Monday, May 18, 2009


Excellent idea and site - allows one to easily report potholes and other street issues that the council can then (hopefully) action.

Friday, May 15, 2009

St Helena Debate in the House of Lords

On Wednesday, Lord Jones of Cheltenham initiated a short debate in the House of Lords on the Future of St Helena. For the full text, click here. I was invited by Vince Thompson, my old boss from Railtrack days, who now lives on St Helena and writes for the St Helena Independent newspaper.

We were kindly hosted by Lord Jones, who greeted us at the Peers' Entrance, led us through the Palace of Westminster, encountering Lord Hoyle of Warrington, who was to join us for the debate. As we were slightly early, we adjourned to the Peers' Guest Room overlooking the Thames. This is the tea room of recent infamy regarding hiring peers, but no such excitement today, instead Lord Jones explained what he planned to cover in his speech, and that he had emailed a copy of his questions to the Government minister who would be answering, Lord Davies of Oldham, which in my opinion was a decent and constructive thing to do.

As the time approached, Vince and I were led upstairs by a friendly doorkeeper to one of the galleries, at the far end from the regular visitors area.

We sat top right

From here we watched the debate, introduced by Lord Jones, who summarised the facts of the case, that the islanders were devastated by the government putting an indefinite hold on the project to build an airport to replace the ageing RMS St Helena boat, currently the only means of reaching the island.

Jamestown, St Helena

RMS St Helena

The arguments for and against have been summarised in my previous blog entry on the Westminster Hall debate, introduced by Meg Munn MP. Suffice it to say that despite dignified and reasoned speeches by Lord Jones, Lord Hoyle, Lord Shutt of Greetland, and a somewhat limp response from Lord Howell of Guildford for the Conservatives, for the Government response, Lord Davies of Oldham rattled off the excuses which Lord Hoyle predicted would be used.

As a "tourist", I was excited to see Lord Lamont in the chamber for the end of the previous debate and some of this one, and Lord Robertson, the Nato Secretary General, popped in and out of the chamber a couple of times.

The Government response was disappointing yet predictable. Effectively the position currently is that a consultation is being held, and they will not commit to anything until this new current consultation has completed.

Although this project comes under DfID's responsibility, it seems that the Treasury are holding the purse strings and must surely be responsible for the failure to proceed. What are not clear to me (and all) are the criteria to be met for the Government to continue the project. There is a business case for doing this, the islanders want it, there has been a positive consultation, DfID's own advisors recommend it.. what more is required?

Afterward the debate, the House adjourned, and Vince and I possibly breached protocol by not standing as the Mace, representing the authority of the Sovereign, is carried from the chamber. Everyone below us, including all the Lords, stood in silence, as did the guests at the far end. By the time it became clear to us, it was too late!

Thankfully we weren't gaoled, and instead had our belongings returned by the Doorkeepers, and retired as a group to the Strangers' Bar, where Lord Jones bought us drinks which we took out to the waterside terrace. The rules of the Strangers' Bar are that MPs and Lords may entertain up to three guests. Guests may not buy drinks! The drink in this case being an excellent ale from one of my favourite breweries, RCH Brewery from Somerset. Outside, we met Calvin Harris, a Doorkeeper in the Commons who comes from St Helena.

Lord Jones, Calvin Thomas, and Vince Thompson

Calvin has not been back for over 20 years, partially because of the lack of a timely way of accessing the island. Perhaps this is the same reason that no government minister has ever visited the island.

Out on the terrace, with the Thames flowing by, we discussed the outcome of the debate. Perhaps little progress had been made, but as Meg Munn had suggested before, the important thing is to keep up the pressure on the government, something Lord Jones had achieved with admirable grace, and at short notice, as the debating time only came available because of the postponement of the Post Office privatisation.

The Palace of Westminster - we were at river level under Big Ben

Again, as a tourist, part of the fun of being out on the Strangers' Bar terrace was of seeing so many familiar faces, inside and out - Liam Fox, Tony McNulty, Charles Kennedy, Geoff Hoon and many others. On finishing our beers, Lord Jones escorted us back to the Peers' Entrance. I should mention that even walking the corridors of the Palace is a wonderful experience, the walls and decor steeped in history, but sadly for us there was little time to pause and enjoy. What I would give to have free reign of the palace for a day, to be able to explore what is a huge complex. I have my doubts as to whether much of the place is opened up on the Open House weekends!

For me personally, this was a marvellous visit, and my sincere thanks to Vince for inviting me and Lord Jones for being our gracious host. Vince and I retired to the excellent pub nearby, The Speaker in Great Peter Street, to write his report for St Helena radio.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Varying Volume Levels of BBC Podcasts

The BBC's podcast offerings are a fantastic selection of the best of radio output that the corporation broadcasts, and I take full advantage of this, currently being subscribed to:

1Xtra Drum and Bass Top 5
Broadcasting House
Craft Beer Radio (non-BBC)
Craft Beer Radio - Extra Feed (non-BBC)
Crossing Continents
Digital Planet
Dr Karl and the Naked Scientist
Excess Baggage
File on 4
Forum - A World of Ideas
From Our Own Correspondent
Front Row Highlights
Front Row Interview
Great Lives
In Our Time
Law in Action
Material World
More or Less Behind the Stats
Paul Jones Rhythm And Blues
Politics UK
Radio 1's Best of Unsigned / Introducing
Radio 4 Choice
Start the Week
The Bottom Line with Evan Davis
The Now Show / Newsquiz (Friday night comedy)
Thinking Allowed
Today in Parliament
Today Lead Interviews
Weekly Political Review

NB: not all of these podcasts are active at any one time - shows run in seasons. If you want a starter, I would recommend the weekly Broadcasting House, which aims to be the radio equivalent of sitting in a cafe with friends reading the Sunday papers. Also Today in Parliament is a fascinating daily round-up of what has been going on in our political sphere - a great pod if such things interest you (and they jolly well should!). To subscribe, so that the pods are downloaded automatically, use any podcast software such as Happyfish (the one I use) or iTunes.

Anyway, I recently felt spurred into emailing the BBC regarding the fact that the musical podcasts above (Paul Jones Rhythm And Blues, Radio 1's Introducing etc) are significantly louder than the spoken word pods. Why is this? I can only assume it is a handover from the broadcasting trick of setting your atation louder so that it stands out as people tune their radios. Completely unnecessary, and the cause of irritation to me every time my mp3 player moves on to one of these shows when I am briefly aurally assaulted until I can reach the volume control on my mp3 player. Stop this practice, BBC!

Anyway, here's the correspondence:

Dear Sir / Madam,

I listen to many of the BBC's advertised podcasts and am generally very happy with the setup, thank-you.

One issue I do have though is that you clearly ramp up the overall volume levels for the "music" podcasts - for example Huw Stephens Radio One Introducing Show.

I understand that there are arguments for doing this with broadcast radio, in order to catch the attention of someone channel surfing, but this is completely unnecessary for podcasts, and every time I find myself scrambling to access the volume control on my mp3 player, today almost having an accident doing so.

I would be grateful if you would pass my comments to the appropriate person, and ideally consider normalising volume levels across all of the BBC's podcasting output.

Thanks in advance,

Sam Crawley

And the Beeb's response:

Dear Samuel

Thank you for your e-mail.

I was pleased to learn that you enjoy the BBC podcasts but understand that you feel the music podcasts are much louder than the spoken word ones.

Please be assured that all of your comments have been registered on our daily feedback log, this is a daily report of audience feedback that's circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

Thank you for taking the time to contact the BBC.


BBC Information


I don't suppose anything will be done, but I live in hope, both for myself and for my hearing!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Time to Consider?

With apologies to the "Time to Consider" viral ad campaign all over London Underground at the moment.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

London Transport Roundup

Rant warning! This post is one big semi-constructive moan about the state of London Transport. You have been warned!

It's starting to really wind me up that I pay for 7 days of transport a week and receive 5. If the entire tube network is going to be out every weekend for the next year, can they reduce weekly and longer fares by 2/7ths please?

Central Line is starting to cook already. And it's only early May, marvellous.

New advertising all over the hottest lines - Bakerloo, Central etc, where they have enormous video projectors positioned along the platform. TCR has hundreds of flatscreens alongside the escalators. Genius, really good idea to allow all of this to happen before trains with A/C.

New tube trains on order with air-conditioning, despite us being told for years that this wasn't feasible. First line for the new trains (by 2010)? The one line that's okay in the summer - the Met Line! A couple of others not before 2012 and most lines not even planning to introduce cooling in the foreseeable future.

It seems to me that the majority of trains would be much more bearable in the summer with just some relatively simple modifications to ensure air flowing through the carriages - why not fix all windows open, or funnel air through carriages somehow?

Fares up for all main-line trains out of London every year, restrictions on tickets up, opportunity for railcard usage down, but have they got Oyster working yet, even in the suburban areas? Mostly no.

Railcard prices are going up 25%!!

Some new buses seem to have air-conditioning on them, but all windows are fixed closed. Let's hope the A/C doesn't break.

Crossrail disruption is starting - a large section of the ground-space around Tottenham Court Road has been boarded off, making life ever less convenient for pedestrians and cyclists.

Road quality is at an all-time low in London in terms of potholes etc. Cyclists are dying on a regular basis from accidents.

Bank station still seems to be in a mess, how much longer will this be the case for?

Riverboats offer a discount for travelcards, but why aren't they free within zone and with a valid travelcard? Surely this mode of transport should be encouraged, particularly at the weekends when there's no other way of getting around!

Storing a bike in London without it being stolen continues to be a mission. Can the police not set up honeytraps to catch these thieves? I presume a small number of professionals are responsible for most thefts.

Bikes are not allowed on DLR trains at any time. I understand the logic of not allowing bikes on to deep line trains, but the DLR?

The canal is a wonderful artery across London, but the towpath needs some work.

There are two escalators at Edgware Road, which must be some of the most unreliable in history. Good job I usually don't mind walking up, as it's often not a choice anyway. How hard can it be to fix these things? The staff upstairs use the slightest excuse to close the ticket office ("software problems" today). Just because their computer doesn't work, does it mean they can just slack off?

The staffed hours at stations like Royal Oak are Monday to Friday (only) 7:30am - 10am. Does anyone find this acceptable?

Overground stations are also reducing their staff as much as possible, even though often the machines will not dispense the relevant ticket. If you want an advance ticket, or Gold Card discount from a Boundary zone, you need to speak to a person. I don't understand why 1. they can't offer more fare options from the machines 2. why there are far too few ticket machines at all large stations - Victoria and Waterloo in particular.

If you pre-book tickets on the internet to be collected from the station, why do some machines just give you the tickets after reading your credit card (eg Paddington) whereas others (eg Liverpool Street) require a 10 digit alphanumeric reference code?

Why does the Network Card (and Gold Card) discount vary in terms of coverage through distance along each line out of London? For example on the Norwich line you can only get a discount as far as Ipswitch, but on the Cambridge line one gets 1/3 off certain off-peak fares (much reduced) all the way to King's Lynn!

A while ago there was a decision to run tubes later, particularly at weekends, the deal being that they would start earlier. Does this happen? I haven't noticed a huge improvement! When will they run 24x7?!

Why can we not have a system with PAYG where if you fail to have sufficient credit on your card you just top it up on arrival before being allowed out of the gates? This is how it works in Japan.

What happened to using Oyster to pay for other things like newspapers? They ran a trial (in SE London I think), seems to have gone away?

Why is the Heathrow Express allowed to continue to ramp up its shocking and unjustified fares?

That's all for now, folks. I leave you with a couple of pictures of the marvellous sight of the 22,000 tonne aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious which is visiting Greenwich presently, part of celebrations of a hundred years of Fleet Air Arm. At least we have something to be proud of in our god-forsaken capital!:

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Marriott's Way

Today I rode the Marriott's Way. Sounding unfortunately like a motorway sliproad to a Travelodge, it is in fact named after William Marriott, the former chief engineer and manager of the Midland and Great Northern Railway system, and is a disused railway route in Norfolk now converted into a cycle path.

View Cycle: Aldborough Norwich via Marriott's Way in a larger map

Narrow path initially

From Aldborough I cut across country through Itteringham before reaching Cawston where I picked up the route (the cycle path starts in Aylsham across the road from the Bure Valley station). Initially narrow and stony, the path suddenly dropped down on to the railway line proper, a far better and wider path.

Soon dropping down on to the main line

At Reepham one has a choice - follow the line to Themelthorpe where it loops back on itself, or come off and shortcut through Reepham and rejoin the path a short way south. This latter option was of course my choice!

Complete with old stations

The stretch that carries on is of excellent quality - wide, reasonable surface and so gives a fast ride for the remainder of the route into Norwich.

Excellent path south of Reepham

The route is lined with art installations making reference to the concrete that was one of the original major uses of the railway, and also the railway itself - benches are made from pieces of rail, sometimes twisted into shapes like corkscrews. Blocks of cement have "inspiring" words on them.

Strange benches

Desolate fields

Threatening clouds

But then..

Marvellous rainbow

The route is slightly confusing once you hit Norwich centre, and I would advise once you come off cycle route on to the main ring-road roundabout adjacent to St Crispin's Road that you just follow the main roads through town to the station rather than use the cycle route convoluted path round the houses! Still, overall this is a marvellous artery and I shall certainly be using it again in and out of Norwich.

Bure Valley and the Broads

Cycled a pleasant 40 mile ride along the Bure Valley to the Norfolk Broads yesterday, following a narrow gauge steam railway.

View Cycle Aldborough Bure Valley Horning in a larger map

Cricket on the green at Aldborough, click for larger

St Lawrence Church, Ingworth

From Aylsham, where I unfortunately received a broken spoke (big issue on my bicycle), I came off the road on to the path which runs alongside the railway.

Crossing the Bure near Buxton

The train chuffs past!

The train line terminates at Hoveton and Wroxham, where I joined the main road (you know you've been in Norfolk too long when you consider a B road to be a main road!!) to Horning on the Broads.

The Broads at Horning

Horning is an ancient village which had a foot ferry crossing the broads for over 1,000 years. It's closed now, as has the pub adjacent to the crossing. Luckily for me the Swan is still in business, and I enjoy a pint of Broadside in the windy but pretty conditions.

Swan Inn


Finally time to turn for home, and I cross back further north, along minor lanes and skirting the now-closed Cotishall air base.

Oink oink

Quick pint at the Spread Eagle in Erpingham, accompanied by their enormous fat basset hound, then home!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Tube Love

Great idea stolen from Mei's blog.. stickers from Tosh World:

T-shirt time

I need to buy some new clothes!

Royksopp's funky new t-shirt


In fact browsing Noisebot there are so many fantastic t-shirts.. here are some of my favourites: