Friday, 31 December 2010

Beware callers asking questions about brown tourist signs

This morning I've been calling attractions around the country, especially the quirky smaller ones which may not hear about my quest to fill my map of Britain with brown signed attractions. I don't want to leave them out and they're a big part of The Brown Sign Way after all. So I called a small house and garden in Leicestershire (which shall remain nameless) and started the conversation in much the same way as I usually do, encountering the standard confusion I always get when explaining my project, but I couldn't quite pull this conversation back like I normally can:

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Jeager Bombs and a 1000 year old priory (not both together though mind)

photoSo this week came in the form of a holiday with my Dad down in Bournemouth. I do love hanging with people when they take trips around the UK so I can discover all the local brown signs in the area for very little cost to my very poor self, thanks parents, love you. After settling in at the lovely sea view hotel I decided to do some planning for all the brown signing I could do around these parts, but first things first. Did you know that exploration of your surroundings is often best on a spontaneous late night bar crawl? Well you do now. So this (much to next day's dismay) is what I decided to engage in first. Needless to say I wasn't noticing many brown signs on this little adventure but it was hilarious to be surrounded by lots of students and drinking a copious amount of disgusting jeager bombs. Oh how I tried to be one of those students who can drink into the early hours, sleep until noon and get straight back on it the next evening with little or no repercussions.... The harsh reality though was the 30 year old I am (this I can't disguise) was looking like a massive tool dancing around to Yazz at 2am in a club full of 18 year olds. Time my similarly old non student companion and I pin balled our way home. It was both brilliant and awful to wake up in the morning fully dressed with the lights still on and make up smeared all across my face. I really am getting too old for this.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Let me tell you about The Man Who Planted Trees

I feel a bit bad that recently I've been focussing a lot on my website and getting it to look all nice and attractive and inspiring for visitors but also sacrificing time on the blog and actually going out brown signing. Brown signs, you are still in my heart as I sit most days into the night tapping away at the computer learning how to build a website for you and unearthing research to populate it with *punches chest*.

In lieu of any brown signing activity then I'll draw your attention (there's a pun there) to something I have been thinking about a lot. Its a 1987 animated film called "The Man Who Planted Trees" and its 30 minutes of pure joy for me. More on that in a minute, but let me tell you how I got to here.

Friday, 12 November 2010

This forest is electric (can I be electric too?)

When I heard from my best friend "Beaks" that the brown signed Bedgebury Pinetum and Forest (near the village of Flimwell just off the A21 in Kent) had been transformed into a stunning festival of light and sound at sundown, I was more than a little bit excited at the prospect of a visit. Not too many brown signed attractions are open in the evening and as the winter draws in nothing beats donning a massive puffa jacket and venturing outside to explore your freezing surroundings by the wonder that is electricity, more often that not this comes in the boring form of late night shopping under glowing fat plastic santas down the local high street, so clearly this option was going to be far more interesting.
The Electric Forest is a combined effort between The Forestry Commission and Culture Creative which aims to wow visitors by spectacularly showing off this gorgeous woodland through the medium of technicolour and noise. An hour long walk winds through the trees and lakes with surprises all along the way. I like collaborations, the result is usually a refreshing new take on something we thought we knew and when they bring out the very best of brown signed attractions I like them even more.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A lepidopterist called Clive, a gigantic ant and a very hungry caterpillar

After spending most of the weekend sitting inside working hard on the design and images for my exciting new website, I thought that Sunday afternoon should be reserved for some brown-signing proper. Autumn for me is all about getting out and enjoying the romantic long shadows the low sun casts, wrapping up against the cold, seeing new things and having a nice cup of tea in a little attraction cafe afterall. I'd been told about a brown sign with a butterfly on it just off the M25 at junction 21a in Hertfordshire near St Albans (I'm slowly accumulating a massive list of recommended attractions with brown signs) so I looked it up, and to my joy I found a pretty exciting project happening on this former forgotten wasteland just off the motorway.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Have I got Mapping News for you...

Mapping News is the brilliant quarterly journal published by the dedicated map chaps at The Ordnance Survey. As if it wasn't exciting enough already this Autumn's edition also features an article about me and my brown signing adventures, they've even included some of my badly composed photographs (usually taken while hanging out of my car while driving slowly around roundabouts). With such coverage I decided that visitors to my blog might suddenly sky rocket so I undertook the not insignificant task of removing all the rude words from all my posts. After the initial excitement and massive undertaking though I realised that visitor numbers weren't about to increase by a billion but as the article will mainly be read school children (and you) I thought it best to tone down the swearing somewhat.

Anyway, here I am on page 16, why not sit down with a nice cup of tea and have a little read?

Exciting stuff!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Along The Brown Sign Way all signs are created equal, and thankfully none are created more equal than others.

This morning I was sitting on the train reading The Corporation by Joel Bakan, a book essentially about the power and influence that corporations and businesses have over us, the lay people of this world, and it began to make me feel a little bit sick. I find it so sad that advertising and marketing techniques actually work on people in the first place. I've never liked people telling me what to do or being subjected to opinion I'm just not that interested in, it's one of the reasons I don't really watch TV (when I do I only watch something I really want to see) or read the papers (well, that'll be nothing actually because I find it extremely hard to read any newspapers at all), it's also why I mute the TV if I happen to be watching anything with adverts spliced in. I understand that advertising works, but to be honest it makes me feel a bit depressed that it may well work on me, so I avoid it wherever possible. Don't get me wrong, I do know that advertising is vital for most businesses to survive but I'm talking about advertising gone mental.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The most appropriately spent Roald Dahl Day ever

After my huge excitement at finding out this morning that it is in fact Roald Dahl Day today it seemed only right that I should visit The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre at my soonest convenience. Happily I was already heading Buckinghamshire way to work on the exciting design of my new website with a man who knows his Photoshop. So when we should have been sitting down to some serious work, instead, after my not-too-strong persuasion, we were getting into the car and heading off to Great Missenden. I do love my unpaid, money-draining job.
Everyone loves Roald Dahl. Mention his name to any passing person, young or old, and it's likely you'll get an immediate smile and some happy recollections of long afternoons spent reading a favourite Dahl classic. I, of course, also read Roald Dahl, but I have to admit I only actually liked reading some of his books, these were (in order of preference) Danny The Champion of The World, The BFG and Fantastic Mr Fox.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Top secret Brown Sign Mission: Codes, 1984 computers and reusable condoms

I've wanted to visit Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire for some time. I like all things history, war and intrigue and Bletchley Park, where ingenious code breakers spent sleepless days and nights in make shift huts cracking the infamous German Enigma code, has to be the place to go to get all that. A good friend of mine (who also happens to be my ex-boyfriend) volunteered to come with me, good thing too, how else would I have completed the "know your planes - friend or foe?" game with almost 100% accuracy?
Having suffered in the last few weeks from a serious cash flow problem (read: cash non-existent problem) I haven't even been brown-signing very much at all, so I was a bit nervous about talking to Bletchley Park's Retail Manager about my project and the museum. I needn't have worried though, she was very excited about getting her brown signs noticed, loved the thought of more visitors happening upon them, proceeded to stick stickers all over us and shooed us out to discover the vast slightly randomness that is Bletchley Park for ourselves.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A "I walk past that sign every day and I've never visited" day

In one of my more random and terribly unsuitable jobs I worked for a few months at the fine chocolatier Mr Paul A Young's (I don't like chocolate, really, not even at all) in Islington, North London. Every day on my way to work from King's Cross I walked past this brown sign for The London Canal Museum and I'm ashamed to say, in all the time I worked there, and despite my obsession with brown tourist signs, I never visited. Shame on me, and what an error that was, I realised today when I paid them a long overdue visit.
I was greeted by a sceptical front desk attendant who found it hard to understand what I was writing a book about, looked at me funny and called a more senior member of staff over to suss out whether I was a threat.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

A little history of ice skating

It was the long cold North European winters that inspired the invention of the ice skate. The earliest known example is over 5000 years old and was found at the bottom of a Swiss lake (I assume the chap wearing them rather overestimated their capabilities) and were fashioned from animal bone and leather straps which attached to the skaters shoe. Early records indicate that ice skaters using poles to propel themselves across frozen lakes and rivers “as swiftly as birds” was a common sight in the colder climes across the North Sea. Consequently ice skating was positively old hat on the continent by the time Britons really started getting excited about it in the mid 1600s, when social trends and weather conditions changed the notion that is was just a bizarre activity one hears about foreigners doing in far away lands.

Monday, 2 August 2010

My day at the office

Richard Branson
I thought I might share some non-brown-sign related thoughts with you today in the absence of any brown signed attractions filling my waking hours. It has been a funny day, well, an enlightening one at least. I knew things wouldn't be normal when I burst out crying after reading The Man, Richard Branson's morning blog post entitled "in it for the fun, not just the money" (click to read) . The Man describes the drive and motivation behind starting out on your own, and this was the sentence that started those little tears a-comin':
"I don't think that many businesspeople start their business with the idea that they can make a lot of money. Most people feel that they can create something that is going to make a difference to other people's lives – that is how they start their businesses."

Friday, 30 July 2010

Gooone fishin'...

The nights sleep, despite significant tiredness when we hit the sack, was not such a good one, in fact, let's be honest, it can probably be ranked as one of the worst ever. Predictably I hadn't checked the weather forecast before we left and assumed that being in mid July meant likelihood of good weather. Unfortunately I was proved wrong (as always) at around 1 am when the heavens opened and we were rained on hard for the next 6 solid hours. I had nightmares of the tent, and ourselves, being swept away by something very much resembling a tidal wave and had visions of me unzipping my sleeping compartment to the sight of drenched food, bags and cooking equipment in the morning. When the rain did finally stop (well, slowed to an all engulfing heavy mist) and I checked for soakage I was shocked to find that our tent building was clearly not as bad as we'd thought and everything was dry. We cooked sausages to celebrate (in the non fire retardant tent of course), but I'll be honest we were both feeling a little jaded and weren't looking forward to the fishing I had been so excited about before I left.

Friday, 23 July 2010

More More Moor (that's how I like it, that's how I like it)

The next brown sign trip started with a pretty much uninterrupted drive up to Robin Hood's Bay, just south of Whitby in the North York Moors. By "pretty much" uninterrupted I mean it did include a quick stop at an OK Diner on the A1. OK Diners are the most amazing motorway services ever and leave me dumbfounded as to why they haven't made their way down south to replace the horrendous Little Chefs I am so used to avoiding. These restaurants have totally pulled off the 1950s-themed diner experience, with rock n roll playing and the kitsch Americana adorning every surface. I simply cannot drive past one. I have to go in and order myself a massive burger with a thick shake and feel a bit unwell for the rest of my journey. They are brilliant.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

On another bear hunt...

Time to do another brown sign trip! Heading for Robin Hood's bay today, just north of Scarborough. Because of the long drive up there the estimated time of leaving was approx 9.30 (get up and go for a 2 hour run at 7 am come back get in the car and go) but here I am still buying fishing rod licences online and digging very spider infested camping chairs out of the shed.  Perhaps a more accurate time will be 11.30. Ho hum.
I have fishing booked for Tuesday and hopefully badger watching on Monday evening at a Forestry Commission forest. The rest will be dictated by my trusty brown signs (and how willing owners will be to let a poor struggling writer and her sister into their attractions at a reduced rate), North Yorkshire is my oyster!
The Saxo is stuffed to bursting with badly packed tents and bags, pasta and Dolmio sauces which I would never even think of touching normally and maps and tourist leaflets stuffed into any available orifice.
No "boutique" or "cool" camping for me my friends, oh no, I plan to get very muddy on the way to and from the shower block every morning, discover I've run out of 50ps once there and go to bed at approximately 9pm every night hungry because we've also run out of gas to boil the pasta with. At least I am prepared and resigned to my fate. Weirdly though I love it, and I plan to tell you all about it (whenever I can find a Starbucks or Wifi friendly pub, we shall see).
Wish me luck, bye bye for now.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Bad brown sign day, weird yellow sign day

This morning I woke up raring to go. My blog has been bandied around the social networking medium I am both scared and excited by, Twitter, and it's been great to get good feedback about what I'm doing and the idea that we can all discover Britain by The Brown Sign Way. I was supposed to go for a run (I'm training for a marathon, something I am regretting FYI) and then get on the computer, instead I sat in my pyjamas for some time twittering around and planning the next brown sign trip next week up north.
The day that lay ahead was a family day with my sister (regular), mother and aunties (newbies). We were to have a nice lunch in Wakehurst Place, the most visited National Trust Property but also part of Kew Gardens, with a visit to an open garden afterwards. The open garden wouldn't have a brown sign, I was prepared for this, because it is not permanently open, but I could deal with that by secretly keeping a mental note of every brown sign we passed, hoping we would get time to visit one the way home.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A little farm and a not so little vineyard

Today I decided it was time to discover a vineyard via The Brown Sign Way. A lot of attraction types are being ticked off the list now so I think it's time to be a little more focussed in my approach to my brown signing (I'll still go to all the random places I happen upon too though, don't worry). My sister and I got into my just MOTed and legal (if still smelly when braking and rattly when accelerating) car and headed for a vineyard brown sign near Dorking. Xfm were playing some belters so Jo and I Florence and The Machined our way to Surrey. Maybe it was the enthusiasm of our singing or perhaps the car was suddenly faster for finally having a mechanic under it's bonnet, whatever the reason we arrived (very unlike us) an hour early for the winery tour. As with any time I ever have to kill I kept my eyes peeled for a brown sign, luckily I spotted one in the shape of Bocketts Farm, I followed it.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

An emotional windmill & Nature vs. Industry (Nature 1 Industry 0)

Recently I have been thinking (a lot) about why I like brown tourist signs so much, and why I want to write a book about them. My good friend Rob Archer, Occupational Psychologist extraordinare, asked me some very simple but enlightening questions about what I feel when I go off visiting brown signed tourist attractions.
Firstly I said I was excited at the prospect of discovering something new, meeting the people who run the places and that I feel good when I experience something fun and different. But when he asked what actual physical sensation I get when I thought about brown signing, I realised that I felt something like a nag, a small pain or knot, a little bit like worry, in the pit of my stomach.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

I value your opinion - I really do
Ok, I am starting to properly build up this blog now, woo! I want it to be as brown and touristy as it can be and to be honest I wouldn't mind your input. I am effectively a one woman brown tourist sign visiting machine but would like your suggestions and comments of your brown tourist signed experiences.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Days of yore

Somewhat ironically the Museum of English Rural Life does not lie nestled among rolling hillsides and wheat fields with poppies, instead it sits rather self consciously on a busy main road in the middle of the urban sprawl that is Reading, Berkshire. However, despite the interesting juxtaposition of subject matter and location this excellent museum manages to completely immerse visitors in all things rural, leaving you longing for the days of hopping on wagons for a lift down the road and great big picnics in fields at harvest time. Wagons are suspended from the rafters, scythes and man traps are gruesomely displayed behind bars and photos, videos and interviews bring the artefacts and the people who made and used them to life.