“They Do Like Their Turtles Don’t They?” Zante (Zakynthos), Greece, 2017

“Ah.”
“What?”
“I don’t think I’ve packed the extra pair of long trousers.”
“I left everyone in charge of their own packing, if you’ve forgotten anything you’ll have to buy it out there.”
“Can I pull over and check?”
“We can’t turn back now.”
“Please, it’s starting to play on my mind. I’m not sure if I packed them or not.”
“No.”
“Mum, just let him pull over. I can’t take the suspense at 2am.”
“I’m pulling over.”
“Fine.”

The Bennett holiday had begun.

 

This time the choice location was the Greek Island of Zante, located in the Ionian Sea (fun fact – in Greek the island is actually called Zakynthos. Who’d have thought, another culture manipulating foreign words just to suit themselves?)

Ah Greece, the land of fine olives, ancient culture, traditional music and, most importantly, free alcohol:

(Greece were robbed of their victory in the 2013 Eurovision, robbed.)

Because we were staying at an all inclusive the alcohol actually was free, free by the bottles of gallons (I wasn’t in the slightest bit smug about this). I was literally drinking wine by the pint.

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In fact I wondered if Greece had the whole drinking culture nailed more than us Brits. I mean, why have one glass bottle of 750ml when you could have plastic bottles of 1.5 litres for half the price?

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It might also explain the tombstone craftsmanship.

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Anyway, back to the hotel. It had an awesome infinity pool, WITH NO CHILDREN!

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And some stunning sunrise and sunset views.

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Don’t ask me to explain the yellow dot on the left. Just tell yourself it’s God. And yeah, that silhouette is mainland Greece.

The hotel’s entertainment was funny but not in the intended way. The Bennett clan being very British and dry in humourous outlook, we found the various failed attempts of the hotel’s animation team hilarious. One example was ‘botched Bingo’. Having done it outside for an entire season, two members of the team struggled to set up the Bingo projector inside, constantly trying and failing to prop up the canvas on a table, followed by difficulties putting a projector into focus. It was the apparent simplicity of the task which made it comic gold. Having sat down after a 18 hour day travelling and fuelled by a couple of cocktails we were howling at the two men. Later in the week the Greek Gods would reap their revenge on us via the kids club.

“Oh no.”

“What?”

“The clown and donkey are heading towards us.”

“Jesus Christ.”

But, saying that, the place wasn’t too shabby as a whole. I had muchos Greek yoghurt and hummus every day. Even the ants wanted in on the local cuisine.

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The resort’s local town was a short walk away (but then holiday reps call anything under an hour ‘short’). It contained a suitable amount of tourist tat shops, bars, restaurants and had a lovely coastal strip. It passed the ‘makes Alice look sophisticated’ qualification so all was good there.

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Look at me, I look like ruddy Audrey Hepburn

Particular highlights of the holiday included a visit to the island’s capital town which funnily enough was called Zakynthos. There we learnt you could purchase a range of goods including turd toys and spend money in a store called Euro Shop where nothing is a Euro.

(Brexit strikes again if you ask me.)

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Zakynthos is NOT the place to go if you have a phobia of Turtles. It’s basically the island’s spirit animal. There are frequent excursion trips to a see them swimming about so the only logical argument we could devise is that the turtle toy reps invaded sometime around five years ago.

No turtle is too weird or creepy looking to be on a shop rack somewhere.

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If you don’t buy a piece of turtle merchandise you’re basically damaging the local economy and may be arrested on the plane. I luckily purchased a pair of tasteful turtle earrings thereby avoiding a fate of becoming turtle food.

Jokes aside (and I won’t dwell on it too much), but outside of the shiny streets and away from the club strips and bars that get featured on all those awful 18-30 Channel Four documentaries, behind all that is actually a tourist island that is barely surviving on their limited tourist season. For every one nicely done-up street there are at least ten falling apart in the local resident districts. It makes you wonder, if this island can only just hold it together then how is the mainland coping? These people were hardly living a life of luxury. But, like I said, that is a debate for politicians and scholars to have. When they pay me to impart my pearls of wisdom I’ll spend more time writing, less time taking random photos.

The island as a whole still remembers and suffers from the massive damage caused by an earthquake that hit the island in 1953. As well as the loss of most of the island’s historic buildings, the long term damage included mass emigration, with a high proportion of residents emigrating to the USA, UK and Canada following on from the natural disaster. This royally buggered up the economies of Zakynthos and neighbouring island Kefalonia.

In an attempt to remind people of what existed in the past and preserve it for the future, Zakynthos’ art gallery holds a collection of religious art and frescos taken from ruined churches and monasteries across the island.

That said, Mary doesn’t half look scary when she covers for God on his holidays:

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And I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, but why is there a cow here?

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Another highlight of the holiday was a general trip around the island which took in all the cultural highlights Zakynthos had to offer. This included visiting the monastery of the island’s Saint, taking in some breath taking views out to sea (i.e. of a tourist-ified ship wreck) and a tour around the famous blue caves

We choose to not dwell on the boat only having a couple of foam noodles in case of a emergency and the bus parking strategy.

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India and I may have also had a few too many of the free sweets and samples of the commonplace unbranded liqueur…

Which, combined with a hot bus, resulted in this:

You may well laugh, but we’re presently being considered to represent Greece at the 2018 Eurovision.

I used this holiday and trip out as a chance to get a selfie of the whole family – something which had only been done in the past with limited success. The difficulty was convincing Mumma Bennett round to the idea. To her the selfie stick resembled the work of dark magic.

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Voldemort lives!

Other than that, not a lot to report. A week of predictable sun (there’s something to be said about walking along the beach in a thin dress on October 1st), bottomless food/cocktails and the odd random conversation along the way (“do they prevent all male and female parties at Centre Parcs because they’re worried they’ll get murdered in the woods?” “…What?”)

I suppose a good gage of how well a holiday went is linked to how Papa Bennett adapts to the environment. As a comparison, he looks at lot better in Zakynthos than he did waiting for a plane at Birmingham International Airport.

And if that’s not the sign of a good holiday I don’t know what is. Well it helps if you don’t contract Swine Flu…

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…And it’s also nice to get, after 500 million attempts, a decent family selfie by the sea. That too.

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A Quick-ish Review: Topsham, Exeter (Devon)

Speedy Summary

The website says:

Topsham is an attractive town on the Exe estuary, Devon, in England’s Westcountry. Now part of Exeter, it nevertheless maintains a distinctive identity. Loved by its locals, and savoured by those who visit, Topsham offers river walks; wildlife; a Saturday morning market; many characterful shops, restaurants and inns; and quiet space to sit and watch the sailing boats go by.

I say:

A former town now Exeter suburb, Topsham is a quaint little place to visit. Boasting independent retailers and several side streets, you are never more than a few steps away from undisturbed views of the quay. Be prepared to spend £15+ a head if you’re planning to stay for ‘proper’ food and arrive early to secure car parking in high season. Small, pretty and close to the buzz of Exeter city life, there’s a reason why it’s one of the more expensive places to buy/rent in the region.

Top Sights

If you’re a typical tourist looking to cover the main elements of the town in a short space of time plan your visit well in advance. Although the town has several car parks Topsham is notorious for its summer crowds as visitors flock to see a ‘quaint Devonshire community’. Even if you plan to visit outside of school summer holidays, then aim to visit on a weekday and early-ish in the morning to secure the best parking. It’s also best advised if you want the luxury of being able to stroll up the relatively car-free one way high street.

As a small town things to do are limited, but a must are the shops. Most of these are independently run and stocking a range of pretty items from interiors to clothing, wine to flowers. Just don’t expect to walk in and find a multitude of pocket buys. These traders operate in a well-established town with the clientele to boot. You won’t find sniff of a Poundland or Card Factory here.

If you’re like me however then you’ll find great joy rummaging through the multiple charity shops dotted up the high street. The wealthy resident effect, the keen eyed bargain hunter can pick up a number of star buys from high-value items donated by former owners. On this visitation alone I bought a beautiful 1960s retro tea pot to compliment my own property and a pair of mint condition retro curtains to be either reused or turned into cushions (I’ve yet to decide). Total spend: £7. My sister, a devil for vintage books, made a couple of sound purchases also alongside my cheeky purchase of a 1949 Ladybird book, all for £1 a pop. I’ve seen similar books retail for eye wateringly high prices. The money also goes to charity which is never a bad thing.

Also worth a look in is the Topsham Quay Antiques Centre, located right on the quayside at the far end of the town. Three floors of antiques, vintage and retro memorabilia gives much for the curious collector to look at and if nothing else is great for starting conversation. “What was this used for?”, “Did people find that fashionable back then?”, “Where could we put this?”, “Can you even legally display that nowadays?” etc.

Walk up the side streets to be filled with envy at the delightful houses of various periods before grabbing the chance to take in visually (and photographically) the quayside. This part of the river Exe is dotted with sailing boats yet has remained undeveloped on the opposite side, giving a pleasing vision out across the landscape whilst sitting down with a pint on a pub bench.

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A Note on Food

It’s not the cheapest place to eat. If you want coffee and a piece of cake then the choice is endless, however if you’re looking for a light lunch the cheapest you’ll be looking to spend is around £12 and upwards. This is based on looking at a range of menu boards placed outside various eateries in the town. As a result we unfortunately found ourselves looking elsewhere to satisfy our rumbling stomachs. That said, I am aware that for some people this might not be an issue and for others the price tag marks the sign of a carefully and well made meal, but when there are four mouths to feed it may be something to take into account.

Three Word Conclusion

Unique little shops.

A Quick-ish Review: Brixham (Devon)

Speedy Summary

Wikipedia says:

Brixham is a small fishing town and civil parish in the district of Torbay in the county of Devon, in the south-west of England. Brixham is at the southern end of Torbay, across the bay from Torquay, and fishing and tourism are the major industries. At the time of the 2011 census it had a population of 16,693.

I say:

A lovely working harbour located on the English Riviera, Brixham serves both the historic local fishing trade and the busy tourist season. This creates a unique Devonshire window into the lives of those working a thriving traditional trade, without overkilling it on tourist shops and greasy spoon joints. If you have time try out some of the freshly caught fish, if not grab or a coffee from one of the numerous independent shops. Just be aware of the sea gulls.

Top Sights

Top of the agenda when visiting Brixham has to be a stroll around the harbour. One of the older parts of the town, the historic working marina has remained largely unchanged.

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If you want to be suitably impressed by more modern-day aquatics, the boating club marina is located a via a 10 minute walk around the promenade. The spectacle of hundreds of boats lined up neatly along numerous jetties will keep even the most obsessive of boat fans happy.

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And if you’re looking for the authentic Brixham experience, then a sampling of the local cuisine is a must. Freshly caught fish pass through the market sellers of Brixham in their millions every day, with buyers coming from across the country to source the best produce for their eateries. However local restaurants will often pass good deals secured by fewer road miles and differing clientele to their customers, which means you can secure fresh, high quality, fish at a vastly cheaper price. The most popular dish for passing tourists is the classic fish and chips combination, a meal that can be obtained from any number of dining or take away establishments.

If fish isn’t you bag there are also several bakeries in the town selling traditional pasties and rolls, alongside a couple of small supermarkets. Want the marine experience without the price tag? Grab a pasty and sit on one of the many promenade benches for an alfresco lunch with a view.

With all things food and coastal related just be sure to watch out for pesky gulls. While they are not as troublesome as in other destinations, locals and other tourists will not thank you for encouraging them. If finishing an outdoor meal do the right thing and remain seated until the waiter clears the table or take your rubbish with you. Seagulls will not think twice about swooping in on your leftovers (trust me, I’ve seen it).

 

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You don’t necessarily need a formal backdrop to have a pleasant dining experience. Close up shot from a public bench.

 

Recent regeneration in the town centre has seen a vastly increased improvement in the number and quality of coffee shops, including the prominent Old Market House. Located next to the old covered fish market, the coffee shop-come bar-come classy eatery is now the site for a many a people watcher.

The harbour and town is also home to many shops from stylish interiors, to typical tourist souvenirs to high street favourites including Boots, Costa and Tesco. Something for everyone.

 

What Else is There?

Check out the well kept little volunteer-created gardens along the promenade which cleverly make use of the rock face and what was a redundant open space.

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You can also board the Golden Hind Museum Ship, a full size replica of the famous galleon sailed by Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake. More information on the attraction can be found here.

Head up the road a little further (towards the Berry Head Hotel) and you’ll stumble upon the self proclaimed ‘hidden gem’ of this South Devon town, the Shoalstone Pool. A free-to-use outdoor salt water swimming pool, it stands as a Victorian creation and one of only a few remaining UK examples. A must for anyone wanting to prove their ability to brave the elements and thus their Britishness. More information can be found here.

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Three Word Conclusion

Lots to see.

A Quick-ish Review: Canonteign Falls, Dartmoor

Speedy Summary

The website says:

A hidden gem: Situated within Dartmoor National Park in the heart of Devon’s Teign Valley, natural and manmade waterfalls tumble down ancient rock formations to meet the tranquil lakes below, offering some of the most spectacular waterfall and woodland scenery in Devon.

I say:

A very tall waterfall, featuring a lot of climbing and (on occasion) some surreal looking wooden men. Nice views at the top as long as you don’t freak Mumma Bennett out by leaning over the edge. Plenty of old school Victorian folly lols. Not suitable for wheelchair users or those suffering with aquaphobia.

 

Top Sights

I like a sign me, especially if it’s one that covers the three important bases: 1) why am I here? 2) What are the things to keep me here? And 3) where can I go if the excitement of points one and two get to be too much.

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The estate is comprised of multiple lakes and two waterfalls; one natural, one man made and although the park is named Canonteign Falls, the star feature is the 70m drop Lady Exmouth waterfall which was built in 1890. The result is a very pretty cultivated area of land that would otherwise have been overlooked.

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And the views from the top are stunning:

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Here’s an India scale to show the enormity of view-to-human at the top of the waterfall:

 

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Looking for a bit of hands on History? Well look no further than a merry little climb of the original 90 rock steps constructed by the Victorian creators over a hundred years ago. Just be aware that they will kill either your soul or your knee joints, just a little.

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In short, it’s a rather nice Victorian folly (something created for no purpose other than to show off to your mates and say “oh how romantic!”) Lady Ex also used unemployed miners to create the Fall, so in many ways she was a real life Ross Poldark/goody two-shoes.

 

What Else is There?

As well as the tumbling cascades of water, Canonteign Falls also has a couple of other quaint features. For one it makes a real point of reaching out to far-right groups who have been feeling left out since Brexit. It is nice to see a tourist attraction throwing them a bone.

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There are also these funny little wooden people dotted about the site. A fair bit of thought has gone into these and their positioning, this one being a personal fave:

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A couple of others are a little more amusing to any grown up kids. E.g. there is the sad/possible suicidal figure about to jump into the mini waterfall with her wilted roses.

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And lets spare a thought for Hobo Harry…

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The guy has it tough (especially when people come along and take his booze)

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If wooden men aren’t your boat then there’s a great children’s play area full of lots of outdoor climbing frames. Not that India and I stuck to the rules, we had a go on all the cool stuff. It makes for a great thirty minutes, even if Mumma Bennett does cut off your  head in every seesaw shot.

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Reminds me of something…

 

There’s also a Victorian fern garden. I unfortunately took no photos of this so use this clip art image and your imagination.

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Three Word Conclusion

Dramatic and pretty

 

 

Come Sit With Me

Come sit with me. Come sit here in the caffeine filled haze we call paradise. The legal high that our fathers and their fathers before have relished, for here we are one. The mothers, the students, the disapproving men with broadsheets in hand, everyone has a home here.

Let me pass you this extra I have acquired. Do you take milk? The sugar is over there. The chair next to me is a little worn and mismatched, but that is the norm. Brush off the crumbs of the previous tenant and join me in weekend conversation.

The background music will lull you into a false pretence of your own class and status. The type of music you recognise but do not know. They are the backing beats that serve as melodic distraction from the mess surrounding us. I have heard in booksheleved corners that it improves the taste, what do you think?

See that man behind my left shoulder? I know him to be a regular. The frustrated writer who huffs and sighs over work that will never make it to print. Chomping on cheap nuts and downing brown goo in paper cups, for he cannot afford the china. He is a freeloader of the establishment, clinging desperately to an image that cannot be sustained. I remember when he used to sip on only the finest quality beans and nibble on pastries with young women, but those days are gone. We have all changed since those days.

My friend, you look a little troubled. Don’t be. In this world we are all addicts of our own making. I only seek to show you the truth that lurks in the steam. Save your pity for Africa, it is a wasted emotion in this Latino supplied space. I see you have finished your drink. Would you like another? It would be my honour. They serve only the finest cheap substances here, it is why we never leave.

I am so happy you came to sit with me my partner. Now stress no more and relax, the fresh coffee will be here soon.

 

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An ‘Educational’ Delay at Swindon Train Station

The weather forecast for today was predicted to be a hot and sunny affair. The weathermen and women of the UK were even daring to utter the warnings of potential sunburn. They needn’t have made such rash suggestions, it only took five words; “temperatures in the high teens”. Suddenly all of Britain snapped into action, if you didn’t have plans for Sunday 9th April then you were either a weird person or a fool. Not wanting to be labelled ‘weird’ (got my street cred to maintain and all) I decided to spend my day off in the fair Welsh capital of Cardiff.

Now, owing to awkward road routes and lack of a car (the latter being more of an issue than the former) I decided to take the train. Via Swindon’s train routes the earliest one can get into Cardiff is 10:53 which in my opinion is too late to begin with, but hey I’m not the train God or a fat CEO man so one has to put up and shut up with these things. This morning I rushed about to get everything done to a strict time schedule to enable me to be out of the door and at the station in time for the first train of the day, the 09:51 to Swansea (via Cardiff Central). Having powerwalked from home to station on a warm morning I arrived at Swindon train station, hot and sweaty, to see this:

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You can probably imagine how I felt right then. Delayed trains, story of my ruddy life.

After a lot of face scrunching (that I imagine resembled something like this…)

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…I resided myself to the truth that I would be waiting at this station for forty plus minutes longer than planned and made myself somewhat at home in my new surroundings. Surroundings that I’d seen a lot of over the years as a commuter (but to be honest didn’t really care about but now I was forcibly making myself care about to pass the time).

During my delay I learnt some interesting things about Swindon’s train station. Actually, I lie, they’re not that interesting.

I learnt that the station has an old building on the other platform for London trains. Old but not that special:

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I also learnt that the station parking is a right royal rip off:

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This part of the station meanwhile is completely overgrown with weeds. My train fare may be going on rail replacement works and cleaning staff, but would it kill someone to buy a couple of bottles of Weedol?

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And what, I repeat, what, is going on here in the ladies’ loos?

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That is no visual trick – there is a randomly empty cubicle space. It made me think of all the things one could do in such a space, but then I realised where I was and decided to not linger more than I needed to. Clearly three toilets are more than enough for female passengers, “if we give them four they will start a revolution! No, we must contain the masses and ensure that the British culture of queuing continues to live on.”

(There’s also this sad sign:)
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After walking up and down the same platform multiple times I had funnily enough run out of things to photo. I Googled the history of the weird clock outside on the forecourt.

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I learnt that its official title is (I think) the ‘Golden Jubilee Clock’ – very inspiring. Call me cray but I think it was commissioned in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Gold Jubilee celebrations. Don’t quote me on that though, I could be completely off the mark on that one.

It also used to live in the town centre…

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…before being relegated moved to the train station. How very, very, very, very interesting. Thank you Great Western Railways and your overrunning engineering works for giving me the time to find that out.

By this point I was borderline ripping my eyes out. “HOW MUCH LONGER MUST I WAIT?!” Was the repeating monologue running through my head. The feeling was mutual among all passengers up and down the platform, the tutting was almost audible. Finally, thirty seven minutes later than planned the delayed 09:51 to Swansea showed up. I smugly hopped on my train, leaving behind other delayed passengers. “Heh, enjoy your thirty four minute delay suckers!” I thought.

Upon arrival in Cardiff over an hour later I quickly dashed across the city to one thing I did know, and know it very well. After all that I needed decent coffee and I needed it asap. Cue my ultimate most favourite coffee shop, Barker Street Tea Rooms:

 

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Hmm, what to demolish first…
Sat there with my caffiterie and book a thought crossed my mind. “Wait, how long was I delayed by again?” I picked out my train ticket and compared the departure time with the accurate information on my mobile train tracker. With a beaming smile I discovered I had been delayed by thirty three minutes. Thirty was all that was required to submit a ticket refund claim.

Suddenly the time spent at Swindon train station a couple of hours beforehand didn’t seem like such a big a deal. I reflected on my experience and decided to write a blog post about it. I took a sip on my overpriced but delightfully luxurious coffee and lifted my cup ever so slightly in the air. “Thank you Network Rail,” I thought, “this one’s on you.”

 

UPDATE: I have since discovered that GWR doesn’t offer compensation unless the delay is a minimum of 60 minutes! What is this tomfoolery?! I’m a very unhappy bunny!