Monday, November 26, 2018

We Have Been Here Before

Some things change and some same exactly as they were. Some fourteen years ago this very column was established with a principal aim of documenting the daily irritations of commuting. At the time my normal journey was on the Piccadilly from beautiful Ruislip into West London. Typical pieces like "New fares, old problems""Communications and Stupidity" and "Not a good morning", to select just three examples from the many penned up to late 2006, expressed the frustration of coping with cancelled trains, trains that were supposed to go to one destination but which were rerouted to another, utterly inadequate information and blatant lies about there being a "Good service" or only "Minor" delays.

This evening a fellow commuter let rip with precisely the same complaints on precisely the same line, indeed at the same station (Acton Town) where many of my pieces were born.

This tweet was one of about ten fired off  by "Lofty" this evening but the picture says it all. A crowd of weary commuters standing on a cold platform waiting for a train when they should by now have been well on their way home.  His invective includes the staff, although to be fair they are as often in the dark about what is going on as the passengers. I went through exactly what Lofty went through one grim evening back in October 2005 and you can read all about it in "Having a Laugh"

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Dr. Commuter helps ... Justin Bieber

The following snippet in today's paper has inevitably been drawn to my attention.

Dr. Commuter writes: -

Young idealistic people often wish to emulate the charismatic 1st century preacher but it is harder than they may think. Firstly, young Justin, you need to spend a huge amount of time studying the Torah and its many commentaries, such as the Talmud.  Fluency in biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek is essential. At least ten years in a theological college should get you started. You will know you are on the first step when you have sufficient knowledge to leave eminent rabbis, who may have spent an entire lifetime on such studies, gasping with your wisdom and deep understanding. But this is merely the beginning.

It is time to start your ministry. Go out into the world and preach the basics of Judaism, just as Jesus did. Gather some disciples who will revere you for your teachings rather than your ability to wear a baseball hat back to front, impressive though this surely is. The occasional miracle may help convince the waverers but be sure to have several independent camera operators on hand to silence the sceptics.

Long robes and sandals are, I think, optional these days and riding an ass into town will be awkward - there are so few suitable parking spaces available - so a low powered motor scooter is acceptable. Oh, and give away all your worldly wealth. Sorry, I should have mentioned this at the beginning. This means all the cash, the houses, the jewellery, the shares in Apple, the Bitcoin stash and the rights to all your musical recordings and writings. Everything, my son, everything. Call me back when you have done this and we can continue your education.


If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter, religious or otherwise, do please contact us at the usual address. Dr. Commuter does not claim to be infallible but does come pretty damn close. Terms and Conditions apply, especially concerning the fate of your immortal soul.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tube English - 6 Serving

Well, I never. I've been forced to resurrect a sequence from ten years ago, back in the days when I travelled daily on the Tube. I cannot claim any credit for spotting this one, it was delivered to me wrapped in brown paper and ribbons on Twitter, but it is worth logging here where it will be stored somewhat more permanently.

I don't recall the use of the word "serving" in this context before. They used to say things like "there is no service", which refers directly to the trains or "services are suspended" which is the same thing but somehow more elegant. How a train service can serve a station is hard to fathom. You can serve a meal (to a person). You can serve at tennis. A server, in computer terms, can supply data to a client computer that requests it. Service, in the context of the Tube, is supplied to the passengers. What I think the hapless tweeter meant to write was "Piccadilly trains are terminating at Rayners Lane, passengers wishing to continue toward Uxbridge should change there for the Metropolitan", as the BBC Travel tweeter nearly managed to say.

Anyway, as I don't commute any more I shall go on serving up vituperation and contumely from the comfort of my office at home, whilst wondering if dear old Milton was a commuter and whether he might have penned the following

They also serve who only stand and wait
For a non-running service that, if it ran, would be late

A Bit of a Laugh

Last year I watched with some bemusement as the price of bitcoin, the world's largest digital currency, rocketed upward. On December 8th, when it seemed to have hit a new and irresistible high, I warned that the way it was being sold was identical to many other great investment bubbles of the past and there was a very good chance of misery for latecomers to the market.

Just two weeks later and the price had fallen by 40%, and as usual the "experts" were talking about "corrections" and "relieving the pressure" and drawing their silly little graphs to prove that if you extend a line in one direction long enough then it goes over the edge of the paper. "Don't panic", they proclaimed "This is still the future and now that prices have come down it's a wonderful time to buy".

I lost interest in following the fortunes of the currency soon after (apart from writing this little fable to make the point that value is only what someone else will pay for something) only to take a fresh look when this story made it to the news. Oh dear, the price of a bitcoin, that was some $20,000 when I wrote my first bit piece is now about $4,500 and going down. Just think of all those people who cheerfully bought in when it was, say $12000 eighteen months ago, or when it had begun to decline from last December's peak, confident that things could only get better and reassured by the massed ranks of analysts. Hard not to smile broadly, isn't it?

The even funnier aspect is that history is not only repeating itself but those who should know most about it display the greatest ignorance. When the Wall Street crash began in November 1929 the "experts" of the day made all sorts of reassuring comments about "shaking out the lunatic fringe" and "the fundamentals are sound".  I am indebted to for the following gem from John McAfee (a name famous in the IT world for his anti-virus and PC utility software many years ago).

“People have panicked. But there’s no **** need. We’re in a bear market. They suck, yes, and not like a hooker with no teeth,” he urged.“But I’m 73 and have seen this dozens of times in many markets. Bear markets are like Winter. It’s always followed by a glorious Spring.”

I am sure John has more experience with toothless hookers than I do (not difficult really, as I must confess to absolutely none at all in this department, there isn't much call for dentally-deficient ladies of easy virtue here in beautiful Ruislip) but leaving aside his thought-provoking metaphor and the fact that the only reason he is upset is that he now runs a trading business that makes money if digital currencies are doing well and so anything he says is suspect, let us focus on his "I have seen this dozens of times" theme. So what? The Depression of the 1930s lasted until the boom of wartime despite the sage remarks of those who, in 1929, assured the public that share prices could only go higher. There is no magic markets fairy who guarantees that what goes down must come up. If the world's central banks create a digital currency for general commercial use, another story being reported today, and make a micro-payments system widely and cheaply available to the public then Bitcoin and the like will be obsolete at once. No glorious Spring. Not even a few chilly days with blustery showers. Just oblivion, going the way of videotape, the telegram and the flintlock musket.

[Are there going to be any more articles making a pun of the word "Bit" in the title? Should we make this a series? Your readers will want to know: Ed]

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

The case of the passenger (Mr Prosser) who is suing British Airways for allowing a very large man to sit next to him during a long flight is being widely reported. Being hemmed in for some 12 hours has allegedly caused damage to his back. The story is symptomatic of the casual contempt with which transport organisations treat most of their customers. It is one of the reasons I choose not to fly when going abroad.

A BA spokesman reinforced my prejudice with a remark that will probably have his PR department in meltdown. The "customer service manager" (my quotes) is reported as saying:

I regularly walked down the aisle and Mr Prosser was not sat in an unnatural position for an economy seat.
I wonder what, in the opinion of a member of the aircrew, the range of natural positions for an economy seat might comprise? Hunched up miserably with one's knees under one's chin? Half standing, half crouching to relieve the numbing ache in the lower back? Arms high above one's head to allow some blessed circulation of blood to the upper body?

And what might an unnatural position be? Could it be sitting comfortably, with plenty of shoulder room and able to stretch one's legs out in front without kicking the seat in front, and without similar interference from the seat behind? It certainly would be in my book because it is not something I have ever experienced.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Stumped by the Googlies, or something

How refreshing to see a truly British cliché replace the tired old Americanisms. Yesterday I was in despair when the BBC's political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg spoke, during the Today programme, of the ways in which politicians would "step up to the plate".  Not only is this an unnecessary import but it wasn't even used correctly. There is nothing remotely special or demanding about stepping up to the plate. The plate is where a baseball player stands when batting; every member of the team will take his place there facing up to 4 balls before advancing to first base or being out. There is only one way to step up to it and that is to stand up from the bench where you are sitting with the rest of your team, march out into the field and stop when you get there. I suppose they could do it walking on their hands or with the aid of a handy pogo-stick but I doubt if that ever occurs, not really.

Today the Guardian did the right thing as can be evidenced from the clip herein reproduced

It's perfect. A British expression used correctly, conveying the idea of defending with determination against whatever a hostile world may throw. More of them, please.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Brexit: Deal or No Deal?

I wrote the following on 19th September and it seems fairly on the money, given the extraordinary political goings-on of the last few days.

And, speaking of change, we are limping up to the finish line in the botched job that is Britain's exit from membership of the EU. Will there be a last minute deal that satisfies all parties? Or will the die-hards sabotage whatever emerges from the late-night negotiations on the grounds that any deal approved by the EU must, de facto, be detrimental to the UK? I have a horrible feeling that this may the case.
After weeks of "Yes, we will have a deal" and "No, nothing has been finalised", a detailed document has at last been published by the Government and presented to the nation, as well as to the 27 countries comprising the rest of EU, for approval. Almost before the ink was dry, the coffee rings on page 14 had been smudged and the words "Oh bugger" inscribed on page 92, pages 145-167, the whole of Part II and most of the Appendix, then the arch-Brexiteers were ready with Cabinet resignations, letters of no confidence in Mrs. May and ringing declarations that the deal was the worst possible outcome and they could have done a much better job. The little inconvenience of the fact that B. Johnson and D. Davis and others were senior Cabinet ministers for much of the time that the negotiations have been supposed to be going on seems to have been passed over. Perhaps they were doing nothing at all but writing endless drafts of letters of no confidence and the like, ready for the big moment when they could express their shock and horror at whatever deal was reached.

I suppose, to be fair, the unease in the Labour party and the outright disapproval of the SNP mean that there is much in the deal to have shock and horror about. I haven't bothered to read it on the grounds that it may be binned within a few days.

I doubt if Britain has been as poorly treated by its political leaders for a very long time. We have a polarisation of positions that is unbridgeable. From those who, as hinted in my earlier piece, will reject anything that the EU accepts on principle to those who will nitpick about everything, to those who are attempting to cobble something, anything, together to avoid the nightmare of a no-deal, to those who wish we had never got ourselves into the ludicrous state, there is no common ground.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Dr. Commuter helps ... Marks and Spencers

Yes, I'm sure we are all desperate to know the answer to this age-old stumper. What, indeed, makes Christmas, Christmas? A top level team here at Ramblings has been fully engaged with research into this most vital of questions for at least the last four seconds and I can now exclusively reveal their findings.

Our conclusive results are expressed here as succinctly as possible so that you can get on with the rest of your busy lives and not waste any more time scratching your heads, possibly failing to hear the phone with a last minute order that could mean make or break for your business and consequently being sacked, breaking up with your spouse and falling into a life of misery amidst the dustbins at the back of Ruislip station. Or does that sort of thing only happen to our editor? [It was only once and I'm over it now, OK? Ed]

The answer is:

a):   It's because of whatever we choose to do on Christmas
b):   Er, there's no need for a b because the a was so great*
c):   That's all folks

By the way, I have not bothered to screen the video that was packaged in the tweet shown above so I have not the faintest idea whether they managed to answer the question all by themselves and I couldn't care less anyway.


If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter please send them to the usual address. Terms and Conditions do not apply between now and Black Friday but we cannot undertake to do anything about your questions until afterwards, at which point they will apply again and with renewed force.

* With thanks to Rik Mayall from whom I have lovingly ripped off this line

Monday, November 12, 2018

Will They Never Learn?

I've written once or twice in these august columns about the blatant gap between the claims made for Artificial Intelligence and the reality, particularly when it comes to communications from web-based businesses to people like me. Or, in fact to me (I don't know what they send to people like me but it is probably similar). Prompted by no less than three dull emails received this morning I am prepared to return to this topic.

PayPal are keen for me to fill in a survey. The purpose is
to help us better understand your business and payment needs
I don't have any business needs that are any of their concern. I do not trade. They know this. Nothing I say can better their understanding because, to relapse into database terminology for a moment, if you add any number to null it is still null.

They are not offering payment for their estimated ten minutes of my valuable time, only the chance to receive a £5 Visa Virtual Reward. I have no idea what this is and the amount is hardly tempting so I am inclined to fill in a Virtual Survey rather than the real thing. Here we go.

Virtual Survey Question #1: May we ask you questions about your business and payment needs?
Answer: No.

My old friends TripAdvisor are terribly impressed with my ranking vis-a-vis the other researchers based in beautiful Ruislip (Yes, I managed to convince them I was not a resident of Crymych). I am, it seems, placed at number 34 in the list. I think this is jolly good and worthy of a glass of champagne but they are not offering to supply one, the miserable sods, Instead they want me to write another review and if I do - and my knees are still knocking at the prospect in offer - they will advance me to the glittering and hitherto unheard-of heights of number 33!  I will do my best but they will have to excuse my shaky handwriting.

And finally an electronic missive from Sainsbury's, a supermarket that Mrs C. and I patronise on a fairly regular basis.  With the strapline "Be the first to see our Xmas ad" it goes on thus:
To say thanks for shopping with us as much as you do, we've picked you out to see our new Christmas ad before tomorrow's big reveal on ITV at 7.45pm. So let us set the scene, then get watching - there's some behind the scenes footage for you to enjoy too.
If they want to thank me for being a regular customer they've got a bloody funny way of showing it. I dislike ads in general (as even casual readers of this blog might gather). As Sainsbury's know perfectly well from their records, there is a very high probability that I will do my Xmas shopping there. Only an adman could think that a Xmas ad could be a source of excitement. Only a stupid adman could think there was any point in advertising something to someone who is a regular customer anyway. I lack the words to describe someone who appears to think that giving me the opportunity to watch an ad before it is screened on TV is a reward for my long-term custom. Perhaps I might borrow the phrase used by one of the candidates in the current series of The Apprentice to describe the business acumen of one of the others - "Less than a frozen pea".

Friday, November 02, 2018

A Bridge Too Far

Mayhem on the roads in beautiful Ruislip today. Two serious accidents this morning, one in Ickenham and one in South Ruislip and now this afternoon another one (or perhaps two) in the same spot as the second, at the the low bridge outside South Ruislip station.  (Information from the local group on Facebook and pic courtesy of Google Maps).

The roads cut are lifelines to the A40; thanks to RAF Northolt that sprawls right across the southern border of the town, there are not many main roads in that direction. Meanwhile Breakspear Road to the north-west is closed (yet again) for HS2 work.  I'm rather pleased to have given up my volunteer job for Age UK earlier this year - this involved driving all round the borough collecting donations for the shops. There is a peculiar kind of stress associated with being stuck in traffic, not knowing what is going on, how long it may last or what alternatives may exist, compounded when you are made late for an appointment. I'm glad not to have any of that any more.