What I don't like doing is frittering money away on things that mean nothing to me. So you will never find me spending cash on things like betting, however playfully that might be dressed up. The phrase 'having a flutter on the Grand National' makes a waste of money sound fun, but at the end of the day a lot of cash has gone, and not a lot of genuine fun has been had. In fact, I've better things to do with my time than watch horses and jockeys (or dogs) going round and round while flashily-dressed spectators get drunk on expensive booze. This is not just a personal distaste for being irrational, and throwing away good money on chance events. After all, you can't consistently beat the bookies - I should know: I handled more than one bookmaker when I worked for the Inland Revenue. No, there's more. I don't like the contrived glamour of these events, nor the snobbery sometimes involved, both of which demand ritual spending on a grand scale to no purpose, apart from keeping up appearances.
Clearly - despite my tendency to self-indulgence - I can be rather sniffy about conspicuously spending money without something good to show for it.
I'm very much alive to being ripped off. But there are many, many ways in which one can be casually overcharged on a daily basis. You know the sort of thing I mean: travel tickets, especially rail tickets; admission fees; and parking charges. Entertainment events too. I'm appalled at what can be spent in cinemas, and for seeing live performances in every kind of sphere. What about some of the big names on the Ticketmaster website? Taylor Swift? Ed Sheeran? Gary Barlow? Tyson Fury? Who? What for, really? It's not as if you'll get a chance to chat with them, as you might at the Appledore Book Festival. All you get - assuming your ticket is valid - is a distant view, shared with thousands of annoying people.
No child thrust into my unwilling care can expect me to splash out on a day in Legoland. Not even an ice cream. I am no besotted aunt with an unlimited capacity for keeping infants happy. They should take note.
I even look twice at the entrance fees at museums and galleries, which are far more my own cup of tea. Barnard Castle has the Bowes Museum, a fabulous-looking chateau set in parkland, full of interesting objects and exhibitions of all kinds - the very Ashmolean Museum of Co Durham. But even with an age concession, they want £12 for admission, which is out of my comfort zone. I probably will go and see, but I will expect a lot for that £12. I am used to free entry at National Trust properties, being a Life Member. I admit buying that involved a big one-off payment of £625 in 1996 - the equivalent of nearly £1,200 in 2018 - but I've paid nothing more for the last twenty-two years and I reckon it's been excellent value for money, especially as the NT's most popular properties now seem to expect as much as £14 for admisson. Prices at that level would ordinarily put me off, but my Life Membership card is a magic wand that gets me in for nothing.
I suppose I should have a sense of proportion in these matters. If £14 is the going rate in 2018 for the better NT properties, then I shouldn't be blaming private owners of castles and country houses and gardens and natural attractions for charging something similar. They can probably make out a good case for a hefty entrance fee. Property maintenance and staff wages have to be covered, and they do want to make money from the visitors.
I acknowledge that. But sometimes I feel that they are being greedy. As if the cash they want isn't based on the merits of the thing you have come to visit, but is primarily to subsidise something else that you might not care about, or might even object to. In those cases, you can usually drive on before committing any money, and not bother with their over-expensive offering. A matter of free choice.
But then you occasionally encounter a situation where they rob you without the option. In other words, unless you are quick, you will end up paying something, very much against your will. I came across an example yesterday. It soured my afternoon a little, and the memory of it still rankles this morning.
It was up Teesdale in the North Pennines. It had been raining, and there were still showers on and off, but it was a good afternoon for getting out and seeing waterfalls in full spate. And there were two in particular that I wanted to see: Low Force and High Force. Both featured the River Tees tumbling over outcrops of Whin Sill, the super-hard rock that resists water erosion, so that the river tends to wear away the surrounding rock at a much faster rate. The results include cataracts, constrictions where the Whin Sill has been breached but enforces passage through a narrow gap or spout, and abrupt steps where impressive waterfalls thunder. And they were likely to be very impressive after a day of rain.
It was clear that High Force was the major attraction, the 'High' in the name suggesting that these falls were the more spectacular, and not merely located higher up the river valley. The road signs never mentioned Low Force. Here's one I saw on my way up Teesdale, High Force getting star billing.
Hmm. 'High Force 10'. If you didn't know that meant a waterfall, you might think a great storm lay ahead!
Even close to it, it was difficult to see where Low Force was. But there was a modest amount of roadside parking in lay-byes, all free, and once parked I could connect the access footpaths to my map. I had a look, and thought the waterfalls at Low Force marvellous to see. A subject for another post, in fact! And it cost me nothing. A perfect tourist attraction, then.
High Force was a couple of miles up the road. I thought this would be better-signposted, and possess a proper car park. In fact there was a hotel, a shop, a refreshment kiosk, and a large car park and picnic area that snaked around so that you could easily spend five minutes selecting a place to park, and be more than a minute or two from the ticket machine. (And as you will see, those minutes spent parking might matter) Prominent notices told you that there was a ticket machine, and that it was essential to buy a ticket to park. But I couldn't at first see where it was. The set-up reminded me immediately of those motorway service areas, where equally-prominent notices tell you that you can park free for two hours, then you MUST buy an expensive ticket - and that failure to do so will involve a draconian penalty charge. It was all vaguely unfriendly. I smelled a trap for the unwary.
I followed the winding route all around the car park, and placed Fiona near the exit, to be closer to the falls. Now where was the ticket machine? Really I couldn't see it. Then I had a cynical thought. Ah, I was right. There it was, tucked in next to the entrance, where an arriving driver couldn't see it, and a long way from where a lot of visitors might be inclined to park. Naughty!
So how much for a quick visit? My goodness. A £3 minimum charge! And on top of that, there was an unspecified fee for actually seeing the falls - tickets at the shop. And some other information I didn't read at this point. I had already decided that I wasn't going to pay £3 to park for half and hour, but I was curious to know what the additional ticket to see the falls might have been. I asked at the kiosk. £1.50 per head. When the Low Force had been free. No, thank you. That would have bumped the cost of my half-hour visit to £4.50. Just to see some tumbling water very similar to what I'd already seen at Low Force. And on a dull rainy day at that.
The girl in the kiosk was a good sort, and brought an urgent point to my attention. If I hadn't already bought a car parking ticket - and I hadn't - then I'd better see to it fast. The rule was that car parking tickets had to be purchased within ten minutes of arrival to avoid a colossal penalty of £100 - and a nasty letter in the post which I probably wouldn't be able to respond to in time, being still away on holiday. I realised now that there must be cameras somewhere, to photograph car number plates, and that there was no escape from that outrageous £100 charge unless I got out of the car park pronto!
I did. I parked Fiona in the wide exit lane (it was so wide that other cars could easily get past) and right under the gaze of the cameras. I could now see them, up on a discreet post. Hah. Let them record that Fiona was - within the ten minute time limit - no longer parked in their unwelcoming car park. I also took various photos of my own, just before shifting Fiona, and just after, in case the car parking management company chose to try it on nevertheless with a penalty notice - I wanted evidence to defend myself with. Then I sped away, feeling that I'd been got at, and had very nearly been scammed.
And it's not just Raby Castle that's off my list. This blatant overcharging has coloured my attitude to all North Pennine tourist spots. I went next to the Killhope Lead Mining Centre, and although I would probably have hesitated anyway over the £6 requested for an age-concession admission, I was definitely now inclined to look askance at it. Instead I went into their rather pleasant (and free to use) Café, and enjoyed some reviving tea and cake.
It cost me £3. Now that's what I call 'value for money'. And I was able to use their nice loo, too. Magic.