the village to life in Pakistan.”

I have to be honest here and question quite how many similarities Flackwell Heath (a large, suburban village) has with Pakistan (a country). But, it is good to know that by the age of 8, I had seen a map.

I fell down a little in my recorder lessons, but as a typical swotius intellectica, it was not for lack of trying.

“It has been a slow, but very enthusiastic start. Recognition of note names and values are not a problem, but a few co-ordination difficulties have made it more difficult for the music to flow – however, this could improve with practice.”

Yes, it ‘could’ improve with practice, but I am almost positive that it never will. Despite my musical struggles, I was a high achiever in other areas, such as sport as I have demonstrated with the following pictures. My hockey career was at an all time high, however, the team I rolled with were so violent, it was important to tie my legs up with a duvet and wear a riding hat. Moving on to my winning three-day eventing, we can see that I was a little smaller than my riding hat and my horse was scarily jaundiced looking, but I powered through.

Teenagius Rebellius

After a year or two at secondary school, the swotius intellectica suddenly realises that this is it. There is no more to their life and it is up to them to inject a little excitement into everything. In general, I was a very well-behaved little girl, but I cringe when I think back to my fifteen year old self. Again, my school reports tell us all we need to know.

Every subject, bar English tells us the same story. In English, I was still the model swotius intellectica.

“Bryony puts every effort into all she does and has worked extremely hard in all aspects of the course. Her behaviour is exemplary, and she is always polite, cooperative and helpful. Bryony is very confident, self-assured and outgoing in all she does.”

However, in French:

“There is some reluctance on her part to concentrate and this often disturbs other students in their work…As a way forward she must give this subject her full concentration at all times to enable her to gain maximum benefit of the lesson time.”

To bluff my way through a significant lack of knowledge in Science, I reverted back to my infantius dribblus type.

“Increased periods of concentration in class will improve Bryony’s level of attainment. She must remember that it is not her job to entertain her classmates.”

Maths was my weakest subject and fully enhanced by the mutual hatred I shared with my teacher. I think she took great pleasure in writing my terrible reports.

“Her recent examination result was disappointing, betraying considerable uncertainty over many of the topics covered this year. Unless Bryony increases her current rate of learning, I fear she may not achieve a pass grade at GCSE.”

Then in year eleven:

“On some occasions Bryony has a tendency to daydream and needs to be more motivated to concentrate on her work. Bryony has genuine problems with tests because she does not read the questions carefully; she is apt to write down the first answer which comes into her head. I hope this will improve. On her recent examination, Bryony gained the few marks she got on the probability and enlargement questions. Apart from this topic, Bryony shows very little knowledge of any of the work covered in the past two terms. Her progress will be enhanced if she can give her entire concentration to the lesson rather than passing notes and chatting.”

Even my excellent sporting skills were failing me:

“What Bryony lacks in skill she makes up for in sheer brute force. Bryony takes a major role in the success of her team; indeed she displays excellent leadership qualities. However, she finds it difficult to work alone and constantly seeks reassurance from others.”

I think that what was described as “independent and impulsive” aged 5, is called a loud, attention seeking brat once it hits 15. However, outside of the classroom, I was truly excelling as teenagius rebellius; I quickly learnt that as long as you toed the line sufficiently to remain under the radar, you could get away with a lot. I have memories of sixteenth birthday parties where I drunk so much that I spent half the night with my head down a friends toilet or behaving so inappropriately that I blush to think of it now. But it was fairly acceptable behaviour and no-one pulled me up about it.

Examinus Roboticus

After a few carefree years of the teenagius rebellius, one is suddenly aware of the impending exams and the impact that this might have on the rest of your life so you buckle down and become a memory machine. I managed to move through my teenagius rebellius just in time for it to only impact one or two of my exams (GCSE history to name but one). As an examinus roboticus, you do not change as a person, you just learn how to succeed in school; you don’t have the untainted enthusiasm of the swotius intellectica, so you just make it your task to memorize huge chunks of information dangerously close to your exam.
This shift in persona was seen, again, in my school reports:

“Bryony, you have demonstrated a consistently engaged and committed attitude to your studies. Your contributions to class discussions are always valuable and constructive, building upon the thoughts of others and promoting interesting discussion. Your coursework writing was fluent, persuasive and detailed.”

I remained in the examinus roboticus until completing university and it served me well. Without the ability to spout recycled theories about literature, I would not have found the inclination to pen 10,000 words about the female characters of Charles Dickens. I would not have had the energy or the necessity to write:

“Although Dickens allows Esther to take a central role within Bleak House, it is her role as a narrator that causes the reader to question her.  Using a past tense narrative is both advantageous and detrimental; Esther is able to omit details or highlight others to advance the story and keep the reader’s interest.  By doing this, Esther leads the reader to question the validity of her narrative and whether she deserves her central role.  Slater argues that “Dickens seems, in fact, to be trying to make Esther function both as an unreliable and as a reliable narrator at the same time.” This is seen repeatedly throughout the narrative…”

Thankfully, the examinus roboticus is only a phase, which one can always see the end of. There is no place for the examinus roboticus in the workplace.

Relaxicus Maturitus

The next phase is a brief, but enjoyable part of life. The examinus roboticus is soon left behind and all the knowledge that has been gained over the past twenty years soon falls away as the human turns into a relaxicus maturitus; with their education behind them, the human can settle into the mind numbing routine of a forty hour week. The early stages of work can be defined as relaxicus maturitus because the human has little responsibility – they are closely managed at work so they don’t fall back into teenagius rebellius and have no mortgage, marriage or children to tie them down. It is their time to enjoy themselves. They can splash money around, enjoy the excesses of alcohol, food and fun without the pressure of the teenagius rebellius to get blind drunk pissed.

This is what occurred to me whilst I was pondering the terrifying fact that I was already 23. I am in the best stage of life right now, so I ought to enjoy it before I get rushed along the conveyor belt of life to…

Motherus Stressium

All too soon, the relaxius maturitus is swept up in marriage, a home and the impending children. For the woman in this situation, it can be an awful shock. They are required to give up their looks, career, money and self-respect to grow some ungrateful infantius dribblus in their stomachs. The infantius dribblus will burst out in a manner not unlike John Hurt and take over the female relaxius maturitus and turn them into a motherus stressium. At this point, the infantius dribblus takes over and becomes the most important thing in the motherus stressium’s life and they had to adapt to that. The relaxius maturitus finds herself discussing breastfeeding and all manner of revolting topics with total strangers in public. But, in return for all these sins, they are seduced by the infantius dribblus and their cunning ways of charming everyone over.

Infantius Dribblus (the Second Coming)

After having some infantius dribblus of your own, the motherus stressium is reminded how to win friends and influence people; giggling, dribbling and smiling. However, as the years get crueller to the motherus stressium, they have less control over these functions and find themselves doing it automatically anyway. As a form of revenge to their own infantius dribblus (who are now fully formed relaxicus maturitus), they gain various degrees of deafness, blindness and obliviousness. One will never know quite how deaf the infantius dribblus (II) are or whether they are simply blocking out what they do not wish to hear. Personally, I don’t want anyone to tell me, I can’t wait to be an infantius dribblus once more and wreak my revenge.

Shoop Shoop – Bridget goes Skiing

The last four days have been a formative part of my life. Likewise, I think that the last four days may have provided a steep learning curve for the Austrians about us Brits. There were a variety of things about Austrian culture and their lifestyle, which surprised, perplexed and downright baffled me.

When I think of tourists and the way us Brits are viewed, I am reminded of a routine by sometime stand up Greg Proops.

“English tourists are good fun on holiday too right? You guys know how you are. English tourists have one goal on holiday and that is to get lobster beet red and then perhaps at some golden moment, projectile vomit on a statue in the town square. ‘Look, look, f*cking Nigel just f*cking threw up on Al’s Head. Nice one! I tell you what I want, what I really, really want, what I really, really want, I want a huh, a huh, turn us all around and shag us from behind.’ and then f*ck off to the Benny Hill pub in Majorca to complain about all the foreigners that live in the country you are visiting.”

I don’t think that we behaved like this, but when it get’s written down on paper/internet blogosphere, it does start to look worryingly familiar. I’ll leave you to be the judges of that.

The first thing that struck me was the food. For breakfast, we were served a plate of parmesan, Emmental, Stilton and parma ham. Now, I’m British and consequently love food. But, who could actually stomach Stilton or parmesan at 7.30 in the morning? Deciding to bypass yesterday’s discarded lunch, I decided that an egg would most definitely be safe. It has to be said, that when I ordered an omelette, I did expect them to ask what I wanted in it. Imagine, if you will, a 2 egg omelette, with nothing but an incredibly liberal dash of salt, for your breakfast. To add insult to injury, the egg had not been sufficiently whisked before cooking, so it was a kind of pebble-dash effect omelette. Still, it’s best not to overindulge at breakfast, after a couple of hours of skiing on the slopes, I’ll have a cracking lunch. On our trip down the mountain, we saw a cabin restaurant with an amazing view of the Glacier, so we stopped for a rum and hot chocolate to peruse the lunch menu. It seemed a little peculiar that the only options available to us were a variety of sausages or soups with sausages in them. Thinking this was some funny place, we decided to ski back down to the village where there would be decent food. Shelley was brave enough to try the salad with bacon dumplings; this appeared to be made of a bowl of grated carrot with a liberal dose of balsamic vinegar and the dumpling was a fist sized lump of heavy suet with about four flecks of bacon interspersed through it. The dinner menu was equally exciting; starters of omelette soup or noodle soup, followed by an entire unseasoned trout for mains. Ok, so the Austrian food isn’t great, it tends to be schnitzels and sausages, which leads me to ask you if you have ever been to an expensive restaurant in Britain and been offered a Bernard Matthews breadcrumbed lump of meat? This is essentially what a schnitzel is. I could not see Gordon Ramsey serving a turkey twizzler up at Foxtrot Oscar. As a point of interest, I direct you to this picture, which was the only day I found food that tasted of food. Although, it still came with half a tonne of grated carrots.

So on day one, we’ve come to the conclusion that the food isn’t brilliant, but a good strong drink will make up for that. The majority of wine in Austria is taken from the great wine making countries of the world; The Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Hungary. Any wine from a country, which is known for actually making wine was over 40 Euros a bottle, so completely out of the question. A carafe of pink balsamic vinegar and very little food later, we were soon turning into the archetypal British tourists. Shelley and I were busy examining the tongue of our trout, which did involve cutting the head off and using it as a hand puppet. As Shelley was using the trout’s head as a finger puppet and driving it around the table on the pepper pot, the owner of the restaurant stopped by our table to find out how we were. Now, at this moment, Shelley and I were crying with laughter and all we could utter was “the trout’s got a tongue! And it moves!” The restaurant owner did a sterling job at hiding her disdain; she picked the plate up and said “Yah, I see the trout tongue. I have not looked before” and promptly left us to our special brand of peculiarity.

Another peculiar thing about Austria, but this time, one that I feel a slight affection towards is the public transport system. It’s so incredibly flawed, but I wish it were the same in London! We were told on arrival that if there were special ski buses, which ran from the village to the mountain and were free to those with skis/boards. Fantastic we thought. So we diligently waited for the free skibus on the Monday and the Tuesday and off we went. Tuesday evening, we planned to go into the city (Innsbruck) to explore and for dinner. So we picked up a bus timetable, got on the bus, showed the driver where we wanted to go and paid our fare – typical tourist behaviour, I suspect. However, the bus driver seemed to find us really funny and put our bus fare in his pocket and not in the till. As our journey went on, we noticed that everyone got on the bus at the back and curiously not one person paid or showed a bus pass. Admittedly, the service was a little shaky; we were forcibly removed from the bus two stops early after the driver couldn’t get past a riot in the streets. It was a very peculiar demonstration/protest, which seemed to involve thousands of angry men with placards stating “STOP FASCIST CONTROL!” and yet there was a bouncy castle and children running around playing games. Knowing Austria’s slightly turbulent past when it comes to fascist control, we moved swiftly into the side roads to find some dinner. Eventually, we stumbled into a heaving German/Austrian pub on the basis we recognised “rumpenstekke” on the menu. After a couple of pints of weissebeere and a rumpenstekke, we went off to find the bus again. This time we decided to act like the locals; we boarded the bus, cheerily cried “Halloo!” and walked past the driver and sat down. We didn’t pay to travel on the buses or the trams all week, which was fantastic. I think that London should consider taking this kind of policy up, if you want to pay, then go ahead, but no-one is going to force it either way. I have no idea how Austria can afford to run such fantastic public transport with so little funding, but they manage somehow.

Rereading my earlier words, I have come across a bit like Al Murray and this concerns me; I loved my holiday and my week in Austria. They just had a terrible idea of what constitutes food. The skiing in Austria is fantastic; the slopes were practically deserted and there are so many resorts that you can get to. We really wanted to go to the Stubaier Gletscher because apart from being an absolutely amazing spectacle, the skiing (as always is on glaciers) is amazing. Our trip up there was quite an adventure. Again, we made good use of the public transport, although I’m not quite sure what everyone thought of us as we got onto the 8am commuter bus into the city centre in all our ski gear! Once we got into the city, we had to find the Skibus that would take us up to the Glacier and after wandering around aimlessly for a few minutes, we saw someone with a snowboard and followed them. We ran over to the coach and went to load our skis on the back, when we noticed the signs in the window were all in Japanese. Thankfully, two lovely men stopped us from getting on the bus and going on a Japanese Sightseeing Tour! In a bizarre twist of fate, we got chatting to these blokes and they live just five miles away from Shelley; they were great fun and spent the hour travelling in the coach, taking the piss out of her for living near South Molton. We bumped into them again on the bus down from the Glacier and really weirdly, at Innsbruck airport waiting for our flight; they were incredibly helpful and even offered to smuggle Shelley onto their Brizzle flight. So perhaps not all Brits are total prats on holiday, it was just us.

The city of Innsbruck is beautiful.

However, I am a little unsure how anyone can afford to live there or clothe themselves from the shops. Everything was overwhelmingly expensive; Clarks shoes were about 120 Euros and every single shop (bar the one selling Clarks shoes) was a big designer with even bigger prices. Perhaps this is why their public transport is free?

The other slightly curious fact about Austria, is that they seem a trifle obsessed with wandering about in the nud. What is wrong with wearing a swimming costume to swim in? And is it really necessary to lie around with all your bits dangling about dangerously close to frying in the sauna? No-one wants fried gonads. Not even in the dodgy Austrian diet. At first I thought it was just me being a prude, but every single English person we spoke to said exactly the same thing. The two Devon lads said “but it’s not naked Tuesday!” and they are right, every day in Austria is naked Tuesday. And you have to question the sanity of anyone who thinks it is a good idea to get in a plunge pool starkers. For a start, women become reminiscent of a Cherry Bakewell and the blokes? Well, they just seem to internalise. Not that I was staring I’ll have you know, it was the blokes who shared this nugget of wisdom. With regards to this, don’t choose a potential hubby in an Austrian sauna. Or after bodyboarding mid-winter in Devon come to that. Anyhow, it was only us Brits who seemed so concerned about sitting around flashing our bits to the whole world, but is it really necessary? I don’t just mean that they preferred to be nude, the swimming/sauna area was a strictly nude area; they got quite cross if you tried to hide under lycra. Although, it’s amazing how adept you get at keeping your towel covering all until the very last bit of you has submerged, it’s quite a skill. I think that they enjoy having nude areas simply to embarrass the British tourists.

So, my advice to any Austria bound travellers is to be prepared to diet or about a month before departure take up a Bernard Matthews/sausage based diet. If you don’t eat for the duration of your trip, you will feel more confident when using the Spa facilities.