This week Bill and I went on a coach trip to the royal mint at Llantrisant which is near Cardiff in Wales. I have been a coin collector for a number of years and was keen to learn a little more about how they were made. The visitor experience centre was opened in 2016 and cost nine million pounds so we were hoping for an interesting visit.
History of the Mint
Coins have been minted in England for over a thousand years. The earliest coin found with a London mark has the head of King Alfred. From about 1100 A.D. coins were minted inside the tower of London and until 1970 coins were still minted in London at a site close to the tower. However the government decided to introduce decimalisation. In 1971, pounds, shillings and pence were replaced by 100 new pence to the pound and a larger site was needed to produce the new currency.
The site chosen was in South Wales. It may not have been a coincidence that James Callaghan the chancellor of the exchequer was M.P. for the nearby city of Cardiff. The new mint at LLantrisant was opened 50 years ago in 1968 and over 200 million coins were struck in preparation for D day. At the time I was at university at Bangor in North Wales and I remember the excitement of getting the new coins. Predictably people were less impressed when they found that prices tended to go up.
Visiting the mint
The royal mint is on a 35 acre site and is the largest in Western Europe. It has an interesting visitor centre which is open every day from 9.30 A.M. to 17.30 P.M. Tickets cost a rather hefty £13.50 for adults and £11.00 for children and a family ticket for two adults and two children costs £40.00. Concessions and group rates are also available. There is free parking and a small café. It is four miles from junction 34 of the M4. For more details click here: The Royal mint visitor experience
Part of the energy used is generated by a wind turbine painted to resemble a daffodil, the Welsh national flower and named Delilah in honour of Sir Tom Jones who was born nearby.
After a security check we saw a short film which introduced the new range of coins for this year. New coins depict Paddington bear and James Cook as well as a series of 10p pieces with letters of the alphabet. There will also be a commemorative coin with “New Pence” like the original decimal coins.
In the next room our guide showed us a display of tools used to mint the coins. She also pointed out some of the details we should look out for when examining our change. For example the two pound coins have an appropriate slogan round the edge. The London underground £2.00 has “Mind the gap”.
Next we glimpsed a little bit of the production process. I was a bit disappointed to learn that no British coins will be struck this week. Demand has dropped considerably with the increased use of debit and credit cards. However the mint produces currency for about 60 other countries and we were able to watch Egyptian pounds being minted. Our party were suprised to learn that coins are packed in cardboard boxes ready for transport. For obvious reasons we were not allowed to take photographs of the production area. You will also never see a lorry with Royal Mint on the side.
After the factory tour we had time to explore the exhibition area. The mint also produces medals. All the medals for the 2012 London Olympics were made at the mint and copies were on display. There was also a cabinet devoted to the most famous master of the mint Sir Isaac Newton.
The mint has a small shop where you can purchase collector coins and other souvenirs including the largest chocolate money I have ever seen.
Our visit took about two hours including coffee and rather tasty Welsh cakes in the café.
A famous car
In 1967 the Beatles released the single Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields forever. Two minis were covered with old pennies to promote the record and this one has been carefully stored and preserved for 50 years.
This year our French group decided to have Christmas lunch at Bitton railway Station.
This railway was part of my childhood. I remember sitting in boring lessons at school and watching trains pass along the line. The Avon valley railway line which was part of the Midland rail network ran from Bristol to Bath and connected up with the Somerset and Dorset railway known affectionally as the S and D or slow and dirty. It took people on day trips to the seaside, to places like Bournemouth and Weymouth.
However in 1960’s the government decided that the car was the future and closed a lot of branch lines including ours. For many years the tracks and stations were allowed to decay. However we were fortunate our line between Bristol and Bath was turned into a cycle track by Sustrans. The thirteen mile path is very popular with both cyclists and walkers and also provides an important wildlife corridor.
A group of volunteers bought Bitton railway station which dates from the 1860’s and decided to reopen part of the track. They now run trains over a three mile stretch including crossing the river Avon. The volunteers host special events such as Santa Specials, Thomas the Tank Engine days, murder mysteries and Grandparents days. If you want a present for the man in your life they can even learn to drive a steam train.
The Railway Buffet
The volunteers also reopened the station buffet and use two converted 1950’s railway carriages named Margaret and Rose to serve meals. Our U3A French group decided that it would make an unusual venue for our Christmas meal.
We enjoyed a very good lunch with all the trimmings in Rose and we were even able to order a glass of wine If you are visiting the area at other times of the year you can get a good range of reasonably priced snacks and drinks. You can also enjoy a full English breakfast followed by a walk along the river towards Bath. For locals it is a popular place to take visitors. For the more energetic the cycle track leads to the former Green Park Station in Bath which now houses a number of stalls where you can buy snacks or crafts. The station has free car parking.
On a personal note I am pleased to report that 2018 was a very good year for me. As well as starting this blog, Bill and I celebrated our ruby wedding after surviving 40 years of married life, our youngest son Christopher married his school friend Lorna and our second son Martin and his wife Kirsty presented us with our first grand daughter. I wonder what 2019 will bring.
The Bristol knittivity has become a familiar sight in shopping centres around Bristol just before Christmas. However I thought you might be interested in the story behind its creation. A few years ago a group of friends who worked at St. Teresa’s catholic school in Horfield, Bristol started a knitting group called the knutty knitters. When Christine, one of the group became ill with cancer and sadly died her friends decided to do something to raise funds for St. Peter’s hospice where she had spent her last weeks. St. Peter’s hospice is the only adult hospice in Bristol and each year they care for about 2,500 patients. Care is provided free of charge but the hospice costs about £20,000 a day to run. About £15,000 of this comes from legacies, donations and shop purchases.
The ladies decided to use their hobby to raise funds and the Bristol knittivity was the result. Eventually the seven knutty knitters made 13 figures, 3 kings, 2 shepherds, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, an angel, a donkey, a sheep, a lamb and a camel. Each figure used up to 7 lbs of wool and took about 9 months to knit. The talented ladies even made their own patterns.
Each year St. Peter’s hospice choose the figures for one of their charity Christmas cards and photograph them against a famous Bristol landmark like the Clifton suspension bridge or the Cabot tower.
The knutty knitters have raised over £150,000 from the knitivity but unfortunately this will be the last year it will be on display as it is getting old and worn. In my photo taken in a local supermarket the poor donkey and camel are showing the effects of too many children trying to ride them. The knutty knitters have knitted a smaller version of the nativity for display at St. Peter’s hospice and I have heard that there may be knitted penguins on tour next year.
For those people who are old enough to remember the two Ronnies sketch, my favourite card from St. Peter’s hospice this year has to be Four candles
Two years ago we celebrated New Year in Linz, Austria. Our daughter who teaches English as a foreign language had secured a three month volunteer placement with the Austrian bilingual classroom project (ABC) and we offered to help with her luggage. The bilingual classroom project was set up so that village schools could have visits from native English speaking teachers. It gave my daughter the opportunity to spend three months travelling to village schools throughout upper Austria and she met a large number of Austrian children. She was also able to obtain a CELTA P qualification to teach English to primary school children.
We celebrated Christmas with the rest of our family including a new grandson in Bristol. once we had digested the turkey and Christmas pudding we flew from Bristol airport to Frankfurt and then from Frankfurt to Linz. Linz airport has the rather romantic name of the Blue Danube airport. We rented a flat for a few days in Linz. I had previously visited the Tyrol and Vienna in Austria over fifty years ago as a child but although Linz is the third biggest city in Austria. I knew very little about it.
It is located in upper Austria close to the Czech border straddling the Danube. It has a distinctly eastern European feel with a well preserved old town. Public transport is very good. We caught the trams which were clean, reasonable and ran on time despite the weather.
I was surprised how cold it was. It was raining when we arrived but this soon turned to snow. In German New year’s eve is known as Silvester Nacht after Saint Sylvester. In Austria, particularly in Vienna there are lots of Sylvester celebrations with balls and concerts. We did not make it into the centre but we did hear and see a lot of fireworks. I was also surprised how many gardens were decorated with gnomes and other Christmas figures.
The highlight of our trip was taking the Postlingberg tram up to the top of a snow covered hill. The Postlingberg Bahn leaves from the main square and climbs up the Postlingberg through woodland to give great views over the city. The return fare is a very reasonable 6 Euros 50 and it is used by locals and tourists. At the top is an interesting church and also more unexpectedly a grotto trail with life size gnomes and dwarves.
We also visited the castle museum and had lunch in the restaurant which overlooks the Danube. The castle museum had a lot of interesting displays about German history and technology though the information was only in German. When we were there they had a special exhibition of Austrian nativity scenes. These can be enormous and depict an entire village.
In 2009 Linz was the European capital of culture and it has a rooftop sculpture trail, a large modern art gallery and an electric arts museum.
Food and drink
Austria is famous for its coffee shops which also serve delicious cakes. The people of Linz claim that Linzertorte is one of the oldest cake recipes in Europe. Normally the top has a pastry lattice but at Christmas special shapes are cut. The food in the restaurants had a very Eastern European feel with a lot of meat, root vegetables and dumplings. Hearty fare ideal for a cold winter. You can also eat in a large variety of international restaurants. Austria and Czechia have the highest beer consumption in Europe.
It snowed heavily the night before we were due to leave Linz. Luckily our taxi driver got us to the airport in good time but we had to wait for four snow ploughs to clear the runway before our plane could take off. Lufthansa gave all the passengers a bar of chocolate when we got on the plane to thank them for their patience.
I have always loved learning languages and I studied French and German as subsidiary subjects at university. However my first real job when I left college was as a technician in a metallurgical laboratory in a large engineering works. The laboratory was headed by a formidable female Russian engineer. A lot of the equipment we bought came from Germany and we would often struggle to understand the manuals even when they had been translated into English.
The firm was not large enough to have its own translation department so we would also be asked for help by other departments who had bought equipment from abroad and were struggling to understand the technical manuals that came with it. Sometimes these manuals would also have very poor and difficult to understand illustrations. The text in the pictures might be different from the text on the page leaving everyone baffled. The photos might show buttons with the name still in the original language. We found that staff were often reluctant to be the first to use the new machine in case they damaged it. If they were unable to understand the manual because it had been badly translated or not translated at all it obviously increased their risk of injury.
Getting the right manual
When you buy a piece of equipment which costs several thousand pounds it is important that it comes with a manual that is accurate and easy to understand. If it has been translated the translator should understand the technical side of what they are translating and know the specialist vocabulary. He or she also needs to be able to write in a way that sounds natural and is enjoyable to read. If the manual has been translated into English it is important to think that the person using the equipment may not have English as a first language and even if they do they may not be familiar with obscure technical vocabulary. The quality of technical documentation can help determine if the equipment will be used properly and looked after correctly. If a product has a good easy to understand and attractively presented manual the buyer is far more likely to consider purchasing further equipment from the same manufacturer. At a trade show abroad a sales representative would find it easier to deal with enquiries if he is able to show a potential customer a clear well laid out manual in his mother tongue,
Manuals in everyday life.
Nowadays I enjoy travelling and we usually stay in a rented apartment. I have found it can be difficult trying to use a cooker or washing machine if for example the user manual or other technical documentation is only in German or Spanish. If user friendly multilingual manuals came as standard with household goods, I am sure that guests would be less likely to damage themselves or the property. My daughter who is teaching English in Prague in Czechia has even had to contend with classroom equipment with manuals in Czech. In an ideal world all equipment would come with multilingual manuals
Although English is rapidly becoming the main world language many people who speak English as a second language lack the vocabulary needed to understand a technical manual and would prefer a manual written in their mother tongue with familiar illustrations. This would give them the confidence to use the piece of equipment properly. I think it also shows that a company is going the extra mile if they provide a well thought out manual in the local language.
Have you had problems understanding a manual when you have tried to use a piece of equipment you have bought? Did you struggle to use the washing machine when you were renting abroad.? I would love to hear your stories in the comments below. Perhaps we can help persuade firms to provide instructions that are clear, simple and easy to understand.