Wednesday, 22 February 2017

London Underground: Service As Usual

I switched on the BBC news this morning in the somewhat vain hope that there might be something of substance, rather than the endless 'heartwarming' pieces about children's charities and dogs surviving diabetes, but alas, it was service as usual.

It is service as usual on London's public transport as well, apparently.

Of the 14 lines (underground and overground) that make up the central system, no less than 4 go from 'severe delays', through 'partially suspended' to 'totally suspended'. 

This is totally normal, and it is totally unacceptable. The London Underground is one of the most expensive metro systems in the world, literally millions of people depend on it every day, and it doesn't work.

I understand that it is very old, some of the tunnels date from the reign of Queen Victoria (the Metropolitan line first opened in 1863), and they require a great deal of attention. But that is not the real problem, is it?

The real problem is privatisation, or rather, the legacy of a failed privatisation that should never have happened in the first place.

This left much of the infrastructure in a dire state, due to the inevitable under investment by the carpetbaggers  who moved in to slash costs, and to strip out all the profit they could, paying themselves and their shareholders mega-bucks, before going bankrupt and leaving the taxpayer to clear up the mess.

Also high on my own private hit list is the RMT, the trades union that many transport workers belong to. It is their decision to hold yet another 24 hour strike that has led to today's misery. Former RMT leader, the late Bob Crow, famously had a bust of Lenin on his desk; so you get the picture as to their position.

The fact that most lines are working today confirms the fact that the unions are losing their grip - in the 1970s it would have been "one out, all out", and the brothers would all retire to the pub to spend their strike pay and to prepare for the arrival of the worker's paradise.

My own experience is that the system becomes even worse with every tranche of staff cuts. Ticket offices are largely closed now, so forget about asking travel directions there, and if the ticket machines are out of order, you ain't going nowhere, mate.

Of course, if you have an Oyster card you can always top it up with cash at a newsagent or a corner shop. Mr Patel will respond to any gap in the market almost instantly - guess why Asian small businesses are so successful!

But the big disgrace is the lack of staff manning exit barriers. After the horrific 1987 fire at King's Cross, in which 31 people died and more than 100 were injured, it was revealed that when the fire took hold passengers were unable to escape through the barriers to safety quickly enough, meaning that many were blocked in with the flames and the smoke.

As a result it was made a legal requirement that all exit barriers should be manned at all times so they could all be opened immediately in the event of an emergency.

That requirement seems to have been quietly forgotten, and in the event of such a catastrophe occurring again in the future, the guy who would have opened the gates to let everybody out will at home filling in job applications.

The current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who I have a lot of time for, clearly understands the plight of travelling Londoners, and has moved to cap fares.

The problem with the underground, however, is that fixing it will require many years, decades even. Governments think in terms of electoral cycles, and so the foremost question in their minds is always "can we fix this before the next general election, and buy votes with the glory?" So its unlikely to be fixed any time soon, if at all.

My prediction is that it will be allowed to rumble on as it is until every penny of revenue has been milked out of it, then we will start to see some of the older lines being closed and abandoned.

(Caution: Video, whilst hilarious and a very accurate depiction of the commuter's life, does contain language that some may find highly offensive)

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Little Corner Of Hertfordshire...

 I occasionally find myself in Hertford, a lovely little town in east Hertfordshire.

Taking a different route into the town centre yesterday I came across this little gem. It is the Church of the Immaculate Conception & St Joseph, in St John's Street. It is built on the site of Hertford Benedictine Priory, which itself dated from 1087, and which was destroyed by King Henry VIII in 1539.

With its cloister and garden, complete with fountain, it is absolutely beautiful - an oasis of peace and tranquility.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Louis Hayes - Jazz Legend

'Tis true that there are some jazz musicians that simply get better with each passing year, and so it is with Louis Hayes.

I won't re-publish his biography here, suffice to say that Louis has drummed alongside some of the greatest names in the genre, Oscar Peterson to name just one.

Louis is just some weeks short of his 80th birthday, and so he is on tour to mark that fact.

 And such a tour it is.

Playing some of the great European cities, he rocked up, with his band, in what can only be described as an insignificant  Belgian village, and I wondered why the Hell he was there. I wondered why until he started to play.

Belgians love jazz, and Louis was welcomed in such a way that I realised why he was there. He was playing to the people who love his music, regardless of where they are. There was no pretension here, this was a jazz legend playing to, and for, the people who matter to him. His fans.

I have witnessed some great performances over the years, but this was special. I rather suspect that when I enter into my mid 60s I might be attending Louis' 90th birthday celebrations. I look forward to it, it will be great!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Feb 3rd: The Day The Music Died

On this day in 1959, Buddy Holly, J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson, and 17 year old Richie Valens died, along with pilot Roger Peterson when their Beechcraft Bonanza came down in bad weather conditions on farmland near to Clear Lake, Iowa.

This was the tour Holly did not want to take part in - it meant leaving his pregnant wife, Maria Elena - at home in their newly acquired New York apartment. But having trouble being paid by his manipulative manager, Norman Petty, he had little choice. He needed the money.

The rest is history.

Given the astonishing amount of music he left behind him, and the influence he had over musicians from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to Eric Clapton and Don McLean, it is difficult to believe that he was just 22 years old when he died.

In the late 1970s a 'definitive' album set of what was supposedly every recording appeared to a great

However, even now, some 40 years later, obscure recordings on reel-to-reel still occasionally appear.

Some are mere curiosities, others are real gems that give us a great insight of how he played with every song until he got it exactly right. Some, which never saw the light of day for decades, have assumed great popularity among aficionados, such as myself, in their own right,

I'm particularly fond of this, which was recorded in his home in January 1959, just days before he died.

The great appeal for me personally is that this is unadulterated Buddy. Many of his most famous records were actually released after his death, and the aforementioned Norman Petty took the liberty of adding vocal backing tracks that were totally out of place.

His music is still played widely on the radio, and is constantly being reissued. Although overshadowed by Elvis Presley as a stage performer, his contribution to Rock n Roll was much greater.