Thursday, December 22, 2005

Back to normal (?)

Celebrations are in order. Let beer flow in the fountains. Let flags unfurl and fireworks ignite. The westbound platform at my home station, Ruislip Manor, has opened after six months of rebuilding and my journey from work is back to what it used to be.
There is a notice at the station congratulating the builders on finishing early. Actually they are only a few days early and there is still work in progress on both platforms. Now, just to be grouchy, here are several reasons why congratulations are not in order.
  • No disabled access. They could have put in a lift or ramps. They did nothing. The station remains inaccessible to wheelchair users and hard for anyone with pushchairs and the like

  • The awful shelters on the platforms. Inadequate. Almost no protection from the elements. And though there are seats on the platforms, there are none under the shelters. So if it rains you can sit and get wet or stand (and probably get wet). But not sit in comfort.

  • No information. South Harrow has a nice electronic display board and it only has Piccadilly trains. Metropolitan and Piccadilly trains run through Ruislip Manor and we are told nothing and must continue to wait in ignorance.

  • Destruction of trees. Many fine trees stood behind the platforms, especially eastbound where they effectively screened the station from the houses. We were promised that they would be replanted. When? The eastbound side has been a builder’s tip for a year. Yes, an entire year, just to rebuild a single concrete railway platform. Impressive or what?

It all feels like a missed opportunity. There was no consultation with the regular commuters before the rebuilding (we actually got just two weeks notice that first one then the other platform would be closed for six months apiece). So I feel no ownership and see no reason to be grateful. On the other hand it is Christmas. So thanks for letting us have our station back. Ho Ho Ho. Or not, as the case may be.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Refinery burns

Poison cloud hits London, screamed the headline in the Evening Standard. Err, up to a point Lord Copper. The skies were clear and there was no hint of oil-laded pollution in the air. Despite the awesome satellite photos of the huge black cloud covering most of southern England, following the fire at the refinery near Hemel Hempstead, there was little sign of it on the ground. The day the fire started, Sunday, was foggy, cold and very still and the air had a slightly prickly taste but then it does anyway on this sort of late autumn day.
Now the fires are out and the recriminations have begun. But this won’t deter London Underground who managed another round of “faulty communications equipment” problems last night with the usual cancellation of most of the Piccadilly trains up to Rayners Lane. Sod them. If only they would finish rebuilding Ruislip Manor then at least a further useless 10 minutes could be cut from my journey. Sometimes you just wish that the odd poison cloud would drop over Broadway and render helpless the “line controllers”.
And finally, as I ruminated a few weeks back a timely bonus from work has provided the means and the impetus to get a Creative Zen Sleek mp3 player. Lovely. The bloke fiddling with the dinkly little white box in the corner of the train - that's me you know

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A close encounter (of the unpleasant kind)

I was walking briskly in the chilling night air down Hammersmith Road, as is my wont, on my way home. A young man, rather casually dressed for the cold, somewhat unshaven with straggly long hair, stopped me. Did I know the nearest takeaway? I pointed back toward North End Road but before I could extol the delights of the various greasy spoons on that dismal thoroughfare he launched into a bitter and vitriolic attack on the area. Why were there no takeaways? Why was this area such crap?. Shepherd’s Bush [just a mile north west of us, gentle reader] was so much better. I asked him to stop shouting at me. He apologised and then immediately went on about unfair it was and how tired he was and how fed up he was with Hammersmith.

So I shrugged and walked on. Another nutter? Off his head on an illegal substance? Starving and light-headed? I dunno. I really don’t see why I should take personal responsibility for the unfriendly streets around Olympia. So I won’t.

An on a lighter note, this evening was the 7th night in a row that my Piccadilly train terminated at Rayners Lane. In theory a third do so, a third go to Ruislip and a third to Uxbridge. Each night there has been a Ruislip train close behind. So what are the odds on that happening? I have been leaving my office at the same time each night. Does it mean the trains are – GASP – actually running to time? What is the world coming to?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

One year on

Happy birthday. This site was born on 18 November 2004. Just one year ago I first began spouting forth. I wrote “…assuming I bother to keep this updated…”. Well, I have. And intend to go on so doing. Thank you and have a good day

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A mid-month catch up

Nearly two weeks since my last missive. The weather has turned colder and the leaves are falling, many of them into my pond. No reports of trains unexpectedly delayed by leaves on the line but there’s plenty of time. The Piccadilly has been reasonable and I’ve only submitted one Customer Charter claim, more through exasperation than because of a serious delay. They announced that a good service was operating and simultaneously turned an Uxbridge train round at Acton Town without apology or explanation. This used to happen more often than it does now but it still grates, because they normally do it when there are already gaps in the service and therefore they create an even longer gap for those of us travelling out of London and going beyond Rayners Lane.
Anyway the latest scare is bird flu. Nice piece in the Guardian pointing out that “experts” always predict millions of deaths from any new disease and it rarely turns out that way. This however does not make me feel better when sitting next to someone who is sneezing. In a crowded tube carriage you cannot choose your neighbours and you must, perforce, inhale the air expelled those around you.

And now the big pre-Christmas question. Should I finally invest in an mp3 player to help while away the dull hours pacing up and down cold and deserted platforms (some exaggeration here: Ed) No, Ed, it certainly feels like hours, it’s alright for you nit-picking my finely chiselled prose from your warm office. But we digress. I’ve got loads of radio recordings, so much more soothing and rewarding for listening in a confined space than music. It’s the headphones that put me off. I’ve tried a radio (yes I know the reception on trains is appalling) and the little ear buds kept falling out. More research is needed. But I fancy a Creative Zen 20gb micro – capable of holding all my radio stuff plus music CDs and best of all it’s not an ipod. I shall go have a good look at Ebay and report back when there are developments.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Wither Halloween (I hope)

Into November and the curse of Halloween seems to be wearing off. <northern voice on> When I were a lad, we had no truck with these faked up Yankee commercial junkets <back to normal rather posh sounding standard English accent> no, we had Guy Fawkes night to look forward to and there was excitement from the moment the first fireworks appeared in the local newsagents. Pocket money was saved, window displays drooled over, leaves gathered and old clothes for a guy begged. October 31 meant nothing at all to us.

Then in recent years thanks to the impact of American TV and the ghastly supermarket marketing campaigns (Sainsburys – buy scary veg, uggh) designed to shift pumpkins, a food nobody eats and nobody likes, coupled with the realisation by kids that this was another way to get money from strangers, not to mention the implicit threat of violence behind “trick or treat”, one has begun to dread the knock on the door at night on Halloween. At least carol singers announce their presence first and don’t demand money with menaces (not in Ruislip anyway, we are much too genteel for doorstep thuggery from men in cassocks).

This year however, we were visited only by four small children, shepherded by an adult (and at such an early hour I was not even home, so thanks to Mrs Commuter for this report). Perhaps people are getting bored with it. The origins of Halloween lie of course both in pagan and medieval Christian practices and are not as alien as may appear, but the Americanisation of it really does irritate. The original idea that on All Hallows Eve one may commune with the dead is a fairly spooky idea but this has been lost in a mush of confusion about witches and vampires and those sodding pumpkins. Not that Nov 5th has retained much of its original meaning, the spontaneous lighting of fires by Londoners when the news about the foiling of the gunpowder plot was announced. Now it is just an excuse for fireworks and fires, but bonfires are so apt at this time of the year, especially with the darker evenings as the clocks go back, that it works and has an enduring appeal.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Having a laugh

There were no warnings of problems on the LU website but when I arrived at Barons Court yesterday evening there was a warning about a fire alert at Hyde Park posted just ten minutes earlier. Great. I’d left specially early, still getting over a cold, and the last thing I needed was to hang about on a cold platform.

A District Line, to Ealing, came in. I took it to Hammersmith since there is no point in expecting any usable information at Barons Court. And lo, after I had descended from said train and after it shut the doors, they announced that all travellers for Rayners Lane and Ruislip should take the District Line to Acton.  Well not worry, at least there was a Piccadilly (bound for Heathrow, of course) waiting in the sidings at Hammersmith. Quite unusual that, I can hardly recall another incident when they used that siding. It came in a few moments later and the driver reassured us that there were trains for Ruislip waiting at Acton Town.

So we all get out at Acton Town and after a few minutes they announce the arrival of a Ruislip bound train. Except that when it arrives the lights are off and the destination sign is blank. I know this to be the sign of a train that is out of service. But not the station announcer. We all wait for another five minutes before he tells us that the train is defective. At exactly that time another Piccadilly pulls in on the adjacent westbound platform with “not in service” as its destination. Yes, folks, there is a problem on the line and the reaction of the line controller is to pull trains out of service. Not, as you might dare to imagine, at least to try to run one train to take delayed passengers on their journey.

Anyway the drivers and staff who hang about at the foot of the steps at Acton Town were having a great time. They stood in the doorway of the cabs and on the platform and laughed and joked with the announcer and the man with the clipboard who assigns drivers (this station being one of the main centres for drivers starting and finishing shifts). And those of us waiting around laughed and joked as well. Actually that’s not true. We stood and shrugged our shoulders and looked despairingly at the sky. But, you know, so long as the staff have a good time then really it’s all worth it. Isn’t it?

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Cough, sniff, oogh my aching head…your correspondent has a cold and is not feeling too great about it.  The only upside is that I took a day off work and thereby deprived myself of two train journeys.
>This morning I went back to work but left half an hour later. What a difference. There were only four people in the front compartment of my carriage, which seats 14, even when we left Hammersmith. This meant I wasn’t sneezing over anyone, which was the object of the exercise. There’s a much more relaxed atmosphere when you travel with what Bristow would undoubtedly describe as the “late-late crowd”. One might almost use the word “insouciant”, if only one was sure what it meant. A sort of clublike, we don’t need to scramble for seats, let’s take our time and enjoy the journey feeling.
Ah well, I’m feeling better today, especially with the unseasonable sunshine, so it will be back to normal tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Danger: Leaf-fall

I’ve previously written about how my homeward journey requires a stop at Ruislip and the crossing of the platform bridge in order to catch a train back to Ruislip Manor, that station’s westbound platform being under repair. In the wet of the gathering autumn a fresh hazard looms menacingly. The steps of the bridge are prone to gather leaves and wet leaves are about the most slippery objects I know.  The danger of somone debarking from a westbound train and racing for an eastbound train (you race because you simply have no idea when the next one might be), slipping on the steps and falling amidst a heap of flailing bodies of one’s fellow commuters (OK, yes, I admit that I’m the “someone” I have in mind), where was I, yes, this seems like a real and present threat.

So should I simply walk more slowly up and over the bridge? Easy to say. Hard to do, when just as one is ascending, an eastbound train appears and you know that you need to move a little bit faster to be sure of boarding. These train drivers don’t hang about, you know. They can see that a westbound train has just disgorged its load of homecoming commuters and they know that some of these will wish to hurry over the bridge and take the train back east. Occasionally the odd sympathetic driver holds the doors open for a few seconds longer. Normally they pull out as quickly as regulations allow, leaving irritated passengers still scrambling down the stairs of the bridge.

This nightmare of moral and physical ambiguity (a little exaggeration here surely: Ed) should come to an end around January when down t’manor is completed and my commuting reverts to normal. Let us hope so. Lives may depend on it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gloom in the Damp

Maybe it’s the wet weather. Services on the Piccadilly have deteriorated noticeably in the last few weeks. Cancellations in the morning and real problems on several, separated, days in the evenings. Last night a security alert caused the usual knee-jerk cancellation of through services to Rayners Lane, replaced by the dreaded shuttle between RL and Acton Town. No particular interruption to Heathrow trains, of course.

Communications are as bad as ever. Passengers entering Hammersmith last night confronted a message board showing “minor delays” for the Piccadilly. True enough for those going on the Heathrow branch. A 20 minute wait for those of us heading Rayners Lane way. At least the station announcer was on track, telling people on the platform to take the first train and change. And at Acton Town no announcements at all as a large crowd built up, until at last our shuttle pulled in at a snail’s pace from the siding and ground along arthritically most of the way. Perhaps the driver was being considerate and trying not to make the train sway too much, bearing in mind the numbers standing. Or maybe they just run them slowly as part of the whole mindset that goes “there’s a problem, lets screw up the Rayners Lane branch as much as humanly possible”.

I am making far more Customer Charter refund claims than earlier in the year. And they are getting paid too. Yesterday I received one for a claim made for September 26th. Now if only the actual trains were run with the same efficiency as the claims office…

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Guessing games

There was some sort of delay on the Piccadilly this morning, just as there was yesterday when at least two trains at Rayners Lane were cancelled. And as usual, when there is a problem, there was no station attendant. We did get a crackly announcement but – you guessed it – this was delivered precisely as a Metropolitan train was leaving the station and so of course we could barely distinguish a word. So whether today’s bit of fun was caused by
  • Rampaging hippos on the line at Arnos Grove

  • Faulty ticket inspectors masquerading as bishops at Leicester Square

  • Insert your own silly excuse here, its just as likely to be true as the usual tat about signal failures
Well, who can say?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Catalonian considerations

Mrs. Commuter and I visited Barcelona last week. A thoroughly enjoyable holiday and once again, a Metro system that puts London Underground to shame. A single ticket costs €1.10, and a book of ten tickets costs only €6. A ticket takes you anywhere on a system of several major lines. Indicator boards on every platform show you to the second when the next train is due. Indicators within the trains show you where you are and where the next station stop is. We only made three journeys so not a particularly hard test but nonetheless waited no more than 3 minutes.

Viva Espana, as we say in Ruislip

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

8 in a row

Yes, on Monday night there were 8 Heathrow trains in the space of about 25 minutes departing from Hammersmith. And nothing going up to Rayners Lane. Which made me and several hundred fellow passengers late, half an hour in most cases.
Reason? None given
Apologies? Grudging and vague
Information? None. The station attendant at Hammersmith repeatedly told us that a Ruislip was on its way, it appeared on the indicator but it never came. He phoned Barons Court, was told that one was there and on its way but it never came. He then gave up and advised everyone to go to Acton Town in case a shuttle was running. It wasn’t. When my train finally arrived, it was of course packed to the bilges and I had to stand until South Harrow, having already stood around a lot on the platforms. Not much fun for someone with a damaged foot (don’t ask; let’s just say that standing is not advised by my doctor).

A fairly normal night’s work then for the gallant lads and lasses who like to think of us as “customers”.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Severe delays (again)

Sometimes you just have to document something. It may be trivial in itself but looked back at later, it forms part of a rich tapestry of experience, illuminating patterns and forms of daily life and providing historians with the essential details so vital to (get on with it: Ed)

Where was I? Oh yes, I arrive at my normal station, Ruislip Manor, to find a sign telling me there are “severe delays” on the Piccadilly line. There is no other information forthcoming. The first train is a Metropolitan and as usual I take it to Rayners Lane. We pass a Picc in the siding so I know that at least some trains are running. The London bound platform is more thickly crowded than usual. The station announcer at Rayners Lane tells us that there are signal failures in the Kings Cross region and we should take the Met if we wish. Had no alternative been available, I would have stayed on the Met and automatically added half an hour to my journey. But I trust my eyes more than I trust announcements, so alighted and sure enough the Picc came in a few minutes later. The journey to Barons Court was without incident or delay, albeit that the train was very full.

So the moral of the story? Once again London Underground information systems prove useless at assisting passengers in making the right decision. It seems very sad that nineteenth century systems continue to be used on a twenty-first century transport system. It is even sadder that LU continue to place the emphasis on telling us about delays rather than telling us which trains are actually running and where they are. A bit like the way the NHS is criticised for treating illness but not on keeping us well through preventative medicine in the first place. I have remarked on this before and I anticipate doing so again. Sigh.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Blogger for Word

I’ve been using the Word add-on recently to write entries for the Blog. This makes it amazingly easy to compose a piece and then upload it without having to log onto the website, and to edit existing pieces merely by selecting them from a dropdown list. A great piece of programming, notable in that it does only what it seeks to do and does not clutter itself with unnecessary functionality.  Best of all – no stupid icons that you have to puzzle over. Simple plain text buttons that tell you what they do. I’ve gone right off icons. Especially when using Windows Explorer when, while scrolling down a long folder, there is a delay because the system is reading each and every file to see whether there is an icon in its header that it can display. I don’t want this feature but it is built into Windows and cannot be turned off. Yuck. The people to blame are the designers of the original WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointing) interface, and those who popularised it (Jobs, Gates and co, you know who you are). They never gave us, the people who pay for it, a choice. So thank you Blogger team for resisting the impulse and keeping it simple and effective.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hail the Autumn

The summer is over, the Ashes are won, it’s raining and the seats are filling up on the Underground. Actually it’s not too busy yet and I can still easily find a seat on the homeward journey. Yet the holidays are certainly over. People have opined that the July bombings reduced travel on the Underground and I wonder if this is the reason. There seemed to be fewer tourists on the trains as well.

I’d love to give up the daily hassle of train commuting and cycle in to work but I live just too far away. The idea of weaving through the traffic for about an hour each way, come rain or shine, is not appealing. If only the current petrol crisis (yes, dear reader, we are supposedly once again living through threatened refinery blockades and panic buying as motorists top up at every opportunity and queues for filling stations block the roads – I say supposedly because although there was real panic in North West London on Monday and several roads were almost impassible, there is no interruption to supplies unlike in 2000), as I say, if only the current petrol crisis would stimulate the production of light, cheap and safe electric cars then much would be better.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The returning from holiday syndrome

This is becoming monotonous. I go on holiday and when I return there are problems on the trains. Today there are no Piccadilly trains between Acton Town and Uxbridge because the fire brigade are investigating at Alperton. Great. I walk to Ruislip Gardens to pick up my “emergency” route, the Central. Lots of people waiting and the next train not due for another seven minutes. So that was nice and crowded by the time we reached Shepherds Bush. Where the down escalator is still not working (I was complaining about this in late July) and there is a new printed notice explaining that it is now out of action until November.

Actually I’m much calmer about this sort of thing than I used to be. I just think about New Orleans.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

At last the ETA service

I'm rather amazed. One of my long standing gripes about being a hapless commuter on the London Underground is the lack of information about train services. Delays, yes, they always announce with some pleasure that there are delays, but try finding out details of the trains that are actually running so you can plan your journey and you will sink into a morass of despair.

Well that's beginning to change at last. Quite by chance I was browsing round the TFL web site when Lo! I found a page called ETA and it lets you select a station and it tells you the next three trains due to arrive. In real time. Precisely what I have been hoping to see. Or it would be if the Piccadilly was included, which it is not (probably because its communication systems are essentially nineteenth century in design). In fact, only five lines are covered but they say they hope to add some more over the next few months.

The other problem is that some of the detail is missing. For example, all services running out of Baker Street are merely described as "Met". Well given the complexity of services on that line - Fast Watfords, and semi-fast Uxbridges and the like - this is a bit like British Airways announcing that its next departure from Heathrow will be "An aircraft going to an airport somewhere". But let us not carp and gripe (I'll save that for later). At least LU are moving in the right direction.

One final thing bothers me. Their website says they will not make any more lines available until the systems are safe and secure. Uh, this is just an information display system, guys. If the existing system is safe and secure then adding further bits to it should make no difference. And safe??? Are international hackers going to nobble the display and hold LU to ransom? Am I in some sort of peril if I use this service? Might I be enviegled (You have to wait for the right moment to use this word, you know) into boarding a fake train that is cunningly announced to run just at the time I am accessing the ETA page? Probably not.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bridge over troubled waters, or something

Whilst my station, Ruislip Manor, is being rebuilt, I have to travel onward to Ruislip at night. Then comes the big decision - to catch a train travelling back or to walk? This presents some interesting problems in timing. Let me first explain that there is only one exit at Ruislip. Passengers coming out of London must cross the tracks using the wonderful Victorian bridge - pic thanks to Chris Cobley - and thus emerge on the eastbound platform.

The westbound tracks curve sharply and trains are invisible, and unheard, until just a few seconds before they pull in. It takes exactly as long for the train to stop and open its doors as it does to walk briskly over the bridge. Here then is our first dilemma. If you alight some way from the bridge it is possible for an eastbound train to come and go before you can reach it. This is solved by alighting exactly by the bridge, from the middle carriage of the train. So far so good. But if there is a crowd going up the stairs, one can still be held back and miss a train. Most people leave the station rather than travel back, so it seems legitimate to use a certain energy in getting to the front of the mob and then legging it briskly. Indeed if one is to maximise the chances of getting an eastbound train this strategy is vital. I have had the doors close in my face before now. Yet it seems somewhat indelicate to beat off the old ladies and barge past the women with pushchairs when there is nothing actually in view - people can understand it if they see that you are running for a train but otherwise you stand revealed as an insensitive boor.

Why bother? Why not just stroll over the bridge, go with the flow, get into the groove and chill out (er, is this the right slang?). Because, my dear Watson, as I have demonstrated, it is perfectly possible that a train will come and go before one can get to the eastbound platform, and that is most frustrating. When this happens one must ask oneself, do I feel lucky? Shall I wait here for who knows how long (because London Underground make no information whatsoever available to passengers at this station) or start walking. Should I stay or should I go? (Hmm, sounds like a potentially catchy pop song). The trains do sometimes come through at the rate of one every three minutes. Or there can be a ten to fifteen minute gap. You just don't know. You can try counting the trains between Rayners Lane and Ruislip and estimate if the frequency appears normal but it doesn't mean anything. I know, I've tried. You cannot estimate with any accuracy the probability of the next train arriving soon merely by knowing how many trains have recently preceded it.

The last three nights I have barely had time to cross the bridge before my train has arrived, which is really nice (the lack of delay, not the rush down the steps). There's another four months of rebuilding to go. How many more heart-stopping moments?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Spammers - morons with email

I really don't understand the mentality of spammers. Why do they make their obnoxious messages so easy to detect? For example -
They send messages that have a subject line beginning RE: - now I know perfectly well what ongoing email correspondence I have so this marks them out as spam.
They misspell words like viagra in the hope, I assume, of fooling antispam software but the misspellings themselves signal the message as spam.
They put names in the subject line but other people's names - "check this out Raymond" so I know at once that this is spam.
I delete any message with FYI in the subject.
I delete any message selling meds - or should that be medz?
I delete any message that has apparently come from me (spammers fake much of the content of their message but why make it so blatent? I mean, burglars don't knock on your door and pretend to be you, do they? They might pretend to be someone else but to pretend to be the person they are talking to is so stupid it goes below zero on the moronicity scale and falls off the edge of the paper).

In short, they send out messages that betray themselves as rubbish even before I have bothered to read them, which of course I rarely do. What I do instead is to collect the silly names that the spammers give themselves though, and hope one day to write a book in which every character is named from a spam email. Who can be indifferent to people named Shemika Blankenship, Cletus Massey, Gaylord Grisham or Maredad Blanchard? And when they meet Chuck Camp, Wiley Ondrusek and Addie R. Bledsoe, I think a Booker prize is just a formality.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Rural Interlude

I was perhaps the only commuter in Britain to be blackberrying whilst waiting for a train last night. Seems a bit incongruous, doesn't it? Waiting for a train, yes, a normal state of affairs. But combined with a spot of fruit gathering? Strange but true. Ruislip station has a nice clump of bushes at the unfashionable end. And 'twas there, in the evening sunlight, that I dallied whilst waiting for a train to take me the trivial, but-not-worth-walking-it-due-to-the-heat, distance back to Ruislip Manor (the westbound platform remaining closed for rebuilding). Forewarned about the bushes I carried a suitable plastic bag and was able to fill same with a goodly number of extremely ripe, plump berries.

How long before some ghastly bureaucrat cottons on and starts agonising about the health and safety implications of thorny bushes growing on the platform? Well it's unlikely any of them read this blog so maybe the bushes will survive till the end of the season. After that I don't really care because when the building work at Ruislip Manor is complete then I won't need to go to Ruislip station. OTOH, it might be rather nice to make an annual detour one stop up the line to gather in nature's bounty. It satisfies the primitive instincts. I don't think I would have made a good hunter but I can gather with the best of them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Three crap days

The Piccadilly restarted normal operations last Thursday. That day there was a problem in the evening that they didn't tell anyone about, and Rayners Lane trains were running only from Acton Town. I guessed this when a Northfields train arrived at Barons Court (I have previously written about this being an automatic sign that something is wrong on the Piccadilly) so took it to Acton. Fortunately my train came in soon after. I drove to work on Friday (Bliss, with very light traffic). Then on Monday they had "signal problems" in the morning (delaying me 25 minutes) and yesterday they had problems "at Arnos Grove" that made me 30 minutes late coming home, the usual story of all trains being diverted to Heathrow and nobody, neither at Barons Court, Hammersmith, Acton Town or whoever makes the general announcements knowing a thing. Indeed, when I arrived at Barons Court at 6:25 there was usual "good services" notice but the station attendant at Hammersmith told me the problems had begun at around 4pm so there was plenty of time for the word to spread. The same attendant opined that the train I wanted would be arriving in under 10 minutes. Given that the indicator board was blank I wonder how he knew? In the end it was about 25 minutes, and 4 Heathrow trains, later. So it was jammed full.

If this was a private sector business heads would be rolling. It is not the fact that trains are delayed but the kneejerk responses of
a) tell passengers as little as possible and
b) cancel or reroute as many trains as possible
that drive me wild.

An open letter to Mr K Livingstone, apparently "Mayor" of London

Dear Ken
I know you care only about buses but the trains are the vital ingredient in preventing total gridlock in London. Why are they so crap? When do we get 21st century communication and information systems that tell us, the people who pay for the system, what trains are actually running?
Sincerely, a bloke who didn't vote for you last time precisely because you only care about buses

Monday, August 08, 2005

A Magnificent Return to Form

Only a couple of days ago I wrote "Now I can return to my core activity of moaning about the Piccadilly. Stand by for the first such bulletin." and blow me if the gallant lads and lasses of the Underground didn't respond superbly. Signal failure caused me a 25 minute delay this morning, only the second day I've travelled on the Piccadilly since it reopened to full services after the bombs. And good to see that the usual confusion about the cause of the delays was working at full strength. As we came to a halt at Park Royal our driver thought there was a problem between Hammersmith and Barons Court. Not long after, with nothing else to do as we waited at North Ealing, he thought the fault was at Acton Town. Later on he revised his story - it became a fault at Turnham Green and we would be running down the District Line tracks. Then he opined that we would be terminated at Acton Town (That sounds rather more sinister than it should) but that a train should be waiting for us to take us on. What of course happened was that we got out at Acton, waited, another Piccadilly came in and terminated and then we all got on a third train that proceeded at normal speed down the Piccadilly tracks.

Actually all credit to the driver who did at least keep us informed with whatever line he was being fed from the Controller. The problem is that, when things go wrong, nobody really knows what is happening. "Signal failure" is always trotted out as the excuse - this seems to be used to deflect away any criticism of the people running the trains. They might as well call it "Act of God" and then they won't have to take any blame at all. Why can't they bypass a dodgy signal and just drive slowly through it? I dunno.

Anyway at least we won the second test. The finish on Sunday, with Australia needing to score 107 and two wickets left, was the most exciting and nail-biting cricket I have ever seen. And to win the game with just 2 runs needed for the Aussies to tie, when they had picked up so many easy byes and both Flintoff and Harmison was sending them hurtling down - it was an exquisite moment of disbelief. Something to give one a little comfort whilst sitting in an immobile train wondering when it might start moving again.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Piccadilly resumes

Piccadilly line trains began running normally again this morning for the first time since the attacks on July 7th. This means I can go back to my usual journey to work, and can say goodbye to my emergency alternative route, using the Central Line. It was a reasonable service, apart from three irritating things. The morning timetable says that trains run every 4-11 minutes. At the height of the rush hour you would expect the frequency to be closer to the 4 than to the 11. But every day the gap between trains is about 8 -9 minutes. And coming home there is an irritating tendency for the journey between Shepherds Bush and White City to be a series of stop-starts at each of the signals en route. My final whinge is about the down escalator at Shepherds Bush, immobile for the past four weeks. A printed notice says it is a temporary delay. I wonder what "temporary" means? Perhaps all available maintenance staff are still working on clearing up the bomb damage but I suspect that the guys who do the escalators are outside contractors who would not be otherwise engaged.

Anyway, here's hoping that I don't have to revert to the Central for a decent interval. Now I can return to my core activity of moaning about the Piccadilly. Stand by for the first such bulletin.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The holiday is over

Back in town after a blissful 11 nights afloat - cruising to the Baltic, since you ask. Apart from a dinner-losing couple of nights on the North Sea, a totally wonderful experience. One of the best features was that our boat moored virtually in the city centres in Helsinki, Tallin, Copenhagen and Oslo. So no opportunity to compare and contrast public transport systems with our own dear London Underground. Oddly enough the most impressive system, at least in terms of frequency of service, seemed to be the tram network in St. Petersburg. There was always one in view. Rather swisher equipment in the other cities, not surprisingly.

The first day out was 21 July, the day that the second wave of bombs so nearly hit London. We had access to BBC World service TV so we knew what was going on and the relief that no-one was hurt, other than the poor Brazilian guy, was intense. To be sailing in glorious sunshine over the Baltic sea whilst London was convulsed yet again in fear was almost as unreal as a dream.

I'm not really with it yet so this is just a "holding move" sort of posting.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

After the bombs

Violence continues unabated in Iraq; there are bombs in tourist resorts in Turkey and elsewhere. But a relative calm has returned to London. There are still big disruptions on some Underground lines, including my own normal route in to work, but people seem to be coping. The low level of road traffic, thanks to the school holidays, helps. In order to avoid the delay-ridden Piccadilly, I am still driving to South Ruislip to take the Central Line, not a long journey, but much easier without the school run cars. There are more announcements about security than before and we continue to have the "assurance" of extra police standing about. However much the trains may fill - and they certainly do - there is no conversation between strangers. I have never heard anyone challenge anyone else about their luggage.

The Muslim "community" is under pressure to condemn the bombers and to "root out" extremists. Very few commentators have pointed out that the word "community" is not only wrong in this context but utterly misleading. There are many varieties of Islam, just as there are huge divisions within Christianity and Judaism, and the idea that young Muslim Britons immigrating to, say, Bolton, from Pakistan have much in common with third generation Bengalis in Southall is as daft as thinking that I, third generation Liberal Jew, have much in common with the ultra Orthodox Charedi Jews in Stamford Hill. Equally misplaced is the idea that young people pay much attention to the wise words of Imams and other leaders.

The one thing that does really grate though, are the apologists for the bombers who say that it is okay because Muslims are angry. We hear a lot about this so-called anger. It is unbelievably selective. There is no anger about Algerian extremists massacring villagers. There is no anger about the Iraqi suicide bombers targeting the ordinary people of Iraq. Bombs in Kashmir? Fine. Bombs in Turkey? Yep, right on. But anger at the "West"? Yes, that excuses anything. There was a bloke on Today on Radio 4 this morning, Mohammed Umar, saying just that. He wouldn't condemn the London Bombers. Sounding uncannily like Tony Blair in his best "look, okay, I believed in WMD" mood, he wanted us all to accept that the bombs had happened, they were real, we should understand it was caused by righteous anger and move on. Is anyone else allowed to be righteously angry? Nope. We seem to be back in medieval Europe where the Church could argue that God is love and the righteous may use extreme violence in his holy name against anyone they deem to be unrighteous. It took several hundred years for Christianity to realise the stupidity of this argument and Islam, younger by nearly six hundred years, seems to be still fascinated by it.

Are we at war with terrorists? Seems like it. So why not intern their supporters "for the duration", as was the case in the Second World War? Then they can be as angry as they like, and the rest of us - including the vast majority of the Muslim "community" - can get on with our lives, including expressing our wills through lawful political protest and throwing out a Government that wilfully lied to its people as a pretext to war.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bomb attacks in London - 2


...The Spanish press are commenting on how calm Londoners were after the bombs, and that maybe this refusal to succumb to passion is why the country never went down a totalitarian road.

...US service personnel in East Anglia were instructed not to venture into the area bounded by the M25 (yes, really) but the order was rescinded on 12/7, probably because of public derision.

...My journey home is now awful, partly because the Piccadilly is struggling in the aftermath, no trains going beyond Hyde Park eastbound and as a result a very restricted service between Acton Town and Rayners Lane, and partly because my station (Ruislip Manor) is being rebuilt and after six months of a longer morning journey I now have to go on to Ruislip in the evening. Never mind, just getting into London and back is a victory over the bombers. This morning I drove to South Ruislip and used the Central Line. Not bad, but much longer walk from Shepherd's Bush to my office than I have normally so not really a long term prospect especially in the current heatwave. Lets hope the Piccadilly can improve the service a little.

...The police reported today that the bombers are thought to have died in the explosions. Until today it was said that they had planted the bombs and got away. Some raids and arrests in Leeds and Luton. Explosives discovered. The bombers were seen on CCTV at Kings Cross wearing identical rucksacks before parting company.

...Police (or "community" policemen) are visible at most stations and bus stations. They are supposed to make us feel more secure. I would be happier to see them backing up stop-and-searches or just fighting crime generally. I really don't see how standing around at a station entrance makes it safer to travel unless you search everyone going in. And that wouldn't work unless you did it at every station, otherwise the bombers would simply choose an unmanned station.

...A website called "We are not afraid" posts pictures from people around the world, generally showing themselves with the phrase We are not afraid added. Quite moving.

...We received many messages at work from our professional colleagues around the world, all expressing hope for our safety and solidarity. Very nice to see.

..."I hope I don't panic because then I might have to talk out loud on a tube train" - comment from the weblog of a survivor.

...Some stupid gits have attacked mosques.

...Tony Blair has resisted the Tory kneejerk reaction call for an inquiry. Good for him. Let the police and security services get on with it for the moment without being caught up in futile meetings and paperwork so that some MPs can make it look they are doing something useful.

...No obvious nervousness of my fellow passengers. People still sit quietly. I might have expected much more use of mobiles as people sought reassurance during their journey.

...The bombers are identified as British born of Pakistani origin. No surprises there. Their neighbours express shock that the ordinary quiet lads next door is a mass killer. No surprises there. People always say how shocked they are that a crime should be traced to their community.

...Over 50 died in the bombings but fewer than a dozen have been positively identified nearly a week afterwards, despite the huge efforts of next of kin and friends to trace people who are missing and who are known to have been travelling into London that morning. Very strange and all down to the rules about coroners courts and inquests, apparently.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Bomb attacks in London

The long awaited terrorist attacks took place yesterday morning. 4 separate bombs designed to hit the Underground and road network in Central London. Nearly 40 were killed and many hundreds injured.

I'm recording this not because I have anything special to say but because it cannot be ignored. And by writing down my own, trivial, experiences, the creation of false memories may be prevented.

The attack came the day the G8 summit opened in Scotland and undoubtedly was intended to coincide with it. How bitterly ironic that it also matched the return home from Singapore of the victorious Olympic 2012 team and what a terrible welcome back for those who now must consider the security aspects of the games.

London has seen this before, in the Blitz, in the V1-V2 raids, during the intermittent IRA campaigns. It does not lessen the shock or the horror to remember the past but it adds some perspective. The attacks are dreadful, but most of us are affected only because we experience it through the news or through the paralysing effect on transport.

I was on a Piccadilly line train heading into central London. I think there may already have been a problem because there were more people waiting at Ruislip, and on the first train (a Metropolitan) than usual. At Rayners Lane, at 8:35am, the station attendant announced that the Piccadilly was experiencing delays due to a defective train at Caledonian Road; however a train did come in fairly soon.

Our train moved slowly towards Ealing then we sat motionless outside Acton Town. The driver repeated the story about the train but I knew something was wrong because during some 20 minutes of inaction, not one train passed us in the opposite direction, and this includes the Heathrow branch as well as the Uxbridge. I know now that the first bomb went off at 8:51 on a Circle Line train at Aldgate and the next at 8:56 on a westbound Piccadilly line near Kings Cross. This was the beginning of our hold-up. Eventually our driver announced that the platforms were full but that he had requested one train move off so we could get reach the platform. We reached Acton Town and then, without warning, were ordered not just off the train but to leave the station. Staff, in yellow jackets, were highly visible on the platforms and entrance hall. There was no explanation, but nobody argued since it was obvious that something was badly wrong. Hundreds of people milled in the entrance, urged by the staff to leave. Now we were told that the entire Underground was shut due to a power failure. This was a deliberate untruth since by now the third bomb had gone off on a Circle Line train at Edgware Road; not long after the fourth took the top of a bus in Tavistock Square.

The street outside was jammed with traffic, every bus crammed full. I began walking in what I hoped was the right way toward Acton (Acton Town station is not in any recognisable town centre despite its name) and reached the main road leading into London. I called my office on my mobile several times and had no problem making the calls (there were news reports later of the networks being swamped by calls and unable to cope, but perhaps that was only in central London). There were plenty of buses in both directions but full to the extent that people were blocking the entrance doors. So I walked on and on and eventually managed to squeeze into a bus. It was surprisingly quiet. People were not talking about the problems, and very few were on the phone (not one of those that were spoke English). The driver made no attempt to ask for tickets (and I couldn't reach the box anyway). We made it to Hammersmith, where a board outside the station (the Hammersmith & City part) referred to a problem at Edgware Road as well as Aldgate, and after another walk I got in at 11am. Only then did I learn what had happened.

Living in London there is daily risk from traffic accidents and from street crime. Violence is and always has been relatively high in London compared to the surrounding countryside - see Peter Ackroyds excellent "London - a biography" for accounts spanning a thousand years of riots, fires, jail-breaks and disorderly conduct of every description. The shock of a terrorist attack is not so much of the violence itself but the deliberate intent behind it, and the utter lack of interest in the victims. A political movement that seeks to kill anyone at random? What on earth goes on in their heads? Under what circumstances do they think we will ever have the slightest interest in anything they want? They may threaten us, but since they wish us nothing but harm anyway, their threats have no meaning. We can't negotiate with them. We can't understand them. We will take precautions but in the end we will simply ignore them. Like malaria, we do what we can to eradicate it but we don't seek to understand the motivation of the virus or the mosquito that carries it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Problems, problems

Is there anything more depressing than to enter your place of work and be greeted by a barrage of colleagues going "The internet's down"? Well, yes, even more depressing is the MD saying there is a virus on her laptop. Couple the two (and bearing in mind how reliant we are on the Internet for anti-virus updates and general information) and this makes for a very serious morning indeed.

And the joys of being put on hold. I tried for about 40 minutes to reach our ISP. No joy. Fortunately our internet connection came back midmorning anyway. Then a long wait to get the antivirus people. I had time to fix the problem (I think) through sheer trial and error before they answered the phone.

Removing viruses is such a mindless job. Run a scan, see what is and is not automatically deleted, switch into safe mode, run utilities and registry checks, reboot, scan again....

So the haggard looking bloke slumped exhausted in his corner seat on the Piccadilly tonight will be me. Or someone with a similar job.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Pink Floyd re-united

I was humming Pink Floyd tunes (to myself, not out loud, I don't want people staring at me over the tops of their newspapers) during this morning's otherwise uneventful journey to work. It was such a pleasure to see the group playing together once more, (sadly, for the last time unless something highly improbable happens) at the Live 8 concert at Hyde Park. It's hard to know how many in the audience knew them, could put their music in context, or had the faintest idea what Roger Waters meant when he dedicated "Wish you were here" to "Syd". To me, having last seen them play live at a concert in the old Wembley Pool in 1975, it was an emotional and stirring moment. Particularly as it was at that concert that they played most of what was to become the album "Wish you were here" including the great tribute to Syd Barrett, "Shine on you crazy diamond". And to be honest when I first heard it, I had no idea what it was about. It has taken many years for me to gain a deeper understanding of their lyrics.

It is amazing to contrast those years with today. Apart from their records and the odd concert on radio, the Floyd were known to us only through the music papers. John Peel played their stuff regularly but few other DJs took an interest. There were no dedicated pop music channels (and I doubt if they would have featured much on them if there had been). There were no videos or dvds, indeed there were no cds at this time. Vinyl or tape, both fragile, were the only media for recordings. Now a plethora of websites list every recording, review, performance and incident in their life. I used to struggle to make out the lyrics on some of their songs. Now they are available, often with the chords (if not the full sheet music) at the touch of a mouse. And on one website, idly browsing after the concert, I stumbled on a recording of Astronomy Domine. Not the track from their first album - a live recording, a VIDEO recording of the band - with Syd - on what looks like an American TV show complete with utterly bemused middle-aged host. I had never seen him (Syd, not the u.b.m-a.h.)playing live. Despite the awful recording, what a magical performance - this was at a time when the height of sophistication in pop was "I love you" or a variant on that theme in a 3 minute song with a chorus repeated four times. The descending alto* line that floats over the metallic sound of the guitars, that I had always assumed was itself a highly distorted guitar, was actually Syd's voice. Watching it I was 17 again.

*or possibly soprano. My wife will know.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Delays all round

My normal journey home is on a Piccadilly line train from Barons Court to Ruislip Manor. In emergency I take a Central Line from Shepherd's Bush to Ruislip Gardens, a longer walk at each end but a slightly shorter train journey. Having a fall-back is a great comfort, meaning that I can easily change my travel plans if the Piccadilly has problems.

Imagine my feelings yesterday then, when the TFL website displayed "severe delays" on the Picc due a person under a train at Kings X (and signal failure at Hammersmith for good measure), and also severe delays on the Central due to some obscure problem miles away at Gants Hill. Things cheered up later when the notice about the Central disappeared. "Ah-ha", I thought, "At least my lifeline is working". When I left to go home the notice about the Piccadilly was still there (6 hours after the original incident!!) so I trudged up to Shepherd's Bush where a suitable train came in quite quickly. And then, having moved about 200 yards, we stopped in the tunnel. And waited. And waited. Then moved from one signal to the next. And waited. Eventually the driver informed us this was all due to 2 (yes 2) faulty trains at - wait for it - Leytonstone (miles away at the other end of the line).

Anyway I got home after a journey of about 85 minutes. Now for an interesting problem. The Customer Charter refund scheme gives you your money back if you are delayed by 15 minutes or more. As indeed I was. But the guts of the delay was because I had to take another route other than the one I had planned. The refund form asks you where you had intended to travel from and on which line were you travelling when the delay occurred. How on earth do I answer that? I had intended to go from Baron's Court but did not. I was delayed essentially by the absence of trains on the Piccadilly but the line I actually went on was the Central. There isn't a box to tick to say that you went one route (which itself may have been running normally) because your chosen route was not working.

Such are the dilemmas of modern life, and such indeed is the lack of imagination of the people who design refund forms.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Size and history

Our Victorian forebears were small people. We know this because if you put two average sized men into two adjacent seats on a typical Underground train (say, for the sake of example, the Piccadilly Line) then their shoulders will touch and forearms overlap. Such enforced bodily contact would have horrified the bewhiskered gentlemen in waistcoasts (and fob watches) and stovepipe hats (or is that IK Brunel?) who designed the system. They probably imagined people sitting comfortably, marvelling at how much personal space they had. Actually if Brunel had designed the Tube it would have been so much better. His wide gauge tracks would have allowed much bigger carriages, with space for luggage and for people to walk between the seats without tripping over legs at every step. And the trains would not jolt and sway so much, inducing fewer incidents involving clashes of flailing limbs.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Health and Safety Insanity

The papers reported that power failures brought some GNER trains to a halt during the recent heatwave. After two hours in the full force of the sun, the airconditioning failing and temperatures rising to 115F, passengers were forced to smash the windows. Why? Because the doors were shut. Why? Oh, "health and safety reasons".

My temperature rose dangerously when I read this. Health and Safety rules have nothing whatsoever to do with Health and Safety but are purely to prevent lawsuits for negligence. It doesn't matter if people faint in the overheated trains (as some did), and they have medical conditions that will be dangerously exacerbated by their ordeal, well they can get knotted as far as the H&S people are concerned. But it is vital that the doors stay shut in case, HORROR, someone might get out and graze their knee on the gravel in the track bed.

I hope the passengers sue, personally, whoever makes these vicious rules and trains the railway staff how to apply them. But of course they won't be able to. 10 people die every day on the roads in Britain. That's fine. Health and Safety couldn't care less. Making people sweat to death in train carriages, yes, that definitely is good for them and much much better than enabling either windows that open (in an emergency) or doors that open (in an emergency).

One good thing about Underground trains is that the doors at the end of each carriage have opening windows and the doors themselves can be used to cross into the next carriage merely by turning a handle. Power or not, passengers can escape if they have to, even get down on to the track if all else fails. I suppose the H&S people will be along soon to lock up the doors and bolt the windows shut. In case some stupid git has an accident. Never mind what the overwhelming vast majority of passengers want.

Let me give you another, albeit much more trivial example of the stupidity of H & S rules. In my office all the interior doors have to self-closing. Because of "fire risks". So if I am carrying something awkward, like a computer, I must either prop the door open (oops, illegal) or put down the computer, open the door, jam it open with my foot, bend down to pick up the computer and then repeat on the other side to close the door. Now I have bad back and picking heavy objects off the floor is not good for it. Let us do a risk analysis and compare the real damage to me and the much worse, but much less probable, risk to me of a fire. There is at the least a bloody good case for saying that the closure of the interior doors is a greater risk to health and safety than keeping them open. But it is not a case we are allowed to make. Only the opinions of the local Council and the Fire service matter.

No, I am not saying a fire could not happen. I am saying that it would be an event with very low probability (our office is non-smoking, has no dodgy electrics, there are always people around etc etc). Whereas I have had back pain and the probability of getting it again is real and measurable.

This rant has been brought to you by The Sick and Tired Society, an organisation for people who are Sick and Tired of being told what to do by other people. Donations by credit card and PayPal will help us carry on our vital work. Thank you.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Enduring the heatwave

Walking home along Hammersmith Road last night the heat was really on. The sun, 5 hours past the zenith, was still intense and the air so warm, even in the shade, that to be out in the direct sunlight was painful. When I'm on holiday I don't go out in temperatures like that, so to have to do so at the end of a normal day's work is most uncalled-for. At least it is possible to find a seat on the Tube now that the holiday season is well underway. But before sinking gratefully into one, there is the need to draw a deep breath of relatively fresh air first, because the atmosphere in a train that has just emerged from the tunnels on a hot day is not one to savour. I know there are technical, not to mention financial, problems with air-conditioning Underground trains but if something could be done to blow fresh air through them as they come out of a tunnel, that would be much appreciated by all.

I'm glad I remembered to fill my water bottle last night before leaving the office. I used to carry a little plastic fan as well but it was a fiddly thing and the only way to switch it off was to unscrew the top which meant the battery fell out. It was worth it to see the look on the faces of my sweating fellow-travellers as they thought "What is that buzzing thing? Cor, that's clever."

The big question is when to switch to shorts? I have to wear socks and I understand that socks and shorts are strictly verboten by the fashion police. Do I risk some very snooty looks or simply dig out my very lightest trousers and have done? At the moment the anti-shorts feeling is on top and I am giving my ultralight American travelling trousers an airing, the first since I wore them in Rome earlier this year when it was about as warm as it is in London right now. Got them in a factory outlet in New England last year and so far they have been an excellent investment.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A view from the bridge

Sometimes, like last night, the Piccadilly train moving westbound out of South Harrow stops on the long embankment leading into Rayners Lane. This is where the Metropolitan line joins and there is often congestion at the station with trains queuing on both tracks. At such times one has the chance to admire what must be one of the most spectacular views available from any Underground line (obviously in this context "Underground" means a train operated by London Underground, notwithstanding that most of them run overground for much of the time).
South Harrow station is not particularly high, perched as it is on the lower slopes of Harrow Hill, but the line at this point is high above the street and the land slopes downward to Rayners Lane quite sharply. To the south and west the plains of Middlesex extend into a green-fringed horizon that speaks of the open fields of Buckinghamshire and Berkshire (mmm, quite poetic this bit). Behind us the spire of the church atop Harrow Hill and the many Victorian buildings of the school. The view appears to run for many miles - there are no hills in the way - and one ought to be able to see Windsor Castle (which you certainly can from the top of Harrow Hill).

On a fine summer evening with the sun flaring over the Thames Valley this really is quite a view, alas taken utterly for granted by my fellow passengers (and, let's face it, me on most nights). It would be even nicer if the trains did not stop so regularly awaiting a green light to proceed down the track.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A trifle on the warm side

After weeks of grey skies and mild weather we plunge straight into heatwave. Temperatures in London on Sunday exceeded 30c, hotter than Florida or the Caribbean. Combined with high humidity this made for a very sticky and uncomfortable weekend. There was no time to acclimatize - on Friday it was cool in the morning and very hot by the evening, nothing in between. It's rather unsettling.

But you can count on London Underground for consistency. There was a problem on the Metropolitan on Friday, and - dang me - there was a worse one this morning. No trains between Wembley Park and Aldgate thanks to our old friend "signal problems". (aka it was a hot weekend and our lads are still nursing giant hangovers). How does this affect me using the relatively stable Piccadilly? It meant that my train, which should have been half empty, was full early on and stayed full all the way. Just what you don't want at the start of what may or may not be a fairly unpleasant week, travel-wise. Here's hoping that, as Wimbledon gets underway, we have some good old-fashioned cloudbursts and everything cools off a little.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Summer approaches

It's feeling a tad more like summer now, a beautiful clear blue sky this morning and a little warmth in the air. Regular commuters judge the onset of the holiday season not by the portents of sunshine and cloud but by the availability of seats on the morning trains. LU don't change their schedules for the summer, so as soon as the kids stop going to school (whether for exams, holidays or just bunking off) and their parents start taking more time off, the trains empty out.
You might have thought that, given that the holiday season runs over three months or so and that most people would not take off more than two weeks at a time, that the numbers using the Underground would diminish by no more than 10% maximum in any one week. And tourists would more than make up the difference anyway. But it doesn't seem to work like that. This morning, although all seats were taken by the time we got to Acton Town, my train was not overcrowded and I stepped out at Baron's Court without the need to thrust through the massed ranks of strap-hangers that normally block the doors. And the schools are not even out yet, so the full holiday season has not begun.
A uncrowded train, moving at normal speed, is surprisingly restful. Without the mental stress of people leaning against your arms, and others tripping over your legs as they fight for breathing room, and with the reasonable expectation the journey will be completed on time, one can relax, enjoy the scenery and flick through the morning papers. I actually did two of the clues in the Guardian cryptic crossword. Don't sneer, this is an intellectual achievement that demands respect. Most days I fail to solve a single clue.
The rebuilding of my home station, Ruislip Manor, continues. Much of the eastbound platform has been rebuilt but the covered section where the steps lead down to the street is still a shell, and all the safety fencing, lights and cables need fixing in place. Ominously, the TFL website just says that the platform is out of action "until further notice". Who knows when it will be complete?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Bleedin' Obvious

It was Basil Fawlty who turned it into a catchphrase - "Can't we get you on Mastermind Sybil? Special subject the bleedin' obvious" and it runs through my head every time I see one of those notices about warm weather at a tube station. You probably know what I mean - "To avoid discomfort in hot weather carry water" :that sort of thing.

So are there drinking fountains at stations? No
Do they sell bottled water at stations? No (there might be a kiosk at larger stations but not as a rule)

Bleeding obvious? I should say so.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Announcer of Doom

It's a warm and pleasant evening at Baron's Court station. I descend to the westbound Piccadilly platform, passing the sign that informs me that good services are operating on all lines. I wait for the first train - Heathrow - and while I wait the station announcer (with his jarring Australian accent) tells me that good services are operating on all lines. The train comes and goes. The next train, after several minutes, is for Northfields.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the Piccadilly, Northfields is a nondescript station on the Heathrow branch, important only in that it is one of the main depots for the line and is equipped with double platforms and sidings. Trains terminate there either when going out of service or when being pulled out of the normal timetable. LU are bound by contract to supply a minimum number of trains per hour on the Heathrow branch (a station manager at Acton Town told me one day when neither of us had anything else to do given that no trains were running)and will always give priority to this route. So if a train has Northfields as its destination during normal hours this indicates a problem and given the priority of trains to Heathrow, it probably started life as an Uxbridge branch train instead.

You will understand from the foregoing that whatever the announcer may be blathering on about, the sight of Northfields as the destination is the sure indication that normal services are not running. And so it proved. The next train was one I wanted, to Ruislip, and we crawled between Hammersmith and Acton Town, at one point stopping for several minutes. The driver told us it was going to be slow going but did not say why. Yes, folks, another delay from those wonderful people who think that trains sitting idle on the track between stations constitutes a good service.

At least we did proceed normally once past Acton (I was half expecting that our train would be terminated there).

So what, I ask, and not for the first time, is the point of announcements about good service? They are a complete waste of time. Tell us about the known problems and stop being smug about your ignorance about the rest of the system.

I thought I would feel better having got that out of my system but I don't really. Hey ho, let us see what tonight may bring.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Reverting to type...

We've just enjoyed the bank holiday weekend (and what perfect weather!), and now it's back to work for some of us (the streets are eerily quiet thanks to the continuing school holidays). I reported yesterday on the morning journey. Naturally that was not good enough for LU and there was a nice little delay going home last night as well. Apparently signal problems at Earl's Court earlier in the day (it's always earlier in these announcements) caused delays westbound. I waited about 15 minutes, just long enough to trigger a refund claim.

And, as usual, one is left wondering. Why, if the problem occurred earlier and has, presumably, been fixed, are there still delays? Surely all the trains backed up behind the faulty signals are now running? They certainly were on the eastbound line - I counted over 10 in a 20 minute period. Why not divert at least one of these virtually empty trains to plug the gaps going west? There is a siding at Hammersmith perfectly placed for this function.

Oh well, at least the trains were running ok this morning. Or were they? I certainly arrived on time, fortunately, because I was attending a conference across the road at Olympia. The opening session was delayed - why? Problems on the tube, they said.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Interlude at Acton

The Piccadilly line train I was on this morning was terminated at Acton Town (to prevent congestion further down the line due to some unexplained problem at Green Park). This is not worthy of comment in itself but I mention it because it is the first time for a long time that this has happened. As we came into the platform there was a train on the adjacent platform and of course just as our doors opened, it moved away (you just can't beat the excellent communications on this railway, he lied).

Fortunately a Heathrow branch train came in fairly soon and we all managed to squeeze on. But I am so glad that my journey ends at Baron's Court. Having to stand on that crowded train all the way into central London, on such a nice day, must be no fun for the poor sods who regularly have to do it.

Simon Hoggart, writing in the Guardian on May 28th said "One of my favourite books - it's 21 years old now - was Notes From Overground, written by a civil servant under the name of Tiresias. It was a series of witty and percipient jottings about his daily commute from Oxford to Paddington, and the fact that the journey was much the same every day allowed him to note changes and make fresh observations". Hm, so I'm not the first in this field. Nor am I sufficiently strong-willed and energetic as to write this blog daily. But can Oxford to Paddington even be half as romantic as Ruislip to Baron's Court? No, I say, and so do the mass ranks of all those who agree with me. And I don't hide behind a silly Greek name either.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Colour Supplement

Time to illustrate part of my daily journey to work. (All pix are clickable thumbnails, if you wish to see the picture at a decent size).
Barons Court Platform view Our tour begins in Baron's Court station. I have spent many happy hours waiting for trains such as the one illustrated to arrive. Actually this train is heading on east into central London but you get the idea.

Barons Court Entrance and Booking Hall
We exit through the wonderful green tiled booking hall, built by typical Victorians who assumed that everyone was a midget and no more than about 50 people an hour would ever use the station. It only takes one newspaper seller (in the evenings they set up stall on the right), one tourist fumbling at the ticket machine and one irritated commuter with rucksack (a part I frequently play) and the entrance is blocked solid.

Fortunately it was not too crowded today so I was able to take the shot of the outside without being flattened by the hordes pounding in and out. And given the unbelievably narrow street outside that was just as well.
Barons Court Station from street

Note to any Health & Safety Officers - there is no pedestrian crossing in the street facing the station. People just have to fight across the traffic as best they can. One barely has time to admire the splendid frontage. The sign says "District Line" because when the station was built the Piccadilly had not been extended into the Hammersmith area.

Now for the daily life or death challenge - crossing the A4. I have referred many times in this blog to the perils of this road junction. Our view looks back across the junction where Gliddon Road meets the A4, with the station just beyond.
A4 junction

You will notice the car occupying the space reserved for cyclists. This is so routine that no-one bats an eyelid. There is no right turn from the A4 so drivers turn left and swing their cars about, using the bike space. Sometimes two or three attempt this manoeuvre at once, blocking the left turn for people who actually want to go down Gliddon Road. They hoot and make gestures, the drivers in their way (who can do nothing until the lights change) pretend not to notice, the traffic blocking back down the A4 swirls around angrily and everyone has a good time.
Looking down Edith Road

Gliddon Road becomes Edith Road and ends at the junction with Hammersmith Road. This view shows the contrast between the Victorian terraced houses and the modern office blocks that now line Hammersmith Road and dominate the entire area. The houses were built for families with servants - they have grand entrances, basements with separate entrances for tradesmen and deep gardens. They are all now converted into flats and though the houses remain rather imposing, the character of the road has deteriorated.

And so onward through the windswept canyon of Hammersmith Road towards my office.
Olympia looking east
The final landmark is Olympia,a structure that dominates the road and provides the many cafes and pubs round here with much of their business.
more later

Friday, May 13, 2005

Modern manners

Two straws in the wind illustrating today's society

I am crossing the A4 at Barons Court with several other pedestrians. A young boy on a bike cuts across the road, ignoring the red light and nearly collides with a man just ahead of me. The man makes a remark to the boy. The boy swears back at the man, impugning his sexuality. A woman supports the man. The boy rides off still shouting abuse. (Wed 11 May)

Bluewater Shopping Centre announces it will ban young men (or perhaps anyone) wearing baseball caps or hoods. (Thu 12 May)

These two seemingly unconnected matters do go together. People seem more aggressive to others, much quicker to get their retaliation in first, then I seem to recall from my younger days. We associate this behaviour with kids, particularly kids who ape American fashions and think that walking round in gear that 40 years ago would have been seen as nerdish is somehow cool and makes them hard-looking.

Blimey, you're thinking, Ol' Ruislip Commuter is turning into a reactionary old fogey. Any second now he'll be going on about things were better when Mussolini ran British Rail and boys fresh from the chimneys did 10 years National Service in the Australian Outback. But you would be wrong.

I hate uniforms of any kind and I hate antisocial group behaviour. Kids in gangs always play up and do things they would never dream of doing on their own. Wearing clothes associated with US street gangs gives no encouragement to the rest of us to be tolerant. If you want people to respect you then you have to respect them. Do I feel relaxed when kids (or men) race bicycles on the pavement, often disregarding people walking? Of course not. Do I feel relaxed in the prescence of groups of young men wearing clothes that show they belong to a gang? No, I doubt if you would either, especially in a confined and isolated situation such as a Tube carriage.

No solutions, just observations. Now that T Blair (our temporary Prime Minister) is on the case, let us see what transpires.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Rebuilding blues

My home station, Ruislip Manor, is being rebuilt (Cheers and calls of "not before time"). They have been working since January on the eastbound platform and it is supposed to be ready in June. I rather doubt it. Now LU have announced rebuilding of the westbound platform starting in July and lasting 6 months.

This is becoming depressing. I suspect the whole station will be out of action for a while during the summer, just when it gets too hot to be walking the streets to and from work. But a walk from Ruislip is going to be the norm (as it already is in the morning).

Meanwhile Mayor Ken presses on with his money-grabbing scheme to extend the Congestion Charge zone into Kensington. The edge of the zone will be the main road where my office is located. Doesn't bother me too much because I take the tube to work. What I would like to see is some real improvements on the tube, especially if loads more ex-drivers are going to be taking it in future on the lines and stations that I use. How about a few extra trains at peak time? How about publishing the timetable? How about proper display systems instead of the antique rubbish at Barons Court and Hammersmith (and non-existent at Ruislip Manor)? How about live updates via internet showing the trains actually running so that we can leave for a station with confidence about how long we may have to wait?

I wonder if a summer of discontent is brewing?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Seeing triple

Call me weird (voice off: "You're weird") but I find a pleasing symmetry when several trains line up in a pattern. This happens in particular at Rayners Lane from time to time when there is a Piccadilly train in the siding and one just leaving the westbound platform whilst one is coming in to the eastbound. Sometimes all three line up perfectly, with the rear carriage of the departing train parallel to the front of the other two. Now for me to observe this means I must be on the eastbound platform, so I must have caught a Met line and disembarked. This rules out 50% of journeys. There has to be a train in the siding - this rules perhaps 50% of the remaining possibilities. And then there must be a Piccadilly through train going west rather than another one waiting to turn round at Rayners Lane, plus one coming through (the one that I will catch). All of which makes the triple alignment rather rare and all the more enjoyable when it does happen.

Today there was an even rarer sight - three trains in echelon. There was one going west, one in the sidings and one coming east but they halted the eastbound to let the one in the sidings go first (because yet another Picc was queued up waiting to come in to the westbound platform and could not approach until the siding was clear). So for a second we had the front of the westbound train in line with the front of the train in the sidings, and the front of the eastbound train in line with the last carriage of the train in the sidings. 18 carriages stretching from the platforms to the distant bridge where Cannon Lane crosses the tracks.

Well, I enjoyed it anyway. I told you I was weird.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The morning after...

So, farewell then Michael Howard. Having confidently announced that he was leading the party to victory, we now find him making arrangements for a hasty exit. Suddenly he will be "too old" to lead the Tories at the next election. Rot. Age didn't stop Gladstone or Churchill. Everyone knew that he could not possibly win this election, he could only hope to bring the party back to a respectable position. Gaining 30 odd seats may perhaps have done this but it's a little early to tell.

Not much else to say really. The LibDems did a little better than the polls suggested but did not win enough seats to make a convincing breakthrough. Labour have a good working majority and maybe Gordon will be moving one door nearer to Whitehall a little sooner than he may have dared to hope, now that Tony has looked into the abyss and realised how close he came to falling in.

The trains have been okay since I came back from holiday. What on earth am I going to write about now? Ah well, I will think of something.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Election Day

Having just returned from a blissful 6 days in Rome, it is time to take stock.
Firstly, how does the Rome Metro compare to London Underground? It is way cheaper (standard fare anywhere is €1 and that gets you unlimited bus rides as well within a 75 minute time span). The system seems fairly dated, with just two lines covering only a small part of Rome, although there is a huge building program underway with two new tube lines. The trains are designed for short hauls - few seats, wide carriages to pack in people standing. Not comfortable for a typical London journey of 30 minutes plus. It is infested with thieves - I nearly had my camera stolen whilst I was paying attention to my money belt. And just like LT, it has its unavoidable delays. We aimed to go to the Spanish Steps one morning, taking Line B from our hotel and changing to Line A. There is only one junction between the two tube lines, at the main Terminus overground station (think Victoria meets Kings Cross), so it is very busy. And the platform leading to Line A was shut. A huge crowd built up, the exits became blocked, some incomprehensible announcements were made and of course no railway staff were anywhere in sight. We abandoned the train and took a taxi (at €5, a bargain).

But we took the train the next day and the day after without incident, so I shouldn't be too harsh. The trains came promptly enough and on the journey to the Vatican there was a bonus when we emerged from the tunnel to cross the Tiber by bridge, before dropping back into darkness.

One of the oddities is that the tickets are sold by newsagents or machine. There don't seem to be any ticket offices in the LU mould. Full marks for the multi-lingual machines and the sheer simplicity of the pricing system.

Second, how goes the campaign? Hard to tell, really. Commentators seem to think it's a dull election. Perhaps Prescott has been too subdued. The parties have so much in common that it is hard to support one of them unconditionally. Opinion in the Italian papers was that Blair would win fairly comfortably and there seems to be a mood of complacency and fatality, not the real excitement from 1997, 1992, 1979 and 1974, years in which a change of Government seemed likely but the polls were either too close to call or not believed.
And to tie the two themes together, the LibDem candidate for Ruislip-Northwood was there to greet me at Ruislip tube station this morning as I returned with my holiday memories fading to be overtaken by the reality of a back-to-work situation scenario.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Better Late...

Got home last night to see a lady wearing a red rosette leaving the house. Aha, I thought, it's the Labour canvasser dropping off their candidate's leaflet. But I was wrong, she was from Save the Children.
A few hours later a rustle at the letterbox and the long awaited flyer was on the mat. Only 4 pictures of the candidate - what's going on here? I've been deluged with pictures of the Tory and LibDem guys. I mean, if I don't have the image of the bloke imprinted deep within my brain how can I be expected to vote for him?
This morning Brian Sedgemore, a retiring Labour MP, announced his defection to the LibDems citing disillusion with Tony over Iraq. Now we can expect a barrage of comments from the Party explaining how marginal and unrepresentative he is, and generally rubbishing everything he has done in 27 years in Parliament.
Funniest story of the Election so far - John Prescott (You loved him as "Rocky" in 2001) badmouthing a local journalist in Wales who dared to ask him about yet another defection. "I'm a national politician, I don't care about Wales" said the Deputy Prime Minister. Yes, that should get the hearts of the solid Labour voters in the valleys beating a little quicker. Read the whole wonderful story. You couldn't make it up.

Friday, April 22, 2005

It's Hotting Up

Arrived home last night to find no less than 3 election flyers - Conservative, LibDem and Green. Mike Cox of the LibDems is clearly trying for a Simon Hoggart award for the candidate with the most photos of themselves in a single leaflet - I counted 12. Nothing from Labour.
And then, great excitement, a knock on the door and a polite gentleman introducing himself as the local Conservative councillor and asking if his party had my support. Now I always plan to tell all canvassers that of course I will support their party, so that they go away quickly and if this gives them a false impression about voting trends, then well and good, keep the buggers in suspense I say. But he was so polite and unaggressive I didn't have the heart to lie, so I just told him I was unlikely to be on his side. Mrs. Commuter cheered him up when she said she had voted Tory in the past but she didn't give him any encouragement about what she may do this time. He took it manfully, gave me a photo of Nick Hurd and departed, sadder but wiser.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

To the Hustings

Last night, Mrs. Commuter and I joined a gathering of about 130 at a local church to hear the candidates for the Ruislip-Northwood seat. There were sharp contrasts and many surprising points of agreement. We know the winner of course, R-N being one of the safest Tory seats in the country. He is Nick Hurd. He came across fairly well, a typical Tory candidate with a public school/Oxbridge/banking background and extremely well connected thanks to his famous father. The young Labour candidate, a child nurse, impressed with his enthusiasm. I hope he is selected for a more promising seat next time. I was somewhat less taken by the LibDem, although he is a well known local councillor and will get my support anyway as the only way I can register a protest against a Labour Government that in many ways I would like to see continue in office. The Green bloke came across like a quirky teacher, which we learned in the course of the evening he was, well intentioned but so never explained how insulating a few homes in the UK and taxing aviation fuel is going to cut global warming and save the rainforests. And a very odd UKIP person who rattled through a list of policies without putting any in context and relied on the mantra of taking Britain out of Europe and cutting bureaucracy. To be fair he only agreed to stand for election a couple of days ago. To be even fairer, he only strengthened my belief that UKIP are a bunch of weirdos and loonies who haven't the faintest idea what their policies would really mean for the country.

It was very heartening that all candidates spoke positively about their parties, rather than attacking the others, and listened politely to the questions and to the answers that the others gave. They all paid lip service to the latest bandwagon, "Matron" as the answer to dirty hospitals. I always assume that when everyone thinks something is a good idea that it probably isn't. When everyone goes on about cutting red tape and layers of management, and simultaneously claim to believe in better administration, shorter waiting lists and cleaner hospitals you just have to wonder if they have any idea how large institutions work. Actually the GMB union has got it dead right. In an advert in today's Guardian they make the simple point that if you want cleaner hospitals you need to pay for people to clean them.

This being largely a Christian audience there was no particular support for anti-immigration policies and Hurd made very little of his own party's views. Abortion was discussed and all the candidates seemed to think that this was a matter of conscience but that the present arrangements were the best we could get. The LibDem, Mike Cox, asserted that as a Catholic he was against abortion but also that he would not change the current law.

There was little passion in the air (good, clouds the judgement), a lot of understated support for the Labour Government's investment in health and tax credits, some boos for Metronet for not putting a lift into the rebuilt Ruislip Manor tube station, and no women on the platform. With 5 candidates and 1 chairman, this seemed wrong.

My heart went out to one questioner, who asked why two druggies who burgled him got a lower sentence than he had when doing 46mph on a 40mph road. The panel argued that stiffer sentences were needed but that prison didn't work, so no very clear result. They weren't very sympathetic to him about the speeding. As one who frequently finds that the only safe speed on the A40 is at least 10mph over the limit, in order to keep up with the traffic and prevent being endlessly boxed in by big trucks, he had my total sympathy.

Full marks to the chairman for ending exactly on time (the wife was finding the wooden seats hard going).

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Head vs. Heart

Yesterday I wrote about the unspoken theme behind the Tories "not racist" slogan,and hoped this would backfire. Pleasing to see that the headline in the Guardian today suggesting that it is, and that leading Tories are becoming worried by the tactic.

All parties have their written policies and their instincts. What they put in a manifesto, debate at conferences and put across to the electorate is one thing. What they will actually do when in power and confronted by the pressure of events is something else. Often, trying to make a quick decision in awkward circumstances, with civil servants telling them that their ideas don't or won't work in practice and with newspapers kneejerk headlines pulling them in directions they may not have planned to go, they fall back on their instincts. "Is he one of us?" Mrs. Thatcher used to ask about her colleagues. Everyone knew what she meant. Labour used to have its test of whether someone was a true socialist.

My fear is of Tory instincts. The instincts that led to the introduction of the Poll tax and the privatisation of the railways. The anti-Europe, little-Britain what ever happened to the Empire mindset. The "all foreigners are scroungers and lazy layabouts who only come here to claim social security and when you chuck them out they complain about human rights violations" attitudes that underly the "you know its really quite reasonable to discuss immigration" approach. Howard Flight spoke truly when he told what he thought was a private audience that the Tories had a real agenda about tax cuts but they couldn't talk about it until they were in power. His audience understood perfectly. Michael Howard understood perfectly as well - such things must not be discussed in public full stop. So he sacked the hapless Flight as vice-chairman and then barred him from standing as an MP. But this only illustrates my point. The roots of Toryism run very deep and will keep on springing up no matter what the leadership says. There are plenty of decent people in the Conservative party - can they steer the party on a course fitting its higher ideals?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Poll watching

Ten days into the election campaign (and I don't mean the conclave under way in the Sistine Chapel). For this blogger it's become rather quiet. Not one communication from a political party through the letter box since last Monday. Not a single poster to be seen in Ruislip. Somehow I have failed to see a single party political broadcast, not through conscious avoidance, just because none have been scheduled at any time I have been watching TV (which has not been a lot recently, apart from the snooker, because I have been playing Rome: Total War again, having discovered how to play as any faction available, instead of just one of the three Roman factions - I've been playing Egypt for several days and am finding it tough going, especially now that Rome has declared an utterly unprovoked war on me, the bastards, and is clearing my ships out of the Eastern Med...but I digress).

The opinion polls are pleasingly diverse, some showing the Tories just ahead and others showing a 3 - 6 point gap in favour of Labour. It's much more fun when public opinion is volatile and politicians are forced to listen more closely. Hopefully the Tory campaign based on "we are not racists but are you thinking what we are thinking, wink wink nudge nudge, foreigners out" is failing to galvanise floating voters, although it may be bolstering the will of die-hard supporters to turn out on the day. Amazingly, the disaster at MG Rover has seemingly been accepted as just one those things, instead of it being used to show incompetent the Government is, or provoking a massive kneejerk reaction - in the past quasi-Nationalisation would be the outcome from a Labour Government desperate to sway the many marginal seats in the West Midlands.

I think the strangest theme has been the Matron/Cleaner hospitals idea from the Tories. It is hard to understand how this can possibly be a party political issue anyway - is there a party in favour of dirty hospitals? I don't think so - but to have this coming from the party who on ideological grounds privatised cleaning and created the internal market is galling. The internal market where,every service within a hospital was charged for, creating a useless layer of administration and paper-processing, whilst almost certainly reducing efficiency and health-management (because the lowest cost providers of any service are not normally the best and the short term economies invariably increase longer term running costs, as is clearly shown by the grip that the MRSA bug now has in many hospitals) is a disaster. It is based on a thorough misunderstanding of the theory of markets, a ludicrous belief in the idea that "pure competition" is the best state for an economy and a value judgement that all non-financial transactions are inherently sub-optimal. (This is one subject I feel I know something about, having read economics at Cambridge.)

And the missing theme of this election? Massive improvements in the ghastly signalling and information systems used by the London Underground. This commuter would pay keen attention to any party sticking their neck out on this one.

So onward into the second full week of the campaign.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Brilliant timing

Congratulations to Sarah and Charles Kennedy on the arrival of their new baby.

Now let's be honest. Would we rather drool over a snap of happy parents and bundle of joy, or another boring election manifesto (the launch of which was postponed due to said arrival)? I know I would (drool that is).

Was it a wonderful coincidence or did some brutal political scheming take place during early September?

Monday, April 11, 2005

When is a lie not a lie?

I quite like the LibDems. I hope they strengthen their representation in the next Parliament to bring it closer to 20% or so votes that they will be receive. But I am not impressed by a stupid lie in the Ruislip candidate's latest flyer. He writes that the election is a straight choice between Conservative and LibDem and that Labour are out of the race, quoting the result in the local elections in 2004.

Now this is mendacious. At the 2001 General Election in Ruislip-Northwood, the Tories got 48%, Labour 28% and the LibDems 18%. Yup, the LibDems go into this election from a weak third position. All electoral history shows that voting at General Elections follows the pattern of previous General Elections and that local and bye-elections count for little. The LibDems have a ghostly chance, but to claim that Labour are out of it is a lie. Or at least to state this as though it is an established fact is a lie since it is acceptable as a statement of opinion.

So the answer to my question is that a lie is not a lie when uttered by a politician. I'm not sure how to categorise it. "Vapourware" has long been used in IT circles to characterise publicity claims about non-existent products "just" about to be released. Perhaps "Politspeak" should designate the utterly risible and untrue claims made by politicians who extrapolate wildly from relatively trivial figures and ignore the basic reality.

Other examples of Politspeak in recent days
Alex Salmond of the SNP on the radio at the weekend "We are the only party with the policies to make Scotland succeed"
The Labour party's stupid statements about Tory spending "cuts" based on forecasts for public spending in five years time.
"It's not racist to talk about immigration"
"UKIP could win 20 seats"

The monitoring continues...