Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - Year of Destiny

Good title eh? A trifle misleading perhaps but you have to pull the punters in somehow. Actually it was more of a sort of bridge year, the year in which I finally handed over all financial responsibility from my old job (which I had been doing freelance since 2011 anyway) and nearly all of the rest of it as well. For the first time since I started school I have gone through the Xmas break without once thinking that it will soon all be over with a return to studying/exams/work.

A couple of days ago Mrs. Commuter and I celebrated our Silver Wedding with a nice family party in a very pleasant venue nearby. The best part was watching the younger generation (and I mean the very young) running around with the total enjoyment of making a noise and living entirely for the moment. I sometimes feel that I can do that now (and I don't mean run around shrieking); I mean live more for the moment and worry far less about what I have to do tomorrow. Time is much more elastic. The weekend is no longer the special time for relaxing and for doing the weekly shop. And of course, though I still check on whether the trains are running normally I don't really give a toss if they are or not.

So what of 2014? A little too early to tell. But you have my best wishes for a happy one. [and from me: Ed]

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Where has the search box gone?

The search box, provided courtesy of Google and hitherto placed handily at the right of this column, has ceased to function. There is a workaround which I don't understand. So until they fix it properly, it is removed.

Coincidence Corner

I follow the fortunes of two football teams.  In the past I have regularly attended matches of both; nowadays I only go to the very occasional match of one of them. Team A is in the football league and team B some way below.

So, yesterday both of my teams were in action. Both were playing away. Both played teams based at the seaside, indeed in well known seaside resorts. The names of both of the opponents begin with the letter "B". My teams won the games, each by a margin of 2 goals. As a result, team A head their league and team B are second in theirs but with games in hand on the leaders.

Spooky or what?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Steaming on the Met

As part of the celebrations of 150 years of the London Underground, a steam-hauled service ran half a dozen times today between Harrow and Uxbridge. Tickets on the train sold out long ago. I joined a number of enthusiasts at Ruislip Manor to watch it go by.

It was rather a surprise when an "A" stock appeared first - I wondered if this was some form of tribute but it was the rail adhesion train going in the other way so just a coincidence. Quite nostalgic to watch it dwindle toward Eastcote -how many times in my commuting past have I run up the stairs and emerged panting on the platform to see this very sight?

Then with uncanny timing a London-bound Met managed to obscure the arrival of the sight we had all been waiting for, producing the odd appearance of an 'S' stock wreathed in smoke.
Fortunately the interloper moved off in time and the star appeared.

This was one of the most eclectic assemblages of rolling stock one could imagine. Behind the steam loco was the venerable electric loco Sarah Siddons. A Class 20 Diesel, looking completely incongruous on a tube line, brought up the rear. Sandwiched between them were a number of ancient carriages including an1892 'Jubilee'  which I snapped on its final run in the twilight, hence the flash and the slow shutter speed.

This grand carriage was once used for commuters from Aylesbury and beyond. They don't make 'em like that any more.

Friday, November 29, 2013

J. D. Salinger joke of the day

The highly secretive author is believed to have written various versions of his masterpiece. The earliest is based on his experiences as a short-order cook in a sleazy diner in Brooklyn and is tentatively titled "The Ketchup on the Rye"

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Comet - What's in a Name?

Comet Ison is about to swing around the Sun and may become a bright object in the next few days, if it survives. News broadcasts have mentioned the fate of another comet a few years ago - Comet Lovejoy. I had not heard of this celestial traveller before and fell to musing, as one does on a dull November day when the code writing and testing that I still do occasionally on a commercial basis has ceased to command my total attention, [Can't focus, that's his problem: Ed] whether any other of its ilk were named after moderately well-known TV characters. Comet Bergerac? Comet Foggy? Comet Trotter of Peckham? And what of the enormous commercial possibilities? Surely my dear friend and ex-employer Sir Richard Branson would pay dearly to have Comet Virgin? But it is too late for the most endearing and obvious of all - now it is no longer trading, we are unlikely to see Comet Comet adorning the skies.

Monday, November 18, 2013

We are nine

Yes, folks, nine years ago to the very day the world of online publishing was shaken to its core by the first post in this blog.  Back then I don't think I ever thought I would still be doing this for so long. But we enter our tenth year of issue with our standards undiminished. If there is something trivial to be reported on matters commutorial [Surely that's not a word:Ed]  then we will be there wittering away with the best of them. It is likely that my commuting, defined strictly to mean regular journeys between home and work, will cease altogether in 2014 (and there isn't much of it now, to tell the truth). But what the hell - I'll still be riding those steel rails through the green corridors of our verdant part of Middlesex and if there's anything worth saying, and even if there isn't, rest assured that I will be saying it. [and I will be red-pencilling it for all I'm worth: Ed].

And just for the record I took another trip to museum-land today, and therefore another jaunt on the Piccadilly, and this time the homecoming Rayners Lane train was not aborted at Acton Town. Good. The fact that it was the fourth to arrive, and that number two was only going to Northfields, and therefore probably started life as Uxbridge-bound, we will record, with that passive resignation that comes from regular tube travel, and pass on.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Back to Basics on the Piccadilly

As both Mrs.Commuter and me had a day off today, we decided to pop into London and drift around the Victoria and Albert Museum. This sort of low-pressure visit is very enjoyable - nothing particular to worry about seeing, no time limits, leaving when we felt like it - but of course it necessitated using the Piccadilly. The outbound journey was fine; we checked on the net and reached the platform just as our chosen train arrived. Coming home was pot luck. It seemed too good to be true when the first train at South Kensington was not only Uxbridge-bound, but had seats aplenty. It was. It turned into a Northfields and we had to wait at Acton Town [oh the horrific memories: Ed] for a Rayners Lane train thus enforcing a further wait for the Met back to beautiful Ruislip. And, just as it was all those years ago when I used to travel daily on this line to work, the indicators at Acton were singularly unhelpful, showing just the next inbound train and not those behind it, and getting it wrong anyway so that when we arrived the board said Uxbridge and the driver had to contradict it. God help anyone with a poor command of English. There was no explanation for the change of route but of course there were the usual announcements about a good service. Business as usual, really.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The man who's not from Microsoft

The phone rings. You answer it. There is a silence then an echoey kind of crackle and the sound of voices talking in the background before a man with an eastern Asian accent says "Can I talk to Mr. G. [Real name redacted to confuse NSA: Ed], even though you have announced your name loud and clear, so you say "Speaking" and he says "Good Morning, How are you today? (as if he cares) My name is (insert any name you like here, it's not his real name), I am calling from the Technical Help Centre (or something. It doesn't matter),  we have been notified of a problem on your computer".

At this point, if you know about these calls, you probably hang up. If you don't, you may be fooled into thinking that the call is genuine. Because he will go on to ask you to open the Control Panel on your Windows desktop (if you are not running Windows and say so, he will hang up) and display the system log. This log is stuffed full of fairly meaningless Microsoft internal code messages and can be safely ignored by anyone except a real IT specialist. He will then ask you read out one or two lines and will then say this proves it, your computer has a serious virus and is about to crash, and the solution is to download some software from him that will fix it. Of course, if you do this, you will download a piece of malicious code that really will lock up your computer, forcing you to pay these crooks to get rid of it, or perhaps conning you into buying even more "fixes".

There is a third way, to go on the attack and see how much of his time you can waste. I tried this on when I received one of these calls today. I spent some time asking him to prove how he knew my computer had a fault. The obvious question is to ask whether he knew my IP address, the unique number that identifies my computer whilst making internet connections. This morning's caller did not, of course, because all he had in front of him was a script to read as the automatic dialler selected its next victim. But, he foolishly told me, this was known to his technical department. So put me on to them, I helpfully suggested. Ah, for some reason he couldn't do that. But he still gamefully insisted that he knew, because it had shown up on his "firm's server" that there was a problem. Well, which computer was it? I've got more than one, I truthfully replied. He didn't know so he improvised brilliantly and said "All of them. They will all crash". "What, even the one running Linux [An operating system some people use, different from both Windows and Apple's IOS: Ed] and the C64? (a games console from the 1980s that you can, if you really want to, use to connect to the Internet but frankly, banging your head against a wall would be more fun)" I asked, no longer speaking truthfully and waiting for him to say yes, so that I could ask him how that could even be possible.

I think he became a little offended and made some comment that he was trying to help - my response, well, you're not doing a very good job, so he added that he was calling from Microsoft, as though that might strengthen his credentials. This was a foolish thing to say. I asked him which department, what was his payroll number and whether he knew my good friend Jim Atkinson (a fictional character). He floundered - now he was working for a company that was a sub-contractor. We fenced a little more until I tired and hung up. That's 7 minutes of his life he will never get back, and for which he will have earned nothing. As for me, well, it's given me some pleasure and the inspiration to write this piece. So I make that 1-0 to Ramblings and look forward to meeting my new friend, his mysterious technical department chums and maybe even his supervisor (a.k.a. the guy sitting next to him) in the next round, when if he tries the Microsoft line again, I shall ask if he is going to their Sports & Social Club Christmas Dinner & Dance to be held in the firm's canteen.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cleaning up after the Storm

I wrote a couple of days ago about the major storm that swept over the UK and on into continental Europe on the night of October 27th. This event was far less destructive than the one in 1987 to which it was being compared beforehand. Around beautiful Ruislip a few trees are down, including one crushing a few cars parked on a dealer's forecourt in Eastcote and a couple blocking paths through the Highgrove Woods which I strolled through yesterday. But the tree damage is mostly branches which are strewn around the parks (and one dangling into my front lawn). There was no significant flooding, despite a rainfall peak of nearly 20mm an hour on Monday morning (Thanks to Peter Bartlett's excellent local weather site for this info), although local commuters wishing to keep their feet dry were advised to avoid the streets around South Ruislip station.

There were, sadly, some fatalities. One man was killed in Watford by a falling tree on his car and a couple died in Hounslow in a gas explosion caused by wind damage. Ruislip is pretty well mid way between those places. It seems strange that, when most of the attention to windspeed was centred on the coasts, the most dangerous area to be in was right here in Middlesex.

The immediate response on Twitter was a series of photographs taking the mickey out of the forecasters - dustbins or garden gnomes on their sides with the caption "We will Rebuild" are fairly typical - but compared to 1987 the forecasters did a brilliant job. Several days in advance, they identified the storm, predicted its arrival times and track, and enabled transport operators and local authorities to be properly prepared.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Survivors of the Storm

Younger readers may find this hard to believe but at the time of the last Great Storm over England, in 1987, there was no blogging or social networks; in fact, there was not even an internet in its present form. So my entry for the day after that storm is a fictionalisation based on what I probably would have written had I maintained this blog at that time.

16 October 1987
A refreshing night's sleep. Apparently there was a lot of wind in the night. The trains are disrupted a bit. 

Yes, I have to admit, the first I realised that anything at all untoward had happened on that fateful night was when I arrived for my morning commute at North Harrow station (for I was living in those parts at that time, gentle reader) and the Met was out of service.

Not so last night. With warnings on all sides, Mrs. Commuter and I prepared for the worst. The garden chairs were carefully stacked at the side of the house. I reinforced a loose bit of fence with some carefully chosen bits of old wood. Then to bed in the knowledge we had done all we could. It rained heavily, but not excessively in the late evening. In the early hours we could hear the wind roaring over the rooftops and one or two interior doors creaked. Around 6:30am Mrs. Commuter looked out into the front and saw - well, nothing at all to speak of. No trees were down. No damage to property. Our drive seemed cleaner than usual, as if the wind had removed all the leaves and scoured the surface. Later in the morning I found that one of the fence panels I thought was secure had come loose, and that the wind had been strong enough to lift off the cover from a water butt that had been weighed down by a brick. Exciting stuff, eh?

There must have been more than this going on. Here is a snapshot of the Tube's service status
I haven't seen a screen like this for a long, long time. But is it going to affect my morning commute this time? No. I'm not going in to work today.  I shall monitor the situation with keen interest, of course, but I regret that no first hand account of today's London Underground experience will be forthcoming from this quarter.

As I pen these words [I love these colourful archaisms: Ed] there is a strong breeze providing a reminder of what have been. The skies are full of grey-white cloud in huge fluffy sheets. It is not raining. And that completes the weather report from beautiful Ruislip so let me leave you with the outlook - probably more of the same, I should think. Move over, Michael Fish - there's a new sheriff in town.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rosemary Sutcliffe joke of the day

Read her searing story about the Roman centurion, M. Tigris Silva, who was the finest golfer to play north of Hadrian's Wall in "The Eagle on the Ninth"

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Pea Shingle - the Critic Speaks

A few months ago I purchased some bags of pea shingle from a well known purveyor of household materials. I paid, they delivered and I assumed that was the end of the transaction. But no. This morning I received the following electronic missive and, as a leading writer and commentator, found myself impelled to respond with all the seriousness that it deserves.
A review about pea shingle! What would Charles Dickens have written - the Old Curiously Shaped bit of Gravel? Would Hazlitt leap into a hansom cab at Westminster and shout "To the quarry"? George Orwell might have contrasted the many colours to the many oppressed races in the British Empire. Graham Greene might have had his subversive, flyblown yet spiritually optimistic whisky priest squatting on some gravel and letting it run through his fingers. But what of those masters of short satiric pieces - Michael Frayn, Alan Coren and the guv'nor himself, Paul Jennings, the man who once wrote an article entitled "A Load of Hoggin", a piece suffused with the joy of receiving a lorry load of the said stuff - how would they have faced this daunting literary challenge? Is there a prize for the most penetrating review? If I venture to the very heart of what pea shingle is about, will my insights stir the soul of the judges and lead quickly to a book deal and a West End Musical? Will they make One Foot in the Gravel? [I had a horrible feeling that was coming: Ed]

OK, I've had some coffee, I am at my desk, the house is quiet. Time to focus the mind. Gravel. What does one say in a review of it? Funny word, gravel. A bit like grovel and a bit like gavel. Shingles is a nasty disease and a case of Pea Shingles sounds vile. What are the, ah, good and bad points of the bag of these little miniature pebbles? They are hard. They make a satisfying rattle if you rub a few together in your hand. They are undeniably a great boon to those of us who must, from time to time, erupt from the house to confront a goldfish-poaching cat; nothing moves faster than a moggy with a handful of stones converging at speed on his rear end. They make a crunchy noise when walked on - anyone trespassing nefariously onto my land at night will have to walk with exceeding care if they don't want to wake up the neighbourhood.

No, that's it. I've had a good think and now I'm bored. I can't be bothered to review this bag (or any of the 19 other bags purchased at the same time). It's Pea Shingle, it does what it would say on the tin if it came in a tin, and it's millions of years older than I am. Maybe dinosaurs walked over the cliffs that became the rocks that became the pebbles the sea pounded into little bits that Messrs. Wickes harvested for my benefit. Perhaps some of the bits once made up a rock lobbed by an ancestor at a woolly mammoth. There's plenty of romance in the bag, if you want to look for it, but I think I've had enough.

So nul points for the bag of shingle, no "like", no "followers". Don't go rushing off to the Wickes web site because there won't be any stars against this little chap from me. And there aren't any for the nails, bags of cement and other stuff I've bought over the years. I really don't care.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The new iphone - an important statement

I haven't got one.
[Nor me: Ed]

This correspondence is now closed

Friday, September 20, 2013

The airline to avoid

Apparently Ryanair, the airline that likes to say "Sod off" to its customers, is suffering a downturn in sales and the management are reported as thinking that maybe it is its attitude that is to blame. I hope they are right and I am glad they have admitted it. This is the airline that has told passengers in the past not to bring luggage  because they could buy whatever was needed on arrival. The airline that routinely advertises low fares but not the compulsory extra charges when you attempt to make a booking on their website. The airline that has been credibly reported as looking into whether passengers could stand, using strap-hangers similar to the Underground, throughout a flight (not to mention waiting for take-off and hanging about after landing). The airline that has, I believe, seriously thought about charging for use of the toilet during a flight. And, on the same BBC report linked to above, the airline that charges a stupid amount, way in excess of the air fare, should you need to rebook or change the name on a ticket.

I have never flown Ryanair and have no intention of so doing, certainly not until the present senior management no longer have anything to do with the company and there has been a significant change to the way they do business. And even then I probably won't, because flying is so unpleasant even with the better airlines and, as I have commented before, there is really no reason, baring some family emergency or special holiday, why I should ever need to do so again. So if my foregoing remarks get me put on to the Ryanair blacklist - no problem, guys, no problem at all.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why, oh why...( no 5 for this rather ill-tempered series)

...do Apple, Microsoft and other major software providers think that all sound files are songs? They don't even use the word "music" to describe them. No, each track is a "song". Most of my sound files are not music at all - they are radio comedy shows, plays and audio books. Much of my music collection comprises instrumental works.

The misuse of words by commerce is always a source of great irritation. I suppose the battle to restore "typeface" to its rightful place and to relegate "font" to mean a particular size, weight and slant of that typeface is lost for the moment. The word "manager" has ceased to mean someone who manages (directs the work of others) and means (in the words of Bill Oddie) "anything you want it to be". As does "executive". And don't get me started on "customer service".

But the assumption that any sound recording is a song indicates the cultural barbarism of the software houses, their obsession with teenagers and their ignorance about, well, just about everything really. I have at least managed to rename the "My music" folder that Windows 7 insisted on creating for me, even though I did not want it to, as "Sounds".  I suppose it will get renamed back one fine day after yet another round of system updates.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Ramblings of a different kind

I took advantage of this gorgeous late burst of summer warmth [It'll come to a cold and wet end on Friday: Ed] and went on a hike through the countryside this morning. The route began at Uxbridge and led along the Grand Union Canal, past its winding confluences with the Colne and the Frays Rivers and the marinas full of barges and pleasure craft near Denham. Then across almost deserted, open countryside and into the dense woodland of the Bayhurst Country Park, then into the woods around Ruislip Lido, across the golf courses that straddle its northern extremities and up to the  heights of Haste Hill before the final burst through the woods and back to beautiful Ruislip. A tad over 9 miles, one of the longest walks I have done in years.

Just think, I might have spent that time doing a cash flow forecast or processing a batch of invoices.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

After the holidays

I still work a little as a consultant and today I visited my main client, in Farringdon. After a couple of weeks on holiday in France the tube felt like a real culture shock, particularly coming home soon after 4pm. I had figured the trains would be pretty quiet. Wrong. No trains to Uxbridge were signalled so I took the first Hammersmith & City train in order to change at Baker Street. Gosh, it was crowded, at least up to Kings Cross when enough people left for me to grab a seat. Glad that I missed the real "rush" hour.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A tour of Tours

To France, for a week in the Loire based in the beautiful city of Tours, and then a week of pure self-indulgence cruising the Seine with a programme mainly consisting of consuming great food and wine plus waiting for the next meal.
Regulars will know that I am keen on trams and whilst we we were there we saw the final tests on the brand-new system in Tours. In fact it was due to start today. So we were unable to ride any of the futuristic, glittering trams but here is a picture of what you can expect should you go there.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Where have all the scammers gone?

Prompted by a newspaper article saying spam was still on the rise, it occurred to me that it has been a long time since my contacts in Nigeria have been in touch. I am due a considerable amount of money – probably at least $500,000,000 (FIVE HUNDRED MILLION as they would undoubtedly put it, since I am patently unable to understand a number unless it is spelt out) and all I have to do is just send a small amount – about $2000 should do it – to one of the Bank Presidents or Lawyers or Government Ministers, all of whom (strangely) have Yahoo or Hotmail email addresses, and all whom require cash sent via Western Union.

I don’t how to account for the drop in this fascinating correspondence. Maybe they don’t think I am worthy to receive this unexpected beneficence. Perhaps my failure to respond to any previous emails has put a black mark against my name. All the DEAR FRIENDS and the dying widows, the ex-politicians and the children of air-crash victims – who are they inveigling now?

And on the same theme, the “Compensation Help Line” who phoned about my terrible accident and promised at least £4300 in damages – well I have not had any accidents but maybe they know something I don’t – but they haven’t been back, they didn’t write to confirm and so I am left here, hurt and alone, bereft of aid.  I mean to say, can’t you trust anyone these days?

Friday, August 02, 2013

Windows 7

After many years using, and occasionally swearing at, Windows XP, I have taken the plunge and upgraded to Windows 7. And one of the little goodies it has presented to me is a program called Windows Live Writer which effectively replaces the old Blogger for Word software which at one time I highly praised, only to find Microsoft removing support from it not long after and replacing it with a built in function in Word which in turn ceased to work after a while.
So this little bloggette is written using Live Writer and now I will press the little button that says “Post draft to blog” and see if it works. Note, if you are reading this then it has worked.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why oh why no 4 revisited

Yippee! It's happened!! Let exclamation marks be brought up from the stores, unwrapped, given a fresh lick of paint and deployed at will!!!  I have finally had a trouble-free journey both ways 'twixt beautiful Ruislip and downright ugly Finchley Road.  No signal failures. No stalled trains. Not even a wayward guard's hat on the track [er, is that a wayward guard or a wayward hat? Anyway they don't have guards any more, haven't had 'em for years. Ed]

So my previous why, oh why can be marked "case closed" and salted down for long-term storage.  That's a relief. But will this be the mark of things to come or is merely a chimerical phantasm [that's the worst kind of phantasm. Ed:], a dream of what may befall, a cruel mocking mirage to be swiftly replaced by severe delays, service outages and advice to use alternative means of transport? I think I better pack up those exclamation marks and put them safely away, just to avoid tempting fate.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Transport catastrophes

First there was a train crash in France on 12 July
Then a very serious derailment in Spain on 24 July
Yesterday a coach disaster in Italy  on 28 July
and now another train crash, in, of all places, Switzerland  is reported today.

This is becoming worrying for those of us who prefer public transport whenever possible and especially on holiday. And these four countries are certainly in my top 10 holiday destinations. I have written in this blog about travels in each of them. I hope and intend to go on holidaying in these countries and will use trains as an automatic first choice of transport. Let us hope this is the end of this horrible sequence and Europe's trains and coaches resume normal, safe, operations.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why, oh why... (number 4 in this surprisingly durable sequence)

...can I not have a trouble-free commute for a change?

I don't know what is going on. Regular readers [?? Ed:]  will know of the times I have bemoaned the delays whilst commuting, especially on the Piccadilly Line. Nowadays I  travel into town only about once a week. Last week my journey was affected by delays. Today there were severe delays on the Metropolitan due to signal failure at Baker Street which screwed up the line for about 5 hours.  The notice on the LU website advised passengers to use a different line, not too helpful for my plan to go from beautiful Ruislip to Finchley Road for which only the Met is suitable. Fortunately the worst of it was over by the time I had to leave home and apart from a forced detraining at Harrow, the journeys to and fro were OK.  But most days are trouble free. Why (oh why) do these problems hit on the very days that I choose to travel?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Watford Link

I have seen much expansion of the London Underground network during my lifetime but never on the main line that I use and have used most of my life - the Metropolitan. The changes include the all new Victoria Line, the Piccadilly extension to Heathrow, the Jubilee gaining its independence from the Bakerloo and pushing out via London Bridge to Stratford, the Docklands Light Railway - a brand new system running over many disused mainline tracks and now the Overground line that provides a sort of outer-Circle through the suburbs. But nothing on the Met - indeed it shrank because services beyond Amersham to Aylesbury ceased in 1961. However it is finally expanding again because the Watford branch is to be extended to run up to Watford Junction, with two new stations on the way. The old Watford station will close. Work will begin next year and since nearly all of the route uses a disused mainline, should not take too long, although some spectacular new bridges will be needed.

Hitherto Watford has only been easily accessible by car from beautiful Ruislip. It will be nice to have the option of taking the Met there.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Chris Froome wins the Tour de France
England obliterate the Aussies at Lords
Heatwave subsides to a perfect afternoon. No plans to commute into central London next week when it may move up a few degrees back to the hot and sweaty.
Nobody seems to be lighting a barbecue anywhere near us in beautiful Ruislip.

That's enough to be going on with. Ed, take the rest of the weekend off. [Thanks awfully. Ed:]

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

One to forget

Not a good journey on the tube today. I made one of my (now infrequent) commutes from beautiful Ruislip to Farringdon. All seemed to be going well as the air-conditioned "S" stock train, destination Aldgate, arrived at Baker Street. Alas, appearances can deceive. We remained at the platform for a while. Our driver informed us that due to signal failure at Kings Cross we might be delayed a while longer. Then, after several minutes, he told us that our train was terminating where it was and if we wished to continue we must use the Circle Line.

With these grim words about seven hundred people abandoned ship and thronged up the stairs to change trains. There was a wait until a Circle train arrived - it was almost totally full so not many could squeeze on. Fortunately there was another close behind with enough room to take us. And just as well because not only were the station staff making announcements that if we did not all move down the platform they would close it to prevent overcrowding (no hint of an apology that it was their system that had failed, it must have been that it was all our fault for actually wanting to travel) but twice during the wait it was announced that a good service was operating on all lines. Twice, whilst the Met suspended service from Baker Street and there were severe delays on the Circle and Hammersmith lines (as was posted on the tube website not very long afterwards).

But of course the best was to come. We made good progress up to Kings Cross, stopped just short and then limped in. And having limped out, we stopped in the tunnel and waited there for some ten minutes. Today was perhaps the hottest so far this year, about 30c in London. The Circle Line trains are of venerable stock that is not air-conditioned. On arrival at Farringdon, about half an hour late, sweating and uncomfortable, I could reflect on how nice it is not to have to make such a journey on a regular basis.

Monday, July 15, 2013

On the Buses

Yesterday was the annual Uxbridge Bus Running Day of the highly esteemed Amersham & District Motorbus Society. This excellent group of people, with backgrounds in bus and coach driving, preserve vehicles of yesteryear. With permission from Transport for London, on special days, they run them over real bus routes, carrying for free anybody who cares to step aboard. Mrs. Commuter and I planned a cunning itinerary to make the most of this opportunity to be local tourists.

In glorious sunshine, and just a tad more heat than was strictly necessary, we embarked by tube to Harrow and then by Chiltern Line diesel to Amersham to board our first bus.
This took us back to Northwood, more or less following the Metropolitan line, but with an interesting detour around Rickmansworth where there seemed to be some confusion about the precise route. Then we transferred seamlessly to the service to Uxbridge.
This bus took us on a fascinating detour into Eastcote where the driver and his assistant become confused that High Street (the original heart of the village) is now a mainly residential road far from the modern centre and the tube station and declined to follow the instruction on their schedule to turn into it. They therefore went half a mile the wrong way. They redeemed themselves with a spectacular U-turn requiring the use of two service roads and, with all the passengers shouting "left, left", managed to make the correct left turn and get back on course.

We broke off in Uxbridge for a leisurely lunch break in a pub showing the sensational climax to the Ashes test (England needing 1 wicket, the Aussies 40 odd runs to win - the match won shortly after we left with the visitors just 15 runs from victory) and it was off, crossing both the M25 and the River Thames, to tourist-jammed Windsor. During this journey we tracked Chris Froome's equally sensational stage win on Mont Ventoux in le Tour de France. Our vehicle this time was a double-decker.
This is a type of bus all Londoners know and revere - the Routemaster. With its narrow, twisting stairs to the panoramas offered by the upper deck, its jerk every time the brakes are released and the joy of the open windows that allowed a steady breeze to cool us nicely, there is a tactile experience associated with this design that the modern bus user, insulated and cushioned, can never know.

I rarely write about buses because my commuting experience has always been based on trains - buses are the emergency fallback when the tube is down - but it was a pleasure to go out for a day with some really knowledgeable enthusiasts and to see the care with which these vehicles are maintained.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Once upon a time...

...when I used to commute daily to central London from beautiful Ruislip, this would have meant a long and, in this torrid heat of our long-awaited summer, unpleasant journey home.  But not any more. End of story.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Fun in the sun

As the temperature climbed to around 30c on this glorious day, it was time for your correspondent to venture into the depths of beautiful Ruislip to sample the much-heralded Ruislip Manor Fun Day. The hordes of young people certainly had a good time. The rest of us wandered around the unbelievably noisy rides, admired the Inspector Morse style police car and enjoyed a refreshing Pimms courtesy of the gym of which Mrs. Commuter is a member.

So here are some pictures of the giant auditorium complete with vast cheering audience, the death-defying sky ride ("it goes up, it comes down", the mind-boggling whirling tea-cups and afore-mentioned vehicle.

OK, job done, I was there and I have the evidence to prove it. Sunday Times photo-journalist of the year, here we come.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The real summer

Forget my earlier, weather-related, posts. This is the real thing. Not just a day of perfect sunshine but it is actually hot (or at least good and warm). And the Tour de France to boot, so just as one was about to spend the day in the garden, one spends it instead on the sofa indoors with the telly. And one has every prospect of repeating same for most of the week, with commuting into the sticky and sweltering capital a remote prospect.

Not only that, but next week is the Ruislip Manor Fun Day, the key event on the social calendar in these parts. The council have taken up and relaid the perfectly serviceable pavements in preparation. All Ruislip holds its breath. Your correspondent will (probably) be there and there may be a full report of proceedings on this very site. Or (and here's a cunning plan), I could send my literary collaborator, assistant and dare I say it, friend, to cover the story for me. [Sorry, I'm having tea with my aunt. Ed:]. OK, down to me then. We shall see how I feel on the day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The main event

Continuing the commuting theme from yesterday, and why not, since this used to be the raison d'etre of this blog, let me update you with today's little unpleasantness on the Metropolitan. A morning journey to my client in Farringdon was marred by delays caused by a broken water main in the Finchley Road area.  This meant a slow journey with plenty of stops between stations, sometimes enlivened by the utterly pointless recorded announcement "This train is being held at a red signal and should be moving shortly", followed by the utterly inane "Stand by for further announcements". You know, when you are on a train, there is not a lot you can do other than await the next announcement, unless you have the mp3 player on at a decent volume.

Anyway we got there in the end, and at least as our Baker Street bound train reached Harrow there was an Aldgate on the adjacent platform, with the driver actually watching those of us who crossed to it (sometimes they keep their eyes rigidly ahead and move off whether or not passengers are in-transit and most frustrating it can be). So it was a seat for the journey rather than standing on a crowded Central Line from Baker, and for this small mercy let us be grateful.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bodies on the track

Quite like old times on the Met today. I had to travel from beautiful Ruislip to Finchley Road, pursuing certain thespian-related activities which do not need to concern us right now. The eastbound train failed to stop at Harrow-on-the-Hill. We were told this was due to a body on the track and that there was no service from the Watford branch between Northwood and Northwick Park. Quite why that was the case, I could not establish. I would have thought that if my train could run normally, other than moving straight through at Harrow, so could the Watford branch trains.

Oddly for such an incident there were people on the platforms as well as LU staff, but no sign of anything untoward, so presumably it had happened, and been cleared up, some time ago.

On the return journey, which started with a fast Amersham, things became much worse. After some unexplained slowness around Neasden we arrrived at Harrow and I crossed to await an Uxbridge. It pulled in, loads of passengers got aboard, glad to be out of the heat on what was one of the warmest days this year, and we sat there. And waited. Eventually we were told that the power was off and nobody knew when it would come back on, and this related to a trespasser on the track in the Wembley area. Great. Hundreds of us left the station in search of an alternative. In my case I joined an eager throng in the bus garage trying to board a 114. The driver seemed keen that nobody should board. He shepherded a few who had made it to the top deck out of his vehicle and then did mysterious things with the control panel.

 After a few minutes another 114 pulled in and we filled it to capacity. Thanks are due to that driver who did not object to people sitting on the stairs. Then we tried to pull away from the garage but could not because buses trying to pull into it from the main road were blocking us in. Our driver tooted his horn a few times (and what an effete sound they make) and somewhat grudgingly, as it seemed, the offenders moved out of our way and we proceeded, the long way round, to South Harrow where the Piccadilly came to the rescue for those of us travelling further west.

I haven't had to take the bus, nor indeed to grace the portals of South Harrow station, for a long time. There was a time...but you don't want to hear my reminiscences [Spot on. Ed:]. You can trawl through the posts from 2004-6 if this turns you on. I'm going to get a suitably cold beverage, fill up the peanut bowl and settle down for tonight's Apprentice.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why, oh why...(number 3 in a series of at least 3)

...is the placement of the ads on Youtube so utterly naff? I go to view some footage of a car driving simulation (a very impressive piece of software). I am greeted by an ad showing a young couple in a kitchen and on the soundtrack a gentleman who probably sings with a popular beat combo domiciled in the North American region begins to sing something that begins "Oh baby".

Youtube knows who I am. I signed in. It knows the sort of videos I watch, mainly vintage TV comedies and various film clips. It knows perfectly well that I am not interested in products marketed by people who sing "oh baby", even if the next phrase contains the words "luurve", "maybe" or "eldritch" [not sure about that last word: Ed]. Yet they go on screening them. And I turn off the sound and as soon as possible click to end the ad, usually well before I have the least idea what they are trying to sell.

So an ad utterly wasted, several seconds of my valuable time utterly wasted, frustration all round. Although the bloke with the nappies obsession presumably got paid for his efforts.

Update a few hours later: Now they are screening a L'Oreal ad (yes, I did listen long enough to catch the product name). And who buys this product? Ladies. Does Youtube think I am a lady? It's part of Google, they know who I am.  So why do they choose to stream this ad at me? [I take that is a rhetorical question, right?: Ed]

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A hot steamy bath

Back from a few nights in England's only city that is a World Heritage site. And although your correspondent was there to do as little as possible, Mrs. Commuter was working hard on behalf of the early music ensemble that she administrates. They played in the Roman Bath where the opera Dido and Aeneas was staged whilst the steam curled up from the waters and two millennia of Roman stonework looked down, and followed that up with concerts at St. Mary's Bathwick and in the Assembly Rooms. We had torrential rain on the journey down from beautiful Ruislip, and most of the next two days followed by brilliant sunshine for the remainder.

The joy of Bath is in its size - large enough to contain plenty to see but small enough to make it easy to get around on foot. Our car was parked on arrival and not used again until the morning that we left.

And so back to a little commuting. This time last year everyone was panicking about the Olympics, with a wave of Government-sponsored hysteria about how jammed the trains were going to be, and how terrible it would be to get about London and how anyone with any sense had already left town [with thanks to B. Dylan: Ed]. No such sense of imminent doom now, just the long awaited summer now finally happening and the pleasurable anticipation of some decent cricket against the Aussies.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Back to work*

*[about as misleading a title as it can be: Ed]
The late spring bank holiday weekend is over.  The weather was simply perfect here in beautiful Ruislip. Other parts of the UK may have had chill and rain but we were treated to blue skies, steady but not overpowering sunshine and temperatures into the high 20s. And to cap it all, as we all go back to work today it has turned damp and colder with blanket grey-white cloud.

Well, okay, when I say "back to work" I am of course speaking generically. I shall not be commuting this week but, you know, I shall be thinking in a kindly and well-disposed sort of way of those who are. I remain on standby, to "take the call" from any of my clients but I am confident that neither the phones nor the interweb will be bearing any communications from them for a while.

I suppose now is the time to record the sad news that, for the first year in memory, not a single frog has been seen in the aquatic centre on my estate [the pond out the back: Ed] and therefore no frogspawn or tadpoles have ensued. There is a nationwide decline of amphibians and it has reached Ruislip. On the other hand birds that seem to be sparrows have been nesting in the thick shrubbery on the garden fence. Sparrows were once so plentiful we took them for granted. In recent years they have been wholly absent from the back garden. It's heartening to see them return.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Our sports correspondent confirms...

Yes, there is a classic England batting collapse so it must be summer

Friday, May 17, 2013

Our climatologist speaks

It must be summer, there's a test match at Lords.
[Is that it? Ed]

Thursday, May 09, 2013

A spot of breeze

Spring seemed to have passed rapidly into summer just a few days ago. We basked in beautiful sunshine and calm, clear skies. That was then. Today we seem to have lurched back to the fag-end of winter with gales and rain. On my homeward journey on the Met the train made an emergency stop near Northwick Park where workmen were on the Chiltern Line track alongside us removing part of a tree that had fallen over the rails. You don't see that too often and you certainly don't expect it at this time of the year.

And on arrival back in beautiful Ruislip, Mrs. Commuter greeted me with the news that a fence panel between us and next door was blown down - it belongs to my neighbour so he can have the pleasure of trying to stick it back.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Two or fewer wheels

My trusty bike developed a slow puncture at the weekend. As it is some 40 years since I last messed about with basins of water, chalk, rubber patches and that horrible glue, I invested in a new inner tube, only to be embarrassed to discover I was not certain how to put it on to the wheel. It seemed to be too big and as I inserted one end into the outer tyre, another section flopped out. Never mind, a return trip to my friendly local bike shop with the wheel, the tube and the outer,  and a freshly pumped wheel was to hand. Only for me to find I now could not refit it back on the bike because the brake blocks were in the way and it had to be deflated again.

They say you never forget how to ride a bike. What they don't say is that you can easily forget how to fix a flat.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The power of the net

In the bad old days when I commuted daily, I often moaned about the problem of what strategy to adopt when faced with delays. And by delays, I don't mean actual gaps in the train schedule but the word itself. When you enter a tube station and see on the electronic displays (or the trusty old hand-written white board) that there are "delays", or, God forbid "severe delays" on your chosen route, what should you do?

Well, we now have ways to beat the system. The combination of the net, a tube app and a smart phone equips the traveller in a way undreamed of just a few years ago. So this morning, on my way from beautiful Ruislip into central London, and faced by those dreaded words "severe delays" and "no service between Baker Street and Aldgate" I made a cunning plan. A Piccadilly came in almost at once - fine, I took it on the grounds that if things looked bad I could stay on it pretty well all the way. But this is a second-best option, it is way slower than the Met and nothing like as comfortable. Decision time was four minutes away when the lines divide at Rayners Lane. By then I could see on my phone that Mets were running in good numbers and some were going through to Aldgate. So I debarked at Rayners to take the Met that I knew was a couple of minutes behind. Arrived at Harrow to find the train on the adjacent town-bound platform was out of service and lots of evidently disgruntled and just-turfed-out passengers waiting for us. Naturally my train was a slow one and we were quickly overtaken by a fast Aldgate that was almost empty but that is pretty well par for the course in these parts. My point is that on arrival at Finchley Road my phone told me there was another through train behind us and once more I debarked and changed trains.

Not too long ago this would have been too much of a risk. I would have remained on the Picc and emerged much later to change at Kings Cross with my back aching from those low spongy seats.  So thank you for the modern communication systems that empowers us hapless commuters in these difficult times.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Official: We will not be censored

A headline on the BBC news site today - Blogs with turnover of less than £2m will not be subject to new system of press regulation, government says. Well the good news is that Ramblings does not quite achieve this particular target so we will continue to bring you hard-hitting, up-to-the-minute journalism of the highest quality [cough. ahem. cough: Ed].  And the bad news is that because this blog is not pulling in a lot of cash, the funds available to bring you this hard-hitting etc. etc. are somewhat depleted and this may result in a bit less of the hh stuff than you might wish.  Sorry.  But these are the facts.
 [There was some talk a while back of a Xmas bonus - is that still on by any chance? Ed].

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The nutters of Pyongyang

North and South Korea have been in a state of war for sixty years. Military hostilities ceased in 1953 but only because of an armistice. No peace treaty has been signed. Recently the unbelievably weird lot who govern the North have been making the most incredibly belligerent statements about the ghastly things they are going to do to the South, to the USA, to their allies and to anyone else who gets in the way, and anybody else on the planet who they may run into during that process, plus any stroppy inhabitants of the solar system and visitors from the planet Tharg for good measure. Even Millwall supporters must be impressed.

But today, reports the Guardian, they are terribly upset and crying and saying "it's not fair" because some demonstrators in the South had a go at the nutter-in-chief Kim Il-Sung. They are demanding - and get this, irony-lovers, - an apology. Yes, they are on the verge of deploying missiles and threatening invasion but first they want someone to say sorry. Ah, bless. It's a scene straight out of Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy - this one, in fact

... distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.
The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time. A dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl'hurgs, resplendent in his black jeweled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvuntt leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.

If it wasn't for the fact that the North Koreans do possess weapons that they seem keen to use, gales of derisive laughter would be sweeping the world. 

Why Oh Why ( number 2 in a slowing growing series)

...do people use Facebook? In two separate developments in recent days, Facebook has announced plans to charge people who send messages to certain members of the celebrity class (and all of the money will be retained by Facebook, not distributed to those who are making this revenue stream possible), and to provide their own operating system for mobile phones which will be constantly logged in and displaying adverts.

Given that most Facebook users are children this is desperately sad. The peer pressures to be on Facebook are immense, and growing as some websites require a Facebook login for access, never mind the ludicrous and evil association that classifies all your casual contacts, and indeed the relentless advertisers in the background, as "friends" with contributions that are to be "liked". And who knows what data is being collected to hand over to advertisers each time a user connects with a real friend or makes a posting?

Brand advertising is relentlessly pernicious. I have from time to time on this blog pointed out particularly irritating examples. Happiness is not about buying things, or choosing to consume one branded good over another. Indeed, although the foundation of classical economics, itself the root of modern day market theory, is built on the idea of choice, the idea that choice = happiness is utterly unproven. It is just something that has been asserted and then succeeding generations of economists have taken it for granted. I think there are real studies of consumer behaviour that suggest that the profusion of brands and choice, typified by modern supermarkets, bewilders and distresses. And if there aren't, then there ought to be.

So anything that "delivers" (their word, not mine) even more advertising to the most vulnerable in our society is to be utterly deplored. This website was supposed to be about students keeping in touch with each other not a goldmine for commercial interests.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fish story

At a stroke, and for the grand sum of £13, I have doubled the fish population on my estate [i.e. the pond out the back: Ed]. There are now ten of the little blighters, a mix of goldfish and shubunkins but it is anyone's guess how many will survive. The most fascinating moment was when the incomers were lowered into the still achingly-cold water, cocooned in their plastic bag fresh from the aquatic centre. They squirmed about as if desperate to plunge into the rather murky waters below. The resident population came up to greet them, clustering around the bag as if encouraging a break-out. When I judged that they should be acclimatized (or rather, after a few minutes, when I was fed up waiting), the bag was cut and the new lot, with a little gentle persuasion of the "lift up the bag and shake it" variety, emerged and quickly vanished to explore the delights of the silt at the bottom with their new found chums.

The next exciting development will be feeding them. They respond to warmth but we haven't had much of that so far this year. And there is still no sign of the frogs. More later (if indeed there is any more).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why oh why... (number 1 in a series of probably more than 1))

...does the BBC trail the Archers. You know, just before the seven o'clock news, every weekday, they announce something indescribably dreary such as "In a few moments the Archers. Jill is in the kitchen while Tom has a few words to say to Eddie".

I have listened to this stuff for years and normally it goes straight through one ear, several times round the cranium and vanishes without trace in a puff of unused neurons, though on the way it pushes out stuff I'd prefer to remember such as where I last put my car keys. But lately it has begun to grate. Why (oh, why) do they do it? Every person on the planet who listens to the BBC knows that they broadcast the Archers, a programme that has been around almost as long as I have. Every person knows that it comes after the news. Why do they trail it? If you are new to radio then you certainly won't start listening because of the lifeless trails. And everyone else knows all about it. So telling us something we either do not need to be told, or don't care about, surely achieves nothing.
[whatever happened to Hugo Barnaby? Ed]

Nature corner

Round about this time of year I generally write some notes about the weather , the onset of Spring and the amphibian breeding programme on my estate (frogs in the pond, to you). What a strange year we have had. A very wet winter and a bitterly cold March. Today it has snowed lightly in beautiful Ruislip, although the temperature is around 6c, and most of the country is covered in real snow and has been for several days. The snowdrops have come and gone, the crocuses are doing well and the daffs have begun showing but rather intermittently. And no sign of the frogs, of course. Galling because I busted a gut cleaning out the pond a few weeks ago.

Last year it was shirtsleeves weather and the onset of a drought (at least until the unceasing rains started).

So there you are, nature lovers. Don't forget to call in around about this time next year for a further gripping instalment.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Would you credit it?

My credit card provider (whom I will not name, although it rhymes with Warclays, and begins with a B) sent me a text the other day. It informed me that I could use the card to make contactless payments on London buses.  This irritated me quite a lot because:
a) I already knew this
b) I live in London and am old enough to have a "Freedom Pass" (or bus pass as some readers will know it) and therefore have no interest whatsoever in any other means of paying for this form of travel
c) The credit card company knows my address and date of birth and spending patterns and therefore they know that either
i) I must have a Freedom Pass or,
ii) I do not have one because I do not need one
and in any case they know that I have a car and they know when I buy petrol.

So why did they send me this text? Just a general mail-out (or text-out or whatever the phrase is)? Ah, you will say (or at least those of you with some knowledge of these matters) - you can request them to stop sending texts. Yes, I will reply, and that is what I did. Their text included the instruction for informing them that I no longer wished to receive such missives. I sent it off. And naturally yesterday I received another unwanted text from the same source informing of precisely the same thing that they had already told me about, viz, that their card works on buses.

What are we to conclude? The people who run these advertising campaigns are thick or uncaring? That they don't know how to use the data at their disposal to target their adverts intelligently? That when they tell you you can text them to stop further messages, this is a lie or that they are too incompetent to actually do anything about it?  Yes, all of these things. I find the defendants guilty on all charges. Case dismissed.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

How to write a short story

The Guardian weekend colour supplement has a feature called Web Windows where a whole page is divided into many small ads, in contrast to the usual full page glossies for cars, phones and supermarkets.  I love the eclectic and often jarring nature of these little boxes, priced to be within the reach of many small businesses. The challenge is to link them together in a coherent and gripping theme, following the order strictly from left to right, and from top to bottom. What follows may not win any awards but it has a narrative strength and dramatic twists that must surely fascinate.

They met soon after he decluttered his room. He was an inveterate gambler who often bet on whether gold would go up or down but he always slept well on his foam memory mattress. It was at the International Camp Suisse that they fell in love but alas, almost at once there was trouble and a family law specialist was needed.  He had to put his holiday home in Cornwall up for sale, aided by his solar powered charger that kept him in touch wherever he was. And then - she came back. He bought her some contemporary jewellery and a 1940s style dress but she had begun hearing voices in her head. They had to get away, assisted by a euro denominated cashcard and soon they were cruising in the Baltic with an Abba tribute band to make it just perfect. Too perfect. On their return he crashed the car, requiring body repairs and worse, the Children's Air Ambulance had to be called out. They split and he looked for new romance with a professional singles dating agency. He hired a 4x4 to help him pull the birds, and he had his decluttered room redesigned with the help of an architect. Even his trusty pet had a makeover. At last she returned, after her brief stay at a girls boarding school in Devon. They celebrated with a USDA steak at a specialist restaurant and at last he bought her a zebra scarf as a sign that their love would never end.

It's got something don't you think? Let's hope it is not catching.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Discomfort is...

...when you have to take a slow train to Baker Street and then change to the Circle, instead of a fast Aldgate direct from Harrow, and when the Circle comes in it is absolutely packed (and this is after 10am when you might think passenger traffic would ease off a tad) so you have to stand and the train as often as not sits at Baker for a few minutes because a Met is crossing in front it.

I am so glad that I don't have to travel down to the City as much as I did when I was young.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Luxury is...

...arriving at Farringdon station at 4:55pm, just before the big rush starts, and taking on a seat on an Uxbridge-bound train with a minimum of fuss
...blithely ignoring the crowds jamming the train as we pull out of Baker Street
...and still even more blithely ignoring the same,  yet even more jammed, crowds as we pull away from Harrow.

It's all in the timing, you know.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The utility of the commute

Interesting article in The Guardian by John Lanchester, examining the meaning of commuting and experiencing an Underground trip starting before 5:00am. His conclusion about why we commute and whether it is worth it is worth noting. You should read it for yourself but this little snippet summarises one argument - "So you commute, which is a drag, in order to have the house and holiday and lifestyle that makes you happy " and he goes on to invoke the theory of utility. Now this is something I know a bit about, because utility is a technical term used by economists and I studied this benighted subject at a world-leading institution. (U. of Cambridge if you must know) [Kilburn Tech was good enough for me, actually: Ed]  and Mr Lanchester doesn't quite get it right. He opines that the theory must be wrong because "happiness studies" show that commuting, trading off the cost and effort of the daily journey to afford a better house in the suburbs, does not make people happier. Well,  the theory of utility is a wonderful piece of circular reasoning. It is based on an unprovable axiom that people behave rationally when making consumer choices. Therefore choosing to commute must increase utility because people choose to do it and therefore they must be happier (you know, really, deep down) This is genuinely what the great economists of the past - Marshall, Pigou, Pareto, Walras and others who worked in this field - thought. By this argument the theory cannot be wrong.

Actually the theory of utility, a major plank in the theory of markets, has nothing to offer when considering commuting. We do it because there are only so many places in the centre of cities to live and therefore most of us must live away from them albeit many of us have jobs which are in the centre of the cities. How far you choose to live is perhaps up to you, trading off cheaper house prices with the increased time and cost of travelling in, but few of us have any choice about the fundamental decision to use a public transport network to get to work in the first place. Choice is at the heart of utility theory so it really should not be used in this instance. Like almost all of classical economics, it is irrelevant to the way we live today (and was just as irrelevant when it was formulated at the end of the nineteenth century). The theory is right in a particular sort of economy but nobody on this planet has ever lived in it and nobody ever will because one of the fundamental requirements is that there is no future, only a continuous present.  If you would like to know more, you know how to get in touch [Careful, this could open the floodgates: Ed]

Anyway, Lanchester's observations on how people behave on the Tube are well worth reading so I commend his article to you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Going steerage

A weekend away at a smart hotel near Bristol and a visit to the SS Great Britain. This ship, the first modern passenger liner, and one of the first to be built of iron and to be powered by steam and propeller, showed the world what the industrial age was all about. But the most eye-opening part was to see the incredibly cramped and basic conditions in which most of its passengers - the steerage class - travelled.  Here is a picture of a 4-berth compartment.

There was no other sheltered space provided - no lounges, no bathrooms, absolutely nowhere for privacy or peace and quiet. The passengers could always go up on deck of course - provided they stayed the right side of the white line painted on the deck that divided the ship in half. Only first class passengers could walk in the rear half. And people travelled this way across the Atlantic and even to Australia. Certainly puts our day to day commuting problems into the shade.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Watch this space

Although I cut my computing teeth on Apple computers (the venerable Apple IIe way back in 1981 actually) [I had a Sinclair with a silly rubber keyboard: Ed] it has been a long time since I owned anything made by what I gather is the world's most valuable company. One reason, really an emotional rather than a logical one, is the irritating attitude of its followers, the people who go "whoop" at announcements of anything new even though it is exactly the same as something they already have, the people who always say their computer is an "Apple Mac", like there's loads of computers called "Mac" so they have to distinguish it with the prefix, the people who say how user friendly Apple products are (and keep quiet about the way every time Apple updates the operating systems it makes software that these people have previously paid good money for obsolete), and oh most of all the High Priest of fruit-nomenclature gadgetry, Stephen Fry. Sorry, I know he's a very very clever and witty man but "his smug, everything Apple does is so cool and by the way did I tell you that I got the latest whatever-it-is free (and before any of you plebs did) because I'm so wonderful" manner gets so far up my nose it comes out the back of my head and is off down the High Road into the distance.

So imagine my surprise and reaction to the much leaked news that the world's ponciest, let's charge twice as much as anyone might think and we'll get away with it because it is so reassuringly expensive, corporation is to issue a watch. A smart wristwatch. Never mind your iphone or ipod or iglass or whatever, they are all obsolete because now you have to put something on your wrist. And if you want to know the time do you have to talk to it and wait for a computer to say (hopefully in Dalek tones "It is ten after three and you are late, earthling" or must you jab away at a dinky little keypad in a manner reminiscent of the first generation of these products that Douglas Adams so memorably satirised in Hitchhikers  - " a planet whose ape-descended lifeforms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea."

My watch is a Casio. It tells me the time (and because it is digital, I really mean the time, not the approximation of a couple of hands pointing roughly at a dial), it has an alarm and a light. It cost about £26 and I have had it years and years.  No, it is not smart but if it breaks I don't care because I shall buy another at the same amazing reasonable cost and it works whether I have an internet connection or not and it does not have bloody iTunes. So when the queues start forming outside the Apple Stores you will not see me there. But you may get more vitriol later when we learn more about the iWatch (or is it the iTimepiece, the iChronometer or the iDontCareItsLotsMoreLovelyMazooma?) Because it is such a fun subject to write about, and in the immortal words of Lady Constance de Coverlet "For fun I'd do anything"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The words and the deeds

As my morning Met train approached Harrow-on-the-Hill this morning, my fellow passengers and I were greeted with a positive deluge of helpful information from the driver. He told us where our train was going (a slow train to Baker Street, and this is germane to the issue), advised us which platforms to take if we wished to go to Amersham and even where to go to catch a Chiltern Line to Aylesbury Parkway.  The idea that anyone might be going to Aylesbury seemed pretty outlandish - the idea that they might not know how to do it and were relying on the driver to explain it was, quite frankly, bordering on the grotesque.  But never mind that, he then told us that due to a speed restriction we would make a slow approach into the platform and apologised for the inconvenience.

What a courteous man. And as we crawled at walking speed into Harrow there was a nice fast train to Aldgate waiting at the adjacent platform. I, and most of my companions readied ourselves to debark and catch it. Now I am sure that regular readers can fill in the next line but for the benefit of newcomers to these parts, just as we were ready to open our doors the other train closed its, and off they went. Bingo, my journey time lengthened and an uncomfortably full Circle Line to take at Baker Street in place of a comfortable seat on a through train.

You see, that's the thing about travelling on the tube. Plenty of genuinely useful words but when it comes to practical co-ordination of train journeys, well, the lights are on but not only is there nobody home, they've gone away for a long holiday, cancelled the milk and given the au pair the rest of the summer off.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

When predictions go wrong

Arthur C. Clarke was one of the most respected writers of science fiction. Best known for 2001, he wrote convincingly about space travel, the colonisation of the Moon and other parts of the Solar System and how fundamental scientific principles might be used to overcome the huge hazards and costs of these ventures.  But he didn't know much about computers, even though his HAL, the computer that runs amok in 2001 is the most famous example of its kind. I have been reading 2061, a follow-on to 2001 and its successor 2011. Clarke depicts his hero, Dr. Floyd, thinking of a line of poetry, trying to recall the author and musing that no more than ten minutes on the world's computer network would produce the answer. So I took that line of poetry and put it into Google and got the answer at once. In 2013, only 26 years after 2061 was written, we can do better than Clarke imagined would be the case in 48 years from now.

Actually Clarke was not alone. Isaac Asimov, no mean scientist himself and author of a huge number of SF books, was obsessed with the idea that one computer (which he amusingly called "Multivac", probably a jibe at the Univac series of early computers) would do all the world's computing and only men wearing white coats would be allowed anywhere near it. Oh, and all communication with it would be by punched cards and input tapes. In his most famous work, Foundation, set thousands of years in the future, he envisages his scientist heroes using "calculator pads spotty with age", although to be fair, they can control their monitor displays using brain power alone (but I suspect that we may be able to do this in a generation or so).

Cheap and fast space travel is as far away as it was when 2001 was published but the leaps in computing power enabled by networking and by the Internet have surpassed the imaginations of some of the giants in SF. Funny, eh?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Henry James joke of the day

They are remaking the Ronnie Barker classic TV serial "Porridge" but starring Mr. Mackay the tough Scottish warder. It will be called The Turn of the Screw.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sorry I had to bring the goat cheese*

News is a perishable business. Today's stories that seem so important mean nothing a few days later, overtaken by the pressure of events and the dynamics of the news business itself, creating something to broadcast or print so as to have something to sell. But there are some news headlines that simply must be preserved for future generations to enjoy, timeless stories that speak to the heart and provide for us all a beacon that links us in a shared chain [yes, yes, get on with it: Ed].

Anyway, here is one that demands to be given a certain respect. Fresh from the BBC, I give you Norway Goat Cheese Fire Closes Tunnel. It sings out, doesn't it? It invites delighted questioning. Who knew that cheese could burn? What was it doing in the tunnel? Was it all started when a couple of weary hikers unpacked their rucksacks and prepared their evening meal

"Eivind, where are the firelighters? I can't see much inside this tunnel in which we have taken shelter."
"Oh my, Hans, I left them in the fjord"
"Then we must use the goat cheese - but be careful, that stuff is like dynamite"
"Hans, I know what I am doing, jah? Now I'll smear a little here and strike a match...HELP!!!!"

Two men with blackened clothes and singed beards hurtle into the open and the rest is history

*With apologies to Monty Python and the friends of Brian Elquator (like round the middle of the earth only with an "l" in it)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Glimpsed on a train

Mrs. Commuter and I were watching Dan Snow's TV programme on the history of the railways last night. Whilst young Dan enjoyed a steam ride on the north Norfolk railway, two familiar faces popped up amongst his fellow travellers. Mrs. Commuter's brother and sister-in-law, no less.  Rather jarring at first, until we recalled that they had holidayed in that area a few months ago. It was only a little cameo scene and we look forward to their next feature.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What's in your burger?

It seems only five minutes ago I was dissecting the full page newspaper ads taken out by Tesco to apologise for a problem with contaminated petrol [actually it was in 2007: Ed] and, blow me, they are at it again. Responding to a news story that will supply material to comics and wits for a long time, the giant supermarket chain has discovered traces of horse in some of its "beef"-burger ranges. The contamination is caused by dodgy practices at the Irish factories where the burgers are made. To those of a certain age, the fate of the kidnapped champion race-horse Shergar must surely spring at once to mind.

I suppose anyone who buys burgers that contain no more than 67% identifiable beef (according to the packaging) should chew away determinedly, swallow hard and think about higher matters than the source of the remaining 33% of their meal. Perhaps a blinkered approach would be helpful, oops, there I go, an easy horse-racing reference slipped in almost without thinking. So here's a nice one from the net - What do you want on your burger? - A fiver each way. And let's not get started on people taken ill with the trots who are now in a stable condition. Or any references to fast food.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

150 up

The Met is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Passenger services on the world's first underground railway system began on 10th January 1863, in the smoke-filled cut-and-cover tunnels dug mainly by hand between Farringdon and Paddington. And today your correspondent rode that very line (well most of it anyway) in a train decorated to fit the occasion. Alas the photo I attempted to take on alighting at Farringdon is not worth reproducing as the train was already moving out at speed and my phone isn't up to that sort of challenge. But there are plenty of examples on the net, such as this video of that same train on Youtube, so no need for another one here.  As usual, thanks to District Dave for providing the link.

I began riding the Met regularly as a schoolboy in 1962, so can claim to be have been a commuter for more than one-third of the entire lifetime of this railway line. As soon as I can think of a suitable livery to don to celebrate this remarkable achievement, I shall do so.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Ruislip obliterated

The Guardian has published a series of articles to mark the 150th anniversary of the first services running on the tube. One of their reporters, the intrepid Stephen Moss, undertook to travel the entire length of the Central Line. He gets points for starting at Ongar and taking the privately run train to North Weald and then bus to the terminus at Epping. And more points for treating the branch to Ealing as of lesser importance than the bit that goes out to our part of the country. He "felt the lure of West Ruislip at the end of the line" and went on (and all this is going in into our dossier, you know) " What is it about Ruislip that makes it a national joke?" and then the inevitable reference to Leslie Thomas' Tropic of Ruislip. [A comic novel published in 1974: Ed] He made it safely to West Ruislip and this seems to have caused him no little distress and bewilderment. He emerged, in the dark, onto the flyover that crosses the mainline that continues up to High Wycombe and beyond, and saw nothing of note. He asked someone if there was a town there and was, quite wrongly and perhaps maliciously, pointed toward Ickenham. He then concluded, unbelievably, that despite having three stations named after it, Ruislip did not exist and ended his journey in a pub not far from the station. He didn't even make it into central Ickenham where he might have admired the well and the fish bar.

Oh dear. Where to start. [Control yourself. Take one of your pills: Ed] I'm sorry Mr. Moss went the wrong way and entirely missed Ruislip. I'm not impressed that he did not twig that the two Metropolitan line stations (that he does not mention) might just possibly be where Ruislip town is centred. I'm even less impressed that he did not bother to look at a map which should have shown him, in no uncertain terms, that Ruislip does indeed have a town centre and it is anchored on its medieval roots with the ancient church, almshouses, 16th century pubs and the Great Barn, built in the 13th century and one of the finest examples of its kind in Middlesex.

So do come back Mossy. Take the real railway, the Met, next time. Emerge at the classic late-Victorian station of Ruislip (not West, not South, just unadorned Ruislip). Stroll up the High Street. Enjoy a drink or meal in one of the many bars, pubs, cafes, bistros and restaurants that line it. Wander round the Manor Farm estate, where there is a real village green and pond, a Norman motte-and-bailey mound and the meadows through which the River Pinn runs on its timeless course to the sea [er, junction with the Colne actually: Ed]

Oh and the sex-obsessed suburban couples that Mr. Thomas chose to populate his book? They're here all right, nudge nudge, know what I mean squire? please excuse shaky typing, arf arf.