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26 November 2013

The Demented Machinations of my Nocturnal Brain

My wife and enjoy going to the theatre, and so last night this is what we decided to do.

The thing is, though, I felt I couldn't be bothered to get our car out of the garage, at least not while we had a perfectly good wheelie bin sitting right next to the house. I decided we should use the wheelie bin to get us to the theatre.

There were a few problems to get out of the way first, though the first one (which was to do with motive power) was not regarded as a problem requiring my attention because I knew intuitively that there was some kind of power source - possibly electric, possibly gas from rotting vegetation that had previously been in the bin. I seemed to have a memory of having once before used this wheelie bin to get me somewhere, and it did  it with a fair degree of power, and also quite silently.

The second problem was whether the two of us would actually fit in the bin, and I concluded that since we would both be standing up, one behind the other, the idea would (like the bin) have wheels.

The third problem, which proved to be somewhat more intractable, was presented when my wife came out of the house all togged up for the theatre in an ankle-length dress, and she had serious doubts about her ability to climb into the bin. A pair of shorts would have been better, but not to suitable for the theatre.

What eventually really killed the whole idea was the fourth problem: I realised that by the time we came out of the theatre it would be dark, and the wheelie bin wasn't fitted with lights.

It didn't occur to me to use the car, and since it was now clear that a huge party was going inside our house we decided to join it. When I say a huge party I mean more people than our house could normally accommodate, but fortunately I'd had the foresight to quadruple the interior size of the house without affecting the exterior dimensions (an idea I'd stolen from Dr. Who and his "TARDIS").

It's worth mentioning in passing that if you can do it, this is quite a neat trick because it means you can extend your house without the need for Planning Permission.

On entering the expansive reception area I found my uncle (whom I didn't recognise) sitting in an armchair with a 1950-style bakelite radio clamped to the side of his head, and I congratulated him on having his own personal hi-fi system. I then proceeded up two flights of stairs to the third floor that wasn't there the day before, where I had laid on a massive self-service buffet. All my guests were queuing up the stairs waiting their turn to get at the food (which appeared to consist mainly of cod fillets in breadcrumbs, a few sausages, and what appeared to be a large ham and egg pie which, when sliced, turned out to be something made using the recipe for Yorkshire Curd Tarts).

A woman behind me in the queue said she wanted one of the sausages immediately, which was quite rude, but as I was now approaching the food, I picked one up and passed it over my shoulder to her, during which passage it picked up a lot of fluff from my thick woollen sweater. Still, serve her right for being greedy, I thought.

It was at this point that I woke up.

Can you get two people in this? (But no headlights, so who cares?)

12 November 2013

Important News from Scotland

Never mind the question of Scottish Independence (Referendum to be held next year).

There are more pressing matters to consider, namely the fine old tradition of drunken Glaswegians placing traffic cones on the head of the Duke of Wellington statue in the centre of Glasgow.

Glasgow City Council has been considering the possibility of raising the height of the statue's plinth to deter the inebriated Scots from climbing up to adorn a 19th century hero with a 21st century hat.

Personally I think it is a rather fine adornment; the man looks very proud to be wearing it, and I feel that had such a hat existed in 1815 the French would have surrendered immediately they set eyes on it!

Incidentally, the world would also have been given not only the "Wellington Boot" but the "Wellington Hat" as well. It's quite possible that we would all be proudly wearing the Wellington Hat. (Naturally the Kensington & Chelsea set would be wearing a green version.)

According to the BBC the Council has decided to abandon its plans to raise the plinth in response to a "Save Wellington's Cone" campaign on Facebook. The Council were trying to save money by not having to remove the cone (we don't know if it's always the same cone) up to a hundred times a year. You have to agree it must be a bit of a bind having to get up there every three days or so to remove the man's hat.

Increasing the height of the statue would, I feel, have just increased the attractiveness of the challenge to get up there on a regular basis with replacement head gear.

My own solution would be for the Council to permanently attach the cone to the Duke's head and paint it grey. He would then look permanently magnificent, and drunken Glaswegians could diversify their activities into diverting traffic the wrong way up one-way streets using red and white Wellington boots.

11 November 2013


BBC London News 10th November 2013 ..
Rush hour commuters are being asked to walk or cycle instead of taking trains on a London Underground line in an attempt to reduce overcrowding.
Travellers are being asked to avoid getting on the Northern Line between Tooting Bec and Clapham North between 0800 GMT and 0845.
Transport for London (TfL) said commuters often had to wait for two or three trains before they could board.
What a splendid idea. Why don’t we extend this idea to other walks of life? ..
Saturday morning shoppers in Tesco are being asked to visit the nearest field to pick their own cabbages in an attempt to reduce overcrowding in the fruit and vegetable aisles.
Shoppers are being asked to avoid the Tesco fruit and veg aisles between 0900 and 1145 on Saturdays.
Tesco said shoppers often had to wait for two or three cabbages to be placed in other people’s trolleys before they could get near the display.
Week-end car drivers entering Pickering are being urged to park on grass verges, footpaths and other people’s front gardens instead of using the public car parks in an attempt to reduce congestion.
Drivers are being asked to avoid going into the car parks between 9 am and 12 noon on Saturdays because they are nearly always full.
A Council spokesperson said drivers often had to wait for two or three cars to vacate the car park before finding a space. He went on to say that in accordance with normal Council policy, all cars parked other than in the car parks would still be subject to the usual charges, and the long walk to the Pay-and-Display ticket machines would be beneficial to health.
Commuters between Malton and York are being urged by First TransPennine Trains to use the Yorkshire Coastliner Buses as the trains are overcrowded between 0800 and 0900 on weekdays.
A spokesperson for First TransPennine asked travellers to consider travelling by bus because people were having to wait for two or three trains to go past before they could get on one. Since the trains ran at a frequency of only one per hour this tended to cause a bit of a problem, with workers arriving at their place of work only to find it was time to go home again.
He went on to say that since the concept of a Bus Replacement Service was so well known this alternative means of transport would feel comfortably familiar.
Commuters between Malton and York are being urged by Yorkshire Coastliner Buses to use First TransPennine trains as the buses are overcrowded between 0800 and 0900 on weekdays.
A spokesperson for Yorkshire Coastliner asked travellers to consider travelling by train because people were having to wait for two or three buses to go past before they could get on one. Since the buses ran at a frequency of only one per hour this tended to cause a bit of a problem, with workers arriving at their place of work only to find it was time to go home again.
People using their cars to commute between Malton and York are being urged to go by train or bus as the A64 is packed solid between 0800 and 0900 on weekdays.
The Highways Agency said that 20-mile long queues of 4 mph traffic were seriously interfering with the free movement of Highways Agency vehicles. A spokesperson suggested that if every car driver could travel by bus or train then the A64 would be a much more attractive route for car drivers.
The same spokesperson also made the point that in view of the fact that there had been calls since about 1960 for the A64 to be made 100% dual carriageway, and that absolutely nothing had been done towards bringing this to fruition over a period of about 50 years it must be obvious to most people that it never would be done. A feasibility study would now be undertaken on the possibility of turning it into a major cycle path, something that could only be achieved if drivers switched to buses and trains.
Sick people are being asked to treat themselves at home instead of visiting Doctors’ Surgeries, Hospitals, and NHS Walk-in Centres.
The Secretary of State for Health said waiting times at all these treatment centres were far too long. Some people were having to wait two or three weeks before even getting a doctor’s appointment, by which time they had recovered from their illness. By the time they got to see the doctor they were already better, thus wasting the doctor’s time.
He suggested that people should sit and wait in the comfort of their own homes waiting to be seen by themselves and self-diagnosed as hypochondriacs, and during the waiting period (in front of their TV) they would recover.
Acknowledging that this would be seen as controversial he stressed that this would free up doctors’ time to see those who were genuinely ill either with stress-related high blood pressure caused by driving in endless traffic jams, or claustrophobia caused by travelling on overcrowded buses and trains.
* * *

23 August 2013

British Bars & Cafes: are you being served?

Considering that, for many years now, so many British holidaymakers have experienced and enjoyed what France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Spain (to name but a few) have to offer, it is somewhat surprising and disturbing that our own cafes and bars have not caught up with the kind of service we have come to expect on our visits to the rest of Europe.

In these more enlightened countries you can walk into a bar or café, sit down at a table, and expect to be approached by a waiter or waitress ready to take your order. Even more impressively, if the weather’s nice you might sit down at an outside table in the middle of a town square and as if by magic someone will appear out of a doorway somewhere and be ready to serve you.

Try that in Britain. You’ll have a long wait.

I often wonder how confused our Continental visitors to these shores must be when they sit at a table and nothing happens. With any luck they will have read some tourist guide book for visiting Britain where it might have been explained to them that in the majority of cases they need to walk up to a bar or counter (and perhaps join a queue) to place their order. Only then can they confidently sit at their table and wait for their order to arrive.

Isn't it about time we rose up as a nation and demanded something better? Why do we put up with it?

The other day, in my own village, I had a bit of time to kill and so decided to play the tourist for an hour, strolling around looking at the shops. I decided to go into one café for a cup of coffee. I’d not been in there before. On entering I said “Good Morning” to a young lady clearing a table, and she responded. I found myself a table adjacent to the one she was clearing and sat down. The place was not very busy at this time. She finished clearing the table and disappeared. I sat reading my newspaper for ten minutes and was totally ignored.

I looked towards the rear of the premises and there was a service counter, and I suspected that I should have gone up to this and place an order. I didn't even to bother to investigate. I got up and walked out. I'm suggesting that this is what we should all be doing: walking out.

I found a second café around the corner, sat down at a table and was immediately approached by the lady (who ran the place) to take my order. Guess which one of the two cafes I’ll be going to next time I want a cup of coffee in my own village.

A few years ago, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair talked about introducing “Continental Café Culture” to our towns and cities. I suggest the first requirement is for café owners to provide something resembling Continental Café Service before we get anywhere near achieving a “Continental Café Culture”.  For the most part, it hasn't yet happened.

29 June 2013

The Sun's gone down .. Time for Bed

Light was on the face of the deep. And the Energy Minister said, “Let there be darkness” and there was darkness.

Apparently, here in Britain, we have been rather lax in securing our future energy requirements. We have been keen to shut down so-called “dirty” power stations, and reluctant to start building new nuclear power stations. Now there is talk about a looming energy crisis in which we face winter-time power cuts, and the Government might have to instruct industries to cease consuming energy at certain times.
How might this affect us? Should we be worried? Perhaps we might rediscover that old Wartime Spirit that apparently held our communities together when Adolph set out on his Grand European Tour and started bombing the hell out of us. Keep calm and carry candles.

I’m trying to be optimistic. There must be some upside to the threatened loss of heat and light. For starters, in order to reduce the risk of excessive demand  there could be an upturn in employment prospects by commissioning thousands of street wardens (steel helmet optional) parading up and down shouting “Put that light out!”
Without television, radio, computers or smartphones, we would be forced to reintroduce the concept of conversation. Without heating we would increase the employment of clothing manufacturers (obviously doing everything manually) to provide the extra layers of clothing we would need. Here in Britain we already have the advantage of winter clothing being equally useable as summer clothing, since it is often hard to tell the difference between these two seasons (if you ignore the presence or absence of leaves on the trees).

On the more cautionary side of the argument, we must be prepared for a sudden surge in population as couples give up on the herculean task of talking to each other and retire to bed when the sun goes down. The inevitable increase in amorous couplings is also more likely following the necessary eating of evening meals by candlelight – often a romantic activity.
Talking of candles (again a welcome surge in prospects for candle makers) another advantage for those of us who are workaholics would be the unlimited opportunity to burn them at both ends.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live near the Houses of Parliament, or perhaps even near provincial town council chambers, will be able to sit around collections of national or local politicians and benefit from the hot air that they exude.
Perhaps we should have woken up to this energy problem years ago. At the moment all we can point to as evidence of some thought to the matter are the woeful inadequacies of the so-called green energy schemes such as wind turbines and solar panels.

Wind turbines have achieved the mutually-exclusive emotions of a false sense of security combined with anger and jealousy against the landowners who appear to be the main (financial) beneficiaries of these monstrous windmills that blight our landscape, kill birds, cause an annoying hum, and provide very little energy. When the wind isn’t blowing they are useless, and when the wind is blowing hard they have to be shut down to protect them from damage.
Solar panels are undoubtedly useful, but have the downside of making your house roof appear extremely unattractive. If you live in a National Park that imposes stringent planning restrictions on pretty much everything you might want to do, you can be refused permission for windows, walls or doors that do not “fit in” with the surrounding area, but it’s apparently OK to replace a tiled roof with huge shiny grey panels.

Britain lives on top of a good supply of coal, but we closed down most of the mines in the 1980s and now have to import most of our requirements. Coal-fired power stations are apparently going to kill the planet, although technology exists to capture and store carbon dioxide. Gas is seen as the way forward, and we’ve now discovered that Britain lives on top of massive quantities of the stuff trapped in subterranean rocks. It can be released by a process called “fracking”, involving drilling deep into the rock , fracturing it, and releasing the gas.
The risks of earthquakes and contamination of water supplies is not a problem in the wide open spaces of the USA, but in this tiny overcrowded country of ours? Fracking hell!

London politicians are wetting themselves with excitement about this, especially as the biggest deposits appear to be in the North of England, from Blackpool in the west to Scarborough in the east. In the 19th century, the North of England was characterised by those dark satanic mills. Will the 21st century be one of dark satanic drills?
So switch those lights out! Light a candle. Enjoy seeing the stars; there’s bound to be a couple of nights without cloud cover this year.

Time for bed.



23 June 2013

Gardening and Peace of Mind – The Ultimate Contradiction

Don’t get me wrong. I love sitting in a garden, so long as someone else has created and nurtured this piece of heaven on earth.
No, the problem arises when, in order to have my own peace of heaven on earth, I actually have to create it and maintain it.
A garden is nature’s way of telling you that you can’t win; no matter how hard you try you are made constantly aware that given half a chance (or even a small fraction of that) nature will take over and turn your piece of heaven into a jungle of dandelions, ivy, long grass and assorted weeds and predatory shrubs: another kind of ‘heaven’ in fact – one for slugs, snails, moles, other people’s cats, and the odd travelling eco-beardy who wants to protect wasps.

I am pretty much in favour of wild flowers and grassy meadows with all kinds of furry creatures running about, but not necessarily in my garden.
I have three significant problems with a garden being defined as a place of peace and beauty.

The first is the disproportionality between the amount of investment (financial and physical) put in and the amount of returns I get.
The second is being surrounded by other people’s gardens which are infinitely more productive and beautiful.

The third is the amount of noise generated by 21st century gardening. No doubt many of you who are as long in the tooth as I am will remember the somewhat agreeable click-click sound of a neighbour clipping a hedge; or the low-decibel whirring of a lawn mower being pushed. As for trimming a lawn edge, that was a virtually noiseless occupation with a pair of long-handled shears designed for the job.
Now hedges are clipped by petrol engine-driven hedge trimmers, and they are surely the spawn of the devil.

Lawns are mowed either with mowers driven by petrol engines that should have had their exhaust silencers replaced ten years ago, or by equally noise electric mowers connected to the power by a trailing cable that wraps itself around every available stone or twig it encounters before being chopped in half by its own machine and blowing the fuse box off the house wall. (Unfortunately, thanks to various safety devices, the operator of this high-decibel machine is spared electrocution).
Tidy lawn edges are the perfect excuse for making high-pitched wining noises reminiscent of your last visit to the dentist, by the use of the Blessed Strimmer.

With all this going, the chances of a peaceful interlude in your garden are fairly remote.
We are all guilty of making some of this noise, but I do try to keep it to a minimum. My mower is a battery-powered machine (by Bosch if you’re interested). It is efficient, and neighbours have commented on how quiet it is. I have a large total area of grass, and this machine easily does half of it in one battery charge; then whilst it is re-charging (30 minutes) I spend that time trimming the lawn edges – but not with a strimmer. I can do a perfectly good job, thanks very much, using the long-handled edging shears. When that’s done I reconnect the battery to the mower and complete the job.

I have about 30 yards of 5ft high hedging to trim, and much as I would like to do all of this with a pair shears I confess to resorting to a battery-powered electric hedge trimmer (Flymo if you’re still interested) – which is very quiet. One battery charge appears to go on forever, and I’ve never had to stop a hedge trimming job in mid-cut, so to speak. (Memo to self: I need a haircut).
If I have tree or shrub branches to cut, my first choice is not the Chain Saw! There are, however, many who have hours of noisy fun conducting their own version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. No, I use a hand saw. That way, not only do I keep the peace, but I get much-needed exercise as well.

As the train of life that I’m riding in hurtles with increasing speed towards the inevitable buffers, I am more likely to want to resort to mechanical aids (if only to get up the bloody stairs after a day’s work within the conspiracy of nature against man that I call my garden). But I’m not sure why young, fit and healthy people should have to resort to them.
So there we have it – my rant on the peace of the garden, and if it stops raining I might just go out into my piece of peace to ponder on why my peonies produced buds that failed to open, why my laurel bush has turned black, and why my vegetables should be in the Guinness Book of Records under “Smallest in the World” category. 

14 April 2013

Thatcher the Marmite Politician

I want to say, honestly, before writing anything else, that Margaret Thatcher always gave me the creeps. She made my skin crawl every time she opened her mouth. She was truly the "Marmite Politician". (For anyone not familiar with Marmite , it's a savoury spread made from yeast extract, and people either love it or hate it). Thatcher produced an equivalent divergence of opinion throughout the UK. I was one of those who hated her, with every fibre of my being.

 I am not such an idiot that I cannot recognise she had some positive qualities, and I am ready to acknowledge that she deserved some credit in certain areas; and I do not subscribe to the current torrent of abuse and vitriol populating the pages of Facebook and Twitter. Nor do I condone the idea of dancing in the streets because someone has died (with the possible exception of Adolph Hitler).  Ironically Thatcher was in part responsible for what has become a more brutalised society that is prepared to indulge in such behaviour. She implied there was no such thing as society, and encouraged an ethos in which the advancement of "self" was the way to go.

So now she has departed this life, it is time not to indulge in vitriolic abuse and bad behaviour. I would like to look back on her time in office dispassionately at why she was such a divisive figure. There were positives and negatives. In my own view (and apparently the view of about 40% of the country) the negatives hugely outweighed the positives. Here is my own (far from exhaustive) list of "positives" and "negatives" ..


1. In 1979, Britain was a basket case. The Trade Unions ran the country, i.e., mostly held it to ransom. Dictatorial union leaders and shop stewards brought their members out on strike at the drop of a hat. We made cars that fell to bits. Our public services were hide bound in inefficiency and bureaucracy. Our power supplies were unreliable.  Domestic rubbish piled up in the streets. The dead were left unburied.

Margaret Thatcher's government introduced controversial legislation to democratize the trade union movement, preventing wildcat strikes and emasculating the powers of individual trade union leaders to pursue their own political interests (which at that time seemed to be driven by an insane belief in the benefits of Communism). In this respect, over the coming years British Industry was able to start functioning again, based on the premise that in order to survive it was necessary to produce goods that other people wanted to buy.

OK - so that's one Positive.

I've only got two others:
2. She was not prepared to countenance the idea that a foreign power could engineer a military take-over of a group of islands in the south Atlantic considered to be British Sovereign territory.  I have always been prepared to consider the counter claim made by Argentina, but to my mind you do not settle it by military invasion, and so Margaret Thatcher did right, in the circumstances of the day, to send a British Task Force to take back the Falklands.

On the back of that successful operation, she was able to secure a second election victory by a grateful nation (which up to then was increasingly wary of everything else she was doing).

3. On the world stage she stood up to any other country's leaders without fear, and usually got her way.

I'm afraid that's the end of my Positives. In my opinion - job done. Thank you and good-bye; sadly not to be.


1. She gave tenants of Council Houses (social housing) the legal right to purchase their home from the Local Authority, at a discounted price. This should have been a Positive (and it was for many people) but it became a Negative because she prohibited Local Authorities from investing the receipts from Council House sales in the building of new homes to rent. The theory, of course, is that property owners seem more likely to vote Conservative, than Council Tenants. Consequently local authorities were piling up huge financial reserves none of which could be used for the very important purpose of providing much-needed homes. That problem is still with us today.

2. She encouraged the closure of great swathes of manufacturing industry, including 99% of the country's coal mines, on the grounds of their financial inefficiency. This was done with such speed and apparent scant regard for the consequences on the hundreds of thousands of people thrown out of work, that the bitterness engendered survives to this day. No thought was given to making these industries efficient and serving the country. Just close them down.

3. Local Council services used to be funded (in addition to government grants) by the imposition of a tax system known as "The Rates". What you paid depended upon the notional "Rateable Value" of your house. The bigger and grander the property, the more you paid. Council tenants were exempt, and if you didn't own property you didn't pay rates. This was clearly unfair and needed reform. Margaret Thatcher's solution was a disaster .. The "Community Charge" - which came to be known as the "Poll Tax". Quite simply this stated that every individual paid a set sum per year, irrespective of whether you were a low-paid worker living in a two-up/two-down Victorian terrace house, or whether you were a member of the "landed gentry" living in a great stately pile on a country estate. Basically the richest man in the country paid the same local taxes as the poorest. Clearly this was no fairer than the system it replaced. It was foisted on Scotland first as an experiment, and then on the rest of the country. It caused social unrest, protests, and riots in the streets.

The legacy of this is that the whole of Scotland can now boast only one Conservative Member of Parliament.

One of the first actions of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative successor was to abolish the "Poll Tax".

Well, it seems I've listed three Negatives and three Positives. I could go on and on with the Negatives but I fear I have gone on for too long already, so I'll leave it here as an even split between good and bad; back to the Marmite analogy!

26 March 2013

Anyone for Gardening?

Oh to be in England now that Spring is here! Wait a minute, I am in England and the spring weather is a howling gale, snow drifts and temperatures below freezing.

What hope for my garden? Last summer was so terrible that large swathes of the country were actually under water for weeks on end. I suppose I was lucky where I live in that all I had to complain about was a collection of flower beds more suited to supporting fish than flowers.

The other day my wife decided to fill some pots with compost and insert some seedlings. She walked out of the greenhouse with a tray of plastic pots that immediately took flight to land in various parts of the garden. She gave up at that point.

The next day I put on about six layers of clothing and a hat to brave the elements, in the cause of tidying up the garden, picking up branches that had broken off the trees, and removing dead leaves and plants from flower beds. Since the abundance of moisture was in a semi-frozen state I didn't have to do too much wading. As fast as I placed dead material in my wheelbarrow it was blown out of it again. It should have been recorded on video so you could have all had a good laugh.

My mood was not good, and my time in the garden definitely lacked that therapeutic value that gardening is supposed to imbue. Imagine how much better I felt when my wife came out and drew my attention to our TV aerial and supporting pole spreadeagled across the roof, supported only by its cable. (Note to self: phone Ryedale Aerials!)

Last year's incessant rain caused so much saturation that stuff has been dying all over the place, and I don't hold out much hope for a decent looking garden this year. But then I'm lucky to have a garden at all, so shut up Beck!

As I look out of my window now watching the springtime snow falling I've made a decision to stay in the warm.

On the bright side, there are a few snowdrops and daffodils making an appearance.

25 January 2013

Progress is Circular

Isn’t it interesting how much of our “progress” is “regress”? One normally thinks of progress as moving forward, whereas in many respects we are, so to speak, recycling.London Trolley-buses   Back in the 1940 and 50s, so-called “working-class” families in cities lived in terraced housing. They went to work using buses, trolley-buses, and trams (see left).
This is a bit confusing for American readers, because I believe what the British call trams, the Americans call trolleys. If I talk about trolley-buses I mean electric buses using the roadway but powered by overhead cables. If I talk about trams I mean ‘buses’ running on rails (again powered by overhead cables). (See below left).

As for the trains, most of the national network was running on steam.

By the time we had entered the “Swinging Sixties” trolley-buses and trams in London had been phased out, all replaced by diesel buses. Other cities around the country followed suit (with the notable exception of the iconic trams running along the sea-front in Blackpool).

During the same period we bull-dozed the streets of terraced houses and replaced with them with high-rise apartment blocks.
British Rail phased out steam locomotives, broke them up or consigned them to scrapyards, and started pulling trains with diesel and electric locomotives.

Fifty years later, cities that ripped up their tramway lines have reintroduced – or are in the process of reintroducing, tramway systems. Cities that tore down the trolley-bus overhead cables and consigned the silent buses to the transport dustbin, are now considering the reintroduction of trolley-buses. (Below: Sheffield tram and proposed Leeds trolley-bus)

There are currently eight new city tramway systems in the UK. Four more systems are proposed or in preparation. Leeds and London are looking at plans for trolley-bus routes.
Last week a policy “think tank” recommended that high-rise apartment blocks should be demolished and replaced by – guess what? – terraced housing.

Whilst mainline train routes are unlikely to return to steam, it is notable that enthusiasts rescued hundreds of those discarded steam locos and restored them to running order. They bought up abandoned branch lines and developed a hugely successful collection of “heritage” railways around the country. Even more remarkable is the fact that a group of lunatics (sorry, enthusiasts) got together in 1990 and actually built, from scratch, a brand new Peppercorn A1 Pacific from the original 1940s plans found in the National Railway Museum in York. They named it Tornado and by 2008 it was up and running. It is now pulling special steam excursion trains on the national network all over the country.


And so it seems that the more we progress away from the past, we simultaneously return to it, albeit in different (and hopefully improved) forms.

As for flying .. have I mentioned hot-air ballooning?





20 January 2013

Going to the Theatre without Going to the Theatre

Last week we went to the theatre. Or rather, we didn't.

We saw the stage production of the 19th century farce, The Magistrate, starring American actor John Lithgow.

It was being performed at the National Theatre on London's South Bank. We were watching it on a cinema screen in York.

It was broadcast live to cinemas around the country as it was being performed on stage.

I must say that the experience was a good one. Initially it was clear that we were "in" a theatre inasmuch as the audience and the stage were visible. Once the performance was under way, however, the camera(s) moved in so that to all intents and purposes we were right up against, or on, the stage, and there were useful close-ups of the key performers. This was especially beneficial considering John Lithgow's usual masterful display of facial expressions.

For many of us, getting to a cinema is sometimes easier than getting to a particular theatre that's presenting something we want to see, so this method of bringing stage to screen is a great idea, and we look forward to seeing more performances like this.

Coming up soon at the National Theatre is Alan Bennett's play, People
starring Frances de la Tour.
It's getting the same treatment, so we'll back in the cinema to enjoy it.