Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Farewell, Old Friends!

After a job working in Moseley on Saturday morning, I was lucky enough to be able to get over to Acocks Green in time to watch the last ever operation by MCW Metrobuses.

For those "not in the know", the Metrobus was a late seventies design of double decker, born out of a collaboration between Metro Cammell Weymann (MCW) in the UK and Scania in Sweden. The resultant bus (called a Metro Scania) seemed especially popular on the streets on Newport and Reading for some reason! But they allegedly rusted quicker than they could be built!

So, an all UK version, the "Metrobus" was born. Manufactures in vast quantities at MCW's Birmingham factory at Washwood Heath, they found buyers all over the country. But local loyalties ensured that they would become the mainstay of West Midlands bus operation.
They proved surprisingly enduring and "last Metrobus Days" were held successively in Walsall, Birmingham and finally on three routes running from Acocks Green on Saturday.

Although not in the league of seeing off the last regular Routemasters in London, the event did attract quite a bit of attention from the enthusiast community. Actually, they themselves attracted a fair bit of attention from passing motorists!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Just a Thought

I am not usually a fan of Scottish Nationalism. A party dedicated to breaking up the country I love into constituent and bickering bits seems to lean too much towards Balkanisation.

However, I have to admire the attitude of the Scottish Government’s Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill in refusing to appear before a US Senate Committee to answer questions about the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber.

The Lockerbie bombing – although it involved a US aircraft – occurred over the UK; specifically over Scottish soil. Therefore, any questions regarding Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi are matters for Scottish jurisdictions, possibly with some UK involvement as international relations are a reserved matter, ie one of concern to Westminster. It does not involve the USA.

America is a wonderful country, a land of freedom and decency and one which has stood by us (as we have stood by it) through the centuries. I am glad and proud that we are friends, in equal measure. But it does not rule the world, the writ of its law does not extend beyond its borders and other jurisdictions are not at its beck and call like ancient colonies or forelock-tugging servants, to be summoned to account for their actions at their command.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi should have been released. He showed no compassion to his victims and to be spred the death penalty for taking life is – in my view – sufficient reason to imprison people for the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, there seems to be an opinion that he might be innocent. I cannot claim to know or understand enough about the case to have a view on that.

But it is worth saying that he was tried and convicted by a Scottish court and that really is the end of the matter. It is a Scottish decision and it certainly doesn’t involve the US.

I wonder if George W. Bush would consent to come and be questioned by the Chilcot Inquiry to account for his actions?

Just a thought.

I Need a Rest!

I worked in Tamworth, a lovely and interesting old Staffordshire town which deserves better than the "chav-filled hell-hole" reputation it has among some people. Mostly ones from Lichfield and Sutton actually but I digress.......

The days work done, we came home for a "spot" (ha!) of gardening. It's nearly two weeks since the lawns were done and we're unlikely to have much chance to do a "heavy" garden session in the coming days. So, off to work we set. and what fun it was:

  1. The grass was so long that the lawn mower struggled to cope. It took forever and it will still need another "trim" in the next few days.
  2. The hedge trimmer - whose cable was cut by Someone [TM] on its first use and subsequently repaired - has somehow managed to get its cable cut again. This was presumably during storage but means that we still don't have a trimmed hedge.
  3. During the lawn mowing I was stung or bitten by something on the leg. I was however Mummy's Brave Little Soldier and Louise attended me with full first aid kit. Well, a tube of Savlon.
  4. While raking the compost bin I disturbed a nest of bees which decided to mount a fairly serious assault.
  5. The strimmer keeps losing its thread (I know how it feels)
  6. And finally (as they say on the News) some "neighbours are having what sounds bvery much like a Blues Party in the next street. Goodness knows what it must be like actually living over there because it's a bit deafening for us.
I wish I was back at work!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Cycling and Bike Share Schemes

I used to be quite a keen cyclist. Not the lycra or £2,500 bike, etc. but I did cycle quite often and am the proud owner of a Brompton folding bike, a splendid piece of British-built kit which you now see more and more on the streets.

One of the beauties of Bromptons is that they make multi-modal journeys easier; you just fold them up and pop them on the train, in the boot of the car or even, apparently, on the bus (not that I’ve ever tried the latter).

I’ve always meant to take the Brompton to London for the day but somehow never managed to get around to it. Something else is about to happen, though, which might bet me on two wheels in the capital from time to time: Transport for London’s new Barclay’s Cycle Hire. This scheme, similar to Velib in Paris or Melbourne Bike Share in, er, Melbourne, sees a large number of bicycles for hire at special docking stations around the capital. Basically, you go along to one, pay a hire fee by credit card and cycle away! (It’s actually rather more complex than that with an “access fee” and so on but you get the idea.) You can return the bike to any docking stand and the charging system is designed to encourage shorter term use.

One thing the scheme won’t have though is cycle helmets for hire. Unlike in some countries, the use of cycle helmets in the UK is not compulsory. But the absence of them (and who’s likely to just ”have one on them”?) may well put some people off. It will certainly cause at least some negative comment in the press, I think.

Not everyone thinks that helmets are a good idea, though. It’s sometimes said that safety features in cars, like air-bags for example, make people more reckless and that the same applies to cycle helmets. I’ve also heard it suggested that they can compound injuries in certain cases, especially if poorly fitted.

That said, when I cycle (which as I say is all too infrequently nowadays) I always wear one. I feel safer - a bit safer - with it and always take as much care as possible. On a more mundane note, it's saved me from being hurt by overhanging branches on off-road routes a couple of times!

But “safety” on two wheels is often at odds with “perceived safety” by the Great British Public. For example, a bigger gripe of mine is cycle paths and lanes. Beloved of planners who like to Do Things To Encourage Cycling, these often put a cyclist at much more of a disadvantage and in more danger. They introduce far more conflicts and junctions, are generally poorly maintained and swept and give motorists the latent belief that bicycles somehow don't really "belong" on the road.

That said, many (MANY) cyclists make life hard for themselves and the rest of us by blatantly flouting the rules of the road, using footpaths when it suits them and ignoring red lights. This means that as soon as you stick up for cycling as a means of transport, people throw the behaviour of cyclists back in your face.

Anyway, despite that homily, I’ll be watching Barclays Cycle Hire with great interest, though. If I ever get around to trying it out, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to report.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Shops (Interesting Shops, that is!)

It might surprise those here who know me to find me penning a Blog entry on the subject of shopping. It’s never been my favourite pastime (bookshops expected, of course) but these days with every town having basically the same shops, it’s more dull than ever.

Occasionally, though, there are shops which somehow manage to buck the trend and remain perpetually the same, despite the onset of globalisation.

The most timeless of these A Oakes in Langley. In business since 1905 it was a regular haunt in my childhood, from visits to see Father Christmas (none of the “Santa Cklaus” business!) in the days when Father Christmas really was an old man and hadn’t been (or needed to be!) CRB checked. As I grew up it became the shop for my school uniforms and perhaps that’s why when I escaped from the hell that was my schooldays, I never went near the place again. Then, about a year or so ago, I was out driving with Mum and we thought we’d go in and have a look to see how much it had changed. Basically, it hadn’t! The place was almost exactly as I remembered it, with wooden draws full of socks and underwear stacked around the walls and – unusually, on reflection – a huge stock of model railway equipment for sale. A quick Google search has revealed that Oakes now even have an internet presence and seem set to continue for ever.

So timeless was it, I expected a Midland Red D9 to go past the door on a 215…….

Another of these time-warp stores is Walker & Ling in Weston-super-Mare. This has also been in business since the year dot and - although they’ve obviously had the decorators in more than Oakes, they still seem to thrive selling stuff that you’d expect most people now to buy from Debenham’s or M&S. The fact that they don’t and that they thrive as a locally-owned small business in a sea of retail mediocrity is a delight. I was very happy to buy myself a jacket there last week to help keep them going!

For sheer size, though the greatest of these shops I know of is Jackson’s, the old retailing lady of Reading. Unlike the others, Jackson’s really is a department store. Like Oakes, though, it will forever be associated for people of a certain age with stocking school uniforms. Whenever I’m working in Reading and have any locals on tours (which does happen), you can see everyone recalling an era of blazers, striped ties, sew-on name labels and football shirts. And, for all their history and conservatism, not only do Jacksons have a website, they have a Blog!

If you get a chance, go and support these businesses and other like them. Long may they continue to thrive!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Tidying Up

Louise suggested tonight that we spend Friday tidying the house.

Tidying our house doesn't require "Friday"; it required "August"!

We Do Remember Them

I once encountered someone at an event I was running who asked incredulously “Er, was Australia actually involved in the war?!”

It is perhaps as well that I don’t recount here my reply. :-(

However, as one Briton that is profoundly grateful for the role played by Australia in protecting my country’s freedom, I humbly direct readers to the following news items from today.

We really, really do “remember them”.



The perpetual remembrance of these men is the splendid and remarkably little known Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Anyone that’s ever done a tour of Maidenhead with me will recall their headquarters there, They are not a UK government agency but are funded jointly by the governments of the Nations involved in the First World War. They too are worthy of investigation and recognition.


Back to School?!

I’ve had an e-mail from Aldi, advertising their “Back to School” PC.

Back to School?! The poor little buggers have hardly broken up yet and already we’re being subjected to preparations for the new school year!

How long before someone mentions C*******s?

Friday, 2 July 2010

NHS: Improvements Gratefully Noted

I have just posted an e-mail to the Birmingham & Midland Eye Centre to say how fantastically they dealt with my mother's appointment today.

Her previous visits have bordered on the farcical with cancelled appointments, exceptionally rude and disinterested staff and the constant necessity for me to engage in administrative warfare in order to get Mum treated properly.

Well what a change! In the place of the most sour-faced miserable trout imaginable who used to man reception, we had a bright, smiling team who made us feel as though we were being welcomed into an hotel. Staff led Mum to the waiting area and came back at intervals to say how long she would have to wait (which wasn't long).

It is - as I've pointed out in the past - at least as easy to do things well as it is to do them badly.

I'm not sure if I played any part in this transformation but however it came about, they deserve credit for it.

Other NHS Departments please take note.......

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Oh Canada!

Today is Canada Day, worthy of a mention as it’s a place very dear to me.

That might seem a strange thing to say about a country I’ve only ever visited once, but it was where I proposed to my wife, on the shores of the incomparable Lake Louise so will always have a special place in my – our – hearts.

Like Australia, Canada combines all the things that are good about Britain and America, while, at least as far as I can see, managing to leave out the bad bits of both.

It is beautiful, democratic, open and fair; it also happens to be a monarchy and boast a large slice of French culture. Goodness, this place is heaven!

Happy Canada Day / Joyeux fĂȘte du Canada!