Saturday, 8 May 2010

The worst and the best of England today

After driving more than an hour to see the Landguard Fort in Felixstowe, I arrived at 4.02, just two minutes after "last tickets issued" and 58 minutes before it actually closes. I asked at the ticket office if I could come in as I had been a little delayed by traffic on the A14 and had come a long way.

The staff member by the ticket office was brusque and unhelpful. "Can't you read the sign?" he asked bluntly, pointing at the sign saying The Fort is Closed.

I explained again that I had come a long way and it was just two minutes after the 'last tickets' time.

"No. It's against the insurance. You can read the hours on the sign outside." He pointed me out then, as if to prove the point, slammed the big heavy doors closed behind me.

How do these unfriendly, unhelpful people hold down a job in the tourism/heritage industry? I donate money every year to English Heritage but I have noticed time and time again that there is a huge difference between them and staff at, for example, the National Trust. I occasionally come across rude and unhelpful staff at the former; never at the latter. I would have let it lie had it not been for his brusque and unsympathetic approach. If there really was a genuine reason he couldn't let me in less than an hour before it closes (and Tilbury Fort let me in within the last hour last year), there were a thousand ways he could have done it better.

On the drive back, I listened in to Colin Berry on BBC Suffolk. I am sure that his programme is the kind of radio show I mocked when I was younger. But Colin Berry, who I remember from occasional BFBS programmes, plays an incredible range of music from the 1960s and 1970s. It's not just the top hits from those years, but the lesser-known songs. He fills the intervening gaps with a variety of wonderful anecdotes. It's not particularly surprising that his show runs on no less than five BBC local stations across East Anglia. Colin Berry is the kind of anachronistic, enigmatic character that ranks up there among the "Best of England" for me.

Isn't it typical that within a couple of hours I can come across the worst and then the best of England?

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