Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

The Importance of Being British....

Every time I return to England, I am reminded of how Britain is the best country in the world, I know this because reminding me of this supremacy is the principle job of British politicians, who serve her Majesty's Government in the "Mother of Parliaments" (a claim which ignores the earlier assemblies of the San, the Icelandics, Manx, Romans, New Guineans and Greeks ). I am told how the British Police Force, Army, Air Force, Navy, medical staff, road system, Royal Family, Fire Service, authors, pop music(under Tony Blair), dry cleaning suppliers, agriculture, tradespeople, technology, food chain, and entrepreneurs are all the Best in the World. Everybody in this country of Britain is apparently the best at what they do in the whole World,(with the noticeable exception of teachers and people living on council estates who apparently suck - big time). Even our cows, whose last wild ancestor, Bos Primogenitus, was hunted to extinction in Poland in about 1630, have since this time evolved into genetically superior cows, and our sheep are apparently unique, being genetically immune to the effects of fallout from Chernobyl just by virtue of being British.

Now our"ordinary people" are also the best in the World, according to Gordon Brown, the new Prime Minister, who wants to get rid of 5,000 potentially the Best Immigrants in The Whole World as soon as possible. This is because immigrants have to become British before they can be the Best Former Immigrants in The Whole World, and apparently there are strict limits on the number of people who are allowed to become the best low-paid workers the World has ever seen.

Usually these claims about how five British commandos (often from a Scottish background) armed only with blunt pen-knives, and of course, supported from 5000 miles away by their leaders, could have easily supplanted 300 gay Spartan psychopaths at Thermopylae, are quickly followed by an announcement that the Best Army, Navy, sheep, turkeys, and House of Lords , etc. is in urgent need of reform and our brilliant politicians have just the plan to improve the formerly un-improvable.

One problem with all of this is that no-one believes a word of it, and furthermore, no-one seems to care about "Britain". The assembled races of the British Isles are all involved in a frantic dash to disassociate themselves from Britain as quickly as possible. The Scots, Welsh, Irish have Regional Assemblies and the Cornish, Northumbrians and Wessex Men all have separatist movements. Most regions of Britain have a strong regional identity first, and are British by passport only. Even the English, possibly the most maligned breed in this hybrid country, are rightly proud of being English, and support the English cricket team. There is no British Cricket team.

This popular feeling is totally at odds with the current line being sold by politicians who are desperately trying to define what it means to be British, and making a complete mess of the job, confusing everyone. Gordon Brown, our Scottish Prime Minister, is constantly babbling on about this subject, and committees, working parties, studies and questionnaires have been launched to investigate "What is Britishness?", "Who is British?", "Why we should all be more British", "Who is the World's Best Brit?" (hint; Robbie Williams or Ginger Spice), "How Britain invented the Moon" and other such rubbish.

Another problem with this confused and manufactured debate is that by British, most people mean English, and a good proportion of the country have never been, and will never be, English. The population of this country is in constant flux, with the latest wave of immigrants being Poles, Slovacks and Rumanians. While politicians see nothing wrong with ethnic English going to Spain and drinking Watney's Red Barrel, and Irish pubs are seen as a natural focus worldwide for anyone from the Emerald Isle, (or anyone who's ever bought some peat for that matter), this natural desire to taste the familiar is seen as a betrayal when people from outside the UK come "here" and want to eat pickled cabbage or roast onions. It is also a crime for them to speak their own language, despite the insistence of UK residents on speaking English anywhere they go.

Thus we are left with the spectacle of a Government (who are seemingly obsessed with telling it's subjects How to Behave) trying to persuade us that something we do not care about, and a concept that bears no relation to reality, is vitally important. As a Canadian Scouser living among Yorkshiremen with a bi-national wife and two Ontario cats, I do'nt really care whether I'm British or not(ALTHOUGH I'M DEFINITELY NOT), as long as I get to work on time, and as long as the flood defenses do'nt leave me homeless and without clean water for a week. Those issues though, are apparently beyond the control, or interest, of our British politicians, who fiddle with irrelevant concepts while Hull drowns.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Painting the town beige

Halifax house for sale 2007

Halifax 10 to 13 July:

Spend the first couple of nights at the home of JV, CC, Alligator and Tinhat, and of course, Minchley and Moseley their cats. Freshly made bread for breakfast, and it is a magical time - as if I saw these guys yesterday, but missed in a sort of "Oh, this is what its supposed to be like" type way. Alligator loves how colour-blind I am, (in truth, as well as our joke), and Tinhat, possibly the most fearless four year old I've met is totally intrepid. After a day getting quotes and doing some routine stuff setting up appointments, I venture over to our old house and start preparing to paint it the colour of Roger's trousers.

I open the door and lay plastic, ready for paint. After a couple of hours, I make a cup of tea, when Minch, trots over, miaows loudly as she passes me, and walks in. I follow Minch and continue to take "before" photos. Then I start to paint. It is at this point, when Minch continues to act exactly as she used to when we lived there, stretching her paw out for treats, and lies contentedly in exactly the place he used to lie when we fell in love with this place and all these people, that I start to blub. My painting looks almost as bad as the guy I hire the next day to help me, and eventually has to be redone entirely. Things are'nt going well. There's only one thing for it - beer and wings at Yer Father's Moustache.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

If it looks like a coach and sounds like a coach and drives on the road, it's probably a train.

The above equation is from a paper by Freibel, Vivaldi and Vibes titled : De-Regulation, a European Efficiency Comparison. The image below is view from the de-regulated 7.33 en-route to Leeds this morning.
The paper by Friebel et al notes that "The regression shows that, excluding United Kingdom, deregulation increases
the productivity trend of a country at the 7% level of statistical significance.7".

A closer view of the, wait for it, hastily photocopied sign at the front of the bus reveals the following image:

For those of you who may be able to read backwards, but have more difficulty reading between the lines, today was the day that the 7.33 simply did not show up at Hull's Paragon Station. For that matter, the 7.05 also did not show up, so a coach was provided instead.

Yes, I'm back in Blighty and back at work, trying to resolve the problem of a job I enjoy being located in a city an apparently unsurmountable 60 miles away. Transpennine Express seem determined to separate us. At Paragon station, an aggressively defensive Transpennine representative explains to a "customer" "I'm just telling you like it is, the trains not here, so there's a coach instead in about half an hour". His tone and manner suggest "Take it or leave it", but he resorts instead to quoting the Passenger Charter at us, which allows rail companies to substitute trains for coaches, at their discretion, and also explains how Transpennine are not responsible for anything. The Charter's intracy's go something like this:

1. "Late" is techically defined as anything from ten minutes to half an hour after the scheduled departure time. Therefore, like GASTLI(see the Adventures of Mazzer and Little Bunny Foo-Foo"), train companies operate a system of "Late-weak" and "late-strong".

2. If a train is "late-weak", the train companies do nothing and count the service as "on-time" in their statistics.

3. If a train is "late-strong", then as long as the company gets a coach, within half an hour of the departure time, then the train is counted as "on-time" in their statistics.

4. If the coach gets a flat tire and is delayed, then the "customer" has an issue, but only with the coach company, because no-one forced the "customer to get the coach in the first place. |The train comapny is excused responsibility.

5. If the train company does not get a coach, but the delay is caused by factors outside the company's control, like floods, earthquakes in Indonesia, or the sudden appearance of Atlanteans reclaiming their rightful heritage among Earth's elite, then the train company is also not at fault.

6. If the delay is caused by another of the 24 company's operating in the UK, then the delay is also not the company's fault.

7. No employee of Transpennine Express has any management responsibility whatsoever, and therefore cannot answer any customer complaints in resp[ect of service.

8. In the unlikely event that Transpennine Express bear any responsibility at all for any of it's services, you may e-mail Customer Services, or telephone a call-box on the plains outside Ulan Bator (next to Jobcentre Plus's phone box), where you can be put on indefinite hold for free, as the number is toll-free.

9. If you are still dissatisfied, you may call your Member Of Parliament, (who's plans for his/her post-Parliamentary career involve a seat on the BOard of Transpennine Express), who will give you free access to Government statistics proving that his/her party have invested more in railways, and had them running more efficiently than anyone since Mussolini.

The net result is that there is a serious competition (in terms of levels of complexity) between understanding advanced Economics (unpenetrable bollocks) and getting a refund from the pirates of Transpennine Express.

Tonight's journey back to Hull was also delayed, and the circular sliding doors on the refurbished toilets were stuck in the open position.

This meant that the sturdy Fuji Crosstowner, my trusty 21 speed workhorse, who's alloted space on these voyages is next to the toilet had to endure the aroma of open sewers for the return journey. Some of the passengers on the overcrowded train were also disturbed, but I assured the Crosstowner that I'd take it out to the country for some fresh air at the weekend.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Journey of a Thousand Miles begins with an Upper Class Twit

Hull To LOndon:

The Hull Trains Pioneer Class 222 to London is almost full. Seats are reserved weeks in advance, online, but onboard, the only indicator that a particular seat may be reserved is a small badly printed ticket stuck in a slot at the top of each seat that says "Hll - Ldn Kings X. Rsvd" . Seats are numbered, so if you have your seat reserved, you alone are provided with the details of your reserved seat, for example, my ticket says "Coach D, Seat 40". I do not bother arriving early to claim seat 40, as I know that I hold the vital document which awards me sole ownership of said seat for this journey. Naturally, this system is designed to give tourists no chance of working out what is going on, and arguments/embarrassment is a common occurance as hoards of late arriving Brits proceed down the train moving foreigners out of reserved seats. It feels a lot like apartheid of the informed.

My seat is unoccupied, despite my late arrival, and I stow my pack, gratefully. Not so the seat behind me which two tired looking elderly people have claimed. They look Malaysian or East Asian, both still beautiful, but definitely not native English speakers, as I discover when I inquire whether I can pack my hand luggage in the rack above them.

The first stop past Hull, and a "gentleman" joins our coach, definitely English, accoutured in an unmistakably English upper class uniform - tweed flat cap, cotton shirt, closely checked, brown v-necked sweater. His lower garments - "pants" in Canadian, "kecks" in Scouse, "trousers" in Standard English and "casual slacks" in Burberryese, attract me. Whatever they are called, his pantaloons are definitely beige, and are exactly the right shade of bland that Nel has been suggesting we paint our Halifax house, in order to make it sellable. I consider asking him for a sample, for later reference.

Our fellow passenger stows his luggage, then paces the carriage, concentrating on his ticket and the numbers above each seat. He arrives at the seat behind me and confirms his identity with the type of "Oh!" that only the English upper crust can provide. "Excuse me," he continues, "You seem to have my seat. Do you by chance have reservations?". The beautiful people look at him without comprehension for a second then the man produces his tickets, perhaps thinking that 'Roger' is a ticket inspector. "Ah, yes, well, I have reservations for this seat - you see?". Roger thrusts his ticket at them and is still met with incomprehension, and some slight alarm. Roger, gets the gist of the situation rapidly, and resorts to the tactic that many people use when met with language difficulties. He repeats his claim to the precious seat, this time in a much louder voice, simultaneously gesturing at the seat wildly, as if he's re-enacting the last fifty yards of a particularly close race in the coxless fours, before miming that the older gentleman should hop out of his seat like a frog, whereupon, it seems, Roger will ski gratefully into place.

The penny drops, or maybe the older couple just want to escape this madman, and they start to get up. "OH, I SEE! YOU'RE TRAVELLING TOGETHER," Roger shouts, "TOGETHER" he repeats, miming a tug of war between the couple, "NEVER MIND. YOU.. " (Pointing).."STAY. STAY." He wanders off down the carriage past four unreserved seats, leaving total confusion behind him, elaborately examining all the stickers on the back of other reserved seats, and explaining loudly "Small misunderstanding, not to worry, should be able to find a seat, not a problem, not to worry" his tone suggesting that if his forefathers could conquer an Empire, then parking his arse on a train should be no problem for him. Roger's left no-one on the train in any doubt of their position in society.

Journey to NS, via Iceland

In London, I meet Davy Jones, Di, Alistair, Christine and Charlayan, none of whom, like most people living in England, are remotely close to the stereotype I've just observed. Actually, Dave and Dianne are part Australian, Christine is Welsh, Alistair is probably Scottish and Charlayan is Turkish. On board Icelandair flight 606 the next day, the stereotypes are out to play again, and I am, at first, taken for Icelandic by the cabin crew, who offer me something that sounds like "sjarbinkdo". I shake my head, and ask for "coffee" in English, but decide that I'll be Canadian on this flight, injecting as many "I'm good"s (for "No thanks"), and "Awesome"s (for "yes please"), and "Can I get?"s (for "May I please have?") into my conversation for as long as I can stay awake.

In Reykjavik (there, I've finally spelled it correctly), I bump into members of former-Beatle Pete Best's band, and immediately revert to Scouse. This automatically allows the Canadians next to us at the bar to assume we're all Icelandic, and they loudly inquire of us where the washroom is, miming Pontius Pilate ski-ing. We shrug, and direct them to the Security Checkpoint watching to see if their hilarious miming gets them into trouble.

In Canada, I meet a Lebanese taxi driver, who assumes I'm Southern Irish Catholic, and begins railing against the English. In the liquor store the same night, I'm taken for Australian, and I'm too tired to disabuse anyone. Later during my trip I meet up with my American, Canadian, Scottish and French Canadian friends and nearly sell my house to another taxi driver, this time a Mexican guy. Our realtor is, as they say, of Polish extraction, and our friends cats have their ancestral origins in the Fertile Crescent of Uruk, Babylon and ancient Lebanon, stopping off in Maine to become Polydactyl on the way.

I decide to become simply English on the return journey - I'm too tired to be anything else, particularly French, which I once pretended to be on an Air Canada flight, tutting loudly at the English version of the Safety Video and mumbling "Mais d'abord!" and shrugging Gallic -ly at the same info given in French. This charade rapidly unglued when the knowing cabin staff took me at face value and had great fun during the flight chatting to me in French. Which, given my typical British language skills, may as well have been Icelandic. All flights have been great, and travelling, any travelling, has, as usual been brilliant for watching people.

I return home to my Ontario barn cats, and God-knows-what-nationalty co-habitee, who immediately announces that we're going out for drinks with her Italian friends, then next day we will be visiting our friends Mike and Christine, who's combined background of Chinese, Irish, Burmese and English with New Zealand citizenship does'nt even register until I start writing this entry. All I've done is paint a house, but in the last ten days, I feel like I've been around the world.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Halfway to Hull

I'm in Reykjavik airport, en route back to Blighty. The o.oooo5% of the mission that remained to be accomplished was completed about 10 hours ago and all that now remains is for the house to be sold. I resolved my emotional crises about leaving Canada (again) by indulging in some great mountain bike riding and some shopping therapy.

Expectations for the house are high . It is now entirely painted in builder's beige, with some moss accents, but still fails to look bland. In fact if I was in the market for a house in Halifax, I'd buy it and paint it orange, yellow, bright green and blue. Our realtor thinks that the house has got "good bones" (?). Minchley, the polydactyl cat, thinks the house has got good treats inside and we all know that its capable of having some great barbeques, so it should not be long before we get a good price for the place.

I decided not to kidnap Grasshopper's bunny rabbit, even after a night of outrageous cuteness, during which she nibbled my toes, snuffled my nose and hippedy-hopped all over my bed in a very floppy eared manner.

Joey Mac was right after all.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Mission Accomplished

Expect photos next week, but Mission Halifax is 99.99995% accomplished, with one day to spare. The house is painted, cleaned and ready for sale. A lawyer has been appointed and realtors have gushed, particularly the one I have ended up appointing who cannot expres deeply enough, or often enough, how honoured she is to be selling our "home".

Our friends here have, as usual been magnificent, generous with their time, interesting and I in turn want to gush about how great they are. The problem is, I have been repaying this generosity by hatching a plot to kidnap both Grasshopper's bunny rabbit, Cloak, and CC's polydactyl cat, Minchley. Both animals are very cute.

In my mind, if I equip both beasts with sunglasses, it would be a snip to get them aboard Icelandair's flight to Rejkavik, as long as I bought them Saga Class (Icelandair's First Class) tickets.

I leave tomorrow evening on the 22.00 flight, and I suppose that I wont take the animals after all.

In the end, all I'll be bringing back to the UK is photographs, so expect them next week.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Drink Canada Dry

I'm in Nova Scotia, en route(within the week) to Hull, via Iceland, feeding an insistent black and white bunny rabbit , recovering from the effects of a massive hangover, dealing with the emotional repercussions of meeting a cat with twenty seven toes, and trying to decide whether to sell my house to a Mexican cab driver. So do'nt expect this entry to make any sense.

En route to Nova Scotia, I passed through Rekjavik, where at the bar, I met several members of the Pete Best Band. Pete Best was the Beatles original drummer and I was getting coffee when I heard the distinctive Liverpool accent. I introduced myself as a fellow Scouse, and we immediately began discussing, (as Liverpudlians are wont), how great Liverpool is, how we hate living there, how soft Southerners are, and swapping tall tales. The PB band members have tales of lost cannabis stashes, and wild parties, and I counter with some Frankie Goes to Hollywood memories. They come back with playing gigs in the Deep South behind iron mesh, but I save the best till last and trump them with getting attacked by black bears in the Adirondacks. Rock and Roll is fun, but nature wins.

In Nova Scotia, I'm fixing our house up, getting it ready for sale. On the second day, I get the news that my dad is well and leaving hospital that day. The same day, I've met my friends, and have re-affirmed that people like these are met with infrequently. The previous statement should be read as an example of British understatement at its most extreme.

Later that day, I'm painting and thinking that if I could find a way to keep this house, (so that we had an excuse to see our friends more frequently), I would take it. I decide to buy a lottery ticket. At a particularly nostalgic moment, when I'm reminiscing about a place in the house where my great friend Idaho nearly sanded through a wall with a belt sander, Minch-cat, the moggie with twenty seven toes, appears, sits in her (used to be) usual place, and miaows impatiently. Minch-cat belongs to CC, JV and Alligator, and was a frequent (nearly permanent sometimes) visitor to our house while we lived there, and we loved her almost as much as her owners. Memories of barbeques, friends and good times come flooding back and its all too much, and I bawl like a baby, while continuing to try to paint. After about three hours, I assess my work and decide that I should probably to re-do most of it, because it looks as if a mid-forties male has been attempting paint while crying like a baby, but keeping a stiff upper lip at the same time ( a difficult balance to maintain).

Despite this I'm grateful to Minch. She's opened the flood gates, and when the next day I meet a Mexican cab driver who might want to buy our house, I 'm actually very interested, and I abandon the idea that I had begun to hatch, which was to do such a bad job of painting that no-one would want to buy our house and I'd have to keep it. I realise that memories are'nt in the place, they're in the people, and the people are still here.

We all go out that night for Wings at Your Fathers Moustache, and attempt to, as the old jingle has it, drink Canada dry. Its great to be back.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Glossop, Wales, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Hull, LOndon, Nova Scotia

My carbon footprint keeps expanding and in the last week there's been little I can do about it. It has been an incident packed week, and not really in a good way either, so although I have one brief comment to make about Transpennine Express, time has caught up with us and new updates will have to wait for a little while.

The Transpennine Express comment is simply this; the guards appear to have ceased using the phrase "Station Stop". At first I thought it was an accident, and that Monday's guard was somehow deviating from the TP SOP manual, but this week I can report that I have not heard the phrase once. Guards are now accurately reporting that the train will be stopping "at Selby". Its simple, accurate, concise, clear and use of the station's name now allows us to revel in the meaning of, for example, "Selby". We all know, I presume, that "by" was the ancient word for "village", thus Kirkby = place/village of the church, but what does the "sel" mean? Similairly Brough, Howden and Middleton all places with thousand year old names that should be respected. Happy days!

Less happy was the news I received very early on Sunday that my father was ill and had been taken to hospital. Now at the end of the week, I'm happy to say that what started as an apparently very serious situation seems to be resolving itself. Mr N. Snr has apparently had an infection caused by "appendix stones", which I had never heard of. Dad is currently still in hospital getting treated with an array of antibiotics, and is making good progress.

A blog seems to be a curious place to announce this news, but most of the people who read this I count as good friends, and as geography/time prevents me calling you on a regular basis, perhaps this forum is becoming a substitute for beer and wings or other get-togethers where news is swapped.

This news came just after we had returned from the wedding in Wales, and the travelling that ensued to visit Dad(Liverpool), go to work(Leeds) and feed the cats (Hull) means that I'll have covered at least a thousand miles, mostly by train, in little over a week by the time I fly out to Canada on Monday, averaging about 160 miles per day, although some days have been 300 miles, and others the "usual" 120.

Next post maybe from Nova Scotia, although I really have been meaning to post on the subject of Yorkshiremen for some time, and specifically on the meaning of the word "dour". It will have to wait.