“It’s Better by Train”…

September 17, 2008

A first for me.  A blog from a train.  Thank God for broadband modems at reasonable monthly prices which I don’t have to pay.

I have always been convinced there was something wrong with Britain.  Possibly because my memory begins right after the dignified and unnecessary resignation of Margaret Thatcher.  But this train journey I am making highlights it somewhat.

Yesterday I decided I had to go to London today.  I had known for a while I would be making a trip to see friends and that it would be on fairly short notice.  So I instantly checked National Express, Megabus and then, cue dramatic music, nationrail.co.uk.  National Express wanted to rob me blind for a journey of horrific length.  I can fly to Toronto and get through customs by the time their bus reaches London.  Megabus had stupid times and their website kept crashing.  So I checked the train.  I wanted to leave Carlisle before lunch so I checked the fares before then, a large box appeared up top saying “Cheapest fare: Fifty pounds fifteen pence.”  But I couldn’t see it on the table below.  Very perturbing.  All the prices there were sixty pounds and up.  So I clicked on this cheap fare and it turns out that it’s first class.

So if you want to travel to London before bloody lunchtime it’s cheaper to travel First Class than Standard.  Beardy Branson, who is running your company?!

And so, I write this in the First Class carriage (one of many) on the 1050 train to London – only two stops so it will only take three and a quarter hours.  It takes me nearly that long to get from Carlisle to Leeds!  And First Class is marvellous, there’s no doubt about it.  The decor leaves alot to be desired (I went in first class fifteen years ago on the old intercity trains – I thought them stuffy then but I appreciate their stuffed seats now!), but the service is excellent.  Two hours into the journey I have had an English breakfast (exquisite!), a chicken sandwich, two coffees, pretzels and – most importantly – a gin & tonic (my first in months).  And all for free.  And there’s probably some poor doofus in the rear of the train suffering with his horribly expensive W.H. Smith sandwich and Virgin cola drink.  Very sad.

However, I still can’t appreciate the polar difference between the two classes, and the fact that my ticket is cheaper.  Ah well, the gin will make the indignation go away.  Stewardess!


Labour people I like

June 28, 2008


Bob Marshall-Andrews

For a long time now I’ve said that the only member of the Labour Party I respect and admire is:- Michael Foot.  At least the man has real principles (not copycat centre-crap) and by God did he stick by them.


But, having remembered and ingrained his name into my memory, the other member of the Labour party I admire and respect is Bob Marshall-Andrews.  Yes, it’s partially because he’s a Labour rebel, but not in every case does a principled man a rebel make.  He looks a thoroughly decent man, and it takes a strong dose of humility to do what he did on election night in ’97 and effectively concede defeat, only to win!  He looks a thoroughly likeable chap and he’s always got something naturally witty to say on “Have I Got News for You?”, unlike political hacks like Limpet Opec.

And of course, he has recently come out in support of David Davis’s fine stand on 42-days detention, no doubt making Gordon, when he blew that one candle of his anniversary cake, blow the cake away with exasperation (probably into the face of Ed Balls).

The only bad thing about him is that he’s a Q.C., a thoroughly miserable bunch even worse than all the MPs in the Commons put together!

I leave the country for one minute…

June 27, 2008

…and all Hell breaks loose.  The Government manages to push through its outrageous bill extending detention to 42 days, with the support of nine horsemen of the Apocalypse – the D.U.P.  The concessions the governmen promised to secure Paisley’s support is estimated to be about one billion pounds.  To use the popular metaphor of a century ago, Ulster has been given one last wag of the dog.

And then David Davis surprises everyone with his resignation from the Commons in order to “fight” a by-election on the encroachment on civil liberties.  While I applaud Mr. Davis’s adherence to his honourable principles, he could have stated before the Bill passed through the Commons his intentions, rather than giving me something of a shock when I reached North America.

At least the Tory in Henley won I hear.  No idea who it is, I can only assume it isn’t London Mayor Johnson’s father.  A bit of good news I assume.  I rather liked the manner in which Brown said he was “proud” of his year in power.  He must have exceedingly low standards, and should really see someone about it…like the Queen to resign!

Weather-1, Harley-0

June 8, 2008

Three things will always scare me – spiders, heights and death.  Plenty of things worry me, however, and the past couple of days have been rather worrying.  After a long hard day of shifting motorcycle spares yesterday, I and my father headed for a friend’s place.  While there we got caught in a full-blown thunderstorm, with a constant downpour of heavy rain (makes British rain seem limp-wristed), and after half an hour the lightning began.

Now thunder doesn’t bother me one jot.  Even when overhead, it just reminds me of an artillery barrage or a broadside – something suitably military.  And after all the time I’ve spent shooting guns the noise doesn’t bother me too much either.  But the lightning which precedes it…hairy, to say the least.  It got to a point where there were flashes of lightning every few seconds – for hours.  But this wasn’t scary.  After the lights got knocked out for an hour, and the rain stopped briefly, we all stepped outside.  It was nearly dark and the wind had started picking up furiously.  There was no thunder, but flashes of light on the horizon.  And then there began the most chilling, piercing wail, raising to a crescendo over a thirty-second period.
I couldn’t work out what it was.  A siren, some sort of natural sound?  And then the friend said nonchalantly, “Oh, that’s just the tornado warning.  Now where’d I put that flashlight…” and he ambled back into the shop.  And I stood out there thinking “Oh shit…” then hurried back in!

Minutes later the rain resumed, the lightning and thunder returned with a vengeance and eventually my father and I made our way back to the hotel, dodging fallen trees, piles of gravel and dirt washed from the fields and vast puddles in the road.  The lightning didn’t help by being utterly captivating as it flashed against the inky black sky.  Today the morning was bright and sunny and seemed to indicate a lovely day (aside from our friend who’s pick-up sank in a car park!).  But by afternoon the weather turned awful again.  Why anyone would live in such a relatively dangerous land I don’t know!


June 6, 2008

By an accident of direction a motorcycle show I have to be at in six hours is located just fifteen miles away from the Pennsylvania village of Gettysburg.  Which just so happens to be the site of the largest intercenine battle in U.S. history.  Normally I associate myself with naval history but at heart I am a soldier so decided to take a brief look at the battlefield.

The way that the road map displays it, one would assume that the battlefield park would be off road.  How wrong I was.  United States Route 30, the Lincoln Highway of old, passes right down the middle of the battlefield site.  One minute you’re in countryside, and the next you are in countryside littered with stone and marble memorials, with the cupolas of the Lutheran seminary rising above the tree tops in the distance.

The sun was setting on the battlefield, so I had only time to visit the area closest to Gettysburg itself where the initial fighting took place, between Union cavalry and the vanguard of the Confederate army under Robert E. Lee.  Twilight always seems to paint landscapes in a sad blurry way, and Gettysburg is no exception.  There was a monument topped by an eternal flame, dedicated by Franklin D. Roosevelt on the 75th Anniversary of the battle in 1938.  Despite the stillness of the evening sky, one could barely see the light flickering atop it.  And to the west, the sun sank out of sight at an unusual height above the horizon.  And then the wind picked up.  How strange…

Time marches on…

June 4, 2008

It is a sobering thought looking through my email onbox to think that of my correspondents, one died a little over a month ago – just dropped dead even though he had been very sprightly for 79.  And another, whom I knew rather better has just gone into a coma and it’s certain he won’t come out of it.

Normally I put a grim face on and accept these things, but this year so many “bad things” have been happening to people I know; death, illness, abuse &c. I am starting to get a touch fatalistic.  Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse they always do, and things are “worse” already.  The only problem is I know it’s not me who’s going to get it in the neck…

Boris – Was He Right to Ban Booze?

June 2, 2008

Someone raised an interesting point to me the other morning.  London Mayor Boris Johnson is well known for boozing in the Bullingdon Club when he was at Oxford University.  Therefore, by banning alcohol on the London Underground, is he guilty of hypocrisy?

The short answer is…yes.  But that’s not the point.  There are not that many who say that the ban is itself a bad thing.  That’s a given.  But who would implement it?  Would it be anymore acceptable if a non-heavy-drinker had put the ban in place?  Hardly.  That person would have been railed at for being a fiddy-duddy of sorts.

At least Boris has learnt from his mistakes in the past.  Yes, he may have been an unruly student, but at least he’s stood up and done something about it.  This is how things progress in the real world.  Otherwise, we’ll never change our ways.  Why on earth should he be pilloried for trying to prevent people from making the same sort of mistake (note that, it’s not exactly the same mistake now is it?).  I’d rather someone who enjoys his drink told me to stop doing it in public than some prudish bugger.

PM doing cold-calling – poor bugger

May 31, 2008

I was impressed slightly by the news that Gordon Brown is now cold-calling the public.  This is, of course, what any politician should do most of the time to keep in touch with the public – after all, this kind of calling is what gives us most polling data when it is needed.  Of course, it is a shame that the Prime Minister is doing this when his party has just sunk to its lowest level of popular estimation since…polling began!!  An overwhelming majority of the British people currently have no confidence in the Government and its party.  So it’s common sense really that the P.M. tries to find out what’s wrong and fast.

I wonder if Brown is finding out that people are fed up of the economic policies which he created and the culture which his party and Tony Blair espoused and propagated.  I also wonder if he has yet realised that most fringe parties are full of disaffected Labour voters… 

I’m off again…

May 31, 2008

I come home expecting to be around for a week or so.  Then I’m told my father is leaving this Tuesday for the U.S.A. and Canada.  Next thing I know I’m asked whether I want to go with him.  The answer being, YES!!  So out of the blue all my plans for seeing some friends and attempting to mend some friendship in the month of June are ruined, but I also get to go overseas again!!

It is amazing how things can still surprise you after twenty-two years.  Needless to say, I didn’t show it.

The Times vs. Oceanographic History

May 27, 2008

My attention was drawn to this article from The Times the other day.  If anything confirmed my view that the newspaper of record is going downhill, this is it.

In the article the Environment Editor claims that the reason that the Titanic was discovered in 1985 was that Dr. Robert D. Ballard had obtained navy funding and had to carry out the examination of two submarine wreck sites.  This done, he had twelve days in which to find the Titanic with the United States Navy’s blessing.

This is all correct, but it definitely isn’t news.  It’s not often when I can say I read about a story TWELVE years before a sub-editor for a national newspaper, at the age of ELEVEN for God’s sake.  Ballard spoke about his dives on the submarines Thresher and Scorpion after the end of the Cold War, and wrote extensively on the subject as a backdrop to the Titanic discovery in his memoirs, Explorations, published in 1996.  So well done The Times, you’ve done yourself proud today.

Titanic search…