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.