Monthly Archives: June 2008

Disjointed thinking

We know that the powers-that-be can’t do joined-up thinking and come up with coherent policies.

The coincidence of two news items today illustrates this rather clearly:

  • Congestion charging for Manchester.
  • Social and Economic benefits of a much-improved broadband infrastructure.

Manchester’s proposed congestion charge will, at best, work like London’s. That’ll only happen if there’s consistent political will to make it work. It needn’t take more than one person in a key management position to scupper it, and turn it into an expensive fiasco. Think “Sir Humphrey”, though if he opposed a proposal he’d (one hopes) at least stop it before spending billions on it. But at best, congestion charging is a poor substitute for John Major’s fuel price escalator.

Coupled with the congestion charge will be a huge investment in public transport. That is, public investment: the state poking its nose in. We’ll pour billions of taxpayers money into providing more inefficient and polluting transport so we can move ever more heavy, reluctant bodies on their daily journey to the cubicle. Public transport should be less polluting than private, but that’s not automatic. Even if they get it right it’s a marginal improvement, and massive public investment is a great way to get it wrong.

Meanwhile, also today, the Broadband Stakeholder Group‘s report points to benefits such as flexible working, lifelong learning, and a big impact on social exclusion. Now that’s an altogether better way to invest large sums of public money. Instead of one city catching up with where it should’ve been maybe two generations ago (by European standards), the whole country can catch up with where it should be NOW!

Actually I don’t think public money should go into broadband either, except at the fringes to ensure universal basic availability. Let the market do that, and let it compete honestly with old-fashioned transport. With energy much more realistically priced than it has been for a couple of generations, efficiency will soon win. Sustainably.

Stop subsidising last century’s solutions!


Grrrr …

Talk about ripoff!

Yesterday I booked a weekend in Truro. At £85/night (b&b) for an “executive room”, I expected some modest measure of luxury.

So, I arrive at the hotel. They give me room 37: top floor, in the roof. I reach the room, and find it’s pretty tiny: have to take care not to bump my head on the beams if I go around the other side of the bed. The window is small and high – no view. And no minibar. Well, I don’t really want a minibar, but a fridge I can put a bottle of water in would be nice. Well, at least there’s a kettle and tea/coffee.

The bathroom, by contrast, is really beautiful. There’s a separate bath and shower cubicle, and the biggest shower head I’ve ever seen. And a big window, that opens onto the edge of the roof, from where a seagull screams at me.

Except … the shower doesn’t work. I turn it on, and all I get is a pathetic dribble. Feeling well pissed off, I phone reception. Third or fourth try I get through: she’ll send the porter up. OK, get dressed again, and fill in time by getting out the laptop and checking that the hotel’s wifi works. It does, and I have time for a very quick grumble on IRC.

Porter arrives, confirms that the shower doesn’t work. Can’t fix it, but can move me to another room. So now I’m in room 35, which is also pretty tiny, and lacks the luxury bathroom. So instead of beautiful but useless, I now have a working shower in a bog-standard hotel bathroom. No bath any more, which is a shame, as it would be nice to have the option for tomorrow night.

And the bed is .. well, it would be fine, except for the knobbly mattress, which is the poorest I’ve slept on for quite a while.

On the other hand, the restaurant has just served me a jolly decent meal. Not cheap, but at least it was in line with what it cost. Unlike this room.


Cost^H^HBenefit of not having a car

On Saturday Evening, I’m taking part in The Dream of Gerontius, at Truro Cathedral. The Plymouth Philharmonic choir – in which I regularly sing – has been invited to augment the local Truro musicians in this large-scale work. Should be fun!

The downside of this is a busy and exhausting Saturday, as we get our one and only opportunity to rehearse all together in the venue. The Plymouth Phil has coaches departing at 9 a.m, to meet up at 11 in Truro. So I’d need to leave home just after 7a.m. to get on the coach, and wouldn’t arrive back home until after midnight. That’s not so much fun when we’ve been told to bring a packed lunch, because there won’t be time for a proper meal.

I could save an hour of that by taking a taxi to Plymouth for £25. Or I could take a taxi to Truro for maybe three times that. Or I could hire a car for the day and face a long drive I’m not fit for and a parking nightmare. Of those, the taxi to Plymouth is the only one that has any appeal whatsoever.

So how about the luxury option: book a hotel in Truro for Friday and Saturday nights, and make a weekend of it? The downside is that our concert is the end of a festival week in Truro, so the hotels are at their busiest. My default plan – find a B&B / guest house with glowing reviews – isn’t an option. Anything decent is going to cost something not far off £100 per night.

So what to do? The clincher is that Friday night in Tavistock is going to be miserable too, due to the local yobs club. So I’ve booked two nights in the Royal Hotel in Truro, and will travel down there on the train tomorrow evening. Back home on Sunday, which gives me a a free day of touristing. An added bonus is that the hotel is just couple of minutes walk from the cathedral, so I can do things like change clothes and enjoy a quick cuppa in comfort during Saturday’s efforts.

Add the hotel bill to meals and incidental expenses, and I’m paying at least £200 extra for this weekend. Which I probably wouldn’t even have thought about if I owned a car. Like the £800 I recently spent on a new bike, that seems expensive until you count how much I save by not having a car. But set against that, I’m gaining a nice weekend break, and a lot more comfort than my fellow choir members who are travelling down for the day.

When you consider that on a day-to-day basis, I’m the one who doesn’t spend half my life looking for parking spaces, an occasional £200 is worth it for the reduced daily hassle alone!

Where’s the larder?

I’ve just had a pint of good English beer with my meal. As one does from time to time.

It’s a premium beer with a great flavour. But not, alas, at its very best. In this season, my kitchen – in common with the rest of the flat – is rather too warm. English beer is famous for being “warm”, but that really just means warmer than refrigerated, not summer temperatures. My kitchen in winter keeps beer at an excellent temperature. Alas not in summer, and keeping it in the fridge is no solution, because that’s far too cold for English beer to retain any decent flavour. That’s one reason I drink more Weizenbier in summer: it’s great to drink well chilled on a hot day.

Traditionally, the right place to keep English beer is a cellar, but ever fewer of us have any such thing these days.

All of which reminds me of the time in Italy, when I had to replace the fridge/freezer provided by my then-landlord, after it had packed up once too often. I went to a big superstore selling lots of white goods, to take a look at what was available. What I picked up had not just fridge and freezer sections, but a third compartment which was kept at about 12°, notionally for fruit and veg in the Italian summer. Great – in that climate, a larder was really useful!

With our English summer, it’s less necessary than in Italy for our fruit&veg – though it would nevertheless be nice. But a store at 12° would be ideal for English beer, too.

Why don’t we see those 3-compartment fridge/freezer/larders here in the UK?