For all my writings to be distilled to one entry I think would be a shame, but perhaps that’s sheer self-indulgence, to be remembered for or characterised by anything you have done (if benign) is a blessing.  I would like to hope that I have said something of value to more than one person across the years and well over 500 posts that I have published in the years I have been writing. Granted 500 now doesn’t seem that much these days given the 6 year hiatus recently and there were times in the old days when I could rattle off 50 posts in a couple of months but nevertheless, we are where we are.  In the early days I think there were more people using this form of expression but as the medium evolved so some have gone to Instagram I imagine, others wrapped up in Facebook and many have probably gone altogether.  Of all of the entries I have made there is one that has certainly received the widest attention which is the very angry review I wrote of the Snowden Mountain Railway in North Wales some 11 years ago following a visit with my children.  The experience had not been a good one and that sort of thing might have made me inclined to write something but what tipped the balance had been the friendly and genuine experience literally just across the road which juxtaposed itself so well.  

My first port of call had been sending something to the railway companies, a complaint to the SNR and a thank you to the Padarn Lake Railway, I received responses from both that were so in keeping with the initial treatment that they fed easily into the subsequent narrative given the contrast between the blasé indifference of the SNR and the genuine heartfelt response of the lake railway.

For quite some time on the first page of any google search for the SNR my post would appear resplendent and I found that pleasing, not only because it was mine but that people could easily get an alternative and independent view to the bog standard tourism side of things, partisan I’ll admit but independent nevertheless.  I was also pleased to be able to do a little in publicising the other little railway on which myself and my children had been treated with such warmth and kindness.

Those heady headline days are sadly gone, it is 10 years old after all and my review languishes now on page 5 with most of the preceding pages taken up by mostly standard corporate crap, my review is still more popular than this 2018 one written by someone who was given free tickets on the railway for the purpose of reviewing it which gives me a wry smile.  I should say that I make no judgement here as to the nature of the reviews, the person got a nice day and good views, who wouldn’t enjoy it when they’ve not even paid for the tickets, the price of which was one of my major contentions.

Much of the information in my post is now out of date and because it is a review of our trip at the time I do not see the need to update it, some of the commentators have done so in the information they have given and that is useful to determine how things might have changed over the years, which it appears they have and perhaps for the better.  The labelling and pricing of things does seem a little more transparent than it did when we travelled and that is certainly a good thing and was very much lacking on our trip.  I did write a follow up post in order to update things in 2015 but I think more in the hope to garner enough interest and interaction to get me back to writing than anything else.

[I discovered a mildly interesting thing though whilst browsing around in the preparation for this one.  If you type in Snowden Mountain Railway or even just Snowden in the search field for my blog the follow up post appears in the search results despite the title of the railway not being in the title of the entry whilst the original post, which does feature the railway title, does not appear in search results.  Strange or just me?  It’s not the tagging because if you click the Snowden Mountain Railway tag both entries come up right away.  I’d love to think that I bothered the railway enough for them to take proactive steps to have my post stopped but in reality I am long in the tooth enough to know that my importance is less likely to be the case than that of a simple coding issue! Hey ho!]

What the whole SNR review affair shows me is that what may seem the least significant may get the most coverage and that is often beyond my control. The review was written as a method of me having a rant, I did not go to any lengths to proliferate its coverage, at least not that I recall.  More simply but gratifyingly it demonstrates the power of someone writing a review in their own words for other people to read as they wish.  It was not my sole intention to cause the railway embarrassment, it was part of it because I felt that the enterprise was cashing in on parents wanting to do something nice for their children just as I did and the prospect of other children also being disappointed made me feel I needed to do something, I felt a counter narrative would allow people a better method of making up their own mind before such a hefty outlay and that if they did not have deep pockets they had an option across the road where they would be welcome.

I have always tried to write reviews and to do so fairly, if something is especially good I am just as likely to leave a review as if something is bad.  I like good service, I like quality and value for money and I like those little touches that make you feel that someone appreciates you being part of their customer base and that you are a person of value in your own right, one of the main reasons for that is that I think it is possible for anyone to do.  Civility, being personable and caring about others does not need to cost anything it just needs to be something that matters to you.  Those touches deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded and I try to do my bit to publicise them and I hope that allows those who have made the effort for me to feel that they have been appreciated.

Covid-19 Lockdown has shown me the power of supporting local businesses, from still getting meat from the butchers to ordering the occasional takeaway pizza from my former local pub.  I know these people, I know how their livelihood hangs in the balance and I want them to do well so that when all of this madness is over they will be able to continue to support the communities in which they are embedded and about which they have every reason to care.  We will have lost so many facilities over this period, much of the high streets and communities will have lost shops and services from large and small providers.  All come at a human cost make no mistake, I may shed more of a tear over an independent cafe going under than I do a branch of a chain closing its doors but I appreciate that for those working inside it is of little significance if they have lost their job from a big company or a small one when they cannot subsequently pay their own rent or put food on the table.

I feel at a time like this it is increasingly important for people to share their experiences, we are doing more online shopping for goods and services and have perhaps a little more time and capacity to review, in the case of local producers and traders it can go a long way to help them against the shortfall in advertising capacity that they may have.  Many businesses have thankfully still got the internet and will trade this way but if lockdown has taught us anything it is that whilst it can be useful to order something online when there are no other options a world where it is the only option is surely not one we would choose.  I cannot tell Amazon or a large supermarket what type of sausages or cut of meat I would like them to stock for me in a weeks time as I can with a butcher, I do not get little handwritten notes and extra sauce from dominos if I order pizza because the person has recognised my name like I have from my favourite publican. I’m not saying there aren’t chain shops where you can chat to those working there and build rapport because of course you can and much of that may depend on the staff and whether they themselves are local however their ability to influence wider policy decisions is diminished and their buy-in consequently might reasonably be expected to be less.

I have learnt far more about the companies from whom I order over the last year and been more specific then in tailoring those orders to the ones that I feel pass muster. I get handwritten notes from craft beer producers thanking me for ordering from them and this establishes a relationship with these people that is beyond the corporate and mundane and strikes to the personal.  Likewise I have ordered from them because being on their mailing list I have heard what they have been doing to safeguard their staff etc. and I feel businesses with the view that staff are their most precious resource and deserve to be protected should be supported over the ones who are profligate in their provision.  A brewery that made political points about the Black Lives Matter campaign and received much criticism about it got at least an order from me on the back of my appreciation that they were prepared to speak out against injustice and were looking to support local causes in the enfranchisement of BME members of the community. I told them exactly why I was placing the order and I was glad they told me they were heartened by the support shown by me and others like me.

The localisation of services has so much of a wider beneficial effect, it forms and maintains direct communities it also goes some way to preventing bigotry if you know real people, it is far easier to be radicalised around concepts than it is to hate an actual human being that you have come to know.  Additionally in your locality you matter so much more, your interaction, the pound in your pocket, your voice, your smile, your frown is of far greater significance.  Look at the moves of Craftivism for example and how they have by little pieces of craft sought to bring messages to people, if you did this on a national scale you would lose the feeling and passion behind each example.  Perhaps right now we all need to feel a little more than usual that we matter and our local community is probably crying out for the opportunity to show us that we do.

Song Of The Day ~ Mark Lanegan Band – Ode To Sad Disco