Today’s Excitement

This feels like an awful long time ago…

Don’t bash the Americans though. Most of them didn’t vote for Trump. Owing to a certain curiosity of the electoral college (which is one of the stupidly complex methods of electing a single person known to humanity), Clinton won the popular vote.

At least first-past-the-post almost invariably gives supreme British executive power to the people who won. If anyone in the States wants to consider electoral reform one day…

(It is nonetheless tempting to suggest that Clinton not saying something publicly after conceding this morning is an indication of reasons for not getting the required breadth of support to win. And it says something about the US that all it can put up for presidency is two people that everyone wanted to vote against.)

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The incident on the Croydon Tramlink this morning comes as something of a shock. For a little tram, five people is a distractingly large number of fatalities. And looking at the tram lying on its side on a shattered bend, it is hard to picture any conclusion that doesn’t say nasty things about light rail safety. (Accidents are rare. The problem for the statistics is that they should be, because trams are hardly commonplace.)

A valuable reminder – as though we ever need any – for maintaining safety on heavy rail. Touching wood as we tick towards ten years since Greyrigg…

Adblockers

The Internet is one of the great inventions of the world. It is particularly impressive because, barring the now-optional cost of providing a line into the house and the not-wholly-obligatory cost buying something to view it on, it is generally free to use.

On one level this is because lots of people are happy to shove stuff on the internet for nothing (this blog, for example, is not terribly remunerative).

There are also websites set up to sell you things which provide lots of information on those things, which count as sales brochures that save on paper and avoid requiring you to sift quite so obviously through 874 pages of stuff that you don’t want at this juncture.

And then there are the websites paid for by advertising revenue. Advertisers supply ads to ad companies who load them onto websites in the same sort of way as they post them up on bus shelters and roadside hoardings. Unlike the bus shelters and roadside hoardings, it is easy to track when someone has acknowledged one of these ads because they click on it and the advertiser promptly gives lots of lovely revenue to the host. There may be one of these ads at the bottom of this page and WordPress would really like you to click on it. (Except for the fact that WordPress has to stay afloat to host this thing for me, I am pretty ambivalent on the matter.)

Adverts are a key feature of the capitalist economic system. They draw your attention to certain brands and encourage you to buy those as a known brand rather than buying someone else because you either thought you knew them better or didn’t know the competition existed (or did know but had never given the matter sufficient thought to consider using them).

If we don’t have adverts online, either the internet will give up or we’ll all have to start paying for it properly (set up an account with Google and pay them 10p per search, for example).

A few months ago my web browser updated and offered me a built-in ad-blocker. I ticked the box. Why?

1) Security

My mobile phone spends a lot of time, when loading web pages with lots of little adverts on them, warning me that the content of these pages is not secure. The mobile does not come with an ad-blocker, so I can’t do a proper test, but the warnings tend to come up at about the time when it’s loading the ads.

After a while I get both irritated by the warning signs (which, when supplied to excess, start to make browsing the page very long-winded) and slightly paranoid about what these ads are doing while not being secure. Ad companies who dislike this reason can sort out how to make their ads secure.

2) Browsing speed

Ads add to the time it takes to load a page. This comes in two forms. In the first, you simply have to sit and wait, staring at the page you want to use, while you wait for the ads to sort themselves out. In the second, the page apparently finishes loading and then starts moving content around and shifting links to fit the ads in.

As a result fast movers clicking at where their link was when they targeted it find themselves somewhere else entirely – occasionally on the advertisers’ site. This isn’t actually any good for the advertiser, since the usual response is to close the tab with a “humph” and find the way back to the original page.

This can make it quicker to look up journey plans with a paper timetable than a website. (Actually this remark is unfair, as I almost invariably find it quicker to check my journey plans with a paper timetable than with a website anyway.)

3) Internet usage

I spent a while last year on an internet connection with a usage cap. Ads eat into this usage cap. Most of them are high-definition and high-frame-rate. Doesn’t leave much room for anything else.

I was off the usage cap when I was offered the ad-blocker, but still in an ad-blocking mood.

There is also the small matter when running uncertain bandwidth that while Youtube videos will drop quality until they reach a happy medium, ads persist in running one high-quality offering. This can mean a lot of time spent watching them buffer-up. This is bad enough on something that you actually want to watch.

4) Noise

There are a few adverts which still insist on playing noise without being asked (most are now polite enough to play silently until a cursor is rolled over them, and occasionally I do this out of curiosity). When I already have something on in the background (say the flutes and triangles of the Iolanthe overture), a sudden blaring ad buried somewhere in a webpage that I’ve just opened in background tab is a trifle distracting.

5) CPU usage

Until a bit over a year ago I was running a 9-year-old XP computer which, being a 9-year-old computer laden with software, files and operating system updates, was inclined towards being clapped out.

The Independent‘s website, for those who have never used it, is inclined to feature two side-bars of high-definition ads which the computer attempts to run in preference to scrolling the webpage.

As a result the website was unusable for any purpose other than crashing the computer (for which function the computer needed very little assistance in its final months, until it began noticing “replacement” being discussed in my emails and went demob-happy). As a consequence of that I have got out of the habit of reading the Independent. So much for ad revenues.

6) Ads blocking views of webpages

There is a common body of thought amongst certain advertisers that when a person goes to look at a webpage, what they want is an advert to come scrolling across the whole page and tell them that a Chelsea Tractor that can pollute glaciers and run over polar bears is really cool.

It is nice to be spared the immediate implications of sharing the world with these advertisers. (The less immediate implications caused by people taking up the advertised Chelsea Tractors unfortunately have to be lived with, including cleaning the residue of the Tractors’ atmospheric pollutants off the front of my house occasionally.)

7) Ads blocking links

I have horrible residual memories of the sort of advert which crawls onto the screen when a cursor gets to near it and in the process blocks the “next” button. I fancy these were particularly common on the GoComics site. Anyway, I no longer have to bother with them.

8) Utility

I never click on web ads anyway, so webpage providers really aren’t losing much per click revenue from me not looking at them.

9) Content

Half these ads are for, variously, reclaiming PPI, “you won’t believe what this child actor looks like now”, skincare with bits of plastic and teeth whitening. I suppose I shouldn’t query who’s actually paying for these adverts and shouldn’t be snooty about the quality of ads that I ignore, but am not entirely sure about this whole thing. Has the world really got to the stage where “Mom makes brilliant skincare discovery that shocks experts”, with no obvious brand for the story-carrier, is actually money-making in itself? Or will the site nick my personal details? Do I want to try it and see? (Not really.)

10) Alternatives

I do actually pay one trusted website £10 per annum to read his news – a small roughly daily update of pictures and commentary that interests me. If it now went up to £20 I’m not wholly sure I would stop paying in protest. I also happy pay £10-£12 per month for paper magazines of similar interest, some of which I then play swapsies with for other magazines with colleagues, which you can’t really do with digital subscriptions. (For some reason I also have an idea that they are not as easy to keep or rifle through for references as the ton of scraggy paper I have recording 40 years of back railway history in my front room.) I would consider the same sort of annual rate for some other news websites (and some other websites in general), but the charges for things like the Times are higher than I fancy paying at the moment. (If I were to be got into a habit…)

(The Times is £6 per week. If I was budgeting £6 per week, or £312 per annum, for such things I’d be buying the paper. This is more a subscription for existing regular readers on the train to work than for attracting the stingy sorts who read half a dozen articles a day. The Telegraph‘s article cap, if made daily, would not be an exceptional problem to me.)

And of course a lot of websites I look at have associations of being cluttered with ads which I already don’t like and don’t trust even before these ads start getting close to payment screens. If there’s a suggestion that after paying I will still have to look at lots of ads, this puts me off the idea. That’s one thing the Times has dead right. There is not an advert to be seen on its homepage, except for itself.

Anyway, people always find somewhere to put advertising…

Copenhagen Posters 1 JPG.jpg

Not that it always does them any good – sometimes they just lose the election and have to go home to the other half in Aberavon anyway…

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Quite often it can barely be seen for the crowds…

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So you may as well ignore it and get on with admiring its surroundings.

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(Still wish I had a picture of the upside-down poster that said “Because things go wrong” mind you..)

Light Blue Touchpaper

Ok.

I don’t usually use this blog to refer to other people’s stuff.

Still, some while ago I fell across this old online cartoon series called I Drew This, by a young liberal personage who scribbled away through the mid-Bush years. The cartoons (and, therefore, presumably, the cartoonist) took a general view that most Bush positions were illogical, and since most of them were illogical one overlooks occasional moments where the liberal position seems vaguely uncertain between cartoons several months apart.

However, even immediate current affairs stuff remains relevant occasionally and I would like to refer to the cartoon of Wednesday 22nd March 2006 to summarise an argument on one side of Brexit: http://www.glasswings.com/comics/idrewthis/d/20060322.html

We are currently somewhere between panels 4 and 5, but missing from the cartoon is the seventh panel where the eagle’s plumage grows back (and who knows, it may look better afterwards).

When I get round to it I will write an argument (of my own) for another side of Brexit specifically inspired by a Toynbee article (oh dear), but generally reflecting a view which I feel should be taken more widely.

Thanks.

(The cartoonist, for anyone who is interested, now writes the rather cute and optimistic series Phoebe and Her Unicorn, which is currently freely available on the GoComics website a few doors down from Peanuts and Pearls Before Swine.)

Scrapping Eurostars

(A case-study of asset management.)

Once upon a time someone had a great idea to build a tunnel under the English Channel between somewhere near Dover and somewhere in the region of Calais. He got some engineers to design it. Then he lost the Battle of Waterloo and was sent to St Helena, which is too far from anywhere much to contemplate escape tunnels.

Several attempts followed, which were variously scuppered by the military, by the enthusiastic railway director having accidentally spent the budget on his mainline from Manchester to London and by a Government Minister who considered that his socialist principles did not allow the sponsoring of railway tunnels, being better directed at mass transport opportunities like Concorde (which was entirely coincidentally being built in his constituency).

Agreement between Britain and France was arranged in the 1980s and a railway tunnel was duly bored with strangely little involvement of any railway engineers. As a consequence the tunnels have a weight limit that requires lorry shuttle trains to have open sides, fanning fires that periodically break out on the lorries.

Although a large portion of the traffic through the Chunnel, which opened in 1994, consists of road vehicles loaded onto shuttle trains, the iconic bit of the operation is the Eurostar – the high-speed service which primarily links London with Paris and Brussels via the Tunnel. In 1997 railway scribbler Colin Garratt described it thus:

The idea that steam is exciting while modern traction is dull and lifeless is disproved forever by Eurostar. This train combines the romance of the 1930s’ streamlined era and the cutting edge of technology. London’s Waterloo station is as magnificent as its Victorian counterpart and the Channel Tunnel, within the 37.5km (24 mile) terminal-to-terminal fixed link between Folkestone and Calais, is one of the world’s greatest civil-engineering feats.

(Garratt C, The Complete Book of Locomotives (Hermes House, London) 1997, 2000, p148)

And it was quite something. 18-coach trains with massive electric powercars based on a souped-up, lengthened, slimmed down Train a Grande Vitesse could be seen hurtling through Northern France on their way to London on a new high-speed line – which French President Mitterand observed had been built to allow more time for people to enjoy the views of Kent as they toddled through on the classic South Eastern Railway. (There were also observations about the decision to use Waterloo as the London terminal. This was mostly because it is the only South London terminal that was big enough to demolish a few platforms for an international terminal without finding there was no station left – the platforms chosen were the “Windsor Line” side of the station which had always been a bit of a disconnected oddity left over from the days when Waterloo was half-a-dozen disparate stations all owned by one company and sharing a site. The observations were because the choice of Waterloo brought the French into a station which shared the name of a place in Belgium where the British last imposed a military defeat on the French. Eurostar denied the station was named after the battle. They pointed out that its full title, until the London & South Western carried out a cost-saving exercise in timetable ink, is London Waterloo Bridge. Unfortunately for this logic, the adjacent Waterloo Bridge over the Thames after which the station is named was named after the battle.)

Official photographs of the new Class 373 units under the overall roof at Waterloo International at night, with the power cars newly painted, washed and polished, presented an air of a railway heading into the future. And they did have quite magnificent noses. They went rather well with the big maroon Thalys high-speed Paris/ Brussels/ Amsterdam service, though that had the benefit of no border controls owing to all three countries being in the Schengen area.

Eurostar St Pancras 2 JPG.jpgThe Nose, some years later after a change of logo (but not livery) and London terminal. This nose belongs to the powercar of UK-funded half-set No.373012. The coupling cover (with a little extension of the coupling protruding through a hole at the bottom) makes up the bottom of the Nose, with a clean sweep back over an angry and powerful set of persplex-covered headlights. The cab window, designed to minimise problems of tunnel-vision in the Tunnel, is neatly propped up at the top on a blue racing helmet. The UK-standard yellow end emphasises the shape. An obstacle deflector adds interest at the bottom. As with TGV powercars, most of the bodyside consists of cooling grill. By this stage in their careers they needed a bit more washing.

Not everything was sunny of course. To avoid an impression that an international service from a South of London station (Waterloo) via a South of London station (Ashford) to France and Belgium was purely for London and the South East, it was agreed to provide for regional services. These can only be described as an oddity. The Government arranged for them, paid for the trains (14-car Eurostars with two standard powercars) and then left British Rail to sort out operation (fine) and a business case for that operation (but the trains had been bought on political grounds without one…). Initially BR used some Intercity 125 sets released from regular work by the early-’90s recession to work connecting trains to Waterloo from Manchester and Edinburgh instead of deploying the Regional Eurostar sets while route clearances and the business case were sorted out. These services were pick up only southbound/ set down only northbound throughout and required Eurostar tickets for travel. Suggestions that the three passengers on board these connecting trains were on staff passes have been largely refuted by claims that staff weren’t allowed to travel on them without buying some sort of ticket. After a while BR decided these empty 125s were depriving other Intercity routes of potential capacity increases and redeployed them. That was the end of the Regional Eurostar operation.

(There were various other sundry oddities created at this time such as the “Night Riviera” Penzance Sleeper being diverted to Waterloo, which persisted for some years before reverting to Paddington, and a daily “Alphaline” Express Sprinter galloping from Waterloo to West Wales, which carried on well into the 21st Century.)

Also planned was the “Nightstar” Sleeper service from Plymouth, Swansea and Edinburgh to points on the Continent. To provide this, new high-quality sleeping cars were built, which were too heavy and power-hungry to use on internal sleeper services. Generator cars were converted from conventional UK sleeping cars to provide hotel power because pairs of diesel locomotives would be unable to climb Hemerdon Bank out of Plymouth while simultaneously powering and dragging the Nightstar coaches. Class 37 diesel locomotives were converted to haul the diesel Nightstars and Class 92 electric locomotives were built to work the electric portions from Edinburgh and through the Tunnel. Then someone decided that the average Plymouth passenger would in fact rather take a budget airline to Paris and either stay there overnight or lose half the day getting to the airport, flying and allowing for the time difference. The 92s were quietly lost in a mass of paperwork owing to their complexity, the generator cars were parked at the back of a depot and forgotten about, the 37s were transferred to nuclear flask work (where they remain) and the Nightstar coaches were parked at the MoD base in Kineton, contemplated for discreet scrapping and eventually sold to Canada.

This set the scene for the fate of Sleeper trains across Europe, except the sleeping cars are simply being scrapped rather than sold to Canada – and except in the UK, where Sleeper trains enjoy great political support.

Paddington 6 JPG.jpgNight Riviera Sleeper at Paddington, preparing to depart for Penzance behind 57602 Restormel Castle. It tends to load rather well, offering a combination of a bed, late night departure and early morning arrival to provide a run with a “waking journey” time of about 15 minutes. There remains a reckoning that it isn’t worth trying to emulate its success on the Paris road.

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Meanwhile the newly privatised railway was having locomotive problems.

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The doyenne of the Class 91 fleet swings out of York station en route to Edinburgh.

The 31 6,300 horsepower Class 91 electric locomotives for the East Coast Mainline were built in 1989 for hurrying rakes of Mark 4 coaches to Edinburgh and back. 6,300 horsepower is a lot of power for a locomotive to put down through four axles (each axle gets about the same power as a 37 puts down across six axles) and the locos were therefore nicely stuffed with forward-thinking equipment and technology. By 1998 they were obsolete and failing to make the necessary availability levels to operate the full service, while their operator was struggling with rising passenger levels benefiting from a good economy and intrigued by the dark-blue luxuriously-styled Great North Eastern Railway. GNER initially responded by dragging the 1980s prototype electric locomotive, No. 89001, out of preservation; it spent 1998, some of 1999 and a couple of bits of 2000 showing off its long, drooping nose on Kings Cross – Leeds services. Between these bouts of service it demonstrated a) that it was a prototype microprocessor-driven high-powered electric loco, b) why it had remained a prototype and c) how it had ended up in preservation in the mid-90s rather than continuing to be the East Coast standby electric locomotive.

So in 2000 GNER was in urgent need of extra capacity, something to cover for 89001 being back at its builder while they tried to remember why, 14 years ago, they had built it like that and another something that would cover for the 91s going off to somebody else who could make them work properly. (The following year 89001 would become surplus when Mr Gary Hart wrote off the spare rake of Mark 4 coaches with his Land Rover and a passing coal train, thereby freeing up a 91 but straining the coaching stock situation further.) There was no intercity coaching stock worth speaking of free at the time, but Eurostar had a fleet of Regional Eurostars sitting around with no prospect of any actual regional work. The result was a logical deal – Eurostar arranged to lease two regional sets daily to GNER, who provided them with work on shorter hauls (5 trips daily, initially to York and later to Leeds). After a short while two full sets were vinyled up in GNER dark blue, in which they looked rather handsome.

Various points rapidly became apparent. A Class 373 Regional Eurostar set has two powercars in place of the single 91. Between them they generate 2½ times the power rating. This means an associated increase in power consumption. As East Coast power supplies aren’t that good, the Eurostars couldn’t run into Kings Cross in the morning peak and one northbound train started at Peterborough. They also had the equivalent of three more coaches than a 91+Mk4 set, which meant considerable platforming difficulties at Kings Cross for a net gain of 4 seats. (Or, to be fair, 558 seats over what could have been provided if they hadn’t been hired.)

There was also the usual trouble at that time of getting the Eurostars through Railtrack’s approvals system.

It was shortly after this operation began that it was decided through Paris to Edinburgh trains would never run. Soon after the Eurostar depot in Manchester, proudly branded “Eurostar habite ici” was transferred to Alstom and refurbished for use as the home for the new Virgin Pendolino fleet that was taking over the West Coast Mainline.

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The opening of two phases of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link on time, to spec and within budget (such as anyone had dared set timescales or budgets), culminating in the relaunch of the magnificently refurbished Midland Railway terminal at London St Pancras, gave an impression of a thriving Eurostar operation. It was certainly doing fairly respectably for something hidebound by border controls putting 30 minutes onto whatever journey time it could achieve and badly bashing potential for the sort of walk-up intensive business and leisure travel that sustains intensive domestic intercity services from London to Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle (all two or three trains per hour, mostly eight cars or more and generally well-loaded). If compared with the continental operations with which it tends to be more in tune, it was (and is) doing very well indeed – a broadly hourly international service with quarter-mile-long trains that load heavily.

Eurostar had also expanded the destination list, with trains to Avignon, Marseille and the Alps. They always look particularly odd in the British railway computer system, which doesn’t monitor their progress after they leave UK soil until they reach their destination.

Beneath this was a sign of hopes not fulfilled. The Regional Eurostars came off-lease from GNER in December 2005 after Virgin Cross Country released conventional, go-anywhere (albeit diesel) High Speed Trains and the Class 91 overhaul programme was very successfully completed. There was still no actual Regional Eurostar work for them in the UK and (mostly) they were incorporated into the French domestic TGV fleet. Three French Eurostars went the same way. TGV branding was applied and the yellow ends painted over in silver. This was not necessarily a long-term solution for an oversized fleet (32 full sets for an operation that would struggle, even on the most inefficient diagramming, to need more than 24 sets daily). Eurostars are hideously complicated things which until they moved from Waterloo to St Pancras in 2007 had to mix in-cab signalling and high-speed pantographs with electro-magnetic warning equipment for signals from the 1950s and third-rail shoegear required as a result of an electrification decision made by the London & South Western Railway in 1913. They remain kitted out with a mass of gubbins for conventional Belgian lines, which are not compatible with French ones. In due course SNCF began laying Eurostars up in discreet yards, hidden amongst derelict TGVs, and quietly scrapping them.

Eurostar carried out periodic interior refurbishments, but externally the fleet remained in original condition and seemed to stop coming into contact with wash plants. Winter 2010 saw a series of failures in the Chunnel brought on by snow in Northern France getting into equipment and then melting. It was vaguely reminiscent of British Rail’s “wrong kind of snow,” a reminder that National Rail hadn’t pleaded “wrong kind of snow” for some years and very badly managed. In the early 2010s an agency called “Someone” was commissioned to do some form of refurbishment design, which didn’t seem to come to much except coinciding with a redesign of the Eurostar logo from three wiggling lines to a silvery “e”. An announcement of a full refurbishment was followed by an announcement of new trains to expand the operation to Amsterdam, then an announcement of more new trains and finally news that most of the original fleet will be withdrawn and “recycled”.

A year before the recycling was officially announced Eurostar donated the powercar from Regional Eurostar half-set 373308 to the National Railway Museum. It was in strikingly good condition. It is not considered that this reflects particularly on Eurostar’s care in operating it. It more reflects on the quality of modern cocooning. Nobody can find the slightest trace of a suggestion that this powercar has ever done an inch of work in its life.

A handful of the original sets, now branded e300 after their top speed in kilometres per hour, are to be refurbished with the new Eurostar livery and interior and retained for the more exotic destinations (like Avignon and Ashford – none of the new trains are fitted with the UK Automatic Warning System magnets so they can’t currently work into Ashford station). The remainder are to be dragged to either European Metals Recycling of Kingsbury, on the outskirts of Birmingham, or to Mr Booths’s scrapyard in Rotherham near Sheffield. There they will be broken up.

Rumour, based on the schedules shown in railway systems, says that the doomed sets will run into St Pancras in passenger service, drop their final loads and be collected by a Class 66 diesel that will drag them over the chord onto the Midland Mainline and off on their final journey. This seems a trifle odd, as usually withdrawn trains are taken back to depot for tidying, removal of reusable parts and a chance to say goodbye to their classmates. It seems unfair to dump a train laden with transformer oil and full Controlled Emission Toilet tanks on a scrap merchant. But Eurostar has always been a bit of a rule unto itself.

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The sight of a load of iconicly-nosed high-speed trains being dragged away for scrap at the age of 22 raises some very puzzled expressions around UK rail. The main reflection is that they are some 18 years younger than the 1976-built diesel-powered High Speed Trains, which are currently 40 and showing no signs of stopping.

St Pancras 5 JPG.jpg A High Speed Train, formerly marketed as an Intercity 125, at St Pancras station shortly before working an evening train to Nottingham. This powercar is seen on at least its seventh livery, after several moves between routes and following a period as a battery/ hybrid testbed.

This is certainly true. It is also true that the HSTs have had a lot more mid-life overhauls than the Eurostars have had, which helps with matters such as bodywork. There is a certain element of a difference between keeping a fleet running because there doesn’t seem to be much choice and having the option of deciding to buy new. One might also just as well point out that this locomotive is over 50 years old:

Lancaster 1 JPG.jpgClass 37 No. 37409 at Lancaster, a few months over 51 years old. This is not necessarily a recommendation, handsome and friendly as she looks. Her appearance on Class 2 passenger work between Lancaster and Carlisle via Barrow-in-Furness is under duress – on both sides, it sometimes seems. A slightly more heavily refurbished batch of the same fleet was supposed to work the Nightstar services.

There is also the matter that Eurostar is a lot more bothered about being a lively public-facing operator than the average British Train Operating Company. It is busy being very keen on people viewing its trains as fresh and exciting. Going on the Eurostar is supposed to be part of the adventure. HST operators are now mostly after a competent high-mileage 125mph people-mover and tend to assume, quite rightly, that if you just tell the punters it’s a high-speed train most people will be entirely satisfied with this and neglect to associate the external slam doors with the possibility that they might have gone to the zoo on one of these things, several paint jobs and interior designs ago, in about 1978. In fact South West Trains got terribly proud ten years ago when they heavily refurbished a load of clearly obsolete non-air-conditioned galloping old suburban units and convinced most of the customers surveyed that these were new trains. On the back of this discovery, the trains’ owner is now putting them through a heavy mid-life overhaul. (Though this does raise the thought that perhaps SWT’s customers merely have lower expectations of train quality than Eurostar ones.)

Clapham Junction 2 JPG.jpgUnobservant passengers can be persuaded that this 1980s Class 455 was built ten years ago. In the background, in Southern green, is a train that was built ten years ago for comparison.

Very fast trains also have a very short shelf life. For the Eurostars this is partly being attributed to life in the Channel Tunnel, but it is a general feature of such equipment. To a certain extent train lives are perhaps better measured in miles than years – suburban tank engines pottering up and down Cornish branch lines can happily reach 90, while high-flying Japanese Shinkansen sets are built on an industrial scale and then similarly scrapped 20 years later. The original Shinkansen design, which actually tended not to get much above 130mph, causes some confusion by having run for 40 years. In fact the production line ran, on and off, for 20 years and later-built examples replaced the early-build ones.

Buying the old Eurostars for general use in the UK would be a tricky exercise. First there is the distinctive nose, which means they’re hard to pass off as anything more than cast-offs. Then there’s the time to overhaul them, by which point an operator could have bought new trains. Then there’s the power consumption, which would still be a problem for East Coast deployment. The limited supply of doors makes them unsuitable for interurban semi-fast work on Anglia, Midland and Western services, which are increasingly reliant on mass loading/ unloading in tight dwells specified 30 years ago for half the passenger numbers (even before anyone points out that the Midland won’t be electrified much before 2025, requiring reliable diesel locos to be found from somewhere and the trailers to be converted to hauled stock, and the Western is looking to be a bi-mode railway with core electrification and diesel outposts). They can’t tilt, which rules out use on the West Coast Mainline (drop the tilt requirement and the old Class 87s might as well be brought back from Bulgaria to work the service). The London & South Western is now looking at fast-accelerating high-capacity trains capable of complete unloading in about thirty seconds; Eurostars tend to take about five minutes. There is therefore no point in a concept involving re-fitting the shoegear.

That is before any discussion about power supply, gearing, bodywork condition, wiring, technology, the obsolescence of anything built in the late ’80s/ early ’90s, the possibility of removing coaches, complex discussions of pantographs and the pressure they place on the overhead wire, things like “loading gauge” and “kinetic envelope”, the general reckoning that a Regional Eurostar can’t get into Newcastle station because the North Eastern Railway made a mess of the southern approaches and put in too many corners, axle loadings on articulated bogies, lack of enthusiasm on the modern UK railway for articulation, total lack of similarity to anything else running in this country and a shortage of paths to run them in even if all the above was overcome.

The last major fleet disposal in this country was when the Southern Region electric train fleet was almost completely replaced between 2003 and 2005. This was mostly based on the rolling stock lacking structural integrity in accidents (it was also extremely old, but the main concern was safety). Since then rail vehicle scrapping has amounted to some Manchester trams, a load of old coal wagons, a few diesel and electric locos (very few), a handful of coaches and the Metropolitan and Circle Line trains. This means that there is not much familiarity amongst followers of UK rail these days with the idea of scrapping stuff. Everything is recycled by moving it around the network. There is suddenly a need to come to terms with the possibility that heavy rail trains are mortal for reasons other than terrible crashworthiness – something which the UK rail fleet owners’ accountants will also have to come to terms with shortly after a long period of pleasant serenity.

Eurostar have the option of refurbishing an obsolete 22-year-old ’90s-electronics train built to fit through small Southern Region bridges or buying a gleaming new thing with modern equipment, distributed power (no more powercars), standardisation with other new train fleets, a fleet size matching requirements and a bodyshell that won’t fit through Southern Region bridges because it’s to the European standard size. There isn’t really much argument in the matter.

e320-st-pancras-1-jpg New Eurostar No.374010 at St Pancras with a train from Paris Gare du Nord.

Class 374 interior.jpgInside a 374, with its high cloth seats, leather headrests and tables of a design unfamiliar to UK travellers. It’s an odd opportunity to consider interior design – the big white bodyshell should feel spacious, but the high seats with very few tables make it feel crowded.

HST interior (EMT) 1 JPG.jpgA UK loading-gauge HST coach operated by East Midlands Trains for comparison. The higher windows relative to the seat tops may help, as may the scarlet rather than black seat materials.

It is a pity that the new train, branded as the e320, is not really that great. Internally, it feels more cramped than its predecessor despite the bigger body. The old Eurostars are articulated, so the wheels are under the gangways. This is supposed to marginally improve the ride over wheels mounted under the bodyshell. But it shouldn’t have the difference it has between the old and new Eurostar fleets. The new design “hunts” (swaying from side to side on the rail) something awful, has a very heavy feel to its ride and frequently “bottoms out” on its suspension. It is nothing compared to the cheap and nasty suspension of a British Sprinter diesel unit, which gallops along with an easy, lightweight feel.

Eurostar Calais 1 JPG.jpgA Eurostar slides out of Calais station. Note the articulated bogies beneath the gangways. The centre vehicle is the buffet car with head-height windows.

One feels the e320 should be better, being the latest version of the German Intercity Express Train. Most ICEs are very spacious inside. The ride may of course be partly rail profile. Some years ago Siemens (who built the e320s) entered the UK rail market with an electric train for the London & South Western which believed that a 750v third rail was supplied with 750v and got very puzzled on meeting L&SWR substations (which will supply many voltages and assume trains running in the peaks, busy areas or longer isolated bits don’t expect 750v). The e320 may be similarly ill-equipped for reality of non-German railways.

But being the latest ICE, it has the latest ICE nose – not a very handsome one. Eurostar is has lost its distinctive face. If there’s one thing that feels odder than the Eurostar nose lying gas-axed in a muddy scrapyard, it’s the idea that the distinctive British very-high-speed train could be met somewhere else with someone else’s paint…

ice-hamburg-1-jpg Same design, with minor changes – as an ICE at Cologne.

___…___

Eurostar St Pancras 1 JPG.jpgThe spare – powercar 3999, deployed in place of the set’s unavailable usual powercar. Suggestions appear in odd places that rides can be had behind it wholly unknowing because it takes the identity of the powercar it replaces. On this 2015 evening it was very definitely running as the spare. Its medium-term fate is unclear. In a strange irony, it is probably safe until the final Class 373 works its last.

European Train Punctuality

I have been on holiday again, visiting Corsica.

As a consequence I have been spending a lot of time on European rail services getting there and back. Some punctuality statistics generated in the process are listed below.

As is often requested, punctuality is here listed as “right time means right time”. It is based on my journey (not the train’s, so whether I got to my destination at booked time not whether the train finished its journey when it was supposed to) but is also by individual train leg (so if I did a journey on two trains both of which were 15 minutes late that shows as 30 minutes delay).

Other general explanation:

  • Trains: number of trains used
  • Time spent: time spent on those trains (roughly)
  • Total minutes delay: total number of minutes late that I was deposited at each station where I got off the train (fairly accurately)
  • Minutes per hour: Rough calculation of minutes delay divided by number of hours.
  • Length of hour: Time that trains therefore took on average to cover an hour of timetabled journey.

City Metro trains omitted because they ignore their timetables too much to be assessed.

Britain

  • Trains: 6
  • Time spent: 6 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 7
  • Minutes per hour: 1m 10s
  • Length of hour: 61m

Eurostar

  • Trains: 2
  • Time spent: 5 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 12
  • Minutes per hour: 2m 15s
  • Length of hour: 62m

France (excluding Corsica)

  • Trains: 5
  • Time spent: 9½ hours
  • Total minutes delay: 30
  • Minutes per hour: 3m 10s
  • Length of hour: 63m

Italy

  • Trains: 7
  • Time spent: 10 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 15
  • Minutes per hour: 1m 30s
  • Length of hour: 61½m

Corsica

  • Trains: 17
  • Time spent: 15 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 60
  • Minutes per hour: 4m
  • Length of hour: 64m

France (including Corsica, for interest)

  • Trains: 23
  • Time spent: 24½ hours
  • Total minutes delay: 90
  • Minutes per hour: 3m 40s
  • Length of hour: 63½m

Switzerland

  • Trains: 4
  • Time spent: 4½ hours
  • Total minutes delay: 8
  • Minutes per hour: 1m 45s
  • Length of hour: 61½m

Total

  • Trains: 41
  • Time spent: 50 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 132
  • Minutes per hour: 2m 40s
  • Length of hour: 62½m

Total (excluding Corsica, for interest)

  • Trains: 24
  • Time spent: 35 hours
  • Total minutes delay: 72
  • Minutes per hour: 2m
  • Length of hour: 62m

So Britain is most punctual, followed by Italy, Switzerland, Eurostar and France (with or without Corsica).

It may be worth noting that Britain, France and Italy are good at providing train running information at all stations – both with on-platform screens and also concourse/ on platform full station departure boards. The Swiss are not in the same league; at Bellinzona there was no full station live departure board (just the daily departures sheet and the individual platform screens) while at intermediate stops up the Gotthard Pass there was nothing at all. If a train was late – and as often as not they were – there was no indication as to how long you might be there. Swiss platform screens also, very distractingly and seemingly now uniquely, do not show the full calling pattern but merely selected highlights. As a consequence it’s helpful to know where your train is going and where else it might be stopping. By contrast, Italian full-station departure boards, proudly displayed over booking-office windows, have the full calling pattern scrolling across.

Corsica had no platform indications at all, and passengers were expected to know where to go. This is not entirely unreasonable for a ramshackle narrow-gauge network, but as it is clearly trying not to be ramshackle (and in fact was loading very well with people who probably count as “normal”) some sort of move towards centralised control, effective train running information and late 19th-century single-line working (as opposed to what looked like a combination of a very basic signalling structure plus crossing orders) would not be unreasonable. (At least provide a few Help Points at key stations to indicate how trains were running at the last crossing point.)

help-point-1-jpgA Great Western small station help point. Marvellous invention and a very helpful investment, even at stations with only one platform and no “reporting points” for a few miles.

The French, British and largely Swiss did station announcements in one language; the Italians are bi-lingual Italian and English. The English announcements are a bit odd as the station names have only been recorded in Italian so automated announcements keep dropping from Received Pronunciation English into sharp, tuneful Italian for “Pisa Centrale”.

No connections were missed (one was held for the two-dozen of us making it) and all destinations were reached either about when the railway said it would get me there or (in three cases) without such delay as caused any inconvenience to onward connections. The connection-making was despite me having heavy luggage and not padding journeys, so overall everything went very well and I was impressed.

Voyaging to central Corsica from southern England entirely by rail, except for 8 hours of sea-crossing, very much brings home that the railways are an international network. There is a lot of inter-reliance and a great deal of potential to import delays. On that basis, wanting to allow 62½ minutes for every advertised scheduled hour (which for 50 hours travelling I think starts to become a statistically acceptable figure) is really not that bad. (In practice it does not mean that passengers should tell their friends to meet them 25 minutes after the timetable says they will arrive at the end of a 10-hour journey. It does however mean that making a 5-minute connection into the last train of the night after a 10-hour journey might be considered statistically inadvisable and if it is possible to target the penultimate train instead this will provide a nice little buffer. If of course the only way to make the journey is to do the 5-minute connection and otherwise you’re booking a hotel ten miles from your destination then punt on it. You’ll probably make it most of the time.)

The major delays were:

  • French TGVs delayed in the Avignon area (the one I was on by 15 minutes and the one I connected into at Marseille by the same, presumably due to being a following train);
  • Delays on the single-line sections between Ventimiglia and Genoa (the only Italian train I had running late, and if we went by double-line trains only Italy would have a clean record);
  • Something which knocked back the early morning Ajaccio to Bastia train on Corsica by half an hour;
  • For completeness, four minutes of the seven in the UK were waiting to follow a delayed train off the single line from Kings Lynn.

So across Europe single lines exacerbate delays – breaking news….

St Pancras 4 JPG.jpgEurostar at St Pancras (half-set 373012).

Livorno 1 JPG.jpgPunctual Trenitalia service en route to Roma Termini, seen gliding into Livorno Centrale.

Nice Ville 1 JPG.jpgNice Ville, with a French regional train in residence. Behind is the whacking great concrete flyover of the coast road which sails lightly over rooftops and the east end station throat.

Basel 1 JPG.jpgSwiss regional train at Basel, on a 9-minute turnaround at the end of a roughly 4-hour journey (it had arrived at 11:55; the turnaround included detaching the loco that had brought it in from Luzern and attaching the loco to take it back). As well as Olten, Luzern, Arth-Goldau and Bellinzona it would also call at Schwyz, Brunnen, Flüelen, Erstfeld, Göschenen, Airolo, Faido, Biasca and Cadenazzo. In other countries (excepting the UK, where the full calling pattern would invariably be displayed) the full train number (IR2323) would be shown and provide some reassurance that this is not actually an express omitting the Gottardbahn intermediate calls, but the Swiss screens only show that it’s an interregional. Its inward working had been 10 minutes late at Airolo, but judicious timetable padding had recovered the lot by departure from Luzern.

Venaco 1 JPG.jpgCorsican train at Venaco, an intermediate station high in the central mountains where most trains cross services heading in the opposite direction. The modern trains are sleek things with internal passenger information screens and push-buttons for request stops, which contrasts somewhat with the lack of running information at stations (and, at Venaco, the tasteful abandonment of a handsome goods van by the old goods shed at right). The view from Venaco station is generally quite something, but this was a gloomy morning where the mist was rolling in from the coast. A few minutes later the late-running northbound train growled out of the murk into the nearer platform.

Venaco 2 JPG.jpgAnother Venaco picture to round the post off – an Ajaccio-bound train, with its big picture windows, glides out of the station with some of Corsica’s striking mountains beyond.

 

Recap

Some people may be feeling left behind at UK news lately, so here is a summary.

Thursday 23rd June 2016

  • Referendum is held on membership of European Union. Exit polls suggest a narrow Remain win.

Friday 24th

  • UK wakes up to news that vote went to leave the EU by 17million votes to 15million;
  • Pound collapses;
  • Stock market plunges;
  • Nigel Farage goes on ITV to deny that £350million promised by Leave battlebus for National Health Service will go anywhere near the National Health Service;
  • Other notable Leave campaigners suggest continued single market presence and no cut in immigration;
  • EU top brass ask for things to be tidied quickly;
  • Leading Conservative Party “Leave” campaigners (Boris Johnson, ex Mayor of London, and Michael Gove, Justice Secretary) call on Prime Minister to stay on;
  • David Cameron resigns as Leader of Conservative Party and announces intention to resign as Prime Minister when new leader is elected in October;
  • Cameron kindly leaves triggering departure from the EU to his successor;
  • Boris and Gove hold press conference where they stand around looking like they don’t really know what to do, weren’t expecting the result and have been steamrollered out of existence;
  • Both suggest a period of calm and that there is no need to rush the result they had been anxiously fighting for;
  • Scottish top brass say angry things;
  • Boris is abused for his support for Leave.

Saturday 25th

  • Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, suggests that EU exit talks will be nice and friendly;
  • Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition, denies he is going to quit too as various people blame him for not delivering a Labour block vote for Remain.

Sunday 26th

  • Jeremy Corbyn fires his Shadow Foreign Secretary Hillary Benn;
  • Reports that half Corbyn’s top team will now resign feel overblown;
  • Petition for a second EU referendum set up by a Leave supporter expecting to lose is overladen with support, some of it created by computer programmes written by people who fancied making computers repeatedly sign petitions;
  • England win at rugby against Australia;
  • 12 of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet members quit in protest at his continued leadership, including most of the people who voters might have heard of for moderately good reasons (and the woman who said that Ed Miliband carving his vacuous election pledges in a bit of stone last year didn’t mean he wasn’t going to break them).

Monday 27th

  • Most of the rest of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet quits, leaving some of his mates, an ex-girlfriend, two people who can’t resign but promised to stop attending and a former party leadership contender whose attitudes bear a certain resemblance to a drowned sponge;
  • Angela Eagle, one of those resigning, breaks down in tears on television;
  • Corbyn recruits most of his remaining supporters/ people who would rather not have a Labour leadership contest to his Shadow Cabinet, filling roughly half the vacancies;
  • Names include such widely-known figures as Pat Glass MP;
  • Nick Clegg, once Liberal-Democratic Party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, suggests an early election but is told by David Cameron that someone called Nick Clegg got a law passed about fixed-term Parliaments so he can’t go back to the country;
  • Anti-foreign sentiment in UK post-referendum prompts concern;
  • Corbyn heckled and told he faces a leadership contest at Labour party meeting;
  • He goes to a rally of his supporters afterwards;
  • Tory party reckons it should manage its leadership contest by 2nd September;
  • England knocked out of Euro 2016 football tournament (by… err… Iceland);
  • Panda gives birth to twins in China.

Tuesday 28th

  • Nigel Farage, man who has done very little worth commenting on except complaining about the European Union and getting stuck in M4 traffic jams, accuses European Parliament members of having never had proper jobs;
  • Pound continues to fall;
  • Pat Glass MP decides she can’t face being MP for another term and tells her local party she will stand down at the next election;
  • Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President, observes that people leaving the EU are, for obvious reasons, going to be outside the EU;
  • Corbyn massively loses an unofficial vote of confidence in his leadership by 172 votes to 40;
  • General feeling that nobody else from Corbyn’s cabinet will resign now.

Wednesday 29th

  • Pat Glass MP resigns from Shadow Cabinet;
  • Tory Party launches leadership contest. Anyone can stand if they can get two people to nominate them in 24 hours. Immediate appearance by Stephen Crabbe, Work and Pensions Secretary;
  • Corbyn mocked at Prime Minister’s Questions and told to resign by Cameron;
  • Gibralter begins looking at options for not totally uncoupling from the EU;
  • It is announced that Angela Eagle will spend Thursday challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership.

Thursday 30th

  • Theresa May, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom quietly launch Tory leadership campaigns;
  • Michael Gove announces that despite years of not wanting to be Prime Minister and being totally unsuited to the role he regrettably considers it his duty to stand because Boris is incapable;
  • Boris spends a press conference thought to be intended to launch his leadership bid, sets out his aims for the country and then closes by saying he won’t stand, leaving a distinct impression that he has given up on the premiership and his remaining political ambition is the Chiltern Hundreds;
  • Gove has to spend the first bits of his leadership campaign explaining why he knifed Johnson in several places;
  • The Eagle does not launch.

Friday 1st July

  • Some debate over how to handle EU negotiations;
  • Labour top brass reject calls for their party to back a second referendum or ignore the result of the first if they win any early election;
  • George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, gives up on his delayed budget surplus targets;
  • Wales goes through to the semi-finals of the Euro 2016 football tournament.

Saturday 2nd

  • Shadow Cabinet look at ways to lever Corbyn out;
  • Neil Kinnock tells Corbyn to go;
  • Protest in London against democracy (specifically the referendum result).

Sunday 3rd

  • Andrea Leadsom says we should get on with leaving the EU;
  • Theresa May says there is no rush and people want a good prime minister for PM, not specifically a Brexiteer.

Monday 4th

  • Nigel Farage resigns from UK Independence Party leadership – to jubilation from his Parliamentary party, who had a UKIP MPs meeting on Brexit arrangements and agreed unanimously with himself;
  • Chris Evans resigns from his short-lived job hosting BBC2 show Top Gear – to jubilation from his predecessors, who were out in the sticks somewhere filming their new show for Amazon;
  • Jeremy Corbyn does not resign – to the continued jubilation of his supporters;
  • Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says Theresa May is quite right not to guarantee EU citizen residency rights in UK (useful bargaining chip for British citizen residency rights in the EU and a general sign that the UK is reverting to the good old foreign policy approach that saw it sink the French fleet in 1940).

Tuesday 5th

  • Teachers go on strike;
  • Tory MPs vote on their leadership candidate preferences;
  • Ken Clarke, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, is filmed making caustic remarks about “anyone but Gove” and how Theresa May is a “bloody difficult woman, but then you and I worked for Margaret Thatcher”;
  • His interlocutor Malcolm Rifkind remarks that he and Ken would happily have had that conversation on the record if Sky had asked them to;
  • Liam Fox knocked out of contest;
  • Stephen Crabbe withdraws;
  • Theresa May leads by some margin;
  • Next round on Thursday;
  • Twentieth anniversary of Dolly the Sheep, the first clone of an adult mammal.

Wednesday 6th

  • Chilcot report into Iraq War published. Broadly speaking, Blair got carried away and deluded himself but with no dishonest intent;
  • Tony defends himself;
  • Wales knocked out of Euro 2016 tournament.

Thursday 7th

  • Tony defends himself some more;
  • Questions continue as to how much we want to leave the EU;
  • Tony says world is a better place without Saddam;
  • Gove supporters try to drum up support by suggesting that Andrea Leadsom, who hardly anyone had heard of a month or so previously, is not suitable leadership material;
  • It is generally agreed that Tony Blair is probably not going to prison over Iraq;
  • Ian Hislop spends a Question Time appearance arguing that just because Remain lost the referendum doesn’t mean it should be ignored forever more;
  • Michael Gove, to the surprise of very few people, is knocked out of the Tory leadership contest;
  • Tory party seems to generally incline towards his previous view that he is unsuited to be Prime Minister, and does not want him to put himself out unnecessarily;
  • In the process of leaving he guarantees that the new Prime Minister will be a woman, for only the second time in the exceptionally long history of the Tory Party.

Friday 8th

  • The actor who played Sulu in 1960s Star Trek is upset that Sulu has been outed as gay in the latest film (ironic, as Takei is also gay);
  • Andrea Leadsom gives the Times an interview in which she says she won’t make the leadership contest about how she’s a mother and May isn’t because that would be “horrible” before going on to explain how as a mother she is making an investment in the future for her children.

Saturday 9th

  • Andrea Leadsom sees the morning’s Times and takes issue with the headline saying that she thinks that as a mother she is making an investment in the future for her children;
  • Italian foreign minister suggests UK might not leave the EU;
  • Labour begins looking at nuclear deterrent options for its defence review;
  • Tories announce plan to break up already wrecked Labour Party by having a vote on Trident renewal (which the Tories are largely in favour of, but Labour’s leader isn’t);
  • The Eagle to fly on Monday;
  • Still no candidate for UKIP leadership contest.

Sunday 10th

  • Conservative Party wins general election (foreign news from Australia);
  • Ongoing controversy over whether being a mother is a qualification for the role of Prime Minister, battering Leadsom in the process;
  • John Prescott, once Tony Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister, announces the Iraq War to be illegal (some 13¼ years after he could have stopped it by resigning);
  • Corbyn tries to calm critics by saying he voted to Remain;
  • Chris Evans backs American co-host Matt LeBlanc to anchor next series of Top Gear;
  • Andy Murray wins Wimbledon.

Monday 11th

  • Theresa May goes to Birmingham to make a speech about why she should be Tory leader;
  • Angela Eagle gets all the nation’s political press into a room to announce her Labour leadership bid;
  • This means the Press all discover simultaneously that they want to be over at Andrea Leadsom’s house, where she is coming onto her doorstep to announce the end of her leadership bid;
  • Eagle finishes her speech, turns to questions and finds the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky political editors have all run away;
  • Leadsom says she can’t be leader without more support from the Parliamentary party [and a vastly thicker skin] and wishes May success as sole remaining Tory leadership candidate;
  • May has achieved this mostly by making a joke about Boris buying water cannon and not self-immolating;
  • Southern Railway cancels 341 trains from its timetable so that customers have some idea of what’s not going to run while it finishes managing the Government’s dispute with a trade union;
  • Tory Party backbencher leader Graham Brady, technically the Chair of the 1922 Committee, announces that there need to be some internal discussions as to how to manage a leadership contest with one candidate;
  • Discussions conclude Theresa May is the winner;
  • Labour put out two press releases almost simultaneously, one demanding an immediate General Election and the other announcing a leadership election between two candidates of such polar opposites that they would be unable to agree a manifesto;
  • Cameron comes out of No. 10 Downing Street to announce he will be resigning as Prime Minister after Prime Minister’s Questions on the 13th and expects to be replaced by Theresa May, after which he goes back inside humming the opening chords of “Braid the Raven Hair” from The Mikado.

Tuesday 12th

  • David Cameron hosts his final Cabinet meeting;
  • Angela Eagle’s office is vandalised;
  • Jeremy Corbyn appeals for calm and for him to be on the Labour leadership ballot paper without needing to seek nominations;
  • Neil Kinnock repeats previous observations that when Corbyn’s mate Tony Benn stood against him for the leadership in the 1980s Kinnock had to scuttle round for nominations;
  • Petition on second EU referendum to be debated on 5th September in Parliament;
  • Bernie Sanders backs Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States of America after a contest that began a year or so ago;
  • Jeremy Corbyn is announced to be on the ballot for the Labour leadership without needing nominations.

Wednesday 13th

  • Sun headline is about the BBC “faking” a “live” TV programme about trains by featuring a bit of film submitted by a viewer that was taking in February, thereby getting a picture of a Class 66 on the front of a national paper;
  • The Japanese Emperor announces he intends to abdicate;
  • The Prime Minister David Cameron lays into Labour for not being able to decide the rules of their leadership contest in the time it’s taken the Tories to have a leadership contest, praises Theresa May, claims he doesn’t hate the Downing Street cat, makes a speech thanking everyone in front of TV cameras, aides, his children and SamCam, goes to Buckingham Palace and quits;
  • Theresa May goes to Buckingham Palace and accepts an invitation to form a Government;
  • The Prime Minister Theresa May makes shorter speech than Cameron’s outside No.10 which doesn’t so much park tanks on Labour’s lawn as blow up their house, ransack the garden and build a new garden wall that confines the Opposition to the compost heap;
  • Speech is noted as being rather like the one Ed Miliband would probably have made if he won last year’s election;
  • Labour is too busy discussing if Pontypridd MP Owen Smith should be on the leadership election ballot paper to notice;
  • The Mays refuse demands from the Press to kiss on live international television;
  • George Osborne is encouraged to resign before he can outstay his welcome;
  • New Government appointed with Philip Hammond as Chancellor (he was Osborne’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury until May 2010, when David Lawes got the full job and Hammond was banished to Transport), Boris as Foreign Secretary (he could have been Prime Minister in three years’ time if he’d backed Remain), Amber Rudd as Home Secretary and David Davis (not the MP for Monmouth) as Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union.

Note for Posterity

The above all actually happened and occurred in the timeframe specified.

Remaining points

One question remains. David Cameron had a house of his own in London which was tenanted. The tenants have apparently been given notice.

We have not heard enough about these tenants.

Did they know who their landlord was? If they did, they have presumably been packing since Friday 24th.

If not, one can picture them cheering his resignation when the phone rings.

“Sorry,” says the estate agent, “I’m afraid you’ve been given notice. Landlord needs his house back.”

“Why?!”

“He’s got to leave his place in a hurry after he quit his job.”

“What job was that?”

“Prime Minister.”

 

And finally…

Here is a mid-winter picture of a bridge in Maidenhead, our new Prime Minister’s constituency:Maidenhead Bridge 1 JPG.jpg

Maidenhead is one of the richest constituencies in the country. Jerome described the town as “too snobby to be pleasant” but added that the stretch of the Thames up to Cookham is “unbroken loveliness … perhaps, the sweetest stretch of all the river”.Thames near Maidenhead 1 JPG.jpg

Of course our previous Prime Minister was based in Witney, incorporating Charlbury and Hanborough, on the North-western side of Oxford.Combe 2 JPG.jpg

That’s what my heart tells me to say…

Returning perhaps too rapidly from Kyleakin to Westminster, let us pause on the Tory leadership contest. While reading this Guardian article, here is some light background music…

Completely unconnected of course. The connected piece of music is this:

I would say something specific about party leaderships, but it would be obsolete before I finished it so it hardly seems worth bothering.

(With due credit to Messrs Gilbert & Sullivan.)