British Embassy Consular Clinic

Consular officials from the British Embassy in Manila will be conducting a town hall-type clinic at the Del Rio Hotel in Iloilo on Thursday, May 30. All British nationals from Iloilo, Bacolod and Guimaras are invited to attend.

British Embassy Warden for Negros Occidental, Robert Harland, said the clinic will give Britons the opportunity talk to embassy representatives one-on-one. And a great opportunity for British nationals to learn more about how the embassy can help them.

The Bacolod delegation at Thursday's British Embassy Consular clinic at the Hotel Del Rio in Iloilo (l-r) Embassy warden Hazel Stuart, Virgie Griffiths, Nelly Duckett, Elizabeth Woodhouse, Embassy warden Robert Harland, Ditas Montilla Henson, British Embassy pro-consul Victoria Buenaventura and British Embassy consular officer Jhoanna Hines  .

The Bacolod delegation at Thursday’s British Embassy Consular clinic at the Hotel Del Rio in Iloilo (l-r) Embassy warden Hazel Stuart, Virgie Griffiths, Nelly Duckett, Elizabeth Woodhouse, Embassy warden Robert Harland, Ditas Montilla Henson, British Embassy pro-consul Victoria Buenaventura and British Embassy consular officer Jhoanna Hines .

British nationals living in Negros wishing to attend should contact Robert Harland on 09163437048.



Please silence that cockerel

As British Embassy Wardens for Negros Occidental, fellow-Brit Hazel Stuart and I have to deal with a wide range of issues among the British community. Most of it is pretty routine such as advice on renewing passports or providing help for people applying for visas to visit the UK.

British Embassy wardens for Negros Occidental (l-r) Robert Harland and Hazel Stuart with former HM Consul Joanne Finnamore-Corkin, British ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Lillie and HM consul Brendan Gill

British Embassy wardens for Negros Occidental (l-r) Robert Harland and Hazel Stuart with former HM Consul Joanne Finnamore-Corkin, British ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Lillie and HM consul Brendan Gill

Occasionally, there’s something more serious such as an incident last year when a vacationing Brit fell ill in the province and had to be evacuated back to England.

Through direct contact with British Embassies and consuls and sometimes through the worldwide volunteer warden system, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) received over a million consular inquiries in 2012. It also supported over 50,000 British nationals facing difficulties overseas.

But the FCO could not help everyone. It said it received some odd requests last year – perhaps the strangest was someone asking if they could silence a neighbour’s noisy cockerel. Sorry, but that’s a little beyond the remit of the British consular system.

Please silence that cockerel

Please silence that cockerel

Another unusual enquiry was a request for the telephone number of Sir Paul McCartney’s wife. And in Sweden a man wanted the FCO to check the credentials of a woman he’d met through an online dating service. Sorry chum, but you’ll have to do that yourself.

A woman in Beijing complained that she’d bought a pair of football boots which were ‘made in China’, but they were of poor quality. I’m not sure what she expected the British government to do about that.

Other odd requests included FCO staff in Rome being asked to translate a phrase for a man wanting to get a tattoo in Italian; a request by a woman in Tel Aviv for consular staff to order her husband to eat healthily and get fit so that they could have children and a traveler in Montreal requesting help to settle a 1,000 British pound (Php 63,000) wager on the color of a British passport.

As the saying goes, it takes all sorts to make a world.

While help could not be given to these people, FCO staff are on hand to assist with a multitude of inquiries and are able to help in many cases. For example consulate staff in Southern Europe were able to provide assistance to a single mother of three young children who was suddenly hospitalized after a bout of sickness, and they also helped a family of four injured in a road traffic accident.

The FCO set up a contact center in Malaga in southern Spain in February 2011 to handle the volume of non-consular inquiries received by British embassies and consulates in southern Europe. Since its launch staff have handled 131,211 calls, 39 per cent of which were lifestyle inquiries.

The center’s head, Steve Jones, said: “Our aim is to help staff at posts concentrate on what is important, but some of the inquiries we received from British nationals last year were bizarre to say the least.

“For example, one customer contacted us to ask if we could provide the name of the watch that the Royal Navy sailors wore between the years 1942-1955.”

Consular affairs minister Mark Simmonds said: “FCO staff help many thousands of British nationals facing serious difficulties around the world every year. We also receive over a million inquiries annually, so it is important that people understand what we can and cannot do to support them when they are abroad.

“We are not in a position to help people make travel arrangements or social plans, but we do help those who face real problems abroad. These can include victims of crime, bereaved families who have lost a loved one abroad or Britons who have been arrested or detained.

“We aim to continue to focus on supporting those who really need our help in the coming year,” he added.

A Royal Garden

Negros Occidental Garden Club members were treated to a private viewing on Saturday of a BBC documentary film featuring Prince Charles and the famous gardens at Highgrove House, his English country estate.

Prince Charles (r) with celebrity British gardener Alan Titchmarsh

Prince Charles (r) with celebrity British gardener Alan Titchmarsh

The film was presented by the Sampaguita Group at the club’s monthly meeting at the Sugarland Hotel.

Prince Charles at Highgrove

Prince Charles at Highgrove

The Highgrove gardens, covering some six hectares, are a showcase for the Prince’s interest in traditional and organic growing methods.

In the film, the Prince provides celebrity British gardener and broadcaster, Alan Titchmarsh, with unprecedented access to the gardens and gives a remarkably informal and candid interview thereby offering a rare insight into a royal passion.

The Prince bought Highgrove in 1980. It came with six hectares of almost featureless garden. In the ensuing 30 years, Prince Charles set about transforming the landscape into a beautiful array of diverse gardens.

Highgrove is an acclaimed promoter of the organic movement, both in terms of environmental sustainability and by its sheer natural beauty.

Tirchmarsh says the gardens are full of “floral pageantry, with vivid color composition, buzzing bees and a heady mixture of scents”.  He adds that by his reckoning Prince Charles is the best royal gardener Britain ever had, both by dint of knowledge and practical skills.

Garden club members were certainly impressed by what they saw and they hope to organize a tour to the UK to see the gardens in the future.

The Thyme Walk at Highgrove

The Thyme Walk at Highgrove

The Prince regularly invites local charities and gardening groups for tours. The gardens are also open to the general public at certain times of the year, but advance booking is essential due to the heavy demand for tickets.

Is a picture worth a thousand bites?

Who cares what someone else had for lunch yesterday?

Who cares what someone else had for lunch yesterday?

I know they exist. I have a friend in Bacolod who does it. But I’ve never understood people who want to photograph and document their meals online.

Who on earth could possibly be interested in what someone else had for their lunch yesterday?

And I’ve discovered there’s even a name for these weird people – they’re called ‘Foodstagrammers’. To make matters worse, there are even websites dedicated to them. Perhaps a sign of the times or a fashion that has yet to reach an old codger like me.

But now medical experts are saying that people who obsessively take pictures of what they are eating or cooking and post them online using Instagram, Facebook or Twitter could be ill.

Like so many crazes, this one started in the US. It’s become so popular that many restaurants are banning diners from taking pictures of their food as it disturbs other customers.

Dr Valerie Taylor, chief of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital at the University of Toronto, says  people who religiously document each meal might be suffering from various psychological issues.

As pretty as a picture

As pretty as a picture

She believes the practice of constantly taking pictures of food and posting them online indicates that a person is beginning to have an unhealthy preoccupation with food which could lead to eating disorders.

“I see clients for whom food has become problematic. They struggle to go out and not have food be the key element of all social interaction: what they eat, when they ate, when they are going to eat again,” said Dr Taylor.

“The concern becomes when all they do is send pictures of food. We take pictures of things that are important to us, and for some people, the food itself becomes central and the rest is background,” she added.

Interestingly, others have linked the consumption of food photography to weight gain. Many have blamed our obsessive preoccupation with food with so many TV food reprograms, food websites and books about food for the bulging waistlines of today’s generation.

And a recent study in the US found that spending a lot of time looking at appetizing food online stimulated the brain and causes people to eat too much. Speaking as a chef who spends hours every day doing just that I think that study is spot on.

As for taking pictures of the meals I make and eat – perish the thought.

Ringing in the changes

The iconic British red telephone box

The iconic British red telephone box

A row of iconic British red telephone boxes in London

A row of iconic British red telephone boxes in London

There are many aspects of traditional life in Britain that are changing – and in some cases, changing fast.

The latest casualty is the iconic British red telephone box. Loved by tourists who are only too happy to pose inside one, these famous red boxes are vanishing at an alarming rate – all victims to the mobile phone revolution.

Fortunately, they are not being scrapped, but instead are being refurbished and sold to an admiring public. Prices start at 1,950 British pounds (Php122,000) each, rather more than the original price in the 1920s of 35 British pounds (Php2,200).

Called a ‘K2’, the distinctive red phone box was designed by distinguished British architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who was invited in 1924 to enter a competition to design a public telephone kiosk.

This old red telephone box has been made into a cocktail cabinet

This old red telephone box has been made into a cocktail cabinet

The shape of his design was inspired by the central domed structure of the tomb of the 19th century architect John Soane, his wife and son. Designed by Soane in 1815, the tomb is regarded as one of his most romantic designs.

By rooting his classical design on Britain’s architectural heritage, Scott transformed the telephone kiosk from what was then seen as an intimidating symbol of modernity into something that seemed reassuringly familiar.

When the wooden models of the competing designs were exhibited in London, Scott’s was chosen as the winner.

The kiosk was an instant hit and they were soon a familiar sight on the streets of Britain and in some of its outposts including Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar. The color red was chosen to make them easy to spot.

Alas, these days the number is definitely up for these famous red telephone boxes –  most are rarely used thanks to the ubiquitous mobile phone.

But they are being put to good use. These distinctive boxes can be spotted in many parts of the world, especially in the US.

Some have been installed on American university campuses such as the University of Oklahoma where they continue to serve their originally intended function.

Briton John Long converted his old telephone box into a CR

Briton John Long converted his old telephone box into a CR

There’s one outside the British Embassy in Washington DC. And two red telephone boxes are on display at the World Showcase area at Disney’s Epcot in Orlando, Florida.

They can also be found across Malta, Gozo, parts of the Caribbean such as Antigua, Barbados, as well as in Cyprus, showing that the British colonial influence is still present. Some of the kiosks are now being used as internet booths.

Back home in Britain enthusiasts are putting them to all kinds of novel use such as libraries and even cocktail cabinets and sofas.

And for those Brits wanting a touch of nostalgia to grace their homes in far-off places like the Philippines, one British company is making lightweight replica kiosks as flat-packs and they are shipping them around the world.

As for the originals, it’s almost the end of an era, but it’s good to know these beautiful red kiosks are not lost forever. One only hopes that the powers that be in Britain keep a few on the streets, especially in London, not only to satisfy the curiosity of tourists, but also to keep alive for many more years to come these classic symbols of the British way of life.

Pasalamat Festival – a lesson learn

As a recently-qualified tour guide, I’m learning how important good timing is.

If I’m picking up guests at 9:00am, I need to be at the hotel at 8:30. Driving north through Bacolod City? I know we need to leave early if traveling after 4pm as Lacson Street is usually very busy.

I’m getting the hang of how long it takes to get from A to B and how long an average tour will take at landmarks such as the Ruins and the Cathedral.

Pasalamat – a great festival, lousy traffic arrangements

Pasalamat – a great festival, lousy traffic arrangements

Fortunately, when I paid a visit to La Carlota recently to experience the last day of the Pasalamat Festival I did not have any overseas guests with me. Otherwise it would have been embarrassing.

The festival parade was fine – the usual drum beating, colourful costumes, street dancing and, of course, at this particular time, politicians campaigning.

So far so good. Had I had foreign guests, they would have been delighted.

The problem came when we had to leave early.

Pasalamat Festival – a day ruined by poor traffic control

Pasalamat Festival – a day ruined by poor traffic control

I had to be at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club in Bacolod City at 6:30pm for the awards dinner and ceremony for the Rotary ‘Golf for a Cause’ tournament. I was also due to take pictures of the prize presentations.

So, thinking  it would take around an hour, we left at 5:20 – well before the festival ended. I knew the main street would be blocked so we parked at the back for a quick getaway.

Alas, we found roads had been blocked off and there were no traffic enforcers in sight. We then spotted a rough, hand-written sign saying ‘Bacolod’ so we took that road. That’s when our problems began.

There were no further signs and we ended up driving across dirt tracks in cane fields for about 20kms. After a very rough and dusty ride, we eventually ended up in Pontevedra. Miles out of our way.

It took us another 90 minutes to reach the golf club. By the time we arrived, there was no food – just a few old chicken bones on the table. I missed out on a raffle prize as I wasn’t present when the draw was made and all the prize presentations had been made. We also wasted a lot of gas.

Needless to say, I learned the hard way that if I’m taking guests to a festival warn them in advance that leaving might take some time.

I subsequently heard there were a lot of complaints from visitors to La Carlota on the final festival day about the traffic re-routing, so we were not alone. Apparently, the traffic arrangements were a complete shambles.

Nevertheless, a lesson well learned though I shall think twice about a return visit to the Pasalamat Festival until someone in City Hall takes the trouble to do a better job with the traffic.

If the city can put on such an impressive festival, surely it’s not asking too much to arrange a smooth flow for traffic leaving the place.