Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Election 2015 - It's all kicking off

I suppose I need to make a few topical jottings to reflect the near hysteria mild interest in the approaching dissolution of Parliament. It's odd to have the date fixed so far in advance. Speculation about precisely when an election would take place could be guaranteed to fill many column inches  in the Press in the old days. Today other stories are jostling for attention instead
  • David Cameron's TV interview where he revealed his intention to stand down after a second full term and named his likely successors.
  • Nigel Farage's attempts to keep some sort of party around him as candidate after candidate implodes
  • The SNP, resurgent after the near defeat in the Referendum, fancies itself to hold the balance of power once it has done terrible damage to the other parties in the Scottish seats.
None of this has much bearing on the policies we might expect from an incoming government. If I can make out any of it out, I shall report back.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Eclipse - myths and reality

Before we are plunged into the stygian blackness of the total solar eclipse tomorrow, Ramblings wants to ensure all of its readers are safe and well-informed. Here is our handy cut-out-n-throw-away guide to everything you need to know.

  • Never look directly at the sun. Use a piece of smoked trout. With a suitable piece, cut a small hole, mount the fish on a tripod and let the sun's image project onto a TV screen (you have a portable set that can be moved outside, haven't you?). Now you can host your own TV chat show in total safety, with lots of Dara O'Brain type interventions such as "This is all a bit fishy" and "These scales show the scale of the event".
  • Never look directly at your neighbours. If they are out with binoculars and surveillance equipment, looking at them is a dead give-away. With your head facing away at an angle of 380 sneak a crafty peek out of the corner of your eye. Don't forget to make copious notes afterwards,
  • Do not try flying a drone equipped with your iphone6 in a vain attempt to make a better picture. When the eclipse begins the drop in solar radiation will play havoc with the inertial navigation systems, the drone will crash in your neighbour's garden and your phone, with any possibly incriminating photographs, will be in their possession.
  • Do not attempt to take a selfie involving yourself, your spouse and children, and the Sun at the moment of eclipse. For this to work all of you must face away from the Sun with the camera pointing back at you. The light will not only burn out the optics but the reflections could give a nasty case of sunburn. If you wait until total darkness, then the flash will fire and all you will see are your own startled faces blinking back. Waste of time.
  • Do not bother hosting a last-minute wine and cheese party. It will all be over by 10:40 and who wants to sip warm white wine at that time in the morning?
  • Do not watch television broadcasts of the eclipse without something hard to bite on every time:
    • There is a shot of a presenter getting into an aircraft
    • There is a shot of a presenter in an aircraft, with headphones on, pointing out of the window and saying what a great view she has
    • There is a shot of a presenter in an aircraft going "Wow"
    • There is a shot of someone in the studio going "Wow"
    • Someone brings up the old "use smoked glass" myth. See above
    • Regional news infills show you wise old crofters shading their eyes, ice-cream salesmen in the south bemoaning their fate, tourists in Oxford Street taking no notice, smoked trout salesmen rubbing their hands with glee.
    • A real expert on solar physics is asked to explain about coronal mass ejections, sun-spots, solar flares, the solar wind, the sun's magnetic cycle and other stuff of enormous importance to us living on this planet, and who is cut off after a minute because we have to go to the news headlines.

These rules will keep you fit and stress free, and you can eat the trout with a nice piece of brown bread the moment it is all over.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How dumb is Facebook?

For no very good reason, I wandered onto Facebook and checked out "Ruislip". It has a page headed "Ruislip, Slough, Middlesex". I should have quit there and then, but...

In the same way that a motorist getting increasingly lost in a strange city will plough on rather than ask a passerby for directions, (or is that just me?) I noticed a section inviting edits. It asked me to confirm if Uxbridge Lido (a swimming pool) and Ruislip Lido (a lake and nature reserve in the centre of the historic Ruislip Woods) were the same thing. Perhaps nobody at Facebook has encountered the word lido before. Perhaps they ask visitors to the Venice page if the Venice Lido is actually the same thing as the Uxbridge Lido. Or if Venice Beach (California) is the place to go for a dip after a visit to the Rialto?

It then asked if a webreference to the Borough of Hillingdon (in which we live, not Slough) was the same as some obvious Welsh website which I cannot pronounce. 

There is nowhere I could see that would allow me to correct the unbelievable linkage of our beautiful and ancient village with the industrial mess 10 miles away to the south-west. At this point I threw in the towel and left. Visitors to Facebook will have to make of it what they will. But if they seek after truth, I suggest they find alternatives.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Meanwhile, in a shopping mall near Corleone...

 As investigations continue into goings-on at the supermarket giant we all love to hate, I am indebted to The Guardian for this quote from a story about enquiries by the "Groceries Code Adjudicator", Christine Tacon.

As Tacon highlighted some of her leading concerns about the practices at Tesco, MSP Mike Russell said such schemes were new to him. “I had only read about them and seen them in films like The God­father,” he said.

I don't know what Ms. Tacon's take on that was [And they said Music Hall was dead: Ed] but here's the so-obvious one from Ramblings.

They brought Aldi into the inner room at the back, the room where no woman was permitted to enter. Tagliatelli was there, face impassive, his clipboard as always in his left hand. Fresco nodded once but made no sign. Behind the huge desk the Don sat staring out at the trolleys in the car park and nobody dared speak until he slowly turned and his gaze bore into Aldi with all the impact of a double Clubcard promotion special.

"I am disappointed in you, my son. I put you in charge of your own aisle. I let you put up the pricing stickers yourself. You grow fat on the date-expired chocolates I let you keep, huh? And all I ask is ... a little respect"

Sweat broke out on Aldi's forehead. He saw the Arab, Al-Dente shift slightly where he stood poised beside the 42 inch TV (Special offer, buy now) in the corner. He remembered that nobody had ever found the remains of Al's former boss, Bud Gen. The silence in the room closed on in him, He fingered his tie, tried to breathe normally.

"I always respected you Godfather"

"But you never came to me and said 'Godfather, I bought some biscuits on a two for one, share them with me.' You did not invite me to your daughter's birthday party although you took the crate of lemonade delivered here by mistake with a wrong docket number.  You had dealings with the Jew, Morry and his sons - ah, you see, I know everything. And when that Scotsman, Macfisheries, make you an offer to work for him? You think I don't know?"

Aldi knew he was finished. He saw the men around him watch him like a three day old sandwich, fit only for the rubbish bin. The Godfather sighed.

"I had such plans for you. But now...   You wait outside a moment, ok?"

Aldi shuffled out, sat on the hard chair and the door closed. The Godfather looked at his trusted Capo d'aisles.

"I want this done properly. Nobody to know, nobody to get hurt"

Fresco put his hand to his pocket where he always kept his green marker pen for special promotions.

"We do it the safe way, Godfather"

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The blizzard strikes Ruislip (not)

While the eastern United States suffered snowstorms that shut down flights and cities, and northern UK had a bit of the same, we in beautiful Ruislip awoke this fine morning to find a light dusting of the white stuff. I waved a scraper at my car windscreen and most of it fell cleanly away - fortunately there was no ice underneath.

It's been cold for the past few days, temperatures dipping below zero most nights, in sharp contrast to the mild and wet January, and it feels more like winter ought to.  The Met Office people speak of blocking systems and diverted jetstreams and the like but really it is just business as usual. However whether the milder start to the year has pushed plants into a premature growth that the frosts will kill off - we will see in a few weeks time.

And speaking of commuting, which I wasn't, the Met line has been suffering a bit with all sorts of problems. Yesterday, when Mrs. Commuter and I went Londonwards, there were some gaps in the service so we had sprinted up the steps as a train came in; coming back a couple of hours later a signal failure at Moorgate had paralysed the line and it was running with severe delays. We took a Jubbly in the hope of catching a train that might start at Wembley Park but by the time we had got there the Met was running through trains again.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The 10 Year Struggle is Over as Ruislip Manor joins the 21st Century

Important historical background

10 years ago my home station, Ruislip Manor, had a refurbishment. On other stations electronic display boards show passengers the expected times of arrival of trains. In the days before smartphone apps put this sort of information at our fingertips, they were a blessing. I hoped that one of the improvements of the rebuild would be the installation of such boards and said so in this very column.

It took them three months after the rebuild but in a piece at the end of March 2006 I celebrated the appearance of the self-same signs. Three weeks later they switched them on and, as I noted at the time,  they showed nothing more than the direction in which trains ran, and they couldn't even get that right. But I thought it would be all sorted out pretty soon. By May I was becoming more cynical. In February 2007 the utter uselessness of the boards, which continued to display only the wrong direction of travel (and the time, to be fair) was taken for granted.

All the information about train movements, including on the Metropolitan, was made publicly available in  March 2009 and I celebrated this development by crediting London Underground. Of course the information was not displayed on the platforms at Ruislip Manor - the electronic signs continued to show nothing of any value. Why did they not hook them up the same data that was made available to any smartphone app developer? I have no idea. I returned to this theme a couple of weeks later.

Being able to use one's phone to check on train arrivals was, and remains, a pure joy for the experienced commuter. But it always irritated that LU refused to use the expensive equipment that should have been the primary source of such information. I had another go at them late in 2010. After that, as I began to commute less, it didn't seem to grate so much. And I suppose I had begun to assume that nothing would ever change again.

And now today's momentous news

This picture tells the story. Apologies for the usual blurring caused by a combination of my cheap phone's camera and the gathering gloom of a late winter afternoon. But what does that matter? For the information boards are finally doing what they should have been doing 9 long years ago - giving us information!

It does say "Service under test" and I noted that there were no signs working at other stations on the section up to Harrow (south of which they have been merrily doing their job for many years), so too soon to crack open the Bollinger but maybe a glass of weak lemonade would be fitting.

And not only that - for at the entrance to the station they have activated another long dormant display - this one showing the arrivals at both platforms. Another huge positive, though Waterloo tube station had one installed - and working - in April 2009, as I noted at the time, and of course most other stations have also had them for ages.

So, assuming that it all works once the testing is complete (and I have no reason to think otherwise), this brings a very long and frustrating period to a happy conclusion. How about that?

When pigeons attack

Quite a good title for a straight-to-dvd horror film. But this morning I very nearly found myself in a bird vs. man situation. I was sitting peacefully at my desk, unaware of the peril that stalked just outside the house. My eye was half caught by the builders who are putting up an extension on my neighbour's house about 50 yards away. Imagine my surprise when out of nowhere a pigeon hurtled straight into my face - or would have done, had it not bounced off the window that separated us.

The window was undamaged. The bird flew away, no doubt sadder and wiser and wishing it had paid more attention to its flight path. When my heart had stopped thumping from the sight of a bird momentarily flattened to the glass not two feet away I penned these few words. All is now quiet in beautiful Ruislip. The birds are outside and we are inside. All except those builders working on the roof. Should I alert them? Are they trained to react to two pounds of daft columba palumbus zooming in out of the sun and whipping the very sandwiches from their cold, trembling fingers? We can only watch, and hope.