Saturday, January 26, 2008

would you sell this woman a kebab?

As ever, I'm on a train, Metro in hand. Being a Saturday it's a day out of date, but nonetheless I've found something to pass comment on.

It would seem that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has been desparately trying to go back on what she said about Britain's Streets not being safe, and an aide made the point that she recently bought a late night kebab in Peckham without being afraid. But it transpires that she had a Police guard when she did so.

Stephen Crabb quite rightly asked "what's happening on Britain's streets when the Home Secretary needs an armed guard to buy a kebab?"

Furthermore, I'd like to ask why she was buying a kebab in Peckham anyway. I can't quite picture her being on a drunken night out, and the words "shameless publicity stunt" spring to mind.

Obviously with the media discovery of the police guard this back-fired a bit. I'd also like to ask therefore why in a country where we don't have enough police, and apparently don't pay them enough the government can justify splashing on a guard purely to salvage reputation?

Answers on a postcard...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Now that I've started using Blogger to upload images....

...I can post this. Surprisingly, for my mobile telephone, the quality isn't that bad. Any hope that I had of not having to explain what the image is of however still went out of the window because I didn't have a wide enough angle lens to get all the text in.

The trough has "Metropolitan Drinking Fountain & Cattle Trough Association" engraved alongside it. I found it in Hyde Park, and was amused.

I wonder what sort of person has "member of Metropolitan Drinking Fountain & Cattle Trough Association" on their CV? And does anyone know what the association actually does, beyond providing this key facility in the centre of London's biggest park?

For the benefit of both my readers

Good Times...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Student Loans (again)

Finally I have found a moment to respond to some comments here and here and re-written this post to clarify my ranting a bit. Do take a look.

Meanwhile, although I have made the point when referring to Dave's comments below, I would like to clarify that (according to Wikipedia) the Student Loans Company is not a private company. Instead, it "is a non-departmental public body of the United Kingdom government, responsible for the provision of financial support to students attending university."

Of course, by hiding behind the moniker of a "Limited Company" they can do all sorts of wrong and blame 'privatisation' and 'evil capitalists' and the like. This government is really rather good at that, and it's amazing how many apparently intelligent people are so easily fooled.

In this case the wrongdoing stems around the fact that the current rate of interest on a Student Loan is 4.8%. Despite assurances that this was a loan "at the rate of inflation" 4.8% is in fact at least double other figures which I have seen recently purporting to be "the rate of inflation". If public sector workers had their pay capped at this, and not 2.1%, we might have less cause for discontent, threats of strikes, and large scale protests.

Then, as I have said before, because they don't deduct what is paid back until the end of the tax year, I am paying out each month whilst watching my loan continue to rise. I really should do my sums, but I reckon that this makes the actual rate of interest paid very high indeed.

Of course, you have to read the small print to find this out. If you're burdened with a loan, I wonder if reading this makes you as horrified as I was...

A near 'Notting-Hill' moment

The other day I was crossing London & as I got off the tube, the coat hanger in my suit carrier got caught in a young woman's handbag.

This could have been an 'orange juice moment' a la Notting Hill, but the lady in question wasn't an attractive film star* and I didn't have a house nearby, nor a funny Welsh flatmate.

So it was really just a small and slightly awkward incident bearing little resemblance to any scene in one of my favourite films. On balance it's probably for the best that she wasn't even that attractive.


*not that I know of, anyway

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

JP gets on his high horse again (revisited)

Some of you may have read that First Great Western's passengers are planning a Fare Strike. You can find out about it here , for example

Voicing dissatisfaction is all well and good, but hang on. Fatalities on the line? Floods? You can't blame FGW for that. Overcrowding? Not just FGW at fault. And - see my last railway rant - it was Southern who threw their passengers out into the cold and sent the train on fast. At least, in my experience, FGW staff are generally very polite and helpful when there is a problem.

My biggest problem with all this however is that the organisers state "persauding the government to take back the franchise" as one of their aims.

Hang on a minute. This is the same government whose Deparment for Transport has caused well documented problems for FGW by messing about with rolling stock allocation.

The same government whose demand for large franchise payments has been a significant factor in recent fare rises. And does all this money get reinvested in the railways, or does it end up elsewhere in the big murky pot known as 'government spending' (in which case it's another tax)? I'm not certain, but I think I know the answer...*

And finally, this is the same government who are currently threatening a cut in public spending at the next budget.

So who in their right mind would want them to take the franchise back?

The problem here is that this could be seen as a black and white 'privatisation or not' argument, which it isn't. Whichever side of that fence you stand there are pros and cons, and it winds me up when rational people, who ordinarily would stand back and consider the wider picture, feel that at all costs the grass is greener with the government. It's a blinkered, intolerant "private companies are bad" mentality which leads to the weird belief that despite their track record** in other areas the government would be perfect at running the railway.

There might have been problems with the post-privatisation era (possibly stemming from the way in which it was implemented), but governments of both persuasions were previously to blame for years of chronic under-investment. At the end of the day I don't care how the job is done, I just want it done properly. Personally I blame the government for the fact that it has not been the case for a while, and I find it hard to go running to them now for a solution.

*Northern Rock. Or people who eat too much, by the looks of things.

**Excuse the pun.

Monday, January 21, 2008

whilst we're talking about the Metro...

...I have to admit to being slightly annoyed with an article at the back end of last week. I was pleased to see that a page had been devoted to Up Helly Aa, the beautifully random and exciting-sounding Viking festival which I enjoyed finding out about when I visited the Shetland Isles. I always enjoy articles about quirky events and things which are off the beaten track, and I felt that this fitted the bill.

However, I'd just texted my fellow Shetland travelling companions to point out that there could sometimes be something of interest in my beloved Metro when I noticed the "information box" about Shetland. Said box contained such apparently useful information as "currency: pound", but actually this is not surprising given that the Shetlands are part of the British Isles. To me there was an implied ignorance, and I was duly annoyed.

Anyway, let's not get too negative. On the whole I do really like the Metro, and despite such minor issues I do feel that the reporting is generally quite good. Sorry, Dave, but this means that I don't have any reason to doubt their claims about the Student Loan scandal* this morning.

*perhaps such tabloid language comes across as hypocritical given my last post, but hey, everything has its place. And in this case, "scandal" would seem to be a good word...

"the guy with the penis"

I've said before that I'm a fan of the Metro, and, rising above the derisive cries of "it's a rag!", I'll say it again. I'm a fan of the Metro.

I like the fact that it helps me to catch up with the day's news in a casual way on the train to work in the mornings. The writing style isn't that bad, and it's more informative than some tabloids one might part with money for. These days it isn't even as though the BBC News page is any better at all; personally I think that the BBC News has suffered a decline in spelling and grammatical standards, and has become too 'tabloid' with its headlines. Digressing slightly, I thought that the BBC had reached a new low with its coverage of the recent plane crash. Quotations such as "he deserves a medal as big as a frying pan!" belong in rags like the Metro, and who cares about the elderly couple who watched the crash on the TV News, despite living just yards from the crash site?

Anyway, back to the topic in hand, I also like the amusing stories in the Metro. The recent anecdote about the guy who drunkenly changed his name by deedpole to Big Crazy Lester was a classic. Sometimes, however, even I have to agree with those who say it's "utter drivel" and the Metro I picked up today was - in a juvenile way - a case in point.

Today's 60 Second Interview was with John C Reilly, and the first question was something about being in close proximity to a penis in his new movie*. I hope that I'm not alone in finding this disturbing. Out of all the questions which could have been asked...Out of all the possible "key moments" one could write in to a movie script...

In a juvenile way, however, I did raise a big smile at the answer, which contained the line "the guy with the penis was a real sport". To me it read in the same manner as "the guy with one arm was a real sport", and it was as though Mr Reilly feels that the poor man had some sort of affliction.

I'm assuming here that the reference wasn't to John's own John Thomas, as it were; that would have been an equally disturbing question then, but for different reasons.

JP talks phones

I'm slightly annoyed with myself, for last week my phone fell out of my pocket, cracking the outer case across the screen, and - more worryingly - around the on/off button. These things happen, I guess, but if I learned not to rush so much it might have been avoidable.

Anyway, I'm left with a bit of a dilemma. Despite being just over two years old, I really like my phone. It's a Nokia 6822 if you're interested in that sort of thing, the one with the fold out keyboard. I like the fact that it still 'turns heads', as it were, although looking good is a convenient by-product. More importantly it is incredibly useful for texting and writing emails on the move, whilst its small size and lack of software wizardry means that it fits comfortably in a pocket (unlike many "smartphones"), isn't prone to crashing, and doesn't guzzle too much battery juice.

For these reasons, along with the fact that I can save on line rental and the fact that I don't like the 'disposable' trend in society, I'm keen to keep my phone running as long as possible. But now, with a dodgy on/off button, my phone is edging ever closer to being 'on its last legs' and might need replacing sooner rather than later.

And so we come to the dilemma. Nokia do not make the 6822, or a direct replacement, any more. There was the 'E70' with some extra features, but it was bigger and apparently suffers from the aforementioned software glitches and battery life problems. Evidently most people want 'smartphones' which do everything, but I like my separate PDA for writing documents, watching movies and the like. If I don't need all that gadgetry I can leave it at home, and if I use up the battery watching movies the biggest problem is that I'll have to stop watching; I won't also have severed my communication in the process. And again, there's the size problem.

A quick eBay search reveals that I could get a 6822 for about GBP 50.00, but there are catches. The used ones might not be in great condition, and may well need unlocking, which is a murky world I'm loathe to delve in to. There are also some "new" ones from Hong Kong, allegedly fully unlocked for use in the UK and with a warranty. The problem here is that "new" actually means refurbished, and my experience with an aftermarket case from eBay for a similar phone was not pretty. Warranty or not GBP50.00 is a lot to splash on a phone which may be of dubious quality.

Then, if I'm honest, there are one or two things which I don't like about my phone, and as I want my phone to last, are worth considering if I'm going to have to live with them for another couple of years. The message memory is pitifully small, there is no High Speed Internet capability and the camera is rubbish. If there's one 'extra' I do appreciate on a phone, it's the camera, and it would be nice to blog some proper photographs rather than a blur of colours and a description of what you should be seeing. So, maybe I should get something different. Can I live without the keyboard? Probably - I have one for my PDA which I'm using now, but then again I don't always take my PDA and keyboard with me.

Are there any geeks* out there who would care to offer any advice, please?

*Like me.

Monday Morning with JP*

It's been a bit quiet in this corner of the blogosphere recently; not through lack of things to say**, but due to lack of time in which to say them. Happily I have now found myself on a train with time to rectify the situatiion, so if you're sitting comfortably, as they say...

Personally I'm not quite sitting as comfortably as I could be. Partially that's because the train is really manky, and partially that's because my attempt to pre-empt the call of nature before embarking on this stage of my journey*** was hindered at every turn. Both sets of Gents at Swindon station appeared to be locked this morning, and when I asked why I was told "there's disabled toilets which are open". How silly I felt for not making that connection myself. Anyway, that was possibly a lie, because the disabled toilet (singular) was also locked. That may have been because it was in use, but I didn't have time to find out and I went to board the train. "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise that due to a technical fault there are no toilet facilities onboard today...".

Nice. That too might have been bending the truth slightly unless "someone blocking it with paper and making it unhygienic" classes as a technical fault, because apparently that's what the problem really is. On the plus side, "we can use it if we really need to". I'm hoping that I don't, he says, bordering on the verge of "too much information!"

At least the guard on this train is friendly and helpful, so from that point of view they've got something right.

Moving swiftly on, I have been pleased to receive various comments in recent weeks; I know I've been a bit slow**** but I'll reply in due course when I'm back at a proper computer. Both of you who read this should know that scoop photographs of the Afro Days will appear; I've just had a technical issue (not one involving toilet paper) with my images. Meanwhile, it might interest Dave to know that the headline on the Metro this morning reads "double-dealing on student loans". Someone else, it seems has cottoned on to the same issues I was ranting about in my recent post, and although it might be a 'private company' by name I need more convincing than ever that the government has no involvement at all.

*Like Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Except that the J doesn't stand for 'Jonathan' and the P doesn't stand for 'Ross'.

**Far from it.

***"Keep the water fresh: use the toilet before you swim". Or so reads the shiny LCD sign at the swimming pool in Horsham.

****Blame the fact that Gareth actually agreed with me and I needed time to recover.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

it seems as though people campaign about anything these days

It's well documented that I have no time for people who wave placards*. Earlier, I saw the BBC link about an anti-traffic light campaigner. Really.

However, I resisted being abusive without getting my facts right for once**, and rather than shouting "get a job!" I let my curiosity get the better of me and read the article. It actually makes for some very interesting reading and although I'd never want to admit in public to supporting an anti-anything campaigner, I do like the thinking...

*I'm generally referring to those in protest of something, like the demolition of a "nice looking building in Bath", but those who advertise golf sales don't seem to contribute much to life either.

**I hope you're proud of me.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Car Spotting

I took my bike out for a bit of a blast at the weekend, and really enjoyed it, especially as the weather was good, and there was some beautiful scenery en route.

"That's nice", I hear you say, and it was. But for those of you expecting more, be it tales of adventure or humorous anecdotes I'm going to leave you disappointed as there's little else to say.

Except for the fact that on separate occasions I was passed by a total of three different Chrysler Neons. I thought that it was semi-noteworthy, and I'm sure that there are some for whom that's a significant fact. If you're wondering what a Chrysler Neon is, that's probably not you. There's a clue in the title, if you're feeling really lost.*

I was also passed by at least three Mazda MX5s, incidentally. If I had a 'special stare', I'd have used it for the driver of the one who had the roof up on such a nice day. Scrooge.

*it's a car. I know very little about it, but I understand it's quite rubbish as these things go.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

another stealth tax

So, I have just been reading through the glossy leaflet supplied by the Student Loan people about repayment of my loan. Although the interest rate is just casually stated somewhere in the middle it would appear to be getting on for double what it used to be. And then there is the small fact that although repayments have been automatically deducted from my wages they won't be taken off what I actually owe until April. On this basis, the interest I will end up paying is not simply "rate of inflation" as is claimed. If this was a private company they could rightly be done for false advertising and making misleading claims.

I'm quite annoyed to be honest. I wonder how many people haven't even read this small print and are obliviously paying back their loans without thinking about it.

Those of you up North will probably still vote Labour because "income tax hasn't really increased" but to me this is just another example of a dishonest government bleeding us for more money.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

so it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black

Or so it would seem, given that in my last post I denounced Greenpeace for talking rubbish when I didn't even bother to substantiate my own claims.

I was happy to stand corrected, so thanks to Alasdair for pointing out that I could have just done a quick Google search, and to Simon for coming up with these interesting links:

So, it would seem that Greenpeace were right. I can't even blame them for not substantiating their claim in the first place as it may have been the reporting media who are to blame for that. Sorry, folks.

The question of course does remain about whether the mercury from energy saving bulbs does more harm than that chucked out by coal power stations, but Alasdair rightly points out that any issue here could be overcome through recycling.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

save the lightbulb, save the world

In light* of this article, I've been thinking about the importance of substantiating claims, especially when talking about environmental issues.

Specifically, I want to draw your attention to the comments made by Greenpeace:

"Rather than being worried about the mercury these light bulbs contain, the general public should be reassured that using them will actually reduce the amount of mercury overall in our atmosphere."

The implication of the above statement is that energy usage has an effect on the amount of mercury released in to the atmosphere. Now, maybe I'm not clued up enough, and I'm happy to be corrected, but I don't think that power stations in this country throw mercury out in to the atmosphere, at least not in any significant quantity. If they did, for example, one wonders why the good people of Didcot are not all up in arms about living in the shadow of such a power station.

In other words, Greenpeace are talking rubbish. This is a shame, because - in theory at least - there are good reasons for using low energy bulbs. Whatever your view on the latest Global Warming panic - whether you think that we'll all die the Day After Tomorrow, and whether or not you think we can prevent it - using less energy is certainly a good aim. Without wishing to preach fruitarianism and force myself to knit my own underwear (from hemp) I do think that it is important to be environmentally aware and responsible, and certainly to be less wasteful than we are.

I say "in theory at least" because it is not a black and white issue**. From the BBC article we can gather that the low energy bulbs contain mercury and that there are disposal issues. What other nasty substances to they contain? Are the arising environmental issues as bad as excessive energy use? Do the manufacturing and disposal processes consume more energy than those for 'normal' bulbs?

To me it would be much better if we could see the whole picture, and make informed choices. Answers to the questions above would be far more useful than unsubstantiated noises about mercury in the atmosphere. 'Using less energy' seems like a sensible aim, but only if that's what is really achieved and the concept shouldn't be followed through blindly.

It's like the Toyota Prius. If you hadn't bought one, would you be prolonging the life of your old car and lowering its overall carbon footprint, all things considered? (Remember, that there is a lot of energy used in the manufacturing process). Would you have bought a diesel instead, which might have lower carbon emissions, and better economy? Would you have bought a car made in the UK, which doesn't require shipping from Japan (and all the associated energy use?). Would you have bought a car which doesn't need big batteries containing all sorts of chemicals, the mines for which are reported to be doing untold damage to the surrounding areas in the USA?

So, whereas it's good to be responsible and show some environmental concern, it would also be good if we could cut the shock headlines and the rubbish and make decisions which do some good rather than just make us feel good because the label is pink and fluffy.

* no pun intended

** of course there are some things we can do which are more black and white. Switching off lights when not in a room and not leaving devices on standby can have a massive cumulative effect without worrying about extra levels of mercury in the atmosphere and suchlike.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

JP talks hairstyles (part three)

So there I was, on the platform, waiting for the train home on which I would put thumbs to keys and begin to publish my thoughts about hairstyles when I saw a bloke with a massive 'fro.

It brought back fond memories from a time when I'd followed a similar style. Good times.

So, we've had 'product'. We've had baldness. But yet as I stood on the platform I felt a pang of envy...

JP talks hairstyles (part two)

In my last post I admitted to using 'product' in my hair. I was thinking that perhaps I should pay attention to my hairstyle - after all I won't be the most eligible bachelor in the village if I don't look good. I was even contemplating buying some 'product' myself and using it regularly.

But then on the train this morning I opened the Metro to find some photos of Kelly Brook. This, ordinarily, would have made for a good start to the day because she's hot. But, unfortunately, I opened the Metro to find some photos of Kelly Brook and her fiance. In any case that would have been a less good start to the day, but in this case I'm speechless because he's bald. All this talk of hairstyle, and it appears that I'd be best with no hair at all.

Of course, I'm being melodramatic. We all know that being bald isn't a guarantee of instant success with women. In this case though, he's bald, she's very beautiful and so the question must be asked "how does that work?!"

I wonder if it's all about his name - Billy Zane, apparently. Now I'm not convinced about the name 'Billy' and I wouldn't want to have the surname 'Zane' myself, but perhaps it is the sort of name about which one could use the phrase "chicks dig that" if one was so inclined. You might laugh, but I'm not so sure...I've been thinking that if I was called Brad, for example, all of the women who participated in my recent beard survey would have voted in favour*.

*Talking of which, I'm still unsure who it was who claimed to be a woman and a fan of the beard...

JP talks hairstyles (part one)

As you are probably aware, I'm quite a fan of Jeremy Clarkson.

Don't worry, I'm not about to talk about his hair, or increasing lack thereof. Instead, I shall mention the fact that he, and others, often talk with contempt about men who use 'product' in their hair. I quite liked such comments; aside from the fact that I found them quite funny, I generally agreed with the sentiment.

Of course, as far as I knew 'product' was Clarkson's sarcastic way of referring to hair gel, wax, etc. My sense of being streetwise is on a par with Norfolk, and I once bought Armani specs without realising, but even so, imagine my surprise when the lady cutting my hair yesterday actually asked if I wanted 'product' in it...

I tried not to show my amusement, as you would, and hopefully succeeded. The question is, however, how did I respond? Surely I didn't abandon the principle that real men should never use 'product'?

Sorry folks, I said yes. And the strange thing is, I'm not sure that I regret it...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Newbury in New Cinema Shock!

I've often joked about the fact that the headline on the Newbury Weekly News is invariably about plans for a new cinema, which never come to fruition. In fact, I've probably mentioned it here somewhere before.

Anyway, I was passing through* Newbury earlier and, true to form, the headline on the NWN seemed to be about plans for a new cinema.

I was suitably amused; some things never change it seems.

*literally, and co-incidentally. Given time and the freedom to do so I'd have liked to have stopped and checked out my old haunts, as it were, but alas it was not to be.

wiping the slate clean

Despite my New Year's reflection it's only just occurred to me to practise what I preach and clear my Blacklist and Whitelist. Sorry if you've been affected by the slightly delayed reaction there.

In some cases, the black marks were no longer of interest. For others, I feel that I am being gracious; but then why not? Enjoy my good mood whilst it lasts, people.

Let's see what 2008 brings...

two days in and I'm already talking about trains

...with good reason this time, as they have been hitting the headlines. Nonetheless, I appreciate that you might wish to skip my rantings and ramblings, which is fine by me. You don't have to read the rest of this post, and can just sit back and wait for another post, which will hopefully be more to your taste.

Network Rail have screwed up. Big time. As has been pointed out in the media coverage, there is no excuse for such poor planning when the works have been in the pipeline for so long. On the radio earlier, the Network Rail spokesman blamed "staff shortages", saying that lots of workers had taken annual leave. He noted that per track section they needed 40 people on shift for a particular job and had only been getting 20-25. So, by the sounds of things, despite having planned such a big project, the powers that be had allowed everyone to take holiday and then paid 25 people to stand around unable to do anything without their colleagues. *JP puts his thumbs up in a sarcastic manner*.

I am, however, it has to be said, impressed with Virgin Trains for the way in which they seem to have dealt with it. Chris Gibb's message on the lunchtime news was very passenger focussed and he was clearly doing all he could. Aside from the fact that some passengers have had problems with Value Tickets (which is a shame), Virgin Trains have evidently done their very best to get passengers to their destinations. I've even heard that they've lent trains to other companies to ease the crowding on the alternative routes.

Congratulations to Virgin Trains as well for publicly holding Network Rail responsible rather than taking the flack themselves. (I digress, but First Great Western could learn from this having apparently been screwed over time and again by the Department for Transport). The Labour MP for transport (whose name I'm not going to waste my time looking up) twittered on earlier on the radio about 'private companies', whilst the Conservative Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that actually Network Rail is a governmental concern. Ladies and Gentlemen, you can have whatever view you like on privatisation but the truth of the matter is that the government is to blame for this week's chaos.

I wonder if that's why that jester Bob Crow hasn't thrown a misguided tantrum this time? He has, after all, been conspicuous by his absence...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

didn't Elton John sing a song about this?

Things really picked up this afternoon, with a lovely walk down to the seafront with the family. I enjoyed skimming stones, and - for virtually the first time - also enjoyed a modicum of success with it. I can't quite match the vicar, but at least my stones now skim, as it were.


As the man* on TV said last night at midnight, "you can draw a line under the past and start afresh".

As I read in Isaiah this morning, for those who are repentant,

"though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they are red like crimson they shall become like wool."

Perhaps a good reflection with which to begin 2008.

*Gethin. Not Jools and his room full of humorously drunk celebrities, nor the two men on their boat setting off fireworks.**

**Which, incidentally, looked like fun.

if the way you cut your sandwiches says something about you

...then I like to think I went up in the world in 2007.

Happy New Year!