Seasonal Area December 2011

Slightly early, by two hours or so, but hopefully this won’t offend anyone too much.

December 2011’s Seasonal Area page

This was actually written back in March, which means that the page has been redesigned twice to keep up to speed with my various alterations to the Seasonal Area page over the course of the year. I decided that I wanted this picture, so a page was written and put on ice.

It’s one of several slightly Christmassy pictures which I took last December. In that day’s collection we can also find Truro station looking like a Victorian station in winter (I love Truro station – rebuilt 1904 from the original smaller station with overall roof – it just evolves very slowly and keeps its steam-age feel, though not as much as when I first arrived there four years ago), Truro Cathedral from the railway viaduct wearing scaffolding round its centre tower like a muffler, the view of the Fowey Valley from the lovely warm train awaiting repairs to the points failure and Class 158 Express Sprinter sets at Bristol Temple Meads with little bags over their couplings to keep the snow out.

The month also saw a genuine White Christmas (I spent the afternoon on a family wander around Penarth), a rail strike on the Valley Lines (can’t remember what it was over, probably something about not working Sundays without a 3% rise to the hourly rate, but I have the picture of the display screen), Penrhos Lower Junction covered in snow (looking bleaker than ever) and finally a vast cloud of fog to hide the New Year from us until the last moment (allowing me to get some excellent pictures of bits of Cardiff Bay looking like a 1990’s horror film).

I may want to use some of these pictures again, so you’ll excuse me if I fail to add them here and instead  quote one of my pet quotes for which I cannot remember the attribution:

A picture is worth 1,000 words, but takes up 3,000 times the disk space.

And now back to whatever I should be doing at this time of night.

 

Road accidents and Sci-fi

Hmm. Interesting contrast in subjects there. How to link them…

Let’s be controversial in both topics.

Road accidents to open with. There’s been a large pile-up on the M5, near Taunton and rather close to the Great Western mainline to the South-West. Having not been down there this weekend I haven’t had a chance to find out if the railway offers the best view of a singed Ginsters van.

Fog is obviously a serious cause of the accident – people have a nasty habit of touching the brakes in fog and other people can’t see that they’ve done it. If the car in front of you stops from 70mph and you don’t, the odds are rather high that you’re going to go into the back of them.

The large fleet of lorries pottering along the motorway doesn’t seem to have helped though. I make it six hulks which were once lorries in that pile of wreckage. It’s rather a lot of rather heavy vehicles which of course proceed to cause more damage.

The accident comes shortly after the Department for Transport has announced it will allow bigger lorries on UK roads. One feels that had the announcement been due in a couple of weeks it would now be vanishing in the direction of the shredder (except its a bad idea, which tends to be the term of endearment for most ideas initiated by the DfT). A rather better direction to be heading in would be removing articulated vehicles from Britain’s roads, given that they are all utter liabilities. (It doesn’t help that some people don’t know how to behave in the presence of one, but whenever they meet an accident they tend to jackknife  and turn a simple shunt into a nice wide pile-up.)

The accident has also served to remove press coverage from the end of the inquest into the 2007 Lambrigg rail crash, which was the last time to date that a passenger was killed in a UK rail crash. The conclusion, being what was largely decided by the interim report and the immediate industry coverage of the crash, had something of an air of “bears defecate in the woods” but it at least means that those who think inquests bring closure has now had closure. Thanks to the roads, the rail industry hasn’t been headlined for being dangerous nearly 5 years after the last fatality.

As a final aside, I would like to protest that the Beeb’s list of road accidents omitted the multi-vehicle pile-ups at Great Heck (2001, 10 killed) and Ufton Nervet (2004, 7 killed). To be fair, the latter one was caused by a suicide.

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 To lighter matters and science fiction. I’ve been watching rather a lot of Doctor Who lately. For those unfamiliar with the basic premise, it’s the tale of an old man and his granddaughter from a distant world travelling through space and time in a ship which is bigger on the inside than the outside and has managed to end up stuck in the shape of a police box. (I am given to understand that the basic plot has been varied in subsequent years.)

The first three stories (13 episodes) are interesting, with various scary bits and a brilliant cliffhanger ending for episode 5 featuring a terrified woman in a white corridor being approached by a sink plunger protruding into the shot from under the camera. The next 7 episodes come from a wiped serial called Marco Polo, which has been partially restored with the original audio, colour advertising photos and colourised telesnaps for watching on Youtube. Although not what Doctor Who is famous for (no aliens are present), it is of the “ripping yarn” variety with plenty of suspense. The costumes are sumptuous and the sets magnificent.

You can see the budget for the next story vanishing down the drain as you watch it.

The last episode for Marco Polo announces that the next episode is called The Sea of Death. This splendidly-named episode has survived and is part of the fifth serial, The Keys of Marinus. This was made and broadcast in April and May 1964; considering the budget, the time in which the story was written and the fact that it’s in black and white, Keys is a rather good story and more in-keeping with general Who themes than its predecessor.

It also bears some odd comparisons with the first pilot episode for Star Trek, titled The Cage, which was made  later the same year.

Both feature hypnosis and people being persuaded to believe that the world on which they are on is much nicer than it really is. There is then a shared tendency towards dodgy rocks and pots of action taking place in caves.  Both also attempt to use false perspective to make sets look bigger, which The Cage does with rather more success.

Of course, many of the plotline and technology similarities between the two can be explained by low budgets and Keys being a massively rambling storyline which goes through every possible sci-fi plot in slightly under three hours. (Star Trek stretched them out, with some problems towards the end, over three series.) But it’s an interesting idea to imagine Roddenbury being in Britain around Easter 1964, watching an episode of Keys (probably the second one), finding that science fiction can be broadcast to a large audience and thinking “I could do better than that”.

Whether he could is of course a matter for personal taste. Personally I prefer Keys of Marinus, which is my favourite early Who story. It’s quite funny in several places and the appalling special effects are somewhat endearing.

(I should add that, like many arguments, that one sounded better in my head.)

Seasonal Area November 2011

(It has just dawned on me that the four Seasonal Area posts before this one have all had different styles for announcing the month.)

Anyway, the new Seasonal Area page is Online. This means a nice new picture for the sidebar and an opportunity for those with really small monitors to naughtily nab a new desktop background. It was taken last year the day after a night out with friends – so I got out rather late in the afternoon but have some fond memories linked to the image.

Meanwhile I have spent the afternoon arguing with my printer and its ink cartridges. The printer is being a trifle awkward at the moment. The result is my hands now look like I have some ‘orrible black fungus, but it should wear off over the next couple of days…

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Alongside this I have, apropos of not very much, been glancing at First Group’s financial returns for last year. Assuming they’re typical of the industry, anyone who reckons the private sector is ripping off public transport should be making rather more noise about the bus companies. First has a profit margin of 13% on their bus operations. The rail side barely makes 5%.

 For some reason, where I’ve had a chance to compare, bus fares are higher than rail ones. This generally bears little resemblance to the amount of subsidy either side has obtained. When it comes to the final bottom line, however, rail tends to be the longer-distance and therefore higher-value industry, so the ultimate profits for First are broadly similar on both sides.

Interestingly, buses are deemed to compete with cars and other buses while trains compete with the private car. First does not consider their bus and rail operations to be in competition with each other. Then again, why should I be puzzled by this? My experience of them working side by side is from being at university in Falmouth, where buses to Truro take twice as long as the trains and cost twice as much…