Thursday, December 22, 2011

On wanting mutual respect

I saw a condescending advert in the local paper the other day from one of the trade unions.  It was about Holly & Ivy and what they want for Christmas.

Holly & Ivy, apparently, are public sector workers, who have worked hard this year.  For Christmas they want the pension and the recompense they’d been promised, as well as “some mutual respect.” 

“Is that too much to ask?” the advert whined.

Well, maybe.  Respect is not a right, it is earned.  Implying that private sector workers don’t work as hard as you (when many of them work harder) is not a way to earn it.  Neither is throwing your toys out of the pram and striking when your ridiculous demands for triple pay are not met.

‘tis the season to be greedy, apparently.

Meanwhile, many of my friends in the NHS will, as a matter of course, be working on Boxing Day.  They won’t be paid triple, although they might earn it.  Funnily enough, they don’t have to bleat about wanting mutual respect, either – because most of us admire what they do and they have it already.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


There is a quote from a vicar in this Telegraph article which made me chuckle:

“I went to look, and it was an absolutely huge stash of cannabis. I had to nip over to the rectory and grab a Tesco carrier bag, and there I was, at 10am, in a dog collar, spooning this stuff into the bag, trying to maintain my equilibrium.”

I was going to say that I shouldn’t condone taking things out of context, but I have realised that no clarification was offered for what he did with his haul of cannabis.  I was just assuming that he was clearing it from church property and disposing of it in a legitimate manner.  Given the gist of the article (which is worth reading in full) one perhaps shouldn’t blame him for needing the “medicinal properties” of the leaves he found.  For the record, I don’t condone drug use either, but I do have very little time for the perception that vicars lead a leisurely lifestyle and only occasionally work on Sundays.  Some of them do, sadly, perpetuate that perception (and should really get off their backsides and get on with what God has called them to do) but on the whole it seems to me that the life of a vicar is manic and demanding – and not just at Christmas…

Friday, December 02, 2011

A more light-hearted start to Advent

In more ways than one at the moment I could be accused of losing the plot.  After my barrage of tweets yesterday about the BBC, the unions and Clarkson’s comments it’s probably time to chill out for a bit.

I am still annoyed that I can’t watch the trains on the One Show, and don’t like living in a society where – as one commentator put it – folk call for those who advocate being taken out and shot to be taken out and shot.  But I’ll put that aside for now.  Advent has begun, Christmas is coming and I have found a YouTube video which put a smile on my face….

Thursday, December 01, 2011

On living in a Communist State…

This morning, I looked back at my Twitter feed for yesterday and decided that I’d quite like to watch The One Show on iPlayer with my breakfast.  Not, of course, for reasons you might think.  What I had seen on Twitter were references to a report on the ‘Megatrain’ and given that I am a ferroequinologist, I thought I might find it quite interesting.*

Unfortunately, I discovered that yesterday’s show wasn’t available, so I watched a bit of Alex Salmond getting excited about Scottish Independence before reading the BBC News Page.  And there I discovered what everyone else had seen on Twitter about the One Show – that Jeremy Clarkson had made some controversial comments.  Is that why I cannot watch it?

Apparently he said that those on strike yesterday should have been lined up and shot.**  But does anyone really think that he genuinely believes that, and would have actually shot them given half a chance?  Or was it just a bit of classic exaggeration, designed to make a point?

Television, especially comedy, employs the latter a lot, and often to good effect.  And, offensive though his comments may have been to some, the underlying idea that he doesn’t have much time for those on strike is a fair point.  After all, most of us have graciously accepted that on average we now live longer, and on average we have to pay more for everything.  Including our pensions.  So why should a group of men on six figure salaries attempt to hold the country to ransom?***

I am struggling with the BBC’s apparent censorship of yesterday’s One Show.  After all, there are lots of potentially offensive things on TV.  Plus, in this case, we’re talking about an iPlayer episode, the content of which has been plastered all over the news.  So you should be able to make an informed choice about whether or not you wish to see it.

Unfortunately, the BBC has denied us that choice.  They have decided what we can and cannot hear about yesterday’s strikes, and have decided to protect my ears from Clarkson’s comments, even though my eyes have been unable to avoid them on their news page.  Why haven’t they gone to the same trouble in the past with other offensive comments?

The question is, of course, whether the episode would have been left on iPlayer if Clarkson had instead said “anyone who votes Tory should be lined up and shot.” 

Meanwhile, the sad thing is that in trying to make a point, and in limiting free speech, the BBC have also denied me the chance to watch a report I’d have been genuinely interested in.


*Yes, really

**I’m sorry if you found reading that offensive.  Please feel free to complain about this blog and campaign for its removal.

***I am, of course, talking about the Union bosses.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others

As you may have read or heard about in the news, there is going to be another protest against tuition fees in London today.  I’m sure that some of the participants will have a genuine belief in their cause and a genuine concern for others, but the cynic in me says that many in the crowd will be there for the day out (especially if it means skipping lectures) and the buzz of being part of something. It’s funny how so often we can use the excuse of thinking of others as a reason for doing something for ourselves.

But anyway, I’m getting side-tracked.  I started writing this post after reading this article on the BBC News Page – specifically Green Party member Jenny Jones’ comments that the idea of unarmed protesters being shot at is “frankly appalling” and that any police officer who used such force would have to “answer to the whole of London.”

Out of context, I’m sure people don’t disagree with her statements, although the over-the top references to Britain being like a Middle-Eastern dictatorship are a bit bizarre.  But let’s look at the reality of the situation. We’re talking rubber bullets, used to control violent behaviour – not random shooting of harmless people, as Ms Jones seems to want to imply with her attempt at scaremongering and scoring political points.

Of course, even when the context is understood, Ms Jones remains entitled to her own opinion.  But I am wondering why she has made no mention of the damage done in the last protests.  I recall reports of damage to buildings, a fire extinguisher thrown from a rooftop in to a crowd and an attack on Prince Charles’ car. 

Unsurprisingly, “frankly appalling” is a phrase I have also been known to use from time to time.  But in this case, it is the behaviour of some of the students which fits that description.  I would not use it to describe the work of the police in restoring law and order so that those who live and work in London can enjoy their right to get on with their day without inconvenience and without damage to property.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Awkward Moments for JP: Meeting a friend of a friend

I’ve not blogged for a while, and probably shouldn’t be indulging in this pastime now because I have a deadline coming up.  But as we all know, deadlines are great at stimulating procrastination.  I shall therefore proceed to spout an anecdote I’ve been saving for a rainy day.

A while back I was at a social event (a common occurrence, despite the fact that my job involves trains) when a friend explained that a friend of theirs was to join us.  I responded positively to this news, at which point my friend leaned in and said “they’re…” accompanied by some form of gesture.

“Sorry?” I said.

My friend leaned in again, repeated the gesture and said: “they’re…”

At once I understood.  The person who was to join us was deaf.  “Ahh” I said, smiling and nodding knowingly.

But when they joined us, I began to have my doubts.  They didn’t seem to have any difficulty in hearing what I was saying as I introduced myself.  I tried to subtly ascertain if they were lip-reading or wearing a hearing-aid and concluded that they weren’t.  Given that my attempts at subtle aren’t always successful they probably wondered why I was looking at them so strangely, but nothing was said.

The evening continued well, but there remains an unanswered question.  Just what was my friend trying to communicate?  It was a while back now, and even if it was appropriate to bring it up in conversation, what would I say?  And what if I need to be sensitive to something when I meet the person again?

As the saying goes, loose gestures cost lives…

Friday, October 21, 2011

Land of Confusion

I was reading this morning about the redevelopment of Reading Station (because I am cool like that), and I quite liked this helpful piece of advice:

"Although most trains will be using the same platforms as they are now, albeit with new platform numbers, some train services will be using different platforms."

So that’s crystal clear, then.

Friday, October 14, 2011

You can call me LLCoolJ

Today I'm heading up to the Lakes with a friend. He was going to be driving his VW Golf-a car I recently saw described by a German on Facebook as "like a Bratwurst: practical, easy to handle, value for money and to almost everyone's taste."

In the pub last night, however, I received the dreaded phone call. He'd broken down. This is never good news, but thankfully our weekend plans were not completely scuppered. My friend has been able to source a car from work.

I don't know what your preconceptions of a 'pool car' might be, but I certainly wasn't expecting this. Not only is it ideal for the long motorway journey, but it's a convertible! I know I've waxed lyrical about my other friend's Saab (of which I am a genuine fan), but when it comes to impressing the ladies, this is surely the Smart choice.


Monday, October 03, 2011

On being a petrolhead

For those of you who don’t know me very well, the fact that I don’t drive and work in the area of transport and the environment may make you think that I am the sort of person who knits my own sandals and eats a lot of muesli.  You may think that I will disapprove of you for owning a car, especially if is anything that isn’t small and dull.

Apart from the fact that I am actually partial to a bowl of muesli for breakfast, you’d largely be wrong.  At the tender age of three I apparently stood in a car park and identified a “Volvo” and a “different sort of Volvo” and I have not grown out of that fascination for things with wheels.  This is perhaps why I love the fact that my brother’s first car is an original Volvo T5 and I have a friend who now drives a Saab convertible (contrary to what it looks like however, I do not necessarily have a fascination for all things Swedish).

If you were to tell me that your car got good fuel economy, I would be pleased.  Such things are certainly commendable.  But “pleased” is about all I could say.  It’s that or describing it as “nice.”  Somehow, deep down, it’s dull.

On the other hand, if you cruised past me in a TVR I would smile not just with my head, and not just with my heart, but probably with every fibre in my body.  It has soul.  You probably have soul.

Yesterday, a friend of mine got up early to take his TVR to London and drive through some tunnels.  With other people who had had the same idea.  I was jealous, and if you look at this YouTube video I found from a similar event in 2009 some of you may understand why.

Yes, it’s pointless.  But the noise!  The looks!  The acceleration!  I think I’d have exploded with excitement if I was there.  And perhaps I’d have also felt a tinge of pride that until recently there was a factory in Blackpool which made these things.

One day, we may all be scuttling round in electric vehicles which have to be programmed to make a noise so that pedestrians can hear them.  And whereas there are many good things about that future, part of me thinks that perhaps that it is actually the past which is bright.  And orange.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Girls don’t like boys; girls like cars & money

When a friend of mine announced he was considering buying a convertible Saab, I wholeheartedly approved.

After all, "cheap" does not necessarily have to mean "Daewoo Matiz" (thankfully) and I always like it when people drive something a bit different.  Too many people choose not to take the opportunity when they have it, and before they know it their Fiesta has to be sold to make way for a people-carrier.  Then they're old, and so they buy a Hyundai.  *Yawn*

Of course, "different" does not always mean "good" and AutoTrader needs to be filtered quite carefully.  For example, if my friend had suggested a Rover, I'd have suggested some alternatives.  But Saabs are likeable, and have a good reputation for being well made.

So when my friend suggested we went to Romsey for lunch the other day the idea was much more appealing knowing that I didn't have to squash myself in to the back of a small car with no headrests.  Instead, I could enjoy a comfortable leather seat, and kick back with some tunes on the CD Changer.  I wouldn't be saying that if he'd spent the same (if not more) money on a Punto.  Neither would the Punto have air-conditioning, although in this case that was irrelevant.  In the words of Moby, "we had the roof down; the sun was shining in."*  I don't care how I looked - it was lush.

When it comes to girls, however, I have observed an interesting phenomenon.  I've spoken before about how all girls seem to care about is the colour.  We've all had the conversation with a girl about a car where they give the impression that all they know is that it's blue.

However, when they tell my friend that he is having an early midlife crisis, I'm not sure that this has anything to do with the fact that his Saab is red.  I'm sure that if it was blue they'd say the same thing. The "I'm a girl; I don't know anything other than the fact it's blue" line is a lie.  They know, and they're judging you.**

The funny thing is that although I wouldn't expect driving a convertible Saab to further enhance my desirability, I think that if you're a girl it may enhance yours.  So if you're smitten by the fact that I am witty, no longer smell like a girl and am was*** suntanned then there is a little tip for you...



*the black fact is, I was thinking of you.

**or at least they want you to think that.  I think that some of them actually quite like the car. Women.

***on the positive side, driving me round in a convertible will help the tan.  Everyone wins.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The writing’s on the sign….



The person responsible for this sign, which appeared on the BBC News Page today, probably passed their English GCSE at Grade C or above.  They may even have a Key Skills qualification in IT (which really should have pointed out the existence of a spell-checker). Or maybe the council had to find someone to do the sign on the cheap because they couldn’t pay those who are qualified enough to prevent them from going on strike.

A spokeswoman apparently said “People will either think we are stupid and we can't spell or they will have a good laugh.”

Actually, love, it’s not a case of “either/or,” and there is no ambiguity.  I know you can’t spell, and I am having a good laugh.

Well, I’m having a laugh.  I’m not sure whether it’s good or not, but it’s either that or crying.  If I had tweeted about this I think the hashtag I would have used would be #proudtobeBritish.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

England’s Green & Pleasant Land



This is a photograph of the old US Airbase at Greenham Common, near Newbury, taken a couple of weeks ago.  The airbase was closed in 1993, and it has since been “returned to common land.”  Apparently.  Despite the hype which went with the campaign, you can see that it still bears more resemblance to an airbase than it does to anything else. 

Meanwhile, nearby Thatcham and Coldash have swelled in size as new housing has been built.  I believe that most of the new developments are on previously unspoilt land, and that the development of higher ground contributed to the scale of some flooding a couple of years ago.  And whilst the new estates required new services and cabling, I am told that the infrastructure underpinning Greenham Common was state of the art.

The scars you can see on the landscape will continue to last, years after the politicians and councillors who curried favour with the people with the “common land” campaign have been forgotten.

It certainly gives some interesting perspective to the Greenbelt debate

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Climbing the [Google] charts with tea and cake

I’ve just had a cursory glance at the statistics for this corner of the Blogosphere.  Not only is it more exciting than returning from lunch to write a report, it is good for my ego as well.

Today I learned that someone landed here after asking Google “what is lesbian tea.”  Apparently, one of my earlier posts was relevant.  Arguably, the photograph illustrated it quite well (although I prefer the term “metrosexual tea”), so I hope that they found it useful.

Some say that you can’t have tea without cake, and it seems as though if you search Google for “JP’s cake corner” my rankings remain even more impressive.  Sadly, most people who end up here for that reason are likely to be disappointed.

Having said that, the brownies I made recently were independently verified (by a trustworthy source) as being “good.”  That was also good for my ego, and I should probably make them again sometime.

This chatter isn’t good for my report though, so I had better shut up with some haste.  Have a nice afternoon!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On National Strikes

I’ve not been on a train today, and neither have I experienced any bad customer service.*  Fear not, however, the trade unions are making threats again, and  that is also usually enough to bring me running to this corner of the Blogosphere with a need to vent my spleen.

From what I can see, the BBC article is outlining another classic tale of self-centred union politics.  As with all good strikes, the reasons behind this latest national threat are left unclear.  There is mention of the fact that some workers are due to have a pay freeze, but if that was a genuine reason to get uppity then I’d already expect to be hearing wails of complaint from the myriad of hard working private sector folk for whom that is currently a reality.  One of these days, these people will learn to be grateful for not being made redundant.

Interestingly, the unions talk in terms of “targeted” areas.  That sounds a bit specific for a general complaint about pay.  I don’t know why it’s taking them so long to draw up a list though, because any fool knows that the areas they will target are those with a Conservative MP and/or council.**  Maybe part of their fundraising strategy is to eek out a bit more sponsorship from Ed Milliband and the Labour Party and they need time to give a bit of a “pay up or else” ultimatum.  Who knows.***

*Actually, I’ve had almost no customer service today.  It’s been a dull day.

**I’m sure some of you will naively accuse me of being unnecessarily political.  Let’s just see where the strikes happen, and then you can agree that I was right to be cynical.

***On second thoughts, maybe they’re just slow.  After all, if they couldn’t find anyone more eloquent than the person who only answered “yep” to the BBC then it doesn’t bode well…



Monday, September 12, 2011

On Chinese Christianity

I won’t lie to you.  Even for the geeks and ferroequinologists amongst you, my last post was possibly one of the more monotonous I’ve written.

Even though it wasn’t quite as dull as this blog, I am pleased to say that if trains aren’t your thing I have found something else to talk about.

The BBC have produced an interesting article on the Chinese Church, and there is a radio programme which could be worth tuning in to.  As I have two ears and one mouth, I shall listen to it now and think about spouting prolifically later.  Enjoy…

It’s all about the customer service (and the sugary latte)

I was on a train this morning (as you do), and despite the fact that it was running late, I was in a good mood. 

Sadly, before some wisecrack makes a comment, this was nothing to do with a girl.  Alas. But please humour me and read the rest of my ramblings anyway.

Of the things which did contribute to my good mood, the first was the fact that Danny at The Whistlestop Cafe at Barnham had still had time to shake my hand and make me a Vanilla Latte.*  It was tight, but I made my connection.

The second is that Southern were really pro-active with their customer service. As we know, I am a stickler for customer service and good customer service makes me happy in the same way that bad customer service makes me annoyed.**

It was clearly one of those days today, with everything except the wrong leaves on the line.  But the guard on each train was informative, and apologetic (which goes a long way).  Notably, when it was announced that the train was going to terminate early (at Fareham), the guard came down the train to check onward travel arrangements with each group of passengers.  Most impressive of all, however, he then went to find out if it would be possible for me to stay on the train until Eastleigh, where I had a chance of making a connection.  The good news is that it was possible, and I had a whole train to myself for a while.  The bad news is that I just missed my connection (whose idea was closing train doors 30s early, anyway?), but you can’t blame Southern for not trying.

This has got me thinking.  I usually blog about trains when I am annoyed, but credit should be given where it’s due.  If I were to draw up the JP List of Winners & Losers (in the “customer service” and “rail” category) what would it look like?

I think that the winner would be Southern. Today’s episode was a particularly good example, but their staff these days are usually polite, friendly and proactive.  Even their posters ooze friendliness, and they have some good policies (such as Priority Seating).

First Great Western would be the runner up.  This may shock some of you who are used to their cramped local trains and the fact that they never put enough carriages on some routes.  But the staff seem apologetic for the shortcomings, their posters are also friendly and – like Southern – they are good at engaging with social media.  In fact, First Great Western deserve a special mention for the way they have engaged with this blog.

At the bottom end of the scale, I’d put South West Trains, whose only seem to be proactive about engaging with passengers when they want to penalise them for having the wrong leaves on their ticket.  Even their posters are rude and aggressive, and I’m not sure that “sorry” is in the vocabulary of some of their employees.  Whereas many companies have adopted Twitter (in the case of Southern and First Great Western to good effect), South West Trains are notable by their absence. Silence speaks volumes, as they say.

I know I’m going on a bit now, but if there was such a thing as a runner-up for last place then Arriva would probably take it.  They ignored my torrent of tweets from their cramped train*** and took five days just to acknowledge the fact I’d filled in an online comment form.


*I’m still not sure if this is tea or coffee. When I think “latte” I think coffee, but when I think “chai” I think tea…

**In some cases, it even gives me twitterhea

***To be fair, this may be because they have literally thousands of annoyed tweets to acknowledge.





Friday, September 09, 2011

On winning a sibling…

…or not, as the case may be. 

I know that I should be working but I’ve just briefly scanned the BBC News Page over coffee and feel the need to pass comment on one of the headlines, which reads “Gipsy Wedding star wins Brother.”

This has given rise to a couple of questions. 

- since when has “Big Brother” been acceptably abbreviated as “Brother?”  As I don’t watch it, I’m probably not in the best position to comment, but is the world really populated with people who say things like “did you see Brother last night?”*

- why does the BBC feel the need to compete with The Mirror and the Daily Mail?  Besides, if they’re going to go with trashy headlines they should at least put some effort in.

OK so this is not as serious as the freedom of speech issue concerning the BBC I raised yesterday, but in my best grumpy-old-man voice, I do feel that standards are declining.


*Actually, the world does contain people who watch Big Brother avidly, so I guess nothing should surprise me…


Thursday, September 08, 2011

The BBC & Greenbelt–a tale of Freedom of Speech?

For someone who doesn’t especially like The Guardian, least of all some of its self-righteous, self-opinionated, and generally fairly nauseating commentators (I’m looking at you, Miss Toynbee), I do refer to it an awful lot.  Maybe I’m in denial…

Anyway, my attention was drawn to this article via Twitter earlier.  The link was preceded by “BBC religion producers forbidden to speak at [Greenbelt].”

I’d be interested to know what you make of it.  Mr Ahmed perhaps has a fair point when he says that the producers in question “are still BBC employees and therefore anything they say about programming in the genre they work in has to be seen as official,” although I don’t understand why we have to assume that they are not entitled to their own opinions.

One of the issues at stake, of course, is the fact that Britain still has a Christian constitution.  It may be trendy to assume otherwise, and in many ways we do actually live in a secular society – but at the end of the day it is still perhaps incongruous for the British Broadcasting Corporation to get uppity about being seen at a large national Christian festival.

I would also like to ask Mr Ahmed whether BBC Producers are also banned from attending Muslim gatherings.

Readers of The Telegraph evidently had their doubts about Mr Ahmed long ago, and this article also makes for interesting reading.  Some of the comments are particularly thought provoking… 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

On playing the drums

I don’t play the drums, for the record.  But I did see a tweet this morning which amused me, and thought that I would quote it here for your general amusement and delectation.  After all, I’ve not had the chance to post much else here recently, and I’d hate for the place to become full of cobwebs again.

“My neighbour knocked on my door at 2.30 this morning! 2.30am! Luckily for him, I was still up, playing the drums.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Exonyms ddibwynt

I tweeted so prolifically yesterday that even the most inobservant of you probably know that I was on a train through Wales.  Some of you are probably already on the edge of your seat in anticipation of my latest train-related blog post.

Please control your excitement, however.  I regret to inform you that there are no tales of romance.  There isn’t even much of a rant, having instead added my frustrations to the cloud of annoyance with Arriva Trains Wales which is already present on Twitter. There isn’t, if I am honest, much to say about trains, either.

Still, my story begins with me sat on a station platform, where I was waiting for a connection.  I was watching the electronic sign list the stops for the next train:

Filton Abbey Wood


Bath Spa

Bradford-Upon Avon



Southampton Central

Admittedly this was probably only marginally more interesting than watching paint dry, but please bear with me.  As the place names scrolled across in front of me, the computerised announcer then also decided to read them out.

“Filton Abbey Wood,” he said, “Bristol Temple Meads, Caerfaddon, Bradford-Upon-Avon, … Westbury … Caersallog … Southampton Central … “

It was as though he had a cough.  Or a speech impediment. But how hard is it to say “Bath Spa?”

I’m sure that it’s of great historical importance that the Welsh language has some exonyms.  But even the most ardent of Welsh speakers must surely know that there is a place called “Salisbury” (that or they’ve never crossed the border, in which case it’s irrelevant anyway). 

Don’t get me wrong, I am actually a big fan of the Welsh language, and the fact that it has not been allowed to die out.  It just seems a bit incongruous (and a little bit comical) that Arriva can’t afford proper trains, but someone has to pay for information to be given in Welsh.  And presumably for someone to stand on the platform to reassure concerned passengers that the train does still stop in Bath…

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Geek Spotting

As I get older and wiser, I am realising that I cannot avoid the fact that I may come across as a bit of a geek.  This is probably not surprising (I am a ferroequinologist, after all), but it does mean that even folks with names like Mike Posner think that they’re cooler than me.

I do try and make up for this by adding chic to my geek, although this doesn’t always go as planned.  My brother’s reaction to my new Versace glasses, for example, was “are they fake?”*

Thankfully, I realised today that there are always some people in the world who are geekier than you, no matter who you are.  Unless you’re the one of the guys I saw on the train this morning.

The guys in question were sat a little further up the carriage from me, and I don’t think that anyone would question whether or not their glasses were genuine, because I don’t think that there is a market in counterfeit NHS items.  As is the way with such types, they were conversing quite loudly, and I was able to enjoy being a bystander to their banter. Such that it was.  There were lots of numbers being bandied around, and a debate as to whether one of them was going to “chase the four 57s he still needed to spot.”

The highlight for me, however, was when we passed what I would describe as a fairly ordinary train** and suddenly there were cries of “Ooh, there she is! Haven’t seen her for yonks!” and “The beast herself! What a beast she is!”  I’ve also never seen someone whip out a notebook so fast.***

Maybe you had to be there, but I thought it was quite funny. And, like the Pharisees in Luke’s Gospel, I was thankful that I was not like those people.  Even though, if you change the emphasis, we all know that I might be one of those people.


*I have to confess that I wouldn’t actually know if they were.

**I would describe it like this when I am trying to hide the fact that I am a geek as much as possible.  But between you and me, I did actually happen to know what sort of train it was.  It was a Class 90, for the record.

***Casual observers looking the other way may not have seen someone whip out their phone as fast as I did.  I felt the need to record the banter, especially for my friend Skittles who sends me regular texts about the antics of the anoraks at Crewe station.****  Apologies if you were one of the people I also sent the banter to in my frenzy of excitement.  It was otherwise a very boring train journey.

****I am not sure how this sub note on a sub note thing should work, but I’ll give it a go. Skittles’ response was to tell me about the guy on Friday he’d overheard “waxing lyrical about a level crossing” and a general observation that “the Royal Mail Train is a crowdpleaser.”  So now you know…

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Guardian, Top Gear & Saving the Planet

Shock horror.  Someone writing for The Guardian has written an article complaining about BBC’s Top Gear.  Whereas I wouldn’t usually bother giving such drivel any airtime, I have, on this occasion decided to throw my hat in to the ring.  The article in question is about an episode on electric cars, and as a researcher working in the field of Sustainable Transport I feel that I ought to be in a position to pass comment on the matter.

Anyone who has watched the episode in question will know that it wasn’t unfair of Andy Wilman (the producer) to assert that “the programme wasn't testing the range claims of the vehicles, and nor did it state that the vehicles wouldn't achieve their claimed range.”  Indeed, the point of the episode was not to see how far the cars would go on a single charge, and complaints such as "at no point were viewers told that the battery had been more than half empty at the start of the trip” are an irrelevance.

Instead, I thought that Top Gear highlighted quite well the fact that there can be real problems when such a car runs out of battery power.  Doubling the distance driven would have had no effect on the point made on TV – and besides, are readers of The Guardian really naive enough to think that beginning every journey with fully charged batteries is a realistic expectation?

And although there are complaints about the fact that the breakdown was staged in Lincoln, where there were limited options to charge the cars, I have no problem with this.  It would have been far more irresponsible to cruise around a small area of London, with a network of charging points, and conclude that the electric car really is a practical option for everyone in today’s society.  Like it or lump it, one has to accept that TV sometimes relies on embellishments to make a point and the underlying message here is still very fair.  In this case, the message is that running out of battery power somewhere comparatively rural is not at all convenient (to put it mildly…).

However much you want to see the electric car succeed, you have to accept that it isn’t a complete solution to our transport problems – at least not as things stand at the moment.  Seeing the bigger picture, one must question the environmental damage of mining the materials for the batteries, the carbon footprint of shipping the components around the world and the overall reduction in emissions (given that the electricity doesn’t grow on trees).  The statistics given in Top Gear about the lifetime of a battery are shocking – is it really good for the environment to need a new one every few years? Or, worse, to throw the whole car away because it is no longer economical to fix? I’m not sure that the latter is really a preposterous idea for some (especially if they have that much money to spend on a small car in the first place).

That’s not to say that there isn’t some hope for the electric car.  In cities where there are a network of charging points and journeys tend to be short, they could be a practical way of reducing local emissions and improving air quality.  But in a world where we are told that we need to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 80%, the electric car is not going to help us that much

To really meet the targets, we need to think about whether our journeys are really necessary.  We need to think about walking and cycling.  We need to be prepared to suffer the inconvenience of public transport, and to perhaps pay more for our travel to reflect the level of environmental impact.

Buying a Prius and recycling your copy of The Guardian may give you a smug feeling. And that’s fair enough.  It’s also your prerogative if, having spent £30k on a small Nissan, you want to sneer at “rich banker Tories in their BMWs.”  But however vocally you knock Top Gear and fight for the electric car, the reality is you are probably not actually doing that much to really make an environmental difference.





Another reason why only fools vote for Ken

I am currently enjoying the letters page in today's Metro. It is awash with responses to a "party political" letter evidently recently written by one 'J Alan.' Evidently said letter blamed the Conservatives for the riots and I am delighted to see that many folk have written in, crying "ignorance" and reminding the readership about 13 years of a Labour government under which "anti social behaviour, laziness and a culture of crime without consequence were allowed to thrive."

Of course, it is one thing for members of the public to take political shots. What I find completely abhorrent is Ken Livingstone's use of the riots to further his own political gain. His recent comments effectively imply that the rioters had an excuse, which is just unacceptable.

Boris may look like a joker but at least he's not a weasel.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blessed be Your Name



One of the songs I really enjoy singing in church is ‘Blessed Be Your Name.’  It’s quite old now, but I find it really expressive.  It helps me to remember that we have a lot to thank God for (and that sometimes we need to see beyond current circumstances).

I found myself thinking about this song when I was away last week.  It was quite appropriate because I was feeling very thankful and I had realised that there are times when God really does bless us in abundance.  As an aside, one of the things that I had wrestled with when I changed jobs was giving up some fantastic travelling opportunities – and yet I have ended up not lacking in this area at all.

The song was also quite appropriate because it contains the line “when I’m found in the desert place.” Of course, I was taking the line more literally than perhaps it was meant, because I was actually to be found in the desert.

I’m fairly certain that no-one really cares where I was, and that it was a pretty badly kept secret anyway.  However, if you have been glued to the screen waiting for an update and didn’t Google “big carpet big chandelier expensive hotel” to ascertain that the capital city in question was Abu Dhabi then the waiting is finally over.  I was in Dubai.

I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, actually, and had a wonderful time.  I might get around to posting some more photographs at some point, but bye for now.

Monday, August 08, 2011

An appeal

This is a quick post for the more regular visitors amongst you; if this is the first time you've joined us in this part of the Blogosphere it may be a bit of a pointless exercise.

The basic question is this. If you had to single out one of my blog posts as a particular favourite* which one would it be? Please dig through the archives and post the link to your selection as a comment.


*"least worst" is also an acceptable method of categorisation here.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Where’s JP–Saturday Special

It’s occurred to me that I’m probably not divulging particularly great clues about my location – my friend John, for example, who is normally quite good at this sort of thing, thinks that I am at RAF Northolt.  Which I am not.

So let’s bring everyone up to speed.

- on Wednesday, when I was at the Red Desk, my HTC thought I was in Hillingdon

- if you follow me on Twitter you will also note that I queued for a seat and a G&T after leaving said desks.

Moving on you know that I went by bus to a capital city this morning.  I stood on a carpet which is famous for being big, saw some big chandeliers and visited a hotel which was expensive to build.

Friday, August 05, 2011

A hint about where to find JP tomorrow

Today’s post, for those of you tuning in for clues of my current whereabouts, is short, sweet, and possibly not a huge help.

Tomorrow I shall be going on a bus, with my friend, to visit a capital city.  The bus journey is between 2 and 2 1/2 hours.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Some shops

Obviously if you’re playing the ‘Where’s JP?’ game, it’s a bit unfair of me to show you a couple of featureless corridors and expect you to home in on where I am. 

So here are some shops I passed today…


For the record, I didn’t go in to any of them.

Another corridor


From the Red Desk I was sent to the Blue Desk.  And then I arrived here.  Where there is another corridor.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Scenes from my journey.

The red desk lies off this corridor. The person manning it is crucial to my travel plans. I'm praying for good news.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Where’s JP?



For my birthday, the people I live with gave me the Top Gear “Where’s Stig?” book.  It’s like the “Where’s Wally?” books but much cooler, and I find it entertaining.

I have also found it quite entertaining to not tell people where I am going this weekend, other than the fact that I am off to visit a university friend.  Having kept it quiet (if nothing else because the plans have only really come together in the last few days, and I didn’t want to get too excited if it was all going to fall through) I am now enjoying being a man of mystery.

I’m not going to post drawings of people which may include me somewhere so it’s not really like “Where’s Stig?”* However, I may post a few clues over the next few days for those of you who are bored and like this sort of thing.** 

*I’m sure some wisecrack will point out that because I’m a ferroequinologist it’s more like “Where’s Wally” anyway, but we’ll gloss over that.  Besides, I like to think that I do have some chic to go with my geek.

**I know that some of you know, so don’t spoil it for the rest of us.

Monday, August 01, 2011

On why you should never have a Vodafone contract

Along with Halfords, Vodafone is the second entry on my current blacklist.

I can’t be bothered to give them airtime by boring you with all the details at the moment (I’ll save them for a rainy day) but I am now staggered at the levels of incompetence I have had the dubious pleasure of experiencing.

In a nutshell, they have failed to bill me correctly.  None of their figures match what I agreed to, and every single adviser tells me something different.  The amazing thing is that even though the entire thread can be seen in writing even their customer service emails are contradictory.

I know I’ve already spoken a bit about getting what you pay for with customer service, but this is more akin to a lucky dip than any sort of service. Besides, if I end up paying what they’ve tried to bill me I would have expected no hassle at all.

Honestly, I think I would have had more chance of finding someone who was able to put in place what I had agreed to by ringing a random number from the phone book or speaking to the monkeys at Marwell Zoo than trying to deal with the “Customer Service*” people. I’d certainly have had more fun…


*note the quotations.  There’s no service involved, and at this rate they don’t deserve to have any customers either.

Coffee with JP: On Losers

It’s just gone 1130, which means that it’s time for me to kick back with a coffee.  And inject some thoughts in to the Blogosphere whilst I do so.

I had a lovely day with friends in the New Forest yesterday, and for part of the journey there we were behind a Range Rover whose number plate just about read “Losers.”  Although this is something you’d expect Jeremy Clarkson to have, and has shades of being ostentatious and obnoxious, I quite liked it. 

However, it was later pointed out to me that the effect of overtaking someone whilst displaying that message is offset by the fact that the car must also have had the same numberplate at the front.  From that point of view the reaction is likely to be “oh look, a car full of losers.”

On reflection, this own-goal is further enhanced by the fact that the numberplate didn’t spell “Losers” exactly, but was spaced so that the desired effect was achieved.  I can’t recall whether it was “LOO5ERS” (in which case the owner definitely has more money than sense and should probably learn himself some English) or “LO55ERS” (in which case observers might suggest that something beginning with “T” would be more apt).  Either way, perhaps it was us in the Fiesta who were having the last laugh.

Pension Propaganda

There’s an interesting report about Private Sector Pension provision on the BBC News Page this morning.  There are some fair warnings about the need to save for retirement, but I’m not sure I like the tone of the article.  After all, it is left to a commentator at the bottom to point out that Gordon Brown made a fair crack of raiding the aforementioned pension schemes when he was Chancellor.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

On wearing sunscreen

As I have my clear-out, I’m enjoying another voyage of discovery through my iTunes library.  I can’t believe that it is 12 years since Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen was all over the global radio waves, and I was on an exchange in a very sunny Waiblingen. Halcyon days…

Equally, I can’t believe that 12 years later I still haven’t grasped the fact that “worry is about as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum.”

On throwing away the menu

I am having a bit of a clear-out and I have found a menu for Chili’s Indian Restaurant in Newbury. I’ve never eaten there, but I remember picking up a menu as I walked past, and keeping it because I’d found something blogworthy about it.

I’m not sure what that thing was though.  It could be just the name (let’s face it, Chili’s is a good name for a restaurant).  More likely, it was the fact that they serve a dish called “Mysore Chili Chicken.”  That sounds like one for the brave or stupid.

Whatever the reason, I have just put said menu in my recycling bin, where doubtless it will stay until those nice union types realise that working for more than a week a year is not actually that unfair.

They say a picture paints a thousand words…

…especially when said picture has a thousand words in it.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

On why you should never buy a bike from Halfords

Even though I really knew better than to buy a bike from Halfords, I’m ashamed to admit that I was taken in by their Cycle to Work Scheme offer with my previous company.  Sadly, although it turned out to be cheap(ish) it has not been a particularly cheerful experience.

I am now on my third bike, having rejected the previous two under warranty and I was cycling along the other day when the chain-guard fractured and caught itself in the rear wheel.  Thankfully I was on a quiet road, so I was able to dust myself down and carry on without too much damage.

To be fair, this failure is not Halfords’ fault per se but the way in which they have dealt with it is worth documenting here.  I took the bike, and the remains of the chain-guard in to the store and asked if they would order me a replacement under warranty, which they said was not a problem.  However, they called me up this week to tell me that apparently it was “not a chain-guard” but a “bit of packaging which I should have removed before I rode the bike.”  I’m sure that this guy must have seen himself in a mirror at some point, and I’m amazed that when I had popped in to the store that he thought that I looked as stupid as him.  I sadly neglected to point out that if it was a bit of packaging then they were still at fault for not removing it when they prepared the bike for me to pick up, but that’s by the by.  For the record, the chain-guard on my bike is clearly shown here – a point which I had to make when I went to the store this morning.  It took me a while because they weren’t exactly organised in the way they dealt with their customers, and they have already thrown away the part I gave them, but I am still hopeful that they will be able to source me a replacement.  Clearly I am one of these “the glass is half-full” people.

The excuse about it being “a bit of packaging” is one of the more interesting ones I have heard during my dealings with Halfords.  It’s right up there with “lots of people choose a small frame these days because it’s lighter and faster*” when I pointed out that a bike they were trying to sell me didn’t come in a frame size big enough for me, and “7-gears is a lot for a folding bike, and you shouldn’t really expect to use all of them” when my first bike kept dropping out of top gear.

Surprisingly, despite this ability to spin me all sorts of rubbish, there have been times when things have been really shoddy and they have not attempted to make an excuse at all.  The free six-week service is a good example here.  Although this is meant to cover gear and brake adjustment and a tyre check I have had bikes returned to me with frayed brake cables and soft tyres.  I’d have been better taking my bike to Marwell Zoo…

*If this was really the case we’d all be speeding around on small BMXs looking like clowns.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On having a Sixth Sense


I would have thought that if you have a Sixth Sense then you probably don’t need to be told where the meeting is.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On being annoyed with things

Ideally, I’d have time now to give you all the gory details about my latest encounter with Vodafone.  But because I wasted my afternoon in their shop yesterday I’ll have to spare you that for now.

In an ideal world I’d also have time to rant about my frustrations with programming in VBA for Excel.  But as that is also wasting my time and not helping me meet my deadline I’ll spare you that for now as well.

Right now I’d like to force the Vodafone boss to use Excel.  And force the man at Microsoft who is responsible for all the idiosyncrasies to try and take out a Vodafone contract.  Putting them in a room together and seeing who kills the other one first could be quite entertaining…

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Set fire to the rain

Capital FM's current choice of tune is an appropriate accompaniment to the current activities of the idiots next door. You get the impression that they would if they could. I don't know whether it's the CRT monitor or the plastic jug which is providing us with some nice acrid smoke, but either way I'm not enamoured with the idea of having to shut the windows on what was a nice summer evening.

On what your dictionary says about you

There’s been a lot of phone chat in this Corner of the Blogosphere recently, which has probably been quite boring for most of you.  But one of the upshots of the recent phone-drama is that I have a shiny new HTC, which I am delighted with.

For once, let’s not dwell too much on the phone itself though – I don’t want to risk getting any closer to claiming the title of Dullest Blog In The World.

I have just been quite amused to look at the ‘Personal Dictionary,’ which is the list of non-standard words my phone has accumulated as I text.  Words I have found the need to save to the dictionary in the last week include “faff,” “muppet” and “blogged.” 

It would seem that you can probably get quite an accurate picture of someone from such a list…

Friday, July 22, 2011

Heartache? Why not sell it on eBay?

I am not in the market for an expensive white watch.  Neither am I convinced that the sales pitch for it is anything other than a clever ploy to attract attention.  But, as evidenced by the fact that I was drawn to it via Twitter, this eBay Auction has certainly grabbed the limelight.

Genuine or otherwise, it’s brilliant…

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Killing the romance

When it comes to music, I am a fan of The Killers. “Hot Fuss” is one of the very few albums I’ve bought on a whim and loved.

This evening, I pointed iTunes to “Sam’s Town” (another of their albums) for the first time in ages and caught myself paying attention to the lyrics of “Bones.”

It all starts off so well, with references to going to look at the stars and holding hands in the ocean.  If you like a bit of romance from time to time, it’s potentially quite evocative…until Brandon Flowers bursts out with “But I don’t really like you.”

For some reason, I love it.  It’s quite a tune as well.  However, if you’re one of these people who agonises over what music to have for your first dance at your wedding then I’d probably suggest agonising over something else.

On why BA should shoot their advertising agency

Those of you who have been compiling a list of “JP Facts” will know that I generally like flying with British Airways.  Amongst other things, I enjoy the fact that the “all inclusive” nature of the service reduces the hassle of booking a ticket and flying somewhere.  I like the fact that rather than having to take out a small mortgage to be able to afford a “cool refreshing J2O” I can order a G&T ‘on the house.’  I like the fact that I can enjoy said G&T in peace and quiet, without constant adverts for smokeless cigarettes, and the fact that I can expect the plane to land safely without the need for a fanfare to be played.

I also like the fact that despite this, flying with BA doesn’t have to cost more than flying with easyJet or RyanAir.  For example, I went to a wedding in Germany last September and because it was Oktoberfest, some of my friends actually paid a lot more to fly with RyanAir without hold baggage, than they would have done to fly with BA. 

The problem is that BA seems very good at keeping this a secret.  Let’s look at an easyJet advert I found the other day:


£35.99 sounds good enough for you to head to the easyJet website, which is clearly shown in the corner of the advert.  However, the reality is that if you did find a flight for £35.99, you’d probably be charged a lot more to come back again.  Then you’d decide that you wanted to take some luggage and be fleeced accordingly.  Then you’d get to the last page of the booking process and find that it would actually cost you even more money to pay for your flight.  But even if you did realise that this was now going to be a comparatively expensive flight, you will have spent a while on the easyJet website and probably can’t be bothered to search for an alternative.

BA could compete by running a series of adverts which clearly advertise and show some attractive lead-in fares.  They could also remind potential passengers at this point, before they’ve been sucked in to easyJet’s website, that you won’t get charged for luggage or for food and drink onboard.  They could also point out that even though you get a more spacious reclining seat, which you can choose before you board, the overall cost is probably no more than flying with a “low cost” competitor.  Oh, and they could highlight the fact that you are allowed two pieces of hand-baggage which means that you don’t have to risk looking like an idiot.

Instead, however, if you are on the moving walkway at Gatwick Airport you will see a series of adverts featuring Olympic Athletes.  And the slogan “they will fly.”  And that’s it.  All that tells me as a potential customer is that BA are making enough money to fly the Olympic Athletes around.  So I shall assume that it would be expensive to fly with them and focus on easyJet’s apparently low fares instead.

Still.  It could be worse.  Rumour has it that the last advertising agency put up a massive advert at Gatwick saying “low cost flying is cheap.”  They may as well have just put up an advert which said “we’d rather you went to”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What if God was one of us?

There is a definite correlation between the amount of grey hair I have and the number of tracks in my iTunes library which could now be classed as ‘retro.’  Like grey hair, however, retro is not necessarily bad, and some classics have definitely found their way out of the woodwork as I sit working this morning.

Now 34 seems to be a particularly good source of gems, including “What if God was one of us” by Joan Osborne. 

As a Christian, I find the following verse quite ironic, because I believe that it is through Jesus that God has revealed his face, as it were:

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that
you would have to believe
in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints

Nonetheless, I still think that the song is more than just a good tune, and actually think that some of the questions are no less valid from a Christian perspective.  Do I really want to see God’s face?  What would I ask if I had just one question?

Strangely enough, I also appreciate the sarcastic tone of the chorus.  It’s refreshingly honest in some ways, because there are definitely times when it isn't easy to sing “God is great” without it sounding hollow.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t strive to give thanks to God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) or rejoice in the Lord despite everything (Habakukk 3: 17-18), but I definitely feel that there is value in being honest.

Monday, July 18, 2011

More on Customer Service

I feel that I ought to say thank you to Chris from O2 for taking the time to read and comment on my last post.  It was a more thorough response than I got from Vodafone via Twitter and makes for interesting reading.

Of course, some of the extra touches are nice, but the price differential was just too great for me not to move.  After all, if Vodafone’s deal is just for new customers only I’ve still got two years before I need to worry again, and moving networks these days is a cinch. 

The thing is, however, I had made the reasonable assumption that some things should still be expected, no matter how much (or little) I chose to pay for my phone.  After all, even on RyanAir I’m not sure that passengers pay for a flight to Venice and expect to fly to Oslo a day later instead.  Do they? 

So why did Vodafone not send me the phone when they said that they would? Why did they have the wrong deal on their system when my SIM arrived? 

Also, it’s one thing to get irate with a non-UK call centre when you call them.  In some small way you have chosen to partake in the experience.  But I’ve never had them call me before, at least not in the way that someone from Vodafone called last week.

The day before my phone and SIM arrived, I spoke to an advisor who wanted to check a temporary number whilst my existing number was transferred to O2.  He read out a mobile number, which I wrote down, to check that it was one my dad or I had been sent.  I explained that I hadn’t been sent a SIM yet, and he then expressed concern that the number had not yet been activated.  I suggested that this was because I didn’t have a phone or handset and I was put on hold for a bit.  Then I had to read the number he’d given me back to him, and I was put on hold whilst he tried to find out why the number I had was unlike the one he had on his system. Really.

Eventually I told him that I would wait until I had a phone and SIM and go from there.  To Vodafone’s credit, the phone arrived first thing the next morning and the number transfer from O2 had happened without a glitch.

There have still been some questions about the price-plan, which I am not fully able to sort myself given the nature of the family/friends deal.  But I am a) delighted with my phone and b) on track to be paying less than half of what O2 wanted.  So maybe all is going to end well after all.



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What price customer service?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or haven’t blocked me on your Facebook Newsfeed because I talk too much will know that I recently decided to transfer my phone back from O2 to Vodafone.

The main reason is that my O2 Sim-Only contract conveniently came to an end two days after my phone died, and when I got in touch with them to discuss an upgrade they were completely uncompetitive.  I pointed out that Vodafone and Three could both offer me much better deals, but I was told that O2 “don’t try and compete on price” because they “have the best network.”  I would question this, not least because their network apparently lacks the technology for me to receive SMS delivery reports on my Nokia.

However, to be fair to O2, they do apparently offer a better warranty on handsets and on the few occasions that I have needed to call their customer service team I have not had much hassle.  This last point is important because my reason for leaving Vodafone after many years with them is because their customer service team was so terrible.  Although it had once been very good, my last year with them was punctuated by billing errors, including a few months when I didn’t even have sight of a bill at all.  Their call centre staff were inconsistent and their email helpline was staffed by people abroad who seemed to be trained in nothing but copying and pasting paragraphs from a script.  If I was lucky their replies to me were coherent or relevant, but I don’t think they were ever both at the same time.

We all know that I am a fan of customer service, and do place a value on it.  After all, I fly BA not RyanAir and shop in Waitrose not Tesco.  But when I got a call from my dad on Saturday saying that Vodafone could offer us both a joint deal, the price undercut O2 by so much that I just couldn’t refuse it.  And surely, I thought, in the last year, someone at Vodafone must have found a dictionary and looked up “Customer Service.”

Sadly, one sometimes pays a price for misguided optimism.  As I write this, Vodafone have delivered my dad’s phone, but not mine.  They won’t speak to me to arrange redelivery and he is having to negotiate with them on my behalf.  Although they took my PAC code yesterday, the last I heard is that my dad may need to re-register a whole new deal for me.  Which means that my number may be lost in cyberspace.  At this rate I’ll go from having a number and no phone to having a phone and no number.

So it’s a big black mark for Vodafone.  I currently don’t know what the outcome will be, but the thought of having a few days longer without a phone to shop around is potentially more appealing than being locked in to two years with this bunch of monkeys.

I’m not sure that O2 can rest on their laurels though.  Being proud of customer service is one thing, especially when it is justified.  But to lose an existing customer by refusing to be at all competitive on price is just arrogant.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The lack-of-telephone experiment

Technically, I should have entitled this post “the lack-of-mobile-telephone experiment” because the good old landline has been quite a feature of the last few days.  To say that I have been completely incommunicado would be a bit melodramatic, even for me.

Anyway, how am I getting on?

In no particular order:

  • I have had to learn the landline number for the house I live in…
  • …but I still don’t know how to access the answerphone
  • I have had an excuse to hand out the business cards in my wallet, because they show my landline number at work…
  • …but then had nothing to refer to when someone asked me for the number they should call me back on. I had to find the key for my drawer and locate the business cards inside without creating too much of an awkward silence.
  • I have been the proud recipient of a friend’s first tweet…
  • …and called a random person in Cambridge twice after said friend’s husband failed to tweet their landline number to me correctly.
  • I have, on occasion, been more punctual than usual…
  • …but was late the other day when I took a call at home and couldn’t then walk and talk
  • The lack of camera means that I have stopped pausing to photograph things to post on my blog…
  • …but you haven’t noticed because I never post half of them anyway.
  • I have avoided worrying that I might be missing out on something…
  • …but this may be because I have begun to check Facebook more than I should.

Despite my increased addiction to Facebook (not helped by the fact that messages have stopped being emailed to me as reliably as they used to be) I like to think that I have generally been less distracted though.  Which is of course why I have just ordered a new smartphone to replace my Nokia.  Maybe my next social experiment should involve improving my self-discipline.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Colour doesn’t matter–it’s what you do with it that counts

Seasoned visitors to this Corner of the Blogosphere will know that I generally think that you can tell a lot about someone by the car they drive.  It is also common knowledge that if you ask a girl what car she drives, a typical response would be “a blue one” or “a green one.” 

In some situations, therefore, this poses something of a dilemma.  Assuming that her response isn’t “a pink one,” or in most cases “a yellow one,” guys like me are faced with a potential choice.  Do we want to pursue the relationship only to find out later that she pootles around in a Daewoo Matiz?  It’s a risk…

When I was in Shetland, I discovered that Toyota have made an attempt at avoiding such social awkwardness in the shape of the Toyota Aygo Blue:


This provides a potentially convenient solution.  “Blue” describes both the colour and the model and everyone knows where they stand.  No further questions need to be asked and there is no need for the guy to live in fear of discovering that he’s ended up dating someone who drives a Rover 100.

The problem is, however, the girl may end up living in fear that she won’t end up dating anyone at all.  Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t think there are many occasions when a Toyota Blue can cut it.  Sorry, darling.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Thoughts from the Archbishop

This morning, I found myself reading an interview in The Guardian with Rowan Williams.  It was an interesting read, I have to admit.

Although I’d recommend the whole article, I particularly like his views on the Atheist vs Theist debate.

“Argument has the role of damage limitation. The number of people who acquire faith by argument is actually rather small. But if people are saying stupid things about the Christian faith, then it helps just to say, 'Come on, that won't work.' There is a miasma of assumptions: first, that you can't have a scientific worldview and a religious faith; second, that there is an insoluble problem about God and suffering in the world; and third, that all Christians are neurotic about sex. But the arguments have been recycled and refought more times than we've had hot dinners, and I do groan in spirit when I pick up another book about why you shouldn't believe in God. Oh dear! Bertrand Russell in 1923! And while I think it's necessary to go on rather wearily putting down markers saying, 'No, that's not what Christian theology says' and, 'No, that argument doesn't make sense', that's the background noise. What changes people is the extraordinary sense that things come together. Is it Eliot or Yeats who talks about a poem coming together with an audible click? You think, yes, the world makes sense looked at like that."

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

On life without a telephone

If you read my last couple of posts, you will know that I am currently without a working mobile telephone.  It could be two weeks before mine is repaired and unless the battery on the old phone I keep for emergencies suddenly comes to life, or someone is kind enough to lend me an O2 compatible handset then I am going to have to get used to it.

In some ways I am actually looking forward to it and view it as a sort of social experiment.*  Ironically enough, I have just had a week without my phone because I decided it would do me good to leave it in ‘Offline Mode’ whilst I was on holiday.  This was surprisingly easy when I was out of the country without much of a care in the world, but back in the real world things could be a bit more difficult. Especially since I now know that some texts sent to me whilst I was away never got delivered.  I know that if someone really wants to get hold of me they will find another way, but it has created a bit of a nagging feeling that I might miss something.**

Of course, some say that we always used to manage without mobiles so it should be quite easy.  But now we have a culture where it’s not unusual to say “I’ll give you a buzz when I’m in town at about 10ish” rather than “I’ll meet you for coffee in Starbucks at 10.”  Or “I’ll text you later when I know where I’m going to be.”  Making plans in advance seems to be quite retro these days, and even in the last 24h I’ve felt like a burden pushing for definite arrangements ahead of time.  Mind you, the fact that I can no longer rely on my phone to inform someone I am running a few minutes late has got to be good for my punctuality…

Anyway I’ll let you know how I get on now that this inadvertent experiment is underway.  Watch this space.


*if I was a journalist I’d get paid for this. Donations gratefully received.

**I should probably just get over myself.


Phone Update

They say that you learn something new every day, and yesterday I learned at least two things.

Firstly, I learnt that more people are likely to offer help with coding in VBA than with problems with a Nokia E5 (I had a better response to my last cry for help than I did this time).

Secondly, I learnt that although Nokia’s software leaves a bit to be desired, their customer service can be pretty good. We all know that I really value good customer service at the best of times and once I found their CareLine they were really helpful.  Sadly their attempts at diagnosing and fixing the problem over the phone were unsuccessful but they are going to collect and repair the phone for me under warranty.  Good times.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Nokia E5 Help

When I promised some non-political rants, I envisaged writing something more interesting than asking for help with my telephone.  But it is my blog, and needs must.

As you may have gathered from the title, I have a Nokia E5.  Don’t ask why – since their PC Software (Ovi Suite) has become so temperamental, I have no good reason to have stayed loyal to Nokia.  But we are where we are.

So what’s the problem now?  Said phone had become very slow, especially when opening messages, so I decided to perform a hard reset (*#7370# in case you are wondering).  So far so good.  Then I opted to restore my contacts and settings from the backup I had made first (I didn’t bother with the messages because I thought that an over-full inbox may have been the problem).  Ovi Suite completed the operation (so far so good…) and the phone restarted.

But now it doesn’t do anything.  The main screen is blank apart from the network status, profile choice (“Silent”) and battery status along the top.  If I press the ‘Home’ key the menu does after a long while appear, but is too slow to be functional.  Ditto with the ‘Message’ key.  If I press the keypad, nothing happens, so I cannot dial in *#7370# – or in fact anything at all – to reset the phone.

Has anyone had this problem before? Does anyone know how to do a reset without use of the keypad? Ovi Suite still recognises the phone, so if there is a hack I can do via the USB cable I may be able to?

Alternatively, will the recycling places such as be able to get my phone working to the extent they will still give me money for it?  At least that way I could do what I should have done originally and bought an HTC.

Any help would be gratefully received.  In the meantime, my phone is rendered useless so if you need to get hold of me try email, Facebook, Twitter or commenting on this post.

Thank you…

Credit where credit is due

I know that you’re probably fed up with me chattering about the bin strikes in Southampton, but hang on in there.  If rubbish strikes and political rants aren’t your thing I will have something for you soon.

In the meantime, however, I am pleased to announce that the bin men were on duty today and have taken not just the overflowing recycling bin, but also the boxes and bags of recycling which stood beside it.  Maybe it’s the sunshine but the uncomplaining nature of the team was a far cry from the jobsworths who came round a few weeks ago.  Proof, then, that some people do know what it means to be ‘hard working.’

Talking of which, I also ought to demonstrate that I know the meaning of that phrase.  Bye for now.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Let’s start a war…

There are some things in life of which I am slightly proud, even though I really shouldn’t be.  Being asked if my tan is fake is one (though it most certainly isn’t).* 

Another thing I can now add to that list is receiving my first abuse on Twitter.  If you already follow me, or have been reading the torrent of tweets in the sidebar you will know that @shawgreen kindly tweeted that I am apparently “still putting the prat into Pritchard.”  Sadly it wasn’t particularly good abuse, but beggars can’t be choosers.  Maybe it will come in handy if I decide I ever need a strapline for this blog.

Although one could argue that I should have had better things to do with my time than respond, I was sat on a bus at the time.  So I really didn’t.  The first thing I did was to note that “nonsensical 'insults' with nothing useful to say are the sad hallmarks of a self-righteous 'socialist'” but then I decided that I should try and be constructive and enter in to a discussion about the issue at stake.

Which was, in this case, my comment about Mervyn King.  I’d had half an ear to the Andrew Marr Show a few moments earlier and had tweeted my ponderings, wondering why old Mervyn wasn’t allowed to enjoy himself like everyone else.  Apparently he’d been seen indulging himself with VIP Hospitality at Wimbledon, and this had generated fierce criticism.

I have to admit that I wasn’t fully au fait with the story, but I personally don’t begrudge him enjoying that perk.  My question to @shawgreen was whether he’d also begrudge Wayne Rooney indulging himself, because it strikes me that there is a bit of a culture these days of criticising some folk and turning a blind eye to others.

I’ve often wondered why bankers, chief executives and city slickers get slated for their “obscene” salaries by the same people who will then cheer on Mr Rooney (and support his £250,000 a week salary for kicking a ball around).  According to @shawgreen, it’s because the likes of Mr Rooney “provide joy,” but I remain unconvinced.  Feel free to use the comment form to persuade me otherwise.

Anyway, the discussion got particularly interesting when I was accused of invoking “a class snobbery issue” and valuing “pinstripes over team colours. Mental toil over physical.” 

I don’t know what it is about some folk who champion the socialist banner, but this is not the first time that I have seen accusations of introducing class snobbery when it didn’t actually exist before. 

Let’s be clear about this – I was the one questioning the lack of consistency in the criticism of the likes of Mervyn King, whilst turning a blind eye to others.  Ironically, @shawgreen was the one who was making a distinction by being selective in his criticism. 

So now we have reached the crux about what annoyed me in yesterday’s Twitter discussion – although it is perhaps unfair to single out @shawgreen when I’ve seen plenty of his type before.

I don’t doubt that there are genuine socialists out there, with genuine principles, and a genuine desire to practise what they preach.  And I’m not getting at you with my little rant.  But all too often those voices are drowned out by the hypocrites.  By the self-righteous who absolve themselves of all responsibility by blaming someone richer than them.  By the inconsistent who make sweeping generalisations about “Tories” and “bankers,” but not about footballers, or who find it acceptable to criticise Christianity but unacceptable to criticise Islam.  By those who belong to the Henry Ford School of Tolerance (“you can have any view you like, so long as it’s mine”).

As an advocate of freedom of speech, I’m perfectly happy if you want to be critical of bankers (let’s face it, there are good reasons) or to criticise the Christian faith (or any other belief, for that matter).  But if you’re going to champion a cause then please give yourself some credibility by having some solid principles.  No-one is perfect, but charity begins at home…


*I’m not orange, in case you were worried. I think I’m just very tanned for someone who’s only been away for a few days.