Sunday, 30 December 2007
It was my younger brother's behaviour at a party that first caused me to doubt my ancestry. Sitting in the kitchen, Richard, who has always truly been lion-hearted, flinched as he saw the hand appear through the doorway that led to the hall. But the simple appearance of a hand was not the cause of his instinctive reaction, it was the object contained in the hand that caused this particular blonde giant to attempt evasion, as a beer glass, full of cheap, warm, English beer was emptied indiscriminately towards the handful of people chatting happily next to the oven. Laughter from the group in the hallway immediately followed Richard's expletives as the majority of the liquid landed on his shirt front.
I was occupied in conversation in another room, but recognized the full-blooded roar that echoed throughout the house in the immediate aftermath. Richard in full temper is a frightening beast, anger shakes every inch of his massive frame, and once started, it has to go somewhere. He seems to grow significantly, his nostrils flare and his eyes become utterly focused on whatever has offended him. The word "molten" springs to mind, and not in the sense of languorous Meditteranean paramours, but more in the sense of a very angry mountain crushing everything in it's path. "Relentless" also springs to mind, but this time not in any other sense than in the sense of relentlessness. Remarkably though, Richard is one of the few people I know who can actually maintain coherence while angry, even at Force 11 (measured on the Beaufort Scale and defined as: "Violent Storm: Very rarely experience: accompanied by wide-spread damage."), and can conduct perfectly lucid conversations.
It was this ability to maintain calm, while being completely outraged, that was in evidence as I arrived in the hallway. Richard was negotiating with a group of chaps, (assisted by my elder brother who was also at the party), and was insisting on obtaining the identity of the culprit. Presumably, after identification, Richard had in mind a discussion between himself and the yob to arrive at a mutually satisfactory form of compensation, and knowing my younger kinsman, he was perfectly capable of letting the hoodlum escape with no more than having to forfeit the price of a taxi fare home and an exceeding long, angry, involved lecture, complete with diagrams, statistics and flip-charts, on anti-social behaviour(we Nykksun's are capable of out-pompous-ing a Church of England Bishop when we fell righteously aggrevied. And sometimes, even when we do'nt.).
Whoever the outlaw was, he was understandably reluctant to come forth and pay his Danegeld. I myself, if unarmed with the knowledge that the only price I would pay for my crime was surrendering a crisp fiver and getting lectured for a good half hour by a very angry, but otherwise perfectly harmless, large bear-like creature, would probably have likewise refrained from claiming the calumny as my handiwork, but to stay silent was nevertheless, a dubious act, when measured by the Drunk's Code of Conduct (Rule 3: Always 'fess up) or any other code of honour.
Which is how I found myself outside in the driveway, facing a drunken rugby team, accompanied by my elder and younger brother. Younger brother, his enquiries having been met with stonewalling, had decided that the whole hallway group, from whom the beer had undeniably originated, should all be faced with justice, and his logical investigations having failed, had agreed with the Captain of the rugby team that honour should be satisfied in a more direct fashion. Richard was in mid-sentence, apparently issuing a final demand , when from out of the Rugby crowd, a punch was thrown. He dived in without further ado, and quickly had two prop-forwards in headlocks, one under each arm. Peter and I watched with admiration, "Two-down" said Peter, "He's only got another thirteen to go", when Richard's battlecry, as he advanced on the hooker and the scrum-half, reminded us that the support we were supposed to be offering should be more than applause.
Fortunately for the remainder of the Rugby team, Peter and I were not called into action that night, because the commotion had attracted the attentions of a local copper, whose appearance defused the whole situation incredibly rapidly. "What's going on here, then?" the law-enforcer demanded. "Nothing Officer", someone said. "We were doing a conga and the lads bumped into eachother and fell over". The constable raised an eyebrow, and advised all the party was over.
On the way home, I glanced at my younger brother - wild staring eyes, torn garments, blood-flushed face, nostrils still flared and twitching. I'd always been admonished for bad behaviour by my mother with phrases like "You ought to know better, you're related to the Kings Of Ireland", but it was one of my father's expressions which probably reveals more about our ancestry : "I do'nt know what's wrong with you lot - have you gone completely berserk?".
This is by way of introducing my forthcoming website Sixglobal, which features another obsession - history and origins. I'm starting with my own family, but more than willing to investigate yours. Do'nt expect a complete family tree though, this is more about the occasional story, legend or travelogue. The story above is a sample. The new site should be linked to this page by the end of the week.
Recommended Reading : Viking's Dawn, The Road to |MIklagard, Viking's Sunset, all by Henry Treece.
Friday, 28 December 2007
I puzzled the link between a possible terrorist campaign and Transpennine Express . I realize that terrorists have targeted rail stations before, and of course it is no laughing matter. But anyone trying to co-ordinate any kind of campaign depends on split-second timing, and to be honest, a good half hour's reconnaisance at any station run by Transpennine would be enough to persuade the most ardent evil do-er that scheduling an attack using Transpennine as a delivery method is militarily a bad idea.
The poster that caused the problem is featured above and advertises many statistics. One I would like to highlight. Transpennine boast that there are 18,000 miles between breakdowns. Impressive sounding at first, I have to admit, but applying their figures to the Hull, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool line which is only one of the lines they operate reveals a slight problem. The distance between Hull and Liverpool is approximately 200 miles by rail, and there are approximately 15 scheduled retrun trips per day between the dissimilair ports of Hull and Liverpool. This means that daily, Transpennine travel 6000 miles per day, just on this one line. Therefore, the theoretical train that sails this route breaks down every three days.
Even Transpennine's own figures damn them. They claim to have 280 scheduled trains per day. Assuming, conservatively, that each journey is 40 miles long, that means they cover about 11,200 miles per day. There is therefore a train breakdown every 1.5 days. On a network which despite it's 48 million pound per year profit refuses to invest in new rolling stock AND admits that they do not have enough trains, this is not good news for passengers. No wonder they have, as they boast in their poster, the longest station bench in the world. The passengers need somewhere to wait., refraining from taking photographs while they do so, of course.
The rippling noise is, of course wind. To get the full story, the next video should be played bearing in mind that it was shot immediately after the previous one in this post.
Monday, 24 December 2007
In preparation for my contribution(hunting down some beer), I'm watching "Who do you think you are" which is a geneaology programme. In line with current British TV guidelines, the lives of celebrities are inherently more interesting than other people's and due to the fact that there are millions of celebrities ranging from footballers wives through to chefs and fitness instructors, gardeners, taxi-drivers, demolition experts, wallpaperers and criminals, the programme should run and run.
It appears that Tennant (who derived his stage name from the Pet Shop Boys) has discovered that his maternal grandparents were rabid Orangemen. Orangemen are Northern Ireland Protestants, loyal to the English crown who have historically taken the position that Northern Ireland (or the Occupied Six Counties as Republicans call them) belong to England. The name Orangemen derives from William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant Prince who defeated Catholics in a Battle over four hundred years ago. Tennant is dismayed by this discovery, as to people of a liberal bent, having an Orangeman in the family is akin to being related to the Great Wizzard of the Ku Klux KLan. It is generally accepted, when describing most Orangemen, that the words "rabid", "partisan", "uncompromising", "discriminatory", "mad" and "violent" would not be underemployed.
The programme reminds me of my first interaction with an Orangeman, which was co-incidentally, one of my first encounters with a Protestant of any description. I had taken a job as a Christmas casual at our local Post Office, and was assigned to a massive wall of wooden boxes or pigeonholes. Each pigeonhole represented a street, or section of road, in our Post Office's catchment area, and the whole wall was sectioned into ten "walks", each walk being the route of a particular postman. The streets were arranged within each section to correspond to the order of route that each postman walked. The task of the twelve or so eager teenagers facing the wall, was to dip into the huge bins of mail lined up opposite the wall, and fill a specific "walk" as quickly as possible. Interestingly, we were not required to undertake any tests for the job. In those days, literacy was assumed.
After a few days, I became chummy with the kid next to me who'd been assigned "Bonsall Drive to Fairfield Crescent". We chatted as teenagers do: "Allright?", "Allright". "Cant wait to hometime". "Yeah. I'm starvin". Later on, as our intimacy developed, we began to put whole sentences together, and Billy learnt that I played bass in my brother's group. "I play meself" said Billy. "Pipes in a band". "What sort of band?", I asked. ""You know, marchin band" Billy said "With the Lodge". I laughed, "The Lodge? The Orangemen? You know what's funny? My mum used to throw stones at you guys when you marched, and here we are, mates!". Billy looked up "You're a redneck?" he said. "Yeah", I laughed ""Hope no one in Canny Farm finds out!". Canny Farm was the area me and Billy had been assigned to, and was traditionally a wall to wall Protestant area. Billy glared at me, and the above conversation represents the longest, and final conversation we had. Thereafter, Billy would'nt acknowledge me at all.
Irony is a much overused concept, but years later I was researching my own geneaology. The directly Irish branch of my family tree is hard to establish, except that the McEvoys were one of the Seven Septs of Leish. My patrinomy is easier to trace, with the result that relatively early in my search I discovered that my father's Godfather was one Reverend Nicholson, a mentor of Dr Ian Paisley. Dr Ian Paisley is described in many ways, "firebrand", "man of God", "lunatic", "bigot", "hero", but all descriptions of him agree on one thing. Paisley is a Unionist, probably the most pre-eminent Loyalist in recent times, and a hero to Orangemen everywhere. If only Billy had known - perhaps we would have been friends.
Sunday, 23 December 2007
After the movie we decide to go for a quiet drink, near the harbour, another virginal experience for us. The scene in downtown Hull's drinking quarter is hard to describe. Most of the females were wearing mini Santa outfits that exposed legs, midrift and shoulders, accompanied by very high heels and enough make-up to make the average clown look incomplete. The males are 90% skinhead, burly, loud rumbustious and slightly threatening - big gangs of them wandering the streets like gatherings of adolescent baboons. It is an exclusively white display, and the near harbour pubs that look cosy and welcoming by day are turned into infernos of flashing lights, crap music and cheap perfume.
After wandering the streets for a short while, amazed and in a daze, we find a quietish pub. It is not particularly pleasant place, but it does for a quick discussion about the movie, and the scene we've just witnessed, which rivals the movie in terms of it's unreality. We agree the movie was great, but notice that the age range of the people who are getting abandoned in their drunkenness, pissing in doorways and are shepherded by a massive police prescence (in the form of four van loads of fully riot-equipped squads parked at a major intersection) is our age range. This is'nt Laguna Beach Fresher's Week, or Daytona, this is mostly forty-year olds displaying themselves.
The theory we develop is that the nightclub culture that we both thoroughly embraced as early twenty-somethings has become a way of life for these people, uninterrupted by adulthood. It is unrecognisable as a night out in any Canadian city that either of us lived in or visited - Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, London, Moncton, St John, St Johns, Ottowa, Hamilton, Sarnia - the activities on display in Hull seem to be shouting, pushing, pissing, crying, arguing, screaming and very little laughing, smiling and talking. Cafe Society this is not.
We get home safely and take the cats for a walk, describing the movie to them, and telling Toshack off for breaching the "You do'nt pounce on your sister when she's doing her toilet" Rule. It is nice to see some normal behaviour.
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
When we came to Hull, we declared loud and proud to anyone and everyone that a significant part of our new five year plan was to do nothing exciting for the next couple of years or so. A period of consolidation we grandly announced, time to put our house in order, buckle down, grow up, toe the line, do the right thing, circle the wagons and generally try to spend as much time as possible bored out of our skulls. We crossed the road to avoid interesting looking people, watched television for a week straight, and settled in. We even decided to eat bland, wholesome food. This part of the plan we called "The RoadMap to Peas". We also resolved that for at least a year we would avoid lawsuits, try not to spend more than $8000 per year on pet care, avoid hikes in bear-infested mountainous regions, and start as few new businesses as possible. In short, "situations" were to be avoided at all costs.
The decision to purchase a house fit perfectly with our plan, a mature, sensible decision, and given that we were not going to be part of a 'chain', it would be relatively straightforward. It was about 8.30pm last night as we were standing on the step of the house we thought we were buying, listening to the Estonian tenant describe in tearful, broken English how if she were to move out on December 19th as agreed, then she would have no-where to overwinter her 14 children, that I realized we had entered another situation. Naturally, for us at least, buying this house has become very complicated.
Perhaps the fact that the house was owned by a person, who it would compliment hugely to call a slum-lord, and was managed by a Property Management company (Gold's) who gave every appearance of being directly related to Tiverton's (at least judging by their professionalism) should have caused pause for thought, but despite difficulties gaining access we negotiated hard and agreed a goodish price. Conditions included that the place be free and clear of tenants, and was subject to the results of the survey. Emma gave the tenants two months notice, and we set about arranging a mortgage.
[Note: In England house buying follows the following process - viewing, negotiations/offer, acceptance of offer, arrange mortgage, get survey done, renegotiate(sometimes only), sign contracts, agree closing date. Up to the point of signing contracts the seller can pull out at any time. The survey costs money, (up to £700) as do legal necessities like a land search etc. (called conveyancing), so you can possibly spend a lot of money only to have the seller withdraw from your agreement - for example, they may receive a higher offer. ]
After we received the results of the survey(building inspection) we returned to the negotiating table, pointing out that the place was a fire-trap and we wanted a further reduction in price for re-wiring and safety checks on the gas heating system. Phone calls to the property manager's agent, Emma, on this issue received no response, so we e-mailed our new position. We were one phone call away from a deal, so were anxious to hear Emma's response.
Still no response from Emma, so Nosmo King, our legal rep, kindly called Gold's to find out what was going on. I was locking up at work in Leeds when NK called me with his findings. Emma had suffered a nervous breakdown, was now on long-term sick leave, and had failed to relay our most recent position to anyone at Gold's. Furthermore, Gold's owner, an unpallatable cove called Mr Gold, told Nosmo that they(Gold's) were NOT in the business of selling houses as anything other than investment property, and therefore had definitely NOT and never would, in the case of Ella Street, instructed the tenants to leave. The fact that we were in possession of letters from Mr Slum Lord's solicitors, and from Emma(issued prior to her breakdown) stating that notice to quit had been given was immaterial. NK staged a tactical withdrawal, and called me up with a cunning plan, simple in execution, imbued with a daring simplicity that cut through bureaucratic red tape like a Japanese Iaido Blade of the early 16th century.
NK's plan was that we should knock at the door of Ella Street and ask the tenants if they had been booted out. Under normal circumstances, I would not quail at such a plan - it made sense, it was straightforward, and it had an air of detectiveness that was romantically appealing. However, what Nosmo was unaware of was that the denizons of the joint seemed an unruly mob. Hard-core pornography wallpaper aside, there were at least two burly, hostile, excitable Eastern European teenagers and several unfriendly rug-rats that we had seen during our viewings. What would the parents be like?
Nevertheless, the scheme made sense and had to be risked, but care must be taken, I told Nel as we walked round the corner to "our" house. We should plan our Operation (Operation Tactful Approach) carefully. I informed Nel (codename Red Boffin Ivory Tower)that she should take up Recon A, a position someway down the road, from where she could call the police if I (codename Delta Mazzer One) got shot. I would take position ( Location Eagle Strike) by the entrance, and lead a frontal assault. Signals would be based on NATO conventions, and radio silence should be observed at all times. Nel listened politely, then walked up to the front door and knocked.
The lady of the house was tearful rather than threatening, and informed us that yes, maybe she had had a notice to quit, and no she was'nt going to do anything about it. How could she with 14 children? Besides which the Social Services were now withholding her welfare payments due to an earlier overpayment and she had no money for a new place. It was a tale that would have Right Wing newspapers writing outraged articles about immigrants abusing the British system, articles that their Slum Lord readership would fully agree with (just before making a note to themselves to ignore the Law reagrding statutory annual electrical safety checks once more). Nel just made sympathetic noises, and we apologized for trying to buy the house before retreating gracefully.
We reported back to NK, and the latest news is that he has tried to follow up with the sellers legal team, but at their offices the file has been passed on to Someone Else, and Someone Else is now off work, on sick leave.
So right now the situation is fluid. Tomorrow might bring more developments.
Sunday, 16 December 2007
Saturday, 15 December 2007
It's Saturday morning and the world is my clam. A much anticipated party somewhere "down South" was to be the subject of this weekend's activities with most of the large clan, but this morning finds the Red Haired boffin on the 9.05 to Doncaster, heading for a rendevous with Mr Nosmo King and Meg (Bill and Nel's Mum), while I am in Hull. The reason for this temporary separation is that given my current appearance, there's a strong possibility that children would be frightened, thus reducing the festive atmosphere somewhat. In short, I am completely codswalloped, knackered, tired, and I realize as soon as I get up, that the very fact that I want to go back to bed immediately, tells me that disappointed as I am not to witness the collective Larges et al, larging it (as it where) , the decision is a wise one.
The past two weeks have been quite busy at work, which explains the appearance, and having had no time to do anything enjoyable, I resolve to put the disappointment of not being able to attend the party behind me, and make the most of a free weekend. Mentally I make a list:
- do something about the facial fuzz.
- get a very long bath,
- write to Revenue Canada because we've been audited and they are now demanding $thousands (due to Ploppyshanker Tammy Johnson and the whole rental scam involving our Nova Scotia house),
- go for a long bike ride,
- take some photos of the local docks,
- browse a few secondhand bookshops,
- cook several fantastic meals that Nel can enjoy on her return,
- watch Liverpool play Manchester United tomorrow afternoon,
- phone some friends for a long overdue chat,
- maintain bike,
- clean the house
- research local archeaological finding (Stone Age boats found at Ferriby - 10 miles away - perhaps I can get in early and find a few more)
- tighten up possible budget for house purchase
I half-hearted ly throw a few springs for her to chase , but she ignores them and follows me into the living room, where I sit down to enjoy my breakfast, while watching Time Team, a British programme about archaelogical digs (this programme is inconceivable to North American television viewers - no one gets shot, it is completely undramatic and mainly features a group of old men digging in wet fields without a pretty girl in sight anywhere. The whole point of the programme is to stay away from the dramatic, so they tend to excavate Iron Age toilets and beehives and such. Strangely though, like the televised sheep herding and live darts coverage, it is addictive).
This is also deeply unsatisfying to Calli , who wants to play NOW, so she sits in front of the television, making viewing impossible. She looks bright eyed, perky and totally 'up for it'.
I ignore the cat, so she positions herself in front of me, next to her favourite box and hunkers down expectantly, ready to pounce on anything that emerges. After a few minutes of this, I realize that my attempts at negotiation "I'll play with you in ten minutes" are futile. Play cannot wait.
Half an hour later and we're still chasing, fighting, pouncing, jumping, finishing the whole session off with a good old rough and tumble. Even after a few minutes of this, my list is forgotten. Calli has made me realize that the whole point of this weekend, for me at least, is to do nothing. "Relax, already", I tell myself, and immediately start to draw up lists of really effective ways of doing nothing.
Wednesday, 12 December 2007
For interest until Saturday, may I suggest clicking on the link to either Science today, or the anthropology compilation from Texas.
Monday, 10 December 2007
Sunday, 9 December 2007
Thursday, 6 December 2007
IN a very quick nutshell, it appears that there may be a suspicion of life insurance fraud, involving a sea-kayak expedition, Mr Darwin going missing for 5 years, and a move to Panama by the unlikliest-looking fraudsters in the world (if indeed they do turn out to be fraudsters).
If crime is involved, they are also probably the dumbest criminals ever, and the fact that they are actually called DARWIN is, unlike the song of the same name, incredibly ironic.
Sunday, 2 December 2007
Saturday, 1 December 2007
After Omelette, we began our relaxed wanderings. I suggested to the boffin that we tale a quick peek in a bicycle store "just down the road", and began to lead her the two or three blocks that I remembered towards the store. After about five blocks of being buffeted and bumped in the crowds, I could see the store sign in the distance. "It's just a bit further" I tell Nel. Uncharacteristically, Nel is a good sport and forces out, through gritted teeth "Ok" . Ten minutes into our expedition and we are already "brave-facing" it. At last though, we're in but the store is a disappointment - expensive, and like so many specialists sports stores, the staff are elitist and snobby. They carry an attitude which says "If you're not wearing the latest gear, I do'nt want to be seen helping you".
Back on the trail of whatever it is we have come out to buy, and two trends are observed. The first is the continuing trend to label stores and bars with snappy, 'witty', one word names. 'Cheese' for example is a bar, 'Air' is a hairdressers etc etc. This inspires me, because I've been seeking a name for my future scenery building business for quite a while. A decision is made and in my mind, my new business is named - Sets. I can see the future, Mazzer at a social function proudly describing how my business is Sets, and I specialize in custom Sets, the wierder the better.
On reflection, I realize that this trend is quite a few years old, indeed a clothes shop in Leicester was called 'Cliche'. We could never work out if this was intended irony or not, but now it is apparent that 'Cliche' was just ahead of the game. I resolve that to be ahead of the next trend I should call my future business "West Hull Scenery Emporium, manufacturers of Fine Scenery, Cat Trees, Guitar Stands and Solar Panels. Est 200?. Proprietor Martin John Steven Francis Mac Fhiodhbhuidhe-Nygson-L'Arge". The future is definitely big names.
We finish our shopping in St Stephens Shopping Centre, Hull. Inevitably, this disgusting building, 'Hull's new High Street' has it's own website: http://www.ststephens-hull.com. In reality, by the time we reach St Stephen's we're both knackered and want to go home, but we do some purchases before retreating. I've included some photographs of St Stephen's in the album. Personally I hate everything about it - especially the great big crushed toilet roll-holder which has been inserted right down the centre of the mall. Starbucks currently occupies this enormous architectural mistake. Everything is wrong with this structure - the materials are plywood which will yellow and fade with exposure to the sun in a few years, it is a massive visual obstacle in a space which otherwise would be quite cathedral-like, and from the interior, it is no refuge as a cafe should be, it is just like being in a fishbowl.
A final observation about development is that seeing the pasty-faced youth wandering round St Stephen's talking endlessly on their cellphones made me realize, especially given England's recent performance in the sport it invented, that in Hull the first thing that enters the minds of planners when thinking about improving their city is to build shopping developments where the populace can increase their debt load or pubs and restaurants where we can drink ourself stupid. There has not been a new park created in this city since about 1905.
The second trend we noticed on our expedition is the extent to which 'going green' has become a commodity. Of course, it was inevitable that this would happen, and I have seen the trend before, but I had'nt noticed how, like a bad case of the flu, this 'new' concept has infiltrated everything. Sir Richard Branson, the man behind Virgin Records (and every other Virgin), whom I had always thought was nearly OK, has recently legitimized this stupidity in the UK, coining the phrase "Gaia Capitalism" and speaking enthusiastically about the business opportunities that have now been created as a result of humanity's plundering of the planet.
Gaia Capitalism tells us that the planet is nearly in a "bit of trouble and might warm up a bit", which sounds good, and mostly is(""Whoppee, more sunbathing!" as one advertiser put it), but in some cases the warming might cause a "bit of flooding here and there", so we (ie YOU the public) need to do something ("we" the business, do'nt need to do anything). Fortunately, because "nearly" is sometime in the future, there's no need to panic, all we (the consumer) needs to do is "our [YOUR] bit", drawing on help and advice from the government and business, the Custodians of the Planet. The solution is to buy more stuff, in fact it is our duty to shop our way out of this "little bit of trouble" by purchasing "eco-friendly products, the more, the better.
Eco-friendly products include those mercury-filled low energy lightbulbs or Unilever washing up liquids (Persil etc),that have been repackaged with a green plastic label that proudly states "Degradable", "green" cars, and completely unnecessary cadmium filled garden lights that are "green" because they are solar powered. The slogan "Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle" is the last concept we should hold as a motto. Allied to this is the notion that the other last thing we need to do is panic, change our lifestyle and stop buying stuff. In fact, the more eco-friendly products we buy, the more we save the Planet. The logic of the Marketing Department tell us that a container ship loaded down with Marks and Spencers Fair Trade organic coffee does much less damage to any whales it collides with in the Bay Of St Lawrence, and dumps less oil than if the same ship was loaded with Nescafe. So keep on shopping people, the Planet depends on it.
The extent of all this re-labelling is extraordinary. In the UK, there are Insurance Companies that advertise their policies as "Green" Insurance Policies, and Formula One proudly declares itself to be "Carbon Neutral". Naturally, the public are'nt stupid. In the UK there are still a significant number of people who are very skeptical that Climate Change even exists, but whether a person is a tree-hugger or a skeptic, the cynicism of the British public is understandable - the way the debate is presented here makes it obvious that they are either being sold something of debatable value or a vote. All the responsibility for effective action,(if a person believes action is needed - which the majority of British people do'nt), is therefore cast upon the ordinary person This is a responsibility that is hard for Mr and Mrs Noseworthy of 22 Acacia Gardens, (who want to get the bus everywhere), to take seriously when their Government has just announced another expansion to the world's busiest airport and another massive motorway improvement project.
Given that a harmless day's shopping for the Boffin and I usually results in these kind of maudlin reflections, it is probably understandable that we do'nt do it more often. All we were looking for was a pair of brown loafers. Next time we need recreation, we'll probably go for a long walk in the countryside. Or go the pub and get slaughtered.
A final item to be ticked is the survey, which is, as previously mentioned, the UK equivalent of the Home Inspection. This survey was apparently done this week, and we await it's results. If all goes smoothly, the album, may make a regular appearance here.
Saturday, 24 November 2007
If, however you want to see some professional work, I'm persuaded by the work of my friend Dave Jones, who is interested in the narrative versions of documentary photography. Dave's work can be found at :
Once there, click on Davy Jones for a sample of his portfolio.
Dave's work took some getting used to, and like all art, you either get it or you do'nt. I'm beginning to get most of Dave's work, especially his ride project, which legend has it cost him about £20,000 and a marriage. Ride exhibited in Paris this year, and as a working commercial photographer he 'did' the new brochure for the college where Nel's brother, Will, teaches.
My Leeds album is below. It is best viewed in a Picasa slideshow, which I get to from this website by clicking randomly, and furiously on the image until it fills the screen.
Joey Monk, brother of Tony, the notorious Ploppyshanker, volunteered to accompany me, as I had recently, once again, fired Tony. Most of the guys who worked in the Production Shop lived around East or West Chezzetcook (inexplicably pronounced Chezzencut by the locals) part of a small series of settlements which lay 30-40 kilometres north of Halifax, on what is (even more inexplicably) known as the Eastern Shore. Incidentally, Nova Scotia's Southern Shore is the stretch of coast that runs directly south of Halifax to approximately the Clark's Harbour/Yarmouth
Our route to Port Hawksebury was via the 401 highway to Truro, a direction that I fully expected Nova Scotians to describe as westward. Joey and I met very early, and loaded our tools into the back of the large truck. Joey was the navigator, and I had elected to drive. I jumped into the driving seat, but was surprised to see Joey struggling to hoist a large, evidently heavy, hold-all into the middle seat. we were only scheduled to be away for one longish work day. "Ready?", I asked Joey. "Yes, Mr Martin", the gruff voiced Joey said "Looks like she's comin up nice". I examined the sky and agreed. It was going to be a beautiful day.
As we cleared the outskirts of Halifax, I pressed pedal to metal and threw the truck into cruise. "About four hours you reckon, Joe?". Joe did'nt answer immediately, and I glanced at him. He was studying the map intently, tracing his finger along the route I had highlighted. Every inch or so, as he moved his finger along the road, he scribbled something down on a piece of paper. I concentrated on my driving for a second. "Ok, Joe?", I asked and glanced at him again. He had opened the holdall and had pulled out four largish telephone directories., and was carefully flicking through one of them evidently consulting the paper he'd written on. Another note, then he discarded the first directory and started flicking through the next.
After a while, Joey spoke "We should be allright, Mr Martin" he growled, "I've got them all". "Got what, Joe? " I asked. "Timmys" Joe explained "There's eight between Halifax and Port Hawksebury, so we should be able to get a decent coffee, even out here in the backwoods. Gotta be careful though, some of the water out this way's not so good. There's five or six PetroCanada's as well, so we wo'nt be stuck for gas. "
It was apparent from the way Joe spoke that this was a major expedition for him. I was surprised - even as a Liverpool "homebody", I knew England pretty well by the time I was eighteen, but Joe was late forties. He explained that the major highway to Halifax had only been open about ten years and before that, people from the Eastern Shore rarely bothered travelling more than a few miles away from 'home' because the coast road made the thirty kilometre journey take three or four hours. Years ago there had been a railway, but when it closed, communities on the Eastern Shore had lost jobs and reasons, as well as the income, to travel anywhere, except for those people who moved "away". Those people seldom came back. Just getting to Port Hawksebury represented a major challenge to Joe.
After Truro, Joe became much less talkative. He'd spent some of the journey persuading me to re-hire Tony again, something I had already resolved to do, but gradually he stopped talking as we got nearer to the Canso Causeway. "You OK, Joe?" I asked a few times. "OK, Mr Martin", he'd say "Just a bit of indigestion, I think. I'll be fine", but as we drove, he began to say that he was feeling "a bit sick, nauseous like". Just before Port Hawkesbury, Joe asked me to pull over quickly. I did so, and he leapt from the van, and puked up violently. His face was grey and he was shaking. I thought quickly, and called Stora Enso. We were only five kilometres away, it was a very big factory and I was pretty sure there would be a nurse on-site. This was confirmed, so I helped Joe back into the truck and sped to the factory, where as promised we were met by a nurse. She assured me that she'd look after Joe, and get him to hospital if necessary and there was nothing more that I could do.
The rest of the day was a nightmare. My boss, the President, had not informed me that Stora Enso was a heavily unionized site. Stora Enso had not informed it's unions that the sign was scheduled to be installed, so the first part of the day was spent negotiating with the unions as to which trade was going to install the sign. The construction of the sign (fibreglass and metal with some incorporated lights), made the negotiation more difficult. Apparently carpenters whose job it should have been to install the sign, were not allowed to drill bolt holes into the sign's metal frame, by their union rules. The metal workers, who were allowed to drill metal, were not allowed to drill into the concrete wall on which the sign was to be installed. And no-one, especially the electricans were allowed to touch any of the lights, because that was the maintenance department's job, and this was their day off. I was not allowed to touch the sign once it had crossed the factory gates, and could only point at it from a distance, in order to help instruct the installation.
Eventually a compromise was reached, so myself and the necessary twelve tradesmen got the sign installed. The labourer's union guys held the sign against the wall. The carpenters marked where the sign should be drilled. The metal guys drilled the sign. The labourer's held the sign up again, the carpenters marked the wall and the site's Operations manager drilled holes in the wall. Then the carpenters inserted the bolts and tightened them. Then we wrapped the sign in kilometres of black and yellow hazard tape, installed a safety barrier and vacated the area, safe in the knowledge that the next day,the maintenance guys could plug the lights into the nearby outlet, and thus declare the sign operational.
Meanwhile, I recieved several phone calls from the nurse, who reported that she thought Joey just had a tummy upset, and it was safe to take him home. At the end of the day, I met her outside her office. "It's strange, " she mused "No temperature, pulse is ok, breathing is calmed down. My best guess is a panic attack, but he's fine now. He's had a good rest". Having had panic attacks myself, I did, retrospectively, recognize that it could be, but I was puzzled - forty year old fishermen just do'nt seem the type. I was relieved it was'nt a heart attack. I helped Joe into the truck, and he apologized. "No problem, Joe, everyone gets sick. Let's just get you home."
As we drove back to Halifax, Joe brightened visibly. In fact every kilometre closer to home saw him perk up, incrementally. By the time we were home, Joe was ready for a beer. "See you tomorrow, you Crazy Englishman" was his cheery farewell. Glad that Joe had'nt died, I went home and had a beer myself. Later that night, our President telephoned " They love the sign at Stora" he said. "Good", I replied "I'll be in late tomorrow, it's been a long day". "Actually, I was going to ask if you could go up there again" said Phil, the President. "They love the sign, but they want it moved. Who do you want to take with you?".
Friday, 23 November 2007
My brother in law has recently celebrated his 25th year working in the local Ford factory(near Liverpool). He is younger than me, and a great guy, but I realized the other day as I rode past this place how strange our life has been. As adults, we have absolutely no idea what it is like to be in one place for more than seven years. We have together lived in Liverpool, Leicester, Halifax, London(Canada) and now Hull. During this time we've worked in Coventry, Birmingham, Leeds, London(UK) and Sarnia. Nel has also lived in Windsor(Canada), Switzerland, Willenhall, Cheshire and Montreal. Between us, we've worked as postmen, telephone directory delivery people, administrative assistants, bar staff, musicians, theatre wardrobe, carpenters, managers, boffins, trench diggers, kitchen installers, au pairs, students, bank workers, shop assistants, Vice Presidents, dole office clerks, carpenters, welders and been on the dole.
I told my relative this history because for a lot of people we know, it's fairly normal - Grasshoppers was a cleaner and is now a top boffin, for example, and has lived in Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska (not really, but basically quite a few places). My relative was surprised we were all still alive, because to him, we've all lived a life that he associates with vagrants or drifters. Conversely, I am horrified with is life - I equate it with a prison sentence. Personally, I think I am incredibly lucky to have such variation. He thinks we are crazy.
I'd be interested to know what you think - stability vs variation. That is the question.
After a few attempts at writing fiction, in which the tall, dirty blond, ex-musician, ex-high-jumper, half-Canadian hero saved humanity after a strenuous cross-country hike (which involved some exhilarating mountain bike descent's) by fitting solar panels to the roof of his new house, I decided that the advice given in all creative writing classes - write about what you know - can be taken too seriously.
Instead, I've now gone to the fall back of all imminently unsuccessful fiction writers - a children's fantasy book. I've developed a few plot lines, all of which, upon review seem familiar. For example, my latest idea involved my heroes embarking on an expedition. Perhaps I should be honest and say that they were embarking on an expotition. So, for the moment. all I am left with is the map of the world that my characters inhabit. And who might these characters be, you wonder? Well, is'nt it obvious, and without further ado, I should introduce the World of The Meeps. You should be able to click on the image for a bigger view.
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
The second potential hiccough (or is hiccup correct ?) is the survey, which in the UK is a slightly more formal, and can be a more professional review of the structure, value and fabric of the building than in Canada. As those of you who are Canadian are aware, the Canadian housing inspector profession (UK equivalent is Surveyors) is woefully unregulated. In fact, my experience is that in Canada, a chimpanzee who has barely passed its' Nest Building Proficiency Badge can easily set up business as a Housing Inspector, and be flooded with work. The trading name of the most famous Housing Inspector Company in Halifax, NS is Inspector Clouseau, and that this company is named after a bungling idiot Detective who screwed up everything he touched is a fair reflection of the average skill level within the "profession". In this case, the name is not ironic.
Anyway, our survey is to be conducted shortly, and I expect that it will tell us that a new roof is required, that the house requires rewiring, and that there is damage caused by damp as a result of a leaky bay window. Again, if there are more serious structural problems we wil probably withdraw from the sale and absorb the costs to date. We want to buy a house which is in need of improvement, and do not mind serious improvements - in fact that's the whole idea. However, we will not get involved in re-building.
The house itself is a four bedroom mid-terrace, about 100 years old, small back yard, very badly maintained and the aforementioned tenants. Full pictures will be available if the sale proceeds to completion, but for now, we're just planning the cost of renovations. This is itself also not a wasted exercise if this house does not get purchased because we'll need the info that we're currently finding out at some point or other anyway.
Nel has pulled out of the purchase about 17 times (yesterday), while I am planning to have solar panels, a small wind turbine, rainwater collectors, ground source heat pumps and a living roof completed by December. Ah, the joys of half-empty/half full.
Sunday, 18 November 2007
The plan is going pretty well, even if I say so myself, and having read several books on the subject of civilization and stuff, I'm pretty sure that although I have not yet obtained a definitive answer, it is just because I have'nt used the right words while searching Amazon.com. So my education continues at least for the next few months, although I'm confident of having the whole civiization issue wrapped up before we get a new roof on the mansion we've recently bought.
There is a minor problem though, because while one of the best things about embarking on a self-guided course of education has been the freedom to be completely unguided by informed people directing me towards reliable, worthwhile and well researched opinions and publications, there is also a whole bunch of crap out there.
One of the first 'papers' which aroused my suspicions that not everything on the Internet was totally relaible was The Olduvai Theory by Richard C. Duncan, PhD. At first glance, this work, for want of a better word, looked genuine. The author is a PhD - good. It is called a 'paper' - good. The word "theory" is mentioned several times - excellent. It is dated - very good and there is an institute name on the title - all very scientific. The paper namechecks a significant anthropological site (Olduvai gorge, Kenya) - this all looked very professional. The subject matter is important - The decline of Civilization due to resource Usage.
I tucked into the paper on the delayed Transpennine 7.33 and admittedly, (I blame the earlyness) missed the hint in the first paragraph that the 'paper' might need some work. It was only after cross-referencing the Olduvai Theory with some of Nel's scientific papers did I realize that she infrequently (if ever) uses the word "horridly" in the first paragraph, nor does she conclude that vital first paragraph with "I have no data to support this claim".
Furthermore, Nel, in my experience usually eschews personal details from her papers such as "It was because I was grouting the bathroom tiles that I did'nt analyse my data for simply ages". Mr Duncan is not as reticent, as he explains in paragraph 3 of section 2 why the Theory took a bit of time to develop "So for the next decade I went about my way: raising kids, building airplanes and teaching engineers."
For me, it was only when Mr Duncan used the phrase "willy-nilly" (Section 5, Paragraph 1, just past Selby), in his scientific document that I began to realize that this publication may be somewhat less than peer-reviewed.
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Many people make the mistake of thinking that the solution that the British Government devised was to privatize the Railways, but this type of thinking demonstrates an almost total lack of understanding of how the British bureaucratic mind works. The real problem you see, was not that the transport system was in chaos, but that the Government had to answer questions about it, and deal with the many inherent problems it caused. The Government of the time, and their successors therefore needed solutions based on The Infinite Deniability Principle. Privatizing the railways was only a byproduct of a project, the chief aim of which has been to inject Infinite Deniability, and it's cousin, The Total Whitewash Policy, into every inaction of every bureaucrat who we pay(to ignore us).
In the Railway reforms that have plagued this country for the last twenty years, the project has been a complete success. However, details of that success will have to wait a while, as I explain, as quickly as possible, how the British privatized rail system is funded. Simply put, the British taxpayer pays for it. To elucidate further involves describing how each railway line is put out for tender as franchise by the Government. Companies then bid, every seven years for each franchise, but to make the process attractive to businessmen, franchises all come with a subsidy, paid from the Public Purse. The value of the subsidy is staggering. Figures for the subsidy that that Transpennine receive are mysteriously absent from the Government informational websites, but figures issued by the Government for a smaller franchise can be found at:
The total for this, smaller franchise, over eight years is £1,056,000,000 (that's £1.056 BILLION) for this particular company. As for the company that owns Transpennine Express, a company called First National, it's profits increased last year, just in it's rail sector to £48.5 million pounds, as reported in the article below. The comments from users that follow the article are also worth reading.
I had researched these figures, and knew them by heart when I received a letter from Transpennine explaining why the trains were always late:
" Our new Class 185 trains are of a fixed length - three carriages. The size of the new trains was determined by the available funding, which in itself was set prior to the launch of the franchise. The funding and size of the new fleet are part of our franchise agreement, which we are operating to the guidelines set by the Department for Transport.
We can certainly appreciate that, from a passenger's perspective, adding a fourth carriage would seem an ideal solution to alleviate crowding, however, this is not as simple as it may appear. It would be possible to build additional carriages and integrate them into the units, but this could not be done without significant additional funding. The fleet represents an investment of over £250m, with each carriage costing over £1m.
Barry Hutton, Customer Services Advisor"
While I enjoy being patronized as much as the next man, I'm a bit of a stickler for accuracy. My next letter pointed out to Mr Hutton that he was talking about completely the wrong railway, as the Class 185 train does not usually operate in our region. I did however suggest that in the public interest, if the company took one quarter of it's profits, they could increase their fleet by twelve carriages. The response from his manager was immediate:
"I was sorry to find that my colleague attempted to address your complaint with reference to our 185 rolling stock and I hope you will accept my sincerest apologies for this error. "
However, the manager, Lauren, still plead poverty and laid the blame squarely at the door of the Government, who by inference, have imposed a contract on poor little Transpennine that is punative to the extent that it prevents them improving their services, even if they really, really want to:
"As with any Train Operating Company, we only have a limited fleet in line with our contract with The Department for Transport, but we will continue to monitor our passenger numbers and lobby for extra carriages where necessary."
Obviously, trading letters with some kids in a call center was getting me no-where. Next step was, as previously described, a letter writing campaign to every Member of Parliament, Town Councillor, Passenger Stakeholder Group and interested party I could find along the route. The response has been underwhelming, apart from my local MP, Diana Johnson, who wrote the following to a Mr Vernon Baker, of Macclesfield. Mr Baker is the CEO of Transpennine Express, and was recently in the news for completing the New York Marathon in about three and a half hours. I cannot resist saying that this is considerably quicker than most of his trains could have done the journey.
"Dear Mr Baker,
Re: Martin Nickson, Apartment 1, 109 Park Avenue, Hull, HU5 3EZ
Please find enclosed a copy of the correspondence I have received from the above constituent regarding Hull to Leeds journeys. If what Mr Nickson says is correct then I am very unhappy at the level of service provided. A two car formation for the peak service (7.33) between Hull and Leeds is a poor service. The journey is almost an hour and standing is unacceptable given the price paid for tickets and in addition the fact that it will lead to people using cars instead. I am under the impression that the new rolling stock were brought in to ensure that peak time services on Transpennine routes were made up of three or four car formations. I would be grateful if you could assure me that this will be the case for the 7.33, and 8.37 services out of Hull and the 16.38 and 17.38 services back to Hull for the benefit of my constituents.
I would also be grateful if you could ensure that Mr Nickson receives any compensation which he is due for delays to his journey. I can understand that in exceptional circumstances the correct trains may not be available leading to overcrowding on a two car train. However, I presume running a two car service saves money on fuel and staffing. Perhaps, it might be appropriate to consider passing on some of this saving to your customers who have to stand as a result."
Buoyed by the first glimpses of the campaign I have long predicted, I decided to write to the Department Of Transport. My reasoning was as follows:
a) They are the Department of, ....well...., Transport.
b). As the Department of Transport, they dish out the dosh (ie my money) to these rail cowboys and if anyone is in a position to take some action,it would be them . Because they are responsible for ,... well...., Transport.
The response illustrates the Infinite Deniability Principle brilliantly. The opening is promising:
Dear Mr Nickson
Thank you for your e-mail about overcrowding on the Transpennine
The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is the independent regulator of the
railway industry in Great Britain. One of our key roles is to ensure
that Network Rail, the owner and operator of the national railway
infrastructure (the track and signalling), manages the network
efficiently and in a way that meets the needs of its users, the train
operators. We are also responsible for licensing operators of railway
assets, setting the terms for access by operators to the network and
other railway facilities, and enforcing competition law in the rail
sector. ORR is also responsible for the regulation of health and safety
on the railways.
Good, they ARE the people I should be talking to. Then we get:
However we do not regulate all aspects of the rail industry and have no
remit over the day-to-day provision of services by train operators
except in terms of health and safety. Although we enforce health and
safety legislation on the railways under the Health and Safety at Work
etc Act 1974, the scope of that Act does not extend to the welfare of
passengers or to concerns about comfort and well-being.
More details then follow, describing all the other things the Department is not responsible for, and directing me to write to Passenger Focus, a Government sponsored Stakeholder Group, who are even more powerless than anyone else, but at least get to complain to the Rail Company on nice letterhead.
The overall picture is a very neat example of Infinite Deniability, an endless loop of non-responsibility and inaction. The whole point of the exercise to the casual viewer is to provide a rail service. To those in "the loop", getting people like me from A to B is the last thing on the agenda. The only intersection between the loopers and the loopees is where the loopers manage to take money from the loopees twice for a service that's as bad as it ever was.
Monday, 12 November 2007
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Exactly the same as it has been since we arrived (apart from the Great FLood of 07). Having been in Canada, where seasons still exist, this continues to make dressing for my daily commute a bit complicated because I keep expecting cold weather (just as in Summer I kept expecting warm weather). I continue to take ski-gloves, wet weather gear and keep a change of clothes at work, but more in hope, than expectation, of rain.
Needy, demanding, playful, cute, underfoot. Calli is continuing to establish a reputation as one of the local "toughies", and Tosh still likes to walk on his lead occasionally, presumably for comfort.
My job is going well, and I am planning a workshop coup, gradually positioning myself as management material by volunteering for all sorts of jobs that need me to have access to a computer, because it is obvious to me that any real measure of a successful manager bears a direct proportional relationship to the amount of time that you spend dealing with people. I have not established the exact ratio, but it is obvious that the less time you spend with the staff you manage, the more competent you are.
Nel's job is going well as well, although teaching load is requiring more of her time. I however cannot complain about my managers in comparison to Nel's. As some of you who read this are academics, you may concur that if I were to write a sentence that read "The management of Hull's Psychology Department leaves something to be desired" , then a perfectly reasonable response would be to report me to the United Nations Tribunal on Understatement and demand the death penalty. Lab Space is one issue which mystifyingly remains unresolved. However it is the Department Chair, whose Interpersonal Skills are legendary, convergent and entirely consistent with, developmentally speaking, those of a five year old child, that have caused me some mirth, and Nel some exasperation. Nel recently pointed out an example of how a shortfall in the department's complement of technician's had adversely affected some work she had planned. She politely forwarded him the details of the incident in order to help him make the case for another technician with the University Administration. His response included the sentence "I know it looks to a few of our newcomers that I simply sit and fidddle while
Rome burns but somethings are simply impossiblke to do just now" (spelling reproduced from the original). I wish him good luck in the career in business that he wishes to return to, namely (and I'm not making this up) Management Consultant.
Few househunters include "Must be practically derelict" on their list of "Must Have"s when househunting. I would speculate that this number is reduced further if you include those who actively, and at great length, canvas the neighbours on whether an area is suitable for cats, but these factors have narrowed down our house search to the point where we are currently in the process of buying a semi-condemned property about 150 metres from our current location. The deal is not yet done - a final hurdle may yet be a structural survey revealing serious faults which even we, in our relatively unusual hunt, find unacceptable. Still, and all, plans for remodelling are under way, including feasibility studies on solar panelling the roof, rainwater capturing systems and grey water recycling systems. Exciting times if all goes well.
Liverpool Football Club:
Last night, 8-0 victory over Bestikas of Turkey was a European Record. You will never walk alone, indeed.
Hopefully all are well. This website is now limited to the Few, as I have named us lot who regularly read/contribute to it. This is a consequence of my burgeoning career as a writer, and the need for some privacy from a voracious public, (AKA readers of ThisisULL) .
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Monday, 5 November 2007
The volume of Fireworks let off must be considerable, the barrage has continued from nightfall till about 23.00 every evening for the last week. A possible Career Option (No23) occurs to me, but I wonder how the request would be received at Jobcentre Plus if I enquired whether help and advice might be forthcoming in the area of Making Explosions.
The cats have been confined to Barracks during evening hours.This advice was first proferred by a friendly Policeman, advice I totally ignored until a "banger" went off about twenty feet from where Tosh was practising the Classic Pounce. Tosh's Pouncing Practice resembles Little Kanga's Jumping Practice in the Sandpit - a not quite grown up replication of an adult behaviour, and as such is very cute - the target (usually a leaf) is spotted, the moggie crouches low, bum wiggling until it reaches a critical frequency of wiggle, then the Pounce. Usually the leaf escapes unharmed.
After ignoring the Policeman's advice, I took Tosh out for his first nightly constitutional, but the firework startled him mid-pounce. He ran off in every conceivable direction and disappeared for three hours while fireworks exploded in the sky around him.
After I found him, very scared, I decided to keep the cats indoors for a few days until Guy Fawkes Festival Week is done. Guy Fawkes Night used to be, in my childhood, one evening involving some Sparklers, a pathetic Catherine Wheel and maybe two rockets(all supervised by my father, wearing a full protective asbestos suit) is over. Tosh was also quite scared by the incident, although as with all cats, is now more determined than ever to get out, especially because he cannot. I don't know who's behaviour is more contrary - cats wanting to venture outside in the full knowledge that it will be a terrifying, dangerous experience, or humans celebrating so exuberantly the failure of an act of terrorism.
Saturday, 3 November 2007
These slideshows are pretty small but if you click wildly on the shots, you can get to our Picasa page, and from there all the images can be seen bigger in a full slideshow. Watch this post, it will be added to during the course of the evening and tomorrow.
Sunday, 28 October 2007
Like most University parties, the mix of nationalities is a massive contrast to my daily work - Hungarian, Irish, Scottish, Italian, Colombian, English, Icelandic and German. We all have one thing in common though, which is an ability to get thoroughly drunk very quickly - a skill that all Universities seem to excel in teaching.
The real Halloween is Wednesday of the coming week.
Friday, 26 October 2007
It may appear that Case No 3459162 is moribund, given the lack of recent posts, but not so. The case has now, as North American Reality Show contestants are fond of saying, stepped up to the next level. I believe that everything can be fixed, even Transpennine Express, and have now put in motion a course of action that will possibly bring the Government down. I have written to every English member of Parliament, every councillor, every Member of the European Parliament, every committee member on every transport committee covering the geographical areas served by the trains that I am daily delayed on. This area includes (East to West) Hull, Brough, Howden, Selby, Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester and involved a lot of copy and pasting.
HowdenThe provocation that caused this latest intensifying of my campaign was a Customer Services response to my latest weekly report to Transpennine Express. The response contained the following second paragraph, the first two sentences of which are reproduced, verbatim, below:
"Although I am grateful for your comments regarding allocation of a specific number of seats. Whilst we do not wish any service to become uncomfortable, passengers will be allowed to board until such time that as we consider safety may be breached."
As if the grammar was not bad enough ( or totally incomprehensible), the letter continues "I am very sorry that you were unable to travel with your bicycle....". This is rubbish. I was able to travel with the trusty Fuji. I was simply not allowed to travel with my steed.
The response from various officials has been illuminating. The New Labour representatives, by and large, have proposed setting up a Steering Committee to consider the possibility of establishing a Review Body focusing on my issues as a travel stakeholder and with the possibility of an urgent Action Group being formed at the end of a consultation process to find out whether there is a problem or not. The Conservative representatives have been the most plainly spoken, and approachable, frankly describing the service as a problem, and promising to meet with TransPennine to find out what solutions are proposed.
Despite all my previous political education, I find the contrast between the New Labour responses and the Conservative response to be akin to the contrast between Canadian realtors and English realtors - creepy versus Down to Earth. Where I diverge from the Conservative perspective is on solutions. I propose complete re-nationalization under workers control, with public executions just prior to kick-off at major soccer matches of any underperforming Rail Executive, whereas the Conservatives propose allowing the Free Market another twenty years to prove that "the market" WILL deliver better services to us, the consumer, and when these services do finally arrive they will be well worth the wait.
The photos in this post were taken from a seated position (on the floor) of the 7.33 as some of my fellow passengers became hidden during our commute. The same images were sent to Transpennine Express a week ago. Their response is awaited.
Thursday, 25 October 2007
Sunday, 21 October 2007
First photo shows Nel and Joanie meeting up again in Rose Street, this time The City Of Westminster, London:
Next photo is me, Gengis and Charlayan in Christine's flat. Gengis is Charlayan's dad. The recumbent caterpillar on his upper lip is not a fashion choice. Gengis is an actor in Turkey and his current role requires the facial fuzz. That's Genghis' excuse. I have no excuse for my appearance other than severe tiredness. Charlayan should not really have been in the picture, because she just makes Genghis, but particularly me, look bad. Sometime later that night more drinkies were imbibed with Dave, my old mate from all those years ago in Liverpool, Di and Alistair (more good old friends), Christine, and Nel's sister Jane.
Next day we went to Jane's house in North London and hung out with her daughter's Sadie, Lydia and Niome. And Lydia's daughter, the very young Ruby. It was great to hang out with these guys, they're all just so grounded, each in their own way. The only worry was that Jane's long time partner - Malcolm - has had a stroke and Jane was visiting him in hospital. Personally I think Malcolm's great, although I only met him a couple of times, but he's also a typical contractor - bad diet, high stress levels, no exercise. The passage of time, and the real process of ageing, really begins to hit home when I realized that someone YOUNGER than me (43) had had a stroke.
Jane's crowd were all off for a meal to celebrate Niome's birthday, and were getting glammed up as we left, so no photos, I'm afraid. However, I can report that they're all as glamourous as ever. I don't think I'll ever forget meeting this crew at Halifax Airport, about four years after we had arrived in Canada. Halifax airport does attract a relatively limited, but fairly easily identifiable clientelle, from check shirted apple farmers returning to the Annapolis Valley to ruddy Newfoundlanders to the sensibly clad fleece brigade that, I think, we'd (happily) joined by this time. Jane's party exited the plane in blur of leopardskin, high heels, glitter, sunglasses and leather. I still remember one apple farmer spilling his Tim Hortons over his best checked shirt as the party's heels click-clacked past him.
All in all it was an good weekend. Ruby has not developed into another formidable Large woman, but give her time, a certain glint in her eye gave the game away. Great Uncle Martin will be loosing arguments with this one for years to come.
Friday, 19 October 2007
Furthermore, the house has almost no garden, and sitting tenants in the form of a Polish family who could kibosh the whole deal if they decide not to move out. When we visit the house, the teenage sons of the household are at home, looking after their younger brothers. It is a touching, fraternal scene; THIS is what extended families are all about. With plaster falling off the walls, the elder brothers are guiding their younger siblings through a complicated computer game, in their bedroom, the walls of which are plastered in hard core porn. And no, Grasshopper, I do'nt mean pawn.
The realtor is refreshingly unlike any Canadian realtor we met. Where a Canadian realtor would tell us that the property needs some "TLC", Emma, our English professional tells me, "I hope you've brought a mask - the smell in here is terrible". She volunteers that the house is "completely run-down, a total mess", when a Canadian would emphasize it's "good bones". She tells me that the UK housing market is in meltdown, and that the seller, whom she represents, will be lucky to get the asking price. Michelle Zareski, the Canadian realtor who sold our house in Halifax is spinning in her hypothetical, future, grave. How, on Earth, asks hypothetical Michelle, can you deal in property in an honest and straightforward manner if you don't excessively flatter your clients and lie to them at every available opportunity?
Measurement of Hull's status is not, for once in this country, a matter of committee or stakeholder decided, but rather is based on a statistical analysis of conditions in all 434 municipalities in England, Scotland and Wales, using measurements of crime rates, unemployment rates, environmental factors, access to Health Care, Educational facilities and leisure activities. The stats are presented by a programme called "Relocation, Relocation", but after careful checking, they do correspond closely with an annual Government analysis, and are not just sensational televisual hype.
For those who did'nt watch the programme, excerpts are reproduced below, including the first excerpt which features the second BEST place to live in the country, Winchester. Te rest of the clips belong to Hull. Excuse the editing, I have not yet mastered this facilty, I just hope you get the general idea. The only explanatory comments I can add to the videos are that we live in "The Avenues" and they are pretty cool, that the beer is cheap(and it shows) and that regeneration in the UK seems to be ubiquitous. I just don't understand what the regeneration is based on, unless it is an endless loop of credit. A snake, which surely, must swallow it's own tail at some point. Incidentally, view the first video twice and take note of the cost of a one bedroom flat - £200,00 or $450,000. It makes our purchase look like a bargain.
Fortunately, for The Boffin and I, these statistics are, at the moment moot points, and largely irrelevant to our life. Hull's fortunes do not really impinge on our life in a significant way, apart from my necessary commute, but the roots of why I have to commute are so far in the past, (related to decisions I made in my twenties), that much as I want to, I cannot blame anyone but myself (and possibly Transpennine Express) for my commute. Anyway, having now both secured gainful employment, we are, for the moment well insulated from the realities of Hull.
For me at least, we have happy cats; a new, burgeoning career as a wordsmith; the Boffin's career is going well; we have some money to play with; good friends;we've sold the house in Canada; we have a Halloween Party to plan for AND we've sold our car in Canada without any penalty. For us, from here on in, things can only get better, and they were pretty good to begin with. Excuse the punctuation in this paragraph, I an unforgiveably unaware of the correct form.
Tomorrow may therefore see us in theoretical possession of a quarter million dollar house. Naturally, you are all invited to stay. Just do'nt scratch the wood floors.