Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The ever-changing London

An afternoon at Belsize Park led on to an evening concert at the stunning Tudor Hall at the Middle Temple in central London. To get there I took the tube part way then walked from Warren Street through the heart of theatreland. That London constantly reinvents itself is a bit of cliche but even so, I was surprised at the extent of changes to areas I thought I knew.

 Tottenham Court Road used to be the hub of the electronics business with dozens of specialist shops selling cameras and computers, phones and hifi, even telescopes in the old days. I bought my first computer, an Apple II, there in 1981. Today there are barely five, all fairly small, outlets which together could have fitted into one of the big stores twenty years ago. At its end Centre Point looks quite different from what I used to know, with all the buildings on side ripped away and a great gap at the top of Charing Cross Road where a cluster of Victorian (?) properties await demolition. A new station front has been shoehorned across the street from the massive hole where Crossrail will pass underneath in the near future.

At least there are still musical instrument shops in Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street) and some specialist bookshops in the area but where did all the coffee shops and restaurants come from? My wife, who worked there in the 1970s, remembers the area around Fleet Street as a culinary desert in the evenings. Not any more - the city is far more alive at night than it used to be.

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South (or somewhere else) - 6

Another flyer from the Greens this morning. On behalf of the candidate for the neighbouring constituency, Ruislip Northwood and Pinner. I've heard of people being keen and all that but surely they can't expect my vote in two places?

How dumb is Tripadvisor?

I have written a few reviews for Tripadvisor. Some for places in France, a few for the West Country and a scattering in other locations. As well as earning a batch of meaningless "badges" (little pictures that appear when I satisfy my vanity to look at my profile on their website), they tell me I have incurred 232 miles of travelling.

Now I last studied geography at school and I don't do much by way of sums these days since I gave up the day job, but surely, M'lud, even one trip to Penzance will amount to some 280 miles? If you simply added up each journey from home to each place reviewed it would amount to well over 2000. Obviously TA has some other, secret, method. I cannot imagine what it is.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Election 2015 - "Democracy is only real when you vote for us" - SNP

I am somewhat distorting the views expressed the other day by Nicola Sturgeon when interviewed on the Today programme on the BBC. It was early in the morning and I was listening only half awake but I am pretty sure she said "The voters have rejected the two party system".

Opinion polls are consistently showing about 34% of voters supporting the Conservatives and 34% supporting Labour. For the benefit of numerically-challenged politicians (naming no names, Ms. S. but I think you know who I'm writing about), that adds to 68%. More than 2 out of every 3 British voters supports one or other of the two mainstream parties. This is not voter rejection. This is a fairly whopping voter support of it. True, the SNP is doing very well in Scotland. In the context of the elections for the UK parliament, elections supported by 55% of the Scottish electorate at the referendum, the two party system continues to be representative of a very substantial majority.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South - 5

The Green party candidate sent a flyer round. It includes the following

One of our biggest problems in Uxbridge and South Ruislip is traffic congestion. We need a proper public transport service that takes the railway back into public ownership at the end of the current franchises.

I had a think about this. Most of the rail traffic through this area is on the London Underground system which is in public ownership. The bit that isn't is the line in the extreme south of the constituency that runs into Paddington, the old Great Western line and probably only West Drayton station is within the borders. So it is unclear how changing the ownership of this line can have any effect on traffic in the rest of the constituency. It is even less clear what "proper" public transport services should be; the candidate does not bother to specify. If there were to be public ownership and presumably greater investment in rolling stock, signals and the frequency of services, how would this be paid for? We are not told.

I am strongly in favour of public transport so I totally agree with the sentiments expressed but sadly, in the current economic climate, I think they remain out of reach.

Finally, what of HS2? The candidate is pictured behind a banner opposing it. But there is no mention of it in the stated list of Green party policies. And surely, as a massive investment in public transport that will be a direct challenger to both motorway and airline, is it not to be applauded? If not, what sort of public transport should we be investing in?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hold the line please, your oven is calling

Each Sunday it is my special pleasure to browse through the colour supplement (as they used to call it) of the national paper to which I subscribe. It is a rich source of material for this blog, highlighting (usually inadvertently) the absurdities of our world. Today, as is often the case, it was an advertisement that made me choke with laughter over my toast and peanut butter. For the banking arm of a well-known supermarket had chosen to run a two page ad on the theme of Kitchens of the Future.

It is telling that it is the bank, not the groceries wing of this mighty corporation, that is sponsoring the ad. They have failed at the first chance in making it relevant to me, the bloke actually reading it. For they declaim at once:
The kitchen has changed utterly since the beginning of the last century. No longer tucked away, it's more often an open-plan central living space in our homes where families congregate.
 At the beginning of the last century when my ancestors lived in over-crowded flats the kitchen was just about the only place the family could congregate. But, leaving that aside, I live in a typical mid 20c house. The kitchen is fairly small, has insufficient room for seats and is used for storing and preparing food. Adjacent to it is a convenient dining room and to next to that is the living room. These are the rooms where my wife and I congregate (sounds a bit rude, put like that: Ed) and when we move out and a larger family moves in they will surely do the same. 

OK, let's pass over the adman's ignorance and on to the main course. The kitchen of the future - what will it be like? It will, of course, be entirely full of gadgets connected to the internet and all of them constantly watching what we do, telling us what to do and re-ordering on our behalf. Because nothing is so unbearably time-consuming as the three minutes a week my wife spends in checking what we have in stock before we set out for the shops and anything that can reduce that will surely enhance the quality of our lives. (I take it this last bit was to be in a sarcastic tone, right? Ed)

It doesn't stop there. In the kitchen of the future we will have intelligent frying pans. They will know when the food is cooked on one side and will tell us so. And how will they do that? By a little light coming on? By making a funny buzzing sound? No. According to the ad, they will communicate via our smartphones. I had the next few lines written in my head before I finished my tea.

Scene: The kitchen of the future. Citizen AnthonyG#377k (Ruislip) is cooking his weekly treat of fish fingers. He has invested in a smart frying pan and, following manufacturer's instructions, set it up to talk to his smartphone.

Citizen A: (to himself) "Hm these fish fingers are frying nicely but how can I be sure they are ready to turn?"
His phone rings. He has left it outside in his jacket. He rushes off, still holding the spatula which drips hot fat over the floor. He fumbles for the correct pocket, opens the phone cover and tries to swipe the glass to answer the call but as usual is too late and the phone call goes to voicemail. He dials voicemail.
Voicemail: "You have one new message." He presses 1 on the keypad, transferring a little fat to it and making the glass all smeary
Message: presumably an eerie robotic sort of voice, a cross between a Dalek and William Hague  "Greetings. Your fish fingers need turning. Please complete within seven seconds to prevent sub-optimal cooking. Message ends"
Citizen A: "Bugger". He puts the phone down, rushes back to the kitchen. He is about to begin turning when the phone rings again. This time he is fast enough to answer it.
Caller: a slightly different sort of robotic voice, rather silkier and a little American "Your pork chops need turning. Do this now."
Citizen A: "What?"
Caller:  "I repeat, your pork chops, 232 grams of AsdaLid specials, require turning instantly. Please confirm that turning has commenced."
Citizen A: "I'm not cooking pork chops"
Caller: with a hint of menace "I think you are, Dave"
Citizen A: "It's fish fingers."
Caller: "Dave, are you sure you are competent to complete this mission?"
Citizen A: "Look, who is this? My pan has just called me. Who are you?
Caller: "Er, isn't that 0777733333332222222?"
Citizen A:  "No it bloody isn't"
Caller: "Oh. Sorry. Wrong number. I'm always doing that. It's so hot in this kitchen and sometimes my circuits get a little frazzled. Shall I sing you a little song. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do..."
 Citizen A: "Bloody spam callers". He ends the calls. His phone rings again. Ignoring the smoke beginning to drift out of the kitchen he answers it.
Frying pan: "Oh there you are at last. Look, I've been trying to get through for ages. Your fish fingers are nearly burnt. I'd turn off the heat if I were you. I'd do it myself but I'm only the XF3 model, the cheap one and I'm not equipped to do that. Why didn't you buy the deluxe version? That one not only turns them for you, it butters the toast and flips the fish fingers straight onto the plate. But no, you had to go for the cheaper model. Huh. You can't tell some people."
Citizen A: "Alright, alright, thanks."
Frying pan: "Bye. Have a nice day. Oh, the fish fingers are now totally burnt and the fire alarm has told me it's about to go off. Talk to you later". Disconnects

It's come to something when your own kitchen devices hang up on you but it's surely coming. The man from the bank attached to the supermarket has said so.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Battle for Uxbridge and Ruislip South - 4

After a refreshing week away in the western extremities of our island, Mrs. C and I returned to find a small swathe of electioneering material waiting for us on the doormat. Each contains broad promises about spending more on the NHS. None of them analyse the current economic problems facing our country and explain how they will manage our tax and spending systems to cope. None explain how they will alter policies should they go into coalition, even though this still appears the most likely outcome of the election. One cannot make any form of judgement about fitness to rule from this stuff.

However, only five of the thirteen candidates declared for this seat have communicated with us so far. Boris J. is well in the lead having today sent a further highly polished missive to add to one sent ten days ago. For the record, as well as the main parties (Con, Lab, LibDem), we have UKIP, Green, a Realist, a Communities United (whose short leaflet contained half a dozen examples of broken or poor English and not one reference to anything local or even where the candidate lives), a TUSC , three independents and two nutters:- the Monster Raving Loony party represented by "Howling Laud" Hope (sic) and The Eccentric Party of Great Party by Lord Toby Jug.

I would certainly attend hustings between the last two named to see which has the dafter policies and, more important, the most flamboyant costume, the silliest supporters and the most eye-catching gimmicks to enliven their campaigns.

The winner continues to make national news. Boris was on the front page of the papers today, photographed at RAF Uxbridge in the control room where the Battle of Britain was directed. A glimpse into the future, perhaps?