Monday, November 26, 2007

London November 2007

Various views of the City and Docklands taken from Greenwich Park on a cold but clear November Day.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Sunday

Here is a reminder, in case one were needed, from youtube of the contemporary aspect to today's Remembrance Sunday. The photos are all of British Servicemen who have died in Afghanistan, although sadly this is not a complete list.

Greed is good ?

A random observation from shopping in our local Asda today:

1 bottle of 1.25 litre Coca Cola £1.10

2 bottles of 1.25 litre Coca Cola £1 (2 for £1 offer).

So it actually cheaper to buy 2 bottles than 1 bottle. If you only want one bottle you are financially better off if you take 2 through the till and throw the other away.

These prices seem a little strange to me. Is this what they mean by an "Asda price". They are still playing that annoying jingle all the time anyway.

"Get him!"- Training Tips for Rail Ticket Inspectors- What not to say !

I am coming to the depressing conclusion that rules (e.g. buying a ticket) on our railways are only for polite and non-threatening people.

The other morning I missed my usual direct train to London Cannon Street and needed to change trains at London Bridge.

London Bridge Station is never a very relaxing place and at 8 o' clock in the morning is bordering on madness with people running from Charing Cross bound trains to get on Cannon Street trains and people from Cannon Street trains running the other way. The management of London Bridge station sometime concluded that it was not possible to get these trains arriving on immediately opposite platforms, meaning everyone has to get up a crowded flight of stairs and then down an equally crowded flight of stairs to the waiting train two or three platforms away. Sometimes they like to keep people fit by advertising a train that has already left so that when you get down onto that platform you find no train and have to go to yet another platform- back up the same flight of stairs and back down a third. The effect can look like some strange version of musical chairs with large groups of commuters running up flights of stairs in formation.

Despite the fact that most South Eastern stations have ticket barriers meaning it is not possible to get onto the train unless you have a ticket (or jump the barrier), the other morning South Eastern ticket inspectors decided to introduce a random ticket inspection at the top of one of the previously mentioned flights of stairs.

If this wasn't awkward enough, they didn't stand logically at either side of the stairs but staggered at various points around the corridor that connects all the platforms. With at least half the passengers wearing Ipods or other headphones and everyone else in a hurry it wasn't clear that this was a ticket inspection point at all.

Most people were hurrying straight through. I myself had headphones (listening to the news as it happened) so carried on oblivious until I vaguely heard someone call "Get him". The next thing I knew was that a ticket inspector appeared beside me while all the other passengers carried on regardless.

I had my ticket so there was no issue but I was a little bemused why I was the only one stopped. I don't consider I look threatening and am wondering if that was the reason why I was singled out.

My brother tells me of a time he was on a South Eastern train when a three strong group of baseball cap wearing youths evaded the ticket collector by hiding in the train lavatory. The ticket collector knocked timidly only to conclude to other passengers "I think that one's a loosing battle."

The depressing moral of the story is you only need a ticket if the ticket collector isn't afraid of you.

As for my friends at London Bridge next time you want to check for tickets at some random spot at 8am:

1) Stand together at a clear point at which you expect all passengers to show their tickets and don't let anyone through.

2) While I understand that in the absence of appropriate equipment e.g. Tasers, it may not be desirable to press all passengers for a ticket, do not shout phrases such as "Get him" at law abiding non-threatening passengers. To do so is mildly offensive and likely to alienate normally allied passengers in the battle against the hooligan minority found on London trains !

Saturday, November 10, 2007

British Gas Homecare- "probably the worst service in the world"

It has been one week, 9 phonecalls, 5 emails and 1 formal letter of complaint and still British Gas have not been able to repair our boiler. This is despite the fact I have a "Homecare" policy with British Gas to cover all boiler and heating breakdowns.

This followed a surprisingly promising start with 2 engineers coming out on the day the boiler broke down. However they misdiagnosed the problem, ordered the wrong part and when the next engineer couldn't repair the problem with the incorrect part.

A new part, a fan, was ordered to be delivered the next day (Tuesday by now) from the British Gas Parts Distribution Centre in Leicester.

The next day came and no engineer appeared and no phone call was received. When I called to see what the problem was I was told the part had not been arrived.

However I was assured someone from the Parts Distribution Centre would call me soon. They never called me and despite a series of increasingly irrate calls to British Gas no part materialised.

I asked to speak to the mythical folk in Leicester myself but was told even the British Gas call centre didn't have their number. One call centre worker helpfully proclaimed "It's out of our hands". There didn't seem much that was in their hands !

The Parts Distribution Centre is outsourced. As it turns out, to a Swedish Company called Syncron .

I can only conclude Syncron are partly to blame here but British Gas must take responsibility for choosing this bunch of incompetents to manage the distribution of their parts.

On the Syncron website Jan Paulsson, Project leader at Volvo, another Syncron client, is quoted as saying "The result looks too good to be true."

There's one reason for that Mr. Paulsson, the results are too good to be true ! In fact after managing in our "low carbon house" without hot water for a week (unless its out of a kettle) I would think the results are pretty awful.

Still, we keep hammering away at British Gas and maybe the boiler will be repaired this coming week. For any potential British Gas Homecare customers who have stumbled across this "moan", my only advise would be think twice before you sign up to Homecare. The recovery of your boiler may depend on some not very competent Swedes based in Leicester !

Clear November Morning in London

The final stage of my daily commute from the South, crossing the river and arriving in the City- London Cannon Street Station.


Short clip showing the view from next to Bank Tube Station, outside the Royal Exchange and opposite the Bank of England while waiting there one October evening.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Guy Fawkes

It is over 400 years since Guy Fawkes was apprehended in his attempt to blow up parliament.

This criminal and his associates suffered torture that would make today's "extraordinary rendition" look like a picnic. Guy Fawkes himself jumped and broke his neck to avoid the official execution method of being hung, drawn and quartered.

Despite this slightly unsavoury origin every supermarket and cornershop is packed with fireworks for at least a month before November 5th to allow every one to celebrate Guy's demise. The run up to November 5th turns suburbia into a near Blitz re-enactment. Every scout group, schoool and even church need to hold their own "bonfire night" not to mention the local council. Bonfires are largely a thing of the past in London but fireworks exist in huge quantities.

Combined with official events, scores and scores of private houses choose to buy their own fireworks.

So tonight suburban London, on the weekend before November 5th, sounds like a war zone. Try keeping a 4 month baby asleep in that. Thanks a bunch, Guy Fawkes !

Living in a "low carbon" house

Our boiler failed yesterday morning. It's an old boiler and will probably need replacing soon.

We have British Gas cover and in this instance they were very good sending someone within an hour for an initial inspection in case there was any danger from gas or carbon monoxide.

Once given the all clear on that front another engineer visited in the afternoon. Not bad for a Saturday and much preferable to previous experiences of hunting for the small band of honest reliable boiler engineers on the open market.

Nonetheless the boiler in clinicial terms needs major surgery- a new gas valve to be precise. With a four month old baby we have been given "priority" but even that means Monday.

So with our "combination" boiler out of action we have missed a combination of hot water and heating. Fortunately it is a very mild November so far and a couple of electric heaters are more than adequate to keep young Luis warm. Kettles of hot water have been more than sufficient for general washing and I even attempted a completely cold shower this morning. I read somewhere that is supposed to be good for you. It certainly woke me up.

Overall my impression is that managing without hot water and central heating is not nearly as traumatic as some might imagine. In actual fact I find central heating a bit suffocating sometimes so it is refreshing to be able to decide which room to heat and which to leave cold.

I think I could live like this although I'm not sure about the rest of the Donatella household ! Anyway, without referring to the wider global warming debate, I think this could be viewed as a genuine way of saving energy. We've used viritually no gas all weekend and are still here and well ! With oil prices approaching $100 a barrel, maybe living without central heating will start to catch on ?! I suspect I am probably a minority voice here !

Dancing on the trains ?

A letter to the almost invariably low brow (but I read it !) Thelondonpaper caught my eye on Friday.

The writer proposed a solution to the curse on trains of people playing their Ipod too loud. The writer suggested fellow passengers should hold an impromptu dancing session to try and embarrass or shame the offender into turning the volume down.

It may not work in all cases and the option of asking for the volume to be turned down remains !However on the many cases where the train is too crowded to ask the owner of the blarring Ipod to do anything, and with passengers generally reluctant to request too much from each other, dancing to the music of a loud Ipod could work and bring unwanted attention to a selfish music listener.