The 2014 Commonwealth Games

Wednesday sees the start of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the third largest multi-sport event after the Olympics and the Asian Games.

The Commonwealth Games has been running every 4 years since 1930 and has so far been held in 18 cities around the world.  This years Commonwealth Games is being held in Glasgow.

Around 71 teams compete in the games with Australia being the most successful team in 12 of the games.  The games feature the usual Olympic sports as well as those that are generally only played in Commonwealth nations such as cricket, rugby, netball or lawn bowls.  Uniquely in athletic competitions, it sees the United Kingdom competing as individual home nations and so pits English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish teams against each other and the rest of the Commonwealth.

Glasgow Commonwealth Games

Glasgow Commonwealth Games

The origins of the games go back to the 19th Century when people began to want the different nations in the British Empire to meet and enjoy the differing cultures. Now nations compete from across the globe from tiny Pacific islands to vast nations like Canada and India.

The Commonwealth contains over 2 billion people and is one of the more obvious works of the Commonwealth.  Whilst some nations temporarily leave or are expelled due to political reasons, any nation who was formerly in the empire is eligible to request joining should they meet certain criteria for good governance. South Sudan was the latest country hoping to enter the games but they are thought not to be competing this time.

Whilst at the 2012 Olympics, Team GB topped the medal table per head of population, in the Commonwealth Games there is a surprising leading nation.  It is in fact the tiny island of Nauru which measures only 8 sq miles which is 8 times smaller than the city of Glasgow itself.

Since 1990, Nauru with just 10,000 inhabitants have won 28 medals, including 10 gold!  Most of their success can be attributed to the fact that their stocky body build makes them perfect for weight-lifting leaving the next most successful team for their population, Samoa, being 45 times less successful.

Marcus Stephen who started the fantastic run of Nauru sporting success in The Commonwealth Games later went on to become an elected MP and then President of the tiny island.

With the Scottish Referendum looming, there will be no doubt some intense sporting rivalry between England and Scotland in particular but whether Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond might follow the Nauru star in a bid to improve his chances of winning independence is doubtful though given his stocky build maybe he could give weight-lifting a try too.

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Lest We Forget: A Concise Companion to the First World War (my new book)

I know what you’re thinking.  Stephen can’t be releasing another book.  I know, I know.  I’m sorry.  Long-time readers will know that I spend my summers giving guided tours and during winter I spend most of my time writing and it just so happens that it takes a certain amount of time for books to be released.

Anyway this is a different sort of book as it is my first history book and something I am rather proud of especially as it is about one of my favourite areas of history, World War One.  I’ve written before about certain aspects of WW1 including my relation who fought the Red Baron, Armistice Day, Poetry from the trenches and recently about our new village memorial.

Manfred_von_Richthofen

Manfred_von_Richthofen – The Red Baron

I’ve always been interested in WW1 and have visited many of the important sights.  Actually I have quite a collection of barbed wire, shrapnel and shell casings in my writers den.  I left the hand grenade behind after it started making a high pitched whine that I later found out to be my camcorder battery.

Lest We Forget is an easy to read guide to WW1 and is only 122 pages long.  Those 122 pages however cover pretty much the entire war as you can see from the chapter titles below.

1    Introduction
2    The Road to War
3    Over By Christmas
4    The Pals Battalions
5    The Race To The Sea
6    The Christmas Truce
7    Life In The Trenches
8    WW1 Literature & Poetry
9    Verdun
10    Battle Of The Somme
11    The War At Sea
12    The Home Front
13    Women And The War
14    New Weapons Of War
15    Desert Campaigns
16    War In The Air
17    Gallipoli
18    World War One Legends
19    They Called It Paschendaele
20    The War Around The World
21    Armenia
22    The Russian Revolution
23    The Americans Are Coming!
24    The Hundred Day Offensive
25    The Armistice
26    Aftermath
27    Remembering The Great War
28    Maps and Photographs

From Finland to New Zealand, India to Canada, Lawrence of Arabia to the Red Baron, the horrors of Verdun to the musings of the poets, this book gives a great introduction to the war for casual readers and those wanting a new insight into WW1.

Passchendaele_aerial_view

Passchendaele_aerial_view before and after.

1914 is the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1 and for the next 4 years, we will be remembering a succession of 100th anniversaries relating to the war such as the Christmas Truce football matches, the sinking of the Lusitania, Gallipoli and the awful first day of The Somme   .  Lest We Forget covers each one of these epochal events and many more.

I’ve also included the run up to the war itself, insights into how it effects the modern world and how we remember the war today.

Not many people today realise that Britain was bombed by Zeppelins in WW1 and that the east coast was attacked by the German navy.  Or that the American entry into WW1 was very much delayed and that British grew so bewildered that their contacts in Washington fed the American government lies about German school children having parties to celebrate the sinking of American civilian ships.

Everyone knows about the Nazi holocaust in WW2 but very few know their allies in WW1, the Turkish Ottomans carried out their own holocaust of Christian Armenians or that progress on the western front was so slight that the first and last British soldier killed in the trenches are buried precisely six feet but nearly 1 million men apart.

Think the French are cheese-eating surrender monkeys, read about Verdun.  Think the British generals were bad on the treatment of their men at The Somme, learn about the final day of the war and an American commander who cost countless lives just so he could have a hot bath.

Learn about the eccentric British commander in Africa who insisted on naming his boats after animals, the German Kaiser whose feelings of inferiority led the world to war.  The accounts of the crucified soldier, the Angel of Mons, the end of empires, revolutions and uprisings and the incredible effort to remember the dead.

Of course, it is called WW1 for a reason and this book deals with campaigns in Africa, Asia and the south pacific as well as less remembered campaigns than those we all talk about.

Learn about the hi-tech advances in areas such as tanks and poison gas and some low-tech solutions like urine soaked cloths.

Lest We Forget

My easy to understand but comprehensive history of WW1 in Kindle and Paperback.

Lest We Forget is available in Kindle and Paperback formats in all good on-line outlets and literary stores too.  The Kindle version is published by Endeavour Press of London, one of the worlds leading digital publishers whilst the paperback version is available too for those folk like me who prefer a good book and the paperback includes a number of maps and archive photos as well as some personal photos from my family members who like millions of others, fought for our freedom only to never return home.

You can order Lest We Forget: A Concise Companion to the First World War from Amazon.com in Kindle for $5.13and paperback for $9.99 and Amazon.co.uk in Kindle for £2.99 and paperback for £6.99 and other Amazons around the world.  I am also happy to write a dedication to anyone who wants one, just let me know,  though I’d have to charge shipping fee for that.  Please, do leave a review if you buy a copy.  They are like gold dust to independent authors.

If anyone would like to review this or any other of my books, please let me know!

Me with my new book

My new history book. Finally an author AND historian!

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Our village (Leavesden Green) gets a new WW1 memorial

Like many others have done as the 100th anniversary of WW1 or The Great War looms ever closer over for us, our village has been busy working on a new war memorial which is situated at the end of my street.  One of the most popular of my blog posts is that of Armistice Day but for those who don’t want to read it, here is our old memorial.  My post on Poetry From the trenches has also been incredibly popular.

Leavesden Green memorial

Lest We Forget – In honoured memory of the Leavesden Parishoners who died for their country in The Great War.

Most places have refurbished their existing memorials, cleaning out the soot and car fumes from the memorials so that the names can be read and the monuments look as they did almost a century ago, The war memorial in our village of Leavesden had been falling apart for years made as it was of simple brick and a sandstone/mortar mixture.

When I arrived here 7 years ago, it was looking in a sorry state, bits falling off it due to decades of weather and neglect. Happily, since then, it has become increasingly significant again and the focal point of a memorial service at 11am every November 11th. Last year it was decided that the village was going to replace the memorial in time for the 100th anniversary. Originally, it was going to cover the names of all those fallen in WW1, WW2 and other later conflicts such as Korea, The Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. However it became clear this wasn’t possible, at least not with the money we had for the job.

There was also the difficulty in tracking down the names of people, some with no living relations or others whose family had long since moved out of the area. What would we do if someone in 20 years time came to say their family member should be on it? For that reason the decision was made to list out the WW1 names but then acknowledge the later wars, something the original memorial never did. Much fund-raising was had and though much was raised, sadly many of the local residents seemed not to contribute much if anything. I remember that we did even as I was out of work after all without their sacrifice I may not be here at all or if I were, would be writing my blog in another language.

Covered Memorial

We wait expectedly for the ceremony to begin.

Kindly 3 local businesses donated their time, expertise and materials for the expensive parts of the memorial and so at 3.30pm on Sunday 13th July we gathered to pay our respects and see our new memorial. It’s hard to imagine what it was like here 100 years ago. A tiny farming community with London still 10 or 15 miles away. Just a handful of buildings and residents and yet there are 36 names on the memorial. Can you imagine how empty the village was, the empty places at the dinner table in each house. Even now they and the nearly million British men who died leave gaps in our lives. The fathers, grandfathers, uncles that we never met. Their siblings we didn’t have the chance to play with in our childhood. The poverty many families had to grow up in even without taking WW2 into consideration.

The new memorial sat under a wooden box ready for its unveiling. A Union Flag lay on top, fluttering in the slight breeze on this warm summers day so much like that Bank Holiday in August 1914.  As I stood wondering what this place would have been like 100 years ago, my mind wondered briefly to the famous Ode of Remembrance from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For The Fallen”.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Army Cadets

Local Cadets march towards the memorial

A crowd of around 150 people must have attended including many veterans from WW2 and later wars. And elderly lady in a wheelchair sat with the best view in the street, the sole person who in any way remembers WW1.

The local army cadet force of teenage boys marched in with their flag and with the local vicar, MP and mayor present, the box was lifted and our new granite memorial was unveiled in its new position.

A series of postcards from the front were read out by our neighbour, a serving Staff Sergeant who has seen action in the recent wars. The post cards indicated the increasing horrors of the war and the ever increasingly feel of despair that the writers would never get home again.

Unveiling of Leavesden War memorial

Unveiling of Leavesden War memorial

The vicar lead prayers of remembrance and after a short while it was over. We all chatted to each other, the veterans and also took a peek at the memorial though I am sure most of us will give it a more thorough inspection later.

Our new vicar came over to speak with us, he being of our age and sharing a love of sci-fi, music and sarcastic humour we got on well. Afterwards, we went upstairs into the communal area of the home for the elderly many of which had survived WW2. The names of all of the contributors were read out and toasts were said to the fallen soldiers, to their families and to the Queen. It all felt slightly like we had been sent back to 1914 ourselves before we enjoyed some cakes, sandwiches and drinks.

Blessing

Reverend Eddie Green of All Saints Church, Leavesden leads the remembrance.

It was incredible that so many people spent an hour or two of their Sunday on this warm summers day to come and pay tribute to people who 100 years ago who were packing up their troubles in their old kit bag and making their way across the Channel never to come home again.

I go past the memorial almost every day and just about every time I look at the names written upon it. Several of which share surnames and must obviously have been brothers or fathers and sons.

Leavesden memorial

Those who took part in the unveiling stand around the new memorial.

The new memorial is a fitting tribute and will no doubt be used frequently for the next 4 years in addition to its usual annual services. Made out of tough granite, it is likely that in 100 years time the memorial will simply need a little touch-up when our as yet unborn descendants remember the names of the 36 men who died in WW1 and those that came later and who shape the lives of our village and all of us by their bravery and sad absence.

Many people who read my blog will know I have been busy writing a WW1 history book which was selected for publication.  I am happy to say it will soon be released on paperback and below is the front cover.  It is already available from Amazon on Kindle at Amazon UK and Amazon USA  I’d be hugely grateful of any kind reviews.  The paperback will be out in a few days when I will do the official obligatory launch!

Lest We Forget

My easy to understand but comprehensive history of WW1 in Kindle and Paperback. Out soon!

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The Messenger – Book 2 in the Timeless Trilogy

Today marks the release of the second book in my Timeless Trilogy of History-Romance novels, namely The Messenger.

I’m very excited about The Messenger as with any trilogy, the second book in the series contains much of the meat of the overall story though it is a gripping read as a book in its own right.

The Messenger

The front cover of The Messenger depicting ‘Sam’.

The Messenger picks up immediately after the conclusion of The Promise with the unexpected attack on the camp that Ben has found himself by vicious Mongol like nomads.  From there it is a tale of ups and downs with high adventure mixed with introspection, romance, a touch of exotic ceremonies and finally an apparently stable life.

Ben is adjusting to his new life amongst the nomads of the Asian Steppe but he can never forget why he is here in the first place.  He manages to persuade his Guardian Angel, Harry, to find a way to get word back to Sam that he is alive but in another time.

Harry hasn’t been to London before, it’s not often that Angels get back to visit Earth and it all looks to be for nothing when Sam is being evicted from her home for being behind with her rent.  What’s more she wants nothing more to do with him.  Harry can’t just come out and tell her he is an Angel but Ben told him to give his letter to Sam no matter what.  Time for Plan B.

Meanwhile, Ben has more on his hands than he knows what to do with.  On the run from his adopted tribe and cheating death on more than one occasion he decides to end his days on a remote farmstead.  However, Mandana who helps run the farm with her father is determined to nurse him back to health

Just when Ben thinks he has finally made himself a family and a home that he always wanted, a face from the past returns with awful consequences.

Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever and an element from Ben’s past returns to turn his world upside down in a tense, heartbreaking and at times horrific finale.

Most of the main characters from The Promise are in The Messenger too but there are also quite a number of new important characters in the story.  None is more important than that of Guyuk.  Guyuk is the son of a vicious son of a feared nomad warrior who after an early run-in with Ben will stop at nothing to get even no matter what the costs.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, there are laughs a plenty and the introduction of Mandana, the daughter of a country farm-owner who saves Bens life and wants him to spend his life with her.

The Messenger contains some of my favourite moments in the whole trilogy which encapsulates life but mixes in some larger than life situations which did in fact actually happen to some poor unfortunate souls.  I’ve visited many of the places in the book and studied the history for many years at Uni so if you like my blog then I hope you will find it a compelling read.

To celebrate the release of The Messenger, The Promise is currently on-sale at a reduced price of $1.99 in the U.S. and £1.19 in the U.K.

The Messenger is on sale in all the usual formats from all good outlets.  You can see my Amazon US Store here and the UK one here but it is available in many other places too.

The final book in the trilogy Forever and Until will be out in August 2014 with all the trilogy being published by KTF Press.

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The magic of Avebury Stone Circle and Lacock Abbey

Sometimes when I take out small groups on guided tours around southern England, I get to go to places that I haven’t been too but have often wanted to go.  It’s like those lucky people who love movies and get to work at film studios or animal lovers who get to become vets.

There are so many places to visit that it is almost impossible to have been everywhere so imagine my joy when recently I took a family from New Jersey to Avebury stone circle and Lacock Abbey.

Avebury is a stone circle like Stonehenge except it is much larger and receives far few visitors.  There are hundreds of stone circles in Britain but most people head to Stonehenge however it has never been my favourite stone circle and Avebury has proved this again.

Like Stonehenge, Avebury lies in the county of Wiltshire, a largely agricultural county full of pretty little towns and villages, the famous Salisbury Plain and hundreds of megalithic monuments whether they are are stone circles, white horses carved onto hillsides or earthworks including Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe and in many ways an equal of the Pyramids of Giza.

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill – the largest man made mound in Europe and 131 feet / 40 metres tall.

Having picked up the young family of 3 from Stanmore Station on the fringes of London, we headed out west and were quickly heading out through the shires arriving in Wiltshire around 90 minutes later.  Shortly before we arrived at Avebury we came across one of those chalky grass hills with a white horse on display but it was miles away from the road and there was no obvious way of getting there.

Resuming out trip we came across an authentic Steam engine parked at the side of the road.  A group of engineers were debating amongst themselves what they should be doing as water gushed down onto the road-side.  In fairness to them, they were very friendly as we got out of the car to take photos of this road vehicles that pre-dated our own by a good 200 years.

A few miles down the road and we arrived in the village of Avebury.  Yes the ancient stone-circle is so large that a village actually grew up in and around part of the circle.  It does nothing to detract from the feeling of the circle though and makes it all seem more magical.

Avebury Stone Circle

Avebury Stone Circle

There is a lot to see at Avebury, not just the stone circle but our plan for the day meant it was the stone-circle that held our attention.  In fact there are more than one stone-circle here and unlike at Stonehenge, visitors are free to walk amongst the stones, touch them or as 2 of my young guests did, take a pile of selfies with them.  Some of the stones have been removed since they were put in place in 2,600 BC by local farmers and villagers but it doesn’t distract from the feeling of the place.

Lacock Circle

Here you can see part of the large ditch that encircles the stone circle

Many of the stones have grazing sheep amongst them that strangely adds to the atmosphere.  My guests were adamant that this was all so much better than London and I entirely agreed.

Avebury Stone Circle

Avebury Stone Circle

The entire complex is surrounded by a large earth mounds and ditches that ring the circle and village.  Climbing on it makes a better vantage point of the stones and you can walk around in a circle though it would probably take a fair bit of time as the bank is around 400-500 metres in diameter and the outer stone circle is 331.6 metres or 1,088 feet.

Ancient tree

Rather like the native Americans, the original peoples of Britain lived in tribes and saw objects such as trees, streams and rocks as having magical properties.

We spent a lot of time exploring the ancient landscapes which had long been cultivated and supported a rich society for thousands of years before these circles were built.  We were diverted from our amble around the circle by an ancient tree that had roots spreading out over a wide area.  Visitors had tied ribbons and other things to the branches of the tree following on in the ancient beliefs in the magical properties that such trees had.  It was a very serene place and it was easy to imagine that the massive roots would come to life after all the visitors had left each day like those trees in Lord of the Rings.

The village of Avebury itself is beautiful, with the buildings all constructed from the beautiful and distinctive local stones.  My guest family needed the bathroom and they thought it fun that the public toilets were in an old stable block of the adjacent Red Lion Pub.

Foregoing the museum local stately home, we returned to the car and drove through some wonderful countryside and Silbury Hill to Lacock Abbey where we had a picnic.  It was a blissful location, no noise, beautiful green countryside and huge trees and warm sunshine.  The day was getting better and better for my tour guests which is what it was all about.

Lacock Abbey Cloisters

Lacock Abbey Cloisters (photo by David Iliff)

After lunch we walked over to the old abbey.  Like many country homes in Britain that have the word Abbey in their name, it would at one time have been a religious building that was either destroyed or re-appropriated in the time of King Henry VIII.   In this case Lacock Abbey was founded in 1229 by the Countess of Salisbury who founded an Augustan Monastery here where it flourished until the 16th Century saw it come under the private ownership of Sir William Sharington who demolished the church and converted the Abbey to a country home.

Lacock Abbey

Lacock Abbey

Lacock Abbey has lots to offer visitors, amazing gardens, beautiful buildings but unknown to myself who is not at all a fan, it also featured in the Harry Potter films as did dozens of other old buildings in Britain as well as The Other Boleyn Girl and one of my favourite 1980′s TV shows, Robin of Sherwood.

Chapter House of Lacock Abbey (photo by Dilif)

Chapter House of Lacock Abbey (photo by David Iliff)

The downstairs of the house is where most of the abbey was and it is still centred around the cloisters which is where much of the Harry Potter scenes were shot as well as the surrounding rooms that lead off from the main square including a quite well-preserved Chapter House.

Lacock Abbey Cloisters

Inside the Cloisters. They ceiling is decorated by heraldic badges and little carvings of mermaids and even a man sticking his bum out at the Nuns)!

Lacock Abbey

Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire.

Upstairs the house is decorated in two distinctive styles.  The modern part is very much 1920′s-1930′s and is where the family lived prior to the estate coming under the ownership of the National Trust.  Most of the upstairs however is decorated in an older style with a long gallery with deer antlers hanging from the wall and a Victorian era study with all sorts of scientific gadgets.

The reason for the Victorian gadgets is that the house has been the scene of a number of important inventions, not least the which was that of negative film photography.  It seemed appropriate that the girls took a selfie on the precise spot that the first modern photo was taken.

There were some grand dining halls, bedrooms and library in which was a piano which Abbey, one of my guests, played splendidly.  We were all a little in awe when we found out the piano was likely older than the United States.

After visiting the house and gardens we briefly walked a short distance into the village of Lacock into the National Trust tea room.  My guests were thrilled at their day and the scenic beauty of the village but it was all topped off by the traditional clotted cream scones and teas.  Sadly for my guests they had no room for the fresh Cornish ice-creams and in truth I didn’t either though I didn’t let that stop me.  It was delicious and whilst I was away getting my ice-cream unknown to me my guests took a load of selfies on my iPad which I only found the next day.

Lacock High Street

Lacock High Street (photo by Ettlz)

We made our way back to London via Stonehenge but we simply did a slow drive by which allowed some great photos and 90 minutes later we were back in London.

Though it is wonderful to see all of these amazing sights, the best part of the job is meeting some great people and knowing that I helped made their holiday that little bit extra special.  Thanks to Nikki, Abbey and Amy for being such fab guests.

Please remember that my new book, The Promise, which is book 1 of the Timeless Trilogy is now out and available from all the usual good online outlets including Amazon.  Signed paperback copies are also available at the standard price plus shipping.  Please email me if interested!

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Why is there no history on History TV?

I know, I’m a bit old-fashioned.  I like history, I visit historical places, I read about history and write about it too and when I switch on the History TV channel, I kind of expect history too.  I used to find it too until a few years ago.

When the History Channel started, it was one of the best channels on television.  Imagine, a television channel that didn’t dumb down that much and just showed history shows and documentaries.  There are so many people who like history that it seemed only natural to have a channel dedicated to it.

History Channel

The History Channel from good to bad to ugly

True, it seemed to show various things on Romans and ancient Egypt rather than say the very interesting but totally unpublicised 18th century Egypt and more than the odd world war documentary.  Generally though, at least on the British channel you could find something interesting to watch whenever you switched over.

A few years later things went ever so little downhill when they started showing, presumably very cheap American black and white documentaries on WW2 which relied on a few maps, a voice over and endless repeated footage of Panzer tanks going through forests, fleeing civilians, concentration camps and Russian rockets firing mercilessly at Berlin. It wasn’t known as Hitler TV for nothing.

Okay thought I, it is history for the masses but still history and a lot better than those celebrity shows everywhere and even those stupid Alien type shows that were appearing on History itself.

I’d always thought that History doesn’t have to be about wars.  History can be about lots of things, change, lack of change, ideas, culture, food, languages, houses, clothes.  Why the obsession with war why not the history of the evolution of different and more advanced pens in Syria?  Alien history and speculation was another matter.  Despite believing in the possibility of alien life itself, there is a big difference between it being a possibility and wheeling out experts on Aliens and making our history relate to Aliens.

The History Channel had for over 10 years produced a really good and free of charge magazine that they sent to its devotees.  Lots of us were saddened when it closed but not too surprised as it was far and beyond what was expected of a cable channel anyway.

Then for some unknown reason, the History Channel or History as it now called itself did to history what MTV did to music, it stopped showing history.  Not all at once, but in the prime hours and then gradually throughout the days and weekends and until finally there was nothing historic on it at all.

Even the poor Military History Channel which had excellent documentaries got re-branded into H2.  Not to worry, the channel publicists said, it means we can continue watching our favourite shows that used to be on History.  Only after about 2 weeks that no longer happened.  Now all the History Channels and their other channels no longer show anything at all to do with their original channel remits.

Luckily we have Discovery History which is usually, sometimes okay and in Britain the BBC which can make the best documentaries when it wants to but they aren’t on all day long.

History Channel is awful

The History Channel is awful and should be history. “graphic originally from cracked.com”

So what do we have on History these days instead of history? To avoid swearing, we have nothing at all worth watching on history.  Programmes about Pawn shops or junk shops as we would call them here.  Run by people who know less about history than anyone I know and with objects only slightly older than what I had to eat at lunch time and certainly less interesting.

Axe Men, wahoo big deal.  You have beards, wear chequered shirts and cut down trees.  I cut down half a dozen trees in my garden after the storm in November and I’m not going to boast about it.  If it was a TV show about the development of axe heads from stone-age onwards then we would have a history show.

Ice-Road Truckers, who gives a whatever about them.  We have trucks on our roads every day, sometimes there is ice too.  It’s not history unless it is about the biggest crash of trucks on ice in history and even then it would be worth maybe 5 minutes of one history show about the development of logging in the 20th Century and its impact on climate change.  As for danger, they should try the M25 in torrential rain or snow in the dark in conditions with zero visibility and full of 10,000′s of drivers with limited talent who only want to get to work without dying.

As for Alligators or anything to do with Alligators.  This is the History Channel.  Who cares less about Alligators or swamp people.  We have neither swamps or alligators in the U.K.  Just marshes and eels which would lead in to some great history programmes about Ely or Hereward The Wake.

I don’t want to know about American Pickers, I don’t know what they pick, only that I was always told I should use tissue paper or a handkerchief if my nose was blocked.   There are lots of history shows I would love to see about America.  The Founding Fathers, bios on the first and then prominent Presidents.  Histories of how certain cities came to be or various social histories and movements but not American Pickers.

Life After People, isn’t that entirely the opposite of History?  Even before this, some of their over-hyped docudrama contained historic analysis by non-experts.  Crazy, mind you even the BBC now has plenty of history shows by presenters rather than historians.  They clearly know very little of the subject as they have to speak to specialists when talking about anything more complicated than their favourite colour.

Mud Men just sounds stupid and Storage Wars and Shipping Wars.  I’ve worked in shipping before and it was as boring a job as you can have.  You print out a shipping note, put the goods in a bag, box or envelope and then either post it or ring up a courier and a big van will come and a really bored looking driver will take your stuff to its destination.  Not exciting at all and not history.

History shows

What I want on History vs what I get.

I used to watch History Channel a lot, now I can’t remember watching a documentary there for several years.  Even the adverts for their upcoming shows put me off.  It has gone from being the best channel to one of the very worst.

The history channel should be shut down, it has nothing to do with history whatsoever.  It’s TV shows are dumb and do nothing at all to help people learn which is surely a prerequisite for a history channel.  Obviously somewhere around 2 or 3 years ago the channel must have got taken over or fallen under new management who were only interested in cheap reality shows that appeal to brain-dead type folks.

Spot the history show.  Oh that's right, there aren't any!

Spot the history show. Oh that’s right, there aren’t any!

History Channel is now owned by A&E which stands for arts and entertainments.  Where are the arts?  In Britain, A&E has another meaning, it’s what you see in and around hospitals, Accidents & Emergencies and this TV channel should have been sent to A&E years ago.

I don’t mind you transmitting this worthless pile of poo but just change your channel name. Cr@p TV might be a good one.

Sorry History Channel but in my house, you’re history!

Today is also my 2nd year blogging anniversary.  Thank-you to every one has joined me on my blogging road, I’m truly grateful that you find any of what I write to be worthy of your time and interest.  It’s been really nice to have made some great friends along the way too.

Don’t forget to check out my new book ‘The Promise, the first book in the Timeless Trilogy that will be released this summer.  You can read more about it here or be even more daring and visit my Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk stores and maybe make a purchase!

The Promise Front Cover

The Promise, book one of the Timeless Trilogy

 

 

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Farewell to a great Airbnb guest – or am I Matthew from Game On

I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the 1990′s extremely funny but short-lived BBC Comedy Game-On.  It centres on the lives of 3 flatmates, most particularly Matthew who comes into an inheritance after his parents are killed in a car crash and buys a large flat (apartment) in London which he rents out to two old school friends.

Game On

The best BBC comedy of the late 90′s

Matthew spends his entire life living through his flat mates who go out to work on their busy but imperfect lives whilst continually ordering them to make him cups of tea, insulting and mocking them. No one quite has the same tone as voice as Matthew does when he insults someone.  He never leaves his home due to Agoraphobia and insists he is the coolest person in London with his highly polished surfboard despite never going out.  He also insists that he is cooler than all of his flatmate Mandy’s northern boyfriends despite not being so in any way and constantly makes fun of poor Martin and his ginger hair and apparent ineptitude with women.

Anyway, sometimes I feel a bit like Matthew, albeit a much nicer one that is always nice to his Airbnb guests and offers to make them tea though gratefully accepts reciprocal offers.  Spending my non-touring days working on my business, writing on various projects while the rest of the house goes out and about and do whatever people do outside these days.

It’s hard to believe that we have been on Airbnb for nearly two years.  In that time we’ve opened our home for hundreds of people and would you believe not one item has ever mysteriously disappeared or been stolen.

We have met some really interesting people from across the planet; doctors, psychiatrists, backpackers, authors, salesmen, engineers, professional protesters, politicians, students, a whole pile of Harry Potter fans and even more people working at the nearby film studios.

99% of guests are really nice to have.  We have had people stay with us for just a few hours to 6 months or more.  Due to all the guests and hosts being vetted and each writing a review of the other so long as you trust your hunches then everything should be okay.

Both our spare rooms are pretty much full all the time and every now and then my wife or I won’t actually know who is in one of the rooms as we have either lost track of things or the other person dealt entirely with their bookings.   As we are nearly always full, we can be incredibly discerning with who we let stay with us.  We get quite a few people who think we are a hotel and if they just make a reservation inquiry with no friend email then they will never stay with us.  Nor will people without their profiles filled in or those who want to haggle about the price.   Our price is still the cheapest in the neighbourhood which in our case is Hertfordshire and is 99% cheaper than all in London and in fact often 2 or 3 times cheaper.   Sometimes we do give discounts but not to people who ask, only those we feel sorry for after they have stayed.  If you think £25 is too expensive for staying in a private house in London then you’re very welcome to go to the budget hotel down the road and pay there £70 a night.

We also try to identify people who are going to be a pain to live with, even for 1 night.  It’s our house and though the money is nice, having pleasant people around is most important of all.  If you start asking a dozen questions before you even book, the chances are there will be many more after you book and you’ll be one of those people who is never happy with anything so maybe you should go elsewhere. And finally yes, if your plane lands in London after 9pm, yes it is too late for us to stay up for.  I know, we sound like a bunch of old pensioners but who really wants to stay up until 11pm or midnight for arrivals who will then themselves not want to sleep for hours?   We have nearly 60 5*star reviews, that should give whatever re-assurance you need, if you have to ask more than one or two questions then you haven’t read our profile and that means you’re the sort of people we don’t want.

Running an Airbnb house can involve a lot of work.  Bedding and towels have to be washed, vacuum cleaning and dusting has to be done more regularly and cleaning the bathrooms has to be an almost daily occurrence.  You also have to be prepared for more wear and tear and most of all be used to having your house as not an entirely private place.

airbnb-logo

I notice Airbnb have the same idea for a logo as I have for my travelogue Planes, Trains and Sinking Boats…. hmmm.

If it sounds like almost a full-time job well it has advantages in that it almost pays like one too. I have a spreadsheet that I keep updated every week which any small business would be proud of to make sure all financial details are properly recorded.  In the U.K. the official rent a room scheme means that you are encouraged to rent out a spare bedroom tax free to around £4,500 a year ($7,500) but more than that then you must declare it and though we thought declaring it would be a pain, it really wasn’t at all and the money is always nice to have.

The other rewards are equally great.  The chance to meet people from different backgrounds and professions all around the world.  We’re quite happy giving them the run of the house, even when we are away. If our 2 spare bedrooms are occupied for a week it pays for a weeks holiday for us and as a bonus our house is occupied.

Obviously some people have security concerns but aside from our first night we have never had a worry.   What about theft?  Well what is there really that people could steal?   Most of the business people who stay with us are richer than we are, besides which thanks to Airbnb we have their contact details and often their work details too.   What about backpackers though?  Well, they can hardly carry out a big screen TV on their back and then get the bus and tube to Heathrow.  Almost everyone who can afford to visit the U.K. has most likely got the same or better belongings as we don’t buy expensive clothes, have no jewellery and unless you are Japanese then I don’t think any of our electrical products or even DVDs will work in your home.  When it comes down to it, people realise it is our home, we are nice people and who really would want to steal from someone who lets you stay in their home and that is forgetting about all the Airbnb security and insurance schemes.

A few months ago Airbnb did what many organisations do when they get too big for their boots, they get more money driven.  The original community feeling that goes with Airbnb was diluted, low quality people began to be attracted to the system.  It was obvious to us by the people who wanted to stay with us before us Airbnb hosts found out officially.   Airbnb hosts also multiplied exponentially and mostly, many of them haven’t got a clue.  Sometimes we look at other hosts in the region or around the world and if we see nice profiles and good prices then we genuinely wish them well, even if they are potential competitors.   Many more though charge extortionate prices for really poor rooms or property and you have to wonder why anyone would stay with them but then what’s that?  Oh they have no or next to no reviews.  Obviously that tactic of charging £80 for a room that refugees wouldn’t want is not the best of tactics.(If you want to see how easy it is to make a good Airbnb listing then check out my “How To Get Rich Using Airbnb” Kindle book).

How To Get Rich Using Airbnb

A short, informative but fun look at how to be successful with Airbnb.

If we wanted, we probably could have 3 or 4 bedrooms fully occupied and more than once we have thought of building an extension just for that reason but despite the money side of things, it is the people side of things that make it worthwhile and we wouldn’t ever want to just have people stay with us for the money.  In the last week or so we have had musicians, London sightseers from Slovenia, carpenters and even someone who was in the Wolf of Wall Street movie.  Whilst sometimes we rent both our spare rooms out for months on end, we do try to keep the smaller room for short-stayers, particularly as it is my office and writers den.  Many of our Airbnb guests turn into friends across the nation and the world.  We have standing invites to places we have never been to before in really popular touristic places and others that no-one has ever heard of.

A select few guests we actually think of as part of the family, well actually better than that even.  We wait to chat to them when they come home and take an interest in their lives as they do in ours.  Sometimes we eat together, sit in the garden and have a drink together, make a bbq or watch TV together.  Yesterday we said goodbye to one such person, Jeff.  Jeff is entirely wonderful in every-way and has been working at Leavesden Studios since March.  He is quiet, tidy, interesting and feels like part of the family.  Sometimes he hangs out with us but mostly he stays up in his room with the TV on and wi-fi internet Skyping his wife.

Two weeks ago, Jeff and I had an enjoyable night watching the World Cup.  My wife was overseas volunteering at an orphanage and so we both set up an evening to watch England lose in the World Cup.  I say lose as being typically pessimistic English, we had no expectations at all just like we don’t have expectations of much else!   Anyway, in 4 years time when England next lose in either controversial circumstances or just because they are useless, we will both remember our excellent pizza, beers and writhing commentary we made on football, television and pretty much the entire world.

We were as sad to see Jeff go as he was to leave us and at 7am in the morning we all bade each other farewell that would beat anything in Friends or Game On.  In the mean-time I shall enjoy 2 or 3 days where we arranged it to be guest free in our own house.  It means we can flush the toilet upstairs after dark, have the TV on a bit loud sometimes and know that everything that is in our own fridge is actually ours and not worry about putting the kettle on at 6am before I do some writing.  The nice thing though about Jeff is that he didn’t mind any of that and we liked having him around.

Don’t forget to check out my new book ‘The Promise, the first book in the Timeless Trilogy that will be released this summer.  You can read more about it here or be even more daring and visit my Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk stores and maybe make a purchase!

The Promise Front Cover

The Promise, book one of the Timeless Trilogy

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