Friday, November 30, 2007

Drilling for Gas!

We hit a major snag during the installation of our new gas hob - the gas supply pipe in place has too small a diameter so we have had to design an alternative route to the one under the floor. This entailed drilling through 700mm of solid rock wall with a one inch diameter bit. It took us several hours, an exhausting experience. But the final push through the plaster into the kitchen was one of those experiences that you don't forget!

No photograph, but. . . .

Today we saw a large brown raptor perched on an electricity pylon in the field opposite. Later it flew into our front yard carrying a dead wood pigeon, almost its own weight, and perched on the fence. I rushed to get the camera and telephoto lens but was too late. The bird(s) had flown.


I recently discovered this video player and delivery system, basically because of the promotional video for Raising Sand:

I'm impressed.

Brummie of the Year 2007 Update

The month is nearly over so the voting stops at midnight on December 1st - that's at the end of the day, I believe, not the beginning. Pete is lagging behind by not much so a few last votes might just pull him ahead and into the lead. If you haven't voted already (thank you if you have!) here is the link.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The New Firms?

Now that Alex McLeish has been installed as Birmingham City's new manager, the accolades are coming in from all directions. Even across town at Villa Park where Martin O'Neill is looking forward to re-establishing the rivalry he and Alex McLeish had in Glasgow when they managed "Old Firms" Celtic and Rangers respectively. Already O'Neill is getting results at Villa Park with the team putting together 4 wins in a row and climbing to sixth in the Premiership. Could this be the beginning of an emergence of Birmingham as a major football force in the world?

I sure hope so!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Welcome, Alex McLeish

It looks as though BCFC has a new manager lined up. Alex McLeish has resigned as manager of Scotland to take up the position vacated by Mr. Potatohead, Steve Bruce. Great news for all bluenoses!

With no-one rushing to fill the England manager's position, now Scotland has some soul searching to do. It seems that clubs do come before country these days.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Are you Sven-Goran Eriksson?

I've been asked that a few times, the most recent while walking into a Birmingham hotel on a Sunday evening after Manchester City had played Aston Villa. Eriksson is now Manchester City's manager but before that he managed the (hapless) England soccer team.

Yes, there is a resemblance, particularly as we have similar hair lines and both tend to look over the top of our reading glasses. But there it ends. He's a millionaire, I'm not, as I pointed out to a Scotsman at Luanda airport a few years ago who also thought I might be the England manager. But the Scot reconsidered after a moment and said "But why would you be here?" Good point.

I'm just delighted that I don't look anything like Steve McClaren!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

England 2 - Croatia 3

So, we tried out the new TV tonight. For the first time in a long time we could identify the players on screen! For the last time in a long time it won't matter. England is eliminated from Euro 2008. It would be real easy to point the finger. Biggest problem for me is that Steve (Mr. Umbrella) McClaren, the England manager, will be out of a job and Birmingham City might just hire him! A sad evening indeed. Overpaid, oversexed and overwrought. Who? The England team.

DVD Region 0

This neat gizmo is all you need to render a region coded DVD player capable of playing DVDs with any region code. It is difficult to find good quality DVD players that have been "chipped" to be Multi-Region, so you have to take a large dose of courage and use one of these devices to change the region code setting. The instructions are clear but do advise that "you must follow the instructions 100%" and you only have one chance.

Well, it worked! Now we have one machine that will play our two sets of DVDs, one from our days of living in the US, one from our days of living in Europe. Hooray!

So, Burning Wood Chips is OK

This just in.  A wood chip burning power plant in Wales is given the go ahead.  The proponents make an interesting claim about the environmental friendliness of this scheme.  To quote:  . . . the use of wood chip as a fuel for electricity was recognised as being carbon-free. . . the carbon dioxide released was equal to that absorbed during the growth of the tree. . .

This is truly planet shattering news.  We no longer need to worry about burning any form of carbon-rich fuel as the planet is, after all, a closed system!  Phew, what a relief.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In Defense of the Plastic Bag

Now that even the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern ireland has spoken about abandoning the use of plastic bags, I feel someone on this blighted orb needs to defend the damned things!

Alexander Parkes

Plastic is one of the great inventions of the modern era. Early versions of plastic were formulated in the 1860s but it wasn't until the chemists really got to grips with the various fractions of crude oil that the industry took off. Most plastic is, I believe, derived from Naptha, a semi-gaseous liquid that would probably be flared in refineries if there was no use for it.

Plastic's properties are well known. Plastic is also relatively inexpensive as a raw material. Think of an entire plastic lawn chair (you know the sort) that retails for just a few dollars/pounds. Many items of every day use we take for granted would be much much more expensive if produced in alternative materials.

Which brings us to the amoeba of plastic product life - the remarkable plastic bag. Extremely cheap to make, the bag may be given away with groceries, helping the customer to tote the groceries home without breakage or spillage at no extra cost. Compared to brown paper sacks, the storage space and shipping costs for plastic bags are considerably less. And paper sacks don't like getting wet! Once used for its initial purpose, the plastic bag comes into its own as a utility product par none. Stored under the sink, the bags easily become small bin liners, allowing kitchen trash to be easily and cleanly disposed of. They are also invaluable in this day and age of the disposable diapir and 14 day garbage collection cycles. Plastic bags work well in the freezer as well, avoiding or at least delaying freezer burn.

And eventually the bags will find their way into the trash, whether holding other items or just being disposed of as surplus to requirements. At the landfill the bags take up very little space, requiring significantly less room than alternatives.

But it is here that the great "no no" rises into the debate like so much methane bubbling out of a foetid swamp. For plastic bags don't degrade fast enough and inevitably some bags never get into the landfill but blow around an otherwise pristine countryside. Plastic does eventually degrade even if it may take a few hundred years. If you need proof of this, think about how brittle some plastic becomes after a few years of use.

As to the litter problem, is this the fault of the plastic bag or is it a function of a breakdown in society? Since plastic doesn't have a brain it doesn't have a conscience, so a plastic bag cannot be blamed for messing up the countryside. No, it's people who cause such problems! Banning people would soon alleviate the problem of litter!

But there are plastic bags that biodegrade. These plastic bags are not necessarily made from the cheapest materials and so may be more expensive to make. But they offer an alternative and alternatives in society are usually for the best. Bravo for choice!

Everything you ever wanted to know about plastic

Government loses Personal Data

So, all those in favor of a national ID card, what do you think of this?


Neck and Neck - BotY '07 Update

Yesterday Pete met his co-competitor and has this to say. To which I add: Vote for Pete but support John Tighe by visiting the Spotted Dog for a pint!

Monday, November 19, 2007

He's Gone!

So, Steve Bruce has gone back to Wigan. It's going to be interesting to see who will come in to manage the Blues at this stage of the season and with the takeover uncertainties unresolved. A good caretaker would make sense while the owners, whoever they are, scout around for someone who would be a distinct improvement on Mr. Bruce. Not that that should be too difficult!

Oh, and let's have a manager this time who doesn't have monograms on all his tracksuits!

As to Wigan. Let' see how they fare under Bruce - my bet is they will win a few then lose a lot.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Rock'n'Roll Memories - 8 - Rod Stewart

Back in the 1960s I had the fortunate opportunity to see and recognize Rod Stewart before he was famous - see here. Twenty years or so on I went to the Houston Summit to see how he had progressed!

As mentioned in the last memory post, the Summit seated about 12,000 with the stage set at one end. This concert was a sell out. Rod Stewart was undergoing a bit of a renaissance with recent albums representing his "middle years". That is not to say that he didn't do some of the early numbers, for they were very much a part of the repertoire.

Judging from the wikipedia entry, the concert must have been around 1983/4. I have to say that I find the wiki description of this part of his career as being more negative than it probably should be.

The performance was full of energy. The inevitable kicking of soccer balls into the audience came near the end of the concert (none came our way!) but no guests appeared as was seen on the video of the concert tour when Tina Turner did a duet of "Hot Legs"! Compared to Phil Collins the concert was a much more personal affair - less glitz, more emphasis on the songs. A very enjoyable evening.

Earlier Memories: The Yardbirds - Long John Baldry - The Who - Screaming Lord Sutch - Chuck Berry - The Seventies - Phil Collins

Apple TV Rocks

Today I took delivery of (actually I drove to Bristol to collect which isn't quite the same thing) our new 26" LCD HD TV and within 90 minutes had the new DVD Recorder and Apple TV connected. I am still, several hours later, syncing the Apple TV but let me say straight away that the Apple TV rocks! It is basically a grown up iPod for the living room.

The DVD Recorder will, I am sure be a blessing, but the idea of inserting DVDs and such is so passé when you can have 144 GB of music, movies, TV shows and podcasts ready to go at the push of a tiny remote.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Steve Bruce wants to go to Wigan!

And he's welcome!


I'm taking a break from Memory Lane to write on a subject that emerges whenever I listen to certain songs. Lyrics to the vast majority of songs are banal. Just occasionally along comes a singer-songwriter who is also a poet.

Bob Dylan is the arch-type singer-songwriter-poet, sitting way up there at the top. Others will disagree but no-one else comes close and the biggest test of all is the timelessness of Dylan's writings.

But here are some others that I personally think reside somewhere on the slopes of that pinnacle that is Dylan.

Mary Chapin Carpenter is second on my list for a number of reasons. Her poetry is significant and the way she sings her own songs has a strength that is undeniable. Recent albums have had a more political undertone with social commentary. The Calling has several, including a sad song of the evacuation of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, titled "Houston". One song to convince you? Try "Alone but Not Lonely".

Lucinda Williams has an "unrefined" voice that goes well with her South Louisana roots. Again, no-one sings her songs better than she does (though Mary Chapin Carpenter did an excellent job with "Passionate Kisses"). Interesting that she has toured with Dylan. One song to convince you? Try "Lake Charles".

Lyle Lovett is best when he sings his own material though he also covers similar musical styles well (Step Inside This House proves that). Having seen him live in Houston I am even more of a believer! His up and down career with life (he was married to Julia Roberts for 2 years) comes through in many of his songs but in truth he is simply the latest in a long line of Texas story tellers (see below) writing about what he sees as well as experiences. One song to convince you? Try "Her First Mistake".

Townes Van Zandt is no longer alive, having died at the age of 52 in 1999. But he is probably one of folk music's greatest poets and his compositions will live on for years to come. In fact his death probably raised his profile. With three major hits covered by others, including "Pancho and Lefty" by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, he was never successful as a performer, mainly because of a reputation for being "erratic". One song to convince you? Try "If I Needed You".

It is interesting that all the above poets are considered to be country singers. However none of them fits the "Nashville" definition easily. In some ways it would be better to describe them as "contemporary adult folk singers" only because there doesn't seem to be any other pigeon hole. All do fit the role as singing story tellers, though, and that might be the best way to describe what it is they do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rock'n'Roll Memories - 7 - Phil Collins

I am skipping a major event and moving on to the latter part of the 1980s when I got a renewed desire to see some stadium type acts. The one I am skipping will be the grand finale, worth waiting for, I hope!

The 1980s was a strange decade. It was all summed up by MTV and we had MTV on our cable box in Houston. The early days of the music video were good - the network seems to have gone downhill from that strong beginning. The most famous videos included tracks from The Cars, Dire Straits and Peter Gabriel to name three. Dire Straits had the ultimate MTV video, of course!

At this time - 1985 - Phil Collins was breaking out on his own from Genesis and had a strong album "No Jacket Required" which included several hit songs. The album was a hit and the inevitable stadium tour followed.

The Houston Summit, a basketball stadium and ice rink with poor acoustics but with the capacity for around 12,000, was the venue in those days for most stadium concerts. The one night stand was a sell out.

Collins - who I grew to like less and less as he "matured" - put on a grand show with two complete drum kits and a second drummer for when he got up to the front of the stage. The lighting was fantastic with a lot of synchronized lights to the beat that ineviatbly emanated from the two drum kits. I remember needing to go to the restrooms just as Sussudio started and rushing back out to see the splendid light show. The brass ensemble was excellent. But as good as the show seemed at the time, it was eclipsed by several other acts that followed in fairly rapid succession. Listening to Phil Collins today sends a shiver down my spine - he's such a whinger!

Earlier Memories: The Yardbirds - Long John Baldry - The Who - Screaming Lord Sutch - Chuck Berry - The Seventies

Rock'n'Roll Memories - 6 - The Seventies

I missed out on the Seventies when it came to Rock'n'Roll. Sure, I watched Top of the Pops and bought a few albums, but parenthood and going overseas put paid to the opportunities to continue to enjoy the raw scenes of early Rock'n'Roll. So it was that I never had the chance (or the money!) to travel to see Cream, Bowie, Led Zeppelin or ELO, just some of my favorites.

The seventies really stood for what most people think of today as the Sixties. While the Sixties probably did happen at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, it really didn't happen many other places. We wished it could but it didn't! So it wasn't until the 1970s that many young peoples' collective desires actually started to materialize. For example, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll didn't take off until the 1970s. Whether that was good or bad is another story.

So, what were the great albums I can remember from those days? Well, it's difficult to tell from this vantage point in 2007. Several I own were not even bought until ten or fifteen years later. I became more interested in American "white" music at the time, enjoying the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival among others.

But I do remember seeing an "EC is God" graffiti on London's Kings Road in the early 70s. That could just be my one significant memory of the decade!

So, fast forward to the Eighties!

Earlier Memories: The Yardbirds - Long John Baldry - The Who - Screaming Lord Sutch - Chuck Berry

Rock'n'Roll Memories - 5 - Chuck Berry and the Moody Blues

We are still at Southampton and the year was probably early 1965. Came the announcement "Chuck Berry to perform at the Gaumont".

Chuck Berry, one of the gods of rythym and blues, famous guitarist with the "duck walk", is often credited with being a father of rock'n'roll. Of course there is some truth in this as rock'n'roll is really a welding together of several disparate music styles, and Chuck Berry had a lot to do with integrating white music (hillbilly) with black music (blues) and along the way helped to put rock'n'roll in the forefront of modern music. In the early 1960s Chuck Berry, fresh out of jail, was making a comeback on the strength of the British Invasion, his songs having been recorded by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (who actually had very little esle in common). Hence his UK Tour.

The Gaumont Cinema was a large building with several tiers of seats. I wonder if it's still there? Anyway, the bill included about five acts but most of us were only interested in Chuck Berry and found it hard to sit through the first three. Then on came the Moody Blues. Their first big hit was Go Now, which of course they played. This was the first Moody Blues, before John Lodge and Justin Haywood joined, so it is hard to compare that concert with most of the more famous material of the second Moody Blues line up. But it was certainly more blues-ey. A grand piano featured heavily in their music.

The crowd became less friendly to the Moody Blues as their set went on. Finally they announced the final act and were sent packing with the loudest of accolades. Except it wasn't for them.

Chuck Berry was great. All the simple 2 minute 35 second songs of his era spilled out effortlessly - Johnny B. Goode, Nadine, Sweet Little Sixteen, No Particular Place to Go (I have the album). And then the greatest Berry song of all (IMO) Memphis Tennessee. And of course he did the duck walk!

Earlier Memories: The Yardbirds - Long John Baldry - The Who - Screaming Lord Sutch

Rock'n'Roll Memories - 4 - Screaming Lord Sutch

In fact I never did go to a Screaming Lord Sutch concert, but I did meet the man and I also belonged, for a while to his "National Teenage Party", a political organization that appealed to the unfranchised and therefore got few votes!

Screaming Lord Sutch probably wasn't the greatest of musicians even though he certainly mixed in the right circles during the early 1960s. It was for this reason, perhaps, that he entered into politics, starting with the 1963 by-election at Stratford-upon-Avon. The country had just been embroiled in the "Profumo Affair" and John Profumo had had to resign as MP for that South Warwickshire constituency. A safe Tory seat at the worst of times (for the Tories), the seat was hotly contested by the main parties.

One additional candidate was Screaming Lord Sutch, standing for the National Teenage Party. As my parents were then living in Stratford and as I was home at the time of the election I took part in the hustings and met the man. His claim to fame was to be a sort of Alice Cooper precursor. His most obvious hallmark was a top hat and decidedly grubby tails, no doubt dirty from lying in the stage coffin before a set started!

Wikipedia says he garnered 208 votes and I remember that to be correct as it was also the wavelength of Radio Luxembourg!

Based on his leadership as an anti-establishment politician, I stood as an NTP candidate in a school mock election later that year. I did slightly better than my mentor on a percentage of total votes cast basis, probably only because I voted for myself!

Earlier Memories: The Yardbirds - Long John Baldry - The Who

Use of the word "Classic"

I had wondered why Apple chose to name the latest high storage capacity iPod the "Classic". With Microsoft's roll out of the second generation Zune I now know why. At least I think I do!

Apple is, in all probability, going to drop hard drives from the iPod line up as flash drives get more memory. But that's not the entire reason, as I had thought. Apple correctly surmized that the first Zune would remain the flagship in its second iteration. By calling their hard drive player "Classic" it would imply "old" technology and this could have a negative effect on would be buyers considering a Zune.

Personally I like my 80 GB iPod (it's not the latest model) and would have a hard time deciding what to load onto a smaller capacity model. But I am 62, way outside the demographics of the average mp3 player market. The iPod Nano is their future; or is it the iPod Touch? It probably isn't the Zune!

Rock'n'Roll Memories - 3 - The Who, The Beginning

Think 1965, probably around November of that year. A new group is in town and sitting at No. 2 in the charts. The Who.

Even as they rocketed to stardom, they had been engaged to do a major Students' Union gig at Southampton University. The location was the old refectory, actually not that old but about to be demolished in favor of a new building. This student cafeteria had low ceilings and walls of glass windows. This made it a veritable reverberation chamber, to be exploited by Pete Townshend, the king of feedback. Alas, Keith Moon was off that night and his stand-in, good as he might have been, was not Keith Moon! But Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend fronted the stage while John Entwhistle "quietly" prowled around with his bass.

Daltry and Townshend put on quite a show. Daltry with his microphone antics which were legendary, Townshend with his windmill chord playing.

The set was long and intense. Some of the crowd boo'ed the stand-in drummer which annoyed Townshend. But he didn't smash any instruments that night and I am not sure whether they had actually started down the road that became a hallmark of performances for several years. It was the shear volume of sound that I still remember. A singing in the ears that lasted for several days. No wonder Pete Townshend has tinnitus and now wears ear plugs when performing.

Of course the big hit was My Generation. You didn't have to be a Mod to appreciate it, though the song, along with much of the band's music, did become considered as "Mod" music. Strange, that, because there were other London bands that were far more "mod" in style and appearance, the Small Faces, for example.

This is the first of two entries on The Who. The next will come much later in the series - the first of their "final" tours!

Earlier Memories: The Yardbirds - Long John Baldry

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rock'n'Roll Memories - 2 - Long John Baldry

The full title of this post should read "Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men, headlining, also with Rod Stewart as five of five on the bill".

In 1964/5 the University of Southampton music scene was divided between R&B and R&R with Friday nights at the old students' Union being dedicated to "jazz" in the form of R&B. So it was that I found myself entranced by a young man with strange hair bent over a microphone crooning the blues with a distinctive husky voice. He was first on in a concert of five acts and his name was Rod Stewart. Yes, the Rod Stewart. He was interesting, he was good, even though he was first on to a crowd yet to form for the headline act. Many years later I saw Rod perform to a packed house at Houston's Summit (~12,000 fans) and could see and hear the same persona from all those years earlier.

Later on, to a packed house, came 6' 7" Long John Baldry and his blues band, the Hoochie Coochie Men. Baldry was one of the mainstays of British Blues and a great exponent of the genre. Ironically he was too good to ever be very successful, with only one real hit to his name at a time when the Stones and others were making one hit after another. Not unlike John Mayall in that respect.

Not long after this particular gig Rod Stewart joined up with LJB and the HHM. But on that night they were separated by three other acts I don't recall one bit. The cream, as they say, does rise to the top!

Earlier Memories: The Yardbirds

A Led Zeppelin Indulgence

Yes, I just downloaded the complete iTunes Led Zeppelin discography of 165 tracks in 13 albums. Wonderful. Particularly the "Mothership" album with re-mastered favorites.

(A message to the Beatles - you're too late for the digital party)

Rock'n'Roll Memories - 1 - The Yardbirds

If it were not for Wikipedia, this series could never be as my memory of various concerts over the years is far from perfect or accurate. While trawling Wikipedia recently I dicsovered that I had, in fact, heard Eric Clapton live, yet I had never understood the significance at the time.

The year was late 1964, my first year at Southampton University. Chamberlain Hall, where I lived for the first "freshman" year, had a big annual dance event and the Yardbirds were booked as the main act. Like so many bands at the time, their fame materialized while they were playing these pre-booked gigs, so we got to see a "famous" band more than once as they were in the process of writing their own histories.

The line up at the time was:

Keith Relf - lead vocals, harmonica
Eric Clapton - lead guitar
Chris Dreja - rhythm guitar
Paul Samwell-Smith - bass, backing vocals
Jim McCarty - drums, backing vocal

I seriously remember very little about their session. As one of the first "big" bands I witnessed, I was obviously impressed at the time but there is nothing special coming through the memory banks. Such was not the case a year or so later when The Who came to the Students Union.

Next up - 2 - Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men with Rod Stewart

I want an iPhone, but. . .

We are supposed to be living in a global economy. What rubbish! Here's why I think so.

I would like to use a UK iPhone except I don't have a bank account in the UK for the O2 direct debit. As a result I can't. Not only that, since I have an Apple iTunes account in the US, I cannot have (and don't want to have, thanks very much) a UK iTunes account. Yet it would appear that I need to have a UK iTunes account in order to activate the iPhone.

I am not sure why this is, but the fact that everything costs more in the UK may have something to do with it.

I e-mailed O2 about this four weeks ago. No reply, not even an automated response to be followed up later. So I do wonder about their customer service capabilities.

(There is a work around for all this but it is not so elegant. Why buy an elegant, easy to use device if the process is anything but elegant? Well, we'll see, those unique iPhone functions are very tempting!)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Raising Sand - The making of video

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss may have the album of the year in Raising Sand. Here is the video that explains the origins of this rather unique duo's album. 61 Megabytes to download but it's worth it!

They will be touring in 2008. We intend to be there, preferably in Birmingham's Town Hall (if that's where they choose to be in Brum).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Virgin Cross Country, RIP

Today was the last day of the Virgin Cross Country Franchise. Ten years of improvements to a service long relegated to the oldest equipment and the least user-friendly timetables have resulted in Virgin losing the franchise to Arriva. All I can say is, Arriva had better prove their worth.

This is not to say that Virgin had their problems. The Voyager toilets are well known for the lingering odor that permeates the corridor outside. Some refer to the Voyager trains as "Vomiters" because of the noise and ride. The noise of the under-slung engines is certainly annoying but the ride is good by comparison with the Adelante trains being bought by First Great Western.

The difficulty of keeping on schedule was a given from the very start but Virgin has really improved its record over the years, enough to justify a continuation of the franchise, I would have thought.

Today was a weekend diversion working, so there were inevitable delays as the "express" played cat and mouse with slower local services. During the week these tend to be less significant, but the basic problem with any timetabled service is that once you lose your place in the queue it is hard to make up. Particularly when a train might start in Penzance and end in Dundee.

So, Virgin Cross Country, adieu. London won't miss you but the rest of the country probably will!

A week of travel in a nutshell


Cancelled flight at BHX (no equipment)

Chaos at Heathrow

Kinshasa via Nairobi

Congo Crossing, Kinshasa to Brazzaville

Airport shenanagens at Pointe Noire, both coming and going

Brazzaville departure "lounge" is a joke

Lost suitcase in Paris (second time this has happened on a PNR-BZV-CDG-BHX run this year)

Saturday delays on the last day of Virgin Cross Country

Home at last!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Kinshasa, D R Congo

More on the Airlines

Well, if you read my last post you will know that I was not too pleased with Brussels Airlines a.k.a. "Son of Sabena". The follow up news is that I arrived in Kinshasa on time after two excellent flights on Kenya Airways, the "Pride of Africa".

But there is one more twist to the story at Heathrow. Brussels were supposed to give us vouchers for meals, etc. at Heathrow but when we arrived there was no-one there at their desk. We were referred to British Airways with whom they code share. I knew this was not going to be easy but I was surprised just how ugly the BA staff could be when approached with a request for information and assistance. before I had even finished my explanation as to why we were talking to them, the woman interrupted me with the statement, "If the problem was weather related we won't give you any vounchers!" Now I had not mentioned the weather at all, but BA had cancelled numerous flights because of fog, so she presumably assumed this was the problem and would be the best way of ridding me.

Ironically, KLM later gave us vouchers that they obtained from BA, to the tune of £10 per passenger. The vouchers were in time for a very late lunch following no meals since a 5:30 a.m. check in time at Birmingham.

The moral of this encounter surely is that a little generosity in the form of a voucher to a customer would have gone a long way. KLM earned my respect and future business. BA did quite the opposite. BA, the "World's Favourite Airline"? Not mine.

Monday, November 05, 2007


I am penning this and uploading courtesy of free WiFi at the KLM Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 4. So why is the title of this post not K L M ?

Let me explain. The Belgian Airline, Sabena, failed a few years ago and arose, phoenix like, as SN Brussels, later Brussels Airways. They fly to Kinshasa, which is where I am headed, though normally I fly Air France to Brazzaville and then cross the Congo to Kinshasa. The Air France flight has been full for a couple of weeks.

This morning I showed up at Birmingham International for the 6:30 a.m. flight to Brussels. Only there was no "equipment", meaning the plane didn't arrive the evening before. "The flight has been cancelled and your reservation on the onward flight to Kinshasa has been deleted." So how am I going to get there?

"We have you booked on a Kenya Airways flight from Heathrow to Nairobi, leaving at 7 p.m. this evening. Then there is a good connection on (or back) to Kinshasa, getting you there about 13 hours late. We have a taxi to take you to Heathrow."

Which will be just in time for an important, nay, critical meeting.

We'll see what happens. Kenya Airways code-shares with KLM which is why I am in their lounge. All I can say is TGfKLM!

And what does the acronym stand for? Such A Bad Experience Never Again.

Son of Sabena lives on!

Friday, November 02, 2007

What makes you a Brummie?

As you may know from a previous post, son Pete has been nominated for and is currently second in the poll for the title of Brummie of the Year 2007. Now he claims he probably shouldn't have been nominated at all since he is not really a Brummie. So let's think about this a little.

April has done a limited amount of research into the Ashton family tree and it appears that Pete really is half a Brummie.

Pete's Great Great Grandfather was one George Ashton who married, wait for it, Elizabeth Chinn. That name might just ring a bell as it is the last name of another candidate for Brummie of the Year, Dr. Carl Chinn. Dr. Chinn is the consummate, arch-type Brummie, so, unless this is all a coincidence it is very possible that Pete is competing with a distant family member!

To be a Brummie it is reasonably important to have either been born there or spend a considerable amount of one's life there. To my knowledge, this is where the last five generations of Ashtons have lived in Birmingham:

Aston, Bordesley (Digbeth), Barr, Handsworth, Perry Barr, Great Barr, Kingstanding, Moseley, Edgbaston, Tyseley and Hockley. In addition, Pete has lived in Edgbaston, Selly Oak, Kingstanding, Bournville and Kings Heath over a period of nine years.

So, in my book, Pete is a Brummie! But then, so am I, because even though I no longer live in the city, I was born there.

Magnetic Map of the World

This news is hardly significant to the layman but for one who uses magnetic data (in particular the anomaly maps) this is an exciting announcement. The pdf map can be downloaded and studied at one's ease.

First Great Western improvements

First Great Western continues to make progress in upgrading its aging HST fleet. Last night the 18:03 to Penzance left London with an interesting mix of old and new style carriages.

This train and the one that leaves an hour later both offer dining car service, a feature that is all but lost on modern British train journeys.

The stations are also showing signs of improvements, but more policing around the entrance and car park at Taunton would be most welcome.

Which brings me to the fact that many of the limited stop trains from Paddington to Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance do not stop at Tiverton Parkway. This is strange because all (I think) of Virgin Cross Country's services do stop there, providing a much better service to Birmingham than to the capital. Tiverton has better parking and serves a largely rural community with a huge catchment area. Built in 1986 it is geared to modern travel needs and has good bus services as well as a cycle connection to the nearest communities.

So if Virgin can stop there for 2 to 3 minutes, why not FGW?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Please Vote!

For Pete Ashton, candidate for "Brummie of the Year".