Thursday, July 29, 2010

Forever Butlins!

My parents were professional ballroom dancers and worked from the late 50's to the early 70's for Butlins Holiday camps as Redcoats. For the Americans reading this Butlins is just a working class version of Kellermans in Dirty Dancing but without Patrick Swayze.
My memories have just come flooding back to this time in my life as an old family friend from the Butlin years,Rocky Mason has just set up a Facebook page entitled FOREVER BUTLINS  The aim is to get all the memories and photos together as a tribute to this bygone era. Rocky was also one of the original Redcoats and was entertainments manager at Filey when I was growing up. I used to spend all my time on the camp along with his daughter Sam Mason who herself became one of the youngest Redcoats to tread the boards at 14 years old. It's a tremendous idea as there are thousands of ex Redcoats, some famous, some infamous but all characters in their own right and all of us have our own special memories and photos. This type of holiday is a dying breed now but in it's day this was THE solution to keeping the whole family happy. It was the Redcoats job to keep all the Campers, as they were called then, happy and entertained. Their day was savagely long starting with breakfast with the Campers at one of the two sittings (the buffet concept never kicked in until many years later) then would come the activities, the Knobbly Knees contest, the Donkey derby, the obligatory activities around the outside pool which always resorted with at least one Redcoat being thrown in the pool. Good clean fun! This whole holiday concept was immortalized in the 80's in the TV show Hi-Di-Hi, whilst based in a rival camp, was Butlins through and through. I do not think there was a Redcaoat alive or indeed a Camper that did not watch this and identify with most of the story lines. My parents Anita and Cappy were exactly like the snooty dance couple - the ballroom dancers always thought they were head and shoulders above the other entertainment's staff!
Evenings were the best times at Butlins where after dinner the shows would start and the ballrooms would open. This gave the Redcoats a chance to shine and show off their acts in the hope of being discovered. Lots did! All the Campers would put there kids to bed in the chalets and go back to the theatre to watch the show. Patrols would be sent out to see if there was any babies crying - yes really they were left alone - and if so the patrol would head back to the theatre and a big display board would light up with 'Baby crying in chalet no 465'! Hilarious to think about that happening now but again this was a different era. After the shows everyone would go to one of the usually 2 ballrooms to join in an evening of dancing and fun and games. The Glamorous Granny competition was the stuff of legend and the title was always highly fought over. Again it was the Redcoats job to make sure everybody joined in with the fun and should some shrinking violet be standing in a corner on their own they would be persistent in getting them up on the dance floor.
The night would always end with a rousing chorus of the 'Goodnight campers see you in the morning 'song  followed by the National Anthem. Good times!
Please, if you have ever spent a holiday at Butlins worked at one of the camps join the Forever Butlins Facebook site share your memories with the group. You might finally be able to put a long forgotten name to the Redcoat face in your old holiday photos.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thai massage.

At the last minute this weekend I booked an anti stress massage whilst up in the Czech mountains. Anti stress? You are having a laugh. The least stressful part of this was actually paying for it- 25 Euro if you are interested. What part of having a little Thai girl crawling over you and then putting some red hot cloth on you is supposed to take your mind off things? Don't even get me started on the Richard Clayderman with birdsong music that they always seem to play at these establishments.
To be fair to the Thai lady I am not known for being a massage lover. I try, God knows I try because I think I should like it but it just doesn't do it for me at all. Have tried the normal oily massages, the hot stone massage, the lymphatic drainage massage, have even done the 'get smeared with mud and then wrapped in tin foil' massage all to no avail. Massages just irritate me!  I refuse to give up though and maybe sometime soon I will find some type of massage that hits the spot. Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I hate gardening!

A very wise older friend of mine once told me that he had never in his 60 odd years ever bought any gardening equipment and had always had a gardener take care of things as it worked out cheaper in the long run. Boy, I wished I had listened to him!
Gardening is a full time and very expensive hobby and just when you think you have got it figured out another thing pops out ( literally ) from the bushes to surprise you.
I have had gardeners over the years but the good, reliable and business savvy ones seem to be rarer than Dodo poop! Why do they seem to think it is OK to cut my grass once a season and that for the rest of the year it will take care of itself. They of all people should know it doesn't work like this. Last year I had an excellent one who came at least twice,got me all excited about doing some big Japanese feature at the back of the garden and put in an irrigation system and then disappeared off the face of the earth. Did he win the Euro lottery and doesn't need to earn any more money ? I think not !
As a result of all this I now have the following equipment littering the periphery of my house:

1)Diesel lawn mower that I cannot start because the pull thingy is just too hard.
2)Garden tractor that replaced the above which is currently lying idle after conking out after doing half of my garden last week. Do not even get me started on the fact that Mountfield promise a 7 year guarantee yet the service guys are so rude and unhelpful that am sure noone goes back to them.
3) Hedge trimmer still in it's box because I have not got a ladder tall enough to get even close to what I want to trim.
4) Strimmer for cutting borders and the places that have turned into jungle when no.s 1 and 2 go on the blink.
5) variety of medieval torture instruments that are supposed to make life easier but have no idea how!

If you have a teenage child that doesn't yet know what they want to do for a living suggest that they become a landscape gardener because there is a serious lack of them in the world and with a bit of business knowledge they could become richer than God quite quickly. Just send them round to my house first though

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hotel Guadalmina Spa+Golf hotel

Just recently I went to the Costa del Sol for a few days and stayed at the Hotel Guadalmina Spa and Golf hotel in Estepona. This resort has just reopened after being bought by an institutional investor who spotted an opportunity in a basically good hotel that was having financial troubles,was badly positioned in the market and was stuck in the 90's,they didn't even use the Internet for bookings! The investor has his heart in the right place and yes am sure people will be impressed that they are splashing the cash by putting new LCD televisions in the rooms but where is the common sense factor? Surely someone from the investment company has spent enough nights in a hotel to spot the problems associated with keeping on the existing staff and can spot how to improve things with either minimal capital outlay or in a lot of cases absolutely non at all. What I saw over the four days was enough to break a girls heart.

I travel for business alot and I always give feedback about how to improve things but honestly, I ran out of space on the suggestion sheet here!
I wish the Hotel Gualdalmina a whole lot of luck and hope things turn out well but I have a sneaky feeling that if this is how things are running in the first couple of months then it is a slippery slope back to where they were before.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Video star!

I am a video star! Ok, maybe I should quantify that a bit, shopintheknow and I have started filming short promotional videos for the residential portfolio of Orco property Group. So far we have done about 4 but it's great fun and has been well received by our fans ( ok our employees).
We do not have some big plan or a script we just point and shoot. I do all the talking as I can talk for hours about real estate with no encouragement at all and Jason does the shooting as he does not have ADD and by and large the camera stays in the right spot without spinning on it's axis like something from the Exocist!
Prior to the recession we would have paid an agency several thousand Euros to do this type of thing , plus a huge fee for the star of the film and the production planning for it would have run for hours if not days. Once filmed there would have been at least another weeks work editing and tweeking it and photoshopping the stars spot out of the centre of his head. Why, what were we all thinking? From start to finish our process takes us maximum of one hour and that includes the obligatory stop at Starbucks to pick up coffee prior to shooting! Now I do not think we will be collecting an Oscar any time soon for our filming skills and so far Hollywood have not come knocking on my front door begging me to star in their next film as George Clooneys love interest but we got the job done with minimal cost and pain. More importantly it's out there in the big bad Internet world just waiting to be picked up by some discerning property investor.
My advice to any of you working for companies who are still throwing the big bucks out there to some agency is to stand up and be counted. Say " I can do this" grab your camera and a colleague and go out there and do it! What's the worst that could happen?
To see the fruits of our efforts check out Orcoworld on Facebook.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vespa PX 125

One of my little pleasures in life is my Vespa. She is a work of art and lives in my house. I bought her 2 years ago in Paris and had her shipped over to Prague. My biker friends tend to be very dismissive of my choice of 2 wheels but I don't care because ever since I saw Quadrophenia I have wanted one.
So far I have only done 600 km on her which I realise is not a lot in 2 years but just like my limited edition Cartier watch, I don't have to wear it every day to know that I have it and to get pleasure from it.
Actually, who am I kidding? The reason I have only ridden 600 km is because I suck at riding it and am an accident waiting to happen. Have ridden lots of 50cc scooters in my time, even owned a Simpson 50cc when I first moved to Prague. I even drove a 150 cc something or other into and around St Tropez one year with my daughter on the back but the one thing I forgot when I bought the Vespa is that it is not an automatic and there in lies the problem. Its one thing to push the start button and go but another thing dealing with the choke and if necessary having to kick start it. The hardest thing for me though is changing gear or should I say changing gear smoothly without flipping the bike! My anti talents do not stop there though. I can't 'bend' into corners -my head leans to one side but that is about it; I have a problem with the foot brake due to having a dodgy knee and so have to sit so far back on the seat am in danger of sliding off and am generally unsteady all round. Added to this I don't even have a license for a 125cc!

Despite all this I love bobbing around the villages on my bike. Vespa's have a distinctive engine sound so everybody stops and stares and whenever I stop at the pizza shop ( yep, could nearly get an job as a pizza delivery girl!) people come and ask me what it is and where I got it from . I particularly like sharing the little waves from the other bikers on the road - its nice feeling part of a club that normally you would never have a chance of belonging to - or even want to for that matter!
We all need to have things in our lives that give us pleasure and no matter what it might be or how bad you might be at it stick with it because whatever makes you happy can never be a bad thing.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gay Pride

I happened to be in Madrid a couple of weekends ago when it was Gay Pride weekend. It's no secret that I am gay friendly and have been now for over 20 years since the training instructor at Stakis Casinos yelled "come on sisters we've got work to do"! I am also proud to have the most fabulous guy who just happens to be gay as one of my best friends. I don't seek them out but I am attracted to them and vice versa, like a moth to a flame.
Gay Pride was an absolutely fabulous experience and shall definitely be back next year. From the waiter in the restaurant squealing in delight when his friend bought him a rainbow coloured tiara to the guys in the hotels lining the Gran Via throwing water on the people in the streets on procession day it was camp fun at it's very best. Thousands of people must have been packed into the Chueca district over the course of those 3 days but unlike any other huge gathering of people I was definitely feeling the luurve!
I know there is a lot of mixed feelings amongst the gay community about the benefit of the increasingly popular Gay pride events that have cropped up around the world ( Dublin springs to mind but seriously, gay Pride in Dublin?!)but I personally cannot see the harm and if you take it for what it is, good clean fun then why not? Ultimately if you don't like it then stay home - less people in the shops vying with me to buy that rainbow coloured tiara!

My summer mountain home.

I am ashamed to say that I have owned an apartment in Spindleruv Mlyn in the Czech mountains for 3 years and yet never once have I used it during the summer months! I came here today principally to get away from the oppressive Prague heat and I am loving it!
Who knew that a place could be so different without the snow? All along the river bank are now small pebbled pathways with nice landscaping and over the last two months since I was here last they have built little observation decks with park benches where you can sit and watch the river rush by you.They have even built a new bridge to take you from one side of the river to the other. Not only does this suit my lazy nature but it is far safer for the pedestrians as once the snow comes you have no other option to walk on the road. I forget how many times I have stumbled in my ski boots and fallen into the road.
All the restaurants have newly built terraces and the recession seems to have been good for the town in as much as the Czech tourists have come here rather than going to Spain, Egypt or Croatia. Even the mini golf has opened this year! Whilst there is plenty to do for the mums and dads keeping the kids amused is always a tough challenge and the town have put a lot of thought into it this year realizing that the beautiful nature is not enough. For the small ones there are bouncy castles and a small fun fair in the centre. Towards Medvedin is an extreme rope climb/ bungee type contraption and a monster climbing frame. You can rent bicycles and take them up the cable car to the top of the mountain (they run every 30 minutes)and you can even do something called Kangoo jumping which is basically a cross between a skate and a pogo stick. Further down the town there is even a go- kart track. If all else fails there is the suberb Aqua park where you can easily spend the whole day without getting bored.
Tomorrow my plan is to get up early go up and down the cable car on both Medvedin and Svaty Petr, spend time in the jacuzzi at the Westend hotel (luxury, have booked it all to myself), have lunch at one of the best restaurants in town,the Elan then grab a massage at the Windsor hotel followed by an ice cream sundae at the Bognor cafe overlooking the river and head back to Prague in the early evening. What a perfect day!
For those of you wondering how you can justify buying a second home in the mountains just for the 4 month ski season then I can categorically say that once you start coming in the summer you will never want to spend another weekend in the city again.
Try it, call us to book a free nights accommodation at Le Mont and I defy you to tell me that you would never use it enough to justify the cost.
See you next weekend!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Times They Are Changing

Five weeks ago I lived a relatively anonymous existence and the only contact I had with social media was a Facebook account. Today I run 3 Twitter accounts with over 2000 followers, I co- write the OrcoWorld Facebook page with the lovely Jason of fame and I write 2 blogs, this one and -a guide to property investing. All this I do on top of my full time job! So what happened? Life happened thats what and in the words of the sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer 'social media is a tsunami and some of us do not even know how to swim'! How very true. Social media is taking over the world and you have to be in it to win it. There is no point in sticking your head in the sand and hoping it goes away but if you do choose to take this route then do not be surprised to find yourself obsolete within the next two years.
The good news is it is not rocket science. The marketing agencies would like you to believe it is and believe me they are running scared. They have no more experience than you and I and as I have discovered over the last few weeks they are not ready for this revolution either. The fact that some of them are charging you to get ahead in the social media stakes whilst learning on the job is an issue that makes my blood boil!
So how did I suddenly become an authority on this ? Commitment,hard work, an appetite for learning new things and the wish to improve myself - thats how! No short cuts to this guys just dive in and get started. You never know where this social media journey will bring you!
P.S Don't forget to follow me on Twitter -

Monday, July 12, 2010

Beautiful island of Hvar

Maybe its because I am English but I love small islands. My adopted home in the UK is the Isle of Wight, my favourite holiday destination is Tenerife and my preferred place for an extended break is Hvar in Croatia. I came upon Hvar late in life in 2005 as a result of Orco Property Group buying the Suncani Hvar chain of hotels. From the first time I stayed in the Palace Hotel on a rather splendid 20 oC in December I was hooked. Since that time , and in line with the refurbishment plan of all the hotels I have returned on a regular basis and whether it be for business or pleasure I have always had a fabulous time. Nothing is better in the late afternoon sunshine than sitting on the terrace outside the Hotel Riva with a nice glass of wine in hand and watching the boats coming in to dock for the night.
Some people might complain about the lack of beaches but for me having grown up by the seaside this is back to the simplistic holidays of old,the kids all clambering over rock pools ,looking for shells and chasing the crabs. Personally I am not one for the beach anyway, I'm looking for a little more luxury and the Hotel Adriana fits the bill nicely with its roof top pool and beautiful sun decks overlooking the harbour. A waiter at the ready to bring your lunch direct from the excellent restaurant downstairs life doesn't get any better than this.
The island of Hvar is more than just Hvar town though so make sure you go for a ride around the island - my favourite is by renting a little 50cc scooter from the shop at the end of the marketplace. Traffic is light so no matter how bad a driver ( and I am bad) you should be OK. Drive up over the mountain towards Starigrad and smell the lavender fields - unbeatable!
Conde Naste in their latest edition has just added Hvar into their top 50 islands and its easy to see why. The word has also spread to Hollywood and just last week Eva Longoria was spotted partying at the popular bar Carpe Diem, next to the Riva .
If you still have not booked your summer holiday please check out our website and see what the island can offer you. For something really special though I recommend to book at the Hotel Amfora in a Deluxe sea view suite. This room is just awesome and has an unparalleled view over the bay and with the newly opened water lagoon it really is a small piece of heaven.
What are you waiting for?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

PHD in hop on hop off tourist bus .

I love traveling with my daughter and wherever we go we always try to experience the city by means of the open top tourist bus. What a great way to see a city without getting blisters or lost! Obviously by now we are something of an expert in this tourist activity, not only do we have endless dog eared maps but an array of red earphones, discount coupons and in the case of Budapest a very 'fetching' straw hat. Well it was hot !
You might think that all these trips are the same but you would be wrong. For me the biggest difference and often the highlight of the tour is the commentary. With an array of languages on offer it cannot be an easy job and some cities make more of an effort than others. I do appreciate the native language speaker aspect the most but even that can be fraught with danger. Get an American with a too strong accent and it grates on the Brits ears but get a Brit with a regional accent and the Americans have no chance of understanding. What is not OK is the local who thinks he can speak fluent English - have news for you buddy, no you don't! It can be pretty hilarious though!
Another irritating thing is when the bus driver hits the play button in the wrong place and you end up looking at a concrete wall yet hearing about this fabulously elaborate architecture of some church that is nowhere near. Some also have a habit of talking over the commentary and telling you which is the next stop. Yes, thats you Madrid and what's with the 'lets wait until you are on the stairs going up and down and then take off at speed' routine? Did nobody teach you anything about 'elf and safety?
So which cities have the best and the worst?
The best without a doubt was in Boston and the Duck Tours. Informative, fun and very entertaining.
The worst - sorry Milan but you take this dubious title because it was dull dull dull.

Friday, July 2, 2010

No hablo ingles.

Madrid has always seemed to me to be a pretty sophisticated place . As capital of Spain I always imagined everything to be bigger bolder, faster brighter. With 3 million inhabitants it has to be pretty vibrant right? In general the place is all of these things. The shops are well stocked with fashionable clothes, the latest electronics,the high streets have a good mix of the largest chain stores and the small quirky independants,the buildings are pretty fabulous, the tourist destinations are attractive and promote the best of Spain, , it's clean, has a strong police presence so presumably it is pretty safe- the list goes on. Yet how is it that the language skills of the locals seems to be so poor. Have been into shop after shop and in every case my Spanish is better than their English. Have been in restaurants and nada, have even been in the airport and once again not a sinner speaks even the odd word of English. I have never really studied Spanish, have just picked up the odd word here and there through numerous holidays to the Canary islands but am amazed at their lack of talents in the language department. Have no idea how many hours a week they study English in schools here but can tell you here and now,it isn't enough.
With the job market getting harder and harder all over the world I feel that it is not acceptable for any country just to pay lip service to the issue of language teaching. Get them while they are young when their brains are like sponges and don't just leave it at 1 hour per week. I appreciate that every government must balance the books but the return on investment here would be visible practically from day one particularly in terms of the unemployment figures. In a day and age when apprenticeships are hard to find and justify how else are the less academic kids to survive. If they had learnt a foreign language from kindergarten just maybe they would not be on a minimum wage or on the dole whilst new immigrants who speak a smattering of several languages get positions serving the tourist industry.
Come on Madrid, get your fingers out and show the rest of your country the way forward.

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