Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Green Party Want to Abolish Long-Distance Railway Lines

On the website of the Green Party is the following pronouncement:
These screenshots are taken from the Green Party Mini Manifesto
Let’s have a look at the figures. We’ll take, for example the West Coast Main Line between London and Glasgow. With assumptions, of course, but we’ll err on the generous.
There are twenty direct trains a day from Glasgow to London. So with one in each direction, that is 40 trains per day.
Some of the trains have a bigger capacity than others, and some will be fuller than others, and some people won’t go the whole journey, so let’s err on the generous side, we’ll assume the shorter trains but full all the way in each direction. That will be 439 people filling 40 trains per day, that is 439 × 40 = 17,560 people per day.
But wait a minute, we can assume that those people who go, nearly all also come back, so it isn’t 17,560 people, it’s half that, in terms of number of people. So 8,780 per day.
Multiply that number by the number of days in the year and you get 6,409,000 people, approximately ten per cent of the population.
But hang on again, that is assuming that everyone who uses the train makes just one return journey per year. One a month would be more like it, many people even do it weekly. So if we assume an average per person of a journey per month, that is 6,409,000 ÷ 12 = 534,117 people, which is a bit less than 1% of the population.
Of course there are assumptions and generalities in there. There’s almost certainly an overestimate of capacity – most trains are not 100% full, especially in first class; and not everyone who undertakes that journey travels the whole way, people get on and off at intermediate stations. Balanced against that, though, is that many people who do the shorter stretch travel on the line not monthly, but daily. So without having access to absolute figures, these estimates seem to be to be about fair. About right.
So there we are then, the London to Glasgow railway line is pointless and hugely expensive according to the Green Party, a train line for the 1%, not the 99% of rail users.
You could do this for almost every railway line. 1% of the population is 640,000 people, quite a lot of people. Most railway lines would seem quite busy, carrying that number of people, especially the commuter lines, where the same person tends to travel the same line for five or six days per week.
It looks very much like the Green Party are swinging us a dud one here. And if you can’t believe them on that . . .

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Virgin Trains – Brand is All

Some of Virgin Train’s attempts at amusing marketing are yukky. But this one I like. On a Pendolino from London last night. I wonder how many people actually notice.
Postscript: I distributed this pic around the airwaves and people came back and told me that it has been in place for nearly two years. Old news indeed. This has led me to some intriguing philosophical observations, for it is clear that unlike it would seem everyone else in Britain, when I am on a train I very seldom go to the lavatory, whereas everyone else does, as often as not more than once. I should have known that really as people are always jumping up and making their way to the end of the carriage. I am almost certain that this is predominantly a British trait, it is one of the British characteristics that immigrants need to learn in order to satisfy the citizenship requirements.
The other thing relating to Pendolinos and toilets is that at least one of the toilets on a Pendolino is adapted for people in a wheelchair. There is a wide door that slides open in a circle, then you enter the cubicle, usually the people doing this will not be in a wheelchair nor physically disabled at all to any noticeable extent; and then comes the problem of how do you close the door?
In fact there is a row of three push-buttons, marked close, lock and open (or is it close, unlock and open - something like that) but that relies upon something that those who designed the train seem to have been disgracefully unaware of, it is that many people in fact do have a disability, one that is shamefully neglected by those who design facilities on railway trains or anywhere else for that matter, it is the disability of many people to be able to read instructions.
So people look around in panic, their legs crossed and the door of the cubicle wide open to the passing world, and they press the first button they see, which happens to say on it: ‘alarm’. Now admittedly, in the focus of the right-on bog designers on making the facilities for people in wheelchairs come to the fore above all else, the alarm button is the first thing you see, you do have to search a bit for the door close button, but the effect of this is that on every journey on a Pendolino, and I mean literally every journey, the toilet alarm sounds at least three or four times, often much more than that, which of course also means that no one takes any notice of it. I’m not sure what would happen if someone in a wheelchair were ever actually to find themselves foundering in the onboard toilet. They could be there for days.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Helpful Bonking

Strange typeface to use, with the lower case a looking very similar to o, when your strapline includes the word ‘banking’. Perhaps the van will get more customers than it bargained for.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Real Taboo

I went to the dentist. Wendy the dentist, aside from helping me maintain my choppers, is proud to be training junior dentists in north-west England. There are four dental training practice centres in the north-west, as I understand it, in Blackpool, Accrington, Morecambe and Carlisle. Of these Morecambe is particularly significant owing to the number of people there who have full sets of dentures – seems that that is becoming increasingly less common and so is increasingly difficult to find people for the students to study. Except in Morecambe.
Wendy told me of a nine-year-old boy in Morecambe who is about to go into hospital for all his teeth to be removed under general anaesthetic, so bad are they there there is nothing that can be done to save them. For the rest of his life he will wear a full set of dentures. The reason is that he drinks fizzy drinks every day and never cleans his teeth. His mother, who as Wendy says comes into the surgery suited and booted and made up without a painted line out of place, says she cannot understand it, it was the same with his brother.
While the nation is being diverted by whether their chicken is being breadcrumb-coated by a Pole or a Romanian, there are some real problems out there, some areas of serious social deprivation, of which Morecambe is but one example. That would be a much more worthwhile issue to be getting steamed up about: Britain’s pervasive and destructive class system. I have a little suspicion that all this focus by the press on immigration is in reality a smokescreen, a means of diverting public attention from that which might challenge the comfortable status quo of those in positions of power and influence.
But even if you find that a little extreme, there can be no dispute, especially given the Emily Thornberry case, that the real thing that is taboo to talk about is not immigration (and in my view never has been – that is just a diversion propagated by the popular press) it is the British class system.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Doesn’t White Van Man Know?

The furore over Emily Thornberry’s supposed snobbery by photographing a picture of a house in Rochester with England flags flying and a white van outside and posting it on Twitter with the caption ‘Image from Rochester’ raises a question: Does the archetypal White Van Man know that he is an object of ridicule and scorn from the snooty middle classes?
The man whose van it was, Dan Ware, who also has a shaved head and tattoos on his arms, clearly does know now and is clearly none too pleased about it. But did he not know that before?
Here’s a picture of new Fiat, Peugeot and Citroën white vans being taken north by train from the factory at the Val de Sangro south of Pescara, Italy, for subsequent ridicule by the privileged.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Opium of the People – Post-Modernist

Karl Marx said it was religion. But it isn’t now. Can’t be as most people are not the slightest bit interested in that any more. What it is now, is i m m i g r a t i o n.
Rather like religion in the 19th century, immigration as a topic is fed to the people of the UK to get them agitated and believing they should spend a lot of time concerning their minds over, and it conveniently diverts attention from the real problems, the problems of poverty, disengagement, and personal under-achievement.
Immigration is the new Opium of the People. And like religion in previous times, in reality it isn’t a big issue. Yes of course there are specifics. There are a minority who play the benefits system or get into criminality, that will happen whenever you get a large number of people. There are pressures on schooling and healthcare and social services, yet that should be seen as a positive, it means you have people coming into the area to work, it’s a sign of economic development and prosperity.
So where’s the problem? The problem seems to be with those who feel powerless and forgotten, who see change happening around them as a threat. That is indeed a problem, though not with the change that is happening but with the people who feel forgotten, they should most certainly not be feeling forgotten. And the real problem is with the wealthy and privileged defenders of the status quo, who use the media very powerfully and cleverly to divert people’s attention in order that there should be minimum challenge to their status quo; immigration is a godsend to them.
The people fall for it, or many do. And who can blame them? Even though it is nigh-on impossible to find anyone who has themselves been adversely affected by immigrants – it’s all ‘out there and ruining our country’ – without their being able to identify anything that actually affects them (aside from feeling uncomfortable in the checkout queue in Asda because they cannot understand what the people behind them are saying to each other).
Religion as a people’s diversion from reality gradually faded away. Probably immigration will too, though most likely to be replaced by something else. Not sure what that something else will be yet, maybe it’s currently too far off in the future.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Body Art of the Great Discoverers

My friend Stuart Morgan wrote me thus:
I was eagerly watching the BBC news coverage of the Rosetta space probe this morning and just about to phone my grandchildren to say, ‘switch off the cartoons and you’ll see the European Space Centre in Darmstadt where Granddad worked in the 60s’, when, to my disbelief and horror, the ‘scientist’ being interviewed suddenly revealed a tattoo on his leg picturing the proposed landing! I put the phone down, sadly realising that their questions would probably not be about meteors and technology but why I hadn’t had a limb similarly defaced! As I email this to you, the outcome of the landing is still unknown so the chap’s leg may have been sacrificed in vain. It set me wondering how the great discoverers of the past might have looked had they also elected to have body art of their, as yet, unproven theories; might be a humorous theme here?
Newton with pears falling? Darwin covered in worms? Fleming with blue cheese? no ‘cos these are the successful ones – need to have the unknown, failed thinkers.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Immigrants’ Protest in Sardinia

Twenty seven immigrants of Asian and North African origin, staying at an agriturismo turned reception centre in Tonara, Sardinia, have staged a protest outside the main police station (the Questura, which as well as being a police headquarters will also house the immigration offices) in Nuoro, the regional capital, saying that at Tonara they are being treated like animals.
Tonara really is very remote, right in the middle of Sardinia, it is in the mountains 64 kilometers from Nuoro. Presumably the migrants were taken to Tonara, as they are being taken to places all over Italy, for their asylum applications to be processed. The agriturismo has been let, in effect, to Social Services.
‘We have already checked the house’, emphasises the acting vice prefect ‘We have spoken with the manager of the agriturismo and ourselves verified the conditions. The migrants all have refugee status: hot meals, clean beds, mobile phones, personal clothing and Skype (symbolic of the priorities of an Italian, even in central Sardinia!). ‘This protest surprises us . . . no one has complained before now, we suspect there are other motives, the case will be looked into further.’
Hardly surprising that the migrants are getting a bit frustrated, way out there in Tonara, and this is surely not going to be the first and only of these sorts of event, for the centres really are springing up everywhere, see also Rural Reception.
The article concerning the protest (in Italian) in La Nuova Sardegna, Nuoro edition.

Yesterday trenches and bayonets, today you expect an iPhone

‘Y esterday trenches and bayonets, today you expect an iPhone’, the slogan of a neo-nazi group in Rome, the subtlety of which is beyond me, anyway they chucked flour and eggs at a queue of people at the Apple store, who were waiting to get a first go at an iPhone6. I missed this story when it happened as, as it happens, I was in Zurich marvelling at the height, muscles, zoot suits and shiny shoes of the bouncers at the Apple store, controlling those queueing to get a first look at the iPhone6.
The shopping centre at the Porta di Roma seems to have been laxer on security than the Swiss – somewhat surprisingly, given the opportunity to wear a menacing suit and snarl.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Skate à la Jackson Pollock

I got a promotional email, containing this photo: It may be called ‘Skate à la Jackson Pollock’ (or possibly Pollock à la Jackson Skate), whatever it is, seems the restaurant has Michelin stars.
Bleaagh! It’s just the sort of food in restaurants that I don’t like. To mucked-about with. KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. It’s a joke, surely, with all those colourful substances squeezed on top. What must it taste like? The restaurant has Michelin stars.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Broadband in My Hometown

The geographic range in metres from the fibre-enabled telephone cabinets in my home town of Sedbergh. The link below shows something of where FTTC connections should be available. Quite useful. Coded it up meself using the wonderful Google Maps v.3 API.

These Academics They Are a Funny Lot

I have a page on the origin of the London slang word kite, (see Kite You Are) where I scoff at academic etymologists for missing the obvious – obvious to me in any case.
Now I have another: the word hassle. Dictionaries seem to agree that this word originates in showbiz and appeared around about 1946. They then try to make sense of it by putting together bits of ancient English words long since obsolete.
Hold on a second, brainboxes. Showbiz? Hmmm, doesn’t that suggest a lingua franca or polari link? And aren’t a lot of lingua franca and polari words derived from Italian? And isn’t an Italian word meaning much the same thing as hassle, assillo? Pronounced not that much different from hassle.
I’m not saying for sure that I am right, for the truth is that I don’t know, probably no one knows for sure, but I am saying that it sounds like a strong contender for consideration.
I dunno, these bloody academics. And they get paid more than I do too!

Sunday, 20 July 2014


W e spent five nights in Füssen. We chose to go to Füssen because previous short stops there had shown it to be an area of good walking with lakes and hills and forests. What we did not expect was . . . the Spanish Inquisition – no worse than that, what we did not expect was . . . the hordes of Japanese and American tourists. Why do Americans and Japanese flock to Füssen, rather than, say, Sedbergh? It is because Füssen has – tarran-taraaah: fairy-tale castles, notably Neuschwanstein.
On our first day whole day in Füssen we walked to Neuschwanstein, about forty minutes on a good forest path, over a bridge across a waterfall, through woods, alongside a lake and then having seen next-to no one on our pleasant undulating country walk we came to: the Neuschwanstein car park, or one of them, which was pretty-well full, in addition to which were the coaches, and the service bus from Füssen which runs every half-hour of so, is a concertina bus, and is full to standing with what seems to be entirely Japanese, though actually it isn’t entirely, just seems that way. All this activity is at the foot of the hill upon which Neuschwanstein Castle is located, and to get up the hill you can walk, take a horse-drawn carriage, or go on a shuttle bus. Each of these methods was crowded with people. We chose to walk up the hill, alongside groups of people of all manner of nationalities, and against the flow of an equal number of people coming down.
The road you walk up the hill is the same road as is taken by the horse-drawn carts, which means of course that as well as people it collects rather considerable piles of horse shit, for the carts are numerous. But this is Germany. Germany is efficient, so there is a small tractor which drives up and down the hill, towing a horse-shit collection machine. Someone’s job it is, to spend his working day hoovering up horse shit.
We did not go into the castle. It’s not that old, it was built in the late 19th century for King Ludwig II of Bavaria and has been quite heavily renovated and so is not particularly interesting, but it is a fairytale castle, see, so the people, they flock to see it. And us, we flock to see the people, and are far more amazed by what we see, than they are, I expect, by what they see.
One of the things that the Japanese do when in Füssen, in addition to visiting a clutch of castles and a cable-car, is to sample the local dishes. That’s what you do, if you are Japanese, you sample the local dishes. One local dish of southern Bavaria is a kind of pork shank, or hock. It’ll be the top of the lower leg of a smallish pig, the shank is roasted in the oven and should, to be genuine, have plenty of crackling – not that different in many respects from a British Sunday roast pork though with redder, somewhat juicier, or greasier, meat. It’s very good if you get a well-cooked one. It can be served with potatoes or noodles or cabbage but to be truly rustically traditional you have it with Bavarian dumplings, which are OK, but heavy and bready, a bit like eating stale bread that has been ground up and pressed into a ball somewhat bigger than a tennis ball and cooked with onions and herbs, and you’d normally get two or three of these served with your pork. Very filling.
So what the discerning traveller does is, to hang around the restaurants in Füssen on a sunny evening, when there are lots of people eating at the outside tables, and the I-Spy book 100 points is awarded when you spot a group of Japanese struggling with the pork shank and dumplings, blowing out their cheeks and sweating and mopping their brows and saying ooh, aargh, in an attempt to get the dumplings down their throats. Highly amusing, much more rewarding that some tarted-up castle.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Town mayor tries Country and Western to make gypsies say: Oh no, not that, anything but that!

T own mayor tries Country and Western to make gypsies say: Oh no, not that, anything but that!
No not really C&W. He slipped up on the genre. Elementary mistake.
There’s a serious problem in France, Belgium and Italy around the issue of gypsy camps. So not funny really.
Fuller report in Italian here: Here’s the Itinerant Bancomat – Il Messaggero, 17 July 2014. This report contains two Italian expressions I especially like, both in the penultimate para – ‘storcere il naso’ is to turn up the nose, but sounds much more expressive, and ‘twittato’ is the past perfect of the verb ‘twittare’, guess what: to twitter (or tweet, if you prefer).
The gypsies were eventually moved on to somewhere else, no one knows where, but it's really just pushing the problem around.

The Itinerant Bancomat

I s’pose it had to happen. Some of the (illegal) African beach traders on Italian beaches are now accepting payments by credit card.
This is particularly poignant because, as the article says, many legitimate shops still don’t.
The article also talks of murmurings about articles costing €11,000 for sale on the beach, bought mainly by Russians, who prefer to pay though, in cash.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Rome Ticket Machine Scam

Women from the Roma camps on the outskirts of Roma – ah, well this is Roma as in gypsy and Roma as in capital city of Italy – have taken to standing by the self-service ticket machines in the metro and asking for a bunce as custodian of the machine. In this way they are collecting a lot of euros per day.
When the railway police try to move them on, the Roma girls kick them and scratch their faces, thus causing the security men to withdraw.
There does seem to be a policing problem in Rome. I think that part of it is that when the people behaving illegally are arrested, there isn’t much clue as to what to do with them. Britain has been much, much better at integration of people from other cultures than Italy has, and seems to get fewer problems as a result.

The Forces of Order – Rome-Style

The illegal street traders outside the Colosseum in Rome are becoming abusive, that’s what comes of calling them abusivi ambulante in Italian. People live up to their name, see.
The story concerns some off-duty policemen who tried to prevent a Bangladeshi trader from blocking the pavement and he told them to piss off. As it says so delicately in the article: ‘To make his point more convincing he lifted up a paving stone and tried lobbing it at the forces of order’. In this interaction one of the policemen was injured.
This is the ‘nth’ incident. To find another you have to go back just twenty-four hours ‘Just one day after the visit of Prince Harry’ Oh no! (I love reading the Italian press). In this incident two municipal policemen were attacked by illegal traders carrying metal bars and sticks, and would have come off very badly had the carabinieri not been on hand to intervene.
At the moment, it seems the illegal traders are winning this particular battle.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Something Truly Precious Holds Its Beauty Forever

I scanned this in from the back page of The Economist, 19 April 2014. It’s part of an expensive full-page ad for Patek Philippe expensive designer watches.
Notice what’s odd? The two women have exactly identical teeth.
This sounds like it’ll make a Music Hall song about glamour models:
They went and Photoshopped me choppers,
Now I look even more like a freak,
. . .
At the foot of the ad it says, Something truly precious holds its beauty forever.
Which reminds me . . .
Your beautiful teeth they are most unkind,
Never bit me before but they bit me behind,
The full page from which the crop was taken:

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Authorities Upset My Dinner

We went to Patricia’s birthday party last Saturday (22nd). Arriving at the Indian restaurant in smart West Jesmond in Newcastle at shortly after 7pm we found that in addition to our party of fifty-odd people the restaurant was full at its remaining tables on two floors and there was a constant milling around the bar area of people coming to collect takeaways. It was busy.
And coming and going through and among this multitude, eight or ten po-faced people in blue onesies and bovver boots with a label on their jacket saying ‘Immigration and Border Control’, repeatedly walking up and down the stairs and asking things at the bar, giving the evening a kind of Gestapo flavour. It turned out that this was not a jolly wheeze organised by Patricia, this was the authorities seeking out illegal immigrants.
Patricia found a moment to ask the owner of the restaurant, whom she knows, about it. They had been there since five o’clock, he said, opening every cupboard and fridge door, wanting to see into everything. It was difficult when the restaurant is so busy and he was having to apologise to everyone for slow service and what is more if they find anyone who is working there illegally he could be fined £10,000. ‘I do my best, but how can I know whether what someone tells me is true? How do I know if papers they show me are genuine or not?’ He seemed to be taking the stance that if you get caught then it’ll be a business expense of the type that is out of your control, a bit like something getting broken and er. . . would he be able to claim tax relief on the expense? Looking this up it seems that he might, though I guess he would have to argue the case. And of course Ahmed the restaurant boss is right, if someone gives him a dodgy NI number he would not find out it was a made up one or one belonging to someone else for quite some time.
Anyway the Gestapo all marched out at around 9pm, having found no Bangladeshis hiding in the fridge, and Ahmed shrugged his shoulders, it seems these days to be one of the things that, if you are of Bangladeshi origin and running a restaurant, you have to put up with periodically.
I felt outraged. There is a French restaurant next door and an Italian one next door to that. Do they get raided? Admittedly French and Italian people can work here without needing anything more than an ID card, but the staff waiting on and in the kitchen – they could just as easily be Australian. Could it be the black faces that are the ones that get hassled?
It may be that the immigration officers raid Indian restaurants because there is a greater chance of finding illegal immigrants there than there would be in an Italian restaurant, but then Ahmed is well known in the area, people will know that he is running a successful business and wants to stay on the side of the law and get on with running his business.
Patricia somewhat disagreed with my rantings, arguing that immigration needs to be controlled and by raiding a restaurant when it is busy they are more likely to find someone as all hands will be on deck. Which may well be so, but British policing has a tradition of being low-key, of using intelligence and focusing on identification of where the problems are, before charging in with truncheons flying (metaphorically). It all seems a bit too foreign for my liking.
And there is the cost-effectiveness. Eight people for four hours on a Saturday night – to arrest at most a cook and a waiter. And in reality no one at all. Taxpayers’ money. There may be a problem of illegal immigration but this sort of behaviour by the authorities gives the distinct impression that whatever problem it is they think they are tackling, it isn’t that one. Or perhaps I am wrong there, perhaps the intention is to give the impression that the problem is being dealt with through visible presence, a kind of sop to what the authorities believe the people want to see, but if it is that then they are misjudging that too, as follows:
In Nazi Germany, when this sort of thing was more widespread, nastier and more extreme, one reads that the ordinary people mostly said: but what could we do? We did not see this most of the time! And curiously this event is an example of that. Apart from Patricia and the staff of the restaurant, I did not find anyone who had seen any immigration officers. They just didn’t notice them! One man, when I pointed out who they were, said he had half registered them and guessed they might be VAT inspectors. He is a retired vet.
If you happen to bump into the Home Secretary, perhaps you would suggest to her that there’s a problem with illegal immigration out there that needs dealing with. A number of them!