Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Standards and Expectation in JelfWorld

Sometimes, when I fall out with service provides (railways, bus companies, the NHS to name but three with whom I’ve locked horns), I ask them to achieve what they say is “impossible” by working harder, earlier or later.

This usually elicits peals of laughter from friends when I tell them what I’ve said. But it comes from the way I work…….and the fact that I;ve just finished doing Something That Had To Be Done at 10.45pm.

And I’m absolutely certain that anyone I’ve expected this of was earning less than me, too…….

Railcards: I Want One!

The plethora of different tickets available is a well known feature of Britain’s privatised railway system.

Whether this is a Good Thing or a Bad thing largely depends on whether or not you’ve just managed to get hold of a BirminghamLondon ticket for £5 or whether your sudden need to get to Newcastle-upon-Tyne for a family emergency has been met by a bill for £190.00.

But one feature of the railway system that can always help knock a few pounds off is the Railcard. Now once upon a time these came in versions for Senior Citizens (I think they may even have been called “Old People” in those non-PC days) and for Students.

Over the years, they’ve appeared for more and more groups. All “Young People” (ie those under 25; PC doesn’t seem to apply in this direction!); the Disabled; members of HM Forces; “Families”; and so on.

However, I can’t help wishing that there was a Railcard for people like me, who use the railways quite often and would do so more if this loyalty was rewarded with access to discounted fares. Now plainly, this would have to be set at a realistic price. I can hardly expect to be offered the same discounts as the other groups mentioned. But it would be an encouragement to travel by train more often. A bit like the way in which actually owning a car encourages you to use it since you’ve already paid a set of fixed costs.

Some countries, such as Switzerland (unsurprisingly) and Germany, already have such a card. Indeed, so does Britain, if you happen to live in the South East and can thus buy a Network Railcard.

So why can’t the rest of us get something similar?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

2CV World Exclusive: "Don't Blame Me!"

There were some small oil-spots on the drive at the weekend, for which "Ronnie", my recently-serviced and MOT'd 2CV was blamed.

Now, I discover, they were coming from the 3 year old Astra.

The 2CV is seeking advice from its lawyers.

Monday, 28 June 2010

English Heritage

I’ve visited two major properties this weekend in the care of English Heritage. This, for the initiated, is a government agency responsible for the preservation of certain historic properties and monuments in England, as well as having certain planning responsibilities and being responsible for the famous Blue Plaques.

They perhaps wouldn’t thank me for this description but it’s a sort of nationalised equivalent of the National Trust.

They are sometimes seen as a poor relation of the NT, too. Perhaps this is because they own a lot more properties that are nowadays minus their roofs? Perhaps it’s just a matter of social cache. Whatever, they have nothing like the Trust’s profile.

Well, I want to redress the balance. Their properties are staffed by people who are enthusiastic, who are keen and above all who are knowledgeable. (I wonder if they would consider working in the National Health Service?)

On Saturday at Stokesay Castle we were greeted with a smile to melt your heart by people who were so obviously pleased that we were there!

Then yesterday to Goodrich Castle, the one young chap, who just oozed enthusiasm, was keen to tell us why Goodrich was important and to give us some (again very keen and thought out) ideas on where else we ought to visit. (Note to self: work out a date to visit Nunney Castle).

I’m a member of both English Heritage and the National Trust. I do this because I want to contribute to the amazing and expensive work they do to preserve the built fabric of this country. I could get free admission even on my Blue Badge, so joining is a genuine act of support, not just a way of cutting the cost of visits!

I’m also very proud of the National Trust, a unique organisation the envy of the world. This is no reflection on them, nor a list of shortcomings. It's simply that English Heritage deserves better recognition and gratitude for what it and its staff do so well. It’s a pity they only pop up in the press when the new visitor centre at Stonehenge is in the headlines…….

Go and find and English Heritage property to visit soon. Tell them Ian sent you! J


English Heritage

The National Trust

Stokesay Castle, Shropshire

Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Just for a Change.......

In my professional life, I suppose I will always be associated with guiding on matters associated with the Industrial Revolution. I suppose that's a natural result of being based in the Birmingham area; well, that and the fact that I tend to get offered guiding jobs that no-one else wants!

Yes, I can do all the standard Shakespeare stuff in Stratford, Royalty and history in London and the more offbeat places. But my colleagues in particular always tend to think of me in the same breath as the likes of James Watt or Matthew Boulton.

But my areas of preference tend to be the likes of the Romans, the Bronze Age and the English Civil War.

So it's made a very pleasant change to be asked to "do something" associated with a period sadly overlooked in this country: the arrival of the Normans under William the Conqueror and the effect that they had on Saxon England.

As they say, "watch this space"!

The Australienne

So Australia has its first female Prime Minister (Julia Gillard), who was installed following something of a coup within the ruling Labour (sorry “Labor”) Party. The emotion in the voice of the defeated PM Kevin Rudd was palpable. It’s a harsh place, Australian politics, even by British standards…….

On reflection, having a female occupy the position of head of government isn’t perhaps the biggest sea change in history. After all, plenty of other major counties have already achieved this (the UK, Canada, India, New Zealand).

Indeed, it seems to have escaped the Australian media’s attention that the country has had a female Head of State since 1952! Furthermore, the current Governor General (the Queen’s day-to-day representative) is also a woman, as are two of the State Premiers (jn Queensland and New South Wales). Evidently the country isn’t nearly so bloke-ey as it is sometimes held to be…….

Although she’s lived in Australia since she was five years old, Julia Gillard was actually born in Britain, in Barry in South Wales. As far as I can tell, the last UK-born PM was Billy Hughes, way back around the time of the First World War!

In this context, it is interesting to note that the US doesn’t allow anyone not born in the USA to become President. This is a strange rule in a nation, like Australia, built on the concept of immigration. It means that Miss Gillard could never have assumed this role in the USA; an interesting comparison to make. (Even the UK has had at least one PM born overseas, Bonar Law, born in Canada.)

Anyway, interesting times ahead. Australian Prime Ministers tend to be a bit anonymous in Britain, where most people can recall Whitlam and Menzies; oh and Paul Keating but only because he man-handled the Queen!

See also Daniel Bowen's piece on this on his Diary of An Average Australian (which is always worth reading anyway!).

Monday, 21 June 2010

Back Blogging!

About time the Blog had some life pumped into it again.

Sorry for the absence for so long…….all sorts of work and family issues! Anyway, time to move on…….

I often seem to Blog (and post to Facebook and now to Twitter) that I’m doing such-and-such but somehow I wish I was somewhere else. I wish I was in Somerset. Or London. Or Paris. Or the Isle of Man. Or Australia. (Actually, it’s quite often Australia.)

Well, do you know what? Today I’ve sat and worked at the PC out in the garden in beautiful sunshine and managed to get loads done. Then I called around to see my Mum and wasted some time watching an old film with her.

And now I’ve come home and gone out into the garden with Louise and sat and chatted and played tennis and Frisbee and you know what?

Right now I’m happy to be right here. :-)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Railway Complaint

I've been missing from the Blogosphere for some time due to all sorts of work and personal commitments.

I'm back though to post the text of customer feedback I've sent today to London Midland, concerning a train journey today. Their service (and especially their station staff) are actually pretty good, certainly when compared to their predecessors, Central Trains. Indeed, even what happened today wasn't the biggest catastrophe in transport history.

What managed to get my goat was that they did exactly the same thing last time I had a day out with them and it's starting to make me think it's a regular occurrence about which they don't care. Last time the reply took weeks. I'll keep you posted this time.

Dear Sir,

I took a trip from Sandwell & Dudley today, taking advantage of the Great Escape Offer. I think this is a super idea and had a lovely day out to Liverpool last time you offered it…….marred only by my train unexpectedly missing out Sandwell & Dudley Station on the return leg, with poor ( = virtually non existent) passenger information “given” when that happened.

I wrote to tell you about this then and – after a l-o-n-g delay received a very anodyne reply blaming Network Rail.

Well, I thought naively to myself, these things happen and a train trip can be a very pleasant way of making a journey. So today, Shrewsbury it was.

And guess what happened on the return trip (1547 from Shrewsbury)? Just as we approached Wolverhampton, the guard announced that the train would be proceeding straight to Birmingham and not stopping at Sandwell & Dudley. No advice of what to do, not apology, no concern, just a statement of fact.

This time, I quickly gathered my things together and left the train, managing to find a local train to complete my journey. (Wolverhampton station is curiously devoid of staff but I suppose you’ll tell me that “that’s down to Virgin”.)

Net result? A 40 minute delay to a journey that should only have taken an hour.

I know things go wrong (I heard on the connecting train that there had been vandalism to the signalling system “again”; can’t the railway guard its property in “known trouble spots"?)

As I said last time, whole sections of society, such as the majority of my social circle, simply never use trains because they don’t provide the sort of caring service people are used to today in the world of Waitrose, John Lewis, Lakeland or the hotel trade. I was on a train in Switzerland which caught fire once. Staff moved us onto another train within 10 minutes, our journey was replanned and we arrived on time at our destination. If the railway(s) want more types of people to use their services then they need to behave in a way that shows *care* for customers, not just tell them that what they want ( = need) isn’t happening.

And *don’t* tell me this is Network Rail’s problem. You’re the train operator, you have my money and if you want any more of it you’ll need to show me you actually give a toss.

Looking forward to a sensible, detailed and considered reply. From someone with a clue, please.

Yours faithfully

Ian Jelf