Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas 2008

So it's Christmas Day in the afternoon and all's well. But it has been an odd Christmas. Could be the credit crunch to blame. I mean take last night, Christmas Eve. In 1964 a week before Christmas I started work as a Taxi Driver in Manchester, on nights. On Christmas Eve I started work at 6pm and didn't stop until hunger forced me to switch off the "For Hire" sign and heads for Nic's snack bar in Oxford Street for some breakfast otherwise my stomach would begin to think my throat had been cut. But of course by now it was Christmas morn and Nic, like all sensible people was at home in bed so I went home. I could have carried on carrying people between drinking dens, which in those days did a roaring trade and stayed open, illegally I might add, as long as there was someone one the premises capable of buying a drink. All evening and right through the night it had been the same. Stop to let on lot of passengers out and more would pile in. It’s true, the spirit of Christmas came out of a big copper vat somewhere in the Scottish Highlands.
And so Christmas Eves have continued ever since, drinking at home then out on the town for more drinking then down to a club for more drinking then home to find the loudest record in the collection to be played at max volume with all the windows open just so the neighbours two miles away knew you were having a good time even if they weren’t. I tend not to go in for all this drinking etc, I used to in the dim and distant past, so time in the last century but now it’s an early night for me which is usually the case, I rarely go to bed later than 1 O’clock these days. Now the front of the house, which isn’t too far from town centre also faces the town centre so last night I expected to be disturbed by loud music blaring out followed by specially recruited, highly trained teams of singers giving their very own version of that old favourite, “We Wish you a Merry Christmas.” In case you are unfamiliar with the words it goes sometime like this. “We wish you a merry Christmas, We wish you a merry Christmas, We wish you a merry Christmas, We wish you a merry Christmas, We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year. there is then a slight pause while the singers, and I use the term singers with my fingers crossed, consult their song sheet, take a deep breath and sing the second verse. Which goes like this. “We wish you a merry Christmas, We wish you a merry Christmas, We wish you a merry Christmas, We wish you a merry Christmas, We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year“. That is followed by a slight pause before the third verse starts. I’ll let you guess the words to that and the 4th, 5th and nth verses. Then there are the sirens of the police cars on their way to the local shop window smashing party. They weren’t invited so they wont be welcome but the ambulance that turns up later will. Then there are the fireworks. It used to be that firework were only for Bonfire Night, now shops, if you can find a shop, sell them all the year round but now there is a firework display at the drop of a hat. That isn’t too bad if they all go off at once, but there is always some one who waits a few hours until those who have made to effort to get to sleep have just reached that point where consciousness is at last just slipping away, sometime about 03.47 in the morning then BANG. Only once but that is enough, you may as well get up and eat the turkey now.
So can anyone tell me what happened last night because I got to bed at the usual hour, opened the window as usually I do thinking I’ll have to get up later and shut it and next thing it’s 5 past eight and I just had a restful, undisturbed night’s sleep. Don’t tell me everyone in Torquay got religion and went to Midnight Mass. No, surely not?

Merry Christmas buy the way.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

More From Rock Walk and a Bit From the Town Hall.

I decided to go and have a walk along the sea front and see if I could get an action photo. On the way I walked down Fleet St and stopped at the Oggy Oggy Pasty Shop for a coffee. Probably the best pasties in Torquay. When I got to spot where I took this photo the foot bridge had just been torn down. If I hadn't stopped for the coffee I'd have got a shot of it being torn down.

Talking of being torn down the local paper had a bit two bits of news regarding something going on at the Town Hall. A Conservative group assistant, Becca Adams, has just quit her job at the Town Hall, due, as she says in her I quit letter, she was 'targeted' by councillors and was 'living in fear of the next conspiracy theory' against her. She added she dreaded coming to work. She had recently given evidence against Councillor Jeanette Richards, who has just been suspended for a month for breaching the council's code of conduct for a second time. Becca Adams told a hearing that Councillor Richards had subjected a council officer to a 'tirade' of abuse which ended with her saying: "I'm a councillor, I can speak to you any way I like."
This follows a Standards hearing on November 26: Cllr Richards was cleared of bullying an other council official but disrespect was proved and Mrs Richards was suspended from duty for a month for breaching the authority's code of conduct with immediate effect.

Really good people become Councillors but not all Councillors are really good people.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Torbay, Mentioned on Prime Time TV

Gerry Springer mentions Torbay on prime time BBC tv. One up for our publicity department here in the Town Hall. No, actually it was all down to the local police station. Thanks boys.

A couple of weeks ago the local paper ran a story about the police here in Torquay handing out Flip-flops to homeward bound female revellers. A fellow blogger, Lord Hutton of Seaside Notes mentioned after the story broke that the police could really do with a press officer. The story stated that the cost of the flip-flops was being met from a £30 000 grant the police had received, giving the impression that the flip-flops were gold plated, or even solid gold. There were several items in nationwide papers wondering what was going on in Torbay if £30 000 could be spent this way. After a few days the police got round to pointing out that the actual cost of the flip-flops was less than £200 and the remaining £29 800 of the grant was going elsewhere. Maybe on a Press Officer? Anyway, this evening I was watching the BBC program, "Have I got News For You." which is a humorous look at the week’s news. This evening’s program was hosted by Gerry Springer who should need no introduction. One of the items was ‘an odd one out’ quiz. Four photos showing West Ham fans, a slightly drunk young man, the Tardis and a beluga whale. The odd one out was the Tardis. The beluga whale blows bubbles,(click here to watch), the West Ham fans sing the song, "I'm forever blowing bubbles" when their team wins, not often these days and the clubbers in Bolton are given bubble blowers as they leave the club as it appears to make them less aggressive. Well would you feel aggressive if you were busy blowing bubbles? Seems a better idea than flip-flops which can do a lot of damage if thrown at a handy US President. Once the contestants had worked out the answer Gerry then went on to mention how the flip-flops had been given away in beautiful Torbay.

If you are an avid Doctor Who fan you might know that the original idea for the Tardis wasn’t a Blue Box but a bubble. Just thought I’d mention that.

If you are the senior police officer in Torbay and are looking for a Press Officer I would like to point out that I am available for the post, if you aren't looking, why not?

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Don't Park There, Please

Behind the blue wall is a two lane carriageway and behind that is Rock Walk. And it's going to stay behind the barrier until June next year. Which is a bit of a pain if you are going to the Princess Theatre. Because there is, technically, no where to drop the theatre patrons off because there are signs saying, "No Stopping". But as you can see people still stop which just adds to the excitement of driving along the stretch of road. What you can't see are the few dozen cars stuck behind the bus, probably all the way back to the Clock Tower. While I was getting the camera out of the case a police car drove past but decided not to stop and move the stationary traffic on which was probably the sensible thing to do as it would have caused even more of a tailback. Some problems have no solution.

If you want to know what is going on behind the blue wall click here .

Fleet Street Store Closing Down

An other shop bites the dust. Torquay is becoming littered with empty shops unfortunately. This shop is a bit like Woolies, not as big but with a wide range of goods at inexpensive prices. That doesn’t mean to say cheap, we bought a clock there years ago for £5 and though it loses a minute every six weeks it is still running well and on the same battery. And there are lots of other items available. Cigarette lighters to chip pans, Christmas decorations to CD covers, torches to tools, towels to electric plugs. A bit like what Woolies used to sell back in the days when they were successful. Now all Woolies sell seems to be CDs, mobile phones and toys. Things everyone else does better. But a few months ago the WHSmiths just down the road closed and was replaced by a Poundland Store. Everything for a pound. I went in needing a pen one day and got 5 for a pound. The first one I used didn’t even last long enough to write one word before it quit. The second had plastic fatigue and the barrel cracked in two while I was writing the 2nd word.
Sorry to see you go DG Discount Store.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Who's a silly boy then?

Yesterday I had a walk down to Rock Walk where work is going on to make the cliff face safe. No nasty 20 tonne boulders falling down onto the passing traffic, bad for business. There is a team down there cutting back the vegetation before installing nets to hold everything in place, not as dramatic as earlier in the year when 50 foot trees were coming down but who knows. Then at the far end I noticed two workers hanging half way down the cliff drilling a hole in a precarious looking boulder. If that came down it would make a big dint in the side of a passing bus. The drill bit was 8 feet long and they had finished drilling and were trying to remove the drill and were having a little difficulty. The had to hold the drill and push away from the cliff with their feet. There they were swinging around all over the place 50 feet up in the air. Dramatic enough. So out came the camera, lens cap off, switch on, raise to eye, look through viewfinder. Instead of a clear picture of two struggling workers swinging high above the road all I got was a note in the viewfinder saying, "Who's a silly boy then?"

Actually what it said was slightly more blunt and to the point and no less annoying for that, "No Card." I had downloaded some earlier photos and left the memory card in the card reader. "What a mistake to make?"

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Dancing Gull.

I like sea gulls which is unusual for someone living in a sea side town. When I first moved to Torquay I was driving down New Rd into Brixham and a seagull flew into the front nearside windscreen. I was doing 30 mph at the time so you don't need to spend too much time guessing exactly what happened to the poor little thing. I looked in the interior mirror to see what the reaction of my passengers was. In fact there was only one passenger, a dear sweet little old lady who looked as if she was on her way home from a vicarage tea party and for a moment I was concerned that she might be upset, blood and feathers being spread over the window as it were. She quickly dispelled that silly notion, "Oh good. An other of the buggers dead." I was more shocked by her reaction than the death of the bird.

OK. they are noisy and where I live we used to put our rubbish out in black bin bags which the gulls made short work of in their never ending search for something, anything to stick in their bellies. By the time the bin men arrived the next morning the road looked like a land fill site with everything from used nappies to empty beer cans spread from one end of the road to the other. One councillor even suggested pouring bleach over the bags to deter the gulls when we put them out at night for collection the next morning. He isn't a councillor now I might add. In the end we all got seagull proof bin bags and the problem went somewhere else.

Anyway I do take the odd photo of the odd gull I see from time to time but this 30 second video is not something I have seen a gull do before and for all I know does come in the 'odd' category.

Famous Torquay Landmark Vanishes

A famous Torquay Landmark vanished during the week. Well, to tell the truth it wasn't all that famous. Most people would have driven past without even noticing it. And for 35 years of it's existence it was hidden by the trees and scrub on Rock Walk. So hidden in fact that some of our less desirable tourists used it as a drinking den and also to mainline certain illegal substances. When it did come out into the light of day in February, Devon Tree Services, who were employed to remove the trees found they also had to remove thousands of hypodermic syringes and a similar number of empty beer cans and dozens of similarly empty wine and cider bottles.

Anyway it was unsafe and had been fenced off. On Tuesday I went by and took a photo and it was still there with a couple of people from Vertical Technology working on it, cutting back vegitation, I thought. Friday I wandered by and it took a couple of looks before I realized it had gone.

I was very sorry to not be there to photograth it's fall.
More, though not much more, on the progress of making the cliff face safe Here.

Fleet Street

This is the Post Office Roundabout. Actually it's no longer a roundabout, it's a taxi rank, and the Post Office has been moved somewhere else but it is still called, in the time honoured fashion of not renaming places without good reason, the Post Office Roundabout. It is at the top end of Fleet Street which is commonly called Fleet Walk. Fleet Walk is actually a first floor level walkway full of shops and is further down Fleet Street and is completely free of motorised traffic. Fleet Street is a pedestrianised street but isn't, as you can see, completely free of motorised traffic.
As it is pedestrianised, pedestrians have priority. That means you can't run them over if they get in the way. Even though it is pedestrianised it is still open to some motor vehicles, not just buses, and the local speed limit of 30 mph still applies. Stagecoach buses have a sensible, company imposed speed limit of ten mph, I am not sure what speeds other bus companies limit their drivers to but I used to think it would be the same.

Then yesterday I came out of the Tesco Metro you can see on the left just on the roundabout and looked to see if anything was coming. There was, a bus (not Stagecoach) some way back on the roundabout and I decided to cross as there was plenty of time. Well if the driver had been doing ten mph on the roundabout he wasn't by the time he got into Fleet Street. Probably double. I didn't have to jump for my life, just walk a lot faster, which at my age can be a bit of a strain. So much for pedestrian priority.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Torbay's Grand Rock Walk Exhibition

Torbay Council recently tried to whip up a little interest and excitement in Rock Walk by holding an Exhibition. For a couple of days it was on show in the Princess Theatre which is in the firing line if any 20 tonne rocks roll down the cliff. Then it was moved to the Library in Lymington Rd which is in a much safer place. Well this is it. The Exhibition, not the library.

Not very exciting is it? The top bit has a few photos of Rock Walk as it was and the bottom bit shows an impression of what it will look like when it is finished. The work is expected to cost over a million quid so economies have to be taken where ever possible. The board on the right with the coloured bits of paper are for viewers, if the can contain their excitement, to express their comments, make suggestions and ask questions. I even went so far as to stick a little coloured sticker myself.
There is no sign of an existing foot path (see above) in the new plans and I asked why not. In the new plans there only seems to be one path up then the same path down. Surely we need two paths otherwise there could just possibly a bit of a bottleneck in busy times. And it's more interesting having more than one pathway.
Mind who the planers may just see my question, realise they have missed out a vital part of the redevelopment and write me a nice letter thanking me. It could also add thousands of pounds to the cost.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Not in a Million Years

"OK, So what exactly is this job?"
"It's dead easy really, all you have to do is walk around Torquay."
"That's it, just walk around Torquay?"
"Nothing else?"
"Well you have to hand out balloons."
"Oh, that doesn't seem too bad."
"There is the other bit."
"What other bit?"
"Well the balloons are advertising the Mariner pub."
"Well mariners are famous for something"
"Like sailing the Seven Seas? I should point out I get seasick walking through a deep puddle."
"No, nothing to do with sailing." Slight pause. "Nor being sick."
"Drinking large amounts of Rum?"
"Don't be silly. I said it was nothing to do with being sick."
"Not rum, Oh God, not rum so it must be sodomy and the lash."
(From Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, a CD by the Pogues)
"Don't be silly. We'd never get away with that in Torquay." Slight pause. "Not in broad daylight anyway." Slightly longer pause. "Don't fancy a bit of overtime later this evening? No. OK. Sorry I asked."
"Woman in every port, that sort of thing?"
"Give me a clue or we'll be here all day."
"What do mariners have on their shoulders?"
"Epaulets, if they're the captain mariner."
Long sigh, "Parrots."
An emphatic shake of head. "I'm not walking round with a parrot on my shoulder. They bite your ear and crap all over you."
"You don't have too walk round with a parrot on your shoulder."
"What then?" Some people can be slow on the up take some times.

Christmas comes but once a year, but after that there is the Easter Bunny to look forward to.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Kingskerswell Bypass, In Your Dreams.

The Kingskerswell Bypass has been in the "sometime in the next few years or so" stage for over ten years now. There were hopes that Government money was going to be found to fast track it so we could expect a road link with the rest of the country some time this century. However under plans announced today it would seen we have once again lost out. The bypass isn't being fast tracked after all. Oh, it's still going to be build just as soon as the money can be found but the Labour Government have asked us down here in Devon not to hold our breath. Could it be some sort of political bias rearing it's ugly head. Remember round here we have a Lib Dem MP, the South West tends towards Lib Dem MPs, and if, as seems likely, we change our MP at the next election he will almost cirtainly be a Tory MP. So no marginal Labour seats round here for the Government to worry about so no fast track bypass round here either. Hands up those who don't see a connection. You there, at the back. The one without your hand up. Your name isn't Gorden Brown is it?

The photo shows the road on a quiet day, the traffic is usually stationary on both sides of the road. By the time we get the money to build the bypass global warming will have pushed sea level up so high Torbay will be much bigger and Torquay, Paignton and Brixham will be largely underwater so there will no point in building the bloody thing anyway.

National Express Crash Driver Jailed

A coach driver who admitted causing the deaths of three passengers by dangerous driving in a crash near Heathrow Airport has been jailed for five years.
The London-to-Aberdeen National Express service overturned on the M4/M25 slip road on 3 January 2007.
Rooney, 49, of Lanarkshire, drove like a man "possessed", the court was told.
Richard Latham QC, prosecuting, said Rooney, from Carluke, kept breaking speed limits, as was shown in tachograph readings, as he left Victoria coach station for Heathrow.
Rooney's driving and heavy braking of the double-decker bus caused bags to fall off the luggage shelf, passengers said.
The court heard Rooney was delayed for half-an-hour when one family's luggage could not fit into the coach and he had to call a taxi to carry it.

The full story can be found here at the BBC News Page.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Sunday Rugby and Sunday TV

Sunday Morning, very windy and not the warmest day of the years so far but the team were playing Totnes at home and it wasn't raining. Last week it had been raining and the match was away in Plystock which is almost all the way to Plymouth and I hadn't bothered going. And guess what, for the first time they had won. The first 3 games had all been lost, mainly because the opposition had managed to pass the ball and we hadn't. But last week the ball had been passed from hand to hand and just like I had been saying all season, pass the ball and we will win.
Would we continue to pass and win this week? Six tries to nothing up at halftime. 34 points to nil. It should have been 42 nil but the player who normally kicks the conversions wasn't playing and no one else seemed happy taking the kicks. Anyway at this level of Rugby once a team gets 50 nil up the rules say the game n must end, no sense in kicking someone when they are that far down. There are those who think this rule is unfair, if your team is so good then let them win 100 to nil. But come on, these are two teams of eleven year olds, not Attila the Hun camped outside the walls of Rome. Anyway what we used to do when winning by a large margin was play a man down. Which is what happened and the game ended an almost respectable score in the end 34 to 14.
Second thing that happened on Sunday and long awaited was the BBC drama 'The Survivors'. This was a remake of a series made some years ago, the idea being a virus had killed just about everyone and the few who remained had to get by as best they could. It had a cult following when it first came out but this is not as good as the original, it seems to have taken the best bits and dumped them and then found a need to spin out the remaining scraps to try and put a story together. One twist, it would appear in this 2008 version the virus has been let loose deliberately. Is this a mad, or maybe not so mad scientist's ides of how to knock global warming on the head, get rid of the cause of global warming which isn't green house gas, it's what is producing the green house gas, that is the six billion of us. Reduce that number to half a million and green house gas will no longer be a problem. An extreme solution I agree but ........

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Yesterday Santa himself came to Torquay. Yes, this was the real Santa, not one of those phonies you get elsewhere in the world. So Fleet Street was shut. Well you would shut the main bus route through town for such an important visitor wouldn't you, I mean Torquay is renowned for it's good maners? Now it has been know for several weeks that Santa was coming, months really, the first sign I noticed proclaiming Christmas was once again on it's way was in the first week in September, a hotel urging patrons to book early for Christmas.

All this notice gave everyone plenty of time to get ready. From the buses point of view this mean working out the diversions for the 6 services that use Fleet Street. I mean it can't be hard can it? Santa came last year and the year before and years and years before that. Just copy the diversions that were in place then. And the other thing of course is to let those of us who couldn't care less that the great man is paying the town a visit is that buses will not be risking running down the man in red or his little helpers by driving up and down while the parade is going on. And how do the bus company inform us there are no buses for 6 hours on Saturday afternoon? They stick really prominent notices on all the bus stops in Fleet Street, there's only 4 of them so expense does not need to be spared to make sure their valued customers aren't left standing in the cold wondering how late the buses are going to be today. Well the notices were there but someone must have had no concept of 'PROMINENT' because.... well look at the photo and ask yourself is that notice 'PROMINENT'? I even made it bigger so you could notice it, that's what notices are for, to be noticed. Notices shouldn't cower in the corner like a wallflower at the local dance, the should announce themselves like a horny peacock looking for a mate. If you have ever seen a horny peacock looking for a mate you might think that is going over the top a little. True, but a bit more effort would have been appreciated thank you.

Actually I knew the road was closed and no buses would be running. I was down there looking to get a photo of the Big Man from Lapland and while I was waiting I kept myself busy explaining to a fair number of hopeful people standing at the various bus stops and sending them to somewhere more likely to be touched by a passing bus.

I didn't get a shot of Santa, it got a little cold and wet and I gave up and went home early, I live walking distance so I didn't have to wait hours for a bus.

Fortunately there was a Controller on hand to give assistance to those who never noticed the notice. Well would you have noticed it?

Saturday, 22 November 2008

World Cup Upset.

World Cup upset if you are from Australia but if you come from New Zealand then it was only what you expected.

In today's Rugby League World Cup Final Australia managed to score 20 Points but New Zealand scored 34 in what appeared to be a bit of an upset.Well done New Zealand even if you did knock England out in the semifinal.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

"Not Here Sir. Sorry."

Most bus drivers get asked, "Can I get out here." Sometimes the passenger will even say please. My reaction was almost always to say, "Sorry but it is not company policy to open the doors unless the bus is at a bus stop." But the driver of this bus was stuck in a bit of a bottleneck in Fleet St, it was a Sunday and he was almost certainly running late. There were in fact 4 number twelves in Fleet Street all heading for Newton and it's a 20 minute service on a Sunday so if one was on time, one was 20 mins late, one was 40 mins late and one was an hour late. Could have been this bus so when a passenger asked if they could get of here 30 feet short of the bus stop the driver was tempted. What happened over the next few seconds will mean he won't be tempted again. As you can see a lady with a pink bag is getting off. She was followed by an elderly couple

The lady you can see alighting with her husband in the white jacket just behind. The next thing that happened was an other elderly couple who were sitting at the back also decided to make a break for freedom. Husband, a sprightly guy made it to the door in double quick time and was away. You can just see him standing under the glass veranda watching his wife, who was a much slower mover than him, being carried away by the bus. She didn't make to the door, in fact she was still half way down the bus, when the driver noticed the bottle no longer had a neck and shut the doors and headed for Newton double quick time. Old gent in street very distressed not knowing if he will ever see his true love again. Old lady on bus very distressed, she probably had no idea where the next stop was. Two blokes in tee shirts, watching bus go very pissed off at bus driver.
Why were they not the happiest bunnies in town? Well they had seen the bus disgorging passengers and had come running up hoping to board. Then the bus had driven away leaving them standing there looking like complete dickheads.

OK. So now you know why bus drivers get told in training school not to open the doors unless the bus is at a bus stop.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

In Good Company

Who's you might ask, then again you probably won't. But I will tell you anyway.
Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper's that's who's.
Any the wiser?

You may remember that a few days ago, though I wouldn't blame you if you have forgotten, I was up a ladder doing a couple of minor repairs around about 15 feet of the ground involving the gutters. One of the things I did was brush away the cobwebs . Now I have nothing against spiders but I do wish the would carefully pack up the webs and take them with them when they move somewhere else. So there I was, not as high up as Miss Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper I have to admit, when the brush I was using slipped and fell. I can clearly remember saying one of those words some people tend to use in situations like this. You know the kind of word I mean, My mother never told me not to use it but I am sure the back of my head would have been spinning if she had ever heard me use it. Starts with 's' by the way. Miss Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper didn't use such a word when she realised she had dropped her tool bag, she just said, "Oh dear." Which was probably a good idea when you are connected to an open radio channel and dropping a tool bag 125 miles up in space is what she had just done. Don't worry, it's still up there, unlike my hand brush which even from only 15 feet managed to hit the ground with enough force to smash the handle. I did miss both the cats though.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Starting This Week

Finally work has started on Rock Walk. These four are the total workforce visible at the moment and what they are doing is clearing away the scrub that has grown up since Devon Tree Services cleared it and 50 trees from the area last spring. The rock face isn't too stable, the bloke on the right in the picture started pulling at a lump of rock the size of a football, it just went tumbling down before I could pick the camera up (give me a shout next time mate). Once all this clearing is finished netting will be put up to ensure no lumps of rock of any size come tumbling down and hit anyone, bad for business. Some of the bigger rocks will have holes drilled in them and bolts fitted as in the Adam's Family Butler. Like the Adam's family Torbay has a monster and it's called Rock Walk.
The work here is expected to take 28 weeks, should be finished in June and is expected to cost £1million. Bet it will cost more, things like this always do.
The other thing that started this week is happening in Preston. Preston is a bottleneck between Torquay and Paignton. Drivers get 8 minutes to get from Paignton Bus Station to Preston Shelter. In the summer it can take 45 minutes especially if it is raining. These road works are supposed to cure this bottleneck. Personally I believe the problem lies at the traffic lights at the bottom of Headland Park Road a bit futher on but the Highways Department believe otherwise. I mean what do I know, I've only driven through Preston about 10 000 times and got stuck there about 5000 times. Still not my problem. Unlike the work on the cliff which the council assures us will not disrupt traffic, this lot might just slow things down a little for traffic heading for Torquay. Good luck out there boys and girls.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Bus Passes. Are We Being Screwed?

Big article in the Herald Express yesterday. Torbay Council announce that they will need to find an extra £600 000 to fund the "Free Bus Pass Scheme." And that's on top of the £2.5m they already have put aside. That means council tax will have to go up by 5%. But Central Government have indicated that a rise of 5% would end up being capped. Nothing to do with knee capping but just as painful. A few Whitehall Heavies, usually in Black suits would turn up at the Town Hall and force their way in, explain very nastily that 5% is too much and remove large sums of money from the council strong room, you're being fined they will say, they will even give a receipt but we will never see the money ever again.

So no 5% rise in council tax. So give the bus companies less money? Yeah, right. After all the owner of the biggest local bus company is worth hundreds of millions. He wouldn't miss a couple of million would he? I think he would miss it. Problem with that is we have a good bus service round here, it's a big asset, it would be foolish to throw that away. Cuts will have to be made else where, in unimportant areas such as child care, social services, education, road repairs, street lighting and the rubbish would only be collected once every 3 months.
So how have Torbay Council made such a mess of the financies to be in this state? Given their reputation over the last ten to fifteen years, Audit reports listing the council as a poorly run authority came thick and fast, but there has been improvement recently. Are they slipping back into their all ways? Has infighting in the Town Hall returned? Is the title Councillor more important than the work that goes will it? Are they just taking the money and heading of to Sunny London? Well I am glad to say no. Actually I’m not glad. If the above were true than at the next election we could vote this lot out and get a new lot in who would sort the problem out. But if we got Barack over here, part time as it were, for a few weeks before he starts his big job in January I doubt even he would be able to sort it.

Lets go back a couple of years. Gordon Brown, then not Prime Minister, announced free bus travel for the disabled and over sixties within their local area. £420million of public money would be available to pay for it. (Buget 2005 figures). Then the scheme was extended, I can now travel anywhere in England on local buses for ‘free’. A billion pounds of public money would be spent to give the disabled and over 60’s the freedom of the busways. I, like just about everyone else assumed that this billion was going to come from Central Government. A few Whitehall civil servants sworn to secrecy by Gordon knew but they weren’t telling. They’d been sworn to secrecy hadn’t they? The quote below is from the Government’s web site and you can see how much money is coming from Central Government. So where is the rest coming from? The local authority that’s where. It’s public money isn’t it? Look at the second quote below, from the same source. Note the question uses the word guarantee, the answer, cunningly doesn’t.

1st quote
“4. What will this cost?
The Government is providing additional funds of up to £212m a year to pay for the national concession in England.
This is in addition to the extra funding each year provided for the previous enhancement to the scheme from 2006 (currently some £377m for 2008/9).”

Now I am not sure if the above means £337million is being spent this year or £549 million, both are a long way short of one billion.

2nd quote
“24. Will the Government guarantee that councils will be no worse off as a result of this change?
It is in all our interests to ensure that local authorities are adequately funded for the national concession. The Government is aware of concerns about funding and consulted those with an interest, including local authorities and bus operators, on funding and reimbursement mechanisms. WE BELIEVE that the funding provided to local authorities is sufficient to meet the cost of the scheme.”

The question asks will the Government guarantee but the answer doesn't actually guarantee anything. It just says “WE BELEIVE”. There are more people believe the world is flat than believe the funding is sufficient to meet the costs and they all work at the Treasury and can believe what every they like. They do after all have all the money and a reputation for not giving any away without serious amounts of blood being spilt.

So we, and other local authorities in the same boat (Titanic) are well and truly screwed. I suppose at the next general election we could vote Gordon Brown out but that would mean letting David Cameron in. Either way we’re screwed.

So we can either ask the disabled and over 60's to stop using buses, or we can write to Gordon Brown, address 10 Downing Street and include the second quote above in the letter and ask him if he agrees that local authorities are getting sufficient funding, or we can lie back and think of England.

Have a nice day!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Who Is That Driving a Bus?

Here is a link a driver sent me. Please note drivers are expected to be in full uniform when driving a bus and that, at this time of year does include a company tie. So why is this driver getting away with driving a bus when he clearly isn't, but then again he never wears a tie. Mind you he is probably carrying his cash tray and other essentials in a plastic bag.

What did I do today? I had to do a bit of shopping this morning but it was a nice sunny, almost warm day. The winds of 45 mph predicted for yesterday didn't turn up which was a shame because I was all ready with the camera to speed down to the harbour and film the centre of Torquay being washed away. But it didn't happen. I walked down to the Harbour around 11am and then round to the War Memorial. It is 90 years since the end of the Great War and many people believe the 2 minutes silence should be held on the 11th and not on the nearest Sunday. In common with many people Stagecoach ask their drivers to pull over at 11 and observe the two minutes silence. The photo shows a small crowd at the memorial with a bus in the background stationary. Most cars carried on moving however, but that is what cars do.

After that I had to go home and clear the gutter out. During the heavy rain yesterday I had noticed water running down the wall instead of along the gutter and down the down spout. Poor down spout must have felt neglected. A quick job, ladders out, twenty minutes clearing gutter, cup of coffee while I recover and then out some where. Not a chance. While scooping tonnes of moss out of the gutter I notice a roof tile lying on the flat roof. Maybe it was having a little rest but not in my time thank you. A quick repositioning of the ladders to get up on the flat roof (who ever invented flat roofs should be dug up and given a sound telling off, this one leaked a few years ago and cost me lots of hard earned cash to get it fixed). The tile fixing was an easy job, it wasn't from somewhere out of reach and I did happen to have a flat bit of lead to use as a tie and there was a handy bit of wood to nail a nail into to hold the tie. So two jobs done and still time to go out. While I was up on the roof I did clear the gutter on the neighbours side of the roof. Three jobs done, still time to go out.

Climbing down the ladder I noticed that serious amounts of putty was missing on one of the first floor window frames. Bugger this, I thought, I'm going out. But the ladder was in place and it is hard work to get it in and out of the shed so what the hell. I am out, even if it is only 15 feet above the back garden. I knew I had some putty somewhere, trouble was it was in the shed and was cold and hard and had dried a bit and was really hard work kneading it into the right consistency. While I was up there I had a look round to see if any more putty was about to fall out. Needless to say there was loads. So I haven't been out anywhere, my hands hurt from squeezing tonnes of putty and smell of linseed oil and tomorrow I will have to go back up and paint the new putty or it will all fall out again.

Forecast is for sun, 11C and not much wind so definitely a day out once the painting has been done. Unless I spot something else that needs doing. I shall keep my eyes shut whilst going up and down the ladder.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night was last Wednesday but it does tend to linger a little these days. Back in the middle of the last century when I was a small child there were bonfires on three local bomb sites. We were on the route German bombers took to get to Old Trafford, the industrial estate not the football ground and a few nervous bomb aimers had dropped the bombs a few miles short so where houses once stood we had handy play grounds and plenty of space for the bonfires every November. We all went down and lit the bonfire, let of our fireworks and went home and that was it for an other year. Then people began clamoring for a ban on fireworks as lots of people were getting hurt, mostly children. Not a complete ban, organised firework displays would be OK. Back in the fifties I could walk in a shop and buy fireworks, not a good idea really when you are ten years old, though I managed not to blow my self up. The government, over the years took a half measure, fireworks would not be sold to children but no outright ban. Now what we have is fireworks going off on Bonfire Night and then on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday closest to the 5th there are organised displays everywhere. So Bonfire Night gets spread out some what.

Last night I was watching TV when there was an almighty bang overhead. Now Ginger the cat was fast asleep in front of the TV, he woke up, gave me a nasty look if I had made the bang and went back to sleep. I looked round for Hector the other cat. Now Hector is a very nervous cat, no sorry nervous isn't even in the same street. Clap your hands anywhere near him and he won't go to sleep again for about 3 days. He was no where to be seen. I looked upstairs thinking he may have run up there, which is what he does if any seagulls land in the back garden. he's not keen on seagulls, they're bigger than him and have a sharp vicious beak. Still no sign, have I locked him in the back room? I went in and switched the light on, no where to be seen. Then I looked out the window and there he was, in the middle of the garden looking up at the rockets whooshing up in their desperate attempt to land on the moon before blowing up in a shower of coloured lights. Like he hadn't a care in the world.

Rock Walk

WORK starts on clearing and shoring up Torquay's Rock Walk next week.

The company which won the £1million six-month contract to stabilise the cliff face will be setting up site facilities and expects to start work proper on clearing vegetation and loose material off the rocks during the following week.
A substantial area of the rock face will be covered with rock-fall netting and certain areas will be fixed with rock anchors.
The seafront road will continue to remain open during the contract.


Work started here in February and was expected to take 3 to 6 weeks to complete but the cliff is more unstable than first thought. Not sure how long this part of the work will take.

Half the road is closed due to the danger of rocks falling onto the road. At least with the trees all gone there is no danger of being hit by a 10 tonne rock with a 5 tonne tree attached to it.

Friday, 7 November 2008

From the Herald Express

Bus driver attack boy facing custody

Friday, November 07, 2008, 09:46

A TORQUAY teenager who savagely beat up a bus driver has been warned he faces a custodial sentence.

The 17-year-old rained blows down on Stagecoach driver Charles Sellars, who believed he was going to die, a court was told.
The youth also assaulted two bus passengers in a drunken attack in Brixham.
Today, the bus company welcomed the stark warning saying: "Our bus drivers should be able to work free from fear of attack."
The teenager, pleaded guilty to a charge of grievous bodily harm and two counts of assault.
Magistrates, sitting in Newton Abbot, were told the nature of the crimes were so serious, the youth could spend time in youth custody.
The ferocious attack happened on the night of Saturday, July, 12.
Mr Sellars had been told by another bus driver that there could be some potential trouble with some youths and was advised to stop short of his destination, prosecutor Chris Bittlestone said.
He pulled his bus over by the junction of Linthorpe Way.
Mr Bittlestone said the youth, who was 'well in drink' stood in the doorway of Mr Sellar's bus and asked for a lift to Paignton.
He said: "He told him he could not do it because his bus was not in service."
The youth became aggressive, he said, adding: "As Mr Sellars steps on to the bus platform, he is punched to his left eye socket by the youth with his clenched fist.
"He went to the floor in a heap. The youth continues to hit him. He doesn't know if he is kicking or punching him.
"He thinks he is in danger of being killed and blacks out for a while before coming to his senses."
Mr Bittlestone said, in a further melee, the youth continued to attack Mr Sellars and when a woman passenger intervened she was punched in the chest.
As a result of the attack, the bus driver sustained bruising and a fractured jaw.
He was signed off work sick and experiences bouts of dizziness and unsteadiness, the court heard.
Magistrates were also told, in an earlier incident, the youth had hit a passenger on another bus.
Mr Bittlestone said: "The youth can't remember the exact sequence of events because of what he had drunk."
Mitigating, Paul Dentith, said the 'exceptional' case could be placed within the category of a custodial sentence but asked magistrates to adjourn for reports to be prepared by the Youth Offending Team ahead of sentencing.
The teenager was told to stay out of trouble before being released on unconditional bail to return to court on November 26.
After the case, Stagecoach's Torbay operations manager Christina Ratcliffe said: "This was a totally unprovoked attack on an employee of ours who has since been unable to get back behind the wheel of a bus.
"We are pleased the court is taking this seriously and we hope justice is meted out.
"Our drivers have the right to work in an environment that is free from abuse.
"Thankfully, incidents like these are isolated and we are working closely with police and local councils to made sure we find a permanent solution to anti-social behaviour."
End of item.

I have known Andy Sellers since I started work at Torquay 10 years ago, though I never knew his name was Charles. He was always cheerful, helpful, enjoyed his work and got on well with drivers and passengers alike. It was always a pleasure to see to him and any conversation with him was always enjoyable if at times a little erratic. For some one to attack him like this and then use the "I was drunk." excuse is despicable. Let's hope the court deals with this 17 year old in a suitable manner.

Many years ago when driving a taxi in Manchester I was punched once it the face. Nothing like the vicious attack Andy suffered, I didn't even need medical attention unlike Andy but it still took along time before the memory of the attack to fade to the point that I no longer thought about it every time I picked a passenger up. This is the long term effect of such an incident and can last even when the physical damage has repaired.

I can only wish him well and hope this incident won't drive him away from the job he so much enjoys.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A Day Out In Brixham

This afternoon, as it wasn't raining or blowing cold artic wind down from Siberia I decided to go to Brixham. As good as some places, better than others and only 40 minutes away. Also I wanted to get a photo of the award winning poster displayed in one of Stagecoach's bus shelters on Bank Lane. It's on the 24/25 bus stop outside Ladbrokes and a photo of it now adorns the top of this blog.

Brixham Harbour is protected by a long breakwater, over a 1000 ft or 305 metres and I have never been along it. Deciding I had need of a little exercise I walked all the way to the end. Some good views of Brixham, one of which is shown here. Others will be in my photo album including a few I took this evening in Torquay. One of the photos shows William of Orange who invaded England on November 5 1688 (OK Parliament invited him though King James the Second wasn't exactly happy about it). Every time I have been to Brixham I have noticed that in common with all statues every where there was a bird perched on his head. In this case a seagull. It's typical that you become famous for some deed of daring and bravery and you then stand in a town square some where with a bird crapping on you head for the rest of eternity.

Click here for some more photos.

On the buses I noticed that some of the buses on the 32 service are double deckers. These are for the duties that service schools as there had been a problem with children being left behind at bus stops. Having driven a double decker round the 32 route in the past I know how tight it can get in places and how close you get to one or two trees in the Chelston area. Good luck out there boys and girls. Remember there is no need to rush.

An other little story I heard was about a strike by bus drivers in Inverness. What happens when there is a situation like this is the company ship in drivers from other areas to try and break the strike. They don’t ask actual drivers to do this, they get people at management level or those on their way to achieving management level to do the dirty work. Now we had a strike in Devon a few years ago and people were bussed in from round the country to try and break the strike. I am not sure what this must cost putting all these scabs up in hotels for the duration but keep the service running at all cost seems to be the idea. Now here is a question. The Ted Heath government sometime in the last century was brought to it’s knees by a strike by coal miners. They picketed the largest coke store in the country so there was nothing for the power stations to burn and the country went on a three day week to save fuel. Power cuts happened at anytime of the day and night, candles went from a penny each to 6 pence each over night. In the end the Government fell and Labour got in. In the fullness of time Labour lost a general election and Maggie Thatcher came to POWER. Now it hadn’t just been coal miners picketing the coke store. Miners came from all over the country and other workers showed their solidarity by joining the pickets. Flying Pickets they were called. Maggie, when she came to POWER, outlawed this movement of workers from one area to another and from other industries thus reducing the power of the Unions.

So how come employers can still move workers around the country to break strikes but Unions can’t move pickets around the country to help fellow workers in their struggle to obtain a decent wage? Seems a bit one sided to me.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bus Catches Fire.

A bus in Germany caught fire on a Motorway last night and up to 20 people are believed to have died. Even though buses are made of metal they also contain much flammable material and with only one effective exit a fire on a crowded bus can, as in this case be catastrophic. The bus was travelling along the motorway when the fire started. It is not known yet how the fire started.

Click here for the full story from the BBC

Now the Hard Work Begins

Some of the winners in the American Presidential election.

Lots of TV

Been a mostly uneventful week mostly because it has been so cold but also the hole in my gum that a big tooth used to sit in is still a little tender. So I haven't been out much. Still there has been lots of coverage of the US election to fill the time in. As I type millions of Americans are waiting in line to vote and millions more will have already voted in what has been the most interesting Presidential election since John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in 1960. Then one of the issues was John Kennedy's religion, now, though it didn't seen as important this time one of the issues has been Barak Obama's colour. Either way this has been the most gripping Presidential election I can remember. The first one was way back in 1952 when Dwight D Eisenhower was elected. Mind you the only thing I can remember about that one was a campaign slogan, "I like Ike." But I was only 8 at the time. Kennedy attracted attention because he was a catholic which raised questions like would he be President under God or under the Pope.

I remember Lyndon Johnson not for his election but for his speech stating he would not run for President. The Vietnam War had been escalated during his term in office and that was his way out. The next election that caught my eye was Bill Clinton, mainly for the scandals involving certain ladies that turned up even before he was elected and his wife Hilary standing by her man, she really did want to be First Lady. George W Bush was the next election that claimed any interest mainly for the cock up that occurred after the voting was over. And through most of his reign as President. Voting used to be by putting a cross on a piece of paper, not completely fool proof but now with several different ways to vote it is easier for malpractice to creep in. Going to war used to be a carefully thought out decision with advice taken and every posible alternative explored, not, "I don't like the bastard, lets invade" Ignoring a hurricane wasn't something a President should do either.

Anyway, in a few hours we will know. Do we have a black man as President? An idea that would have seemed impossible back in the time a catholic was elected. And considering how important the President of the United States of America is to the world why haven't we all got a vote?

The other main TV programs I have been watching this last few days have been to do with the First World War which ended 90 years ago next Tuesday. The BBC have run a series of program in which people have traced relatives who took part in that war. I have to admit I am unsure if I have any relatives how were involve. They would have been my grand fathers or their brothers but my parents nor my aunts or uncles ever mentioned if their parents or uncles were involved. After watching the programs I can begin to understand why people may have been reluctant to mention the subject. I have always know the War was a gruesome, bloody waste of lives, masses of mistakes made by Generals who compounded those mistakes by continuing to make them but watching the programs I began to see how hard it would be for someone who had lost a close relative to talk about, and therefore remember again the sorrow and the pain. One person who did follow the trail back to his great grand father was a historian John Snow who presents historical programs for the BBC. It turned out he knew nothing about his ancestor except that he was a general in the War. By the end of the program he had found out that his great grandfather did not fall in the category of competent general. Indeed while one battle was raging which he had helped to plan he was in England and had no idea of what was going on. The effect on John Snow was upsetting to say the least.

Then this evening Michael Palin ( not related to the possible, though unlikely, Vice President elect) presented a program called "The Last Day of the War." Very disturbing account of what should have been a day to sit back and thank God or chance or what ever else you believe in that you had made it through the madness but even though it was know the Armistices had been signed, at 5 am, soldiers were still ordered to attack the Germans. It appeared some American generals were most enthusiastic to continue the war to the last dying seconds. One even attacked a town so his soldiers could use the municipal bathing facilities. Those that survived would at least be clean. Over 2500 people died on that day. Imagine being back home and hearing the news that the war was over and the relief that would bring and then a few days later being told your husband or father had been killed.
Well some time in the next few hours Barack Obarma will be declared president Elect. After the longest, most expensive, most publicized election in the history of the world first will come the elation. Then, possibly the sinking feeling and the thought, “What if I screw up?” will wing it’s way in to his brain.

Don’t screw up, please, I didn’t vote for you but I would have done if I could.

Later: As expected Barack won by 338 points to 159.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

From the Herald Express

EYE-CATCHING road safety posters designed by two primary school pupils are on display in two of Torbay's bus shelters.
More than 300 youngsters entered the Green Cross Code competition organised by the council's road safety team to mark its annual Be Safe Be Seen campaign, which highlights the need to wear bright and reflective clothing.
The competition was won by Emily Haden, nine, of All Saints Primary School in Babbacombe and Lucy Bevan, six, of Chestnut Primary School in Brixham.
Mayor Nick Bye congratulated the young artists for their 'brilliant designs.'
He said: "It was a difficult task picking the winners from so many excellent entries, and my thanks go to everyone who took part in the competition."
Emily's poster is displayed at the bus stop on Babbacombe Road, St Marychurch, and Lucy's at one in Bank Lane, Brixham.

The above item is from the local paper. The posters are on bus stops near where the children go to school which is nice for them as they will be able to show them of to all their friends but for the rest of us it means a long trip up to Babbacombe or an even longer trip to Brixham, which seems to becoming a bit of a 'no go' area at the moment. And there are plenty of people, not just children, around the Bay who need reminding how to cross the road. So spread them around please, there are plenty of other bus shelters.

Under Elevens

Sunday Torquay RC under 11s were playing Paignton away but the weather forecast wasn't too good, Rain all morning so I wasn't sure I would go. The previous week they had played Ivybridge at home. The photo is of Torquay scoring their try, unfortunately Ivebridge had scored a couple before that and went on to score a couple more after.

The rain turned out to be drizzle so I went to Paignton, road works all the way through Preston so a little delay but made it for the kick off. The game was closer but with the score at two tries to one to Paignton with Torquay getting stronger as the game went on one of our new players who didn't completely understand the off side law gave away a penalty only 15 metres from the Torquay line and Paignton took full advantage. But a good game all the same. Still nicer to win.

Yesterday I went down to the Strand to catch a bus to Brixham. All those council people who had been standing around with clip boards last week were no where to be seen, they must have gathered all the data they need. Unfortunately for 25 minutes I stood around and number twelves were no where to be seen. Then 3 turned up at once together with a 12A. Probably a good job all the men with clip boards had gone.

The above photo shows a cloud handing over the War Memorial. There had been an other cloud hanging over the Memorial. The Mayor, Nic Bye had expressed the idea that it may need to be moved to make room to extend the Pavilion to make it into a casino that no one really wants (except Nic) and to make room for a large Theatre, which is a good idea. Now Nic Bye is not the most liked Mayor Torquay has ever had and I am sure this idea lowered his ratings slightly. He later said that he didn't want to move the memorial but only suggested it might become necessary. Anyway the Tory councilors who control the council have distanced themselves from the idea to to point of stating they will not move it. So metaphoric cloud goner but the big black thing you can see in the photo is still there as the temperature drops to a low of zero centigrade. Made it to 3C this afternoon.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Hello Again.

Sorry it has been so long since I blogged, not overwork I can assure you. Years ago my mother used to say that if you wanted something doing you got a busy person to do it. Back in the bad/good old days of full employment I could always find time to blog. Now it is so easy to put blogging off until later, or even till tomorrow ( which we all know never comes) on the grounds that I have lots of time. But that doesn't really work because putting something of doesn't work, it just becomes a habit.

You might want to skip over the photo below, it's of an old friend, we have know each other for over 50 years but this morning we painfully parted company, painfully for me anyway. We didn't really interact much even though we were very close. Once about 48 years ago I took it to the dentist to get it filled, too many sweets as a child, but until last Wednesday all I ever did was give it a quick brush and all it ever did was chew up any food that passed it by. Then Wednesday evening it did something that could not be forgiven or forgotten. It brought pain into my life in a big way. It had to go. So this morning after a weekend of painkillers and chewing all my food on the right side of my mouth I showed it to the dentist who confirmed my opinion and said. "It will have to go." And here it is, Gone.

The small bit at the side didn't want to go and it broke of still fixed firmly to my gum so the dentist had to get the hammer and chisel out to get it out. That was the really, really painful bit. To night I shall put it under my pillow so the tooth fairy can leave me 6d (6d is 2.5pence but given the rate of inflation over the last 55 years I should get at least £2).

A couple of days ago in the local paper there was a report of a bus driver receiving minor injuries in an incident in Brixham. A few days earlier a driver had been involved in a similar incident. The people responsible for causing the trouble were described as youths in both cases. The depot manager stated that drivers were trained to deal with difficult situations but all the training in the world is of little help when confronted with a gang of unruly youths who are out to cause trouble. The problem in Brixham has been growing for years. The bus stop in in the Town Square right next to where young people who have nothing else to do in the evening hang out. Moving the bus stop round to New Road after 6pm would help to move the bus, and driver, away from bored teenagers who will eventually decide causing minor problems for the poor bus driver who is just trying to earn a crust is a good way to pass a few minutes. Greater police presence, which has been promised, will also help but they can not be there all the time. Friday is Halloween, also known a egg throwing day, it used to be that eggs were thrown at buses which was bad enough. It is the devil to get egg, once it has set, off a windscreen and bodywork but now some of the nastier egg throwers are going to the trouble of hard boiling the eggs first. Keep the driving window closed on Friday night is my advice to anyone out driving after 6pm.

One thing I did notice when down on the Strand last week were several persons with clipboards making notes as the buses came and went. A similar collection of clipboarders were out in Newton Abbot last Monday. There were not from the bus company so I suspect the councils were collection information and we may even get to hear the result of all this collecting.

My gum is starting to hurt as the injection wears off, I think I will go and take a few dozen painkillers. No, only kidding, I'll only take two for now.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

National Express Crash in January 07.

Readers may remember this incident that happened almost two years ago now in January 2007 involving a National Express Coach leaving London Airport. Finally the case has come to court after what must have been an agonising wait both for the driver and the passengers on board and the families of the passengers who died as a result of this crash.

A grim warning to all bus and coach drivers, and in fact to any driver who is running late and wants to make up time.

From the BBC website.

A National Express coach driver has pleaded guilty to causing the deaths of three passengers by dangerous driving in a crash near Heathrow Airport.
Philip Rooney, from Lanarkshire, was driving the London-to-Aberdeen service when it overturned on the M4/M25 slip road in January 2007.

Mr Rooney, 48, pleaded guilty to three counts when he appeared at the Old Bailey.
He was released on bail until 24 November when he will be sentenced.
Two people died soon after the crash and a third died six months later.

Christina Toner, 76, from Dundee, and Yi Di Lin, 30, a Chinese national, died in the crash while John Carruthers, 78, of Chertsey, Surrey died in hospital on 1 July.

The accident involved a Neoplan Skyliner operated by Trathens Coaches.
Following the incident, National Express immediately suspended use of the 12 double-decker coaches operating on its network.

No safety problems were found with the coaches which were reinstated five months later.
Rooney will be sentenced at Oxford Crown Court.

Original item from the BBC 04 Jan 2007

Sunday, 12 October 2008

A Fuse, Missed Rugby Match and HMS Portland

Today, Sunday I got up about 8 o'clock. The Under 11s rugby team were playing their first game of the season. They were supposed to play last Sunday but rain (heavy) fell to earth on Friday and Saturday and the pitch up at Newton looked like a swimming pool. I needed to catch a bus from the Strand at 10:21 so at 9:35 when I switched the kettle on to have a cup of coffee I didn't expect to miss the bus. But just as the kettle boiled it went BANG in a nasty sort of way and switched off. So did the radio, the computer, the fridge, the slow cooker and the freezer. The answer machine and the alarm clock also went down but the lights were still on. No problem, just a fuse gone.

Well it was a 30 amp fuse and did I have a spare? I have now but at 10:05 after spending 30 mins looking in all the obvious places to leave a spare fuse plus a few less likely places I knew I didn't have a spare. The slow cooker was the problem, bits of lamb had been gently cooking for diner. If I went to the game and then went for a fuse the lamb wouldn't be cooked and that would not be the best plan.

Focus didn't have any 30 amp fuses but I was tempted by a 30 amp circuit breaker. Problem was it looked like it would be too big to fit in the fuse socket. So 100 metres up the road to B&Q where they had a hundred 30 amp fuses. Well they only have 98 now and I have a spare taped to the side of the fuse box. New fuse in, everything worked and the lamb was delicious and cooked to perfection. But it was too late to get to the game. Shame, it was such a nice day, bright sun shine and dry with a slight breeze. Torquay can be so glorious at this time of year,

So I though I would go down to the harbour and see if I could get on board HMS Portland. There was sign in the Tourist Shop window proclaiming that all the boarding passes had gone. This meant there would be hundreds of people queuing for the boat out to the Portland anchored out in the Bay. When I got to the Quay there were about 20 and the Liberty Lass was just about to leave. A crew member shouted that there was room for one more. No one in the queue moved. So down the gang plank and off we went.

In ten years living in Torquay this was only my 3rd trip out into the Bay. Unlike the Stagecoach Cat we could stand out on deck and watch the scenery. From out there you can see why it is call the English Riviera.

Lots of grey paint, guns, pipes cables and very steep stairs. The crew were very helpful and were enjoying showing us landlubbers round their ship and were even quiet nice when I called it a boat. It’s a ship. There is a bit of a clue in the name, I mean it’s the HMS Portland not the HMB Portland. The ship is off to the Gulf some time next month for about 6 months so good luck to her crew and thank you to them and the Navy for an interesting afternoon.

Click here for more photos

Stagecoach, Torbay Council, Western Lady and Subsidies

A reader ( many thanks) sent me a link to a Torbay Development Agency Document

I have reproduced the most relevant sections here to save you looking at the Document but you can go on line but you have to copy and paste the adress below:-

Section 3. Description of project, project justification and project objectives

Provision of quayside infrastructure.
Subsiding passenger ferry services.
• Provision of quayside waiting and information facilities to support service linking
Torquay with Brixham.
• Reduction of journey times across the bay and reduce traffic loading on the local
road network.
• Introduction funding required to ‘pump prime’ the service into the aim of making the
service commercially self-supporting.

Torbay’s maritime location and geography lend itself to ferry connections, especially
between Torquay and Brixham. This form of travel is highly sustainable and provides
direct access to Torquay and Brixham town centres.
Preliminary meetings have taken place between the council and a potential ferry
operator and the implications are that the largest bus operator in Torbay is in support
of through bus / ferry ticketing.

Section 7. Funding – Include details of the funding required from ODPM and contributions
from each project partners

Realistically the scheme (including purchase of suitable vessels) will cost around £2.5 -
Total Project Cost………………………………………………………….
Infrastucture works £0.1m
Operator subsidy £0.1m
Operator Subsidy £0.1m
Total over two years equals £0.3m

The above plus more can be read in the document on Pages 19 to 22 but that looks like Stagecoach are getting £200 000 over the two years. Not exactly what appeared in the local paper the other day. (See item in Newspaper in blog below, scroll down to the bottom to save you reading it all)

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Western Lady and the War Ship

The Western Lady, leaving Torquay on it's way to Brixham on it's 2:45 sailing this Saturday afternoon. The Western Lady has been ferrying passengers across the Bay for 60 years and is now under threat from the proposed Stagecoach Ferry that could start in the spring. The local paper(1) carried an item a couple of days ago which expressed the concerns of the owners of the Western Lady and the optimism of Nick Bye our Mayor. The mayor is optimistic that Stagecoach and it's ferry (proposed) will be good for the Bay. Stagecoach also expressed optimism; that the ferry would be good for Stagecoach.

Next is a visit by HMS Portland to the Bay this weekend. Now I missed reading about this in the local paper and didn't find out until 5 minutes ago that the Portland would be open to Joe Public tomorrow. For free as well. But you need a ticket which you get from the Tourist Office. Not sure if they are open tomorrow (Sunday) morning. If they are I might have a trip out. The local boat operators are doing a half hour boat trip round the Portland, not something Stagecoach would be able to do if they were already operating.

(1) From the Herald Express

It's quiet a long article, you don't have to read it if you don't want to.

30,000 Used Fast Ferry
Thursday, October 09, 2008, 11:05
21 readers have commented on this story.Click here to read their views.
THE national boss of Stagecoach has hailed its fast ferry service across the Bay a huge success with almost 30,000 passengers carried in a month.
But today existing ferry operators claimed the new catamaran will blow them out the water and lead to a loss of jobs.
Final figures for the four-week trial last month show 29,800 people travelled on the new ferry between Torquay and Brixham.
Following the pilot scheme Brian Souter, pictured, chief executive of the Stagecoach Group, said their results showed people in the area had 'embraced' the new transport link and said further partnership working was needed to see it become permanent. Mr Souter said: "The challenge now is to look at the possibility of introducing a permanent fast ferry service in the area.
"To do that would require strong partnership working and investment in the harbour infrastructure at both Torquay and Brixham to accommodate the craft on a permanent basis. "However, all that is possible and we will now consider the best way to take this forward.
"These passenger numbers show the trial was a big hit among commuters and tourists in Torbay and it's extremely encouraging to see so many people were willing to try a new mode of transport."
Mayor of Torbay Nick Bye added: "The popularity of the ferry during the trial proved to be a huge boost to the Bay's economy contributing to a September spending spree in the town, equivalent to a small cruise ship every day of the week."
But the independent operators of the Western Lady and Greenway ferry services say for an estimated £1million investment in new landing stages and waiting areas, Torbay will only get a marginally faster service with few other benefits.
They say they collectively put back at least £1million a year in wages, local boat supplies, fuel and harbour/kiosk charges and say 38 people could be put out of work by a new ferry service.
Sandie Armstrong, a director of the traditional Western Lady Service and Will Ford, boss of Greenway Quay and Ferry Service, have now produced their own analysis of the trial and have questioned the final figures.
Mrs Armstrong added. "There seems to be a clear intent by Torbay Council to invite competition on a route which is already well established, to our detriment.
"Why should our well-established service now be threatened, at a cost to us all?"
Their report claims they could carry 1,500 more passengers a day than Bayfast with more promotion and says their staff already act as 'ambassadors' and information centres, because of their local knowledge. They also claim some of their crafts are greener using much less fuel than the fast ferry catamaran.
Mr Ford said: "We can't match them on time, but there are other factors.
"We also use whatever harbourside facilities there are, without making extortionate financial demands on the harbour budget."
Ms Armstrong added: "Using the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' maxim, Torbay Council should recognise the value of a greener combined service with 42 sailings every day with a 30-minute crossing time, capable of carrying over 5,000 passengers a day and which makes a big contribution to the local economy."
Torbay Council has reiterated they will not be providing the funding for any new ferry service.
A council spokesperson said: "The council is keen to emphasise, once again, there are currently no plans to subsidise the fast ferry service, should they decide to make it permanent.
"This includes any infrastructure required, the funding for which would be sourced through grants."
Some businesses reported dramatic increases in sales and footfall during the trial.
Joe Cloutman, chairman of Brixham Chamber of Commerce, said: "On every occasion I can recall discussing transport issues for Brixham, the option of improving access by sea has always been raised.
"At last we have trialled a regular, fast link between Torquay and Brixham, in line with this policy."
Pauline Copik, of Gundry Ships Chandlers in Brixham, added: "A lot of people came to Brixham from Torquay who would not normally come because of the difficult road journey so our shop benefited. I would also use the ferry to shop in Torquay as the parking costs are so high."

Friday, 10 October 2008

Where has all the money gone?

A good question. Some one must be making eye watering amounts of money out there. Enough to make the rest of us poor for the rest of eternity. I was listening to an American banker this morning on the radio, Radio Four that is, not Radio Stagecoach. He was being quizzed at a Congressional hearing about how much money he had made last year while the Good Old US of A headed for a rerun of the world famous year of 1929. The Congressman was asking him was it true he had made half a billion dollars. The wanker denied that he had made anything like that much money. That was a ridiculous amount of money for anyone to make in a year. “Well,” the congressman asked, “Would you mind telling us how much you did make if it wasn’t $500 million?”
A short pause. “Only $250 Million.”

A Fat Cow. Sorry, I don't have a picture of a Fat Cat.

An other note worthy item surfaced a day or two ago when it was announced that assets of Iceland’s bank had been frozen. I bet I wasn’t the only one who had a little laugh at that. Then it began to emerge exactly how much British money happened to be it The Bank of Iceland (now defunct?). I case you missed it. £4 billion. Then a bit later several local councils admitted that they had money in The Bank of Iceland (defunct?) Torbay, my local council, have not so far appeared on that list. Could be the council don’t want to admit that next weeks wages are missing and the only way the workers would get paid was if they took their wages in cod. Or maybe they just never had any spare money to hide away in some far flung country. Or could be our beloved council looking at the very attractive rates offered by the Bank of Iceland (Broke) remember the saying, ‘If it looks like it’s too good to be true then it almost certainly is too good to be true.’
On a different note an item appeared in the Local Paper, on the front page no less with Brian’s smiling face beaming at us. I doubt he nipped down from Perth just to get his photo in the Herald Express. But the high speed cat which swam between Torquay and Brixham every daylight hour in a September trial run carried enough passengers to tempt Brian to run it permanently. A war of words has broken out. The council are denying that the million quid need to improve the landing stage at Brixham is coming from them. The existing ferry operators, Western Lady say they were here first, it’s not fair, lots of foot stamping here. Later they claimed they carried just as many passengers as Stagecoach so there!
Then the Mayor stuck his nose in and boasted that the cat had been like a cruise ship coming in everyday. Business had boomed and the town had made a killing and wanted the cat back as soon as possible. Hadn’t he been out side at all for the last 3 months? A new season called WWM, wet, windy, miserable will have to be invented to describe July and August this year. September on the other hand was SDG, sunny, dry, glorious. Maybe that was why the town did so well Mr Mayor, not because you could cross the Bay in 17 minutes.
The trip I took, took 16 minutes 54 seconds, not the 15 minutes claimed by Stagecoach. And this 16 minutes 54 seconds was from the time the boat started moving in Brixham to the time it hit the quayside at Torquay. Add 5 minutes getting on the boat in Brixham and 5 minutes to get off once it has dented the quay plus an other 5 minutes for the shuttle bus to load up and head for the Strand and it doesn’t add up to 15 minutes any more. I should add it is, for all that a better way of getting to Brixham than the bus which could stop up to 30 times, and that isn’t counting to 3 or 4 sets of road works and other traffic delays. But not much use if you don’t want to got to Brixham. And unlike the Western Lady you can’t sit on the deck and admire the view.

What other people's greed can do to you.

From the Times, 9th October 2008


Stagecoach Group is set to cut staff in response to the economic difficulties that are expected to take a massive toll on jobs in London. Thecompany runs South West Trains, the largest commuter franchise in the capital.Brian Souter, the group's founder, revealed that no decisions had been taken but that any responsible company would seek to control costs in the face of adownturn. Souter said: "The question for us and for other transport operators is whether modal shift can occur faster than the impact of a downturn in the economy."

Yeah right.
Brian could afford to pay all his shop floor workers, the drivers, fitters, cleaners etc out of his own personal fortune for the next 5 years and not even notice the slightest change in his life style.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Occombe Farm

I finally made it to Occombe Farm to see the Willow Cow made by Serena de la Hey who made the much bigger Willow Man who stands beside the M5. I set out to go there last week but didn't make it. I got side tracked. It turned out to be a good job as the cow wasn't finished until yesterday. But now it stands in the entrance to the farm. Occombe Farm is an open farm welcoming visitors who want to have a look round. As well as the Willow Cow there is a farm shop and a pleasant cafe, a nature trail and a bird hide. You can wander round the farm yard which unlike most farm yards isn't knee deep in cow muck. Catch the Number 60 from Torquay Strand at 10 minutes to the hour during the day (not 12:50). The Number 61 brings you back at 9 minutes past the hour (not 13:09). .

You also get to pat a real Ruby Red Cow on the head if you want.