We also briefly visited Seaham Hall, largely because we weren't exactly sure what it was. It turns out to be an upmarket country hotel and conference centre with a classy restaurant. It is packed with art and has a fantastic, attractive water feature at the front - a glass-bordered well with a swirling vortex of water inside. The water level rises and falls gently, the patterns of the vortex within also changing. (At "high tide", the water even overflows the well's sides slightly.) At the end of the year, an oriental spa will be opening next door at which a variety of cleansing treatments will be performed. The claim is that it is set to be the finest such spa in Western Europe. Treatments on offer include Rasul - the Seaham Hall version of Rasul has couples caking each other with mud, having it baked on hard and then washed off before comprehensive massage. Presumably the Tu-Na Chinese Therapy for men has nothing to do with fish.
The interesting part is that it turns out that Dad's cousin's wife works as PA to the MD of the hotel. (We were probably told this at one point, but we had forgotten.) She was surprised to see us arrive at her hotel. With her boss away, she was able to sit us down for complimentary teas and biscuits (both home-made choc-chip cookie and arrowroot) and then give us the grand tour of the facility. I must say, it was very impressive. "The most expensive hotel in town" is not always "the best hotel in town", but this looked really pretty decent value to me based on what little I know about four-star-plus hotels. Room rates vary from GBP 135 to GBP 300 per night.
The star attraction of the trip was a tour of the penthouse suite. For your money, you get a beautifully furnished five-room apartment; it has its own business-enabled study and a miniature bathroom at one end, while the front of the suite consists of a wonderful bedroom with a huge king-sized bed, an imperial bathroom with a walk-in (read: "massive") shower and a bath for two, plus an exquisite sitting room as large as our lounge. That's what GBP 500 per night gets you up here. About the only thing I can fault it on is that the bed isn't a four-poster, but I think it's a stylistic decision rather than an economic one. There is a real issue in "who could afford GBP 500 per night", but a little bird suggested that Hartlepool United Football Club manager Chris Turner and his wife stayed there to celebrate an anniversary. Chris Turner is about as big a celebrity as you get in nearby Hartlepool, excepting of course Stuart Drummond who used to be H'Angus The Monkey, the club's mascot, before being elected to town mayor. That's Hartlepool for you!
On the way home, we travelled over the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge, the local architectural landmark and the largest bridge of this type still remaining in the world. It's slightly out of the way compared to most of the journeys we want to take these days, so it's about a once-a-year treat. What was unusual about this journey was that the transporting gondola was delayed by the dredger Heortnesse. This was the first time I had seen a boat going up the Tees at the time when we had wanted to cross it, so a good vindication (and in my experience, a thrilling and unique vindication!) behind the reasons for building the bridge and for choosing to build the type of bridge that they did.
An extremely successful and entertaining trip, with a fascinating glimpse into how the other half live and an excellent day. Until...
In the evening, I saw something which I consider disturbingly violent presented as prime time entertainment. I am convinced it breaches the relevant part (section 1.7a) of the ITC Programme Code. (No, I'm not saying what, not even Friends-only. Don't bother guessing.) Accordingly, I'm considering making an official complaint to the ITC.
Unfortunately - but, I suppose, not unreasonably - the ITC "...will accept complaints (but not comments or critiques) about programmes which you have seen, but not those which you have simply read about or heard about...". However - again, I hope, not unreasonably - I decided that the violent part of the show would be too distressing for me to watch and turned the TV off rather than watching it. Ethical dilemma: do I have enough information to make a complaint in good faith given that I turned off before seeing the incident itself?
Yes, I am quite serious here. I haven't spoken a word for the last (reasonably considerable time period) since I saw the show in question, simply because I am astounded by what I saw. On the other hand, I suspect that the vast majority of the public would disagree with my opinion - heck, I know people who I greatly respect who disagree with my opinion. My taste may be well out of line with public opinion on this regard. However, if I don't register my view then it goes unsaid.
I'm not going to give you any more specifics now and I probably never will, but I would appreciate any advice you could offer on the matter all the same. :-)
This goes back to what I was saying in paragraph one about Seaham developing call centres, but I couldn't find a more suitable place for it than this footnote. I am not convinced that the UK call centre industry is well-positioned to survive in the longer term. A number of major English-language employers (famously, American Express and British Airways) are relocating their call centres to India, where there are very many intelligent people who speak English extremely well and who are prepared to work at a call centre at a much lower cost than would be the case in this country. The theory is so economically convincing and the practice so practicable that I can see the western world's call centre industry not having much of a future. The skills and local knowledge required are so few that there are few reasons why a sufficiently large company in the UK, the US or Canada shouldn't outsource their call centre operations to India. This can't be good for the economies of the western world relative to that of India; a crash in the sector would be a reasonably sizeable economic blow (say, 50,000-100,000 jobs?) to the UK.