Monday, June 25, 2007

The Great Unwashed

It’s Monday morning, It’s teeming down outside. Rain of biblical proportions. The train pulls in (late, of course) to Bristol Temple Meads. These things combined, make for a pretty miserable morning. But what’s this at the station? Life is about to get a whole lot worse.

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

Well Done FGW

Apparently there was a monumental thunder storm in the Bristol area last night around 6pm. Which is strange because 12 miles away in Bath there was not. The weather this week has been strange, hasn't it?

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

Something Old, Something New

If you’re into discovering new music*, as I am, there is a certain joy to being the first person to discover a new artist.

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

A New Record

Today a record was achieved that I believe will never be broken.

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

Fares Fair?

I am gob-smacked. Truly gob-smacked.

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 Great Fixture Lottery

Tommorrow the football fixtures for next season are released. This is one of the more notable dates in every football fan’s Calendar. To start, every fan takes a look at their opening matches and starts to plan their summer. They also always have a look at the fixtures over the festive period, the weekend closest to their birthday, and what kind’ve run-in your team has at the end of the season. The more travelled supporter might also look out for certain away dates that may be excellent opportunities for meeting up with old friends.

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.....

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

Laugh Your Way To Work

Thanks to Mr Coldbrain for bringing to my attention The All Day Breakfast Show. In case you are not familiar with Mr Coldbrain I shall explain that The All Day Breakfast Show is the new podcast from that deity of broadcasting Danny Baker.

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

New London 2012 Olympic Logo

I'm no expert in branding or marketing. That's why I earn piss-all working for a public body.

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

Bank Holidays

Apologies, that this is a little out of date now, I started writing this post on Tuesday and have since had a bit of a mad week. But after just reading Mr coldbrain's mishaps over the bank holiday, I thought I'd finish it off and post it anyway.

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.