Archive for the 'Transport' Category

26
May
12

The Raleigh Chopper – Icon of a less serious age

Raleigh Chopper

Raleigh Chopper by Wil Freeborn

Alan Oakley, the designer of the icon Chopper bicycle, has kicked the bucket aged 85. As for all English men of my, age the chopper was an important part of my life. It seemed years when everyone else had one and I didn’t and then, one birthday, I did.

Choppers were amazing. They were a joy to ride but they weren’t faster, lighter or easier to ride than conventional bikes. They were just fantastic! My fondest memories are of cycling down country lanes in the summers (which were, of course, long and hot).

Bikes of today are far too serious. They are crammed with stuff. Bora Ultra carbon aero cranksetsAlloy Brake Levers and Hydraulic Disc Brakes. Disc breaks! On a bike! Who the hell is going so fast on a bike that they need disk bakes? In the 21st century we seem to take ourselves far too seriously. Accountancy clerks spend their Saturday riding a bike and then wear a T-shirt to work proclaiming that they LIVE LIFE ON THE EDGE. No mate, you don’t. You are a hobby cyclist. That Lucozade your drinking used to be sold to grandmother’s as a health drink until a bunch of marketing men bamboozled you into thinking that it makes you cycle faster.

Rather than getting on our bike to look for work we don layers of spandex and ridiculous hats and board contraptions built to the tolerance of a space capsule only to ride around the streets shouting at cars. I remember a TV sketch referring to motorbikes but which I will adjust for push bikes. The son puts on his spandex leggings, his florescent top, his, frankly, weird shaped hat and crazy sunglasses and prepares to leave the house to ride his bike. His dad shouts “Are you going out on that thing again? It’s too dangerous, you’ll get yourself killed!”. The son replies “but dad, I have all he safety clothing”. The old dad yells back “You little idiot! That’s what I’m talking about, you look so stupid that someone is bound to beat the shit out of you!”.

Cyclists don’t need those all that clobber, they just need a pair of bicycle clips and a flat cap to keep the rain off. And they also need MUDGUARDS! What’s this bollocks that people are so macho they can’t have mudguards? In England! Where if doesn’t rain for three days in a row we declare a drought!

The Chopper is a symbol of another age. An age when efficiency and precision were secondary to fun. Bring back the chopper, I say, and while we’re about it we should start wearing flared trousers again.

st malo beach

St Malo Beach

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16
Oct
11

London Bridge Station

When they revamped London Bridge station some years back they took down the excellent big board full of departure information and replaced it with giant advertsiing displays. The departure informaiton was then displayed on little screens at awkward angles. The effect was absolutely appauling. I was a commuter at the time and had to scurry into the station and then weave my way through the seething mob to see one of these screens.

I was up there on Saturday night and they have renovated yet again. It seems that this time practicality has trumped advertsiing. They have cleared the whole area in front of the trains from platform 8 up and installed a massive bank of turnstyles. They have also installed the monitors displaying departure information back above the turnstyles.

London Bridge

London Bridge

08
Sep
11

The Pod at Heathrow

The Pod at Heathrow

The Pod at Heathrow

Up at Heathrow airdrome early this week and, after parking the ground car, I looked around for transportation to terminal 5. No bus but what appeared to be a fairground ride. This turned out to be “The Pod”. Some kind of personal rapid transit system known as ULTra (Urban Light Transit). These days I am a cynical old curmudgeon but I have to say that I was impressed. I used a touch screen outside the car to select my destination and the doors opened to reveal a something which was half dodgen and half roller coaster car. I think it would take 4 very comfortably but you could get six in it easily. You couldn’t stand up but you could put your bags in the middle.

Well made and with leather seats it ran very quietly. What fun! Looking at this youtube vid it appears that the thing is not on rails. Guided by bloody computers I expect. As I left the car park I saw other little pods pootling by in the other direction. A little like that scene on mars out of Blade Runner.

So it seems that the future has arrived. It is here at Heathrow.

Of course when I returned the next day I found a sign by the lifts telling me that the Pod was not running and I should use the bus at stand 22. At stand 22 there was a sign saying that I should use the pod. Hey ho. That’s Britain for you. We are quite capable of creating wonders of science but we can’t be arsed to make sure they work properly.

Pod

Pod

POD

POD

26
Jul
11

Queensland Diary – Part 2 – Hong Kong

Hu Jintao's Five Golden Flowers

Hu Jintao's Five Golden Flowers

Spent most of the flight watching the American version of The Office which is pretty good. Once you get over the fact that it is not merely a copy of the British program. About 4am BST I started watching Family guy and drifted off to sleep.

Stepping off the aircraft in Hong Kong in the brief transition between aircraft and walkway a feint but palpable waft of warm humid air hit me. With the smell of mildew in my nostrils and bright sunshine outside it felt very good to be back in the tropics. I and headed straight for the vast plate glass window and looked out onto the big glaring sky. A flat blue sea stretched away from the runway and islands lay scattered around. I was not in Heathrow anymore.

After a quick visit to the washroom to change my shirt and brush my teeth I wandered around the shops. Cleaner, more spacious and more orderly than The UK but to be fair Chek Lap Kok is a new airport. Even so it compares favourably with Heathrow Terminal 5. They let a lot of light in and don’t insist that every square inch of space be used for advertising.

Tablet computers seem to be big news here and Apple do not appear to have the prominence that they do in Europe or the America. I noticed tablet computers by the French company Archos which is interesting as, though these are pretty good products, they do not have much prominence in the UK. The book shop was stuffed with books on the new China in both Chinese and English. With China industrialising now seems to be a good time to write books about the rise of China and the decline of The West. A bit fo a bandwagon if you ask me. One book, in Chinese, had a picture of President Hu surrounded by images of 5 women. What could this be? I Emailed a Chinese friend who translated the title as: “Hu Jintao’s Five Golden Flowers Female Best Friends”. From the title alone, my friend suggested that this could be “one of those romance novels about President Hu”. Ah yes, one of those. I see (he said, but he didn’t really). Perhaps democracy is not such a bad thing if it spares us creepy romance novels about politicians.

Upstairs I looked around the food halls which were similar to those you find all over the far east. Shops selling food and shared seating areas. I had no currency. Should I change money to get a soda? – There I slipped into American again. 10 hours out of the UK, the whiff of the tropics and this Englishman has started to come alive again.

22
Jul
11

Queensland Diary – Part 1 – Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport by seltzercan

Heathrow Airport by seltzercan

Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport, 4pm, Friday, 24th June 2011

At Heathrow airport, after passing through security, I am disgorged directly into an alcohol and perfume shop. Naturally. What else? As I continue through this shopping mall I am faced with a fork in the path. Turn left and hit expensive perfume and then on to the relatively up market Sushi bar or turn right and be confronted with chocolates and WH Smiths. Even at the airport England is a class ridden society. The areas closer to the departure gates are the Mayfair of Heathrow for the upper class. Champagne and salmon. Shirts by Pink and bags by Mulberry; there is even a fucking Harrods! Farthest from the gates are the shops selling last minute “I’ve been to London” memorabilia. But British airports are a great leveller for whatever one’s class, religion or ethnicity we are all temporary captives of the airport marketing machine.

The idiotic Bridge Bar is one of a very few places to get a real meal but is always packed and has no waiter service yet one must have a table to order a meal. If you are lucky enough find a vacant table you must go to the bar to order and inevitably join a queue. Inevitably, again, by the time you have ordered you have lost your table.

The ludicrously named Cafe Italia uses a little seating area with an almost Soviet canteen feel to it. I am tempted to say that at least this place has waiters but to call the voiceless delivery men waiters is going too far. I sit by the trolley laden with dirty dishes and eat an expensive but tasty Lasagne.

The air conditioning is not able to cope with the number of people and the environment has become muggy, humid and filled with the wreak of discarded food. The shop assistants resort to fans but the public are left to fester.

“This a security announcement. All persons are reminded that…” – Other than public announcements when else do we refer to people as persons? I think that the British lack self confidence and this manifests itself in pomposity in public announcements. Along with moronic violence at football matches of course.

The romance has been surgically extracted from the modern British airport. Gone is the aviation themed decor, there is no view of the runway, there are not even pictures of aeroplanes. In fact once inside there is no indication that we are in an airport at all. We may as well be sitting in the shopping mall of any mid size British town. Gone are the days of the large boards where people could sit in peace and wait for their gate to appear. Now we are forced to trudge around to find a little display board. This enforced perambulation is probably a ploy by British Airport Authority (BAA) to push us past the shops and encourage us to buy yet more crap. In the old days there would have been a large clock visible by everyone but no longer. I suspect that the absence of a clock is to accentuate our feeling of detachment. We are suspended in time and space. Our here and now is controlled by BAA and our raison d’etre is shopping.

No natural light enters and after an hour or so we lose track of the time. Is it early morning, mid afternoon or the middle of the night? We have no way of knowing. We have jet lag before we have left the ground. Like termites we scurry around in our mound unaware that just few feet away lies another world. The world of the support staff where people go about their normal lives. Drivers, technicians, cooks. Thousands of people working away to support this artificial environment of transitory morons.

I sit gormlessly staring at a departure board. Adverts are beamed into my subconscious. Smartphone – Italy – Must use Smartphone in Italy.

Eventually the gate opens and we are told that first class and business class may board through gate B . Frequent Flyer Gold and Platinum may board through gate A. Disabled and various other concessionaires may board at any time. And me? What about me? I must board last Good, for as ghastly as the airport is at least I have some leg room.

A departure lounge this aint

A departure lounge this aint

02
Jun
11

Helsinki

Helsinki Station

Helsinki Station

On Sunday I flew to Finland. Helsinki? No I went of my own accord. It was never a good joke in it’s original form and obviously my rendition is no better.

At long last Terminal Three at Heathrow seems to have been tarted up and there was room to swing a cat. Sadly, there were no swinging cats there, just we motley collection of tourists and jaded business travellers.

I am being too cynical. In fact Heathrow is better since the renovation though I still protest every public space in England being transformed into an over priced shopping mall. The “luxury brands” swarm like bloated maggots around departure lounges though why any marketing wallah should think that having the name of Harrods suspended over a shop selling tatt to the masses would do their brand image any good I don’t know.

I’ve heard stories of luxury brands, such as Louis Bloody Vuitton, destroying their merchandise rather than let unsold items appear on the market at knock down prices and I had imagined that this was driven by a determination to artificially maintain exclusivity. But these days the luxury brands appear to be targeting both the toffs and the chavs and I suspect that in a few years time they will have completely destroyed their brand name. In fact I heard that Burberry have hit this exact problem and are now trying to claw there way back to exclusivity. If they’re not careful it will be Robinson’s Barley Water all over again.

I used to drink RB and had bought it fairly regularly over the years. However, a while back I noticed that they had not only changed the bottle to some misshapen plastic abomination but had also brought in a lot of other concoctions which they are flogging under their brand name. I mistakenly picked up a bottle of some rubbish which proved to be undrinkable. I continued to by the stuff for a while but the plastic bottle somehow makes the stuff irksome and it spends it’s days at the back of the shelf with all the supposed goodness gradually settling out until I notice just how foul looking it has become and throw it out.

I stayed at the Sokoto Presidentti in Helsinki which was satisfactory. The bathrooms have an almost medial appearance with their over engineered shower apparatus but the Spanish restaurant delivers a very good pepper steak and crème brulee.

The Helsinki natural History Museum

The Helsinki Natural History Museum

In the evening I stood outside the hotel, my view of the Natural History Museum obscured by an unending procession of tour buses disgorging Japanese tourists. I’d read somewhere that Berliners are up in arms at the number of tourists who clutter up their beautiful city and I sympathise.

Despite the concentration of tour buses at the hotel, Helsinki seems not to suffer the scourge of mass tourism. Wandering the streets in the evening I found them almost deserted. Even at Helsinki Cathedral there were just a few local people sitting on the steps enjoying the evening.

Hypocritically I travel quite frequently and my impression of the UK is that it appears fundamentally different from continental Europe. Northern Europe has a certain uniformity engendered by common street signs for “Centrum”, yellow trams and tall warehouses. Possibly multiple forcible attempts at unifications by megalomaniac dictators resulting in massive loss of life also have something to do with it – Northern Europe has a more communal feel to it.

One evening I visited the Sokos Helsinki restaurant overlooking the railway station for a delicious steak sandwich. From the balcony it is possible to look out over Helsinki station and the trams, one of which appeared to be a travelling bar – What an excellent idea!

Many people in Helsinki ride bicycles but seem not as obsessed with having the right gear as the cyclists in England. The young men seem to be heavy metal enthusiasts and wear jeans, studs and beards. One motorcyclist sported two enormous cow horns on his crash helmet. All a bit Viking which is odd as I am told that their language is unrelated to Scandinavian languages and instead shares it’s history with Hungarian.

About 11pm, when it was still broad daylight, I discovered a video and sweet shop. Numerous videos and numerous types of sweet all in tall jars including the a suspicious brand named Tyrkish Peba. Which I love but which, I suspect, was originally invented as some kind of chemical warfare agent as it is composed partly of Ammonium chloride.

Returning to the hotel I found it overrun by youths who continued to race around the corridors until the early hours creating a sort of carpeted, indoor version of the Bronx.

On the flight home I got talking to a girl who was publishing a book to be named “No Fear” on the changing face of business leadership brought about by globalisation and technology. An interesting discussion though difficult, given the incessant announcement over the tannoy. In an effort to cover themselves and sell us more stuff, corporations bombard us with advertisements and inane safety warnings. We get this on aircraft, on the London Underground and in those imbecilic, and legally questionable, online “agreements”. Corporations will claim that they need to communicate with their customers but this is a very one sided form of communication. I don’t care about the ground speed, the height or their selection of duty free items. I especially don’t care to hear it in multiple languages one after the other at full volume from a loudspeaker positioned 12 inches from my left ear. I sometimes feel like taking a megaphone onto an aircraft and retaliating. I recall a friend who tried this in the back of a taxi once and got thrown out at Trafalgar Square….but that’s another story.

16
Jan
11

Web site Terms and Conditions are bollocks

Read carefully or you might invalidate the guarantee

Read carefully or you might invalidate the guarantee

Today I bought a plant sprayer. A fairly simple plastic bottle with a plunger to compress air and a trigger to spray a fine mist over plants. Getting it home I took off the top to fill it up and found a 12 page instruction leaflet inside. 12 pages in about 10 ten different languages. The leaflet included a guarantee which was voided if the thing was not used in accordance with the instructions.

All this for a plastic plant sprayer.

This reminds me of an incident in the media last year where a man bought a ticket from one destination to another. The train stopped at an intermediate station and for some reason could go no further. The man got off the train and tried to exit the station to finish his journey by alternative means. The ticket inspector refused to accept his ticket and he was fined for not having a valid ticket. Yes, this happened, and some imbecile railway official was interviewed on the radio and pointed out that the man had bought the ticket over The Internet and had therefore been fully informed of the terms and conditions which state “No break of journey is permitted in either direction”.

The spokesman said that the he must have been aware of this condition as would have had to tick the box indicating that he had read and understood the terms and conditions.

When we make a purchase we are entering a contract with another person or company. Most countries have general laws about sales but often a contract is implied. However, modern technology allows the supplier to write reams of conditions and present them to the buyer at the last moment. The buyer is then expected to read these, consider them carefully and tick a box to indicate acceptance. This is bollocks!

A quick perusal of The Web uncovered a generic web site Terms and Conditions document made available by SEQ LEGAL LLP. The document is intended to for use in in relation to “websites with common kinds of interactive features, such as blogs, bulletin boards, forums and chat rooms”. The document runs to seven pages and the first sentence reads: “These terms and conditions govern your use of our website; by using our website, you accept these terms and conditions in full.”

The process of presenting a person with seven pages of legalistic nonsense just seconds before he engages in an activity has been enabled by modern technology without any thought of whether this is reasonable or even legal. If we accept this sort of bollocks then companies will use it more and more.

It’s bad enough that pubs now have bouncers on the doors but pretty soon you will be required to swipe a card or text a number to signify that you agree to the pubs Ts & Cs.

As for the specific condition of Southern Railway that “No break of journey is permitted in either direction” – this is obvious bollocks. What are we passengers or kidnap victims?

21
Dec
10

Snow chaos – Management keep their heads down

Phillip Hammond - Messenger boy for big business

Phillip Hammond - Messenger boy for big business

I have been watching the chaos that a few inches of snow has caused in The UK. It is interesting that we never see or hear from a CEO or manager of the private companies involved. When discussing the road we have cometary from a guy from the RAC. When discussing the railways we have a reporter quoting anonymous statements from “Network Rail”. When reporting on air travel BBC1 News had an interview with the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond.

This echoes a problem I had at London bridge last Thursday. The last train to Brighton was cancelled and the display board merely stated “ask for assistance”. From who? The girl at the ticket office suggested I go to Three Bridges but didn’t consider how I should continue to Brighton. Eventually I found three members of staff huddled together out of the way where nobody could take to them. They knew nothing.

It occurs to me that key british infrastructure has now been outsourced to the private sector but that CEOs and Managers of these companies refuse to be held accountable. They are happy to collect fat salaries but refuse to stand up and be counted when their organisations face challenges.

This has become so much an accepted part of British life that the Transport Secretary now goes to meet British Airport Authority and then, like some messenger boy, is forced to answer questions from the press. Mr. Hammond is a politician for God sake! He sets policy. He knows nothing about de-icing aircraft. He should not be held to account for the day to day operational control of infrastructure. Certainly if the infrastructure continues to perform badly he should be held to account but the guy standing in from of the camera on the day that flights are cancelled should be the manager of Heathrow Airport or the CEO of BAA.

The Chief Executive Officer of BAA is Colin Matthews.
The Chief Operating Officer of Heathrow Airport is Nick Cullen.
The acting Chief Executive of Network Rail is Peter Henderson.
The Operations & Customer Services Director of Network Rail is Robin Gisby.

It is time they spoke up.




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