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.