Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

What would be your seven wonders of the modern world?
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The Independent Travel

Vote early, vote often: if you want one of Britain's creations to make it to the self-styled official list of world wonders, just log on and click. Time after time.

Vote early, vote often: if you want one of Britain's creations to make it to the self-styled official list of world wonders, just log on and click. Time after time.

You may have heard this week that the UK apparently has little to offer the world in terms of top-grade attractions - those works of man that make you go "wow" or even utter an expletive. The assessment is courtesy of a curious online organisation, www.new7wonders.com. Bernard Weber, the Swiss gentleman behind it, is compiling a 21st-century list of wonders by counting the clicks for a range of attractions. Unlike previous selections, the choice is not being made by travellers and writers such as Antipater of Sidon and Philon of Byzantium. It is being made by you. And you, and you. As often as you wish.

"The more times you vote for your chosen 'wonder'," the website explains, "the more chance it has of being included in the final shortlist, and therefore the final seven." Some may see this as the ultimate in democracy; others will rate it as a complete waste of electoral time alongside Ukrainian presidential elections or the Greek and Cypriot judging panels in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The scope of the competition is broad: anything built before 2000 qualifies, so long as it has "artistic or architectural value" and is in "an acceptable state of preservation". Millions of people have voted since the idea was launched five years ago; the results so far look skewed in favour of the nations with more people than any other.

In first place is the Great Wall of China (it is not clear whether this refers to a particular segment of one of the various walls built to keep out Mongolians and Manchurians, or the whole lot). Second place is taken by a palace - not Buckingham or Versailles, but the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, which is under Chinese control. In the last three days the Colosseum in Rome has been forced out of third place by the Taj Mahal - a popular choice among the voters this week, with no fewer than 92 per cent choosing this magnificent testimony to love. Could this have anything to do with the fact that 98.5 per cent of the clicks came from India?

Only one in 300 voters was from Britain. Sure, the UK has produced little to brag about recently; our 20th century achievements are summed up by Milton Keynes, the M25 and the Millennium Dome. Even our one piece of frivolous engineering, the wobbly bridge over the Thames, was stopped from quivering on the grounds of health and safety; on that basis, the Leaning Tower of Pisa (currently in seventh place worldwide) should have been pulled down centuries ago. The UK's chances are also hampered by the unimaginative selection offered by Herr Weber's site. The options begin with Big Ben (which, as any pub bore will tell you, is the bell, not the tower). Yet the candidates do not include the other great 19th-century creations in the land where the railway was born.

St Pancras Station in London is the world's grandest terminus. The Forth Bridge, carrying the railway north of Edinburgh, was to the Victorians what Lord Foster's new viaduct over the Tarn is to 21st-century France. Indeed, if it is possible to vote for the Great Wall(s) of China, then why not Scotland's railway network, and in particular the West Highland Line from Fort William to Mallaig?

Happily, all the votes are in for The Independent Traveller's Seven Wonders awards; I should know, because I awarded and counted them. And the winners are ...

The Russians, who used the railways to corner the market in 20th-century extreme engineering with the Moscow Metro and the Trans-Siberian Railway. America countered with two audacious projects: the Hoover Dam, blocking the Colorado River and connecting Arizona with Nevada, and the Panama Canal. In Japan, Kansai airport near Osaka is the fifth. Sixth place goes to the colonial core of the city of Havana. And, at the end of the list, and the A23, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

WHISTLEBLOWERS BEWARE - THEY'RE AFTER YOU...

"And here's a whistle to attract attention." No-frills airlines do not economise on safety, which is why you can be sure that on every easyJet flight, for example, there are at least 156 whistles - one attached to each life jacket - to attract attention if the unfortunate passenger finds themselves all at sea. Some travellers also carry whistles to attract attention if in difficulties in the mountains. Among them is Brian Sheldon of Bristol: "My wife and I are walkers", he writes. "We carry whistles in our rucksacks as a matter of routine - most serious walkers do." But they have returned from a hiking holiday - not in Whistler, western Canada, but north-east Spain - without their whistles. The shrill devices were seized at the security checkpoint at Bristol airport on their way out.

'Tis the season to be careful about what you carry on board a plane. A year ago, you may recall, security staff at Gatwick conscientiously confiscated a conjuring set called "Marvin's Box of Magic" from a passenger because it contained safety pins, which proved to be no problem because exactly the same item was for sale on the plane. But why should whistles attract the attention of the security staff at Bristol airport? Neither the airline nor the Department of Transport includes them on any list of banned devices.

Vera Ackerman, operations manager for Initial Aviation Security, explains that the rule was imposed for the safety of Mr Sheldon and other passengers. "We do not allow whistles into our restricted zone at Bristol International Airport as they are used on aircraft for any emergencies that may arise." She adds: "The air crew are the only ones who will blow a whistle on an aircraft in an emergency," and suggests that Mr Sheldon should pack a whistle in his hold luggage - if only he still had one.

Yet at the same time as Mr Sheldon was blowing the whistle on this practice, I was having a much happier experience on a whistle-stop trip to Switzerland with easyJet. The airline's generous cabin baggage allowance (if you can carry it, you can bring it on board) is excellent news for anyone keen to wet their whistle over Christmas. Since Basel airport is surrounded by French territory, it is but a short stroll from the terminal to a hypermarket the size of Liechtenstein. Forget the booze cruise; thanks to easyJet's benevolence you can bring back so much alcohol that the saving will pay for the flight. I took advantage of the policy to bring back a dozen bottles.

Evidently the authorities consider the presence of 12 glass bottles of flammable liquid to pose no threat, unlike the potentially lethal whistle. "I suspect that someone is making up the rules as they go along," says Mr Sheldon. "How can we adhere to regulations if we do not know what they are? Air travel is stressful enough without this kind of nonsense."

Walkers, dog trainers and football referees beware.

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