I had a grand idea some time ago. For several years, London has been wrestling with the issue of air travel to and from the capital. Heathrow and Gatwick are close to capacity. Should a new runway be added to one of those two? Or a new airport be built to the east of the city? I had a better idea. Enlarge Bournemouth airport and have that serve London’s growing needs. There’s plenty of land available and the runway is big enough – Concorde used to land here now and again. Continue reading
In all of my trusty travel guides, mostly Lonely Planet books, there is a handy section about how to get around the town, city or country of your choice. Handy information about the bus service, metro system and rail network. Where they go, how often and what it costs. Handy info that has proven to be invaluable to me time and again, around the world. Handy info that, thanks to technology, is becoming increasingly redundant. Guides of the future will just need to let the traveller know which app based taxi service operates in that part of the world. And the link to the right place in the applicable App Store. Continue reading
I’m not talking about the Peoples Front of Judea. Nor the Judean Peoples Front. Nor even the Judean Popular Peoples Front. Splitters though they all are. I’m talking about RyanAir. The question has recently been asked, are airlines splitting up groups of travellers deliberately in order to make a bit of extra cash by forcing passengers to pay to book specific seats? I can answer that question, with the image above. The answer is yes. I do, after all, have two free seats next to me. Continue reading
Update: The Indian Railway website now accepts foreign phone numbers and will text you the OTP code. So all the information about emailing passport pages is redundant.
Once upon a time, my chosen profession involved explaining a variety of linguistic intricacies, complexities and nonsensities to adult Mexicans seeking to further their careers through the knowledge of the English language. And I confess, sometimes I winged it a bit. As in, I made it up as I went along. Rather than mutilating the feathered extremities of our avian friends. English is tough to learn. If it wasn’t the contradictory grammar rules Continue reading
Very nearly twelve years ago I cleared my desk and left my employment with Texaco for the third and final time. In my decade of service with them, I managed to leave three times. I was a serial quitter at. The first occasion was to try my hand at a different kind of service altogether, as an air traffic controller with the RAF. The Continue reading
Once upon a time, large sail ships in the waters around Britain were not an uncommon sight. To say the least. Some contained sugar, spice and all things nice. Others contained cannons and gunpowder. Some contained black folk from Africa, on their way across the Atlantic. All of them were vital ingredients in the growth of the British Empire. I probably don’t need to explain the controversial aspects of this to you. Continue reading
Kids television in the 70s and 80s was a mixed bag of shows, ranging from the iconic to the utterly diabolical. It probably still is, but I haven’t been paying much attention for the last few decades. I had a few favourite shows back in my childhood. Grange Hill, the Magic Roundabout, Rent a ghost, and, of course, Paddington. Any child that doesn’t like Paddington should probably have a careful eye kept on them. They’re weird. But perhaps Continue reading
I’ve been on a few scenic railway journeys in my life. I have done one of the greatest train journeys of them all in fact. Back in 2003 I boarded El Chepe at Los Mochis. The very name Los Mochis sounds like some sort of sizzling hell hole from a Star Wars movie, inhabited by bandits and home to all sorts of illegal trades and generally skullduggery. And, quite frankly, it is as bad it sounds, or at least my experience of it was. The train ride to Creel, though, was magnificent. I’ve written about this before, more than once.
In a couple of months I have another great railway journey lined up. It’s a very special trip on a special train that will travel along tracks through countryside that has been made famous in all sorts of movies. It’s often voted as the greatest railway journey in the world. I’ll have to wait and see if there is any truth to that. Hopefully there will be more fabulous railway trips over the coming years. One of the big benefits of my job are the travel benefits afforded not only to myself, but Mrs P too. We get free use on the network I work for, and a 75% discount on the rest of the national network. In August, once I’ve completed a full year of service, those benefits will extend across Europe.
I’ve always liked rail journeys. Even other people’s rail journeys. There’s a programme I watch regularly that reminds me of life in Mexico City. Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys. He used his early 20th century Bradshaws guide to tour the UK on the train. I spent many hours on the metro or in cafes watching his television series. And now I can recreate them for myself. He’s also done a series on European travel. But now he is back with yet another series. If you haven’t yet guessed where, then you didn’t read the title of this post very carefully. Perhaps you’d like to join him on his trip? Someone has kindly, and probably rather illegally, uploaded the series onto YouTube. Enjoy it while it lasts.
The technology might be centuries old. The engines might be hopelessly outdated and unreliable. But there are still plenty of steam powered trains in the UK. Dozens of heritage railways keep the old chuggers chugging. And plenty of people are still enthralled at the concept of burning coal in a boiler to produce sufficient power to propel a lump of metal down a track. Enthralled enough to come out in their dozens to watch one come by.
A steam train came through my station the other day. The photo below may deceive you. Or it may not, depending on your powers of observation. It’s going backwards, not forwards. It had broken down earlier. The paying passengers had to endure the ignominy of being towed by a more modern diesel locomotive, which is out of shot. It didn’t matter to the train spotters though. Of which, it seems, I am now one. Oh, the shame…
Mexico City was not awash with flash cars when I was there. Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bugattis aren’t the status symbol in DF that they are elsewhere in the world. They’re a ‘come and get me‘ sign to the more dastardly sections of the community. In London, owning a pricey motor is unlikely to get you kidnapped. The worst that might happen is that some jealous passer-by might rake his keys along the flank of the beast, scarring its expensive paint job.
What to do? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it. Do away with the paint. Carpet your coupé instead. As well as preventing the hoi polloi from gouging the car there are a plethora of other benefits. Worried about parking under the Walkie Talkie Tower? That’s no problem now. On hot days you won’t even burn yourself when opening the door. Fancy a picnic? Get yourself comfy on that spacious bonnet. Has Jeeves got the weekend off, and you really need the car as clean as a whistle, but….well, washing with a hose and bucket is just so messy? And just so not you, sir? Fear not. Fetch the hoover.
But let’s come back down to earth. What this carefully coiffured Rolls Royce really tells us is that if you have the money, then every dream, no matter how fanciful or whimsical, can be turned into reality. And that no amount of money can buy good taste.
The London taxi, properly known as a Hackney Carriage, is the best in the world. Really. It has no rival. Is this news surprising? It is news. Not my opinion. From comments I’ve read around the world, it appears so. Which I found surprising. Unlike most taxis around the world, the Hackney Carriage is a purpose built vehicle. Unlike most cities around the world, the drivers know every nook and cranny of the city they serve. Their training course, the Knowledge, is thorough. The charges come from a regulated meter, and aren’t too outrageous. And the cars are comfortable.
I tip my invisible hat to ye, Hackney Carriage drivers of London. Never was a taxi so easy to get into and out of, nor swallow so many bags, nor sit so many people comfortably. It also looks fantastic. Along with soldiers wearing bearskin hats, red post and phone boxes, double decker buses and Big Ben, the Hackney Carriage is an instantly recognised London icon.
Where did Mexico come? Tied fifth, a great result. I don’t know whether to be surprised at this result or not. Taxis in Mexico City have the worst reputation ever! And yet, providing you’re not going too far (it’s a big city, and I’ve been in more than one taxi where the driver got lost on a south to north jaunt) then it’s cheap, cheerful and there’s a plentiful supply of taxis to choose from. You do need a choice though. Some times the ‘meter isn’t working’. Which is taxilingo for ‘it’s a gringo, he’s got the cash, why not milk him of as much of it as possible’. Which didn’t work on me. It shouldn’t work on anyone….just take the next damned taxi that will come along in about…oh, say about fifteen seconds?
Normally I refrain from profanity. I’ll make an exception today – I’m pretty sure my audience is 100% adult. And I’ll offer a confession while I’m at it. My name is Gary, and I’m a bus wanker. I have been since I sold my motorbike last June in (ahem…) preparation for the move to Mexico. The local bus company runs a pretty extensive network and if you get their credit card type Key cards for about £60 a month, you get unlimited travel on the whole network. So I swapped my bike for a bus.
I got myself a Key card and topped up with a three month pass and off I went. Generally the service is ok. The buses are new and comfortable and they run regularly enough. But I have had complaints before now. The drivers can be such a miserable, and sometimes outright rude, bunch of so and so’s. There are some good ones, but too many feel they are doing you a favour when they let you on. A smile and greeting isn’t something they excel at. There are other cons to travelling with Wilts and Dorset. The buses don’t always bother stopping for a start. And their customer service department is…well, not very good at customer service. It’s 50/50 if they’ll even respond to your email.
But this last week I have fallen foul of the most appalling levels of customer service. Where do we even start? The story begins just over a week ago. I finished work at 5pm and headed out the front door of the office. A double decker bus was pulling up at the bus stop. Only one double decker stops there – my bus, the X3. I ran and jumped on it, swiping my card. I was expecting Mrs P to be on the bus. She wasn’t. I looked around, and saw another double decker go past and stop in front. That was my bus. What the hell sort of a bus had I got on? It turned out that I’d got on the X2. They are being temporarily diverted past my office.
I jumped off the wrong bus and made it to the right bus, just in time. I swiped on. But the light turned red, not green. The driver told me my card had been hotlisted and he was retaining it. Further, as I had no cash on me to pay for a ticket, I had to get off. In true Wilts and Dorset style, he couldn’t have been more unhelpful and miserable. Mrs P was on this bus, but she got off with me. I drew cash out of a nearby ATM, waited for the next bus and bought a one week pass.
So I got in touch with Wilts and Dorset by email, to ask why my card had been retained and what would they do about it. They replied, just one day later – miracles do happen! I was told that by jumping on two buses in quick succession I had triggered the system into believing I had passed my card to someone else to use. Ok, all systems have security procedures. Annoying, and unnecessary though – I did have photo ID on me.
But anyway, what would they do about it? I was told it would be investigated and I’d be sent my card back in a couple of days. I wasn’t contacted and to date my complaint has not had a formal response. About 8 days later, having spent a further £15 on tickets and several more emails chasing it up, I finally got a replacement card. But things should work out now, or so I thought. After all, in the FAQ of their website, they do promise…if a mistake has been made and you have had to pay for travel when your key was valid for travel we will offer you a no quibble refund and a complimentary day’s travel on your key. That’s pretty straight forward then. A mistake was made. I had not passed back or misued my card in any way, and my card does entitle me to unlimited travel on the entire network. Except, I then got this email….
I am very sorry that it has taken so long to sort this out. We have not received your card back so I am now issuing you a new one which I will send out by first class post this evening. We are unable to refund your £24 but as a goodwill gesture I have added one extra week to your card.
During the eight days I was unable to use the card for travel that I had already paid for, I had to pay £38.20 and sit around for an extra half hour for another bus. But, as a gesture of goodwill, they are going to give me £14.39 worth of extra travel. The idea that the extra week’s worth of travel is a gesture of goodwill is actually insulting. I’d rather have the full refund, thanks very much. Technically speaking, according to their website, I should have been given 8 days complimentary travel anyway.
Here’s how I read their responses so far. Not only do spotty teenage nerds think that people who travel on public transport are bus wankers, but Wilts and Dorset also think along those lines. I’m certainly not going to leave it at that though. I will demand a formal response to my complaint. I will demand a full refund. And if they don’t come up with those, then there is an overseeing body to complain to.
Beyond that, my bus actually stops at the local County Courts. I used to sue people for debts there as part of my job. I can do one more, for old times sakes. I’ll let you know how it goes. Indeed, I’ll let as many people as possible across various social media platforms, know exactly how it goes. Wilts and Dorset will find that I am one bus wanker who’s no soft touch…
My shiny silver steed rode off into the sunset on Sunday evening, with a new owner proudly sitting atop her well padded saddle. After three weeks in the classifieds I’d been offered a reasonable price that I could accept. So, so long Comadre. It’s been a blast. I miss her already. Not just the fun that comes with riding her. Although, truth be told, the constant rain we’ve had for the last three or four months isn’t always fun. But there’s also the ability to jump on and ride anywhere, anytime. The bus system isn’t so accommodating. And now, to top it off, I’m a Bus W&%$#@.
As far as selling Comadre goes, I have just one recommendation. Spending £40 on an ad with Bike Trader was a complete waste of money. Didn’t get a single call, even though the ad was up with them a week before I advertised it elsewhere. Elsewhere being eBay. Good old eBay. I had a number of leads and offers before accepting one. The eBay ad cost just £15, and as it was a Classified ad there was no final selling fee. Bargain. Here is the final photo of Comadre. Adios amigo.
A year has passed, along with just over 7,000 miles. My Honda S-Wing just passed it’s first birthday. And she is riding as smoothly and reliably as the day I picked her up from the dealers. And yet I still don’t have a name for her. All cars and bikes that have found a way into their owners hearts should have a name. It’s not too late. I name thee, my dear Honda, Comadre. Sweet and simple.
Yet soon I must say goodbye to my Comadre. I took her for a special clean at a local jet wash, picked a spot on the drive on a sunny morning, and snapped away. Potential buyers will want to see a nice selection of photos. One of the potential buyers is going to be a very lucky actual buyer. I think, having studied the competition, that £2,650 is a fair asking price. I am throwing in a helmet, disk lock.
And a fabulous black Dainese motorcycle jacket. That jacket might be 15 years old, but it’s been well looked after and apart from light but expected wear around the cuffs and collars, but it’s otherwise good as new. It’s Gore Tex and boasts Kevlar shoulder and elbow pads. It cost £500 when I bought it. And to be fair, it has spent half of those 15 years on a hanger. You can have a looky see at my Comadre on Flickr.
It’s easy to whine fondly about the British motor industry in the past tense. And it is true, we have somewhat lost our way when it comes to mass production, the glory days long behind us. Although we do still have some wonderful marques still making fabulous cars – Jaguar, rolls Royce, Bentley, Land Rover. All foreign owned though.
But there is still one arena of the motor industry where we still excel. When it comes to making fast cars, we rule the world. McLaren are a force in Formula 1 – judging from the performance on the opening Grand Prix this season, they are the ones to beat. Britain still also holds the World Land Speed Record. Thrust SSC destroyed the old record back in the 90’s, whilst smashing through the sound barrier. And surely that sort of speed must have ruined the drivers underwear.
Another British team plan to better that record though, and smash the 1,000mph mark with Bloodhound. They’re brave. People chasing speed records have to be brave. Donald Campbell was one of the bravest, and his Bluebird car one of the most spectacular machines ever to be made. I went to see Bluebird, along with the Golden Arrow, at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu. It’s a treasure trove of automobiles, including some legendary old F1 cars, a Rolls Rolls Silver Ghost and a number of land speed record setters.
There’s also a Top Gear exhibition and a James Bond exhibition. The former is a little bit ‘meh’. Actually it’s very ‘meh’. If you were thinking of going for that part alone, think again. The latter is much better. James Bond cars rock. Photos on Flickr and Google. The Flickr set is better – it contains my Instagram photos as well. I do like Instagram…