Monday, 27 September 2010

Thoughts on the Labour Leadership

I might just be getting old but I don't like these metric politicians, like the Miliband.

I preferred the old Imperials ones. Like Michael Foot.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Another of the Great Questions of (Retail) Life

Why is that when I actually want something in a camera or mobile phone shop I can never find anyone to serve me becasue they're too busy.

However, when I just want to have a look around and be left alone, I have to fight off assistants with a stick?

The Mysteries of Railway Time

I wonder what the point is of telling passengers that a train is "expected at 1853" when, er, it's already 1854?

(Sorry about the poor image. Camera Phone and all that. I suppose I was lucky not to be challenged for taking photographs on railway property without permission!)

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Cycling and Cycling Facilities

A recent discussion on the excellent Blog of my friend Daniel in Australia regarding cycle facilities and the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets there prompted me to reply to the ensuing discussion from a UK point of view.

I don't cycle anywhere near as much any more as I used to, although I'm the proud owner of a Brompton. However, I have strong views on the subject of cycling as a means of transport and many factors, from the behaviour of cyclists, pedestrians and road users to the attitudes of planners usually get me a bit hot under the collar.

Anyway, I thought that my contribution merited reproducing on my Blog, too. so here it is:

The view of the general public here varies from outright hostility to cyclists (from motorists and pedestrians who only notice the many cyclists who ignore zebra crossings and red traffic lights) to well-meaning paternalism.

The latter sees both helmets and cycle paths as Good Things. In fact, I've seen as much evidence that helmets make things worse as I have that they make things better. Badly fitted helmets are a particular problem.

Cycle "facilities" are often very poor and frequently (and I mean FREQUENTLY put cyclists in more rather than less danger. Specifically, they confine cyclists to the extreme left hand side of the road, making them less visible and they create far more conflicts with other traffic flows, both regarding motor vehicles and pedestrians.

My view is that cycle lanes and paths do have a function but usually only at extremely busy grade separated junctions or to allow cyclists to avoid complex and lengthy one way system detours.

The problem is that few people seem to regard cyclists as what they are: traffic. Motorists think that "in this day and age"......."they shouldn't be on the road" as "it's too dangerous". Planners think that cycle paths "make cyclists safer" and cyclists themselves weave between being "traffic" and "pedestrians" when it suits them.

I can't offer a solution but I do think there's a lot of merit in treating bicycles as "traffic" just like anything else.

(Incidentally, I would draw a distinction here between cycling as a means of transport and leisure cycling, often involving young children, families and people going especially slowly. In such cases, scenic cycle paths like the Camel Trail which we recently sampled in Cornwall have much to commend them. Even there, though, the conflict between faster cyclists, slower ones and *very* inexperienced ones sometimes led to some hairy moments!)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Railway Rant

I’ve been trying for some time to use public transport to and from jobs whenever possible. I’ve always preferred trains and buses but they don’t always coincide with where I need to be when. Throughout 2010, though, I’ve made much more of an effort than before in this direction, even at the expense of taking longer to get to and from places.

Sometimes this is great. Sometimes, it isn’t. Today was one of the latter.

After an “unusual” day in Stratford-upon-Avon, I needed to return by train from Stratford to The Hawthorns. There was a 1727 train from Stratford, sue at The Hawthorns at 1830.

Having finished with my group, I arrived at Stratford station with 40 minutes to wait for the next train. Not the railway’s fault that I arrived there early, although an hourly frequency isn’t that brilliant for a route which isn’t exactly the back of beyond. The train was advertised as running 5 minutes late. The 12 minutes. Then 15. We actually left 13 minutes late at 1745. I’d then been at Stratford station (not an especially attractive site, though I’ve been to worse) for roughly an hour.

On the plus side, rather than stress with driving, I watched the lovely Warwickshire countryside and even had a snooze.

I awoke in Hall Green and decided to check if we’d made up time. In fact, we were later still, now 20 minutes down. At Birmingham Moor Street a rush hour sea of humanity descended on the train. I’m not sure what these trains actually are on the Snow Hill lines but I find their seats amazingly uncomfortable.

A few minute later we roll into Snow Hill station where more people pack in. Then came the clincher of the day. The guard announced that – as the train was running so late – it was going to run non-stop to Stourbridge Junction. Suddenly I (and much of this sea of humanity, some of whom had only just boarded) had to scramble to get off. We were also told nothing more than to “wait on the platform”.

The next train, er, terminated at Snow Hill and eventually the 1743 train, “due at 1753” arrived at, er, 1800. I arrived back at The Hawthorns 40 minutes later than I should have.

More significantly, I arrived there over two hours after I had finished my work in Stratford, a journey which by car, even with rush hour traffic, would have taken not much more than an hour and probably less.

And there’s the railway, nay the “public transport” problem. People like me want to use it but as long as it’s not providing a service where passengers feel “cared for”, where you get uncomfortable rides in delayed and crowded trains…….people will reach for their car keys.

A couple of weeks ago I tried a journey in the opposite direction. I arrived at The Hawthorns in plenty of time, only to find that the Stratford train, an hourly service remember, had been summarily cancelled.

Railways of Britain, do you hear me? YOU CAN’T JUST CANCEL THINGS AND ASUME THAT TELLING PEOPLE IT’S CANCELLED SOMEHOW MAKES IT ALRIGHT. I can’t just ring ahead to people who’ve booked me and say “sorry, I can’t come along today”. And you know what? You can’t either.

Two additional points:

  1. The problem on both these occasions was “signalling problems”. I wonder if that means someone’s stolen a cable again? That caused me problems twice on trains from Manchester and Liverpool earlier in the summer which missed out stops at my local station with literally seconds notice.
  2. To end on a positive not, one thing that London Midland trains really do seem to excel at is station booking office staff. The two chaps at The Hawthorns and the lady at Langley Green are always so happy, so friendly and so pleasant that I walk away from their ticket office windows feeling on top of the world. What a pity the managers who “manage” the line and the drones who reply to customer feedback don’t approach things in the same way.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Mixing Politics and Religion

Stephen Fry has made a verbal attack on the right of Pope Benedict XVI to be accorded a State visit to Britain.

Stephen, I usually agree with and admire you very, very much. But I can't agree with your assertion that the Vatican isn't really a real state because of "an accident of words" and that it is a "rump of history". If you think about it, you could say that about *all* states!

Of course, you might not agree with the system or values of said state.......but again, that applies to many, many places.

It is a state and the UK has welcomed far, far dodgier heads of state (and lavished them with pomp, respectability and awards) than Pope Benedict. Look who was so very welcome at the Palace in 1978, for example.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Value of Nothing.......

It's very hard to earn a living out of doing something that other people seem willing to do either free of charge or for amounts so small they might as well be.

Local History societies offer free or dirt-cheap walks, we're all expected to "volunteer" to make the 2012 Olympics a success, people with a language are "recruited" to help with major events like the major conferences or sporting events.

And Ian Jelf is suddenly made to feel like the unacceptable face of Capitalism.

"Oh we don't normally pay."

Go and find someone else, then! Oh, they probably have.......

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Savings, Fences and Ostriches

It’s interesting to note how many different organisations, undertakings and interest groups are popping up all over the place to say that they ought to be spared in the forthcoming round of spending cuts because they're a "special case".

The problem with this is that everyone’s doing it…….so if everyone’s budget is ring-fenced, we won’t actually make any savings.

I appreciate that there is a point of view that we don’t need to make savings at all. People saying that are probably barking nutters but at least their logic holds water (ie we don’t need to cut so we won’t) and they’re not guilty of selfishness.

It’s this “we must be spared but everyone else can suffer” attitude which I find most reminiscent of an ostrich and a quantity of sand…….

Monday, 13 September 2010

Crop Names

One of those minor “linguistic hiccups” between British and American English when I’m working in the countryside is the American name for the crop “Rape”, which they call “Canola”.

Well, thanks to his always excellent and absorbing Blog, my mate in Australia Daniel has now taught me not only that Australians call it “Canola” too but that the word is actually an acronym for “CAnadian Oil Low Acid”.

You live and learn…….and thanks, Daniel!

(Mind you, it’s part of the creeping Americanisation of Australia. They’ll be using Dollars next…….)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Captain Flack & Company.......

Many – many – years ago, as a summer job, I did some administrative work for the West Midlands Fire Service. As work experience goes, it was pretty dire but one long lasting legacy was that it left me with a deep and abiding respect for fire fighters. More than any other emergency service they seem to be regularly in danger and we can all sleep safer in our beds for what they do for us.

Notwithstanding this…….

Memo to the Leicester Fire Brigade…….

If you’re going to act up and show off with your big red fire engine on a non-emergency call by interferinge with me trying to do my job:

(1) Don’t choose me. I do repartee for a living

(2) Don’t choose me when I’m with a SPICE group; they tend to join in and play along and

(3) If you’re that bothered about references to Trumpton, you’re probably in the wrong job.

Second City

My friend Maeve featured this week on an Australian travel programme called “Getaway”, showing the presenter around Bath.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, while watching the programme, they then went to Manchester…….which they proceeded to call “Britain’s Second City”.

Lose 100 points, Channel 9…….

For the record, this is what the 2001 Census had to say on the matter. (And I don’t want to start hearing things like “Greater Manchester, of I’ll have to start quoting “West Midlands”!):

1 London 7,172,091

2 Birmingham 970,892

3 Glasgow 629,501

4 Liverpool 469,017

5 Leeds 443,247

6 Sheffield 439,866

7 Edinburgh 430,082

8 Bristol 420,556

9 Manchester 394,269

10 Leicester 330,574

Thursday, 9 September 2010

At The Pelican

I quite often find myself moaning about overnight accommodation. Dim staff, non-functioning facilities and a feeling of being treated as though you're on a conveyor belt reign.

So it's a real pleasure to be able to wax lyrical about a small place I stayed on Tuesday night.

It's supposedly a "pub with rooms" but my room was rather more pleasant and certainly better looked after than many I've stayed in in large hotels. The staff were friendlty and intelligent and young (which is normally only the case in Britain if they're Australian, which these weren't!) and the breakfast delicious.

And where is this place? I salute you The Pelican Inn, which is on the A4 in a village called Froxfield, between Marlborough and Hungerford. Jolly handy for Avebury, Stonehenge, Salisbury and so on.

(But I wish the information pack in the room did'nt tell people that Stonehenge was "Druid Stones". Oh dear! Lose a point!)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Travelling Contrasts

Some friends of ours are back from a fabulous honeymoon on the QM2 and a visit to the US.

I’m back from Wiltshire. It was lovely…….bit it’s not quite the same, is it? ;-)

Monday, 6 September 2010

Back on The Road

From 1995 until about 2002, I was pretty much full time tour managing. This is markedly different to tour guiding, involving taking people on short or extended holidays and - frankly - dealing with all the hassles that inevitably crop up.

The guiding, that's to say actually telling people things and keeping them entertained, was very much a side issue, although one I both enjoyed and apparently did well at. I like telling people about buildings. I don't like them telling me that they can't flush the toilet or that the waitress only speaks French (not unreasonable in Paris).

But after a period of time, the concept of living out of a suitcase starts to pall and - coupled with having met Louise - I gradually wound down this aspect of work in favour of "proper" guiding.

But it was a learning experience, I met some fabulous people (far outnumbering the bad ones) and it was a good period in my life.

The reason for writing this down here now is that I'm about to do a couple of days touring with a group down in the South of England. The suitcase is packed, the hotel fixed up, I have wads of paperwork and the itinerary is planned.

It will be quite like old times and I confess.......I'm actually rather looking forward to it!