Water water everywhere....

...and not a drop to drink.

While much of the internet community is pouring buckets of iced water over themselves (while hopefully donating to charity and learning something about ALS / Motor Neuron Disease) there is another aspect of water and charity that I signed up for a few weeks ago that starts next week.

Anyone who knows me or reads this knows that I have spent a fair bit of time in India for work and holiday in the last few years, one of the few things I miss about my last job is the free time I had while working there! While there and since I have tried to do what little I can to help individuals and people there and that is why Frank Water grabbed my eye at WOMAD festival. A small charity that focuses on water, and the impact that access to safe water has on all of India.

Even in areas I visited in India, toilets were rare, and running water was visibly not clear. Bathing, washing clothes and pots in the same water used to defecate in seems incomprehensible to almost anyone reading this, as we have all had showers, baths, drinks and put the washing machine and dishwasher on in the last day. 

Pic from BBC site

Pic from BBC site

In his Independence Day speech the Indian PM, Narendra Modi made reference to getting toilets installed in all homes and schools in four years, an honourable comment, but so unfeasible that it is hard to take it seriously. The millions living in the slums just in Kolkata to have access to toilets in four years would be amazing, the whole of India.... But - at least he acknowledges the issue and raises it. It is the water that makes people in when in India, not the food.

Anyway, before I digress too far, what am I doing this year, and more importantly in the next week about this?

Well, I am taking on the challenge, and yes it is a small challenge, to drink nothing but tap water for a week from the time I wake up on 1st September to the time I get up again on the 8th September. I will eat as usual to be clear.

A small challenge, but on an average I would say that I currently drink a pint of fruit juice a day, at least ten coffees, a couple of pints of beer a day, wine at weekends, and various squash and fizzy drinks whenever I fancy it. On my desk as I type is a coffee, a blackcurrant juice and soda mix and a glass of water - I do like a drink!

I am donating myself, and would welcome any donation that anyone feels able to give. Please use the link here, and give anything. Quite literally a quid saves a life.

Thank you.

Bv8m-LNIcAAa63b.jpg

Here is the link again :-)

https://www.justgiving.com/SimonJ68/

And have a look around the Frank Water site as well, and next time you are at the tap take a second to think how your life would be if that was even 100 yards away.

 

 

More Beer Landlord

A joke for about 3 people I used to know at school in the title there...

Anyway, after a trip to a local brewery at the weekend it seemed only right to go to The Great British Beer Festival.

Off to Olympia, which is rarely as good as it sounds, but it is one of the more impressive exhibition halls in London, and what is billed as one of the biggest pubs in the world. With over 900 beers and ciders there, even drinking in 1/3 of a pint measures means that there is no way you can work your way through all of the beers there, but I have no doubt that some will try... Beers from all over the world are there, from the major brewers like who have stands of their own to the small and tiny ones that you have never seen before, and quite probably never will again apart from at events like this.

Glass to keep on a shelf until the cat knocks it off...

Glass to keep on a shelf until the cat knocks it off...

We arrived just as the Stormtroopers Marching Band were walking about, link to the vine here should you want to see it... But was far more important to get trying some beers and meet some people from social media who were also there.

While the beers are available in 1/3'rds, 1/2's and pints, and while I try and kid myself that I will drink halves to be sensible, I know myself too well and having a half just looks too much like a mouthful so gets drunk in one, and a third is basically just a drop, so much to the sneers of the connoisseurs I stick to drinking pints, although not as many as I used to it has to be said.

What did jump out was the amount of people doing video blogs and live uploads as they were trying beers. The natural progression I guess, following on from updates on facebook and twitter, to blogs and vines, people with semi-professional equipment filming themselves with live uploads of beer tasting and reviews. Having just read how much some people are getting paid to advertise products on their vine accounts it is clearly a lucrative hobby for some people, and just a hobby / social media sharing exercise for others. (For reference, and as always, I never get paid or take gifts for reviews of anything, I actually don't review stuff if I am asked to even if I like it).

Anyway, we had a fair few beers, met some good people, but as it was a Tuesday there was no staying to the bitter end for us, so we had a burger and a quick wander about the stalls there, which is where I bought a little present for myself.

I have no idea why, but as soon as I saw this I just had to have it, just something very strange and compelling about it.

Just the plainness of the label, never made to be kept as a souvenir, but over 30 years later it now sits on my shelf of odds and sods.

Not fit for human consumption apparently...


Breakfast Beer

We are all agreed on "Airport Law" that whenever you are in an airport there is no concept of time, and a beer is always allowed (maybe not so much if you have work at the other end of the flight...)?

This weekend wasn't an airport trip, but as we were in the area early we popped along to one of the local small breweries around Aylesbury, The Vale Brewery Co, as they were launching a new special edition beer, there were going to be vintage cars there, and well, they promised a free pint!

Arriving about 9.30, there were a number of old minis in the car park, as the beer is called Self Preservation Society and the pump clip has the cars on it, made famous in The Italian Job film.

Car owner clubs, like scooterists and cyclists, can seem an odd bunch at times, fixated on the size of a nut or shape of a mirror, but the dozen or so minis that were there all seemed to be owned by fairly normal people, and Debbie being far more interested in cars than I am got into a number of conversations about them - her first car was a mini.

What stands out so much is the size of them compared to the new versions made today. They are absolutely tiny - certainly not a family car or one for a long journey these days! 

I was far more interested in trying the new beer, so headed into the brewery to get mine, and obviously one for Debbie as well....

I actually only started drinking "real ale" this year, I had always been a lager / cider drinker with Guinness in the winter, but in the last 7 or so months I can count the lagers I have had on one hand and while not becoming a total ale bore, I am learning the differences in styles and blends, how the tastes vary and also how to make it. After going on a course in July I was inspired and have actually just bottled my first batch of beers - so in 6 weeks or so I will either be very ill or enjoying the fruits of my labour!

The new beer we sampled was excellent, and I was glad to see that by the time we got to the pub in the late afternoon they already had it on one of the pumps so I had a few more, sadly not as sunny as the morning was.

There is also the "buy local" drive behind beer, it is brewed and sold locally, so far better than buying generic mass produced beer that is probably owned by a tax avoiding multinational, and like using a local butcher rather than a supermarket, the quality is that much better, and the price if anything is cheaper. So buy it local, and drink responsibly..... 

Proof I do own at least one shirt that is not a Fred Perry

Proof I do own at least one shirt that is not a Fred Perry

To see some far more interesting images from the hour we were there, there are a few on the website of Imaging Essence which you can get to by clicking here.

There is no hope

Bleak title, bleak blog.

Sad but true, and to think all the people involved actually profess to believe in the same God, but the escalation in Israel / Gaza / Palestine in the last few days just shows that neither "side" is prepared or to be honest capable of living together in peace. It just can't happen, two entities both want the same exact thing and will just go on killing each other until someone somewhere uses nuclear and we all go pop.

Religion, race, poverty, class all have parts to play in this, but as even the people on the same side or the same religion can't agree on how to worship their god or what bits of what book they believe in I don't hold out a lot of hope for any of us.

I am an atheist, not an agnostic.

There is no God. sorry if that is not what you believe, but I don't see a lot of atheists fighting over plots of land where stories are supposed to have happened in the past. All of history is littered with wars and mass killings where people believed in a different book, and that really shows no signs of slowing down at all. Don't forget that there are still incredibly active wars killing hundreds of people underway in many other countries at the moment, they are just not on the news anymore.

Like Putin in Russia, Israel seem to work on the principle that they can do what they like, as they ultimately know that the USA and Europe are actually powerless to stop them. So it continues all over, and the wider question of where are these countries getting all these weapons from just hangs in the air like the elephant in the room.

Social media not helping any of the points of view either in my opinion. The Gaza situation has become, and I have no idea how, a "left v right" argument, and you appear to have to be on one side or the other. My feeds and time lines are split on tribal lines like football fans, with very few in the middle seeming to have any sense or understanding that everyone involved in this conflict is going to end up on the losing side.

So many images posted of "This is what is happening in Gaza now" that are from different conflicts and far from accurate, mixed with ones like this.

This appeared on my timeline as an RT with the text "Hamas Terrorist hangs and postion kids on a fence in front of a house to ensure the #IDF will not strike the building"

No date, no location, no proof of anything but a highly inflammatory image and words that has been retweeted and posted thousands of times in the last 24 hours.

What if the true picture was "Man helps children down from fence after prank goes wrong"? 

A very quick search shows that whatever the picture is actually of, it was taken in April 2014 not this week, but the speed of wanting to show how "bad" the other side is means that the truth is not actually needed, the image is out there, people have seen it and made decisions based on it. 

This happens more and more, and as the war continues and even more gruesome images will appear and be manipulated the hatred will continue to grow and escalate.

I have no idea at all how this will pan out or end, but what I do know is while there is genuine hatred on all sides, there is no possible happy ending here.

The Religion Issue

Like the old adage goes, never talk politics or religion in a pub, the same could be said for a lot of the internet. Some subjects for many people are taboo because of the fear of upsetting or alienating some people, and so I will make it clear now I am an atheist, but if anyone believes in any level of religion, fair play - it is your choice.

Anyway, some news and reading in the last few days includes..

Why Icelanders are wary of elves living under the rocks

Car Bomb kills dozens in Syria

Fierce battles for key cities in Iraq

Auschwitz guard arrested in US

and for some reason I ended up reading a lot about the Mormons and Scientologists again.

And the link - all of this is religion based at some level, and the difference, one of the stories here is actually a positive one. Whatever faith anyone has, it must always be remembered that it is only faith and as we have seen over the centuries an unbelievable amount of damage to the race is caused by and rooted in religious differences. 

In recent history, Ireland, Iraq, the Holocaust, Syria and so on are all basically people killing each other based on their God, who in all cases here is actually the same God. And not even that, but they believe in the same stories about the same god, just chose to interpret them in a different way. Humourously during an interview on the news this week about ISIS with a senior Iraqi politician he said "even Al Qaeda think ISIS are extreme". The group who flew planes into buildings think some of their ilk are extreme - the mind boggles.

We are not allowed to see correspondence between Blair and Bush that lead to the invasion of Iraq, but we do know they prayed for guidance on what to do. And this is barely questioned by most while others who make their choices based on their religion are ridiculed.

So what of some other bits and pieces, Mormons and Scientologists hate having it pointed out that their religions are a little idiotic and clearly built on a level of fiction that makes the creation of the Christian Bible look positively a well audited process.

I could just carry on naming religions one at a time and pointing out what is wrong with them, but deep down we all know don't we? It is also not a coincidence that the people at the top of pretty much every religion I can think of seem to have a lot of gold.

And the Icelandic people, they move a big rock when building a road to keep the elves happy.

I don't know about you, but if you held a gun to my head and said I had to pick one to believe in, I would be living in Iceland quite shortly after.

Bash at Trafalgar

Not a demo or a war, but the play Bash at the excellent Trafalgar Studios was our destination on Saturday. 

Firstly Trafalgar Studios is one of my favourite theatres, and studio 2 has to be visited to see anything on there, as it is a wonderful venue. A stage about as big as your lounge at home and under 100 seats, if you are in the front row your feet are on the stage, and for small and intense productions there is no better place. However, when the productions are intense and especially monologues, the feeling that the actors are directing their questions, issues, rants at you personally is hard to avoid. We have seen some superb productions here, and this one looked interesting as well.

BashPoster

Bash: Latter-Day Plays by Neil LaBute is three separate half hour-ish plays with a theme of twists and turns and shocks. The first and last are just one actor, the middle one has two actors. If you start your though of light entertainment on a scale where one side is a musical with Abba songs, this play is at the other end of the scale. It is not "fun" but was absolutely outstanding.

All four actors were on their West End debuts, and this was the last day of the plays run, so sadly you will have to look it up somewhere else should you want to go and see it at some stage in the future, which you should. 

We didn't know that much about the play before arriving, so just had expectations of a good play and then some dinner after.

The first play, a man in a hotel room talking to a stranger to get a secret off his chest. It is hard to describe without giving the plot away, but there are twists enough in this half hour that would fill a mini-series on TV quite easily. Talking into the audience as he unburdens his story, the tension in the room was palpable, and as it ended there was clearly a gap as the audience tried to decide whether to clap, as the performance was superb, but the applause almost felt like applauding the story, which is odd.

Second was a couple, who were of Amish faith, and had spent a night in New York at a party, or a bash, and sitting side by side but both talking as individuals about how the night in the city went. A night out with two very contrasting view points, and disturbing imagery conjured up by the actors, it was engrossing as the different reasons for some events were unfolded, and the fear at the end of the play that this was far from the end of the story for the couple.

Finally a lone female, seeming to be in therapy, or possibly at a police station, giving answers to unheard questions and responses about school experiences with a teacher, and not in the educational sense. Sexual abuse and a child and a sudden twist that came from nowhere, almost like when Omar was shot in The Wire. (That isn't a spoiler, it is ten years old!!).

Excellent cast, and the time absolutely flew by which is a good sign of a great play, the entire audience sat for longer than normal at the end of a play, almost catching their breath.

Emerging in to the sunny warmth of Trafalgar Square was almost cathartic.


Confused?

This is the body of an email I received yesterday from Sky Bet. Pretty sure I used the account once to get a free bet, which won, so I took the money and forgot all about the account. That isn't confusing obviously, but this email is...

Opt in for Exclusive Offers and Free Bets

Hi xxxxxx,
We'd like to tell you how to make the most of your Sky Bet account. But to do this, we need you to give us the green light.

Our records show that you're not currently opted in to get offers by email or text message, so you're missing out on Exclusive World Cup free bets and offers that aren't advertised on our website.

Plus, if you opt in, you can expect more personalised communications from us. For example, you'll be the first to know about our limited-time-only enhanced odds Price Boosts, brand new offers and latest updates from our Free Bet Club.

Want to make the most out of your Sky Bet account? Opting in will only take a minute. In return, we promise not to bombard you or share your details with other companies. And if you ever want to opt out it's easy - just let us know.

 

The fact that I have opted out or emails seems to have passed them by somewhat here, and at the end they tell me how easy it would be to opt out it I wanted to, despite the fact I am already opted out.

I was reminded of a work trip to India a few years ago when I had been massively delayed and was absolutely shattered. I hung the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, locked it and pressed the Do Not Disturb button to put a red light on the outside of the door, turned off the phone and set as Do Not Disturb. Falling instantly asleep I was awoken 30 minutes later with constant banging and knocking on the door.

The front desk wanted to check if I wanted the bed turned down before I went to bed....

NO NEED TO SHOUT

Just been to vote, and below is a list of the parties available in my voting booth, obviously no selfie taken while there, with the tiny pencils last seen in a 70's bookies, as I don't want to go to prison.

Aside from the hope that this starts the beginning of the end of having to see Farage on TV every day, and that maybe people will also start getting involved and engaged in politics again, what amused me while looking down the list for my vote of choice (I am not going to let Russell Brand win) was the way that some parties chose to identify themselves. Some of them clearly think SHOUTING AT YOU is a way of attracting attention.

Copied below, the names and descriptions that the parties chose for themselves. All bold and capitals is as it was on the form, any comments in italics are mine.

  • An Independence from Europe
    UK Independence Now
    Short, simple, to the point.
     
  • British National Party
    Because we can make Britain better
    Guessing they are kicking themselves for not being A British National Party so they could be top of the list.
     
  • Christian Peoples Alliance
    Limited appeal party...
     
  • Conservative Party
    For real change in Europe
    Oddly their leaflet through the door seemed to say a vote for them in this election meant that there would be a referendum in 2017. Which is a bit of a lie.
     
  • English Democrats
    I'm English, NOT British, NOT EUropean!
    Bonus points for random capitals and an exclamation point.
     
  • Green Party
    Saving ink by having no description, good work.
     
  • Harmony Party
    Zero Immigration, Anti-E.U, Pro-Jobs
    Odd use of harmony, and full points for extra odd punctuation use.
     
  • Labour Party
    Dropped the New and all policies for this election, which is an odd tactic.
     
  • Liberal Democrats
    Liberal Democrat
    They like their name that much they gave it two goes.
     
  • Liberty Great Britain
    Faithful to tradition, revolutionary in outlook.
    First link on google says "My name is Paul Weston and I am a racist. I know I'm a racist " I think I will just leave that search alone.
     
  • The Peace Party - Non-violence, Justice, Environment 
    Covering a lot of bases just with the name.
     
  • The Roman Party.AVE
    Your guess is as good as mine on this one. Their wiki page has an exclamation point after the .AVE. I guess a focus group must have told them to remove it.
     
  • The Socialist Party of Great Britain
    World Socialist Movement
    Not a lot of this in the Home Counties for some reason.
     
  • UK Independence Party (UKIP)
    Adding UKIP in brackets so as not to confuse their voters with the long word.
     
  • YOURvoice
    yourvoiceparty.org.uk
    Adding a hyperlink on a piece of paper will not help their cause too much, although their logo is a QR code. Weirdly they have no policies at all.

And there you have it. Not a Monster Raving Loony in sight but an amazingly worrying amount of extreme right wing options to choose from. I can only hope this splits the Kippers vote, which would be ironic as it is them driving people to the polls to vote. Will people get to the booth and decide "Actually I am racist and Nigel keeps saying he isn't so I will stick to the BNP"?

Time will tell.

Farage turning into Boris and some other stuff

He is everywhere isn't he. Farage and the UKIP bandwagon seems almost unstoppable at the moment, and the media are lapping it up. 

One thing he has achieved is to actually start making people realise again that politics is important, and how we must not just sleepwalk into another government as divisive and self interested as the last few have been. As with previous posts, how a cabinet minister can commit financial offences that would see most of us imprisoned and she actually got a pay out and kept her job (and almost all the money) is allowed to happen must be stopped.

Get the beers in, the public are paying.

Get the beers in, the public are paying.

But Farage doesn't care about that. He is on the gravy train to such an extent that he laughs out loud when confronted with tales of his own imaginative uses of expenses and allowances. He laughs out loud a lot when you start to watch him. A hell of a lot. He is also often in or outside a pub having a pint and a smoke. He is a "real bloke" and he knows it. One thing he isn't is stupid, and his PR machine has a ring of Boris's about it. He looks natural having a pint, because he really drinks pints, search out the pictures of Dave, Gideon, Ed etc with a pint in their hands, they have no idea what it is or what to do with it, they look stupid trying to out-Nigel Nigel - and he knows it.

Remember when Boris was a buffoon on Have I Got News For You, and a journalist, a bit of an MP and then became Mayor of London. How funny he was, laughing off his own personal and professional scandals in such a way that people remembered his performance, not what he was actually saying. Look at Farage on last weeks Have I Got News For You and see the similarities, watch the debates he had with the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg - he won them by miles, not by any use of facts or policies, but because he just laughed when confronted with actual facts and figures.

He is in a masterful position at the moment, he can argue and say what he likes and knows he will get media coverage for it, he appears to be unaccountable for anything at all, the scandals around him, his finances, his life and his party are all just jokes to him. He can say what he likes about immigration and HS2, the economy and the country because he knows he will never be in a position to have to deliver a thing. 

All he has to do is wind up the Tories in the Home Counties, and what a job of it he is doing. Local councillors are defecting to UKIP, and they will definitely win some seats in the European and Local Elections coming up - mainly because people use these elections as a way of protesting. Showing the main parties what they want them to focus on, like the Greens used to be, and the BNP, and the Lib Dems - it is a way of identifying issues, but few would actually want any of the fringe parties to be in charge of anything real. There are many articles and in depth pieces about UKIP and Farage himself that show him and his party for the petty hate mongers they are, floods caused by gays, hatred of women, barely hidden racism and so on. At some stage the decision will be taken by someone to destroy him and the political wilderness and game shows with the Hamiltons will be his future.

However, as local level politicians justify their moves to a party that promises a democracy that it can't ever deliver, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some MPs change the colour of their ties and party allegiance before the General Election next year, there is something that troubles me about this, as it always has when serving politicians "cross the floor".

Have a read of Animal Farm and insert your own joke about pigs and troughs here.

Have a read of Animal Farm and insert your own joke about pigs and troughs here.

Why don't they resign their seat?

To simply say to their employers (us, the electorate) "I know you voted for me because of what I said I believed in, I now believe in something else but I am not going to risk you not voting for that" seems incredulous to me. One of my local councillors has just done this, and while he responds to pretty much every tweet he seems to have ignored my questions about this issue, while he bemoans career politicians, thereby proving he is actually what he says he is not.

To not risk asking your voters if they support you and your newly found political views I assumed had gone out of fashion when the Lib Dems ignored the wishes and desires of the people who voted for them so Nick could have a made up job at the big boys table. You just have to watch footage of the House of Commons to see the absolute disdain that Cameron and his buddies have for Nick, you could almost start to feel sorry for him. Almost.

It is important to vote, despite what Russell Brand says - just vote for politics, not personalities.


In unrelated but also political news this week, the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough Stadium tragedy has had some wonderful coverage by most of the media this week, and there is finally the inquest underway to attempt to uncover some of the truths behind the events that day. This is right and proper, and necessary for the families and friends of all those who died and were injured that day.

The politicians, police and media of the day should be held to account for what they did and said, the exact same triangle of people and organisations that are involved in so many other legal cases currently.

I like many others sincerely hope that justice is seen to be done here.

Update 17/04

Local councillor did get back to me and said he hadn't thought about resigning his seat, and I was the only person to have mentioned it. He also raised the question that he had been expelled from the local Conservative Party, so should that have triggered an election - well to me yes.

If you are elected as part of a "party" it is highly likely that you have been elected because of that link to a party, so if you are not in that party anymore, you are not actually the choice of the electorate. 

I await the first marginal Tory MP to jump ship in the coming months with interest to see how this would be viewed at a national level.

Minister of what?

Following the debacle of more dishonest and unrepentant MPs in the last weeks, there was a cabinet move around, and the vacant post of Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport has been given to rising star Sajid Javid. Let's not focus on his banking career and exactly what bank he was in charge of and at what time, and fines alongside banking crashes etc.

Instead, let's have a look at what he is responsible for. Culture, Media & Sport. 

Media, take it as a given that should the Tories get in power next time they will smash the BBC, not really a secret there is it, and another topic for another day.

Culture and Sport - now there are areas that almost everyone who reads this blog will have an involvement in, as that means gigs and football matches, concerts and festivals, rugby and cricket. One thing all of these type of events have in common is that at the "top" end there are not enough tickets for all those who want to attend. Everyone accepts this, but almost everyone who is a regular attendee at any of these events also knows and hates the touts, charging extreme prices for spares, exploiting those who can afford it, and creating a secondary market that doesn't need to exist.

Mr Javid is completely in favour of and actively encourages such behaviour.

Speaking in the House of Commons back in 2011 as a backbench MP, Javid said: "Ticket resellers act like classic entrepreneurs, because they fill a gap in the market that they have identified."

"They provide a service that can help people who did not obtain a supply of tickets in the original sale to purchase them for sporting and cultural events. As long as those tickets have been acquired genuinely and lawfully, it is an honest transaction, and there should be no Government restriction on someone's ability to sell them."

He later said: "So long as the individual involved in secondary market transactions has acquired the tickets legitimately, they are providing a service that deserves to be rewarded."

"If a person wishes to devote a large part of their disposable income to see something that is disproportionately attractive to them, why should anyone else care and why should it be their business?"

That piece taken from this much longer article in the Huffington Post linked here.

The standard argument used by people who can either afford, get corporates or don't go to sold out events.

With many fan groups actively campaigning against the use of StubHub, Viagogo and so on, it is saddening to see that the door on any regulation or change to this "industry" is now well and truly closed.

News, Not News, & The Beeb

As an election looms the one topic that will now not go away is the BBC and the license fee, impartiality, pay offs and so on. A few days ago I commented that everyone on the Left says the BBC is Right Wing, and all on the Right see it as a Socialist puppet, and a few just hate it because they have to pay. The instant reaction proved the point, with many people pointing to blogs and reports that matched their point of view. My personal view is that if both "sides" hate you there is a fair chance you are actually getting it right.

I am a massive fan of the BBC. I would gladly pay my licence fee and have access to all other TV cut off. It would be annoying for a few individual programmes, but aside from sport (which I could watch down the pub) and a bit of the C4 output I would be fine. Most of my recorded shows are BBC output, and I am happy to buy box sets of the big series, as I do now, like The Wire, Breaking Bad, West Wing and so on.

However, the BBC needs to stop trying to compete with other broadcasters, especially on the downward spiral that Big Brother spawned and "reality" allowed to breed. I have always seen the role of the BBC to entertain, educate and inform, but now it seems to be falling far to much into the entertainment, mass market fight that it is missing so much of the other areas. It is not being a snob, or just wanting what I want, but I feel a realignment is needed. For instance I never listen to Radio 1, which is as it should be, the channel is aimed at teenagers and I am 45, but I did campaign hard to save 6 Music, which is now in danger of becoming unlistenable to for much of the week.

Just that example shows a lot. 6 Music is not what many of us fought to save anymore, it is playlist driven to the extreme in the week, and the "music news" features seem to be reading the previous days NME headlines. There are some excellent indie and alternative shows there that are not possible on commercial radio - this is where I always believed the charter of 6 Music was - why just be like XFM, why not have Cerys, Tom Robinson, Huey etc playing what they love.

Anyway, I digress as usual. What actually prompted me to moan about the BBC was the Breakfast "news" on the 26th. I turned on the news channel, which at 8AM is a joint broadcast with the BBC1 show. The Coming Up Soon announcement included Alan Titchmarsh (new book) Samuel L Jackson and Scarlet Johannsen (new film), Chris Martin & Gwynneth Paltrow (divorce) and Dr Hook (I had stopped listening by then). They struggled to refer to any news at all, it was like reading the cover of Heat at a train station while buying a coffee.

Maybe these presenters stole all the news?

Maybe these presenters stole all the news?

This isn't news, or even close to news. Why is the BBC putting out such rubbish? Just because other stations have 24 hour rolling news doesn't mean everyone else has to. Many channels are not 24*7, why is the BBC not making quality output when needed rather than dross just to fill the gaps? Leave that to the commercial stations who need the advertising. After one (female) presenter left recently one of the "hot favourites" to replace her is another pretty lady who currently works on a game show and is known for tight dresses. Certainly no mention of being a journalist anywhere I could see.

The list of shows that are now on the BBC as they seem to want to compete directly with ITV is idiotic. Reality shows all over the place and poor attempts at game shows rather than the quality shows they used to be world known for. You know what, if Johnathon Ross wants to go to C4 for a billion quid, let him - there are more than enough presenters far better than him about anyway. Shows like The Apprentice have become a parody of themselves. What was a business based show (look up the first series) is now just heavily edited footage to poke fun at those desperate for their 15 minutes. The last final was between a lady who wanted to open cosmetic surgeries and another lady who is now the sex editor in a lads mag. Throw in the heinous K Hopkins as a third finalist and that would get laughed out of a Brass Eye script for being ludicrous. 

In short then, being the best doesn't mean being first or biggest. Breaking news is needed by Sky and ITV to get hits on their websites for advertising, the BBC should be the place people go to in order to see the full story and details, not pages about divorced celebrities.

The other "news" article that caused moral panic this week was the detail that there were going to be new Wills in the UK to comply with Sharia Law. This had all the usual suspects piping up about multiculturalism and immigration (all of which is naturally linked to the word illegal) as English Law was being changed for the Muslims.

Funny how this doesn't say "Christians Only"

Funny how this doesn't say "Christians Only"

Only it wasn't, at all. As all the same sources reported in the following days in far smaller type face, there is no change to the law at all. I could write a Will now and specify that only males could benefit from my estate, and that £20k would be given to Gruff Rhys because I enjoyed his music and £10k to a cats home. That would be legally binding, same as if I put in there exclusions such as anyone who is a Christian or a Hindu could not have a penny. We may not like it, but that can be done now, and tomorrow will be no different, the law has simply not changed, but it is another point for those so inclined to use to show how the country is being taken over..

What I think about a Sharia Law Will is pretty much the same  as a Christian one, or any religion you care to add to the list, even the lunatic Scientologists. Surely if the person concerned and making their will holds any faith dear to themselves, it is more than likely that their family also do, so what is the actual need for a Will, as the relatives would all know what to do anyway? Yes, hugely over-simplistic, but that is the point. Where in any religious book does it say you need a Will? Like a pre-nup as I have written about before, it doesn't get a mention. The reason being because you are supposed to trust your family and relatives.

The only reason Wills exist is because people didn't trust their relatives or religion, so they turned to the Law to ensure their wishes were kept. Overall a sad indictment of Religion as a whole really in my small and insignificant view. It seems almost funny when you look at it like that, the story, if presented slightly differently is "Muslims want to be more like Christians under UK Law".

Funny old world.

Some rambling thoughts on the Budget

There will be far better summaries and focus articles than this, most of them with actual maths to show (depending on which paper you are reading) why the budget was either the best thing ever, or the worst thing ever, but a few points really jumped out at me about this one.

Firstly all the talk pre-budget was the new £1 coin design. Not sure if there is a more idiotic distraction tactic than having discussions around Blue Peter style competitions to design the "tails" side of the new coin, but it certainly worked as the morning agenda on the news and on line. So an early win for the Chancellor there, he must have thought he was on a roll.

Humourously this mornings news agenda is based around an idiotic and knowingly insulting (and probably made as a joke that was never meant to be public) poster from the Conservative Party Chairman, referencing how bingo and beer was good for "them". All in it together, don't make me laugh.

Onto the actual budget then....

You will never look as natural as Farage so don't try

You will never look as natural as Farage so don't try

1p off the price of a pint. I defy anyone to be able to name a pub that has changed their prices accordingly as a result of this. It simply won't happen. There will be a slight saving somewhere in the production and distribution chain, but with the prices as they are it will be impossible for anyone buying a pint to benefit from. One interesting on line affect of this was seeing what people all over the UK pay for their pint of choice, as the joke "all I need to do is buy xxx pints and I will have a free one" was tweeted all day, and seemed to vary from 200 to 650 from what I saw, showing the price of a pint is far from constant. So as a headline grabbing publicity stunt it works, but makes no difference to anyone in real terms.

Bingo duty halved and duty on the fixed odds betting terminals (computer roulette machines) raised. So bingo gambling good and machine betting bad? In real terms, bingo returns to the treasury must be tiny so there is no real difference, and the increase in the FOBT is huge, so a nice little earner. For those who don't know, these machines is why there are bookies everywhere now, not a sudden increase in people betting on horses, but a limit in the number of machines per shop but no limit on the number of shops...

Massive changes to pensions that are too complex to go into, but seem to have taken many by complete surprise, which usually smacks of a last minute idea that has not been thought through. Also changes to savings vehicles and new investments for pensioners. If I was a more cynical man I would say it was directly aimed at getting the older generation to vote Tory and not UKIP in a year and a bit, which it is. Also if I wanted to invest in the over 65s only bonds, surely I would just give a parent the cash to put in - they could say they won it on the bingo!

No increase on fuel, and the planned rise cancelled - a wise political move, that needs to be off the agenda as election year gets closer, can't be having the agenda driven by that, especially with the unknown future with Russia as it stands.

Increase in the Help to Buy scheme. As I have said since this was introduced, what was in all that "toxic debt" that was one of the factors behind the recession? Encouraging people to borrow up and over affordable levels on historically low interest rates when the increases are almost guaranteed next year seems an insane idea. Creating a housing boom when people are still having their houses repossessed as a result of the last one..

Anyway, the usual nonsense debates by the politicians showed that although the Tories are completely out of touch with most of the electorate (hence the huge gifts to pensioners) Labour have no defence or opposition capable of or worthy of winning an election and the Lib Dems don't count.

One thing that I only realised this morning, is with the fixed election dates now, there is a budget about 3 months before the election. As a betting man I would say to place your pension pot on some promises that involve substantial tax cuts for those on basic rate will be the key discussion point twelve months from today.

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Will You Divorce Me....

Before any panic sets in, that is not a conversation we will be having today at home, as it is our 12th Wedding Anniversary, and a cooking marathon is underway and wine is chilling and breathing all over the place!

In the news this week was talks on making "pre-nup" agreements an actual legally binding contract between couples before they get married (or civil ceremonied). How does that actually work in life, what is in peoples heads that makes this normal?

I know a lot of people who have been married years, my parents well over 50 years now, but also know some who split in the first year of marriage, in a couple of cases where they had been together for many years before getting married. What sort of a lie are you living if your marriage doesn't even last a year - why are you going through with it knowing it won't last?

And to me, that is a pre-nup agreement summed up in one.

Top of the Empire State Building or on a beach, or in a fancy restaurant, the question is popped "Will you marry me" which traditionally has the implied lines following that it is for the rest of your lives. At what point do you drop in to conversation that you don't think it is going to last, and you actually think it will end so acrimoniously that you need to have written down who gets what. 

Divorce happens, and clearly sometimes it is out of the blue for one of the parties involved, but to really decide that it is likely that is going to happen in my mind means that possibly getting married is not the best idea at that stage in your relationship.

Anyway, in funnier news, Debbie was looking up a recipe in an old cook book from 1968 of her mums from before she got married, and weirdly it is full of adverts as well as recipes. Some funny and of times gone by, and this excellent one for a Kenwood Chef. Like many decades, it was different back then....

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And on that note, we are off out for a drink before lunch.

The Culture Issue

A few things that I feel deserve a bit of a review, and also some moaning at the end, so basically something for readers old and new today.

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First off on Saturday we went to a photography exhibition at the Science Museum, which apart from seeming an odd venue for this event is also well worth spending a few hours in every now and then.

As the poster her shows, the exhibition focussed on the work of the late Tony Ray-Jones and is collated by, and also includes work by, Martin Parr. It is always hard to describe works of art using just words, but the image on the poster and some of those on the website were enough to pique my interest, and also that of Debbie who is a photographer.

All in black and white, and from the late 60s and early 70s, this is a social history of times gone by but that I still seem to have in my memory, some from actual memory and obviously a lot from acquired memories.

Images of people at the seaside and in beauty competitions alongside village fetes and traditions, this is nostalgia wrapped up in a purely English feel. Men on the beach in vests and braces, doing DIY in three piece suits, truly memories of days gone by, I have a mild obsession with the English seaside resort and its history so found a lot of the pictures absolutely riveting. Look quickly and you see the main subject, look again and more and more makes its way into your mind. Many times I was stood staring at pictures for 5 minutes or more.

A girl on a blanket on Brighton beach, look again and also on the blanket are piles of 7" singles and a portable record player, look again and there is more. Ray-Jones knew what he wanted to do and what he wanted to capture, many of his notebooks and lists are part of the exhibition, giving a really clear insight into what he wanted to achieve, sadly unfulfilled as he died at 31.

Well worth the £8 to see it, inspiring and thought provoking, along with some excellent laughs included, anyone of around my age and older will really see their youth in these pictures, and for the others, it is an eyeopener. Look out for the man in the East End of London with a pet monkey, looking like it is more natural than anything else in the world!

Later the same day we went to see a stage adaptation of my favourite book, 1984. It was with some trepidation that I decided to go, as even the trailers for the film that was made in '84 were so bad that I have never bothered to watch the film, as the imagary is key to the book. 

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However, all the reviews were positive, and it didn't take long to see why. 

Rather than just transfer the story to the stage, it was far more about Winston and his descent into paranoia and the inevitable end, that if you know the book, it can only ever end that way. Repeated scenes with subtle differences, background stories and a superb stage set that worked perfectly made it a wonderful play. Some scenes played out and viewed on a large screen, others in the multipurpose room and towards the end Room 101 was as it should be, like the hospital in Manhunter, over the ridiculous setting for Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

The "Two Minute Hate" scene where all the cast are on the front of the stage was intimidating and unnerving, as was the torture at the end, brutal while hidden, it was not for the faint hearted.

This was the end of the run, but if the play is ever on again I advise going to see it, as with the photography exhibition, better than anticipated.

And to end a moan, that is a little late, but justified. 

Anyone following the music press or listening to 6 Music in the last few weeks can't help but have noticed that Prince was "on tour" in the UK. The speech marks are because he wasn't really on tour, but acting like a total idiot, I am so glad that I don't actually like his music enough to have wanted to see him live. What he did was announce a few hours before where he was playing, and expect people to turn up and queue for hours to maybe get in. Clearly the celebrities all managed to get in without having to queue for hours, which would be enough to make me violent!

That in itself is bad enough, but some of the gigs didn't start until midnight, which is fine if you are unemployed and live next door to the venue meaning you can turn up at a moments notice, queue all afternoon, see the gig and get home without having to worry about work the next day. Or if you are a rich pop star with a limo to the hotel / afterparty and you don't have to get up for work.

Like Axl Rose and the Bieber, forgetting that without the fans he is nothing, and then treating them with utter contempt, it made me laugh out loud that at one of the Manchester shows only 100 people were queuing so were let in early to the first show. I will say that the few people I know who did get in said he was superb and excellent, but that would be the least you would expect for taking a day off work with no notice...

 

Cheesy, in a good way.

While discussing Sunday Roast Lunches on twitter the other day (who said it was all pictures of food and cats....) I mentioned that one of the components of ours is always Cheesy Leeks, and so much so that anyone who is coming for lunch checks in advance that this will be part of the meal.

A few people asked for the recipe, so rather than try and explain in a sequence of tweets with room for about 10 words in each, here is the recipe via the very talented @imagingessence. As she was doing the cooking I took the pictures, which always drives her mad :-)

Large leeks cut in half and sliced.

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large knob of butter - about 20g

heaped teaspoon of plain flour

half level teaspoon mustard powder

Good handful of grated cheese - parmesan or strong flavoured cheddar

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salt & pepper

Milk - semi skimmed or full fat

Sweat the leeks in the butter until just about cooked through, still with a bit of crunch.  Add the flour and mustard and cook out over a medium heat for a few minutes stirring all the time (non stick saucepan the best).

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Then add the milk a splash at a time mixing through well between splashes until required consistency, not to runny but you want it to be creamy.  Add seasoning and the cheese and stir through thoroughly.

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Tip if you are going to make in advance, put some grease proof paper on the top to stop a skin forming and remove just before reheating in the pan.

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And that is it. An excellent addition to your roast dinner - and make sure you have enough left over to mix into the Bubble & Squeak for tea on Monday!

High Speed Internet - The Slow Response....

As regular listeners will be aware I was bothering my MP about the provision of high speed broadband, not just in my own interests as there is a far wider issue here. The original post from November 2013 is linked here.

I got the initial reply from my MP and also Ed Vaizey from the Department for Culture Media & Sport last week, and have uploaded copies here (with my address removed being the only changes). 

In short, and in a totally unsurprising way not one of my questions was actually answered and as yet after 2 months BT have not replied at all. So the Government see no need to actually update me on work that is being paid for from central funds to a very profitable PLC, and BT see no reason to reply at all. My questions were not complicated, and could be answered by any number of people off the top of their head, but as I know from experience and others in similar situations the answer should it ever arrive will include the words "commercially sensitive".

While there are commercial issues at stake, this helps me and others not one bit, so I will chug along on my slow internet connection while I wait for the response from BT and then follow up with next steps, including I guess an FOI request to see if I can get anywhere.

My frustration is not at any individual, after all mistakes are made and people move onto different jobs and companies, but nobody seems willing to even accept that there is a problem let alone engage in a process to start addressing it.

Letters copied below should you want to read a load of nothing.

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What we did on our holidays....

Coming to the end of posts about Japan now, this one a brief recap of where we went over Christmas and New Year and the next one more a combination of hints and tips that we picked up from many people before we went that really helped, and a few people have been asking for.

We decided on Japan for Christmas and New Year for a few reasons, a place we had always wanted to visit being top, but also due to a combination of offers and points and airmiles we were able to fly Business Class there and back, which at least meant we could catch up on some films and have a comfortable flight! Filled with anticipation that cost was going to be extreme, as so many people comment on the costs, the initial planning looked quite reasonable, to the level that I had to keep double checking the exchange calculator as some places seemed almost too cheap.

Anyway, we boarded the flight, had some champers, and had all accommodation booked and a rough plan of what we were going to do each day sorted. It is always hard on a two week holiday to get the balance of not wanting to have a totally fixed schedule but also not wanting to have to spend time every day finding hotels. The luxury of travelling somewhere for months when younger, and not having to worry is long gone now sadly. Into Tokyo where we picked up our rail passes and onto the first hotel.

Instantly noticing the trains are clean, spotlessly clean, as are the tubes and underground, and the streets. And it was quiet. Could a place be more opposite to India? The roads are quiet, electric cars appear to be the majority, horns not being leant on, it was almost eerie, this was the middle of the day in a busy part of town - not what I expected at all. The hotel was spotlessly clean, slippers and room wear provided (as in every hotel), small and compact would be an estate agents description but a bed, toilet and shower - what else do you want on holiday?

First mealA wander down to the Rappongi district to get some bearings and more importantly some food and the area was certainly busier, with shops and restaurants everywhere, the majority without English menus which is a positive as it means you are not in a full tourist area. We picked a place at random, but had a small queue in the doorway, so after watching others add their name to a list, I did the same and hoped that meant we would eat soon! Within a few minutes we were taken to a table and given at least 4 different versions of what seemed to be the same menu and given some green tea and water (as everywhere). Ordering some Ramen Noodle dishes by pointing and using our very limited Japanese seemed to go OK, although Debbie also tried to order 2 beers, the waiter smiled, laughed, walked away and was never seen again - so we didn't have our first beer there!

Plastic Food PlatesSightseeing the next day in a slightly dull Tokyo weather-wise, the top of the Tokyo Tower not even visible, but we started at the Sensoji Temple, possibly the biggest tourist attraction, and then after discovering an area called "Kitchen Town", a street in Asakusa, we went there to be amazed by the displays and arrays of kitchen implements and restaurant paraphernalia - including multiple shops selling platic plates of food and drinks. These are actually used outside almost all restaurants and made to order to show exactly what you will get, size and portion wise, if you eat there. Some of them were incredibly realistic, and the prices matched the quality as you would expect.

Snow Monkeys in the bath!The next day was a train ride to the mountains to the West to have a long walk in the hills, see the Snow Monkeys and sat in a traditional Ryokan, sleeping on rattan futons and using the Onsen hot tubs was excellent after a very long day. Stumbling accross a micro-brewery on the walk back to the accommodation was a welcome surprise, and a wonderful pint of a local (strong) beer. Dinner at a small restaurant where nothing was in English again worked out well, fried dumplings and stews were what came out from the tiny kitchen, and the restaurant was full of Japanese locals so I think we hit a lucky one there!

Off to Mt Fuji next for a few days, which is linked here. Also a very long (and cold) walk around two of the five lakes in almost complete solitude was lovely. Although in a tourist area the place we stayed was hidden away and 20 miles from the theme park and massive hotels, an excellent find, and food to match. The fact that all the staff from the hotel came out to flag the bus down seemed to be not only a friendly gesture but also an indicator that they were used to people missing them and being stuck 20 miles from the train station!

More excellent train travel to Kyoto, with Bento Boxes and a can of beer on the train, like pretty much everyone in our carriage, certainly a better train meal than a Burger King. Kyoto is what many of the pictures of Japan looks like, loads of temples and shrines to visit and walk around, hi-tech areas for shopping and a fantastic amount of food to eat. Over the few days there we had dumplings, pork, fish, sushi, sashimi, noodles and a great amount of street food. Stuffed buns and balls with fillings ranging from sweet bean paste to spicy pork and eel, items on sticks from chunks of raw tuna to whole squid. One thing you wont do in Kyoto is be hungry.

Almost never ending gatesA side trip out to the town of Nara to climb a hill with 36,000 gates to pass through was a breathtaking morning, in the physical as well as the visual sense. Mile after mile of orange gates, painted with prayers and shrines with offerings at every turn. Again it seems prayer and offering is the default position for so many people for so many reasons. For interest, there are five different sizes of gates, and they are all replaced every five years, the cheapest works out at around £1000 and the dearest was well over a hundred times that - so rest assured someone somewhere had their prayers answered for their "business" to succeed.

On to Hiroshima the next day, there is clearly not a lot to say about the town that doesn't reflect what happened there, the museum is haunting and absolutely depressing in every way about the desire of humans to self destruct. Our one break to an Irish Bar as I wanted a few simple pints and Debbie had a pizza for tea was there, which was close to the Red Light area in Hiroshima, which is indicated on the map given us by the hotel as "A bit of a dodgy area", which is a polite way of putting it I guess.

Back to Tokyo on the bullet train, again clean, fast, quiet, spacious - there really is so much to learn from Japan on how they run their transport systems. Tokyo like any major city is so huge you could spend a month there alone and still not really scratch the surface. We were sadly too late getting to the shop where you can hire a cat to stroke by the hour (not a euphemism by the way) but went to the Sumo arena and Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Gardens and the youth area and park of Hakaburu which again needs a whole seperate piece to try and describe.

Yellowfin TunaThe fish market at Tsukiji is one of the must see places in Tokyo, and I can assure you the numbers of people there trying to buy fresh (and alive) fish of all descriptions and the queues for the restaurants are like nothing I have experienced. To "walk" down one street of less than 100 metres took just over 40 minutes, the mass of humanity at total gridlock. We escaped in the end by diving through a restaurant kitchen and back door. 

The wholesale market earlier was a different experience, all the traders clearly used to tourists with varying levels and amounts of camera equipment, but not giving any quarter to them. It is a trade market and they are doing business, but keeping your eyes open and smiling a lot lead to Debbie getting some quite stunning photographs and me getting a few snapshots and almost getting run over by the fork lift trucks hurtling around everywhere. Quite an eye opener for me - I had no idea that much of the tuna was flash frozen on the boats and cut up with band-saws, the really expensive fresh tuna being cut in a way that I am sure would put some surgeons to shame.

Overall, and I have written far more than I thought, and missed out well over half of the places we visited, I can't recommend Japan enough for a holiday! And there are more pictures should you want to see them if you click the link at the top.

Employment - Japanese Guarantee

While travelling and holidaying all over the place, there are some places that I always seem to find myself, and that is the religious buildings in whatever place I am in. It is logical really, they tend to be among the oldest, biggest, impressive buildings anywhere, and there is always something to learn about the locals or culture there as well.

There is a common theme among almost all of them, all countries and religions alike, and that is a seemingly insatiable desire to hoover money from the pockets of visitors. Entry fees and donations to help with the upkeep of something I have no issue with at all, but in some cases the sole purpose of the place seems to be purely to make money. I am old and ugly enough to realise that many of these buildings are covered in and full of gold, so while there are some who use the money in a "charitable" way there are more than enough who seem addicted to bling, not helping the hungry.

Anyway, while I could rant on about this for weeks, just a quick example of what I mean - these pictures from the Golden Temple in Tokyo (yes, it is covered in gold), but typical of almost all places of worship we visited in Japan. Buy a candle, a piece of wood, a piece of paper, a bracelet, an orange gate - write something on it and your prayer will come true.

So, not wanting to pass up the opportunity to guarantee I get a job, 200 yen seemed a small price to pay. And I didn't feel guilty that World Peace was only an extra 300 yen, I am sure someone else will pay that one...

Trains - and why we all need to do better

New Year in the UK and train fares continue the upward march, to the point that to buy a season ticket and "extras" like the bus to the station is now approaching £10,000 gross for many people. That is a hell of a lot of money to just get to work for anyone. Clearly the service, or at least the perception of it, does not improve at anything like the rate of the price to use it.

Anyone who uses twitter in the mornings just sees an endless series of complaints, and it seems no rail company is that much better or worse. Delays, cancellations, short trains, missed connections, rammed conditions, broken toilets, wrong platform information.... The list is almost endless, and yet is the same in the summer, the winter and the dreaded "leaf season" that seems to be a surprise that only started happening in the last few years.

As you may have realised (or indeed become totally bored with) I and the wife spent Christmas and New Year in Japan, and chose to use public transport for all the travel we had planned as we had no desire to hire a car. 

Train passes purchased we left the airport, and even from the first train we caught the difference in service was so outstandingly different it is hard to comprehend what Japanese travellers must think when they arrive in the UK for the first time.

Not just the look of the trains, but the size of them, the frequency, the spacious seats, the simple booking system, the 100% absolute cleanliness. Also the speed, the efficiency, if the train arrival was late it more than likely meant your watch was wrong. In a country covered in mountains that is prone to earthquakes the way their train (and in the cities they have one) the underground services run should be the aspiration level for the rest of the world.

At the start / end of the journey every seat is reversed so that everyone faces in direction of travel, but if you are in a group of 4 for example, you can change the seat configuration to suit you. A team of cleaners actually clean the train, spotlessly. Every surface cleaned, every bin emptied, toilets cleaner than many hotels I have stayed at over the years are just part of the benefits.

Laid out in ways that there is maximum luggage room in racks and at the ends of the carriages, tables that are not affected if the person in front reclines their seat - the shinkansen range as pictured is the rough equivalent of Virgin trains on the West Coast line. I say rough equivalent, the similarity ends with the word "Train". Clearly there is a cost, but it was far cheaper than expected, and a two week pass for almost all trains was a lot less than an open return to Manchester from London. (Two week pass = £264. Return from Euston to Manchester today= £321).

That is stunning isn't it - even though I know and accept the travel pass is subsidised for tourists, there were hardly any restrictions, we went on the fastest trains at peak times, with booked seats and had no issues at all with any availability. We changed some trains to get seats together instead of two aisle seats, hardly an inconvenience when the next train was due within five minutes on a route of a six hour journey.

So the first point is that I feel all executives from all the train companies in the UK need to go to Japan and travel for 2 weeks exclusively by train, and then return to the UK and do the same. Any of them who then say they are proud of the service offered in the UK are either lying or stupid.

The second point comes down to us the public though, and is just as important when understanding how good the service overall is. On every platform there are markers showing where the doors will be, and marked on the platform is where to queue. This is adhered to as close to 100% as you can get, and makes all the difference. Everyone getting off gets off, and the people who arrived on the platform first get on first. No pushing, no shoving, no arguments, just simple common sense and politeness. Almost no rubbish is left in or around the seats, everyone takes it to the bins at the ends of the carriages. Nobody makes or answers a phone call in the carriage, they go to the end of the carriage and use the cubicles provided.

What seems like total sense is what is missing from almost all UK train travel in my experience, but this requires a huge shift in manners and "intelligence" as everyone has to comply with the guidelines for it to work, but it works in Japan so why not here in the UK?

As we move closer to building HS2, which will still not be to the standard in Japan, do we need a much wider overhaul of all the railways, how they work, how we use them, and getting what we pay for - I think we do - and while I will criticise the rail companies in the UK as much as the next commuter, we also need to take some responsibility.