Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
So I’m off on my stag weekend tomorrow, so despite my good intentions to post often during NaBloPoMo I doubt I’ll feel the urge to post over the weekend.
NaBloPoMo would be so much better as three syllables don’t you think? The Na is so irrelevant given the global nature of the web. Shall I start a campaign to drop the Na? Na, can’t be arsed.
Anyway, I digress, I’m massively looking forward to my Stag weekend. I don’t know for sure where we’re going, it’s supposed to be a surprise, but I’ve done some detective work (because I hate surprises) and I think we’re going to Madrid.
I hope this trip has all the good elements from the stereotypical British stag weekend abroad, but none of the bad stuff. I should come back with enough stories to at least fill a couple of days worth of posting once I get back.
The title of this post refers to the themed dressing up night of the stag do (joy!). My best man has decreed that Friday night is "Injury Night" and everyone of the 14 members of my stag group will go out for a night of foreign beer with convincing fake wounds.
I love the word wound. Just makes me think of Stephen Fry in Blackadder goes fourth, as does the word Job
So, what do you think? Is Injury night a piece of comic genius on the part of my best man, or will it all go down like a fart in a lift? I'll let you know what happened on Monday.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Well, it’s been quite a little while since I last posted on here or on Yellow Fever. If you were perturbed then I can only apologize, but I suspect you’ve not noticed I’d gone.
I’m back though – inspired by the upcoming National Blog Posting Month or NaBloPoMo as it is otherwise known. Pointed out to me by Mr Coldbrain, it provides an excuse for everyone to post more shite on the web that usual. Or for lapsed bloggers like myself to waste more time at work than the have been lately. So I might try and post a bit more during November, though I am on my stag weekend for the first three days of it, so I’m starting NaBloPoMo early.
I have been pretty busy at work recently, that is not to say that work has been especially busy, just that I have worked a bit harder than I usually do. I work in an area that pretty much ticks along at a steady pace, where the job satisfaction is improved by staying busy and putting in some effort. Likewise the rewards and most importantly career prospects are also enhanced by a bit of effort now and again. I was getting a bit bored and worried about my future, so effort has been forthcoming.
The newly found enthusiasm for work has been helped along nicely by the addition of new members to the team at work. All the new recruits are very friendly and their enthusiasm has rubbed off on me. I’ve also had to show the newbies the ropes which has kept me busy and given me a certain amount of job satisfaction.
Away from work, the wedding plans are coming along nicely and despite less that two months to go, there is little in the way of panicking in the billyo household – even from the wife to be! I have also fixed my Powerbook after some seriously annoying Narcolepsy problems, the solution was drastic (opening it up and cutting out a malfunctioning chip) but so far it seems to have worked, so I can write blog posts and play football manager on the train again, rather than buying the Times everyday just for the Sudoku.
My current new (ish) favourite band are The Prescillas, and my favourite old album that I almost can’t stop listening to on my way to work is The Wall. Between them there's not been much else playing on the mp3 player, though Radiohead's In Rainbows is getting occasional plays.
When I do find time to procrastinate, my new favourite site is ONN, the Onion News Network. For those not familiar, The Onion has been an on-line satirical newspaper for the last 10 years or so. I’ve never been a committed reader, but have dipped in now and again. My travelling hippy friends Nick and Wendy tell me that there is also a free monthly newspaper that can be picked up in cities around the world, including in London, though I’ve never seen it. Anyway the Onion has gone 21st century and now has a video output for those of us too lazy to read in order to get a satirical fix. As way of an introduction my I suggest the following stories about Nascar Statagy, Help For Schizophrenics and Celebrities in Trouble. Probably best not to watch that last one if you’re the sensitive type.
There's also this great one about Stab Research.
Study: Multiple Stab Wounds May Be Harmful To Monkeys
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
I hope the reason my application has taken so long is not a misplaced form, rather that it has taken so long to get through the backlog of McDemo applications.
For those that don’t know, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005, makes it illegal to have a peaceful demonstration within a mile or so of parliament without the express permission of the police. People have been arrested for wearing anti-war T-shirts in the area. One woman was arrested for eating a cake with the word PEACE written on it, near the cenotaph. Does this sound like a law of a democratic country where it’s citizens have “freedom of speech”? Quite.
Anyway, Mark Thomas and his friends have been making a mockery of this law, by attempting to waste as much police time as possible. By staging a series of lone demonstrations, for which the police must grant permission, unless they have just cause not to do so. The idea is to highlight the absurdity of this law and regain our true freedom of speech.
So, if you think your train services are a bit naff, head down to the DfT this afternoon between 1245 and 1300 and take part in my demonstration. Unfortunately I’m at work in Cardiff so can’t be there, but if you’re in the area why not head down. Also if you have a burning statement to make outside parliament, or you simply think that the SOCPA bill is absurd, contact McDemos and get your very own demonstration. Free custard creams for pensioners!
Monday, August 13, 2007
Glad to hear it. Yes, yes, I know, it's been a while, I've been on a conference, then on holiday for a bit and then had a busy week last week.
Anyway, where shall we begin? I know, lets start here. I bought this morning's Times not for the Sudoku but for the front page headline: "RAIL FIRM'S LEGAL THREAT TO SILENCE PASSENGER WATCHDOG". Sounds interesting, I thought. Can you guess, loyal readers, which rail firm has been trying to bully London Travelwatch? That's right, Silverlink County. Only kidding, it's First Great Western.
London Travelwatch wrote to the rail minister Tom Harris enquiring whether FGW were in breach of their franchise agreement, and if not, just how bad will it have to be before the DfT steps in. Anyway, FGW were sent a copy of this letter and decided that it was "defamatory" and threatened legal action against the passenger watchdog.
Interestingly, the article also points out that First Group has Alistair Campbell on it's payroll as an advisor on "strategic communications" or Spin Doctoring to you and me. It all begins to make sense now....
In other FGW related news, there is a great new blog written by the insider, someone who works at FGW and gives the story from the other side in a fair and balanced manner, unlike some others I could mention.... The insider also appears to be a useful person to know, if stories are to be believed.
Finally, there are worrying rumours abound, that the new timetable in December will see my direct service from Bath to Cardiff scrapped, thus lengthening my already sizable commute with a change at Bristol Parkway. I pray this is turns out to be false.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
My problem is not generally with FGW front-line staff (though occasionally it is), my gripe is mostly with the appalling management who havn't a clue how to efficiently run a railway. In fact they can't be trusted to do most things.
Below is a picture I took at Bath Spa station on Saturday in the ticket office. The office is partly closed at the moment for refurbishment and this poster, signed by Ian Monks the station manager, apologizes for the inconvenience caused during the refurbishment. This poster sums up fantastically so many things about FGW.
Now anyone can make a typo. Though even the most basic proof-reading by a person of limited intelligence should spot this one before printing. What's worse though, is that having spotted this mistake after printing, you'd have thought Ian Monks would have been quite embarrassed and taken the poster down and printed another. But no, it's just neatly crossed out and corrected with a biro, so that everybody has their attention is drawn to how stupid it is. Nice.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Yoof 1: Yeah, I always have a drink when I go out. Make the night more fun innit.
Yoof 2: But aren't your parents angry when you get home drunk?
Y1: Nah, cos I always has a drink, but I'm never pissed, I just have some vodka or summit to make the night fun.
Y2: Yeah ok, that's cool man. What did you do last night then?
Y1: I dunno, can't remember, I was mashed, it was fun though.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Standing on the platform are hippies. They’re the early risers from Glastonbury. Actually, to call them hippies is unfair. Glastonbury is not attended by hippies any more, if indeed hippies still exist. No, Glastonbury is now attended by white, middle-class, sixth-formers and students.
And these students smell. They smell really bad. A group sit on the table across the aisle from me. Another group further back the carriage stink like their pockets are full of shit and their squelching makes me think they probably are. The regular commuters make sympathetic faces at each other.
I noticed this phenomenon last week, when a handful of early arrivals to Glastonbury were on the train on Wednesday and Thursday last week. Yes, that’s correct, they smelt bad before they had even got to Glastonbury. So that’s the type of person who goes to Glastonbury. Students with little interest in personal hygiene.
My friends have often asked me why I have never been to Glastonbury, or any other big commercial festival for that matter. It seems strange to them that as a lover of live music, and of camping, this would not be my idea of heaven. It’s not. It’s my idea of hell.
I have been to day festivals in Hyde and Finsbury park. I’m not a fan of standing three miles away from a band I love watching their distorted instrumentation on a big screen virtually incomprehensible due to the sun. And no matter where I stand I always seem to get hit by a bottle of piss.
The thing I love about camping is the peace and quiet. I like to go to a National Park with my tent, do some walking, read a book and enjoy an ale or three in the local hostelries. Sharing the camping experience with tens of thousand of other people who are intent on falling over onto my tent is my idea of hell.
And the final reason Glastonbury is not for me; I am the proud owner of a reasonable standard of personal hygiene.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
This storm caused (so the Chinese whispers at the station would have me believe) flooding and signal problems in the Severn Tunnel.
"The 06:56 to Swansea will terminating at Bristol Temple Meads."
So how do we get to Cardiff? I ask the train dispatcher. "They might lay taxis on for you. Go to Bristol and they'll deal with you there." He said washing his hands of the problem.
"Will passengers for South Wales please report to the Customer Service Desk on platform 3, for details of road transport to South Wales."
We do, we're split up into groups of four and given vouchers for taxis to Newport. Presumably buses are very difficult to get at short notice this time of the morning due to the school run.
Incredible efficiency from FGW, but it has occured to me that had this been a broken down train or something else that was FGW's fault, they might not have been so quick to splash the cash on quickly getting people across the border. They will, presumably claim these expenses back from Network Rail.
Still, it's nice to report good customer service occasionally.
Though I still have to get home yet.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Obviously you can’t have been the first person to have heard of them, the artists parents and friends for example, will almost certainly have heard of them before you. But, you know, that feeling when you discover an artist completely by yourself. No-one recommended them to you, and you’re pretty sure that none of your friends will have heard of them.
Some of the magic is lost if you heard them first on the radio, but it’s still ok, as long as it was late at night or a specialist station/show that no-one you know listens to.
This has happened to me twice recently. l must confess, I first heard both on the radio, but none-the-less I’ve bought the albums, love them to bits and am hopeful I’m introducing you to them for the first time. You’re gonna tell me you’ve already heard of both, aren’t you? Just to spite me.
The first is a Northern Irish singer called Duke Special. His debut album, Songs From The Deep Forest, is a fairly happy sounding, piano-based, singer-songwriter affair. It’s a pretty full sound though, with drums, strings and wind accompanying him in many of the songs. He is a kind of cross between Badly Drawn Boy and Cathy Davey (who was my super-special find last year). One of his more quirky traits is to exaggerate his accent to fit some rhymes, such as ‘are’ and ‘tower’ in Salvation Tambourine. If you want to download a couple of tracks to see what he’s about I recommend Portrait and Wake Up Scarlett, or watch this**. You’ll also hear him on Radio 2 as well, where Last Night I Nearly Died is now showing up occasionally on daytime play-lists.
The second is a folk band called Show Of Hands. I’ve started getting into my folk music recently. I know, I know, I should really be listening to something more suitable of my demographic, but frankly I get angry enough commuting to work, and something more calm is just to job to keep me sane on the train.
I first heard Show of Hands’ Roots on Mike Harding’s excellent Radio 2 folk show. This song caught my attention in particular, as it’s about the dearth of English folk music and has some spot on lyrics. This is something I’ve been particularly interested in recently, as I investigate the nature of the English identity (I’ve also been delving into Billy Bragg’s back catalogue). Take a listen to it – the video is below*** – if you like then try the rest of the album, Witness, I think it’s very good. They’ve been around for ages too, so there’s a whole catalogue to get through.
So, that’s my first attempt at a music review. Not as easy as I thought.
*I was gonna say musies, like they say foodies for people who are into trying lots of new foods, but frankly that looks and sounds, crap. Any other ideas for this term can be sent to the usual address. Thanks.
** D'oh! Just realised that video was from last year. Looks like I'm way behind - oh well. Thunder stolen.
*** Yeah, I know – it’s cheesy as hell, but they are folk singers
Friday, June 15, 2007
Did I run 100 m in 6.5 sec? No.
Did I eat 36 boiled eggs for breakfast? No, but I'd like to try someday.
No, I was put into a foul mood in the fastest time possible after leaving the house. Just 3 seconds.
I closed the door, turned around, and my bus went past a full 10 minutes before it was due to.
I shouted and waved my arms from my front garden and pointed at my watch. The driver didn't see me. A passenger did. He laughed.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I have spoken before, of how by travelling into London you get a better deal that if you commute around the South West. But I didn't realise quite how much a better deal you get. Having read some comments about season ticket prices on I Hate FGW's blog, I have investigated the price of tickets from Bath to London and from Bath to Cathays. Here's what I found:
Bath Spa - London Paddington
Daily Open Return: £121.00
Weekly Season: £174.80
Thus a weekly ticket costs 1.44 times the price of a daily open return.
Bath-Cathays (just outside Cardiff)
Daily Open Return: £16.60
Weekly Season: £70.80
Thus a weekly ticket costs 4.26 times the price of a daily open return.
That's not even close to being fair. In fact, put another way it means that commuters to London travel Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for free.
It means that commuters in the southwest get Friday afternoon for free.
Oh, and don't forget, if you travel to London you get relatively comfy, high-speed trains that are in the process of being refurbished. You get an on-board buffet, toilets, tables, optional first class and plug points at your seat.
If you travel between Bath and Cardiff you get the crappiest trains FGW can find (they gave all the nice ones away). These trains are often dilapidated, the toilets don't work, the windows leak when it rains, the air-con doesn't work and on half of them there is no room for a 6ft man to sit down comfortably, let alone tables to do some work.
How does FGW justify this disparity? I'll write to them and ask.
I think I'll let the local rag and my MP know the situation, while I'm at it.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The occasion takes on extra significance however if you are one of those old friends. A fan in exile. I have lived away from Watford for the last 8 years. My last season ticket saw me go to almost every home and away game in our 98-99 season which saw us clinch promotion via the play-offs at Wembley. I can tell you, that season was quite an emotional roller-coaster, but that is a story for another time.
Being a fan of a small team in the Premiership last season wasn’t much fun for a number of reasons. The most obvious of which was we got beat, near enough every week. But also, the Premiership is a hostile place to exiled fans. Tickets for away games must be bought months in advance and cost a small fortune. Being in the West Country didn’t help matters as the closest ground was Reading over an hour away. I began to know what it feels like to be a Carlisle fan.
Anyone, who at this points says that at least there were more games on TV is correct, but also has never been a true football fan.
So it is with much excitement that I look forward to a season in the Championship, or whatever it’s called this year. Tickets available on the gate, meaning decisions to attend many games can be left till the day before. It also means we have games in the south west again (thank you Bristol City, nice try Yeovil). And this is why the fixture announcement day is a lottery. It will be just my luck that Bristol City (A), will be either when I am on holiday or on the day of my wedding/honeymoon. I would also like Cardiff City (A) to be a Tuesday night, so that I don’t have to commute an extra day to the city in which I work.
Oh great fixture generating computer. Please be nice to me.....ADDITIONAL:
We'll I never thought I'd actually get Cardiff away on a Tuesday night. Shame Bristol away is also a Tuesday, but we all love school night drinking really! My third away draw, Norwich, where my mum lives is also a Tuesday night - what are the chances? - but this is far from ideal, as I go up there at weekends. Oh well - you can't win 'em all.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
If you’re not a fan of Mr Baker’s sense of humour then I wouldn’t bother checking it out. His broadcasting style has not changed much since his radio 5 days back in the early 90’s.
Don’t worry, it’s not sport based, though a podcast-based return of Baker and Kelly is in the pipeline (pinch me!). It’s basically Danny and one of his regular side-kicks from his BBC London show sitting in a room reading out amusing e-mails, and phoning people up for their stories. Today’s show had the story of a man showing off the strength of his steel toe-cap boots, and a woman with her hair on fire and a man with a stranger sat on his feet for 20 miles of a train journey. It's funnier than that sounds....
So if you are a fan of Danny Baker, and you have a spare 50 mins to listen to the podcast everyday then get to iTunes and subscribe now. It’s a riot and has made my commute to work over the last week an absolute joy, despite the trains being consistently late. My only complaint is that it’s not long enough, I could do with another hour or so, in order to laugh the journey home too.
And don’t you dare try and claim Pulp’s Different Class – it’s not up on the site yet, but it’s mine god damn it.
Monday, June 04, 2007
However, despite not being an expert, I reckon this is embarrassing, child-like and really rather shit. However much it cost, it was that much too much.
New London 2012 Logo.
What's it meant to be? What was wrong with the rainbow stripes in the same shape as the Thames? I thought that was quite cool.
According to the press-release the new emblem is:
dynamic, evolving in the years between now and 2012
Which basically means they are gonna change the colour every few months and charge us even more money. Don't get me wrong, I'm very glad the Olympics are coming to the UK. I'm just also happy that I'm not a London tax-payer.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Where was I... Oh yes.... Bank Holidays - they're not all they're cracked up to be....
In one respect, like most people, I find the prospect of a four-day working week very appealing; even the weekend after seems to benefit from the fact I am not quite as knackard as usual once Friday night comes around. But I detest the way that most of the population goes completely mad with excitement at the prospect of 50% extra time in their weekend, and as a result, I am seen as socially retarded for not doing the same.
Our local, westcountry news last Friday brought us news of massive traffic jams as the whole country attempts to cram into the Devon/Cornwall peninsular. Do these people not realise this beautiful part of England is there all year round? Cornwall is not a cruise ship which pulls up alongside Devon three weekends a year. Why do people feel the urge to go during a Bank Holiday weekend?
A similar travel chaos greeted me on Friday afternoon as I caught my usual train home from Cardiff. Usually busy, but able to get a seat, on Friday there were people and suitcases everywhere and I had to stand all the way to Bristol. What’s so special about Bank Holiday weekends? If you want a long weekend on the South Coast then book a Monday off work and do it another weekend when there’ll be less people on the trains, less people on the beaches and you’ll get a cheaper hotel. Easy innit?
So, last weekend, instead of getting caught up in the excitement I had a normal weekend of lie-ins, pottering about, DIY and shopping. Normal weekend activites, but for three days instead of two. It was ace. Too often after a bank holiday, you come back on Tuesday absolutely shattered from travelling all weekend, cramming lots in and getting stuck in a traffic jam on Monday evening. This weekend was literally and figuratively refreshing. I went to work on Tuesday so rejuvenated that I was actually enthusiastic about getting started on some work. Weird.I think the problem is that we don’t get enough of these holidays, and when they do come along, it’s such a surprise and novelty that everyone goes a bit silly. We have only 8 in this country (and 5 of those are Easter, Christmas & New Year) compared to France’s 11! So discounting religious festivals, we have 3 public holidays, and the French have 6. Twice as many! And remember this is a country that strikes if made to work a 25 hour week!
There is already a campaign for St. Georges Day to be a bank holiday in England (St. Andrews Day & St. Patricks Day are holidays in Scotland and Northern Ireland). But I don’t think this goes far enough. I suggest we stick another in the autumn, so that when the August holiday passes we don’t flick through our calendar and forlornly realise the next holiday is four months away. I suggest Armistice Day, 11th November. We already mark this day with a minute’s silence to remember those who died in two world wars, so it’s a great candidate to be updated to a whole day off. It also nicely dissects the August to December holiday void. Further support for this day as a holiday comes from the fact it is already taken as a holiday in France and Poland and I'm sure other countries as well.
By adding April 23rd and November 11th our public holidays would number a european average, and with a bit of luck, holidays wont come as such a surprise to everyone and they'll stay relaxed and calmly to the pub. You know it makes sense.
Friday, May 25, 2007
This week I have also got my Powerbook back. Woo Hoo! It took over four weeks, and in the end the whole motherboard was changed. But I didn't pay a penny for fixing it. Which is nice. I HEART Apple.
My life without my laptop has been very different; I've read three books (good), I've watched more TV (bad), I've started buying Private Eye again (v.good), I gave money to the evil Murdoch empire, by buying The Times everyday just for the Killer Sudoku (v.bad), and I've blogged less (I'll let you decide). I will try and take some of these better changes with me into my renewed laptop-containing life, but I will stop buying The Times.
One thing that hasn't changed though is that FGW are still late. No trains have been really late, just consistently 5-10 min late. Which, to be honest, I'm getting used to and beginning to ignore -It think I've turned into a commuter! I am becoming immune to 10 minute delays and shrug them off without a moments thought. It's taken 8 months, but apathy is starting to slip in. The bastards have ground me down, and I'm ready to give in. This is what happens to commuters.
Thankfully help is at hand for the apathetic protester. After reading Mark Thomas' fantastic book about the UK arms trade, As Used On The Famous Nelson Mandela (I highly recommend), I was browsing his website when I came across a company he has set up called McDemos. This company organise bespoke demonstrations on the topic of your choice without having to leave the comfort of your chair (or more importantly give FGW money by going to London in my spare time). Demonstrations start at just 99p for a 30 second demo. I was feeling flush and went for the £5 happy Demo option, which includes all the proper paperwork. So in the words of a famous 80's tv programme; why don't you go and do the same?
It doesn't have to be a demo against FGW, this company is set up to make a mockery of the serious organised crime and police act (SOCPA) which stops people freely expressing their opinion outside Parliament without permission of the police. Maybe you could protest against having an unelected Prime Minister or MPs who are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, it's up to you. But as Mark Thomas says on his website...
If you're not pissed off, you're not paying attention.
Picture from harryharris on flickr.com
Thursday, May 17, 2007
as defined in the dictionary;
1. government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
2. a state having such a form of government.
3. a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.
4. political or social equality; democratic spirit.
Read that definition again, and take in every last word of it.
We, in the United Kingdom are supposed to live in a democratic society. We are given the opportunity to vote for our MEPs, MPs and councillors. Hell, if you are a member, then you probably have a say in who's on the committee of your local Women's Institute or pub darts team. Almost every aspect of our community is based upon the fact that we all have the same rights (point 3), and as such have an equal right to chose who we want to take the supreme power as our elected officials (point 1).
Democracy works only if our democratically elected officials can be held to account by the people who voted for them (more on this later). In this way, if (or more realistically, when) an official is seen to be corrupt, or not doing their job to a sufficient standard, we can vote for someone else and ask them to do the job instead. Simple really.... when it works.
However it doesn't always work out that simply, and two key blows to the democratic system are on the horizon this week, and I'm pissed off about both.
Firstly, Gordon Brown. Know anyone who likes him? No, me neither. But that's beside the point. Know anyone who voted for him? Unless you live in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath the answer to this question is, No.
Take another look at definition 1 for democracy. The supreme power (running the country) should be exercised by an agent elected by the people under a free electoral system. And yet the supreme power of this country is about to pass to a man that no-one has voted for. So why is this happening?
Well, it's a long story, which I'm sure you all know, but basically Ant got a new toy in 1997, and he said he'd only play with it for a while, then he's let his mate Gordie have a go. However, Ant played with his toy for ages and ages, and when he finally got bored of playing with the toy, everyone decided Gordie should be allowed to play with it a while, after all, he was promised a go.
Two grown men fighting over who gets to play with a toy. Sounds stupid, doesn't it? But this isn't a toy, it's the running of this country, and who does that job should be decided by the people of this country, not by one man who promised another man he could have a go later. It's absurd.
I'm not naive enough to think that just because Blair is resigning I should have a say in who replaces him, but this country voted for a Labour government at the last election. The Labour party was at that time led by Tony Blair, a man elected by all members of the Labour party. If I was a member, I'd be livid that I don't have a say in who replaces him.
It is a joke that way less than 45 Labour MPs (be they Brownites or not) had the balls to back John McDonnell so that at least a token gesture of democracy could take place (though that gesture would probably have been Gordon waving two fingers). Even Robert Mugabe manages to arrange fake elections in Zimbabwe so that he could point and say "look there's democracy in action." It's gonna look a bit stupid now when Brown lectures the Iraqi people on "embracing democracy." Why should they Gordon? You've shown quite brilliantly that it's much more effective to gain power with dodgy deals, back-handers and bullying.
So, on to my second point, and this is turning into quite some rant (obviously been saving up for a while since my last post), so I'll try to keep this short.
On Friday an amendment to the Freedom of Information act is being debated in the house of commons. This amendment, if passed, would make make all communications between MPs (your elected representatives) and public authorities, exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Basically it would mean that your MP would become unaccountable. You would not be able to find out for example, what expenses they claimed, or what opinions they had given to local planning applications etc. This motion is presented by the Tory's and is also supported by a number of Labour MPs.
That's not what democracy is about. Your MP should be accountable to you. That way you can tell them what you think about them next time you have the opportunity to do so.
This is what democracy is about: Go here, write to your MP, tell him/her that you believe that as democratically elected officials they should be accountable and their actions visible. And that you urge them to stop this bill going through parliament. If enough of you write, they will listen; that's how democracy works. And you can always look at how they voted on this site, and ask them why they were such a pillock next time they knock on your door.
Picture from flickr.com
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Given there are more than 6 months to go, we are pretty organised too; we've booked the church, hall & caterers, A has found her dream dress under budget (best not to ask what the budget was though!) and I have nearly nailed down the bestest student band in the world to play at the reception.
Hopefully it's plain sailing all the way now. Just filling in around the edges, if you will. So last week my job was to try and find a company to set up and run a bar at the venue.
A and I are both fans of real ale and we had hoped to have one of the local breweries run the bar for us, so that we could show off the best local ales to our guests. So imagine my joy when walking home from the station last week I spotted an Abbey Ales van driving through Bath, with the slogan "Mobile Bars - We Bring The Beer To You" (or something to that effect) written on the side. Woo Hoo - I'm in luck here, and I don't even need to dig out the yellow pages.
Next day I rattled off an e-mail with my details asking how much they charge for their services. Hoping that all breweries ran the same service I also fired off an enquiry to Bath Ales, who, in my humble opinion brew superior beers to Abbey ales, and would be my first choice beverage provider.
Two days past and I heard nothing. So I consulted the yellow pages and fired off e-mails to four more companies, this time specialists in providing bars at, what would otherwise be, dry social events.
That was last Thursday, and I've heard diddly-squat from them too.
Six companies; none of whom have even the courtesy to e-mail me back and say "Sorry we can't help you". How do businesses survive if they don't even reply to enquiries from people offering to pay for their services?
I know you always get a much more satisfactory answer from actually phoning people and speaking to them, as e-mails are very easy to ignore, but this is the 21st century, people expect to get replies to e-mails. It's just rude not to.
Pictures from flickr.com
Thursday, April 26, 2007
My train was delayed by and hour and half. The longest delay I have ever experienced on a FGW train (only breaking the record by 5 minutes though!)
However I was not angry with FGW, no-one on the train was. Because as we passed through the rural, one-train-a-week station that is Pilning, someone decided to end their life by jumping in front of our train moving at 70 mph.
That annoys me. I feel deeply sorry for anyone who feels their life has come to a point where the only option is suicide. But having decided that sucide it is, Jumping in front of train is a pretty selfish way to go about it.
On the train there was a massive bang, lots of bouncing around and the sound of stones hitting the underside of the train. It felt as though we were derailing. I wonder if a train hitting someone can derail it.
The train then breaked relatively quickly, and the driver came out of his cab looking pretty shaken up. He walked down the train apologising, and explaining to everyone that someone had jumped in front of him and that we were likely to be here for a couple of hours
No-one complained though, instead, the usually silent commuters started chatting. In typical Dunkirk spirit; the usually silent British love to have a chatter and support each other during a crisis. We chatted about the incident at first, then joining in with other conversations further down the train. We answered "who wants to be a millionare questions" that one man was calling out from a game on his phone. At the end of the wait, a group of about five of us were joining forces to tackle the Times Crossword. It was quite good fun, and the hour and a bit we were there passed relatively quickly. I was slightly disappointed that, given this was not my regular train, these were not my regular fellow commuters. But I enjoyed their company for that hour. I can see how Stockholm Sydrome comes about.
Finally, having slagged them off time and time again I thought I should mention that I will be sending a letter to FGW customer relations praising the professionalism of their staff during the delay. The driver and the guard kept us informed, though it should be noted that they were wearing Arriva Trains Wales uniforms and were presumably covering the service as far as Bristol on behalf of FGW.
But it was new FGW staff who turned up to take over the running of the train, and a new train manager came down the carriage slowly, asking everyone if they had any questions, and apologising that the service would be (understandably) terminating at Bristol. He even had the excellent news to give me that a fast london service would be making additional stops at Keynsham and Oldfield Park. An excellent service from FGW, never thought I'd write that, especially after an hour and a half delay. Must be the Stockholm Syndrome.
Picture from the wikipedia entry for Pilning Station. Love the sarcasm in the Service entry.
P.S. Posts might not be that frequent for a while, my powerbook has gone in to be fixed. Might be gone 4 weeks they said. Sob.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
1. The climate control in my building.
It’s shite, and controlled by morons.
It’s been scorching hot outside all week, the sun is heating up all rooms with south facing windows and all the bloody air-con does is circulate hot air. We got a thermometer today and measured the temperature in the office at 28°C. A bloody humid 28° at that. It’s unbearable, and it’s only April. Much more of this, and by the time June and July comes there is gonna be lots of seriously irritable people at work.
Well, I’ll be seriously irritable.
The problem of crap air-conditioning is compounded by the building services people, who in their infinite wisdom, have deemed that because it’s April, it’s still winter. As a result the radiators are still on. Can you believe it? Thankfully in our office we can turn them off individually, but others, in the corridor for example, have no such facility and are pumping out heat. It’s beyond a joke.
2. Stupid people and ticket barriers.
This happens to me nearly every day. But having sat in a sauna all day at work, you can imagine that today it riled me more than it does most days.
What is so difficult about putting your ticket in the machine?
And why can’t you have your ticket ready before you reach the gate. There are only 5 barriers at Cardiff, so at most there is are only 3 barriers letting people into the station. Tonight there were only two; in front of one, a fat man with a suitcase was trying to find the slot for the ticket to go in. In front of the other, a dumb blonde was fumbling around in her purse for a ticket she had bought only seconds earlier. Between them they stopped access to the trains for about a minute, while a queue of around twenty people formed.
This evenings nincompoops, can possibly be forgiven, in that the did not appear to be commuters, yet every day I see the same people who haven’t got their tickets ready when they get to the gates, or do not know that they have to take their ticket from the top of the machine for it to open. You’d have thought they’d have learnt by now.
But then again, by their very nature, stupid people don’t learn.
Picture taken from macspite on flikr.com
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Whilst doing a little reading and eating my sarnies, I came across this rather interesting view on why the Virginia Tech shootings happened, and how it can be stopped from happening again. Basically their view is this tragedy happened because Clinton's democratic administration allowed johnny-foreigners into America, and that the "liberal" authorities at Virginia tech wont allow every student to carry a gun with which to defend themselves.
Scary right? At first, yes. But if you delve a little deeper onto this blog you'll find further "insightful" analysis of the situation, like this.
And when I came across their problem page, I figured out that this is the finest satirical site on the internet. Private Eye and The Onion eat your heart out.
So there you have it; Shelly The Republican is my Blog of the Week.
P.S. If you're a religious person, it might be worth praying that it is satire, you know, just in case I'm wrong.
I followed out of the station, a man wearing a full-length Gothic-style leather jacket. He was also wearing tracksuit bottoms and trainers. Weird combo, right?
But what really blew me away was, upon crossing the road I overtook him and saw that he was also wearing a black shirt and red tie.
I'll just let that whole combo sink in for a second.
Shirt, tie, Gothic leathers, trackie bums and trainers.
I think he must have been some chav on his way to a job interview, and had been told by his probation officer to wear "all his best clothes".
Each to their own I suppose. Who am I to judge?
I didn't even brush my hair this morning.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Firstly Sue Smith the team manager apologises;
I have now had the opportunity to review your case and agree we did make mistakes for which I apologise.
Well that’s something I suppose. Though there’s an automated voice at every station that apologises for delays, so actually apologies from FGW are pretty frequent, but rarely feel meant.
We did record the wrong journey and having checked our records these show that the delay to your connecting service at Bristol Temple Meads was due to a mechanical problem. [they had previously stated that it was due to driver illness] John is a relatively new member of staff and I will ensure that he has the necessary training to prevent this happening again.
Presumably this training is to look at a database of delays and read off what caused my delay. That’s pretty simple training, which makes me believe that he’d had no training at all. She continues;
He was however correct not to compensate for a delay under an hour. I appreciate that this contradicts Alison Forster’s [FGW Managing Director] letter. I have spoken to her office and I regret that an error was made in her reply. The 30 minute delay compensation period relates to previous Thames trains services and not to previous Wessex Trains. We adopted the policy that the companies had in place when we took on the areas they covered previously.
So my questions to my fellow commuters is thus: Is this true? Was Wessex trains compensation policy to pay out for delays of 30 minutes or of 1 hour? I don’t know, I was only commuting with Wessex trains for about two weeks before FGW took over. Also if you’re a former Thames Trains commuter do you get compensation for delays over 30 minutes? Sounds like many of you in the Maidenhead area are experiencing these kind of delays every day. Are you getting your money back? Or is this FGW trying to explain the cock-up with yet another lie? If you want a copy of my letter to post off with your complaint forms let me know.
Finally, Sue finishes with;
In view of the error, and the mistakes in our response, Alison has asked that we forward Rail Vouchers to the full cost of this journey leg as a goodwill gesture and these are included.
Except that this is another mistake. She actually sent me rail vouchers for the full return price. Twice the amount I was asking for. Idiots.
The basic gist of this is that no-one at FGW knows what’s going on, and someone has been telling lies. The Managing Director doesn’t know when compensation should be paid. The man in the office makes up the reason that trains are delayed. Basically it’s just a big farce, and it is clear to everyone with the exception of the DfT that FGW is not fit for purpose.
... but it's so much nicer to come home.
Hmmm. I can kind've see where he was coming from. It was comforting to come back to our flat last night, it was brilliant to get a good night's sleep on our mattress again, rather than the unbearably soft B&B mattresses of the last week. But I'm pretty sure when singing the line, Frank wasn't thinking about all the bad things about coming home; the bills on the door-mat, the rank, stinking milk in the fridge, you forgot to pour away when you left, and of course worst of all, having to be back at work on Monday morning. Still the train was on-time, and I'd slept well, so I was as cheery as could be expected.
The Holiday was great. Quite hectic, what with rushing up and down the country, but an excellent balance of beery nights with friends, catching up with family, and quality time with A up in the hills, where the weather was fantastic, as the BBC weather man told us it would be.
To summarise my holiday, Glastonbury is a nice place to visit for the day, the ruined abbey is quite spectacular, and the shopping is mighty strange. The place is a hippy/new age magnet and all the bookshops sold books relating to magic stones, healing hands and guardian angels. Not my cup of tea, but a very interesting experience.
The horse racing at Haydock was a brilliant day out, though I did get a bit burnt by the sun (and the bookies).
The Peak District was amazing, as always. This place is probably less than 2 hours drive for most people in England, it's no wonder it's the 2nd most visited national park in the world, behind mount fuji in Japan. You can even get their by public transport as the Sheffield-Manchester train goes right through it with lots of stopping points. And yet despite this, and the Easter holidays, we walked for hours without seeing anyone. Absolutely magic. We climbed Bamford Edge (pictured), walked the Pennine way as far as Kinder Scout, and walked to the very interesting village of Eyam.
Eyam is where in the 1660's the plague came and killed most of the population of the village, but the villagers stopped it's spread to neighbouring towns and villages by isolating themselves, sacrificing themselves for the good of others. A very moving tale, and the village has a really nice little museum and the church is also worth a visit. I recommend it if your visiting the Peak District and need something to do if it's raining, or if like us you're knackard after 3 days walking.
What else happened? Well Pompey beat United, Watford Thrashed Pompey, then Watford gave United a game, but we're eventually thrashed. Not unexpected, but a little unjust as we played better than the scoreline suggests. Oh well. The football season is pretty much over for us, but Luton are nearly down, so that's cheered me up.
So, with the football effectively finished, I turn my attention to Cricket. Thanks to Mr K for having spare tickets to the first test at Lords - I shall see you there. And this week we look forward to the first knock-out game of the largely dull, cricket world cup. England vs South Africa. Should be a good one.
Just a shame I'll be at work.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Ok, you're right, I could start by not wasting my time writing this blog.
But it's so difficult because it's a bank holiday this weekend, and I have the whole of next week off too! Woo Hoo! I'm like a small child - too excited to sit still.
10 whole days off!
My first holiday in ages. And the first time off without the feeling of guilt that I should be writing my thesis for a year.... if not longer. I am a free man!
Am I gonna sit and relax, watching tv whilst racing through season after season on Football Manager. Am I 'eck! - have you seen the weather forecast?
No, tomorrow (after an extensive lie-in), A (the fiance) and I, are gonna head out into the countryside for a bit local exploration. We might go to Glastonbury, apparently it's not just a festival! I'll let you know if it's worth a visit.
Then on Saturday it's off to my old stamping groud of Manchester for an afternoon at Haydock Park races, and Dr M's stag night. I hope you've got a copy of the Racing Post on order, and your best drinking trousers dry cleaned and ready sir!
Then, after a visit to the family on Sunday and Monday, it's back up north for a few days walking in the Peak District with A. I'm so looking forward to some time away. I can't wait.
I'm in such a good mood that not even the weekend railway engineering works or another loss for Watford will bring me down.
P.S. If you're going to 'boro don't forget the we are outta your league chant. That was magic 7 years ago.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Our friend over at I Hate First Great Western, has the eponymous badges ready. You can get yours by e-mailing your details to IhateFGW@yahoo.co.uk .
I'll probably start by wearing it all the time, but if FGW can run, I dunno, lets say, three consecutive days without delays to my journey, then I'll take it off 'till the next delay. Can't say fairer than that. Wont happen though.
To the majority of FGW front line staff, I'd like to say, this protest is not directed at you personally, but you can tell your managers how many people you see wearing them. And besides, it's better that I sit with my badge on, than give you an earful of bile-fuelled rant, right?
In a service update, last night's return service was 10 minutes late leaving Cardiff, due to
"the late incoming workings of a previous train."
Now that doesn't even make sense. And besides, the train had pulled into the platform, appeared to be ready to go 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time. What made me laugh though, was following the reason for being late, the train manager then optimistically announced that
"this lost time will be made up before we get to Bristol Temple Meads."
Guess what, he was wrong. He must be new, bless him.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Given the almost daily torment of travelling with FGW, you might think I'd avoid them at all cost during my down time at the weekend.
You're generally right, but if you want to get from Bath to London to visit your fiance's brother, who's back in the country for a few days, then you don't have a lot of choice.
Due to planned weekend engineering works, the usual 1 hour 30 minute journey is now over two hours, and there is only a train every hour. This is supposedly "off-peak" travel, but lunchtime on a Sunday is very much "on-peak", and we were very lucky to get a seat. There were a great number of people standing (or sitting on the floor) all the way from Bath to London. I'd imagine First class was empty though, so anyone who's company was buying their ticket for them could have sat down no problem.
On the way home we arrived at Paddington ten minutes before our train home, but decided against rushing to buy drink and a bite to eat, and instead would jump on the train and guarantee ourselves some seats. We'll get something from the buffet car, we thought.
Wrong. Despite the scrolling electronic sign reading "A Buffet car serving snacks and hot and cold drinks is available on this service" on the concourse and the platform, the buffet car remained shut for the whole journey.
An announcement, was made by the train manager, but only as the train pulled out of the station. He then - obviously already stressed by a number of passengers asking the dame questions - got the raging arse with me when I asked him why it was shut, and more importantly why the signs had said it was open. He said that due to the new timetable (eh? what's that got to do with catering?) there was no catering past 21:00 at the weekends.
As to the signs saying there was catering? The train manager said, "We've asked for those notices not to be up, and instead a sign saying no catering on this train, but every time we ask, no-one listens to us."
I know how he feels. If FGW management wont even listen to it's front line staff, it's no wonder they don't listen to their customers.
Friday, March 30, 2007
I've often thought that this is sad, that we all live in our own little bubble, and are not sharing our audio experience with anyone. Wouldn't life be more pleasant if we listened to the natural noises of life? The birds singing, the conversations, even the noise of the train on the track can be quite pleasant.
I'd also quite like to talk to some of the people I regularly see on the train. I share 15 hours a week with some of these people and yet I know nothing about them. If you're a train commuter I expect, like me, you have little names for people. Guy who looks like Tiger Woods, Old dude with the comb-over, Girl with the thermal coffee mug, Man with worn paperback and dreadlocks, man with the ace 'tache.
Would it be nice to know a little more about these people. To know their names, say "hi, how's your day?", "How's that book?" or "How do I grow an ace 'tache like that?" We don't have to be best friends. Just a bit of chatter to make life more interesting and enjoyable.
On health grounds it would be good to stop putting headphones in too. My friend H, an audiologist, tells me that using my headphones everyday there is a very good chance I'll be tone deaf by 50.
So all this week I have left my headphones at home, and have made a point of greeting at least one person on each journey with a quick hello, or good morning.
Most people have been pretty welcoming to this new idea. Most have said hello back. It even went so far as a three-minute conversation about our commute with one person. This is good.
One person moved seat and plugged their headphones in. No problem, stay in your bubble. I've no gripe with that.
What I have realised though, is there is a reason that people live in their own bubble with their mp3 players. And that reason is mobile phones. Almost every journey has had some loud, obnoxious arse shouting into their mobile phone. Or worse, a bunch of yoofs playing the latest choons to their friends, except it sounds like the band is playing in an exceptionally large tin dustbin.
Mobile phones are a scourge on society. I've got one, but I use it sensibly. I hate talking on the train, I whisper and make the call as quick as possible, walking to the vestibule if I can. People ask me what ring tone I've got. i don't know. It's always on vibrate. Why does everyone else need to know when my phone's ringing?
So if you were the man sitting behind me last night on the 18:30 Cardiff Central to Portsmouth Harbour service, and you were wailing into your bluetooth headset all the way from Cardiff to Bristol (except the Severn Tunnel - Ha Ha!) about "raising your game", "meeting targets", "getting the whole team involved" etc. I'd just like to say, that thanks to you, I'm putting my headphones back in, and I'll hold you personally responsible when my hearing goes. Also, I'll now never know how to grow a really great moustache.
If you've not finished work for the day, don't leave work. We don't want to hear it. You've had your warning. If I catch you again, I'm going to wish bad things happen to your family pets.
photo courtesy of tuxcomputers on flickr.com
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Received a letter yesterday from FGW saying that I wasn't due any compensation for a half hour delay on the 9th of March
Our passenger's charter explains that the compensation you have requested is only available when you are delayed by more than 59 minutes
This however is not true, since on February 21st I received a letter from Alison Forster (FGW, Managing Director) which said
Compensation for ex Wessex train services should be paid for delays over 30 minutes.... The restriction of compensation for an hour's delay relates to previous First Great Western journeys only... you should have received compensation and I am sorry you did not.... I have also asked for all operators to be reminded of the distinction in compensation arrangements and I apologise for the error.
But this error has happened twice since I received this letter. I don't believe customer services agents were told about this distinction in compensation payments. So I've written back telling them. See what happens next time.
Also of interest is the excuse for my delay on the 9th March
I regret that your journey was disrupted due to the Driver being taken ill.
Which is strange because I was standing at the front of this train, and was chatting to the driver as he explained to me that the train had failed. He seemed pretty well to me. Yet more lies.
Finally, an interesting point, I have received around 20 letters from FGW customer service agents since January. I've not had the same agent sign a letter twice. Are there that many people dealing with customer complaints? Possible, I'd imagine they're getting a lot. Is there a high staff turn over down there in Plymouth? Also likely, I'd imagine there were lots of temps in dealing with the major problems of Jan/Feb. Or is it that every letter is sent off has a randomly generated name of someone who doesn't exist, so that we can't pin down our complaint on any one person? Maybe I'm getting too cynical.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
With just 9 days before I have to submit my thesis, my pride and joy, my Powerbook, dies. Ahhhh! Panic! Panic!
She did not suffer, she just went to sleep and wouldn't wake back up again, instead making a spine chilling beeping noise every time I tried to start her. Panic.
Took the morning off work to take her to the Apple shop. Man in shop says, without looking at it, "it's a memory card slot problem".
He checks the serial number and says that the slots on a batch made around 2 years ago, are prone to this kind've meltdown at around this point in their life, and it will be fixed free of charge, even though the warranty has expired. Result! It'll take 3 weeks though - Boo!
I explain that although I (of course) have 10,000 back-up copies of my thesis, (OK, a slight exaggeration) it is a major inconvenience not to have a computer for the next 9 days.
He inspects my 'puter and says I have 2 memory card slots and that moving the memory to the other slot, should be a temporary fix for a month or so.
So, my computer is working again, and in a couple of weeks I can take it in and have a new board fitted for free. Gratis. Nowt.
Can you imagine a PC supplier replacing a part that had worn out after 2 years, for free! Not a chance.
My Mac is Dead! Long Live the Mac!
Monday, March 26, 2007
This morning someone decided to throw a brick at my train sometime on it's journey between London and Bath.
At this point I'd like to point out that I in no way condone random acts of vandalism, but this was no random act. I feel it's unlikely that this attack was carried out for kicks by hooded "yoofs", since it occurred before 6.30 am, and I'd imagine they're all asleep. No, this attack was deliberately targeted. Some commuter venting their anger? Maybe, and if so, understandable, but not excusable.
Upon pulling into Bristol, the train manager announced that we would be delayed briefly while fitters would be attempting to patch up the broken window before we continued our journey to South Wales. 20 minutes later and an announcement is made that since both panes of glass had been broken it was a health and safety risk to continue, in case it "imploded"! So we have to all get off the 8-car high speed train, and wait 25 minutes for the next 2-car "trolley-bus"-style train to Cardiff.
It's not directly FGW's fault that someone had vandalised the train, so FGW have done nothing wrong so far, right? Wrong. Here's where the brain cells should have kicked in:
1. Why weren't the fitters told before we got to Bristol that both panes were broken. Someone could have just looked. It's not rocket science. Though, upon gettinig to Bristol, it still took 20 minutes to work out that both panes were broken... maybe it is rocket science.
2. If the train was unsafe, why was it allowed to continue from the attack site to Bristol, surely everyone should have been off-loaded at the next safe place? If it was safe to get to Bristol - why couldn't it continue to it's destination?
3. And this was the thing that really got me angry. Why did it take 20 minutes to tell us? Was it deliberate that we were told to get off just one minute after another train to Cardiff left Bristol? Was it to avoid overcrowding on that train? If so, it didn't work. It just delayed the overcrowding to the next train.
Was it done to antagonise as many passengers as possible? Because if so, it worked.
My guess is that it was plain stupidity on the part of the train manager who, as usual, wasn't thinking about the needs of the passengers. And I told him what I thought.
I tell you, if I'd have had something to throw....