Dont buy the Sun.

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

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Halloween 2007

Halloween Party last night at Will McGowan's. Will is a post-grad student at Hull. We've met once before and he's a lot of fun. Nel and I walk the short distance from our apartment to Will's house. The walk is noteworthy, mostly because despite looking 'interesting' the locals just ignore us completely as we walk down the street.

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

Bruogh, Howden, Selby, Leeds


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

London 13th -14th October

A very busy weekend in London, accompanied by much drinking, after a very busy week.

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

The Only Way is Up.....

Expressing it in millions does'nt really help. We have just offered a quarter of a million dollars for a practically derelict, possibly structurally unsound, small inner city terrace in the UK's second worst place to live. This is actually an improvement on the position if we'd have done the same thing last year, because since we've arrived, Hull has been elevated from the worst place to live in the UK to the second worst place to live in the UK.

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.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Hull Landscapes

Admittedly a bit of a filler, this entry because we're pretty tired.

Just another little tour round Hull. INcidentally in a recent comprehensive survey, Hull has improved on it's ranking as the worst place in Britain to live. Hull is now 2nd worst place to live.

Incidentally the pictures can be made bigger by frantically clicking until the full screen is achieved. At least, that's what I do.

Friday, 12 October 2007

The Eve Of the Battle Of Hastings (nearly)

It is Friday, and I'm in a very good mood. I have been granted a 3 hour pass from the religious order that masquerades as "my work", in order to view a house that the boffin and I are considering buying. The correct procedure for gaining "leave" involves an informal enquiry with Icksy my line manager, followed by a "Holiday Request Form" passed into "t'office lass", reviewed by the Production Manager, cross-checked back with Icksy, copied to Accounts, then sent back to "t'office lass" who gives it to the Production Manager for approval and this person officially confirms the request leading to a countersigned slip confirming that yesterday's requested holiday, is now approved. The procedure for getting us, the Production Staff, to work overtime is more streamlined and involves telling us five minutes before we leave for the day that we'll be staying late, (often this is ominously phrased as "very late") and that we should cancel our plans for the weekend. No paperwork is involved.

Nevertheless, the damns have held, the company is'nt in dire risk of collapse if one of it's carpenters has three hours off, and I meet our realtor at Number 23, expecting and hoping to see a practically derelict shell. The realtor arrives, and she is a different breed than Canadian realtors. "It stinks in here" she says, not even pretending to be happy at the prospect of entering. A Canadian realtor would tell you the house needs some TLC. Fortunately for Julia, none of her keys work, it appears the tenants of the house have added a new lock, and not supplied any key. Her nose is spared. My precious three hours are wasted, and I trudge off to Leeds, slightly disconsolate. I was looking forward to seeing a disaster. But, as Harold would have said, shortly before getting an arrow in the eye, things can only get better.

At work, I'm immediately tasked with renewing the plastic laminate surface of an old cabinet. Laminating is a favourite job, so I set to with gusto, happy to be getting something fun out of the day. I'm feeling creative, so instead of the time-honoured, proven tradition of removing laminate by slipping a knife under the laminate and gradually syringing small amounts of solvent thinner between the laminate and the substrate, thus dissolving the glue ( a process that takes about 15 minutes for a cabinet top of approximately 2ft sq), I decide to invent a whole new technique, and drill tiny little holes in the laminate surface, effectively perforating it like a teabag. I then pour generous quantities of solvent onto the surface in the expectation that the thinner will seep into the holes and release all the laminate in one go. An hour later, I'm sitting among hundreds of shards of broken plastic laminate, high as a kite from the solvents, and all judgement has totally gone.

Which is probably why, when Andy, my co-worker asks to see my work diary to check his and Paul's timesheet, I carelessly hand it over, even opening it at the relevant date, October 9th. The entry is reproduced below:

The text reads " A grumpy day in work. Paul {my boss} is upset about critisisms of his quality and Andy is upset because Paul "Did'nt speak the right way" to him ....

After a feeble attempt at explanation, and with the words "highly inappropriate" ringing in my still reddening ears, I return the diary to my rucksack, and having about 9 minutes to catch my train (it is an 8 minute ride, at top speed, even when not stoned on paint thinners) hastily zip it shut breaking the zip-pull completely, including the zip-runner. I get to Leeds station with one minute to spare. At the ticket barrier, I am refused entry to the platforms unless I produce my rail pass. Unfortunately the pass is locked in the unopenable rucksack. Necessity though is the mother of invention, and after a short dispute with the ticket inspector, I whip out my Stanley knife from the front pocket of the rucksack, and frantically attack the fabric of my pack. Bearing in mind the poster that has been Picture Of The Week for the last week, and the general disquiet that rucksacks, knives and agitated or suspicious behaviour (in my case, I'm still high from the thinner) occasion in the rail way stations and airports of the UK, this is potentially the most stupid thing I do today, apart from when I try to kill a baby on the train journey back to Hull. After a stern ticking off from Her Majesty's finest, I pass through the ticket barrier, relieved not to be in prison .

The train is happily late, so after another short argument with the guard who threatens to disallow the Crosstowner due to overcrowding, I board the train. Tonight's 17.38 is not a 170 Class Turbobooster, but a new Pennine Class 185. Bicycle storage is clearly designated, as the general schematic below, and the close up clearly demonstrate.
As is hopefully apparent, coach C provides a comfortable berth for the Crosstowner, but denies the public of four valuable seats. As I board a family of four, grandmother, toddler, daughter and very small baby are occupying the fold up seats that the Crosstowner would usually occupy (location "B" in the annotated diagram above). Conscious that I should cause no further discomfort today I eschew the option of asking them to move, and place the bike opposite them (location "A") leaning against the crossbar as a seat. Ten minutes after leaving Leeds, I have finished most of the undrinkable tea that the 17.38's lateness had allowed enough time to buy, and I'm wondering what to do with the empty cup. Spotting a garbage bin next to the doors at location "C", I leave the Crosstowner and make a quick stooping dash to deposit Pumpkin's empty container in said receptacle.

The next few seconds are slow motion nightmare. I stoop and dunk diagonally, the train gives a sudden lurch as it bumps over a point, and the Fuji, at location "A" begins to fall, handlebars heading straight for baby's head (Southernmost of the "B" locations). At this point location "D" enters the equation , in the form of a proud-looking Rastafarian woman in colourful turban and flowing robes, who makes a grab for the falling , and now lethal Fuji. Location "D"'s reactions are split second, followed only by the reactions of the Scouser at location "C", who spins on a dime and makes a low dive for the rear frame of the bike.

Location "D" returns the bike to its upright position, then waits with as much dignity as she can muster while I extract myself from the folds of her sarong which I've managed to mess up considerably as my hand passed between her legs in its search for the bike frame. I'm torn between "Thank you" and "I'm sorry" as I try to withdraw my hand without touching either of her inner thighs. It is a delicate moment.

After Selby, the train empties considerably and I jam the Crosstowner into the space at Door AZ, and lean against it, away from the suspicious gaze of the Rastafarian and the family who seem united by a vague bond of distrust of cyclists. I lean back against the Crosstowner, seated on the floor and am only awakened by an alighting passenger stepping on my hand at Howden. The ride home form Hull's Paragon Staion takes much longer than the usual twenty minutes, as I stop and get off the bike before performing any manoeuvre, distrustful of today's Fates.

The last thing Harold probably thought before he got an arrow through the eye was "Oh Well, It's been one of those days, Stroll on Tomorrow". The Batlle of Hastings was 13 October 1066.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Publish and be damned.....

For those interested, a post "A Very British Train Journey" has been published on the 'This is 'Ull' website. Actually, This is 'Ull is a pretty good snapshot of Hull - I love reading the classified ad's, the bands looking for bass players and the jobs and opportunities. The This is 'Ull team have also added some images which are pretty cool.

It's terrifying to be "public". The post now looks naive and amateurish, and I've been stricken with an immediate and severe case of writer's block, and deep regret that I decided to get re-involved in publicly exposing myself. The paranoia gets deeper - I'm meeting my friend Diane at the weekend, who is a proper writer, professional and everything. I begin hatching plans to make sure this does'nt come up in conversation.

Still, it's too late, because This is 'Ull also have plans to release the Jobcentre Plus Series.

The page address is;

I'll link to these publications later, when the panic sudsides.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

House hunting

Never people to allow little things like the search for a new vacuum cleaner belt, the impossibilities of public transport or our ongoing court case against the powers of Evil to distract us from making our life slightly more complicated we have plunged into house hunting. Or rather, Nel plunged yesterday, as my employment yet again intervened in weekend plans (with less than 12 hours notice requiring me to work very early on Saturday). Nevertheless a potential bargain has been identified, namely the house with the red door pictured above.

While this abode may or may not be purchased at some point in the future, we will end up with something similar to this or one of the houses featured in the album below.

The exterior of these houses represents the view that a Canadian visitor might expect as they arrive for a short visit. As may be apparent, directions would need to be very specific to the postulated visitor.

The interior of the houses which are in our price range is revealing, as we are looking for an affordable fixer-upper. In our search area, houses that have been fixed up are between 15% and 25% more expensive than the ones we are looking at. Most of the houses are low-income rental properties, and the interior condition of some is not only shabby, but also dirty. Nel took some photographs. Among these photographs is one that she took while trying to demonstrate some flaking plaster, but the photo which features a small boy could be a picture from one of the great photojournalist magazines.


Have all the hikers and bikers on this blog seen
Great for plotting run/bike/hike distances :)

Thursday, 4 October 2007

The Collapse of Complex Societies Part II

Time Elapsed ; 0 + 54 hours .

A person threw themselves, and the Transpennine Express timetable into chaos today by throwing them self in front of an early train just outside Hull. This means I arrive late for work by two hours in a trip that involves a coach to Selby, calling at Brough and Howden, en route, then an unload at Selby where we await a promised train. The train arrives, and I try to find a way to blame Transpennine Express but in the interests of fairness, even they cannot be blamed for this event.

The possibility does occur to me that the unfortunate soul was a Liverpool fan driven to distraction by a humiliating 1-0 defeat against Marseilles last night. I am still annoyed by last night's performance, but relieved that I did not bet our house proceeds on LFC after all. All the early season promise is rapidly evaporating, and I need some good news.

When I get home at night, Nel is the bearer of the good news. Sort of. She has managed to assemble the collection of comprehensive records necessary to order a vacuum cleaner belt, organise them in a binder, and has a spare 4 hours tomorrow afternoon, which should allow her just enough time to make the necessary phone call, and order the belt. Electrolux should be able to pop the replacement in the post tomorrow night. Which is where it will languish until the current postal strike is resolved.

Monday, 1 October 2007

The Collapse of Complex Societies

Elapsed Time : 0 + 26 seconds.

Tosh and Calli recently broke the rubber drive belt on our vacuum (the discounted Electrolux Vitesse Pet Lover 1600 Watts). Or perhaps more accurately, the fleas that Tosh and Calli have recently picked up as they venture into Hull's urban jungle, have caused us to engage in emergency cleaning, vacuuming every vacuumable space in the apartment, and dispensing flea powder and pills to everything that looked like a cat. The cats' favourite toys, liberally distributed in unlikely places round our apartment, are little springs that caught in the drive belt and eventually snarled it up, causing it to snap.

"No big deal", said my favourite redhead, "We'll just drop into the store we bought it from and buy a few replacements", while the cats sniggered behind their paws, "No more stupid vacuuming" they gloated and Mission Accomplished, fell into a deep,well-earned sleep.

Actually, the preceding paragraph is a complete misrepresentation of at least one of the animals which live in our house, but once Nel had calmed down, and been persuaded to drop the axe, the working life of the Vitesse Pet Lover was, at least temporarily, extended. [Sound advice would be to never position any bodily part between a malfunctioning domestic implement and a redheaded neuroscientist, until negotiations are completed.]

Elaspsed Time : 0 + 35 minutes

At Tesco (=Walmart) the Customer Service Representative is trying to explain to an increasingly frustrated neuroscientist and a confirmed Liverpool fan why the store does not carry replacement filters and spare drive belts for the machines they stock. To the Liverpool fan, it sounds like Rafa (LFC's manager) explaining his "rotation policy" (Rafa's bizarre team selections), while, judging by the expression on her face, to the scientist it obviously sounds like The Most Stupid Idea Anyone Has Ever Had. The Customer Service Representative helpfully continues her explanation "Its t'number of 'oovers 'ey 'ave", she says " 'Ant room for parts". She gestures towards the aisle expressively. Apart from 4 brand new Vitesse Pet Lover Vacuum Cleaners, the Household Goods Aisle is entirely devoted to cellphone accessories. Obviously, there is no time for cleanliness when there are text messages to be answered.

However, the CSR has a trump up her sleeve, and when she announces it, it is clear, from the expression on the neuroscientist's face that the original Most Stupid Idea Anyone Has Ever Had has just been supplanted in Stupidness - "There's a Helpline - you ave to phone them to get a filter or new belt - t'number's on t'box". "So we can't just buy a replacement filter?" asks the prof, clearly never having dealt with a JobCentre, and clearly inexperienced in the Way Of Helplines (Ivory Towers have their own problems like lack of promised working space, but that's another story). "No, you ave to phone the 'Elpline. They wo'nt be open today" informs the CSR. Tesco's motto is "Every little helps!" and they've certainly lived up to it here by helping as little as possible. The CSR marches off, another customer enquiry successfully circumnavigated.

Elapsed Time: 0 + 24 hours.

The Liverpool fan excuses himself from calling the Helpline, on the grounds of overfamiliarity with Ulan Bator, but the good Doctor bravely takes up the chase, equipped with model name and number. To her, it probably feels as if the game is about played out. To her, all she has to do is either log on to the Electrolux website and order the required ( and essential, frequently, replaceable) new belt and filter, OR just call the Helpline and order these parts directly. She is obviously, unforgiveably, NOT a regular reader of the travails described herewithin, and thus ignorant of the life-shortening frustration she is just about to experience. First, she tries the website, but it appears that while Electrolux are eager to sell an entirely new vaccum, they are less transparent in their desire to provide new filters. Perhaps, reasons the scientist, the Helpline will be quicker.

Elapsed Time : 0 = 26.5 hours

The Helpline is eventually answered, and full details of the case are rigorously recorded, despite the fact that it must be getting cold in Mongolia now, and writing in an unprotected phone box must be difficult for the representative on the end. After detailed consultations the verdict is announced. The Vitesse Pet Lover will remain out of action for the time being, as further details are required. It appears that make, model number, wattage, place and date of purchase, colour and other known lineage do not represent sufficient detail in order to efficiently and promptly serve us, the customer. Additional information is essential including an eleven digit serial number, written in impossibly small type on the underside of the machine, before the company can possibly release to us a small rubber belt.

Elapsed Time: 0 + 30 hours.

Liverpool fan and boffin discuss the situation and seriously consider purchasing a new vacuum cleaner every time we need to change the filter. Eventually the stubborn, fragile optimism of the scientist (an optimism that is often endearingly unscientific in the face of a logic that screams "Give Up") wins out and a second attempt to secure a 4" piece of rubber is agreed on. We all have different motives - the cats know it is a fool's quest and that it will take much longer to get a new filter and belt than it would to just buy a new vacuum ( they REALLY hate vacuums), the LFC fan wants a good blog post and the scientist, I think, wants empirical evidence of a situation we discuss increasingly, namely the fact that in order to solve very simple problems, we (humans) really have devised absurdly complicated solutions. Even the task of securing a mundane four inch piece of rubber belt for an essential household item can now be measured in days and multiples of pounds or dollars.

Elapsed Time : 0+ Sometime in the future ....

It has been several days now since my companion engaged the Electrolux Helpline in search of an essential piece of rubber belt. I have kept a fire burning these past days, but so far in vain. If the morrow brings no news, I will resort to the only practical solution left to me. I will entirely eschew cleaning as a possible rescue, and will simply move apartments every time the cat hairs reach a measurable level of 3 inches deep. As for my companion in these adventures, I commend her soul to The Lord. Her last heard utterance was " I wonder if you can help me....?" and nary a trace has been seen since.