Well, Andrew is off on his adventure and is currently somewhere on the way to Mongolia. He's promised to try and update us on his travels in the staff blog.
In the meantime, you're stuck with me again. So today I thought I'd ask you a question. When you think of London (or Great Britain), what iconic symbols do you think of? Apparently, most people would immediately say: a double-decker London bus, a telephone box and a post box - all of which happen to be red. It got me thinking: why red?
Let's start with buses. Have you ever seen the film "Summer Holiday"? It was made in the 1960's and follows the adventures of a group of young people travelling across Europe in a double-decker London bus.
Unfortunately, if this is how you imagine all London buses look, you'll be sadly disappointed. There are only a few of these old Routemaster buses left - most are now modern buses. Apparently it's because EU legislation says that all buses must have doors. I think it's sad, because I love the old buses. Why? Well, firstly the new buses just have a driver, who drives the bus, collects the fares and checks passes: the old buses have a driver and a conductor: some of the conductors are real characters - calling out the various sights you can see on the way. It's great to have a bit of human contact. Secondly, if you want a modern bus to stop at a bus stop you have to press a button and there is a horrible high-pitched buzzing noise: it really sets my teeth on edge. On the old buses, you pull a chord and a bell sounds: much nicer. And finally, the new buses are all enclosed - you can only get on and off at a bus stop. But if you get stuck in the traffic on an old Routemaster bus, you can just jump off (of course, you shouldn't really, as it can be dangerous, but everyone does it anyway!). There are still two "heritage" routes that use the old buses - buses number 9 and 15 - both of which go right past our offices at Bush House. If you want to find out more about London buses, this is a good website (and if you follow the link almost at the bottom of the page, you can even make your own London bus out of paper!)
How about telephone boxes? Sadly, modern phone boxes are now little more than grey shelters. I guess that's because most people have mobiles and don't need to use a public telephone. When I was young, I always carried a coin with me in case I needed to use a phone - not any more.
Anyway, the lovely old red phone boxes do still exist - I walk past several on the way from the station to the office - and 9 times out of 10 I see tourists posing for photos in front to them. I'm not sure they ever actually use them though! Of course, one of life's great questions is....how many people can you get in one phone box: I think we managed 17 (but some of them were very small).
And finally, the red post (or pillar) boxes. These are real pieces of history. In 2002 there was a national campaign to save the red post box: to make sure they were kept free of graffiti and painted regularly.
In the mid 1800s, green post boxes were tried out on Jersey, but they didn't last long, as people had trouble seeing them (although in World War II some boxes were painted white to help people find their way in the blacked-out streets). All post boxes have the Royal Cipher of the reigning monarch at the time the box was manufactured: so post boxes made during the reign of the current Queen have EIIR on them. So, here's a little puzzle for you. What's special about this pillar box? Actually, I bet most British people would have to think hard about this one!
So, back to my question: why are buses, telephone boxes and post boxes red? Well I couldn't really find a definitive answer - the best explanation I could find was "It makes them easy to spot!"
I'm looking forward to hearing from you about your idea of a British icon. Is it a red London bus? Is it Big Ben? Is it the BBC? Is it a person? I was just about to publish this entry when Rob walked by and read it over my shoulder - co-incidentally he has just written a piece about a London icon - the London taxi - you can read it here.
to see red: to get very angry (but in this case I just meant seeing the colour red!)
sadly disappointed: very disappointed
conductor: a man or woman on a bus who collects fares, checks tickets and so on, but does not drive the bus
to set someone's teeth on edge: to irritate someone
9 times out of 10 : almost always
to spot: to notice something (or someone)
pillar box: an old fashioned word for a tall, round, red post-box found in the street