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Thursday, June 29, 2006


OK, so I said no more travelogues for a while, but I'm back in Turkey. I'm having a beer with the chaps on top of the Swisshotel Bosphorous in Istanbul. Look at the view... In the beer garden Afterwards, we went to a fabulous restaurant: Tugra and had dinner looking out over the water. It wasn't that peaceful though: the Turkish football league champions, Galatasaray , were having a celebration ball at the same place. There was a lot of very nicely, and very expensively dressed, WAGs (wives and girlfriends). It was a bit like watching the filming of an episode of Footballer's Wives and therefore quite exciting for dreary middle-aged businesspersons such as ourselves. Excellent night out, and the baklava was unbelievable. Tugra

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Southwest Trains are totally hopeless and I hope they lose their franchise

It took me half an hour to get on a train at Woking. I got there in plenty of time so I would be early for a meeting in the city. But when I arrived at the station there was a queue for tickets stretching all the way to the door. It was clearly going to take at least a quarter of an hour to get a ticket and that would mean missing a couple of trains. There were plenty of people like me standing around being pissed off but what can you do? The guy in front of me had had enough and started to walk over to the ticket barriers so I went with him.


We asked the guy on the gate to let us through saying that we would buy tickets on the train or when we got to Waterloo. He was a total jobsworth and absolutely flatly refused to let us pass and said that if we went through the barrier we would be subject to a penalty fare. I can't imagine what penalty could be worse than having to travel on SWT but there you go. Anyway, we were forced to go back into the ticket hall. I don't understand why we can't just wave our mobile phones and get on the train like they do in Japan. All of this Victorian messing around with bits of cardboard is a joke. By the way, when I told the guy on the gate that I thought it was absurd having a ticket line stretching all the way to the door forcing people to miss trains., he said, essentially, 'tough'.


In order to try an avoid the still enormous lines, I went to investigate the ticket machines. Both of the ticket machines weren't working. Here's an SWT person trying to fix them while we were standing in line like lemons.

fix_right.jpg fix_left.jpg

Actually the machines aren't terribly useful even when the are working. They appear essentially unchanged since the first world war. You have to feed notes and coins in to get a ticket out. Since I never have enough cash on me, and even if I do the machines will only take exact change or won't take my notes at all, they are essentially useless. However, a little while back someone had mentioned to SWT that credit cards had been invented half a century ago. On the entire station they have one machine capable of taking credit cards, but it's never working. Today, as usual, it was broken again. I'm starting to wonder if even SWT are sufficiently incompetent to have this machine broken all the time and I'm beginning to suspect that they've actually switched it off. It doesn't take chip-n-pin cards you see (the chip-n-pin switchover had only been known about for five or six years which clearly isn't long enough for SWT to plan for it) so I expect people use fraudulent cards in it all the time.


Meanwhile, the line was still huge. I went to try and find out the problem. I think I discovered it right away. The "help" desk was closed and there was no one there. This meant that the ticket line was clogged up with people who wanted to find out information rather than buy a ticket. Now we recently tried to find out the price of a train ticket from Woking to Newcastle. Despite being intelligent people with considerable experience of electronic commerce and online travel purchasing, we found the railway websites utterly incomprehensible. It's no wonder people find it easier to actually go to the station.


Here are the people trying to find out if you can take live toads to Inverness, and if so what might be the best route. These queries take about a hundred times as long as buying a ticket. Even the most rudimentary queueing theory simulation would reveal the disastrous consequences of allowing them in the ticket office. As only two of the three ticket windows were open anyway, an intelligent solution might've been (apart from installing modern ticket machines that accept cards) to have one window for information and one for tickets. But no.


They're still there while I missed yet another train.


I finally got on a train at 11.17 and even then I had to stand up all the way to Waterloo in boiling heat surrounded by unwashed young persons coming back from the Isle of Wight pop festival (festival, pah!, listening to Coldplay whining isn't a festival, I remember Glastonbury back when it was worth going to and I saw Led Zeppelin at Knebworth etc etc).

Does anyone know how you vote against a train company retaining a franchise?

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cheltenham lady

I took the kids to the Cheltenham science festival. In the Town Hall, they were looking round some exhibits and I wandered into the buffet to get a drink. There was some sort of press conference going on in the buffet. There were three or four people on a panel and one of them I recognized, I'm sure, from the telly. She was a woman scientist of some description and I'm sure I've seen her on Horizon or something like that but I can't quite place her. I didn't catch the question she was asked as I walked in, but from her answer it was something about making science more accessible to the public and discussing how to give science a more friendly face. I wandered back into the exhibition area. The boys had been making playdoh models of molecules, bacteria and other stuff. All very educational. My youngest wandered over to a nearby exhibit which had instantly attracted his attention because it featured a football in some role. I went over to see what was going on. Basically you had to kick the football at a target and a radar gun measured the speed. He scored a respectable 41 miles an hour, which I didn't see any other kids come close to, most of them were around 30. Anyway he was having great fun so I thought I'd get a picture of it to show Grandma and Granddad. No sooner had I taken the camera out than I was approached by a lady jobsworth with an official looking pass who told me I was forbidden to take pictures. I assumed that I'd misunderstood what she said so I asked her to repeat it and she said that I wasn't allowed to take pictures because it was against the council policy because of child protection. Incredulous, I spelled it out exactly to make sure I understood exactly how unfriendly the science festival was. So I said, very clearly, "you're telling me that it's against council policy for me to take a picture of my own son kicking a football?" The lady jobsworth repeated that this was indeed the case and asked me to put the camera away again. Perhaps if they want to have a more friendly face on a science festival for children next year, they should consider somewhere other than Cheltenham, because I certainly won't bother going there again. P.S. What's tragic about this vignette is that it highlights one of the more catastrophic ways in which our country becoming a less pleasant place to bring up a family every day. I haven't the slightest doubt that the council's absurd policy has made no difference whatsoever to the quality of life of any single child in their jurisdiction. All it does is introduce yet another mean and petty restriction on the people once responsible for the Magna Carta. P.P.S. This farcical bureaucracy was of course defeated. I saw countless people taking pictures with camera phones. It can only be a matter of time before Cheltenham Council ban those on the grounds of child protection shortly before they ban all phones because they cause brain cancer.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

It's all Greek to me

Well, here I am in Athens (moblog picture to follow). There was a minor panic earlier yesterday because a bomb went off in the city but it turns out it was a failed attempt to blow up a government minister, as opposed to failed attempt to blow up foreigners. So nothing to worry about.
Uh oh, the dancing has started
Uh oh the dancing has started...
I promise I'll stop the travelogue now.