Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 and all that

So, farewell then, year of the Olympics and Sir Wiggo. The year in which the "S" stock trains finally replaced the last of the half-century old "A" stock on the dear old Met line. The wettest year in England since records began and even as I pen these lines it has been raining hard all most of the day here in beautiful Ruislip. It might let up for the fireworks at midnight. A year in which I finally ceased to be a daily commuter and mutated into a sort of dilettante traveller, journeying now and then to visit the office where I laboured for so long, and where I am beginning to feel like a relic of a distant age, handing over the systems so painfully built up to a new generation to exploit. And good luck to them.

Ah well, time is passing and I've given Ed. the night off to let off a few bangers, or get wrecked down the pub or whatever it is that blog editors do when released from their ink-damp cubby-holes. He's a bit of a pedantic irritant, but cheap, so I guess I can keep him on a little longer.

A very happy new year to all my readers.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Great Fish Tank Disaster of '12

Regular readers (or even casual ones with a roving eye) will know that there is a long-standing association between your correspondent and the, frankly rather brilliant, website devoted to the cartoon character "Bristow". One of the best known features of the strip is the story of the Great Tea Trolley Disaster of '67, a catastrophe that struck the offices of the Chester-Perry Building and seared the lives of the survivors. And now real life has imitated art for, thanks to the BBC, we can read about, and gape at, the Chinese equivalent. I look forward to seeing the full report in the bumper winter number of the Communist Party House Journal.

Postscript. I did not realise that the second word in the title of this piece was "Geat" until the middle of January. Ed, your job is on the line.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The end of the world, again, (yawn)

Nutters round the world will be looking around them today going "Duh...what happened" as yet again for about the forty thousandth time in the history of homo sapiens, a group of loonies forecast the end of the world and a group of drooling morons believed them.

  • Fact - not one "ancient" writing about the end of the world has ever been true or in the slightest way relevant to anything.
  • Fact - all the people who think the end is at hand will merely roll forward the date and start panicking about that.
  • Fact - the Mayans actually forecast that today was the feast of the great Literary Rambler from the Beautiful Suburb and substantial donations of cash should be made to appease him. Scholars are not totally sure what they referred to, but anyone really worried about apocalypse should insure their survival by adhering to this remarkable wisdom. Get in touch with me for lo! I can show you the way to lighten your soul (and your bank balance).
  • Fact - not everything written above may be strictly true. 
  • [isn't there something about the need to appease the great Editor of the beautiful suburb? :Ed]

Friday, December 07, 2012

Optimistic or what?

I received an advertising flyer through the post this morning, drawing my attention to a sale at a furniture warehouse. In Southampton.
[Some ninety minutes driving away from beautiful Ruislip. I'm not going either: Ed]

Saturday, December 01, 2012


The Guardian has a feature today comparing luxury goods with a the cheapest feasible alternatives and my eye was drawn to a violet Ralph Lauren Black Label Ricky tote, which at a mere £16,195 from Harrods must surely find a way to every woman's Xmas stocking this year. But never mind the eye-watering price tag - I had not hitherto heard of the combo Ralph Lauren Black - Ralph Lauren I know but who or what is Black? Well, to some of us of a certain age, the words "Black" and "handbag" can mean only one thing - yes, the evil Mrs. Black, (Denise Coffey with sneer) armed with her horrible handbag. who threatened to take over the world so often and so memorably in the legendary TV show Do not adjust your set; thwarted only by the brilliance of the super-super-hero Captain Fantastic (David Jason in silly moustache and flasher style raincoat).

I don't know what the Harrod's version does but I think we should all be very afraid.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The view from the East

I have more time on my hands than I used, I have spent many years writing about the London Underground system and I have a Freedom Pass. So what better way to combine the three and go off on a jaunt on some unfamiliar parts?

Yesterday I took myself off for a few hours to ride the Docklands Light Railway. OK, it is not really part of the Underground, and hardly any of it actually is below the surface, indeed substantial sections are elevated at first floor level and you have the wonderful experience of looking down on people and vehicles, but it is part of the London Transport network so it counts.

The engineering and the design of this railway are superb. It twists itself around tight corners and leaps over gulfs that would defy the conventional tube. The driverless trains run with precision. The information systems are clear and helpful. I love it. But this is not the place to go into such details - I just want to share a few impressions - remember that, to a son of beautiful Ruislip, East London is a strange and alien world.

My journey began with a Met to Aldgate and a stroll down the quaintly named Minories to the DLR terminus at Tower Gateway. This always was the boundary of the City of London and it still is - on the right, steel and glass buildings rise to the sky (including the Gherkin seemingly near enough to touch) and on the left, the stone and brick low rise properties of what used to be the poorest part of the city and the home of my grandparents. Capital city and financial centre faces dense residential and light industrial. The contrast is even marked the moment the DLR, elevated for it first few stations, leaves the Tower. The glittering blue office blocks are nowhere in sight - all around are flats, many long terraces, some still recognisably Victorian or earlier but mostly dull post-modern council projects. Shadwell and Limehouse stations - names that recall the docklands - hover amongst the sea of roofs, with the occasional church making a welcome break, in particular Hawksmoor's St Anne's with its square, tapering tower topped with little effigies of itself. And in the middle distance, dominating the view, are the half dozen tall buildings that are collectively known as Canary Wharf, sticking out of the flat surroundings like Dallas on the TV show.

Canary Wharf occupies a wonderful site, facing the river with docks and canals around it so that there is the gleam of open water wherever you look. The DLR contorts itself as you leave Poplar, tracks writhing around you, one branch leading north to Stratford, one going due east and the line to Canary Wharf threading itself through and over the others to reach the station high above the main mall that lies beneath the skyscrapers. Actually there is one other station, West India Quay, so close to Canary Wharf one wonders they bothered building it.

Around this glittering temple to money stretches a wilderness. Acres of desolate ground, brown and waterlogged, some fenced in and being worked by machines and men in hard yellow hats. The housing estates, though all at a safe distance. And, incongruously, perched at the feet of a very tall building is Billingsgate Fish Market, looking as though it has been plucked from its original site in Lower Thames Street near the Tower and plonked into the mud.

I found the shopping mall at Canary Wharf oppressively busy, and was bemused by the queues at some of the fast food outlets, with everyone glued to their mobiles. So I picked up a DLR going north to Stratford, past the wonderfully named Pudding Mill Lane and then the Olympic park on one side and the River Lea on the other. I had never really been aware of the Lea before, and how it forms such an obvious boundary. A quick sandwich at Westfield and back on the other branch, opened in August 2011, that leads to Canning Town and on to Beckton. One of my assistants, many years ago, was looking to buy a house in Beckton as it was the only part of London he felt he could afford. So I was curious to see why the DLR should extend that way.  But really the railway is there to open up the huge expanse of land around the Victoria and Albert docks, and Beckton just happens to be a convenient bit at the end where there was room to build the main DLR depot. There is nothing at the station at all bar a few windswept main roads, an Asda, a Travellodge and housing. I was glad I had lunch at Stratford and not waited.

I returned to Canning Town, wondering whether to take the Woolwich branch and as my train arrived so did a Woolwich-bound one on the adjacent platform. So that was that decision made. 

The tube map is wholly misleading. It shows the DLR going south east with the two dock branches as quite distinct. But the two lines run due east, and parallel for some way, only changing direction at the end when the Beckton branch curves back on itself (so that Beckton is actually north of Gallions Reach, not south east as shown on the map) and the other goes south-east under the Thames to Woolwich (and not south) as shown. And for nearly the whole way these two lines are within sight of each other, one passing north and the other south of the docks. From the Beckton branch there is a great view of the new Emirates Air-line cable crossing linking the Dome with ExCel (not sure why anyone would wish to go from one to the other but the ride over the Thames must be worth it). From the Woolwich branch you pass underneath the swaying cable cars as they descend to the northern station - and for the people up there that bit must be singularly disappointing for the riverside is nothing but waste disposal sites, lorry parks, machinery dumps, derelict warehouses, fenced-off compounds and mud. Charles Dickens would have felt at home here.

I enjoyed a brief visit to Woolwich where a few steps from the station bring you to the Arsenal, once one of the biggest manufacturing sites in Britain and where 80,000 people worked during WW1. Now this huge river-fronting site is being developed for housing and offices but it also has many historic buildings and is home to the Royal Artillery museum.

And so back, past London City Airport, to the main terminus at Bank, the most irritating station to visit because the DLR platforms are deep underground and no less than three escalators as well as stairs are needed to gain the surface.  I walked up to Moorgate, along a street I used to visit daily when I was a trainee accountant all those years ago. There is a huge curved office block and I can't remember what it replaced. Near the station another massive hole in the ground where more old buildings are gone and no doubt another glass tower will arise.

A very pleasant outing, enhanced by clear skies and the sun setting low over the City on the return so that we seemed to be riding into a golden haze. It is strange to see one's own hometown through the eyes of a tourist and humbling to think of just how much of London remains to be visited.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ups and Downs at Baker Street

It is not easy to describe the layout at Baker Street if you have never travelled through it, so I won't try. Suffice it to say that this most important station on the Metropolitan has many platforms and modes of communication between them. Recently some of the staircases have been made one way - fine if you want to go that way, awkward if your normal route is blocked because it may require a detour going up and over the platforms. I gather that there is some serious escalator replacement work going on and the one way system is a safety measure.  But being unable to go directly down to platform 2 from the main entrance this afternoon was very strange, considering that nobody was coming up the stairs.

I probably won't be doing much travelling beyond Baker Street in future so my progress reports on the improvements will be no more than occasional.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A conflict of information

Farringdon station was pretty crowded Tuesday night. There had been points problems at Aldgate earlier and gaps had appeared in the service. The westbound platform indicators, however,showed a Hammersmith train due shortly, with a couple of trains behind, one of which was to Uxbridge (terminus on the route to beautiful Ruislip). Gladdened at heart, I joined the throng only to have my hopes dashed by the platform assistant who announced, a number of times, that the indicators were wrong and that we should all take the first train and change at Baker Street for points north because there were no following trains.

Now what to do? Useless to check the internet because it would show the same information as the indicators. Which to believe? The Hammersmith was due in 1 minute and the Uxbridge in 2. The announcer continued to tell us that the system "was not in real time". I followed the crowd who packed out the Hammersmith and loads of us emerged at Baker and surged up the steps toward the Metropolitan platforms. Where, not really to my surprise, the Uxbridge that had been behind us all the time came in less than a minute later and half-empty.

I don't suppose the announcer was deliberately lying. I guess they wanted to shift as many people as possible onto the first train. But had I known the truth I would have waited for the Uxbridge, had a seat all the way and not had to make the mad scramble at Baker.

It's these little dilemmas of strategic choice that make travelling on the Underground such a stimulating experience. The weighing up of the alternatives - the likelihood of a seat, the best place to change trains, the best place to be to get the train one wants, the degree of belief one puts in official sources of information be they human or electronic - is this not a mirror for the great choices we must all make in life with the concomitant stresses of decision making and cost-benefit analysis? [Funny, never thought of that before: Ed]

Friday, November 09, 2012

That's the way to do it

I promised, in my last missive, to report the moment I completed an effortless journey from beautiful Ruislip to my new office at Farringdon. It happened this morning and again on the return. On the morning run not only was my train from Ruislip bound for Aldgate, so need to change at all, but on arrival at Harrow there was a fast Aldgate awaiting us. And get this - there was time to cross the platform to board it, there were seats going and it left promptly.  The return was even simpler for, reaching Farringdon somewhat later than usual having had a farewell drink for a departing colleague, an Uxbridge appeared within three minutes and I was able to read horror stories on my little smartphone undisturbed.

So we can draw a neat line under this particular affair and file the papers away under "S" for "sorted". [er, what papers? Did I miss something? :Ed]

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crush Hour

I made the mistake last night of leaving my new office at Farringdon at 5:30pm for the return to beautiful Ruislip. Exacerbated by extensive roadworks that funnel pedestrians into a narrow corridor of pavement, the crowds who knock off at that time formed a dense mass of marching commuters blocking the access streets to the station. I hoped that most of them would be using the national rail services but few went into the gleaming new station entrance that serves those lines; the rest piled into the old Victorian station and crammed down onto the tube platforms that were already full.

A reasonable service was running, or so it seemed and soon after a full-to-the-bilges Hammersmith left, a fast Watford arrived with just enough space for your correspondent to squeeze into. This train then had its terminus changed to Harrow - no sweat for me because I have to change there anyway but not so much fun for my Watford branch travelling companions. It almost goes without saying that as we arrived at Harrow, coming into the platform normally reserved for Uxbridge bound trains, there was a Watford train adjacent, and of course this train moved off exactly as the doors opened on my train.

Oddly enough, most of the debarking passengers stayed on the Uxbridge side, and when our train arrived a few minutes later there were loads of us waiting; the arriving train was also packed so it was standing room only the rest of the journey.  I gather there had been a problem in the morning with a defective train but I don't know whether this had a persisting knock-on effect. I had been mildly affected by that one as well - arriving at Harrow on my inbound journey I had hoped to pick up a fast Aldgate train. One arrived on cue. The announcer said it was an Aldgate, the train's external display said it was for Amersham [the opposite direction: Ed]  and, as everyone crossed the platform to board, the driver told us it was terminating there and we all got out and went back to the slow train.

I have not yet managed to switch effortlessly to an Aldgate at Harrow on this, my new regular commute but who knows, this happy event may well occur soon and when it does you, my loyal followers, will be the first to know.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Return of the Strap

Readers whose tastes run to what I believe is known in certain circles as "discipline" will be sadly disappointed if they continue with this article. For the strap to which I refer is a device to make it easier to retain one's footing on a moving train. In the olden days all the tubes had them, often rather sinister sprung jobs with shiny black spherical handles, somewhat like what I imagine a cosh to resemble. The phrase "straphangers" was invented to describe a line of commuters in a packed train, each clinging on for dear life to one of these and trying not to trap their fingers in the spring. I found an excellent picture showing the straps - and a comment from a reader saying he thought they were used as coshes during the second world war - on the Flickr pages of IanVisits.

Well, we have new version of the old strap and they are being installed to the "S" stock trains on the Met right now. I saw my first examples yesterday and courtesy of the District Dave site you can see a picture of them. The photo makes them rather sinister, like a line of dangling nooses into which travellers who have finally given up the bitter struggle to get in on time can end it all, but don't worry about that, they are not that big.

And now to my new journey from beautiful Ruislip to work. My office has moved to Farringdon and it is the Met line all the way. The only complexity is that, in the morning most trains in from the Uxbridge branch stop at Baker Street :  so - do I change at Harrow, with a good chance of having to stand all the way (clever link back to the strap hanging theme here) [nice one: Ed] or go onto Finchley Road, hop off and wait for the next Aldgate, or to Baker Street where if the train comes in on platform 1 one must either walk through to the Circle Line or go over the steps to platform 3?  And coming home - take the first train which, if a Circle, requires a change at Baker Street and a hair-raising race up the steps, through the main concourse and down again to catch a train that is starting from there (this happened yesterday and whilst I was lucky to get an Uxbridge just before it left, I saw a fellow commuter bound down the steps only to see the doors close in his face), or hang around waiting for a through train to Uxbridge (these run only in peak hours and most of my journeys are off-peak)?  There are other options and possibilities but 'twould be tedious in the extreme to describe them all, much as you probably want me to, so I shall desist. [Thanks: Ed]. Decisions, decisions.  And not helped by the tube internet information system which sometimes describes all southbound trains as Aldgate when they are not, or simply as "unknown".

Farringdon station itself is fascinating - one of the oldest stations on the line and indeed one of the oldest metro stations in the world, but with a huge new station building for the National Rail lines and massive construction going on around it for Crossrail.  Footbridges snake across the lines at odd angles. At the end of the tube platforms an unmarked tunnel leads to the National Rail platforms. The tube lines bend away so sharply at this end that, although fully in the open, incoming trains are invisible until the last second of their approach. Yesterday as I waited for my Met train, passengers just a few feet away (but separated by a barrier) were waiting for trains to Gatwick and Brighton.  Brighton for me means starting at Victoria, passing Battersea Power Station and calling in at Clapham Junction, the way that God intended. One of my earliest and favourite computer games was called "Southern Belle", written for the Spectrum , and it simulated driving a steam train along that route using the most basic of graphics but with such atmosphere that one could easily imagine it. A diesel from Farringdon? No. It won't do. Just look at this screenshot and marvel

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Italian stupidity

The court case in Italy where scientists who failed to give adequate warning of the earthquake in 2009 have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment up to 6 years - for manslaughter because victims might have left the area had they been warned in time - is so disquieting I have to add my voice to those condemning it. The scientists had been working on earthquake prediction -seismology. They presented the known risks in terms of probability. The knee-jerk reaction to blame them makes the Italian courts utterly moronic, Consider:

* Had the scientists issued warnings, and no earthquake had occurred, would they have been sued for damages? Presumably yes, since they got it wrong
* Had they issued warnings and people had stayed put anyway, would they still be guilty of manslaughter? Presumably yes for not rounding people up in the streets and moving them away, or for not issuing enough or scary enough warnings.
*The Pope claims to be the mouthpiece of God. Is anyone suing him (or indeed, God) for murder?
*There have been repeated earthquakes over many hundreds of years in the region affected. But always the people return and rebuild. Are they going to sue themselves for being so stupid? Or prosecute the builders?

Science is always about probability. Earthquakes are notoriously hard to predict. The question is whether scientists get it right more often than a random toss of the coin. If they do, listen to them. If not, don't, But whether you listen or not, they are not the ones causing the ground to shake and are not responsible for people choosing to live there.

The result of this court case is that no reputable science can be done in Italy. At a stroke the courts have put Italy back to 1620, the era of the Inquisition and the Church burning anyone who defied the doctrine of the universe. What happens when there are warning rumbles in the unstable ground around Vesuvius? Who is going to dare to say anything based on the evidence if they will face trial should they get it wrong?

Italy should be suspended from the Council of Europe and the EU until it clarifies whether it is a modern European state or a medieval theocracy that burns witches.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The pleasures of Pimlico

I have lived and worked in London pretty well all my life. I have used the tube to commute to most of my working destinations. So you might think I had travelled on every line, main or branch and graced most stations with my transient presence.  But you would, as must be obvious from the hackneyed, yet strangely attractive and compelling, way I have set up this line of reasoning, be wrongThere are many parts of the great underground complex that I have rarely used. Some never. And today I travelled a route that I think I have only ever done once before, down to Pimlico via the Victoria line, for a meeting.

The Viccy is clearly a high-frequency route with the trains shuttling in at intervals of a minute or so.  And just as well because what I had not expected was the huge volume of people switching between the Jubbly and the Viccy at Green Park, the essential interchange on my migration south from beautiful Ruislip. This was early afternoon, mind you. Not the peak hour for shops to close or office workers in the metropolis to leave their desks. Yet there were throngs pushing through the platform exits, jamming up the corridors, filing endlessly down the stairs and effortlessly filling the trains, no matter how quickly the latter arrived.

The journey home was pretty slick though. Arrived at Pimlico, straight on a train. Transferred at Green Park to the Jubilee and again straight on a train. A piece of nifty footwork secured a seat so I remained until Finchley Road, disembarked and lo! the first Met was going my way and coming in even as I took up my place on the platform. I did notice that on both southbound and northbound journeys the Jubblies and the Mets take no notice of each other. Arriving southbound off a Met, I crossed to the waiting Jubbly and the doors shut in my face. Going home, as I took my seat in the Met a Jubbly came into the platform hard on the heels of the one I had vacated. Did we wait for passengers to cross the platform? Hell no, we were off even as they were coming out. Now this doesn't matter much for Jubblistas because they get one train every 1 to 2 minutes but it is a much longer interval on the Met. I hardly ever travel by the Jubbly so I really couldn't care much but it must be galling for regulars.

[so what was your original journey to Pimlico all about then? Your readers will want to know: Ed]  Sadly I have no recollection. This must remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. Or I could make something up. I'll revisit this one the next time I am stuck for material and on a deadline. [Good idea. Although we don't actually have deadlines on blogs, do we?: Ed]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bye Bye Bakerloo

That's it. Finished. This evening I made my final commute on the Bakerloo up from Waterloo to Baker Street, thence to catch a shiny new S Stock Met to beautiful Ruislip. This weekend my office (actually the office of my client because I am officially a self-employed consultant, and let me say at once, in the wake of certain allegations about highly paid BBC personages and others, that I do not hide behind a service company and I pay full income tax on my meagre earnings [good to clear that one up: Ed]) moves to the up and coming, media friendly, go-getting and buzzing neighbourhood of Hatton Garden in London's fashionable Farringdon district. Well, we had to because they are finally going to knock down the Tower Building (aka Elizabeth House, facing the Shell Centre) in which we have been perched this last 6 years, high above Waterloo station, and put up some stupendously dull office blocks to replace the stupendously dull office block that we are vacating.

So goodbye to some of the slowest, jerkiest and most irritatingly unresponsive lifts in London and let us look forward to next week, when I visit the new office for the first time with just a simple flight of stairs into the basement (which, I hasten to add, does have windows) but alas no glorious views over to St. Paul's on one side and the sweep of the many railway lines leading south from Waterloo on the other.

It will be exceedingly pleasant to remain on the Met for my entire journey and, with luck, on the same train. Perhaps it will inspire the inner muse to reach heights of unrestrained verbiage as yet undreamed of by those who merely edit the creative thoughts of others. Naming no names, of course. But it rhymes with 'bed'. And starts with 'e'.

Monday, October 01, 2012

It's in there somewhere, Jimmy, I know it

No doubt about the most important news story of the day. Forget the destruction in Syria, the Labour conference or the Ryder Cup comeback. In my view, the BBC should have given this story massive front page coverage, with a Panorama documentary, a full scale Today interview and a chat-show season for the luckless Aberdonian at the very least.

I hope the BBC will excuse my replicating their picture.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ruislip, SW15

I noticed a correction in today's Grauniad (I only take it for its excellent coverage of pro-am celebrity tiddly-winks) referring to beautiful Ruislip. You can read the whole shocking feature here but, in essence, the fine but somewhat careless folk at the Garudian had placed our noble borough in (oh the shame, oh the horror) in South (pronounced 'sarf'), London, in a story about the mayor, one B. Johnson, opening yet another library to add to our world-renowned collection of cultural artefacts. [another long and complex sentence. I've told you about this before:Ed]

Anyway let me clarify matters for those who like to believe everything they read in the press. Ruislip is firmly placed in the most elegant part of North-West London, has no intentions of moving and even if it did it would be to somewhere suitable such as the outskirts of Cheltenham, Harrogate or Bath. South of the river? No way. We will defend to the death our right to remain as far north of it as geography permits and if that requires diverting the ancient and historic river Pinn to make a stronger barrier against those who would rob us of our birthright, then I know that we will make the sacrifice. [Time for your medication: Ed]

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The blight of the spam call

A spell of beautiful warm weather in London has coincided with the Paralympic Games. I believe the games have been an outstanding success, but as I know nothing about paralympic sport, this opinion has no value. There has been no impact at all on my commuting into Central London, however one side benefit has been that, because the regular weekend engineering upgrades to the tracks have been halted for the duration, the Tube has been running pretty well. Or at least I think it has - as I am not a regular traveller to East London, I don't know how the key lines (Jubilee and Central) have coped.  [not sure how much confession of general ignorance your public can take: Ed]

I started writing about the Games but got diverted. My blood pressure is up because I was interrupted, with hands poised above keys to write a devastating reply to Ed that would send him cowering back to his ink-stained cubby hole to ponder long and hard about his irritating habit of making stupid marginal comments, by a phone call from a man, obviously calling from abroad and claiming to be from the "Government legal service" asking if there has been an accident in my house in the past three years. [Another foolishly long sentence. You do need me, you know: Ed]. We get these calls all the time (always from abroad because we are registered not to receive cold calls but this only works in the UK).  I asked him how stupid he thought I was. He said I must be an incredible genius because I knew everything. I asked him where that line was in his script. Then I put the phone down and five seconds later the sod called back. I put the phone down again. Hopefully that will be that for a few days.  A few months ago I tried playing along with one of these scam artists by saying yes, I had indeed had an accident, I had fallen out of a tree and was in intensive care. My caller was taken in for a while, or at least he gamely stuck to his "We can get you compensation" line" while I told him what agony I was in and how it was all my neighbour's fault. But maybe he eventually realised that perhaps I was not in a hospital bed and he terminated the colloquy.

The cleverest scam call came last week to Mrs. Commuter, with me eavesdropping.  "Hello, this is the telephone registration scheme. We understand that you are registered not to receive cold calls but you still get them. Can you give us examples?" This was followed by "You paid to register for this service but it is due for renewal. Can we have your credit card details please".  At which point we put the phone down and rolled our eyes at yet another example of human duplicity and greed. But claiming that someone has paid for something in the past is clever - you think, well maybe I did, so this call must be genuine. 

Scam phone calls of this sort are always to landlines, which are linked to a name and address in phone books, and therefore don't work when made to mobiles. So will they die out as more and more people cease to use landlines? You can't really phone a mobile and say "We think someone using this sim card has had an accident and is in line for compensation".  Or can you? Fraudulent text messages referring to PPI claims are spammed out to mobiles - maybe mass callouts from these wretched lowlifes in the Philippines will be the next way to try to con money from the great British public. The falling cost of international telephony, and the way you can use the internet to cut out much of the cost completely (Skype et al) has got a lot to answer for.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

2003 revisited

The searingly hot summer of 2003 will be long remembered as providing one of the longest and most unpleasant weather conditions for many years. We have had few such summers since, and certainly 2012 has been wet and cold in comparison. Yet once again, this week, Europe is sweltering. Paris was 38c today whilst even in beautiful Ruislip we were looking at 31 or so. Just mowing the lawn in the late afternoon induced a stream of sweat [no unpleasant personal details please: Ed] and a disinclination to do any more. Thankfully we had our summer holiday in Switzerland last week because it is pretty damn hot even in the Alps right now.

Commuting on the dear old Met has changed fundamentally for the better this year, now that the air-conditioned "S" stock trains provide 100% of the normal service (although I still gripe about the removal of a third of the seats compared to their venerable "A" stock predecessors), and the Jubbly also offers a cool way into central London. Alas no such comfort on the Bakerloo whose oven-like conditions can hardly be described for fear that my readers will accuse me of hyperbole and sensationalism.  Oh well, my office is supposed to be moving sometime soon and with a bit of luck it will be "S" stock all the way in and out in future.

Monday, August 13, 2012

From the Alps

The Games have come and gone, the tube has never before carried so many passengers and the whole thing ended with a strange mixture of pop stars old and new in a ceremony that went on so long I was in bed long before the end. A bed in Cologne, mark you, because the closing ceremony coincided with the last night of a holiday in Switzerland during which Mrs. Commuter and your correspondent clocked up many thousands of miles riding the highly efficient Swiss Railway system. Highlights included the mountain railway above Zermatt, the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express, with a trolley bus in Montreux and various local runs as the icing on the cake (or the crevasse over the bergschrund if you will. [umm - help please: Ed] Oh just look it up Ed, we were in the mountains, didn't you do 'O' level geography?.

For all those fans of trams out there, this time I omitted to take the usual tasty snaps so here instead is the Bernina Express at the Alp Grum station. Not your normal commute.

Friday, August 03, 2012

London during the Games

Travelling home yesterday, on a Met  bearing a half-load of fellow commuters, we heard an extraordinary announcement. We were advised not to try shopping in Westfield at Stratford because it was open only to athletes and workers at the games. We were also told not to try to buy tickets, other than on-line. I suppose this might have made sense directed at people travelling on the Central or Jubilee and getting close to Stratford. I merely shook my head in quiet disbelief, since I have yet to shop in any Westfield and am probably unlikely so to do in the next thirty years or so, nor do I have the slightest intention of going anywhere near Stratford (other than on a jaunt to explore the DLR).
I took a lunchtime stroll along the South Bank yesterday and found it thronged by holiday-makers and well stocked with live statues, food stalls, a colourful sand pit for the very small and a dance-themed series of exhibits outside the Festival Hall. Yet the London Eye had no queue at all - anyone turning up went straight to the ramps where they do the security checks and then into a pod. And from the Eye to the National Theatre not a policeman to be seen. Perhaps they are all busy frisking Olympic visitors for contraband such as sandwiches made with the wrong kind of pickle.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

An Olympic commute*

[* warning: misleading title: Ed]

I made my usual journey to Waterloo yesterday morning, returning to beautiful Ruislip late afternoon. Trains were fine, though crowded on the homeward leg, weather most pleasant, nothing to report really. Except that this was the first "working" day since the Games began on Friday evening and was my first chance to see how the system would cope.
The morning inward leg was a typical summer's day, noticeably fewer people actually going to work more or less balanced by tourists. Coming home, as usual whilst waiting for a Met at Finchley Road the Jubblies were shuttling through at the rate of about 3 every 5 minutes, so full marks there for the service to Stratford. The Mets were full, almost everyone seemed to be a non-native and many debarked at Wembley Park so I guess they were all games-goers, but there was little sense of it. No flags or scarves in national colours, no chanting, no flaunting of approved sponsor products (or guiltily hiding away of offending materials).
So from this utterly non-representative sample, I can report that the Tube is coping well and Londoners can go about their business much as usual. This has been AnthonyG for Ramblings, somewhere in Ruislip, and now back to the studio.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A musical interlude

A few hectic days away, in Dorset and Yorkshire, have provided a nice counterpoint to the normal semi-commuting routine. One reason for this was to chauffeur Mrs. Commuter as she managed a major tour by the superb young "Arakaender Bolivia Choir" who obtained rave reviews as they performed long-lost music from the days of the Jesuit missions to South America. In York, always a good place to visit, the heavy rains of recent days flooded the River Ouse so rapidly that a riverside path that was mainly dry in the morning was under two foot of water later that afternoon.

And here is that self-same path - the water on the left is also floodwater, rather than the normal riverbank.  At least York is built to withstand flooding - all the properties along the river bank are raised and there was headroom under the bridges - but of course many other towns have suffered.

The tube seems to be coping ok during this extreme weather, although, thanks to my non-commuting day yesterday, I managed to avoid a system failure at Hillingdon possibly caused by a lightning strike on the electrical power supply.  The new "S" stock trains now supply the bulk of the Met's rolling stock and sightings of the old A60s and 62s are becoming rare but the new trains still can't take advantage of the promised new signalling systems. Every morning journey into Baker Street recently has been dogged by slow running and stoppages between stations. The evening runs have been fine. But my word, the evening trains do get crowded.

And now a note about the future. My office is likely to move north of the river in a few months and I will cease to use the Bakerloo. No regrets about losing the jammed evening trains but it has been a remarkably good service over the past 6 years. Instead it looks like my Met journeys will be extended beyond Baker Street toward Moorgate, an itinerary I used to do many many years ago whilst a young accountant. So it will be farewell to the deep tunnels and a warm welcome to the ancient cut and cover of the world's oldest underground system.  [Sounds romantic - I'm looking forward to it: Ed]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Olympics on the horizon

Regular readers [don't make me laugh: Ed] will know that I opposed the UK's bid to host the Olympics and I remain opposed, partly on the grounds of the huge and unwarranted cost, partly the corruption in the IOC, evidenced by the reselling of tickets by officials at inflated prices, partly because I loathe the nationalism and corporatism that surrounds what should be a fun athletics event and partly because of its disruptive impact on those of us obliged to pay for it but who have no intention of going anywhere near it.

Anyway, TFL are getting excited about it. Twice on my short Bakerloo journey into town this morning the driver told us we should start panicking about travelling during the games and advised checking  Getaheadofthegames for more info. This website is quite useful, showing on a day by day basis the stations most likely to be severely busy.  Not too vital for your correspondent who hopes to avoid the whole business but I would recommend anyone who must travel into or around London during the games to check it out. I am a little dubious about how busy things will be because anyone who, like me, has some choice in the matter will surely not be travelling whilst the games are on. We shall find out soon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A spot of rain

This article is just to put the record straight.  I recently was foolish enough to make a favourable comment on the pleasant weather of late May. So of course it has been heavy rain and cloud ever since.  There has been severe flooding in Wales and southern England. Some places have had almost a month's rain in a day. Even in beautiful Ruislip there has been plenty of the wet stuff, day after day. Some of the plants, selected for their drought-resistant properties, that we put in the garden recently are looking distinctly unwell. Oh the irony. [not sure this is ironic actually: Ed]

We still have a hosepipe ban in force, though who on earth would need to use a hosepipe right now I cannot imagine.  It will probably be lifted in the autumn when we will presumably get another prolonged dry spell that sets up a drought for next summer, assuming there is a next summer.

So there we are. A heatwave in eastern Europe where the European Football Championships are under way, with England making their usual soggy start [nice weather links there: Ed] and the same peculiar pattern here as for several recent years - a hot dry spring and a cool wet summer.  The climate is not what it was when I was a lad.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Stuck in a tunnel

I mentioned yesterday that my homebound journey was made more difficult by problems on the Jubilee [shouldn't that be Jubbly or something equally derisive?: Ed]. Yes, Ed, it will be, but what I had not known was the unfortunate passengers on the train that stuck near St. John's Wood were trapped in the sweltering heat for four hours before their escape which required walking 3/4 of a mile through the tunnels. The promised compensation, £40 per person I believe, is the least that LU could do.

I travelled into town  for a concert last night and noticed on the Neasden sidings a normal Jubbly attached to one decked out in livery celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubbly, er Jubilee.  There is a rumour on District Dave that it was this gaudy showpiece that failed so spectacularly and that it was eventually hauled out by another train, so it looks like this is indeed what happened. And I was indeed glad that I had brought a bottle of water as my Met ("A" stock so not air-conditioned) crawled from Harrow to Neasden for no obvious reason (um, it was obviously travelling 'twixt the two but what I meant was, no obvious reason for it to be so slow. [Thanks, I was confused about that: Ed]) but threatening every moment to stop and let us simmer gently in the afternoon sun.

LU very sensibly advise passengers to carry water on hot days. What they do not do is make it easy to obtain the stuff. Vending machines dispensing cold drinks on platforms? Bit of a no-brainer, I think and it's not the first time I have said so - I wrote the same in June 2005. I fear I may have to return to this theme in another seven years, assuming that one will still be blogging then. Or commuting. Watch this space

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer at last

Not just warm, but positively hot in London yesterday. Clear blue skies and a wash of Sahara-like air drove the temperature up into the higher 20s. A day for sitting by a running brook under the shade of willows with the skylarks above and a cool drink to hand. Or, as fate would have it, a day for coming down to Waterloo underground to find an overcrowded Bakerloo thanks to a suspended Jubbly service. I managed to squeeze into the last available seat on my northbound and was able to admire the many tense and frustrated faces of the crowds at Oxford Circus, no doubt swollen by non-Jubbliers [not sure about this: Ed] from Bond Street, who realised as my train arrived that very few of them would be able to board it.

And so to Baker Street where fresh hordes of ex-Jubblies (I'll find the right word for them one day) joined the normal Met travellers. I mentioned it was hot didn't I? At least the first train out was one of the (not quite so new now) "S" stock with air-conditioning. And, as it was packed and there was barely anywhere to stand except in the bit between the carriages that lurches and heaves with each bend, just as well. At Finchley Road they were running a northbound shuttle on the Jubbly starting from the southbound platform, since no trains  were going further south at that time, so the Jubblistas [I don't think that works too well: Ed] had some relief. Not so your correspondent who stood till Harrow, there to change trains, and catch one of the dear old, but not air-conditioned, "A" stock and  who still had to stand until Eastcote at which point it wasn't worth sitting down.

Ah well, I am writing these lines from home as today is not a working day and the weather is just as glorious. I shall watch the Tfl site with some interest, not to say schadenfreude and should there be a recurrence of yesterday's misfortunes, I shall raise a sympathetic libation to my fellow passengers.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The limits of AI, or, I'm getting a little worried about Jim*

Apple are running ads for the new iphone which feature its voice recognition technology. This may well be truly staggering and innovative. What makes me genuinely sad for the future of this great company is the utter banality of the examples. I choose as my text the one headed "What's my day look like" - presumably this is what the proud owner says into his phone. The phone is shown displaying "Another busy day today, Jim" and then it lists his calendar. This features a "status meeting", a "project briefing", lunch "with Emily", a "development call" and a "production update". Wow, what a busy and fulfilling life you lead, Jim. All those meetings. No wonder you need to relax by lunching with Emily, you little rogue. And how supportive your phone is, telling you warmly that it is another busy day. What, you had a round of meetings and lunchtime entertainment yesterday as well? Careful Jim, you don't want to overdo it, do you. Or your phone will use face recognition technology to say "Looking a bit peaky today Jim, better have an early night".

My point is that the ultra sophisticated technology (and I understand that all the processing is done on Apple's servers, so they are obviously keeping close tabs on Jim), is drawing what may be an utterly false conclusion. Just because Jim has put put in four meetings that does not mean he is busy - we all know that meetings are a way to avoid doing work - and furthermore the idea that the more appointments, the busier is utterly stupid. Jim might be incredibly busy working all day on his computer, or visiting clients, or designing a product, or in the lab testing things, or driving a bus, or operating on patients or teaching. None of these might warrant any entry in the calendar. So his stupid phone will conclude he is idle and then when he puts in a few facile meetings where he does nothing but doodle, drink coffee and keep his eyes lowered, it thinks he is doing some real work. What happens when he goes on holiday and marks all his time as occupied? Does the phone go "Wow Jim, you really rock" or whatever the current Californese expression is for showing awe?

I await with interest what Emily's phone will say when she enters her lunchtime date. "Jim again? That loser? You can do better than that, girl".  And will her phone then link to Jim's phone and try and sabotage the date, or maybe try to encourage it by wiping out Jim's 13:30 so that he spends a lot more time in the restaurant than he had planned. You have to watch these devices. Who knows what they might get up to, once you start asking them for their opinions.

*if you don't remember BBC Radio's long running soap Mrs. Dale's Diary, don't worry about it

Thursday, April 26, 2012

One under

I've been caught up, from time to time, in delays on the Tube caused by a person falling under a train, or in tube-speak a "one-under". These are usually suicide attempts rather than a dreadful consequence of platform overcrowding or a murderous attack. Yesterday I came much closer to one than ever before, though I hasten to add I was not actually in the station when it happened. I was walking back to Finchley Road station in mid afternoon to catch a northbound Metropolitan and saw, as I walked up the road, firstly a considerable traffic jam, then a row of emergency vehicles outside the station and finally the inevitable closed metal gates with a couple of grim faced Tube staff standing on guard.  As there was nothing to say what the problem was, I asked. I was told that it was a person under a train, that the Met was suspended but that the Jubilee was running normally and that the best thing was to walk to Swiss Cottage to board one. Advice I duly took and as our train came through into Finchley Road there was a Met stopped just inside the platform, with a big canvas screen between the train and platform, and emergency crew standing on the tracks.

Having watched the recent BBC TV series "The Tube", where there was plenty of coverage of such incidents, I had some idea of what was going on behind the canopy and that the need to turn off the power would screw up the Met for the rest of the day. And my journey was completed with the aid of the 114 bus from Harrow, there being so few trains running it was not worth waiting for one.

Seeing for real all the paraphernalia surrounding the one under was a bit of jolt. Somewhere in the welter of blue flashing lights and visibility jackets was a person, whether dead or severely injured I don't know.  It's a reality that severely disturbs the familiar - and safe - routine of the daily commute.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Monday, April 09, 2012

Winter's last gasp

To the border country of Shropshire, Brecon and Hereford for a few refreshing days away. The petrol tanker drivers postponed their threatened strike and our motoring was not curtailed, as I been fearing it might have to be, when just a few days earlier 3 out of 4 local petrol stations had run dry. Yet the only petrol station in Ludlow not only had no petrol but mournfully informed me, when I phoned to ask if they had supplies, that they were closing for good. A sign of the times, and modern archaeologists may find deserted forecourts and the foundations of pumps and canopies all over the country; no doubt some future experts will ponder the strange rise and fall of these Gasoline people and their penchant for building their temples near to main roads. But I digress.

The marvellous, albeit dry, weather of the past few weeks went out with a bang as blizzards and strong winds battered the north, and plenty of it reached further south. Here are the Brecon Beacons topped with snow just a couple of days ago.
And now we are home and as is traditional for the Easter bank holiday, it is chilly and has been raining a fair bit, the first decent rain for some weeks.  And just as well because with a hosepipe ban now in force, I am dependent on the rain to fill my water butts from which I can top up the pond. I think it will be a poor year for the frogs, alas - the frogspawn is small and there is not much sign of the life from the little black occupants yet.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Petrol, panic and pasties

A possible strike by petrol tanker drivers gave us all the jitters this week. Although the union has to give a week's notice, and is currently in talks and therefore not likely even to set a strike date for some time, some rash comments by Government ministers about topping up sparked an instant rush for the pumps. Many stations ran dry on Thursday and today, out of the four stations between my home and Ickenham, three had no fuel.
I played my own part in this. Having read about the potential strike earlier in the week I went out on Wednesday to fill up, thinking I would be well ahead of the game. I found that the nearest petrol station to me had no fuel but the next one had supplies and I filled up my tank. So I could afford to be smug about the much longer queues reported the next two days.
It is irrational for all to us to try to fill our tanks at once because there is not enough capacity or enough pumps to make it possible. But it is perfectly rational for an individual to fill up if there is a chance to do so. Those of us who have lived through petrol shortages before know how frustrating it is once the queues start to form. Like the famous "Prisoners Dilemma" used in game theory, we know that we are making second-best decisions but are trapped by our inability to communicate and co-ordinate our actions with others.
Anyway this has little to do with commuting because I don't drive into London to go to work. And what about the pasties, you ask, that I mentioned in the headline [yes, what about the pasties?: Ed]. Well, nothing really. They also featured in the news this week, in a ludicrous follow-up to the Budget where some detailed adjustments about the VAT rules relating to hot take-away food were announced and suddenly Ministers were scrambling to establish their credentials as ordinary blokes by boasting about their pasty intake.  A sort of pastry-based panic, if you like and another form of irrationality driven by the desire to dominate news stories.
And in other news, the frogs have at last arrived in our pond but they are few in number and have produced much less frogspawn than in previous years. Well that wraps up tonight's programme and I'm off to get a pasty from my local petrol station. [Get me one too please: Ed]

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Signals from afar

I'm commuting later today, but not to go to work. I shall be attending a theatre workshop, courtesy of U3A. However today's travel news is about Mrs. Commuter's brother and sister-in-law who are on their way to visit us from deepest Yorkshire. Alas, an early morning phone call brought the tragic news that they may be 2 hours late due to, wait for it, stop shuffling at the back, it's your own time you're wasting, I can wait here all day if necessary, right, thank you, so, where was I, ah yes, they will be delayed due to signal failure at (or possibly near) Bedford.  I'm not sure if that's a more glamorous excuse than, say, points failure at Arnos Grove or geese on the line near Upney but anyway there it is. They defied me to put it in this blog. I have risen to the challenge and delivered. And remember you heard it here first, not on Twister or whatever it's called.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A dry spring

We are having a beautiful ascent into Spring. The air is warming, the skies an inviting light blue (once the early morning fog lifts), our snowdrops are finishing and the daffs and tulips are opening.  Two things are a little worrying. Firstly, the lack of rain - it has been a very dry winter and now, when there should be plenty of it, we see very little. Secondly, where have our frogs gone? One or two have appeared briefly in the pond but only to vanish again after an overnight stay. Perhaps these are just the scouts for the main force. Or are they deterred by the dry ground and lack of moisture in the air?

I'm sorry that there is very little to report on the commuting front. I travel into London roughly twice a week now, mostly at off-peak times, and therefore escape much of the mayhem that has inspired many of my blatherings in the past. It is worth noting that the Jubilee Line, where the old signalling system has been scrapped (so much so that they have wrapped up the signals in black sacks), appears to be running a superb service. Travelling north from Finchley Road, I regularly see them coming through at 2 minute intervals. The Met needs greater intervals between trains. The other day my journey into London was slow, with the train stopping at red signals about 6 times between Harrow and Finchley.  My smartphone app showed me several Mets lined up ahead of us going to Baker Street. The Jubblies can handle this sort of traffic with ease but the creaking old Met system cannot. I have no idea if things will improve once all the new "S" stock trains are in service.

The TV series "The Tube" continues to be excellent viewing, showing many angles to the running of the system of which we ordinary commuters are unaware. There is, as one might expect from a TV show trying for mass appeal, a little too much emphasis on emergencies and things going wrong, but the latest programme showing the massive work going to build the Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road - where after months of disruption all the travelling public could see was a few hoardings, hiding the engineering work - was instructive. Once again the cheerfulness and positive attitude of the tube workforce shone through. What is also amazing is that, despite the relatively high cost of tube fares, the volume of people using the system continues to grow, defying the best attempts of planners to build stations, and entire new lines, to match the demand.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Tube on TV

A new series of six 1-hour programmes about the London Underground has started on BBC2. In the first episode they showed some of the worst features of passenger behaviour at night and weekends, contrasted with the cheerful maintenance men at Ruislip depot and the engineers working frantically over a weekend to replace a section of track at Harrow. This last segment had a special meaning for me since I travel over that piece of track every time I go into London. It's reassuring to hear the crew reckon it should be good for another 40 years use.

It was also revealing to see the pressures on the staff at Leicester Square, trying to sort things out after a stabbing and a woman flung onto the track (not electrocuted or hit by a train, fortunately) and faced instantly with huge numbers of people unable to travel as planned.  The police decided to close the station but it was the staff who had to explain it to the throngs milling about outside.

The funniest piece was on the sleepers on the last train to Morden - passengers who had dropped off on their way to somewhere else and who were woken (very gently, or was that due to the presence of the cameras?) and informed that they were now miles from anywhere and the pleasures of the night buses were awaiting them. This is so regular an occurrence that a standard routine has evolved for those who refuse to wake up - you move their luggage a little and they automatically stagger after it.

This looks like a well-made and balanced programme and I look forward to learning more.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Engineering overruns

My opinion is that the Metropolitan line has been fairly good in recent months; many others disagree and my local paper ran a story, quoting me as a typical commuter or something, which I no longer am, on the basis of a report that the Met was getting far more than a fair share of customer charter refund claims for delays.

So with that in mind, I breezed down to my local station yesterday to make my normal journey to Waterloo only to encounter a notice that the Met was entirely suspended south of Harrow, as was the Jubilee. The culprit was engineering works at Neasden depot, thus snookering both lines comprehensively. I resorted to my first fall-back, the arthritic Piccadilly and some 20 minutes later than planned, and lower back aching somewhat from the soggy seating, emerged into the South London murk.

Coming home that night there were posters apologising for the suspension, described as "unacceptable" and a promise of automatic refunds to Oyster card users. This is a step forward, though I am baffled how they will know who to credit since many may have used different routes altogether and so cannot be selected for refund - presumably they must make manual claims.

Anyway, one bad journey should not change one's opinion so let us see if the unacceptable is more than just a form of words but translates into action.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The mangling of statistics

I don't commute as much as I used to so there is more time to study the web. This morning a story about Sainsbury's changing their advice about when to freeze food, on the BBC news site, caught my eye.

"The average UK family wastes up to £50 worth of perfectly good food a month."

Sorry, but the author of this sentence. and it is not clear who is the author, is writing nonsense. Either "the average family wastes £xx" where average denotes either the arithmetic mean of families sampled or the median (but whatever it is, you should tell us anyway) Or "some families waste up to £50". But you cannot have "up to" being the maximum in the same phrase as "average". If you still don't get this point, and would like to, consider this sentence:
"The average Premier league footballer scores up to 38 goals a season". Obviously some footballers, a small number one imagines, might score a lot of goals. The average footballer must score a lot less given that teams play roughly 50 competitive games a season and 1 or 2 goals a match is a reasonable amount to get. So this sentence is simply wrong.

The horrible wording that gets me angry is "up to". Everybody uses it in adverts when they are trying to lie. Broadband suppliers talk about speeds "up to " 24mbs or whatever, utterly meaningless because if you are considering switching the only speed that matters is the one you will get. Comparison  and insurance ads talk about savings "up to" some figure that they never explain. And now the BBC has joined in.

When I am King, anyone using "up to" without fully qualifying what they mean, in text at least as large as the headline, will go to the Tower, will go directly to the Tower without passing Go and will stay there until they pay a fine up to £25,0000.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The meaning of 0 degrees

The disc of ice on the left came out of the saucer this morning. I refilled the saucer with water (for the benefit of birds, not one of whom subsequently bothered to come into the garden, but I digress). Some time later, with the temperature on our garden thermometer reading exactly 0c, the ice was intact and the water still liquid. Funny stuff water.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Just like old times

I don't travel into London as much as I used to so am a little more tolerant of the foibles and irritations of the Tube experience. Yesterday, sadly, was a reminder of what I am happy to put behind me. In the morning we were delayed due to a stalled train at Finchley Road. In the evening, earlier signal failure at Ruislip and an ongoing problem on the Piccadilly made for some ominous announcements but, fortunately, I did not have to wait too long - in the freezing Harrow air - for an Uxbridge bound Met. It continues to irritate when they announce "Severe delays" without giving an indication of how many trains are running and what the average interval between them is. Having an internet app on the smartphone that reads and displays the departure info is a godsend, but even that packed it in for a while when I arrived in the evening at Baker Street. Once it came back it was clear that the intervals were not a problem and the delays not that severe at all.

The current very cold (but very dry) weather focuses the mind when there is a choice of trains. Standing around at Harrow is fine on a balmy Autumn evening with a rosy sunset glow adding lustre to the warm air [Keats? Tennyson? Give us a clue :Ed]  but a pain when it is a few degrees below zero and the icy winds are whipping across the North Sea direct from Novosibirsk. However it was minus 20, or something similar, in Munich today and two of my work colleagues are off there. There's always someone worse off isn't there?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sunset over Ruislip

Mrs. Commuter drew my attention to this lovely sunset - the photo doesn't reproduce  all the vibrant colours but I think it marks a nice end to the day. Especially as I wasn't working today.

The People and the Union

Let us leave matters commuterial alone for a moment and consider the fascinating constitutional crisis that is threatening the continuance of the United Kingdom.  Though united through the person of James VI of Scotland (and I of England) in 1603, the two kingdoms were separate states until the Act of Union in 1707. During the hundred years of shared monarchy there was open warfare in the Bishops' Wars 1637-40 and the vicious internecine strife of the Civil Wars. The union in 1707 did not prevent the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745 but rapidly afterwards the two kingdoms did indeed seem to become a truly united kingdom. Now, with the Scottish National Party threatening a referendum on independence and the intervention of the Prime Minister, and others, to force their hands, we may be in living in times that will see a reversal of 1707.

There is much to draw on from history, though it seems unlikely Mr. Cameron is aware of it. The Scots have always reacted instinctively against anything seeming to emanate from England. They remain convinced that any policy drawn up in Westminster must be a conspiracy to do them down. It was certainly thus in 1637 when Charles I tried to force his particular brand of religion on to his mainly Calvinist subjects north of the border. The resulting struggle kicked off the "English" Civil Wars and Charles lost his throne and his head, ironically at a time when the Scots were more or less fighting on his side, having decided that the King they knew was preferable to the Cromwell that they were scared of. So the lesson for Cameron is to keep schtum and leave it to the many Scots who oppose independence.

As to the referendum itself, we will watch with some interest the machinations of Mr Salmond, leader of the SNP and one of the most arrogant politicians this blog has had the pleasure to follow. He is currently declaiming that the decision is for the "Scottish people" alone. I would love to be able to propose a referendum on whether Scotland should be permitted to remain in the union that would be put to the voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - but not in Scotland - and see what Mr Salmond would say to that. I fail to see why he can choose whether to be in a club but the other members have no say on his membership.

In addition, the word "people" may trip him up. Just who are the Scottish People? Those who live in Scotland or those of Scottish birth? Many Scots live abroad (some even in England, believe it or not). Do they get to vote? How, if they are on the English electoral roll? And if they do, where is the line to be drawn? And why should, for example, a rich film actor or racing driver who chooses not to live in Scotland so he can avoid paying taxes to the Scottish treasury, be entitled to vote? If you have a Scottish father and an English mother and you live in England, are you part of the Scottish people? Huge numbers of Scots emigrated to the USA and Canada in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Are their descendants Scottish? And if you live in Scotland and are registered to vote but were born elsewhere and retain the nationality of your birthplace, as do many migrants from the EU, then do you get to vote about the future of Scotland? What about emigrants from Hong Kong, or from the Commonwealth? If they have become citizens, then they are citizens of the United Kingdom, not of Scotland.

There is so much here to trip up the SNP that I have no doubt they will duck the question altogether, wrap themselves in a tartan banner and a subtext of "We hate the English bastards" and wait for the anniversary of Bannockburn.

Friday, January 06, 2012


This morning, with impeccable timing, as I was about to go to work for the first time this year, my Freedom Pass arrived. At a stroke my expensive journey into London from beautiful Ruislip ceases to cost me a penny. Had legislation not recently changed, I might have received this invaluable piece of plastic when I turned 60 but alas, the qualifying age is up to nearly 61 and future generations will have to wait longer still.

There was something deeply satisfying when I first presented my gleaming new card to the yellow button on the entrance gate at the station, a bit like a flower breeder mating one rare orchid to another [eh?: Ed]. The tiniest of pauses while the system thought about it and then the magic moment when the gate opened. Yes, it worked. I have joined the ranks of the travelling pensioners, or whatever they call people of a certain age who can swan into a station or onto a bus any time they choose and go wherever they please and as often as they like and they can't touch you for it.

There are a few stations and bits of line I rather fancy visiting. Some of them because they are so distant, some because, well, quite frankly, it's hard to believe in them*. Upney. Canning Town. Mudchute. Penge. The eastern end of the Central. The southern bits beyond New Cross. My head tells me they exist but my heart says, Prove it!  So one fine day in the near future I shall pack my thermos and my marmalade sandwiches, check that the Freedom Pass is ensconced [is this right? Researcher!: Ed] in the right-hand jacket pocket and the entire Tube system, not forgetting the Overground and the DLR, will await me.

*of course, I accept that the denizens of these benighted regions might feel the same way about some of the more obscure parts of the Metropolitan. Except that they would be wrong.