Thursday, 6 December 2012

OBITUARY: R.I.P., Chunky. You're going to be missed.

German shepherds are prone to suffer from Hip Dysplasia to one degree or another; a lucky few seem to suffer no ill effects. Sadly, Chunky was not one of those, and she'd soldiered on for some time with an ever-increasingly severe form of the condition. Sadly, it became too much for her, and today, she was assisted to a better place, and passed away peacefully in the arms of my other half.

I'd known Chunky for something like six and a half-odd years. A German Shepherd of advanced years even then, in my other half's pub, she was friendly to all (well, most: She was a pretty good judge of character), and a complete space cadet. It didn't take me long to give her an affectionate nick-name. I called her 'Chunky', because she was a few chunks short a tin of Winalot. And that summed her up perfectly: She was wonderfully bonkers, even in her twilight years.

Like most people who knew her, I'm going to miss that furry lunatic; I'll miss her in more ways than I suspect I know, to be honest. She was a member of my other half's family, and from day one, she always made me feel welcome. Despite the annoyance, I'll miss her head-butting me in the nether regions for attention and a skritch between the ears (Dog lovers know what a skritch is, but for you other folks, it's a cross between a rub and a scratch, containing elements of both). Actually, I think it was more amusement and shock that she caught me there again and again and again without fail. I'll miss her shedding all over my clothes. I'll miss her wandering over and standing on my foot to tell me to stay put and pay her some attention. I'll miss her wandering over when I'm eating, and giving me that look. I'll miss her hopping onto the bed and lying over my legs (correction. Whumping down on my legs. OOF!) to prevent me from getting out of bed, before I paid her some attention. I'll even miss that apparently sixteen foot long tongue of hers, rasping over my mug to wake me up (and the associated doggy breath. GAGH!). And here I am tearing up again :( Gone through a lot of kitchen roll in the last while, for some reason :-(

She was not my dog, and yet she belonged to a lot of people. She had that kind of a character to her.

Chunky is survived by a (somewhat confused) sister ('Achtung') who doesn't quite understand what's happened, and a loving family and friends.

Good-bye, Chunky.

You're in a better place now, and we're all diminished by your absence.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Wow, "time flies like a banana", so the saying goes...

Well... it's been a hell of a while since I updated this blog, so in keeping with the general theme of it, I suppose it's about time for another rant!

Route planners.

Uh-huh, I hear you mutter, as you sagely nod your head, hopefully in sympathy, not in amusement...!

OK, we all use route planners of one form or another. Either by asking someone how you get from where you are, to where you want to be (White Van man: "OI! MATE! Where's the 'Nag's Head'?!" Passer-by with a dry sense of humour: "Um... on top of her neck?"), or by looking at a map (Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was upside down. It was also in bloody Flemish! Stop gloating!), or by using a SatNav system ("Whaddya mean, drive up that bleedin' Goat Track?!"). Some of us even use the internet, to get a rough idea what the route might look like, before we set off, or to guestimate how long a drive might take (thus stifling the back-seat-complainers and their "Are we theeeeeeere yet?" bleating)... but it all comes down to knowing whre you are, and where you want to be.

So, here I am, trying to use the best of the online journey planners, helpfully supplied by the Department for Transport, at and the bloody thing's broken. You can get to the route planner page, but then it comes to a grinding halt, as if someone forgot to fill the fuel tank on the web server that's running the show there. It's infuriating, because I've yet to find another that's so comprehensively effective at getting the routing right, the fuel costs near as dammit spot on, and the timings bang on correct. The others, yeah, they might get the routing right, but they cannot, or will not, give you options like allowing you to specify maximum speeds to use (e.g., 50 mph for engine/fuel efficiency), or MPG costs, and whatnot. Transport Direct does.

Or at least did Transport Direct, until today.

Now, I fully understand that a government-run departments services tend to slow down a bit at the weekend, what with a lack of staffing, but when the complaint system is held apparently on the same server that's gone tits up, it's a tad bloody difficult to get the attention of the webmaster to fix the gruddam* thing.

None of the other planners that I can find, of course, now meet my requirements. they can only supply routing, not the bells and whistles that I desire.

Not even the Satnav stuff (I HATE the invented word 'App'. It's like a little burp. And they are NOT sodding 'Applications'. They're ****ing software packages!!!) I use on my android phone, either the Google Maps Navigator (comes as standard now), or the NavFree (get this - it's FREE!) package that I use that when there's little or no 3G/3.5G Vodafone service (which is happening more and more. It's like a reverse service plan, they seem to be shutting down mobile phone towers, not setting up more. As a result, they are NOT getting my business again next year. I'll be going 3 instead: They've yet to let me down), can do what the Transport Direct route planner does.

So. the good news: I know where I am. I Know where I want to go. I *DO* know where my towel is (I'm a Hoopy Frood**, guys!)...

Bad news: I haven't a sodding clue how long the drive is going to take. I drive a Series 3 Land Rover these days, it's rather slower than modern cars, and as a result, I also don't know how much fuel I'm likely to use.

So, all in all, I'm bleedin' well pissed off with Transport Direct.

How DARE they fall over when I wanna use the system?!

How DARE they become so indispensable that I have nowhere else to turn to, in order to get the precise information that I want?

Ahem. yep, I'm so ticked off with them I wanna stamp my feet and have a screaming tantrum like a little girl, which should suit the Pro-Nanny State folks a bit, I suppose... They see to enjoy such dramas, from what I've seen...!

Seriously, though, when the heck did the government decide that it was going to make available such a useful and actually well-thought-out tool as the Transport Direct website? It's bloody outrageous - the government is supposed to be as completely useless as a fart in a hurricane, and shouldn't be able to produce anything that actually *is* useful or effective!

Also, why the hell did no-one else think to match, or even better, this service?

More to the point... when the hell are they going to fix it so it works again?!


* Gruddam. Contrived and fictional curse word used in the Judge Dredd comic owned and published by Rebellion Developments.

** Hoopy Frood: A fictional term to describe someone alert and aware who is a force to be reckoned with. In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a series of books by Douglas Adams, towels are described as "about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have," an example usage being to ward off the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. The fictitious time/space traveller and Guide Researcher Ford Prefect uses the idiom "a hoopy frood who really knows where his towel is" to mean someone generally alert and aware. Some of Adams's fans seized on this idea and now use towels as a sign of devotion to the Hitchhiker books, radio series, TV series, website, etc. Towel Day is held each year in memory of Adams. ((C) Wikipedia)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

It was the worst atrocity that London had seen since the Blitz...

...But it wasn't caused by a foreign power in a declared war, with the Geneva Conventions governing its conduct.

It was committed by four insanely misguided followers of the Islamic Faith, who had corrupted it's tenets and intent, who had then set out to murder innocent people.


To misquote Roosevelt, "The 7th of July 2005 is a day that will live in infamy".

They did not care who they targeted. They claimed that they were Islamic Soldiers acting in response to worldwide attacks on their religion, but they did not target the politicians who they must have held responsible; instead, they strapped on backpack bombs containing powerful home-made explosives, and targeted innocent every-day members of the public. Workers and tourists, women and children. NON-COMBATANTS, in other words. In a properly declared war that's a war crime, by the way.

Some terrorist groups attempted to claim responsibility. Seven years on, there are still no grounds to reasonably confirm these claims, other than their intent to jump on the bandwagon.

Let us be clear: I am not a Muslim, but I believe in God. I was raised a Christian, but I am far from being a perfect one. I say now: The Islamic Faith is NOT responsible for this outrage. Four bloody madmen were.

Remember the victims. There's a memorial in Hyde Park, should you ever be near there.

And do NOT, EVER, allow any religion to be perverted into messages of hate and fear, ever again.

There's a full history and timeline of the events of that harrowing and horrendous day on Wikipedia.

Friday, 22 June 2012

ITN News: Fail, do not pass "Go", do not collect your bonus...

Independent Television News (ITN) really stuffed up their reporting of the bus strike, and reasons for it, this evening. It was really atrocious. You could almost have been forgiven for thinking that they were in the pay of the employers, the way they misreported the background and situation.

So, here it is again, for the hard of hearing (ITN, are you reading this?), in bullet-point format...

Please also read the previous Blant entry below, for the background and reasons for our asking for this £500 bonus.

  • For close to ten months, we've been asking the employers to come to the negotiating table. It took Boris ordering them there, to get them there. Even then, they did not even attempt to negotiate, either in good faith or bad. They attempted to dictate terms to us instead. How would YOU feel if your employer did that to you? "Peeved" is probably putting it mildly, I suspect.
  • We asked the employers to come to ACAS. Not the other way round. We've never done that before: This was a measure of how seriously we are taking this mess of the companies' creation.
  • Our union representatives at the conciliation service ACAS tried to agree an agenda for discussion, but the employers failed to budge on any single item. That's not negotiation on the part of the employers, that's dictation.
  • £30 million was not offered up at all at ACAS. The employers only offered the monies Boris freed up, this being the £8.3m or so from the Olympic Delivery Authority. They point blank refused to add any more to the pot (another six million or so would have made up the difference). The ODA monies would have resulted in a £350 payment, not the £500 we asked for.
  • Further, the employers wanted us to accept a per-hour rate, not the flat rate award that all other passenger transport workers in London are to be receiving. This would have left the majority of bus workers with less than even the £350 that the Mayor for London, Boris Johnson, offered up.
  • Boris has stated that "Hard Core Union Activists" wanted a strike. NOT so. The membership as a whole didn't want the strike, but we were left with no choice in the matter. A strike could not happen were it not for the vote that approved such action. This is required by law, before we can down tools. Again, ITN misreported the situation., painting a picture that we wanted a strike. Nothing could have been further from the truth: We were pushed into a corner, and we came out fighting, just as anyone else would.
  • In what we believe to be a highly questionable decision, three companies, London General, Arriva The Shires, and Metroline, were then granted an injunction at the High Court last night. Their staff were required to work as a result. This injunction is shortly to be challenged by Unite.
  • Several depots from other companies, using non-union drivers and managers, and a small handful of union members who disgracefully crossed picket lines to report to work, also ran buses on TfL routes. They were heavily over-boarded by passengers in many cases.

Regrettably, as just mentioned, at a handful of garages, some union members crossed picket lines. I'm not at all happy about that, as you can imagine: They let the rest of us down. In the old days of Closed Shops, they could have been expelled from a union for this offence under the rules; these days, with Closed Shops being outlawed by anti-union legislation over the years, and with membership of a Trade Union being considered by many to be a Human Right, we most likely won't wind up expelling those who crossed the picket lines, but they certainly didn't gain any friends by their disgracefully selfish and disloyal actions.

In summary then, the reporting by ITN was inaccurate, hurtful, plain wrong in many places, and shameful, and I for one won't trust a bloody thing ITN say from now on. By contrast, the BBC London News got everything spot on, and may I pass my thanks on to the BBC and in particular to their reporter, Mr Tom Edwards, for their timely, accurate, unbiased reporting: He's a credit to his profession, and kudos to the Beeb for doing it right.

I know that some of you are rather peeved at us...

...and for this, I apologise. We had nowhere else to go than a strike. Despite all the jokes and smiles about "YEAH! Stick it to the man" etcetera, we really and truly didn't want it. For a start, many of us will be loosing a days pay that we really and truly cannot afford to lose. But we had no other choice left to us.

We've been asking the companies for months to get around the table and talk this through. It took the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to get the Olympic Delivery Authority to free up some cash (not enough, sadly), and practically order the companies to get around tables at ACAS.

Even then, they wouldn't or couldn't agree a framework for the discussions, and the talks failed. So, the strike is on, and the monies conditionally promised (that they'd be disbursed if there wasn't a strike) by Mr Johnson are now most likely withdrawn, so we're back to square one. Again.

And yet, despite the companies saying that they're brassic, they somehow found the monies, in three cases, to hire expensive solicitors and barristers, and go to the High Court in London, and obtain an injunction preventing the Unite Union from allowing the strike to happen at these three companies - Arriva The Shires, Metroline, and London General. I call that blatant hypocracy of the highest order by the Companies concerned.

The union has commented publicly on the profits that these companies make; it's not unreasonable, given the bonuses that they pay their executives, to roll a little of this money to the staff in turn, surely?

And then there's the argument that only routes serving gaming sites of the Olympics will be affected. What utter rot and nonsense. Only a handful of the visitors attending the Games will be staying in hotels, guest houses, and B&Bs located in Central London or near the Gaming venues - there just isn't the capacity all that accommodation requirement in those areas.

So, they'll be all over the place within the M25 and surrounds. They'll invariably use buses to travel to the Gaming venues at some point in their trips to the Games, and so the usual numbers of passengers we serve will increase - TfL have themselves admitted that they expect an additional 800,000 trips to be made each day of the games, this over the usual six million or so workday trips that we service, making close to a 20 percent average increase in daily workday passenger numbers - this percentage increases when you think about weekend Olympic loadings, as compared to normal non-Games loadings.

Not many of these additional customers will speak or understand English, and many of them will not have a blessed clue as to how to get to where they're going. Having driven buses in Central London, I can hand on heart tell you that they'll treat the bus driver as an information point, thus causing more delays to the bus as the driver tries to assist them (where this is possible, language barriers not with standing). This in turn will undoubtedly cause stress and anger to regular passengers, and this in turn will be directed to the driver, causing him or her more stress in turn. It's a truly vicious circle, and I've seen similar situations all too often in the last close to ten years I've worked on the buses.

All of this, in addition to the increases in road traffic during the Games.

Yes, many people will actually heed the recommendation to leave their cars at home. But many won't. People are like that. Get over it. The point is, road traffic will increase, especially in the suburbs. People will drive in from the sticks to the suburbs, find a place to park (if not a proper car park, somewhere on a street, likely as not in the worst possible places), and thus road congestion will increase; as a result of these car trips, passenger loadings on these suburban routes will also increase, as these additional passengers make short or not-so-short trips to rail, tram, and tube stations - and other buses, of course. So the combination will really clog up the system and roads like you'll never have seen in living memory before.

And you think you're not going to be affected by all this? Really? Well, I'll allow that those who have the ability to get the hell out of Dodge will avoid all of the associated shenanigans, but the rest of us who live and work here won't have that luxury.

THIS is the very reason we've been asking the bus companies to rethink things, and sit down and talk to the union. They refused. They wouldn't even acknowledge the requests, in some cases. That's arrogance of a magnitude that I'd never even heard of before in industrial relations. Seriously, the rudeness and arrogance of it shocked the crap out of me.

Then, there were the bonus awards made to the other public transport systems here in London, the Tube, London Overground and other train operators, the DLR, and the Trams.

But not us poor saps on the buses, who have been given the shaft for so many years by successive governments and the companies alike.

This, then, was the straw that broke the camels' back.

So we were balloted by the union - twice - on this issue. Each vote was massively in favour of industrial actions leading up to and including strikes. We felt, and still do feel, this strongly on the matter.We had hoped that the Companies and TfL would heed the warnings supplied by the votes, and come to the table to talk like adults to our union representatives and negotiators.

They didn't. They stuck their fingers in their ears and started la-la-ing loudly instead, probably thinking that all these nasty unwashed bus drivers would bugger off, or something. Got a newsflash for you, guys. We didn't, and we're still here.

And this is the result of the Companies' arrogance. Strike action.

All we want is to be treated equally with our colleagues in other modes of passenger transport in London, whose employers have recognised that this will be a one-off occurrence, that demands the recognition that staff will face unprecedented stresses and strains during the Games. But sadly, it seems that this is not going to happen until the Companies and TfL get their collective heads on straight.

So, we're sorry it came to this. You, the travelling public, have been caught in the middle, and for this we are truly sorry. But we had no choice.

Normal service will resume on the buses tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Bus strike: It's all about fair play and fair pay.

You'll have read in the news that London Bus Drivers who are members of the Unite union have voted overwhelmingly (at an average of well over 85%) for the first London-wide bus strike strike in over 30 - I think 50 has been mentioned here and there - years.

Well, it took the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, finally pulling some financial strings yesterday, and then telling the companies to pull their fingers out, but we've finally got the companies to sit around the table at ACAS today.

Negotiations are ongoing as I write this, and I have no idea what the outcome will be, but either way, we're finally making the companies sit up and take notice that we will NOT be treated like something you'd want to scrape of the sole of your shoe.

An excellent blog entry by adzmichael at "The ramblings of a 20 something" entitled 'In Support Of A Bus Strike', puts why we voted for the strike into excellent perspective, and I couldn't have done a better job - or even close to it - myself.

So, whether or not the strike goes ahead tomorrow, read his blog entry, and know WHY we voted for it in the first place.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Victor Meldrew, eat yer heart out!

I hardly ever work on my days off (we call them 'rest days' in the bus game). I need the break from work, not the pitiful extra money that comes with it (you never seem to get the full whack, the tax man always slices it in threes, and takes two of those bits, leaving you, if you're lucky, with two and a half pence to rub together, the slimy wotsit); occasionally however, I will do one. Mostly, I'll be doing a 'work/rest' as a favour to someone, or to repay a favour owed.

So, there I was yesterday, doing a very rare rest day, to replay a favour to one of the officers at the depot, who got me out of a slightly sticky spot the other week. "No worries", thought I, signing on that afternoon, "It's only a short job, two rounds, and bugger off home again. No trouble." You'd think, after close to 48 years on this mortal coil, that I'd have at least learned not to tempt sodding fate, wouldn't you?

Well, apparently I haven't. Dozy half-witted sorry excuse for... well, the list goes on if I want to berate myself, so I won't bore the crap out of you. Suffice to say the wall here in the study of Chez Moi is a tad dented right at the moment (where'd I put the polyfiller?!)...

Anyhow, being a Friday, and being how it was the extra bus for the school run, I figured that the first round would be the round from hell (which is why I went to permanent lates a few months back, to avoid the little shits), and the second, after my meal relief, would be a doddle.

...OK, the wall in here just got a bit more dented...

The first round went somewhat better than I'd expected. My leader (the 'Leader' is the bus in front; the bus behind is called the 'Follower'. Clever, eh?) caught pretty much every one of the little buggers, the poor sod. Yeah, OK, I was damn near laughing my backside off, as I was enjoying myself with a practically empty bus. It was utter bliss compared to what I'd been expecting!

My meal relief was relaxed; I decided I'd treat myself, and had fish & chips from the chippy across from the bus stand at the eastern end of the route, and very nice it was too.

Round Two (seconds away, ding ding), and I had a slow bus. OK, no real hassle, it was twenty minutes late into the stand, and I got a light run to the next bus station down the route, thus picking up some time, which I slowly lost down the route as the damn bus was so sodding slow when moving off from the halt. Again, this wasn't a real worry for me, as I'd be knocking off in a couple of hours. Or so I thought, anyhow...

The return leg of the round, I was cut short ("Curtailed"), and told to take my bus to the half-way point bus station, to 'sub' (Substitute, or swap) a 'soiled' bus back to the depot. Hmm. More overtime, thought I. Oh well. On getting to the bus station, I saw no soiled bus, so phoned control.

"It's on it's way and should be with you in a few minutes."

"Oh, OK, cool. What's wrong with it?"

"You'll laugh?"

"I will?"

"Some poor woman had a bit of a personal accident over one of the seats. It's a hell of a mess."

I won't go into the full disgusting details, but ladies, please, pack a spare for those times of the month, OK?

Anyhow, after the "Ewwwwwww YEUCH, that's just... foul!" reaction,  I shrugged, went "OK, fair enough, hope the aircon's working" and left it at that, pending his arrival.

Five minutes later, he arrived, and parked his bus behind mine, fully in the road-paint marked 'bus stop cage', and we swapped buses, his soiled one for mine. I dumped my bag in the cab, sat down, and wasn't even halfway done adjusting the seat position (I've got shorter legs than my colleague), when I heard the sudden and loud unmistakable sound of a vehicle collision, and felt a slight jolt. "What the..?!"

On looking out of the window, another bus was now level with me, and looking in the mirror, there was debris all over the road. The other driver was looking very sorry for himself. I did what most other drivers would do in the circumstances. "I don't belieeeeeeeve this!" (doing a VERY good impression of Victor Meldrew, I was later told by one highly amused bystander). I then got out of the bus, and yelled "What the hell've you done to me bus, you idiot?!"

It turns out that he'd tried to thread a 4-inch hawser through a sewing needle.

The bus stop was on a bend in the road, and while the cage was properly marked, it hadn't been updated to when they put the tram tracks in opposite the bus station. As a result, while cars could get through the gap between a bus servicing the stop on the corner of the road, and the separating kerb stones from the tramway, a larger vehicle could not.

Most PSV and LGV drivers would, of course, realise this on approaching that point, and it appears in most Hazard Awareness Notes on the routes that pass through this bus station. Not this guy, though. Either that, or he hadn't read the HAN. And this was the result.

He'd scraped the nearside of his bus, immediately to the aft of his exit doors, on the offside rear corner of my bus, and ripped off my rear offside lighting cluster, which includes the indicator, sidelights, reversing light, and fog light, all of which were now hanging on by their connecting cabling, the rest of the associated fibreglass bodywork now lying in bits alongside my bus in the roadway.

Then, to compound the problem, he'd carried on going, causing a rent in the bodywork on his bus aft of the doors, and scraping the bodywork down to the bare metal all the way aft to his engine compartment. His Depot Governor wasn't going to be too chuffed with him. Mine either, but at least I hadn't parked my bus, or even taken it over on the paperwork, and I was stationary with the service brake (that's the hand brake, to you!) applied when he hit my bus!

Anyhow, to cut a long story short, I contacted my controller to give him the happy news (he wasn't at all happy, strangely), and having calmed down a bit, talked to the other driver (on loan from another depot for the day, it seemed), and we exchanged details. Then the bus station controller, with the help of a network traffic controller (London Buses traffic supervisors, the guys in the red London Buses Incident Response Vans), both of whom who happened to be on-site at the time, helped me shift my now unserviceable bus off the road, and into a spare waiting bay at the side of the bus station, pending my engineers arriving.

In the wait for the engineers, I got chatting to a few other drivers, some from the firm that operated the bus that hit mine; they were all of the amused variety, of course. Goes with the territory: You have a bump, and everyone's a critic! It was all good-natured ribbing though, mostly of the "Enjoy the overtime, mate" kind - my normal response being "Bugger the overtime, there's things I wanted to do tonight, like have a drink or ten!" - and then, of course, there was the Metropolitan police carrier (a minibus, they call them 'carriers'), cruising though the bus station doing a regular evening safety patrol, the driver of which paused on seeing a group of bus drivers by a bent bus, looked at the damage, looked at me, and pulled a horrified face - my reaction?

A massive theatrical Gallic style shrug, and "IT WASN'T ME! HONEST, GUV!"

Cue all of us damn near wetting ourselves on the floor, coppers included!

Anyhow, the engineer eventually arrived, and we took the bus back to the depot (me driving the engineering van), whereupon the paperwork had to be done.

I eventually knocked off somewhere in the region of an hour and forty minutes later than intended, and never did get that drink, either, dammit!

At least the depot officer I was repaying the favour to had the grace to say sorry to me!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Here we ******* go again...

I'm beginning to think that First Great Western have it in for me or something.

Here I am, travelling to see my better half for a nice Bank Holiday Weekend, and I'm getting stuffed again.
Knowing that it's a Bank Holiday weekend, I did, indeed, check to see if I'd need to reserve a seat. No warnings were flagged on the National Rail Enquiries website that I could age, so not unforgivably though there would be no need.

So much for that bloody stupid notion.

EVERY damn seat that I could see was either reserved or occupied by the time I'd made it to the train, scant seconds after it appeared on the departures board. Having been undertaking a massive spring cleaning effort in my second floor flat these last few days (involving so many trips up and down the stairs that I lost count), my legs are NOT up to standing room only on a packed train for up to an hour or more, weighed down my a fully-laden bergen.

So I was understandably livid that no warnings were given by either National Rail Enquiries OR FGW. So I dog-eared the first FGW member of platform staff I could find (the platform gates man, as it happened), and explained both my annoyance and situation to him. He was good enough to listen and comprehend, and pointed me to the Customer Services point. The guy there apologised about the lack of warnings, regretted that he couldn't reserve me a seat, but noted that Carriage 'E' was set aside an a non-reserved carriage on the next available service - some 42 minutes later.

To say that I'm still annoyed is a bit of an understatement. Once I've arrived at my destination, and calmed down a bit, I'll add the rest of this trip log.

A day later...

Just remembered that I never updated this entry, so, I'll let a couple of (suitably edited to remove personal items) texts speak the words...

Right, shatnerspeak time... change of platform... ran, got there... knackered... beyond... words... got one of... the last.. free seats. 19:45 departure. See you... Around nine pm. All my love, XXXXXXX

OK, having sat on by backside on the concourse, back to a kiosk wall, waiting for the next train, I'd hauled my sorry arse off the floor, snatch-and-jerk lifted my bergan to my back, and staggered to the gate, to find the bloody train was now going to be on a different platform when it appeared on the departure board - like half the assembled punters, who all (including me) uttered a rather predicable foul word (remember what I said in an earlier post about appropriate and proper? So much for self control! Oops!), and legged it to platform 10 (had been #4)

After a scrum of us had managed to get through the gates (one of which was blocked by a FGW gateman for some obscure reason), we continued to leg it down the platform, all of us with the same idea about Carriage 'E'. Those with reserved seats ambled on, enjoying the spectacle, and getting underfoot, of course causing more swearing from a goodly number of us unreserved folks (NOT me, this time. I at least try to be a good boy!). Getting onto Carriage 'E', I managed, by dint of good luck, to stow my bergan in the luggage rack, blocking everyone from getting past me (sorry!), and then snagging one of the last seats for my ageing backside (OK, OK, middle-aged then) and weary legs (NOT Sorry!). And thus, with the roar of a massive herd of not-so-little elephants, we'd seized our places on the train, and it got moving, right on time.

Hiya love :-) Well, got a semblance of me sense of humour back, if only because of the poor sod sat next to me, who's snoring louder than the train is! Train also running 5-10 or so mins late from Reading, slow freight train ahead or something. Still hope to be with you before 9pm :-) XXXXXXX

Finally on the second-to-last leg of my journey to see my better half, my mood improved mightily. Well, that and finally completing the last game, to getting a clean 3-star sweep completed on a level of Angry Birds on my phone ("YES!" I hissed, causing the poor bloke next to me to damn near drop his newspaper on the floor in shock! Oops. Sorry!). And along the tracks the train trundled. By the time we passed through West Drayton, he'd folded the paper, and fallen asleep, his head lolling against the window.

By the time we passed through Slough, he was snoring. Loudly. Everyone in earshot was turning around in their seats, or glancing along the carriage if standing, to find out what that noise was that was drowning out the sound of the train. All I could do was shrug my shoulders sheepishly, and point theatrically at the poor sod, eliciting grins of sympathy from some (Thanks!), shrugs from others (Thanks for nothing!) and looks of disbelief from the rest (You think it's loud from over there? I'm getting tinnitus!).

He eventually woke just after Reading, thank the stars, and my ears had regained their normal positioning from where they'd lodged, some six feet inside my skull, by the time we reached Newbury. I said nothing. He most likely knew, or had been told by his own better half, that he snored loudly, and either let if go in one ear and out the other without stopping (The rest of us should be so lucky!), or just didn't believe the Human body could make such a massive noise. Either way, he'd stopped the noise, so commenting on it would have been both insulting and not a little pedantic. So I didn't.

We got into Newbury about five minutes late, and by a miracle of no small proportions, I got the first taxi in the rank, there being no buses to where my better half lives, at that time of night (in the sticks, remember?). A short while later, there I was, being mobbed by the dogs (GAGH! Doggy tongue in the face! YEUCH!), and properly greeted by who the dogs believe is their Human Servant, so all's well that ends well, I guess.

I'm still miffed about the first damn train, though.

And you can bet that I'll be reserving - even when it's not required or necessary - my seat in the future!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Squaddie Stew*

OK, a quick one this (oo-er!)...

I was chatting with the better half earlier via Skype, and it turns out that I am actually expected to cook for us both on Monday, rather than rely on infrequent fridge and snack cupboard raids for sustaining the two of us over the bank holiday weekend.

So I offered up a menu.

  • Breakfast:
    Bacon grill and reconstituted powdered eggs with a slice of white bread and margarine, an oatmeal block, and tea or coffee, NATO standard.
  • Snack lunch:
    Biscuits, Brown, AB, with beef pate spread, and either tea or coffee NATO standard, or powdered isotonic fruit drink.
  • Main meal:
    Squaddie Stew, with tea or coffee, NATO Standard, and mixed fruit Pudding.

Needless to say the menu was shot down in flames before I'd even reached the main meal items. My better half can tell when I'm quoting from a 1980s British Army-issue Ration Pack, but there was a query. "What on Earth is squaddie Stew? Are there real squaddies in it? Do you lop the boots off before you cook them?"

After some evil laughter, and giving points for the misquote from the film "Addams Family Values", I went on to explain what went into the 'stew', which wasn't really a stew, so much as reheated tinned food.

Ration packs, or "Rations, one-man x 24-hours, GS", to give them their full name, were actually rather good kit. They included all manner of stuff to keep a soldier fully fed under operational conditions in the field, and contained tins of food, bars of chocolate, packs of boiled sweets, tea, coffee, biscuits (well, practically hard tack in their case), and so on. The retail cost in todays terms might be as much as fifteen to twenty quid, if bought individually. The Army paid (and still does, a couple of decades later) much less, of course.

The tins usually comprised one tin for breakfast, normally bacon grill or similar, two tins for the main meal, and a dessert tin, such as mixed fruit pudding, fruit in syrup, or something along those lines.

The two tins for Squaddie Stew to be available were minced steak in gravy (with onions), and Mixed Vegetables (in water). the normal way to cook these were to bang a dent in the sides of the tins, and plonk them in a mess tin, which was then filled with water to half-way up the dented tins. you then cooked it over a 'tommy cooker' or "cooker, field, individual, hexamine fuelled, folding, soldiers for the burning of", until the sides of the dented tins popped out again. You then opened them very carefully, considering that the contents were now supernova-hot and under pressure (Boyles law, anyone?)...

Squaddie Stew, on the other hand, was a damn sight easier. You dumped the contents of the tins into the mess tin, sprinkled a sachet of 'Beef Stock drink' (basically a powdered OXO cube in a sachet) over the top of it, and cooked away, stirring as required to prevent burning, and unless you were a complete Muppet, good flavour, consistency, and a satisfying meal - even when it was bucketing down with rain - were pretty-much guaranteed.

There were pros and cons with both methods, of course. The dented tin method meant that you had a clean mess tin at the end of the day, and a quick rinse with cold water sorted out the tin for next time. The Squaddie Stew method resulted in a tin that really needed to be washed and cleaned immediately you finished your meal, which meant that two of you grouped together, one of them cooking the pairs main meals in his mess tin, over his cooker, the other keeping a simmering - or at least very hot - hot mess tin of water on the go, for tea/coffee and washing water.

You also found out who your really good mates were with Squaddie Stew if no-one yelled something like "OI! you greedy gannet!" or suchlike (normally rather foully-worded during the meal!

Anyhow, back to the present, it looks like I'll be doing some other, more civilian menu instead, requiring about ten times the effort, come Monday.

Oh well. It was a nice idea while it lasted!

* No Troops were stewed in the making of this entry!

Sei glücklich - oder sonst!

What's with the title in German, you might ask?

Well, it's a fairly inconsequential thing in the grand scheme of things, I suppose, but I happen to like good movies - or as we call them over here in Great Britain, films.

A Comedy Sci-Fi film that I've been looking forward to seeing for well over nine months now, Iron Sky, is coming to the UK at last. And here's why I'm a tad steamed: I won't be able to see the sodding thing.

Here's the blurb from the ads:
Towards the end of World War II, the Nazi's realise they are the losing side. Retreating to the dark side of the Moon, they have recolonised, trained new troops, and have been waiting 70 years… for revenge!!

Now, fully equipped with space age technology and futuristic weapons, they are returning to wreak havoc and take control. The battle for Earth is gonna get Nazi!
And here's a trailer...

It's already won the Silver Meliés prize and the Audience Award at the Brussels European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation. That takes some doing for an indie movie.

All the reviews of it I've read have been positive.

The fans comments on twitter have been outstanding.

Now, I don't get much time to go to the cinema these days, as I work the permanent late shift rota at work, and have a lot of things to do when I'm not at work, like household chores, seeing my partner, and so on. So, when I do get the chance to go to the cinema, I make sure that I'm going to see a film that I really WANT to see; a special movie, one that I will be almost guaranteed to enjoy.

Well, read all the blurb, the review and hype, I was really looking forward to seeing this film. Then the UK distributor, Revolver, announced that they are going to show it for one day only. A sodding Wednesday. And I'm due to be bloody working that night.

I immediately frothed at the mouth. Were they aus ihrer verdammten Verstand?![1] How could they do this to us?! After all the hype, all the positive word of mouth, all the good things said about this indie, low-budget, comedy sci-fi film, they were planning to put it out on the weakest day of the bloody week, a day when a lot of us are too tired to go out, and those of us who actually WANT to see it can't for various reasons - such as work commitments.And just to add insult to injury, they were only going to show it for one bloody day only?! Große donnernden Götter des Krieges! [2]

So, having taken a deep breath, calmed myself down a tad, and counted to ten, oh, a dozen times or so, I tweeted a query to RevolverUK - and IronSkyUK - asking why the film was being buried on a Wednesday one-day-only release. I'm relieved to say that they replied fairly quickly: it seems that the original date they'd set for the UK release, 20th April - was messed up somehow, and the only slot they could find to replace it was the 28th May, which is a Wednesday. They sounded, reading between the lines, about as peeved as I was. The amusing this is that they're making the best of a bad situation, witness this tweet to me from @IronSkyUK: "It'll be a special screening where we're encouraging fans to come dressed up and make a big night of it." There'll obviously be some rather curious people around those screenings - I'm just sorry I won't be there to see the spectacle!

I'd also love to know what buggered up the original release date, but I reckon that I'll never know the answer to that one, commercial sensitivities and all that rot and nonsense being what it is, but at least I got feedback from them, which is not such a small achievement as you might think - the film houses, studios, and PR types, have long realised the power of word of mouth advertising, and use it more than ever - witness hashtagged tweets, facebook, and so on.

The good news for me - and many others who won't be able to make it to the cinema on the 23rd of May - is that five days later, on 28th May 2012, it's being released on Blu-Ray and DVD!

But I'm still ******** [3] peeved that I can't see it in the bloody cinema!

Iron Sky website
Iron Sky UK on Twitter
Revolver UK on Twitter
Revolver's website (I couldn't get this to open, as it kept timing  out. Hope you have better luck)
BBC - Mark Kermode's film blog: Iron Sky

Why the German? Well, you know, all the best cult movies - I mean films - have the occasional subtitle, so why not this blog entry? ;-)

[title] Be happy - or else!
[1] Out of their damned minds
[2] Great thundering gods of war!
[3] Needs no translation

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Say WHAT?!

There are times and places for the use of foul and/or profane language. A public place like a tram, with no proper cause or reason, is most definitely not such a time or place.

Why am I saying this? Easy. I had cause to speak to a foul-mouthed twenty-something custard-for-brains fool on the tram to work yesterday on this very topic.

I was sat at the front row of the tram (I like to see where I'm going; it's a habitual thing, probably to do with being a professional driver), and he was the next set of seats back, sat opposite his friend, banging on and on about some 'music' that he was working on, which required that he spout f- words ad infinitum, loudly, and with no thought to those sat around, these being some older folks, a mother and child, and of course, me.

Now I tend to tell my friends that I have fluencies in two languages, these being English and Profane, with a minor in Foul. However, even I know when and where I may or may not use such arcane languages.

The lad was uttering rhyming lyrics, in a 'rap' style. Now, I'll state from the outset here that while I don't like rap (I do not think of it as a valid form of music, for one thing, as it's spoken, not sung), this is no excuse for swearing - especially in front of others who may not share your appreciation of whatever musical style you affect or appreciate - and I pulled him up on this, asking him to hold off on the foul language.

From his reaction, you could be forgiven for thinking that I'd asked him to wear a tu-tu.

There was silence for a fraction of a second, and then he had a go at me for apparently inhibiting his freedom to artistically express himself. Well, there's a word for that, and it closely resembles the word "molluscs".

I pointed out that artistic expression was one thing: having a potty mouth was completely another, and those around him, from their expressions, obviously didn't want to hear his verbal diarrhoea.  Then his friend came in with the now usual Muppet's lament: "Shut up".

I was incensed, now. "Excuse me?! Don't tell me to shut up! Who do you think you are?!" I had the impression this was all going to get a tad personal and maybe a bit physical, to be honest; not that I'm worried about that, it was just that I was in company uniform, and this sort of mess tends not to spread evenly around, but comes home to roost in honking great messy lumps, normally accompanied by P45s for 'Conduct Prejudicial', which no-one really needs or wants.

Luckily, the person I had originally spoken to obviously decided that discretion was the better course of action, and told his friend to lay off, adding "We don't want a confrontation". I thanked him, and turned back around (keeping a weather eye on their reflection in the glass to my front. You never know, after all). They spent the rest of their journey on the tram muttering about this country "never letting people express themselves artistically" or people of my "generation" not getting "it", whatever "it" was. They weren't swearing any more, so I kept to myself.

As to not getting "It". Well, if "It" is being an abusive and potty-mouthed rude little turd, then no, I don't get it. As I've said before, there are times and places for such language - I use it myself, after all - but a tram or, in fact, any kind of public place, is not the time or the place for it.

As to stifling artistic talent, I'd suggest they apply to 'Britain's Got Talent' or something. They'll probably be told a few home truths about themselves and their language choices, and be sent packing. Not that I'll notice, as I don't watch the show. I find 'reality' telly boring as (insert your favourite foul word here).

Anyhow, the upshot was thankfully an anticlimax, and the aim of my complaint to them was achieved: They stopped their foul language.

But one thing still rankles, a day later.

The boy I'd originally asked to hold off the language said a simple thing, but it's still eating at me. He said this: "People of your generation just don't get it!"

I've never been so obliquely called an old fart in my life before.

To quote my old man from many years back, then:

"Why, I outta put that boy across my knee and spank him soundly, and send him to bed without supper!"

Does that officially make me a Grumpy Old Git?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Why do we let them get away with this?

My journey to see my better half on Friday was a lesson in relative simplicity and ease; one train to central London, two tubes (Victoria & Bakerloo, as the Circle was borked with signalling problems), and a single train to Newbury, as usual. The total journey time was a little less than two hours, end to end. Quite remarkable, actually, it shaved a good half hour off the average.

It's just a pity that network rail burgered up the return journey today with engineering works in the Reading area (they're allegedly improving the station and surrounding rails, a project that's taking a good couple of years to get completed). Normally, I manage to avoid engineering works, but not this time.

And what a lesson in anger management it's been.

First off, I have learned that the National Rail Enquiries journey planner throws a petulant wobbly if it's asked to plan journeys with more than three changes in them.

After a long 0845 telephone call to NRE (on my mobile, dammit, that's gonna hurt come bill time), I got the journey details I needed. It's a mess. So, armed with the info about the limit on journey changes, I broke the trip down into two sections, and used the journey planner to calculate the trip based on these two sections, individually, and stitched the two halves together myself. here's what I got...

Travel by Leaving From To Arriving Duration
Train 19:00 Newbury Reading
19:20 0h 20m
19:35 Reading
Reading 19:51 0h 16m
(Replacement bus leaves from opposite McDonalds on Oxford Road)
Train 20:17 Reading Paddington 20:59 0h 42m
Tube 21:28 Paddington Victoria 22:05 0h 37m

From London Paddington take the Bakerloo Line (Southbound, Platform 4) to Oxford Circus Underground Station. Change and take the Victoria Line (Southbound, Platform 5) to Victoria Underground Station. From London Paddington take the Circle Line (Westbound, Platform 1) which is a direct service to Victoria Underground Station.

Check for live travel updates
From London Victoria it's easy enough; I jet need to get a single train to the station near where I live. Maybe a twenty minute ride, and that's that.

Note the journey time, though. The total elapsed journey time, including the unlisted 20-minutes or so bit at the end, is close to three and a half hours.

I could drive to bloody Bristol in that time from where I live in south London.

This is fully one and three-quarters the time it should take me to get home, all due to the waiting time caused by the engineering works and replacement bus service.

I drive a bus (in case you weren't paying attention to what this blog's generally banging on about), and ye gods, I'd most likely be LYNCHED if we did this to our customers.

Why the hell do we let British Snail get away with it?

Example: London Underground perform most of their maintenance at night, during the hours of shutdown, thus inconveniencing the travelling public as little as possible. The DLR does the same. Why can't Network Rail?

Not for nothing are they reputed to be know as Notwork Rail within the trade.

I'll update this entry with the actual journey times, so you can see how it went. I've already missed the 19:00 train, as I was venting my anger and calming down at the same time, writing this entry!

...Some hours later...

OK, I got home about an hour and three-quarters ago; wasn't quite the nightmare I'd thought it was going to be, thankfully. This is in all likelihood because I left the start of the trip so late, so less crowds were in the way (read: meandering gits - I mean tourists and other folks - getting underfoot), and the connections actually worked reasonably well for a change.

Here's the listing, anyhow, with a few comments...!

19:53 - Newbury railway station
A two carriages diesel-powered job that sounded like an old London Bus when it moved off, it chuntered off bang on time. It was practically empty at Newbury, filling up nicely as it got to each station in turn. I was beginning to suspect that I'd made the right de facto decision in starting so late in the day - any earlier, and the thing would probably have been packed to the gunnels by Aldermaston!
20:21 - Reading West railway station
Shuddered to a halt, and everyone got off. Since they appeared to know where they were going, I followed the crowd over the footbridge to the other platform, where they all then milled about, awaiting another damn train. Oh... Bugger. And other nouns and verbs.
Yep. An idiot move. Next time, I'm stopping, allowing everyone to plough into me from the back while I look for the sign saying "WAY OUT", as I get crushed underfoot.
So, I walked back over the bloody footbridge again, saw the exit sign this time, and made my way to it, commenting in dark tones to the only member of platform staff that was visible, that maybe a tannoy announcement - "Exit to the right of the platform", perhaps? - wouldn't have been that difficult. Got a blank stare in reply. Low end of the gene pool, I guess.
In stark contrast, an off-duty First Great Western member of staff - going home, by the look of him, down the steps to the pavement level, was very helpful - "Replacement bus - it's a coach, really - over there, in about ten minutes, sir!", thus restoring a little faith in the Human Condition there and then!
20:33 - Reading West railway station bus stop
The Replacement bus - I mean coach, and very sparkly and new it looked too - arrived, and the driver nipping out, opened the baggage compartment, and allowed us the pleasure of lobbing our own bags, bergens, and other large luggage inside. Well, that saved on her back strain, I suppose. I can sympathise: I've a mate who does the coaches too. Managed to get a seat right at the front, too :-) Bliss and legroom :-)
Oh, and a very good drive to Reading station it was too. Couldn't have done any better myself, professionally speaking. Very nice job :-)
20:39 - Reading railway station
Arrived at the old bus station under the office/shopping complex next to the station. A two minute forced march - at time and a half pace - to the station, through the barriers, up to the platform bridge, and - OH ****, the damn thing'd been cancelled - when I noticed another entry on the arrivals listing - whoops, no it wasn't cancelled - well, that one might have been, but the others weren't, there were THREE of the buggers due to arrive, all bar one running late, so one of them got cancelled to make room on the rails, I guessed. So, down to platform 10 I sped - well, staggered, since I was a tad encumbered and tired,and waited for the train to arrive.
20:59 - Platform 10, reading railway station.
A dual-direction platform, the damn thing snuck up on us and surprised the living crap out of me, as I was looking the wrong damn way when it got there. The platform CCTV recording will doubtless show a very nice double take and fifty foot jump in surprise from me, bergen and all.
This train also turned out to be half full or so, which was nice, as it meant I could find a perch and relax for the half hour it was predicted to take to get to Paddington.
21:27 - London Paddington
Arrived two minutes earlier than the train captain had said we'd get there. Nice job, driver!
21:49 - London Victoria
For once, the circle line turned up within five minutes; I normally have to wait at least half an hour for the damn thing on a Sunday, so that was a nice surprise. Got to Victoria, to find a train to my station due to leave ten or so minutes later, which was likewise a pleasant surprise.

So, despite the engineering works and late start, not a bad journey, really, all things considered.

Never the less, I'm dead certain that if I'd travelled earlier, I would have had a right saga of a journey, so all in all, not an altogether bad end to the weekend. But I sincerely hope never, ever, to encounter engineering works and rail replacement buses as a customer ever again!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Karma schmarma...

My partner and I have been together (of a sort) for nigh on six years. We live some seventy miles apart, me in the London suburbs, my partner in the sticks, both of us in striking distance of our job sites - for me, the bus depot; for my partner, the office. We therefore have to go to some care to ensure that we get quality time together. A long distance relationship this definitely is, of course.

Take this weekend. I've not been able to get to see my better half for close to six weeks now, and was looking forward to us getting together this weekend for a few days.

The last long weekend I had to blow out, as it hit right at what I call Bill Day, the day of the month that all my bills get paid, depleting my bank account in one fell swoop each month.

This time, my partners new job has put the kibosh on our getting together for a long weekend; It appears that there's some form of project that my better half is heavily involved in, that is due to be presented to the company's client on Monday, and it means mandatory weekend overtime at my other half's office to get it ready in time.

Sometimes, long distance relationships are hard on the heart.

However, in the final analysis, a relationship is only as good as the effort you put into it - with the caveat that you both put in the effort, and do what you can to make thing interesting when you do get together.

So much, then, for this weekend. Now I have to go back to square one and figure out a way to make the next time we meet that much more special than usual.

In the mean time, I guess I get to do household chores again in my flat *sigh*.

My horoscope warned me, of course. It said "Today is a day of karma in action".

Lemme tell you, if a horoscope were a person, it'd be getting a right sincere slap around the chops right about now...

Monday, 27 February 2012

Who the hell do they think they're kidding?

One of the wonderful things about having a Gmail account is that about 95% of the spam that gets sent to me is intercepted by Google, and stuck in a spambox until such time as I get around to flushing the collected crud down an electronic drain (a Spambox? Spam cage? Spam trap? OK, Now I've a mental image of a tin of spam with legs, hooves, a tail, and a pair of red-tipped horns, snorting in vexatious anger at the walls of a deep-fat fryer!). However, occasionally, on or two bits of spam get through, masquerading as legitimate email.

One such example occurred last night, as I was recovering from a strained (strained or sprained? Yeah, I could never work that out either.) neck muscle - just a muscle, thankfully. Seems I'd slept awkwardly yesterday after getting home from work, the result being a head that couldn't turn in either direction without shooting pains down either shoulder.Work weren't too happy with me - it's bloody difficult to get a standby driver on a Sunday, but if I can't move me head, how can I drive? Catch-22. It's still a tad sore now, but at least I can move my head around. Anyhow, back to the spam.

So, an item of spam got though the great Googlewall. Google, who make their money through advertising, obviously don't want spam getting through; it's bad for their business. So they made the Googlewall pretty effective. But, like everything in this world, it's not 100% infallible, so the occasional flyer gets through. Some are amusing ("Buy Pills to give you a ten-foot rod!" Um. And a place at the circus, perhaps?), others not so. And some, like the one yesterday, are just asking for ridicule. So here it is.

to:     [redacted]
date:     27 February 2012 05:23
subject:     Webmail Account Owner

Dear  Webmail Account Owner,

We are currently carrying out a Maintenance/Upgrade Process on  Webmail accounts, to complete this process you must respond to this email immediately, ( and send the below details:

GENDER...........................................                 USER NAME............................................        PASSWORD............................................  we are very sorry for the inconvenience we are making you pass through this period. please fordward this information back to us so that we can carryout the upgrading/maintenance.

This process we help us to fight against Spam Emails. Failure to summit your password, will render your email address in-active from our  Webmail system.

NOTE: Your email will not be tampered with or changed, without this you wont be able to recieve email & send mail, the upgrading/maintenance need to be carry out within one week.

Thank you for using   Webmail Service

 Webmail Technical Support
Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved!

Strictly speaking, it's not exactly spam; spam is trying to sell you stuff (unsolicited commercial email). This one is, while being unsolicited, not trying to sell me something. It's trying to steal something instead.

This was, instead, a phishing scam attempt. You can tell that right from the start, where they call you "Dear Webmail Account Owner" and then ask for your password. A legitimate company with whom you do business will always use your actual name in their mailings to you (for example, PayPal always uses your actual name in their comms); further, no legitimate biz asks for passwords in an email. Ever.

Second, and this is so silly it's pitiful, I don't know who "" are, but I have not done business with them, ever; my email comes through Google, and has done for some time.

Third, the patter (the wording they use). They're trying to coerce you into giving away personal details, by using an old "we're here to help" playbook entry.

So, they imply that it's a personal and confidential matter that should stay personal and confidential. Since it's neither of these things, being an attempt to commit identity theft, it's only fair to show their sad, lazy, criminal attempt to the world. And this is precisely what I'm doing.

As to the last line "Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved!" Really? Prove it in court then, you sad sack of [bleep!]. I'll have a charge to stick to them, if they have the balls to do it: Breathing In A Public Place.

Can't say fairer than that, can I?

Friday, 24 February 2012

Wasteful, harmful to the environment, and it just lost them a customer.

I've been using a Braun PocketGo P-60 for a couple of years now; it's been an excellent razor for fast shaves when I oversleep (do NOT try to wet shave with a safety razor when in a hurry - it gets messy!), or when I run out of razor blades (not unknown!).

However, like most electric razors, the foils, the bit between your skin and the cutting heads, tend to wear out, and require replacing.

Imagine my absolute disgust when I found out today that, not only do they not supply replacement foils, that they apparently suggest that such a replacement, if available to the public, would cost £25?! Given that the original razor cost the princely sum of less than £20, this is a rip-off of the highest order; further, while I acknowledge that they have a two year warranty, it requires you to post the complete razor back for a warranty foil replacement - and the postage alone for a parcel is restrictive, and this not cost-effective for most of us. It also deprives those of us who use one razor, from having said razor, for however long it might take Braun to get around to replacing the foil and posting the damn thing back to us.

The end result is that most of us will bin a perfectly good razor for the want of what is most likely in reality an item that probably costs Braun less than a quid (at unit volume costs) to create (a strip of coated tin foil with holes in it).

I find their attitude wasteful, environmentally-irresponsible, high-handed, and totally contrary to how I expect responsible businesses to behave.

I also was under the impression that companies were required to keep spares (consumables, even), on hand for customer repairs, but apparently this is not the case - they only have to repair or replace within six months, according to the Sale of Goods Act information that I've looked at today. So, even our laws are not working for us. That's something of a longer-term fix to be looked at.

I the mean time, you want it from the horses' mouth? Fine. here's their OFFICIAL response to one of their (probably former) customers (I've corrected her spelling mistake in this quote, by the way):

Susie (Official Rep) July 06, 2011 07:49
Hi Barry and thanks for getting in touch.

Unfortunately I don’t have good news for you... Since the replacement foils normally cost around £25, it is not cost effective for the stockists to sell a foil for our Pocket & Go / Mobile Shavers which cost around £18, and regrettably foils are not available to buy anywhere. I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but at least you can stop looking!
This reply, and others, can be found in context here:

The attitude of Braun, a Procter & Gamble company, beggars belief. The end result for me, is that while it may be inconvenient to me in the short term, Braun just lost another customer, and I'll be making hard choices on whether to purchase any other P&G products and brands in the future, until such time as they mend their irresponsible ways.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Pet peeves # 284638101735 (etc.)

One of my pet peeves is when people park something that's obviously not a bus, on a bus stop. People park their cars, vans, and often bloody great trucks on bus stops. Especially after 6pm, as if bus stops magically stop working after that time.

The fact is, at no time should you park anything other than a bus on a bus stop. They're not time-limited, day limited, or in any other form of part time operation;they're "24/7", to coin a phrase.

The clues to it being a bus stop are first, the flag. It's obvoius, so as to allow members of the public to know where a bus is likely to stop to allow passengers on and off the bus.

Second, the road markings. There is, in the vast majority of cases, a big yellow-painted dash-marked 'cage' or 'box' that marks out where buses are intended to stop, and on many routes in London, there are often red lines to show that no-one else should be stopping there.

Finally, there are two words painted there as well, these being "BUS STOP".

Why is it, then, that so many of you act like damned ignorant amateurs, and park on bus stops? It surely can't be financial gain, as you can be fined for parking there, and TfL's rather good at chucking around those fixed penalty notices; it can't be lack of training, as it's a component in the Highway Code, and you're required to learn that as part of your driver training and testing (it's part of the current theory test, in fact).

So what the hell is it with you amateurs who park on bus stops? Can't you think, for one moment, that you may be preventing a disabled person from boarding a bus? Or making it more difficult for an elderly person? Surely you lot can't be that far up yourselves to even consider the problems your parking is causing to the flow of traffic?


Then I sincerly hope that those of you who are so self-centred and selfish that you park on bus stops get a fine, four flat tyres, and a rear-end shunt, all at the same time, for your sheer absolutely arrogant attitude to the bus travelling public.

Have a nice bleeping day.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Welcome to Snofu'12...!

Well, it's finally arrived here in the south London area, and while it does indeed look picture-postcard nice, it's cold, slippery, and a nightmare to drive in.

Yep, welcome, therefore, to Snofu'12!

This is the hard stand outside my flats, about an hour after it started to snow.

At the time, it was blowing west to east, and not really that much of a big deal; the flakes were small, seemed fairly dry, and weren't sticking to my clothes. at this time, I reckoned that the warnings were over-hyped, given what happened last time.

 This is the main road around the corner from my flats. As you can see, the road was well gritted. again, thoughts of another over-hype were in my head.

This is three hours later, around midnight or so. Hmm. Time to re-evaluate the warnings. Look at the main road. the gritting hasn't happened for a while, and there are two sets of tracks where tyres are cutting a path in the snow in both directions.

 A little better at the traffic lights, but not by much. This is when I hit the sack.

This morning. The main road looks a lot better, so it seems like the gritters got out again, thankfully.

But look at the hard stand!

Remember last year? Not quite as bad, but close!

Looking to the junction again; yeah, miles better than this time last year. It appears the local council got it right this time.

Mind you, it's only taken them close to fifty years to get it right first time, this time, and with government prodding and poking along the way. Shouldn't have to be that way, but at least it worked this time!

And now a picture postcard scene, from out of my bedroom window - enjoy!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Bloody layabout idiots >:(

So, there I was, nice and early into the depot this morning, and what a surprise, someone else blew out, resulting in my getting roped into doing their (longer) duty instead of my scheduled duty, doing the route from our depot that goes through the middle of London.

Nice, you might think, a little variety, and all that.

Not so nice, however, when a bunch of f***wits from "UK Uncut", "Occupy", and some rather more radical than usual disability groups chained themselves across the sodding road and block it up tighter than a double dose of kaolin and morphine mixture.

With the exception pf the disability people, who've got a very real worry over benefit cuts, the rest of the hangers-on and spongers from "UK Uncut", "Occupy", and the rest of these full-time layabout oxygen thieves need a bloody good smack around the chops (preferably with something larger than a wet kipper) to wake them up to the REAL world, not their make-believe "let's piss everyone off to make change happen" crap.

For f*** sake, why can't they get a sodding grip, get a bloody job, and join the Human Race? It's not difficult, you just have to apply yourself - if they were instead to spend even a fifth of the effort they put into planning these stupid stunts into looking for a job, I dare say that the country would be a damn sight better off.

So, casting your minds back, these are the sorts of people that caused mayhem with CND, NIMN, and other so-called protest movements between the 60s and 80s during the Cold War.

Now this rent-a-twat bunch have found another way of goofing off and pissing off the rest of society, and that's protesting capitalism and trade in most of its forms. The fact that the capitalist system provides them the clothes they wear, and the food that they eat, probably escapes their single-cell brains. The fact that they harm society when they pull these mindless stunts also probably escapes them completely. They make me sick. They really do.

And today, when I'm a mere quarter into my second half of the duty I got roped into this morning, we had a bunch of these layabout losers stuffing up central London with their completely maladjusted piss-poor attitudes and drums (yes, bloody drums. And bongos, would you believe. They also succeded in giving me a bloody headache while my bus was stuck in that mess of their making), buggering up ordinary subjects daily lives with their adolescent attitudes that say that the rest of us owe them a living. See the photo to the left? Nothing could move. This happened mere moments after I left the bus stand near Oxford Circus. Talk about crap timing. Oh, and by the way, that's the environment they were messing with as well, because they'd just caused a massive traffic congestion - and thus more smog - leading all the way back to the A4. Another thing I'd like to stuff down their stupid throats - the smog, not the traffic... although...

I have two words for them on all of the above: It's Bollocks. And you can quote me on that.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Gùng héi faat chōi!

Just a brief one, this time:

恭喜發財 (Gùng héi faat chōi) to you - it's now the Year Of The dragon, so Happy Chinese New Year, may it be a prosperous, happy, and rewarding year for all of you!

Friday, 20 January 2012

This somewhat proves the point...

...that the US does NOT need new laws (SOPA/PIPA). They've just closed down what they call a Piracy filesharing site using existing US laws - laws that certain US Senators and Representatives say aren't up to the job that they've just achieved...?!

The Register: BREAKING: Kiwis collar Kim Dotcom as US throws the book at Megaupload.

Of course, the likes of Anonymous and similar have retaliated with DDoS attacks at certain US commercial and Federal Agency websites, but that was probably to be expected, really.

Now, the protests over SOPA and PIPA appear to have achieved their aims: Both bills seem to be, for the moment, dead in the waters of notoriety. But make no mistake, someone'll resurrect them, not in their current forms, of course, but as something similar, or probably even more insidious.

The point is this - and please bear in mind that I'm not a conspiracy theorist or similar form of nut, but you have to wonder - Why, when your existing laws are up to the job at hand, do you have to add to the number, with much more restrictive and none-too-specific laws?

Answers on a postage stamp, please.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

On internet censorship...

Currently, two bills (a bill is a draft of an act of law, before it's is subjected to a vote; if the vote accepts the draft, it is passed to the President of the United States to be signed into US statute law) are going through the United States Senate, and the United States House of Representatives; these are SOPA and PIPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protection of Intellectual Property Act.

Much has been written about these two bills, and much information and disinformation spread thickly and widely about.

Here's the details in a nutshell from CNET...

And here's an article (with a helpful video) from The Guardian...

Food for thought point one: Broadly put, a malicious infringement claim could put a website out of action, and subject the owner to court action in the USA.

Food for thought point two: Since this would be a court action played out in the USA, it is reasonable to assume that, given that the offence created would be a 'felony' one in the USA, jail time could - and most likely would - be involved. As a result, an extradition request would most likely be made from the USA to a British Court. And remember, whether you're innocent or guilty of the alleged offence has no bearing on the extradition process; for a British Subject to avoid a US extradition request is in all practicality impossible at the moment, due to the exceedingly poorly judged agreement in force, brought in by the previous Labour government over here.

Food for thought point three: The USA had continually been harping on about preventing internet censorship, with such examples as China's Great Firewall being bandied about left, right, and centre. Guys, you can't have it both ways: Either you condone censorship, or you condemn it. You can't do both at the same time - that's called being a hypocrite. Of course, that's an oxymoron too, as most politicians appear to be hypocrites at some point in time or another. Nature of the beast, and all that.

Still, the points above are very valid.

Let's go with a vexatious (that's legalese for vindictive) infringement claim. A blogger, let's call him Tommy Goodshoes, based in New Zealand, comments that he thinks a certain brand of American hot dogs, available on many supermarket shelves, don't taste very nice, and prefers, instead, Cumberland Sausages. He posts photos of the tin that the hot dogs are shipped in, and a photo, for comparison, of the sausage. The hot dog company regularly monitors (searches) the internet for mentions of their product, and sees Tommy's blog entry, laughs it off, and does nothing more about it, realising that it's fair use of the photo.

Unfortunately for Tommy, a rather over-enthusiastic hot dog fan takes exception to his blog, and posts an infringement claim on behalf of the hot dog manufacturer. You can see where this is going. OK, not a very good example, I'll grant, but the potential for genuinely vindictive infringement claims is massive.

There are other massive problems with SOPA/PIPA that are addressed elsewhere online, and a simple google search on SOPA/PIPA will show these.

As a British Subject, I cannot do anything about these insidious and very poorly-thought-out proposed acts; I can, however, ask any Americans reading this to research, quickly, what the implications of these bills would mean if brought into law, and ask that they contact their elected representatives as quickly as possible, to ask them to vote 'nay' to the bills when presented for a vote in the two houses.

Thanks for reading this, and good luck.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A few pleasant days away with the other half...

...Only buggered up by First Great Western's appalling customer lack-of-service.

I've been spending some quality time with my other half, in the sticks, in the middle of nowhere. It's very nice to get away from London, with all its' hustle and bustle, and greased whippet (to coin a northern friend of mines phraseology) speed of life, and instead, wind down to a slower pace of life, and have quality time with one's partner.

Last time I came over here, the trains were well stuffed up; seems a goods train, shortly before Christmas, parted company with a few of its' carriages, and blocked the line towards Newbury from Reading.

I use Newbury, as my other half lives in the middle of nowhere, West Berks, and it's perfect to get to, grab a (once an hour) bus, and walk the rest of the way (the house isn't far from the bus stop on a country lane). I can get a taxi from Newbury (and sometimes have to if delayed), but that's the exception, as like London, they're hellishly expensive.

Anyhow, when the trains got stuffed last time, First Great Western (FGW) had to lay on a replacement bus service for us, which I only discovered by chance from the Duty Station Manager (I dog eared him as he was trying to slip off the platform to his nice, safe, away from the great unwashed public, office!), his staff having been very bloody unhelpful to that point.

I wound up being over an hour late into Newbury, and had to get a taxi from there, having missed the last bus (County bus services tend to end a LOT earlier than London ones).

This time around, the connections worked well enough, but I wanted to ensure that I travelled at the right time of the day for the ticket that I had (an off peak open return, valid for a month from the day of outbound travel).

So, given that FGW, who run the Newbury to Paddington part of the trip, are the logical choice to make such enquiries of, I decided to use their Twitter feed to get my answer, that being what it's there for. Or so I thought. I posted the question after they knocked off for the night, figuring that they'd get to it first thing in the morning, while clearing the overnight queue of questions.

Here we went again: I'd made an assumption, and as we all know, "When you assume something, you make an ass of 'u' and 'me'." Well, the first Twitter question went unanswered, so I asked again. No reply. So, close to ten hours after I'd made the first enquiry, I lost patience, and called, on an expensive 0845 call from a mobile phone, National Rail Enquiries. Should have gone there first, I guess.

I got a very pleasant Indian-sounding lady, who asked two questions: what kind of ticket was it, and how much did it cost? These two questions answered, I found that I could travel at any time after 09:30am, with no further timing restrictions. Excellent reply, marvellously swift, and perfectly satisfactory. Colour me very happy with NRE.

So, I fired off a 'forget it' message to FGW. Guess what. They never even replied to that, either.

Here's the series of Twitter messages to FGW:

RogersBlant @RogersBlant
@FGW Question: I have an off peak return, Newbury to a south London station. When can I NOT begin to travel on Tuesday?
12:22 AM - 17 Jan 12 via Twitter for Android

I'd expected to see a reply by around 09:30 or so that morning. Guess again.

RogersBlant @RogersBlant
@FGW Repeat from earlier; I'll be travelling off peak newbury to south London via paddington; what are the off peak hours, please?
10:07 AM - 17 Jan 12 via web

This is when I finally lost patience with them, and contacted National Rail Enquiries.

RogersBlant @RogersBlant
@FGW Never mind. Rang NRE and got info from them. Odd that I had to call an 0845, & that you couldn't answer me in over ten hours, though.
10:47 AM - 17 Jan 12 via Twitter for Android

Now, I've heard from other travellers in the past that FGW only answer when it suits them, and that their customer service department makes the Civil Servants in the BBC telly series "Yes Minister" look like a model of efficiency, but I always thought that this was the result of not getting what they wanted, such as a refund for a completed but delayed trip, or whatnot. Having just experienced this appalling lack of respect for a paying customer - not even an acknowledgement of my comms to them, for pities' sake?! - I can see why people hate these folks with a passion.

The fact that I had to pay a hefty fee (0845 numbers are treated as being practically premium rate numbers on mobile tariffs, and are NOT counted against any free minutes you may have on your contract) via Vodafone to talk to a human at NRE, rather than wait for bloody ages for a non-existent reply from FGW, not only adds insult to injury, but it tells me volumes as well.

Twitter is intended to aid communications, by providing a social media platform with which to communicate. It's supposed to be quick, fairly painless, and is touted as a marvellous way to communicate with friends and businesses alike. Well, for the most part, such as when connecting with your friends, yes, it does that remarkably well.

But I'll say this as well: For a business, it is not just a mouthpiece from which you can utter corporate propaganda, or be selective in your choice of whom to answer. It requires, absolutely, that you answer all queries put to you, lest it be ignored by your customers.

Remember this well, FGW, because you're well on your way to making the above a prophesy, not just a rant on my blog.

Here endeth the lesson.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Why are these empty?

The blue frame in the photo to the left is a gas holder, or "Gasometer". Note the filled one to the right in the background, which is very much the exception to the rule these days - normally, it appears that they're both empty. You can tell, by the way, which one if the newer of the two. It's the blue framed one. The grey, filthy-looking one, dates back to before the Second World War; the blue one is much more recent.

Anyhow, there was a time, a few years ago, when all these things were almost always full, maintaining reserves of gas under pressure for people in local areas, thus ensuring a ready supply of gas on demand for cooking, heating, and so on. Gas was the first properly clean, cheap, and affordable energy source in the home; prior to gas, coal and wood was used, both of which being both messy and occasionally somewhat smelly; in my youth (like before I was twenty), people swore by gas for cooking - not much of a surprise that, as electric cookers, while lacking the danger of leaking gas, were notorious for taking ages to get to working temperature, and for using the actual temperature as a gauge for oven heat (which confused all manner of folk - including me!), rather than the existing 'Regulo' or 'Gas mark' system.

Granted, gas is a fossil fuel and a greenhouse gas, all rolled into one, but the vast majority of homes in Great Britain use the stuff. I still do, for both main purposes, heating and cooking. I also use elecricity for all those (can you say "Microwave Oven" and "Immersion Heater"?), and much more besides. But you don't see massive capacitors dotted about the landscape, storing electrical energy to tide over high demand periods, instead, all you see are zillions of pylons and thousands of miles of cables.

So, with all this said and done, here're the burning questions of the moment: Why, given that a great number of us still use gas at home, are do the gasometers all seem to be empty these days? Are the gas companies not storing the gas locally any more? If this is the case, are they instead relying on pipelines from far-flung lands to supply a constant supply of gas to us, without managing a national gas reserve? We've seen what happens in those cases over the last few years - and if I recall correctly, wasn't it Germany that was one of the pigs-in-the-middle of the Russia/Ukraine gas dispute in 2009?

The idea of National Energy Reserves is not a new one; during the Cold War, we maintained strategic emergency stores of various types of fuel oils and gas; the USA does the same to this very day, as do most sensible nations - especially in these extremist terrorist-infested and troubled times. So I'll ask again: Why are the gasometers empty?