Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Call This A Cycle Lane?

Some white lines and a bicycle symbol (offset to the left) painted on Portland Road. Amongst many cars.

Bikesy has been at it again.  Not painting back in the wonderful and tragically removed Old Shoreham Road cycle lanes this time. The bits in the single motoring lane parts that is, that should f*cking well still be there no matter what your opinion. No, this time they have ventured to the more refined vistas of Portland Road, so cultured is it that über-cool Bess Atwell even mentioned it in a pop number (Co-op). Sadly, this road has become infamous of late due to being somewhat sub-optimal for pedestrians and cyclists. The 35 side roads are probably mostly to blame (yes, I have counted them), although motor vehicle parking (both legal and illegal) and rather a lot of speeding motorists doesn’t help.  Pesky residents on bikes keep getting knocked over (tsk tsk, they should get more hi-viz).  The situation got so bad that for a while it had not one, but two petitions begging councillors to take action.  However, the folk who council (is that a thing) around these parts aren’t too bothered to go out of their way for residents who cycle, or anyone wheeling really; like children on scooters, disabled folk on mobility vehicles, you name it, they won’t touch it with a 12-foot barge pole (metric barge poles are available). No, they are far too busy bending over backwards for the much-beleaguered motorist.  Indeed, so unenamoured of the non-fossil-fuel-powered types are they that when a local school asked for action on road pollution, rather than taking steps to slow or remove traffic from the vicinity, they did absolutely squat-a-rooney.  Or perhaps even less than that.  In the end it was left to the parents at the school to, wait for it, crowdfund a hedge to at least try and mitigate things a bit.  Your blogger was moved to email our MP, a certain Peter Kyle, to express my outrage but an assistant replied to tell me: it was a crying shame, but he’d not be doing anything either. Plus ça change Rodney?

Well now ignoring the stunting of kid’s lungs is one thing, but facing the brace of petitions to do something, nay any-damn-thing about road safety, the councillors in question finally realised that perhaps [the votes of] locals mattered more than people driving through.  At least, that’s my best guess.  So, it was deemed that action would be taken!  However, rather than one of those cheeky proven solutions, like, oh I don’t know, off the top of my head… protected cycle lanes, they went for something a little more outré.  No, in a gushing fit of, “we know how to bring both sides together” in a one-horse race, they came up with a plan that was somewhat more subtle. The, let’s kindly call it, compromise plan, involved planting some trees, putting in a few Sheffield stands and narrowing four or so of the many (35 exactly FFS!) side roads to slow ingress and egress of the almighty driving community.  This last bit was, at least, a good idea, if a little short of the gold standard.  Still all this favoured the horticulturalist (mildly), pedestrian (a little) and the stationary cyclist without a shed (a smidge) but not much for yer actual moving bicyclists.  Something else was required, so what they came up with was a series of white painted lines (to mark where the doors of cars might open by the acres of car storage) and a few bicycle stencils IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD.  Well, I say in the middle, but I actually mean, offset to the left (like the steering wheel of a K-reg Vauxhall Calibra, trust me on that one).  Sort of saying, why not ride here oh bewheeled denizens of Hove?  Well, sure I can, but that’s not really going to protect me from anything very much is it?  Said cycling “measures” didn’t even run the whole length of Portland Road as they rather petered out in the vicinity of the deadliest junction of all – Olive Road (the only place to cross the railway in the whole length of Portland Road, look it up) and neighbouring trading estate. I was rather nonplussed by this solution I have to say.  And it seemed that Bikesy, or another guerrilla artist, god knows Hove has enough of them, agreed with me, as word got round (well I saw on Twitter) that someone has cunningly added some graffiti to the paintwork.  

It took me a couple of goes, but I eventually located the artwork.  Painted by the bicycle symbols in the road, heading west, were the words: Call. This. A. Then they cunningly used the representation of the bicycle as a cipher for, well, a bicycle. Lane.  Call this a cycle lane?  Well, no, I don’t think I can call it that.  I call it some white paint applied in a fairly arbitrary fashion.  It won’t slow the motor traffic nor will it remove it. No, as always with advisory painted stuff, rather than sorting the issue once and for all, it’s mostly just bemused people, cyclists and motorists alike. And to think we paid for this nonsense. I suspect it will have the opposite effect of what was intended.  Which is to say that locals who cycle won’t be voting for the councillors who approved this crap.  If you want to protect cyclists build a damn (protected) cycle lane, stop illegal and dangerous parking, close the rat runs, put in a 20mph speed limit and then enforce the hell out of it.  If you want to protect kid’s lungs from pollution then remove parking near schools, close roads at school times and enforce anti-idling laws. I mean shrubbery is nice and all, but it’s not going to save anyone’s life.

Anyway, I made a TikTok about it like the cool kids and put it on Twitter, you can watch it here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

In the Car Club

Astra SRi Estate with logo of Enterprise Car Club parked on a suburban road.The final straw was probably when it grew mould.  On the inside.  It was time to get rid of my car again.  

I’d actually had a quite longish period of no car ownership back from about 2003ish until about 2010, relying on a partner’s car or my dad’s when I really needed one.  But in 2009 I was back in a rock band again and it’s hard to cart amps and drums and so on without a car, so I had to re-enter the motoring world.  Not having a lot of spare cash, I plumped for a slightly knackered Skoda Octavia 2.0TDI that at least had pretty decent space and mpg.  This car, whilst perfectly adequate, turned out to have a battery drain issue that meant it often wouldn’t start if left for a day or two.  A temporary solution of disconnecting the battery every night wasn’t going to cut it forever, so I flogged it to some Romanians for £400 and raided my savings to get something better.  

I have to admit wasn’t particularly enjoying the experience of being a car owner at this point, so I thought I should at least try and get a car that I’d enjoy driving.  One of the few cars that had fulfilled this criteria from my company hire car days was a BMW 316i, the old boxy ones, E or F reg if I remember correctly.  We weren’t actually allowed to get them as hire cars, but a friend of mine (Arif) had stumbled on a loophole.  When the cars we were allowed to get (Vauxhall Cavalier type bland nonsense) were unavailable, the hire company would upgrade us.  So my friend had ended up with a BMW this way one time.  When he phoned up to book the next one the agent asked him “What did you have last time?” and innocently he said it was the Beemer and that’s what he got again.  So began a rather fun time when I got to drive a couple of the aforementioned BMW 316s, a Golf GTI and an Escort XR3i.  The BMW wasn’t even a “sports” model, but it was, by far the nicest of the lot.  In my opinion car design pretty much peaked in this period (late 90s I guess) nothing has ever come close for me since.  I actually ended up owning a Ford Escort 1.6GL, an utterly lethal tin can of a car, capable of 0-60 in less than 10 seconds.  This was followed by a Vauxhall Calibra 2.0i 8v in pearlescent paint, that I stuck 5-point alloys on, a car I drove at over 120mph on my first test drive!  My final car in this period of ownership was actually another BMW – this time an ex-company car 316i Compact.  A solid car, but nothing to write home about.  No, it was always the memory of that first 316i that kept coming back.  At the time what I would have really liked was an M3, but that was always beyond my means.  So when I found a listing for a BMW 320i M-Sport Touring (estate to you and me) it ticked enough boxes, so I went for it.

The car itself was an 06 plate and, whilst it went round corners in a pleasing way, it had a habit of letting me down.  I went through a top hose, a valvetronic unit and a host of other bits and bobs.  The earlier cars I’d had were all, pretty much, self-maintainable.  The Escort had had the lot. With the help of my friend Mark, I’d changed the front brake disks and pads, spark plugs, starter motor and alternator. We’d put in a new set of Blaupunkt speakers, a couple of pull-out radios (they were easy to nick, just smash the rear quarter light and let yourself in) and a couple of aerials (the auto extending ones tended to snap if you leant on them, the final one was a woven steel example).  In my first car, a Ford Fiesta L (950cc engine) I’d even made a head gasket out of a cereal packet, with my dad’s help.  But these later models were harder, and more expensive, to look after.  Luckily, I had a BMW garage - with a spares department - nearby when we moved to Hove, and eBay was now a thing, so I did what I could, but still it ate money.  Then COVID struck and the thing ended up parked on the drive for months on end.  The battery went flat, but that was no biggie as I had a booster battery and smart-charger from my Skoda days. It also developed an issue where it wouldn’t open on the button in the key, so you had to use the real key and set the alarm off every time you opened it. This was starting to get annoying.  But when it grew mould on the inside (I guess it had developed condensation when the sun was on it, that then led to the right conditions for mould to grow) I knew it’s number was up, that was also when I thought it was time to look again at whether I actually needed a car at all, our band days having come to an end with the advent of our family.

In many ways I was already living the car-free life.  I’d started cycling before lockdown and had finally treated myself to a decent urban bike – a Raleigh Pioneer.  All my shopping was done on foot, trips out were by train and bus and we only really used the car for visiting family, trips to National Trust type things and holidays to the west country.  Would it make sense to ditch the car and go down the club car route?

I have to admit I was nervous to do it.  There was an Enterprise Car Club car two streets away, so it wouldn’t be much effort to get it. There was only one way to figure this out – set up a spreadsheet. Part of the process was understanding how much my (by now running pretty well) Beemer was worth.  I logged on to one of those websites that promises to buy any car and got a value of about a grand (it had been 6k when I bought it) which was probably pretty fair.  Somewhat suspiciously the very next day a guy knocked on my door asking if I was thinking of selling my car.  Well since I was, we came to an agreement and my car was gone later that day for a tenth of what I paid for it in cash. 

The spreadsheet was somewhat inconclusive, so I’d first tried the local car hire company.  The car we ended up with was a dented, low spec, tin can which didn’t really inspire confidence.  So that was out.  I consulted the spreadsheet again, this time realising that, although I had good figures from the cost of owning, servicing and maintaining my previous car, I’d forgotten to factor in the price of petrol.  This is included in the hire cost of a Car Club vehicle (there is a card in the glove box for you to use) and now the numbers looked pretty good.  

So, I took the plunge and joined the locally available Car Club (Enterprise) – that was 10 months ago.  In that time we’ve had a good experience.  We’ve mostly used Astra SRi Estates.  Modern cars that we, possibly, could just afford, but we’d have all the expense of looking after them.  There are also smaller hybrids, people carriers and even vans that I can borrow by the hour or day in walking or cycling distance of the house.  We’ve not yet done a holiday with one, but we’ve done all the other journeys that we’d make in a year and they’ve all been low hassle.  There were some teething troubles – getting my head around the process, understanding how to operate and start some of the cars and, worst one of the lot, people parking in the designated car club parking space (please don’t do this, a) you’ll get a ticket, b) you are literally blocking a space used by dozens of local people, do you really want a bunch of extra cars parking in your road?!).  But I’m there now.  I actually quite look forward to taking one of the cars, they are usually clean, always well maintained, and the feeling when you park it up (and take pictures all around to prove you didn’t damage it) and IT’S NO LONGER YOUR PROBLEM is just the best.

I’ve yet to crunch the numbers properly, as I’m not yet at a year of membership, but to make sure I had accurate figures to work with I calculated my annual cost of petrol in my old car.  This turned out to be more than I think the total cost of my hires this year will be!  So I’m looking at a saving of about £2,000 this year!  Quite remarkable.  With the cost of petrol rising, I knew it was probably time to move on a car which could only do about 36mpg max (I really didn’t want a worthless stranded asset), but I hadn’t expected the savings to be this big.  I can afford to take the car for a full week’s holiday (when I’ll rarely use it) and still be saving money.  Although, one of the huge benefits is that I’d can get a quote for doing this and compare it to all the public transport alternatives.  The real cost of our travel is now comparable like-for-like, we have no embedded costs (as those who lease a car do) we can judge each individual trip on its merits, and pick the cheapest (and best) option for us. 

This method of shared ownership really is the present and the future.  I doubt we’ll look back, although now we have two kids we’ll have to see. Fortunately, our eldest prefers the train, bus and being on the back of my bike, way ahead of being strapped into a car.  So we’ll see.  One other unforeseen bonus is that we can now rent out our drive (we make about £80 - £90 a year so far).  With a CPZ likely to be introduce in our area soon, this should prove increasingly lucrative.

I’ll post again when I have the full year’s figures.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about any of this, please do ask.  The future is a world with much lower private car ownership.  For me it’s the dream, for everyone else it will mean quieter streets with fewer cars on them.  Win, win surely.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Big War Movie Themes - 4) Battle of Britain (1969)

Theme tune: Battle of Britain Theme by Ron Goodwin a wonderful soaring number (as you'd expect) however the scoring of the film was not without controversy.

Year: 1969

Director: Guy Hamilton

Length: 2h13m

Format: DVD bought off eBay for £1.71 without a case

Synopsis: Well it's the Battle of Britain isn't it.  So basically plucky Brits (erm with the help of Australian, West Indian, Belgium, Canadian, Czech, French, Irish, New Zealand, Rhodesian, Polish, South African, US and other commonwealth pilots, amongst others.  To be fair the film makes a big point of listing all the non-Brit pilots at the end of the film, which is a poignant moment) take on the Germans and (SPOILER ALERT) just about manage to cling on, thus avoiding the invasion of the British mainland in 1940  The film focusses on the people but also gives very strong cameos to the equipment (Hurricanes, Spitfires and radar).

For more go here

Historical Accuracy: Well as far as the accuracy of the planes, dogfights etc not bad at all, as you'd expect.  Much effort was made to locate period compatible fighters and bombers and the aerial photography is simply stunning.  The city bombing sequences are less realistic, but presumably a lot more difficult in 1969.  Notable accuracies are the French speaking French and the long waits, with mounting tension, between sorties.  The film used a mixture of real pilots, established and up and coming actors (witness a very young Ian McShane who still manages to look older than anyone else) which seems to work pretty well if it's a little wooden at time.  The panic of trying to get planes airborne as bombs are literally falling in the background is palpable and done well.  They didn't flinch from showing the dead and the effect of this on others either.

The treatment of women is mixed.  They are shown doing incredibly important jobs, but somehow also managed to throw in a few cliches and a scene of Susannah York in her stockings.

Is it a good film?: Flippin' heck it certainly is.  The flying scenes get a bit repetitive after a while to the modern eye, but that was the nature of it and can't really be criticised.   The aerial photography combined with the mundanity of ground life and the permanent scarring of those that managed to survive being shot or bombed gives it a good balance.  Perhaps compared with the modern benchmark of Saving Private Ryan et al, we are spared the very worst of what war is like, but nonetheless I think they did an amazing job at the time.  Okay it's also a propaganda piece, but considering that the Vietnam war was in full flight at the time it doesn't shy away from the war is hell theme.  The final flight of the "few" to stirring music is the complete antithesis of the music over black screen of Lawrence of Arabia, but it sends shivers down the spine nonetheless.  Of all the films I've watched in this series so far, this is the one that I would happily put on again now.

Overall: 8/10

Up next: THE LONGEST DAY (1962)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Big War Movie Themes - 3) The Guns Of Navarone (1961)

Theme tune: The Guns Of Navarone by Dimitri Tiomkin. Also features a number of traditional Greek tunes arranged my Tiomkin.

Year: 1961

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Length: 2h30m

Format: DVD bought off eBay for £2.20

Synopsis: In order to allow the evacuation of 2000 allied troops a mis-matched group of commandos (played by Gregory Peck, Anthonys Quinn & Quayle and David Niven amongst others) are sent to destroy a pair of German super guns on a (fictional) Greek Island.  It's based on the book of the same name by Alistair MacLean (1957).

For more go here

Historical Accuracy: Well it's a fictional story, so in a way this is not that important. However, since it's set in the 2nd World War some degree of accuracy is required.  Although they get most of the weapons right (a relief for me) they had a complete fail with the tanks and trucks (one of which is clearly marked "Dodge").  Also, a modern film would consult real soldiers for key scenes and there's none of that going on here, with artillery and tanks simply lined up along the coast at one point supposed waiting for an invasion.  Completely unforgivable, for me, is the scene when a soldier is using a metal detector to look for explosives, swinging it over metal rails without a beep!

Anthony Quinn pops up again playing another swarthy foreigner, although I note this film preceded Lawrence so perhaps this is what got him that role.  Actually it's interesting watching the films in this order that certain actors pop up more than once (Alec Guinness in Kwai and Lawrence, Anthonys Quinn & Quayle (playing another english officer, so again perhaps it swung him a role in Lawrence) in Lawrence and Navarone).  The languages spoken are all authentic though, with no subtitles, which works well for me. - 6/10

Is it a good film?: It's a pretty good watch, but it perhaps lacks the true "epic blockbuster" feel of Kwai or Lawrence.  It feels more like a solid 60s adventure picture, but perhaps that's fine.  It starts with quite a jarring sequence of real newsreel footage and a voiceover, which is very much not something you'd see in a true classic.  Some say it's the best of the Alistair MacLean adaptions, but I'll reserve judgement until I've watched Where Eagles Dare again.

The action sequences are key to this kind of film and they are a mixed bag.  The scenes in the boat are pretty good (and interestingly played out with just sound FX - no music, which is something modern films could learn from), but the final battle scenes are a bit TV movie compared with the current hyper-realism.  They just about get away with it, and for the 60s it was probably state-of-the-art.  Nice to see the women in the film portrayed in fighting roles and also being more flawed than is usually allowed.

PS The Extras on the DVD made for interesting watching, partly as it made it clear the actors chose the director, not other way around, and also for the way the whole island of Crete turned out to watch the filming.

Overall: 6/10

Up next: BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969)

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Very Best Of The Light Programme

The Albion Radiophonic Corporation is, reasonably, proud to present the Best of The Light Programme 1898. When we say "Best of" we mean "most tolerated" and by "most tolerated" we mean "received the least complaints".   If you've not listened yet to any episodes of the ARC Light Programme then this is a great place to start, or at the very least it's "a" place to start.  You could, naturally enough, start with the first episode and work your way up, but hey, we're not ones for expecting anyone to act in a conventional way.  Heaven forbid.

Now this particular compilation from the first season contains a letter from Mrs. Twomble, folk songs collated by Dame Dilemna-Spaniels, Lady Boudicca & Lord Hercules of Cheam doing something or other and Mayor Flange of Treacle Dripping.  Quite how we managed to attract such and eclectic bunch of contributors is anyone's guess. 

All the music has been specially composed by Charlotte Savigar and the New Albion Synthetic Orchestra.  Apparently the style is what one might refer to as "steampunk" whatever that is.

To contact the team who put the show together send a SAE to

Otherwise click here for The Very Best Of Tales Of New Albion

Big War Movie Themes - 2) Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

Theme tune: Theme from Lawrence of Arabia by Maurice Jarre (who also wrote the score for Dr. Zhivago) - the soundtrack won an Oscar.  One of the most interesting features of the film is that there are no images over the opening music of both halves of the film, just a black screen for 5 minutes.  This must have been particularly evocative in the movie theatre.

Year: 1962

Director: David Lean

Length: 3h38m

Format: DVD bought off eBay for 99p

Synopsis: An Englishman with vivid blue eyes  (Peter O'Toole) goes out into the desert more or less against his will and ends up leading the Arab revolt against the Turks (and others).

For more go here

Historical Accuracy: It's a bit of a mixed bag, the first half being more accurate, it seems, than the second.  Various scenes and characters have been conflated, and some of it was just made up.  Overall the Arabs don't seem to come out of it too well.  It also gives the impression that TE Lawrence led the Arab Revolt practically singlehanded, but this was not the case.  The overwhelming impression is that the Bedouin tribes made up the bulk of his army, but in fact it was regular soldier.  Again it's about a 5/10.

Is it a good film?: Well yes certainly it is, especially the first half where the desert is the real star (I'd be surprised if it wasn't a big influence on Star Wars) although it must have been hell to film there.  Quite how they got the camels to do all the things they did, is a feat in itself.  Again they shoe-horned in various americans to ensure it got good coverage in the States, and surely they could have found someone more suitable than Alec Guinness to play Prince Faisal?  Despite all the noted actors, it's actually Omar Sharif who steals pretty much every scene, and as an Egyptian is the most authentic character of the lot.  The only women in the film are dead ones.  It definitely loses it's way in the second half (there is a proper interval, thank goodness) with some bizarre homoerotic / messianic type scenes when Lawrence is captured by the Turks.  It's not a very strong ending to an epic film in my opinion.

Overall: 6.5/10

Up next: THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Tales Of New Albion - 2nd Edition

Many moons ago I woke up with a fully formed Steampunk story in my head.  It seemed a good idea to write it down and after my good friend Ben Henderson booked me to read it out at one of his Convivial events I did so.  Well one thing led to another and before I knew it I'd finished a collection of 10 Steampunk short stories and published my first book on Amazon.  This featured artwork by Frog Morris which was splendid, but in other ways it wasn't quite right.  For a start there were no page numbers, no index and no foreword.  Also, there was more than the odd typo that really needed correcting.  Well due to another of my Tales Of New Albion side-projects I re-read all 10 stories for my podcast, which helped me correct most of the problems.  I also was greatly assisted by John "Jags" Smith who also read through the entire manuscript and added comments.

So the stories were there now, but I still wanted more.  I got Frog to tweak his artwork and create a new chapter divider.  I also got the aforementioned Ben Henderson to submit a brand spanking new foreword.  I even managed to figure out how to create page numbers!

And so the 2nd Edition of Tales Of New Albion came into being and you can be a proud owner at any point.  Just follow this link and order your copy now.

Or see you at the Red Cape Publishing Book Fayre (8th June - Brighton Unitarian Church) where you can inspect the product closely and get your copy signed.  Oh and did I mention there is an album of original music by Charlotte Savigar also available?  Well it is.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Big War Movie Themes - 1) The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

Theme tune: Colonel Bogey (K.J. Alford) and the River Kwai March (Arnold) - the former was a marching tune known to soldiers in WWII.  It is particularly haunting when first heard as the POWs march proudly into the Japanese camp.

Year: 1957

Director: David Lean

Length: 2h35m

Format: DVD bought off eBay for £1

Synopsis: A group of WWII prisoners of war are forced to built a railway bridge over the River Kwai by the Japanese.  The Colonel in charge of the british prisoners (Alec Guiness) stubbornly refuses to allow officers to work alongside the enlisted men when demanded to by Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa).  When the bridge falls behind schedule he takes it on as a matter of pride to build the bridge properly.  In the end a commando raid destroys the bridge and at that point the colonel questions what he's done.

Read more here

Historical Accuracy: Probably about a 5 out of 10, from what I've read about it.  My own personal bugbear was that all the Japanese were armed with allied weapons.  Despite the treatment of the prisoners being very bad, it seems that is was short of what really happened.  One good thing is that the Japanese all speak Japanese and are not subtitled.  In terms of it's representation of WWII I would say that the first third is the best (where the prisoners are at the camp and the battle of wills between the two colonels takes place) and it gets weaker after that.  The weird section where the two colonels leave the bridge without any other soldiers and attempt to prevent the bridge being blown up is odd to say the least, however it does work within the scope of the plot and the two people driven by principle into acts that are not what we would consider to be right. 

The representation of women in the film leaves a lot to be desired, but I think it does come across that they were equally brave and served at great cost to themselves during the war.

Is it a good film?: Yes it is.  It was a very entertaining watch and despite bogging down in the middle third (where a shoehorned american character (William Holden) tries to get out of being part of the commando raid) it rolls along pretty well.  I certainly enjoyed watching it and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good film. 

Overall: 7/10

Up next: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)