May 28, 2003


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Bob Geldof Speaks Out.

The organizer of the famed Live Aid many years ago at Wembley and in Philadelphia has just returned from a fact-finding trip to Africa. The media is reporting this as follows:

The European Union comes in for further stick from Bob Geldof, who has returned to Ethiopia 18 years after he launched Band Aid. The Telegraph says he railed at the EU for its "pathetic" indifference to famine. The Sun says he is as angry as when he famously swore at the nation during the Live Aid concert to ram home his appeal for money.
But it is a quote by the musician-turned-activist in the Guardian which really catches the eye. "You'll think I'm off my trolley ... but the Bush administration is the most radical in its approach to Africa since President Kennedy," says Mr Geldof. The paper says his praise for Mr Bush's support in the fight against hunger and Aids astonished some aid organisations which have been critical of US policy.

London Trivia:

The London Underground network map is one of the easiest recognized maps in the world.

However, here is a question for you to consider, which underground line stops at Paddington S.O, Rathbone Place, Mount Pleasant S.O off Rosebery Avenue, King Edward Building and Liverpool Street Station?

The answer will not be found on the most famous of maps, but the line exists and has stations at all those locations. “Mail Rail” - the little known electric rail system running for 6.5 miles under the centre of the capital - is to close at the end of this month after 75 years. Cash-strapped owners, the Royal Mail, said the automated mail delivery system costs too much to run. But post bosses revealed they were in talks "with a number of organizations" about possible alternative uses. Royal Mail said the system would be "mothballed" until a partner can be found to help run it. But it declined to name the organisations that have allegedly shown an interest - or to what use Rail Mail could be put in the future.

Among the ideas suggested in a recent London Assembly report were transporting:
· High-value items to shops in Oxford Street
· Same-day document delivery
· Precious metals to Mayfair's jewelers
· Wine to the capital's vintners.

The Royal Mail has not ruled out selling Mail Rail, raising the prospect of rail enthusiasts - or even a private individual - taking it over. Any change of use would require an act of parliament, however. So the prospect of Mail Rail becoming the plaything of a wealthy commuter - or a fun alternative to the real underground is remote.

Andrew Pelling, chairman of the London Assembly's public services committee, has urged the Royal Mail to keep the unique system running. "I just want the Royal Mail to be open-minded, rather than just saying it is ours, but we are not going to do anything with it," he told BBC News Online. He said there was a "great danger" that the Royal Mail would "throw away a useful asset" to make short-term savings. "We are all shareholders in the Royal Mail. It is a public sector organization. "We would like to see it maximize the value of the asset rather than going straight for a mothball," he added. The system was thought to be losing about £250m a year, said Mr. Pelling, but closing it was not a cost-free option, as it could not just be abandoned.

Mr. Pelling said the London Development Agency was trying to help the Royal Mail find a new use for the system. Mothballing Mail Rail will lead to 80 extra van journeys per week, potentially putting the postal service at odds with its commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions. But the Royal Mail insisted it would make little difference to overall pollution levels. It would also have little impact on traffic congestion, the service claimed. Even after the introduction of Congestion Charging it would still be cheaper to transport mail by road, it argued.

But the organization has come under fire from the London Assembly, which says it has not done enough to find an alternative use. "The mothballing of Mail Rail will mean a team of 76 experienced members of staff will be broken up; if it is brought back into use a whole new team will have to be recruited and trained," it said in a report. Mail Rail originally served eight stations, which later went up to nine and there were even plans to extend the network. But it has been gradually run down over the years, and only three stations are currently in use. The narrow gauge line carries an average of four million letters and parcels a day. In its heyday, the service carried 12 million items daily.

… And finally…

On the subjects of trains, Train-spotters are being told to leave stations as rail bosses tighten anti-terror security, BBC News Online can reveal.

To many people, train-spotters are something of a joke, certainly an eccentricity in modern British folklore. To Network Rail, the company which now runs the UK's train network, they are potential terrorists. The firm is telling train-spotters who are standing on platforms at its stations noting down names and numbers of locomotives that they must leave, or move to the station concourse.
Permission can still be granted to take numbers or photographs, but to get permission, train-spotters are being told to contact the company by phone or in writing in advance.

Peter Olding, a 37-year-old website designer from Bournemouth, who has been train spotting for 20 years, says he has been asked a couple of times in the past few weeks to move from platforms at King's Cross.

Kings Cross one of the main terminals for trains from the north and east of England and Scotland, is very active each day with hundreds of train arrival and departures. For a train spotter collecting numbers and taking photographs, a day spent on the end of the platforms of Kings Cross can be a good use of the time.

Brian Morrison, network news editor for Railways Illustrated magazine says a number of readers had complained about being ejected from platforms - so much so that the magazine's next issue contains a rundown of which stations have now forbidden train spotting and photography. "It seems remarkable. One guy in particular was frog marched off the platform. Another person was yelled at over the Tannoy. I witnessed one young fellow - he was about 15 - having the film taken out of his camera. "It's getting silly. I know we've got to have security and there are warnings about terrorism, but somebody with a camera in a perfectly safe spot photographing trains, inevitably covered by CCTV, is not going to harm anybody."

Network Rail spokeswoman Jane Vincent confirms the company's policy at the 16 major stations that the company runs. "We do have issues with people coming along to take photographs on our stations. We do allow people to do it if they phone us in advance so we can arrange for the station to be told that people will be turning up, they know they are there and who they are. "It could be any sort of terrorist activity or whatever. Unless we know who these people are, and what they are doing, it's best to be on the safe side."
There are also several safety concerns about train-spotters, including the hazard of them getting closer to the trains than other people, and that they will often step over painted safety lines on the platform to inspect the engines. "At the end of the day it's about the safety of people using the station," she says. "It's the best thing if they write to the station to state their interest. They should say 'I'm interested in trains, and would like to come along on X day at X time'. "Provided it's not in the rush hour, and we haven't got film crews there that we have got to look after, it should be all right."

I presume the punch line has to be it is great for the trains potters to ask permission to be on site at a certain time, but will the trains be actually running on time for them to see.While safety has to be a concern, if you have ever actually seen a trainspotter, wearing more often than not a knitted hat, hooded anorak with a camera and thermos of tea to keep him (more often than not) with the necessary caffeine levels to keep awake. Then you might understand just how ridiculous a story this is.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

May 27, 2003

The Eurovision Song Contest.

I couldn’t resist reporting that the UK finally join the elite club of countries that have been awarded a total nil points in this years Eurovision Song Contest.

I have not heard the UK entry! Was it truly that bad? Or was this a political EU move to allow Turkey to host the competition next year?

Perhaps I am digging to deeply, but we all know (those of us in the know) how the voting is politically orientated. Although I doubt the Brits could rely on the French this year for anything, (not much less than previous years anyhow).

A couple of other "fuzzy" news stories from ther UK today is that the oldest working windmill has been put up for sale complete with surrounding buildings on 1.7 acres for a cool 600,000 pounds.

The existing owner who has been producing flour between the stones has decided it is time for someone younger to take up the running of the mill. Sadly, I think that someone young with 600,000 to spare would not want to keep the mill as an on-going business concern but would see it as a unique place to live.

And finally, some kids playing football hit their ball into a tree over the weekend and knocked out a very dazed albino squirrel. The squirrel has been taken to an animal refuge and given the name Persil (the name of the best selling brand of washing powder owned by Lever Bros).

This little chap is a true albino and is far whiter that the white squirrel in our yard. Neverthless Persil is assured a lifetime of pampering and protection as he will be cared for until he lives into old age about 8 years.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

May 26, 2003

Memorial Weekend Posting Part 2.

What you missed part one? Then please scroll down below. The subject matter is how
I have immersed into American culture, it only took nearly three years.

Growing up in Britain I loved driving, I could not wait to pass my test at 17 and buy my first car, a beaten up old Vauxhall Viva X14 limited edition. NFT 792K has probably been consigned to the scrap heap by now, and given the number of new parts I bought in the short time I owned it, some Scrappy mush have made a few pounds at my expense.

In my mid-20’s I suffered a seizure that put me off the road for 2 years and was one of a couple of occasions I have had my life turned upside down, for the better than worse I subsequently discovered. I had one other occurrence some years that later that took my license away for another year as the law on this had changed during that time. Loosing ones independence through loss of the privilege of driving in this way is difficult to deal with as one day you can drive, the next you cannot and for at least a year after.

I have little compassion to anyone who looses their license through their own fault, in particular drinking and driving, or as they refer to it in the US DUI, driving under the influence.

I have not taken the pledge or am a tea-to taller in so far I refuse to drink alcohol. I simply rarely have an interest to or find myself in a situation to enjoy a glass of wine or a sprit in company, without the need to drive later in the day.

The approach to youth drinking in the US is very different to that in the UK. One notable difference is that you have to be over 21 to order “booze” of any nature in the US and have to provide photographic idenfication supporting your age when requested. The term “being carded” refers to this action.

With the drinking age being higher the problem associated with the youthful enthusiasm behind the wheel of a car in later teenage years is not, a problem in the US as is found in the UK. I will not say that I miss watching the government drinking and driving campaigns each holiday season, especially the approach to Christmas. Nevertheless, I do note the absence of this on the screens in the US.

Anyone who had their driving license suspended for 2 years will understand that getting back behind the wheel of a car is not as easy as it seems. Looking back after a two year break perhaps I should have taken a lesson or two if only to work up my confidence to drive and to relearn my road craft. While it is not forgotten, it does take a little time to relearn.

Arriving in the US with an international license, I could drive but needed to take a US test and obtain a US license. Eventually my UK photo license will expire and not being a resident of the UK, should I ever return to the UK I would have to re-take my British test all over again.

With no US equivalent of the Highway Code as such to follow, learning how to drive in America and understanding the written and unwritten rules of the road was so a greater degree like starting over again, only worse, everything is back to front. The flashing of headlights to other drivers in the UK is rarely adopted in the US and only then for one reason, to warn of drivers approaching you of police presence ahead.

Certainly in my neighborhood and through my commute, the weight of traffic is considerably lighter that a commute in or through London. Drivers seem to be more courteous and less stressed in the US and contrary to the police chases so frequently seen on American Cop shows, I have yet to see a police chase yet in the US. I can only recall one instance of two drivers obviously racing on the highway. Only when driving right in the center of Philadelphia does the experience remotely remind me of driving in London?

In general, I prefer driving in the US to the UK, it is more relaxing and after years of avoiding driving on Motorways, in particular the M25 and M1, I have ventured onto the Interstates and recently completed a circuit of Philadelphia through a business trip to Wilmington, Delaware, navigating myself back on previously unexplored highways to home.

On a different level are the principal cultural differences of living in America (the ‘burbs of Philly) and Britain (in suburbs of London). I have written about this before, the expression “We the people of the United States”, we being all, from the northern State of Maine to the southern most tip of Texas, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, every American is equal. Americans have class, in a classless society. Unlike the now famous comedy sketch in the UK with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, representing, Upper Class, Middle Class and Lower Class and who looks up and down on whom. That is not the case as I have witnessed first hand in America.

I was brought up to be polite by my parents, a trait that has served me well integrating myself into America culture. Loosing the “British reserve”, you recognize that nobody speaks to anyone else on a train or in a lift, to a waiter or waitress, or the person serving you at the checkout till in Waitrose is very different in America. Loose the reserve, be polite and engage in the most basic of conversation as simple as Hello, Goodbye and Thanks for your help, goes a great way to breaking down that “reserve barrier” and establishing a great leveler. In America, strangers will talk to you on a train, in an airport lounge, even in an elevator. When I go into a restaurant, I do talk to the waiting staff, they are there to wait on me not be a servant to me. Even the weekly chore of shopping or visiting the dry-cleaners (who do a far better job of my shirts than I ever have), we engage in conversation. No doubt if I acted like this in London today I would be in a small minority with American tourists.

Before posting blogs, printing letters, copy and other written materials, I always run the spellchecker and grammar check, not that I am a lousy writer, although through London Chimes and other assignments my use of written English has improved, and I recognize can always benefit from further refinement. I have to consider that written English is slightly different on both sides of the Atlantic. I cannot forget Mrs. Morgan one of my early childhood teachers telling me off for writing like an American – at the age of seven in Britain was not an ideal match. Therefore, I have since adapted my written style to conform for the audience who read my writings.

Then of course we have on-line grammar, something that is slowly being accepted into modern written English. I have lost sight of this revolution but need to be aware of the changes in acceptable writing in the electronic media.

Communications with my family and friends who live five hours ahead of EST complicates scheduling calls back to Britain. I do miss being able to make and receive calls in the evening, as for me this is the small hours of the next morning in the UK. Not exactly a great time to call. Yet with email 24 hour communication is possible just somewhat different to ther traditional methods of giving someone a "tinkle" back home.

In conclusion, America and Britain are akin to cousins, though much seems the same, much is different. It has taken three years to settle down and understand the American system, although one thing I have learned is that, there is much more to learn and understand. While I may have learned much in three years to be comfortable with living and working in the US, I still do not instantly recall process, procedure custom and practice as easily and fluidly as I do with Britain. Although I also recognize that Britain has moved on since I left. I cannot expect to visit back to find that “life” has changed very little. Personally my family have move own, grown in height and numbers sight unseen by my eyes. I am in a gray area where I rely less on news from the UK and have over time lifted my lifetime footings from the earth of Britain and planted them into the fertile soil of America.

Personally, I have come a very long way from my very first visit to Boston many years ago. I hardly said a word in the first week, as I was in awe overwhelming my senses and foolishly concerned on my first trip on the Blue T Line in Boston from the Airport concerned about the bad things I had seen on too many third rate American movies that happen on subway trains. I survived, I continue to survive and have for sometime started to thrive.

This weekend is Memorial Day, on Monday morning at around 11am EST; Taney & I will be at our local memorial in respect of those who have given their lives for the freedom of others. This year is as important as others given the sacrifices given by the few in liberation of the many residing in Iraq. On this day of all days we should give those individuals more than a passing thought who fought under the flag of the Union Jack, and the Stars and Stripes, to return honor to the people who live and respect the flag of Iraq.

From the Ooops Department, the British Spring Bank Holiday Weekend is this weekend not next as reported in the previous blog entry in error. Reports are that the weather is not great in Britain either this weekend!

Feedback always invited, please email me.

May 22, 2003

Memorial Weekend Posting.

May, as I have discovered is in these parts of America, appears to be days of cloud and rain with little appearance of sunshine and blue skies. Although when the clouds clear, it can be very warm a pleasant enough to think of day trips to the shore and ice cream.

Monday following the weekend is Memorial Day, a 3-day weekend for many Americans and falls one week before the Spring Bank Holiday weekend in the UK. A noted date on my schedule as the weekend of the Enfield Pageant of Motoring. Either over the years, I participated in the development of the motor sport stand, or just visited, I have both warm and cold memories of the 3 days. My happier memories being of those years that were warm and sunny.

Not so, in 2003, there is little sight of a sunbeam for at least a week. With a wet holiday weekend, approaching it seems like I am back in Britain.

Taney & I discussed how nice it would be to jump in the car and head off somewhere, but neither of us can get motivated on driving to the coast, to watch the wet rain pound the wet beach with wet waves. Not exactly, an exciting starts to the summer season.

July marks my third anniversary of moving to the States. After three years, I feel that I am less of a Brit in a foreign land and more of a native of sorts. Looking back to 2000, my habits have changed – as has the way I talk. While I have not developed an American accent, I have changed the cadence of my speech. Some of this is deliberate, such as my pace of speech to be understood, some is my accident such as the way my words do not automatically raise in pitch on the last syllable. I am not sure I can even do it now.
I cannot be sure when this happened, but something has happened!

My daily routine has changed. In the UK, a breakfast of Weetabix, toast and tea would always start the day before heading out to work. Now I leave for work before breakfast, I still listen to some mindless music station to zone out into, unless there are serious matters to be briefed on through the news channels. Breakfast at work is a bagel and tea. It is not that I cannot purchase Weetabix in the US. I can, for some reason it is in the healthy foodstuff aisle, rather than with other breakfast cereals.

I wear American clothes, dressing formally for comfort at work rather that wearing a collar and tie everyday. Although old habits are hard to break, and I still like to wear ties at least 3 days a week, dressing down on Friday’s in keeping with the management style.

My cravings for British food have diminished to those food items that I truly cannot live without. Salad cream and good British tea being but two. Thanks to my “supplier”, Salad Cream can be bought in Canada and occasional bottles do find there way in my direction. Tetley teabags a British blend can be bought as part of the weekly shop, yet there is nothing quiet like the blends and bags from home.

I still enjoy watching TV in the evenings to relax although this week marks the end of the popular programs that have kept my attention for several weeks. ER, still in a class of its own finished last week, American Idol 2, was won last night by Rubin against Clay. The thriller “24” concluded in fine form worthy of the other 23 episodes. Seventh Heaven another well-written family program concluded on a cliffhanger to keep us waiting until next season. This list of programs is very specific, despite the dozens of channels through our dish; we are still very selective on the programs that we watch. With the summer ahead, I expect my viewing hours to decrease as the quantity of new programs diminishes to Monk, and Big Brother.

Taney caught me the other day referring to something only costing a couple of bucks. We were watching EastEnders or some other British program that somehow made the whole conversation somewhat surreal.

In the last three years my life has changed dramatically, they say that travel broadens the mind, living in a new country, learning new ways of doing tasks and approaching problems with a British mindset is challenging. The world has also changed dramatically in that time. Just as the America I live in today is not quiet the same country I moved to in 2000, Britain has also moved on and I find myself less and less connected to the news I read on the BBC web page and the national newspapers.

Just as in Britain the more bizarre news stories from America are reported, it is to some degree a mutual arrangement. The current news stories from the UK trying to control Spam email and passing a bill through the House of Lords, created confusion on how a meat product could be sent by computer, reported on the radio in the US suggested that some of the Lords are not quiet as current as they should be.

Since the start of the liberation of Iraq, I have watched less TV News. I made a point of only watch a one-hour bulletin a day no more, to be briefed on the facts of the day.
That hour included other international news. I am down to perhaps 15 minutes a day on the web news, reading the stories that interest me and moving on. The greater the serious nature of the news is proportional to the amount of creative energy absorbed from me. I need my creative energy for work without being bogged down with the baggage of news stories that do not relate directly to my families safety and well-being.

To be continued....

Feedback always invited, please email me.

May 01, 2003

May Day!

May 1st, for those of us with long memories the images of Russian military hardware being paraded through Red Square as a show of force to those who cared, seems today almost comical.

May 1st has in recent years been closely linked to communist and left-wing marches against the “establishment” in a number of democratic countries. Most lately an invitation for riot and civil unrest on the doorstep of Government. Who cannot forget the pot planting graffiti daubing vandals in Westminster Square, cutting up the turf and giving Winston Churchill a moeheican hair style, before moving on and desecrating the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

May 1st, 1997. Tony Blair and the Labour party swept to victory after 18 years of Conservative rule in the UK. Six years, compared to 18. Yet personally it seems a great deal longer. In the last week Baroness Thatcher (Maggie), defied her doctors by making a speech on video and putting in a personal appearance at a function in the UK. In the video she still had the voice to ram home a point of passion, stated that the Labour party have much more in common with Thatcherite ideals than ever before and the Tony Blair was doing a great job on Iraq. She did hesitate further caution on accepting the Euro.

May 1st 2003. President George W. Bush addresses the nation from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln homeward bound. This was a touching speech, the setting was perfect surrounded by the men and women of the Navy who had played a part in the liberation of Iraq. Regardless what you may see, read or hear, Bush is not a Warmonger. He did however tonight make very clear that America will defend itself, protect the innocent extend to keeping peace, maintain the search against terrorists who declared war on America on September 11, 2001. He thanked the armed forces of Britain, Australia and Poland specifically for their participation in the coalition of armed forces. He praised all of them for executing a battle plan that will be studied for years to come by students.

May 1st 2003, Britain, the results of the local elections are slowly being announced. Personally I am concerned that Broxbourne is under the control of the British National Party. BNP. This is not good news. On a final frivolous note I found the following news story on the BBC to offer a quaint spin on election day.

A pet mouse has been forced to move to make way for one of England's oddest polling stations.
Local election voters in Chettisham, Cambridgeshire, were marking their ballot papers in the bedroom of a bungalow.
The polling station is the home of hairdresser Carmelia Bond, 54, her husband, Michael, a 59-year-old lorry driver, and sons Marcus, 23, and Shaun, 18.
But Mrs Bond has had to move Marcus's bed and tank containing his pet mouse Mary into the living room to allow space for the booth.
She left his TV in the bedroom as some voters like to watch while waiting for their turn.
On Thursday morning local authority officials arrived to stick "polling station" notices on her window and start monitoring the election.
"We've been doing it for nearly 25 years," said Mrs Bond, who is paid expenses by the local authority to cover the cost of her inconvenience.
"They did have a caravan for a while after the hall went but people used to come to me for the toilet because I was the nearest house.
"So I thought they might as well do the voting here because we had a spare bedroom - it's a room about 10 feet by 10 feet.
"I hadn't got the children then and after a while the room became my eldest son's bedroom, which was a bit more inconvenient.
"Over the years I have had to hide and move away the toys, then it was a matter of taking his posters off the wall.
"It's not so bad now. I just move the bed into the lounge and move the pet mouse out.
"Sometimes I just get out of the way for the day but if I am around, people stop for a cup of tea and a chat.
"A lot of them are friends and neighbours. There's only about 50 houses in the village."

Ah only in Britain!!!! On May 1st a story that is as eccentric as dancing around the Maypole.

On a complete tangent, I want to share with my readers of a wonderful surprise my wife had at work this week. She is a tour guide at the local cathedral for school groups. One recent group put pen, pencil and markers to paper and each produced a hand made thank you card for her time and trouble in showing them around, including the work put into the stain glass windows and stone carving.

This was a wonderful surprise for my wife who in the years she has worked tour guiding has never had such an out pouring of thanks. I sat and read through each one, and finished with more than just a smile on my face. For both of us to have "perfect" jobs is a blessing not easily put into words.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

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