Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Changing Face of London

I did another of my London walks a couple of weeks ago, and, having been taken to places that have now changed completely since the time our guide was telling us about, it made me think about how London is changing now.

I’m thinking particularly of the Victoria/Westminster area, which is where I spend most of my time.  When I first started working here, back in the 1970’s, there was a bank on either corner of the bottom end of Victoria Street, (if memory serves me correctly, it was Midland on one and Williams and Glyns on the other).  The one that was Williams and Glyns is now a wine bar.  The Midland, which, of course, went on to become HSBC, has been completely demolished as part of the Victoria Station upgrades works.  (Apparently, Victoria Station gets 82 million passengers a year at the moment, and it is anticipated that this will increase to 100 million by 2020, so they are extending the ticket halls and approaches.  If you’ve tried travelling in that area in the rush hour, you’d wonder why they didn’t start this work ten years ago.)

Victoria Street itself has changed too.  We used to have a little Sainsbury’s, a Nationwide building society and some other shops, but over the years, buildings have been pulled down and new ones erected.  We can now boast a lovely little Waitrose, but there is still so much building work going on, I’m not sure what it will be like when complete. And then, of course, there is Cardinal Walk and the associated shops.  I can’t even remember what was there before.

What hasn’t changed, though, is the Albert Public House, which was built in 1862, on a site of a pub called the Bluecoat Boy.  (There is still a pub called the Greencoat boy a short distance away too.  Bluecoat and Greencoat relate to schools that used to be in the area, but I digress.)  The Albert was named after Queen Victoria’s husband and consort.  The area had been redeveloped in the 1850’s to replace the slum housing that had previously existed, and it’s amazing it’s survived, since this whole area was subject to extensive bombing throughout the Second World War.  So, what survived the Luftwaffe couldn’t survive the developers, and there are now lots of mainly glass buildings.  House of Fraser (once called the Army and Navy Stores) is still there, although the link to the back block is no longer.

And of course, Westminster Abbey is still there, at the other end of Victoria Street, still stands proud and majestic, pretty much as it has done since Henry 111 built it in 1245.  There is so much history surrounding the Abbey, I can’t do it justice here – for example, there are over 20 people buried or commemorated there, and that’s just the ones whose surname begins with A!


So, I wonder what changes the next few years will bring?

©Susan Shirley 2013


More on Customer Service

Having had a right royal moan last week, about customer service, and how it is lacking, I do need to put the other side of the case this week.

I had a new boiler fitted this week.   It necessitated having scaffolding (so that the builder could get over my conservatory), a builder to fill in the outside space where the flue went, and plaster inside, and an electrician for the other bits.  British Gas organised it all, and it was they with whom I had my contract.  I had been told to expect a day and a half.

The only hiccup was when they left the boiler in the hallway overnight on Monday (leaving me with the grand total of 15¾ inches space to walk past it).  However, move on.

The fitter, Martin, rang me on Tuesday to confirm everything was ok for Wednesday.  The scaffolders arrived at 07:30 Wednesday morning.  They sat in the lorry, so I went to them – “We were going to leave it until 8 o’clock as planned.”  No need for that, crack on.  Two more charming chaps you could not wished to have met.  Particularly as some of it had to go through the bathroom window and they couldn’t fit the scaffolding in the way they had planned, there wasn’t enough space.

The builder did the best piece of plastering I’ve seen in a long time, and actually managed to repair the mess left by the previous incumbents.  And Tom, the sparks, was really helpful and did a very good job.  Then Martin, the fitter, had a great sense of humour and worked tirelessly, and fitted the boiler within the day.  All in all, a very good day.

Thank you all, gentlemen.

©Susan Shirley 2013



Customer Services…. Or lack of it….

I hadn’t ever intended this blog to be a moan about things but I do feel the need to share my frustration about customer services in this country at the moment.  Or, the lack of them.

It’s been a year of things going wrong for me.  Earlier in the year, my broadband started playing up.  I’m with BT, and it took them a good while to sort it all out.  They sent an engineer and then wanted to charge me for the privilege.  Except that they hadn’t told me that they intended to charge me, and it didn’t solve the problem, so they backed down on that one.

Then, a month or so ago, they e-mailed me (and subsequently wrote to me) to tell me that they were closing Digital Vault (I’ve been with BT for about a million years, so that was part of my deal).  Without wishing to bore you all, I couldn’t access it.  BT told me that it was a fault with my [new] filters, and that I would have to pay for an engineer to come to fix it (oh really?), then they told me that Digital Vault had already closed (I’m actually beginning to think that is the case).  They keep telling me that they will ring me, so I rush home and then, when they ring, they tell me nothing.  I have now written an extremely stroppy letter to Warren Buckley, so we will see, but honestly, I shouldn’t need to go to these lengths.  I may be changing my ISP very soon.

I had Sky TV for a few years.  When they fitted my second Sky box, their engineer very kindly tacked the cable to my wall, rather than my skirting board.  Despite my complaints, not only did they do nothing about it, but they clearly didn’t even make a record of my complaint.  The second box kept going wrong, and they didn’t record that either, and were then somewhat surprised when I decided to take my custom elsewhere.

Then there is my mobile ‘phone.  I have two numbers, on different networks.  One is my personal ‘phone, the other is my business ‘phone.  I have them on different networks because, my thinking is, if I have a problem with coverage on one network, hopefully, I will get coverage on the other.  Not for the first time, I am having a problem with coverage from Orange.  There are rooms in my house where I cannot get a signal at all.  I can’t send any e-mails from that ‘phone at the moment, but, apparently, e-mail is nothing to do with Orange…  The fact that I received 8 text messages on Thursday morning, all in one go, that had been sent on Wednesday evening, is presumably nothing to do with them either…  They are going to have to go some when my contract is up to keep my custom.

To counter this, there are some companies that are very easy to do business with – First Direct, Vodafone (most of the time, and certainly, recently), British Gas (I know they don’t have a great reputation, but I must speak as I find).

So come on UK businesses – we don’t need to have brand loyalty anymore, you need to compete for our custom.  I work very hard for my money and I am only prepared to spend it where I get good value.

©Susan Shirley 2013

Feng Shui and Clutter

I’ve been interested in Feng Shui for a long time, over 20 years.  I even got into practising it in my home at one point in my life, but somehow, when I moved house (now almost 11 years ago) that all went by the wayside.  Feng Shui was pushed to one side whilst I was decorating and renovating and now, I am ashamed to admit, my house is a mess.  Not the way the people on the television programmes’ houses are – I can sleep in my bed and there is space on the floor, but I am not naturally tidy and I have too much “stuff.”

I made a decision at the end of last year to do something about it and since December, I have been trying to de-clutter, without much success, if I’m honest.

One of the things I’d known intuitively was that, in order to clear up my mess, I needed more storage space.  The only way I was going to get more storage space was to clear out my cupboards…  I started but then realised that although all my hard work was good, I still had a mess in my “high traffic areas.”  So I started on the mess in the high traffic areas, and, in fact, by the time my friend, Kate, came to stay in April, the house looked pretty good. But then real life took over again and things started getting messy again.  So I decided I needed help and have, so far, read three books on the subject and am halfway through a fourth.  (I wholeheartedly recommend all of them; they are all useful in different ways.)

The one I’m reading at the moment, by Sheila Chandra, agrees with me that I need to make space first of all and the high traffic areas might have to stay a mess for a bit longer.  Sheila also says that it didn’t get like this overnight so I have to learn patience.

They all make it clear that I have to actually part with some of my possessions.  What?  Get rid of some of my beautiful (and expensive!) shoes?  So what if I can’t wear them anymore because they are no longer comfortable?  The clothes that don’t suit me or don’t fit me anymore?  Or I just don’t wear them, but there is nothing wrong with them?  What about my books?  How can I possibly part with any of the books that my Mum owned?  Forget the fact that I can give the British Library a run for its money…

It is hard for an inveterate hoarder like me to come to terms with clearing out, but reading these books has started to make it easier, and to understand why I’ve hoarded so much (poverty consciousness, the Second World War attitude that you might need it someday, how can you throw away something that is perfectly serviceable, etc, etc).

I made a HUGE breakthrough last week – I gave away some books (ones that I’d already read) including one that had been my Mum’s.  (What you have to understand about my Mum is that she didn’t start reading books until she was over 50 years old.  Magazines, yes.  Books, no.  So the ones she did read are special.)  What I am coming to terms with is that the things that belonged to my Mum (or my Dad) are not them.  And I can’t possibly keep everything that they owned and my own things as well.

Declutter Extreme says only do 15 minutes a day, and an hour one day a week, broken down into 15 minute chunks.  That is just about do-able during the week, as I work full-time and just about do-able at the weekend.  (Actually, I do try to do a bit more at weekends, but realistically, not much more.  I plan on doing more when I have a week off the week after next, though.)  The week before last, my recycling bin (the one that the council collects) was full for the first time ever!

I’m not following the instructions in any of the books slavishly at the moment so it is slow going, but my pact with myself at the moment is that I will get rid of at least one item every day.  (And I don’t mean normal household waste; I mean something that has been sorted out, in addition to any household waste or recycling.)  It doesn’t matter whether it goes in the bin or in the recycling bag or is given to someone else, as long as I don’t have it any longer.

I have agreed with myself that I will read all the books I haven’t read before I part with them, and have started doing this.  (It’s a good job I enjoy reading and have a train journey to and from work every day!)  I have signed up for one of Karen Kingston’s online courses – Taming the Paper Tiger – because one of my big problems is all the paperwork (letters, magazines, etc) even though my banking is done on line and signed up for all manner of Feng Shui newsletters, etc.

It will be many months before my decluttering is anywhere near completion, and before I am in a position to start on any Feng Shui cures, but I will update you as I go.  Wish me luck!

In the meantime, these are the books that I have read so far:

Banish Clutter Forever by Sheila Chandra

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston

Declutter Extreme by

Your Space for Success by Stephanie McWilliams


©Susan Shirley 2013

Eltham Palace

Last weekend, I went to Eltham Palace.  I’ve lived in London for the majority of my life, and didn’t know this place existed until a friend mentioned it a few months ago.  I don’t know how I missed it, it’s a fabulous building, and I would commend everyone to visit.

The original palace was given to King Edward II in 1305 by Anthony Bek, the Bishop of Durham, so obviously Tudor design.  The palace was used as a royal residence form the 14th to the 16th century, and was home to King Henry VIII for some of his childhood.  Henry was the last monarch to spend much of his time here.  When Greenwich Palace was rebuilt, probably because it was more easily accessible by river, Eltham became a less popular destination.  From the 17th century, for about 200 years, Eltham Palace was used as a farm.  Sad demise.

In 1933, Stephen Courtauld, one of the textile Courtaulds and his wife Virginia, purchased the lease and, as well as restoring the Great Hall, did some serious building work.  It is an amazing mix of old and new, with a dome in the entrance hall that is small glass orbs inlaid into concrete.  In certain parts of the building, it’s difficult to imagine that there was ever the Tudor part, and in others, you look out of the window and you almost feel the Tudor festivities and dancing taking place.

The Courtaulds, however, clearly weren’t short of a few bob, because what they did to the house is amazing.  They had internal telephones throughout the house, as well as an outside line that was hidden away in a little telephone kiosk.  They had beautifully fitted guest rooms, and Mrs C’s bathroom is something else.  They had a pet ring-tailed lemur, named Mah Jongg, who had his own (centrally heated) room.  There is a beautiful dining room, with an aluminium-leaf ceiling, with spotlights inset so that they reflect off the beautiful ceiling and illuminate the room at the same time.  Amazing!

Stephen Courtauld fought in the army during World War I, so it’s no surprise that some of the palace contains references to the army and other related memorabilia.

Not everything in the house is original, much has been faithfully reproduced, but you still get the feel for what it was like…  I’m getting delusions of grandeur just thinking about it.  To cap it all, the palace is surrounded by a moat, which has carp swimming in it, and big lily pads floating upon it.  It’s set in 19 acres of gardens…. I haven’t begun to describe it fully; you really do need to see it to get the full effect.  I have to go back to take more in, although it’s not the biggest stately home in the world, there is just too much to take in on one visit.

Many films, TV programmes and even commercials have been filmed at Eltham Palace, and, it is on English Heritage’s list of most haunted places!

English Heritage manages the palace now (and they very subtly persuaded me to join!) so there is an entrance fee of £9.90 for adults (less for children and concessions) but I wholeheartedly recommend it.


©Susan Shirley 2013