November 2007

30 November 2007
The Rude Busker
Rob Fisher

There’s a particular busker who makes frequent appearances on the District Line and sings Seal’s A Kiss From a Rose or David Bowie’s Starman far too loudly.  These appear to be the only songs he knows.

Normally I like buskers.  Many of them are quite skilled, and they add to the lively feel of the city.  Sometimes, if they are very good, I give them money because you get more of what you reward.

But this busker is a very rude, pseudo-intellectual marxist hippy.  He enters the train and announces that everyone looks far too miserable.  He either doesn’t realise or doesn’t care that he’s the one making people miserable.  He sings his loud song and, in the remaining time before the train stops, insults the passengers by explaining why their lives are so meaningless.

I’ve taken to heckling him for entertainment.  Once, when he complained about the materialism of the advertising on the tube, I pointed out that I looked at advertising voluntarily but I was forced to listen to him.  On another occasion I suggested he stop spouting socialist nonsense and sing a song, much to the mirth of an elderly gentleman sitting next to me.  This evening he was being rude to a group of girls and I told him so.

He collects money by patrolling the carriage with a pouch and making sarcastic comments about how miserly people are.  I think what really bothers me about him is that people do give him money, and given that he is by no stretch of the imagination entertaining, I can’t figure out why.

21 November 2007
In which I stand around on Putney station for two hours in the freezing cold and learn next to nothing
Patrick Crozier

The idea was that I would get up early, travel up to Putney1, take some photos and report back on the sardine-like conditions on London’s trains in the rush hour.

So what went wrong?

The sardines didn’t show.  What I actually saw were scenes like this:
And this:

So, everything’s hunky-dory, then?  Proof positive that overcrowding can be solved without your plan of punting the fares into the stratosphere.

Well, hold your horses.  While things were a lot less crowded it could have been because it was a Friday.  More to the point, it did occur to me that almost no one on board could be described as comfortable.  If you were standing the chances were you would be doing so in a rather contorted position and if you were sitting… well, the seats are too narrow, there’s no legroom, they’re far too upright (Tornado position3) and if you’ve got a window seat your legs’ll be crushed by what appears to be metal trunking placed there for that sole purpose.
Frankly, I think I’d rather take my chances with the Tokyo rush hour.

You’re kidding me!  Don’t they have people pushers?

Apparently they do, not that I have ever seen them.  And I’ve my own memories.  But last time I went things were much more civilised.
The point about this, is that although everyone’s standing - they have to be the seats are locked out of use - they’ve all got a grab handle and can stand upright.  Plus there at least four doors per carriage2 so they’ll be able to get out easily. The thing is I suspect that British seats are so bad with knock-on effects to those standing because of incentives written into the franchise agreement between government and TOC.


Well, these thing are subject to commercial confidentiality.

How convenient.



1. I chose Putney because in the days when I did commute, this was by far the worst stop with long waits as people shoved themselves aboard.

2. In some cases there are six.

3. So named due to the amazing similarity between the position they force the passenger to adopt and the position a Tornado pilot adopts immediately prior to ejecting.

Update.  People pusher link fixed.


15 November 2007
“At 300 kilometres an hour all the way, it is a little monotonous.”
Patrick Crozier

A French train driver passes his verdict on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Hmm.  You know I could say:

You Bastard French.  You build some fancy-swanky rail link to your end of the tunnel turning our commuter lines (circa 1850) at the other end into an international laughing stock, forcing us to spend years in planning enquiries, and billions of our hard won treasure to make ourselves look like good Europeans, in the process succumbing to Zairean levels of corruption and graft, digging up half of London, even getting me to think this was a good idea, and after all that you dare to claim that actually, all things considered, you preferred it the way it was.  Fuck, fuck, fuck!

But, I won’t.

He’s right about high-speed trains, mind.  They are monotonous.

It’s all in the timing
Brian Micklethwait

Today, Eurostar cut its timings to and from London by twenty minutes, or whatever it is, and on the very same day, French railway workers go on strike.  Coincidence?  The usual next sentence is: “I don’t think so”, but the truth is that I have no idea.  However, if the striking railwaymen were trying to cause the maximum pain, today was surely the day to choose.  Suddenly those French railways don’t look so smooth and efficient, and the Brits are the ones sniggering and feeling superior.

By the way, the picture here, makes the St Pancras extension look rather better than my first impressions.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of transport related blogging at my place.  See also: this about another viaduct, and this about the A380.

14 November 2007
This is fun. The Japanese have invented a road that plays a tune. It's all to do with etching grooves into the tarmac, apparently. Only one question remains: what tune should they use, Driving, Autobahn, Cars, Leader of the Pack? What tune would you like to have transmitted into your cabin by the magic of rubber on asphalt?

Patrick Crozier • PermalinkFeedback (3)Road Miscellany
12 November 2007
The age of TV flatness
Brian Micklethwait

I’ve already got a flat computer screen, but my TV still sticks out at the back as if it is expecting a baby TV any week now.  But the amount of space that I would save by getting a flat one is not that huge, so I will wait until the pregnant one conks out or until new TVs are seriously better.

But when it comes to TV in transport situations, the calculation is completely different.  When a few inches per seat adds up to a huge loss of ticket sales, each flight, every flight, year after year, well, the old pregnant TVs were just not a possibility.  But, the new flat TVs make perfect sense.  This is surely flat TV’s killer app, making the difference between a flight through hell and a really quite nice flight.  Much depends on how much choice there is of stuff to watch.  Every TV show or movie ever made plus the internet, would be my suggestion.

Buses and trains could have this also.  Do they?  I’ve never seen it, but that proves nothing.

Here’s a picture of the interior of a Singapore Airlines A380, all TVed up, although this looks more like mass propaganda instead of individual entertainment:


This is picture 9 of 17.  11, 12 and 13 are also worth a look, to see seats that turn into beds.

10 November 2007
The age of railway flatness
Brian Micklethwait

At my personal blog, I have a clutch of British railway viaduct photos, many with trains that you can just about spot!


The usual commentary about such viaducts is all about how much better they were at doing viaducts then, not like it is now, blah blah.  But engineers now do good stuff too, I think.  Better, arguably.  Just not for railways.

I mean, you might just as well say that they were very bad at making vehicles go up steeper gradients in those days.  The only reason they had to build all these viaducts is because railways had to be so very flat.  And that’s now changed, hasn’t it?

QI on air safety
Rob Fisher

On tonight’s episode of QI, after an entertaining discussion on the unlikelihood of the whistle on the lifejacket being of any use in a plane crash, Stephen Fry revealed the following fascinating information:

Between ‘83 and 2000, in the US, there were 568 plane crashes.  53,487 people aboard, 51,207 survived.  The main problem experienced is, oddly enough, getting seatbelts off.  We all get bored with the hostess reminding us how this incredibly simple buckle works, but apparently under stress people revert to trying to undo them the way that’s familiar to them in the car.  So it is very unlikely [to die in a plane crash].

The reason you’re made to open the window blinds when you’re landing and then they turn off the cabin lights to make it dark, is if there’s an accident, the emergency services can see in the windows if they need to, and also that passengers’ eyes are accustomed to low light in case they need to evacuate in the dark.

The frustrating thing about QI is that they don’t quote their sources.  A quick Google search for “53,487 51,207” revealed that their source is BBC News, who got their information from Professor Ed Galea of the University of Greenwich.  In the same article, Tom Barth of AmSafe Aviation is interviewed about the company’s air airbag.

QI at

No zones for swinging lovers
Mark Holland

You’d think that for people inclined to sharing that carpooling would be the obvious answer.

From the comments here.

07 November 2007
Peter Hitchens on transport
Mark Holland

Peter Hitchens has written a tremendous wide ranging blog posting on transport issues. I’m inclinded to agree with a great deal of it.

As someone who travels by car, bicycle, boat and train I don’t understand why anyone should have an extremely entrenched position about which is the “best” form of transport and every other option is worse than useless. Surely it should be horses for courses. And, from a libertarian perspective, as it’s a given that we’re against subsidy, I think there really does need to be seriously good look at the true cost of road transportation. From common carrier restrictions onwards the playing field has been anything but level.

Make sure you don’t miss Hitchens’ the follow up either.


06 November 2007
Are trains getting better?
Patrick Crozier

It’s been creeping up on me for some time but I have to admit and against all my prejudices that trains seem to be getting better.  They are new or refurbished, clean and punctual.  Passenger information is first rate even letting us know how many coaches each train has and vandalism and graffiti seem to be down.

The question is, is it just me?

01 November 2007
Well, it’s one way to get around…
Patrick Crozier

...dressing up in a roller suit and throwing yourself down an alpine pass.

Watch out for the bit at the end where he overtakes the motorbike.

(Hat-tip Theo Spark)

Served as a reminder of the impossibility of using roller blades as a means of transport.  You can’t use them on the road and pedestrians get in the way when you are on the pavement.  I wonder if things are any better in Drachten.