Arriving back from the UK, Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield has musings from the Black Country as he surveys another week in Travel
Qatar Airways is always keen to talk up its Oryx entertainment system, but it’s driving me crackers. On a 787 Dreamliner flight from the UK to Doha, I get deeply involved in bingeing a series, right up to halfway through episode seven of 22. I’m looking forward to continuing the series on the A380 flight from Doha to Perth, but it isn’t on the system for that leg. Really? Really!
(When I arrive in Doha, there’s a 25-minute ride from the plane to the terminal in a chockas coach, and the airport is also packed.)
A tomato juice (no ice) and a little bag of nibbles really cheers up a flight. In economy on Qatar they serve 10g bags of 4700BC gourmet crackers. They’re tricky to open, and I notice my neighbour sticking a ballpoint pen through his bag to get things going. The crackers are made in Haryana, India, and are a sort of fancy savoury popcorn. The manufacturers use “mushroom” corn — a variant that has bigger, rounder pieces of corn than the usual “butterfly” corn kernels. The name 4700BC refers to the date when, researchers believe, Aztecs started turning corn into popcorn. (All of which was more entertaining than the meal itself.)
Arriving back at Perth Airport is a slightly changed experience, with new arrivals SmartGates. Bear left in Arrivals, after the duty free, queue for one of the terminals, put your passport in upside-down, information page open, look forwards and have your photo taken and answer the questions. You’re then given a slip to carry, with your declaration form, to the biosecurity officers. The SmartGate self-process uses ePassport data and face-recognition technology to do the checks that a Border Force officer would have performed.
WARNING It is probably the most unflattering picture you will ever have taken.
FIGHT FOR REFUND
Reader Mike Whitley received an email from Air Asia stating that they had rescheduled a flight — but he says the new time meant he would have missed a connection. After many attempts to get help from Air Asia, he says, he rescheduled himself and it cost him $287. He’s been trying to get a refund since February, and now says Air Asia has offered him $171 as a flight credit. Mike explains: “I informed them that this was unacceptable and that I wanted them to refund the amount they owed me and they refused.”
All of my recent flights were to get me to England and back — in this case, to Birmingham, which is a good gateway to Wales, the Cotswolds, Devon and Cornwall. I like to fly into regional airports. Generally it’s a lot easier — though Birmingham Airport is busy with the terminal’s new $76 million security hall. It has created “alternative queueing areas downstairs”, which were packed when I was leaving. The state-of-the-art security-screening area is not set to be operational until June 2024.
(Note, when I say “packed”, the snaking queues merely resembled those for the biosecurity exit at Perth Airport.)
Hiring a car in regional UK can be cheaper than picking one up at Heathrow Airport. But the UK arm of consumer group Which advised: “Never leave booking your car hire to the last minute. You should get your rental locked in at the same time as booking your holiday.”
BLACK SABBATH BALLET
Birmingham is famous for being the birthplace of heavy metal music. Ozzy Osbourne’s band Black Sabbath was formed here by four ordinary blokes from the Black Country. It has a new life at the moment through the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production Black Sabbath — The Ballet. The commissioned work combines dance with full orchestrations of big Black Sabbath songs, performed live by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Having been performed in Birmingham, it moves to Theatre Royal Plymouth from October 12 to 14, then Sadlers Wells, London, from October 18 to 21. brb.org.uk
BLACK COUNTRY SOUNDS
I made the mistake of commenting on someone’s Birmingham accent and was swiftly corrected: “It’s Black Country.” There is an important difference, I now understand. The Black Country, in England’s Midlands, got its name in the mid-19th century because of the smoke that poured from thousands of ironworking foundries and forges. It covers most of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall metropolitan boroughs. (Some sticklers dispute that Wolverhampton isn’t part of the Black Country, but it seems to be, “officially”, today.) I am reliably informed that, while it is often confused with the “Brummie” accent, the Black Country has its own dialect and vocabulary, and is not just a different accent.
HISTORY KEPT ALIVE
“Awlroight, ow’ bist?” That’s the greeting on the Black Country Living Museum’s website. The museum tells the story of how this small region made a big impact on the world, and brings Black Country folk back to life — from metalworkers and miners to nurses and schoolteachers. There are shops, houses and industrial workshops . . . “yow are in for a bostin’ day!” The Black Country Living Museum is in Discovery Way, Dudley. bclm.com
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is closed for essential maintenance work. Its website says: “We plan to reopen the museum sometime in 2024 — the exact date is to be confirmed.”
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
Birmingham might be England’s most landlocked major city, but it is still only 181km from its nearest beach, at Weston-super-Mare.
Just an hour and a half’s drive from the Black Country, I’d like to put an often overlooked and very pretty village on your radar. In the Derbyshire Peak District, Ashford-in-the-Water, on the River Rye, close to Bakewell, really belongs on the front of a chocolate box.
DEATH OF A TREE
While I was there, many in England were mourning the death of the 300-year-old “Robin Hood Tree”. The famous and much-loved sycamore, in a natural dip in a hill near Hexham, featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, hence its name. It was looked after by the National Trust and the Northumberland National Park, and a statement from the latter described the tree as “part of England’s identity” and an inspiration to artists, writers and photographers. Worse still, the tree was deliberately felled and arrests have been made.
Det. Chief Insp. Rebecca Fenney-Menzies says there has been “an outpouring of shock, horror and anger” over the loss of this world-renowned landmark.
Back in WA, stage two of the Wilderness Ocean Walk between the Denmark Windfarm and Sinker Bay has opened. It’s a hardened-surface, dual-use trail for cyclists and walkers giving views over the Southern Ocean.