Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"There is no need to whine. Everyone must work,"

The weather has thawed here in the UK and things are getting back to normal. I am aware however that many, many workers are on extended holidays throughout the winter festival and will not be returning to work until Tuesday 4th January 2011. It is a bad show when workers abandon their jobs and the country grinds to a halt.

Things have been bad in Russia and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered officials to work over the New Year holiday so that Moscow's struggling airports get back to normal. Mr Putin castigated government officials at a televised meeting, pointing to transport chaos and power cuts triggered by icy weather. More than 8,000 people got stuck at Moscow's Domodedovo airport because they had not been warned, he said. Hundreds of flights were cancelled at Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo airports.

"There will be no holidays until a special order is given. Everyone must be at work," he told cabinet ministers and regional governors.

"There is no need to whine. Everyone must work," Mr Putin said on Wednesday.

That's the spirit Vladimir, tell all the workers to stop whining and get back to work. You have a country and airports to run, not a non-stop party venue. Things can be done when workers report for work and do not have that "it's pointless" attitude.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

last man standing by David Baldacci .

Meet Web London who works for the FBI. He is an assaulter on the Hostage Rescue Team, a highly trained sniper. Web is a member of the 7 man Charlie team who go on an operation, only to be ambushed. 6 members of Charlie team are shot dead, Web is the only member still alive, hence the title of the book - last man standing.

last man standing is a fast, action story. This book is a crime thriller that centres on conspiracy. This novel is a nice story to follow as your daily read. It has 548 pages and was written in 2001. The print size is relatively small, making this book a long read. The joy of this book is the level of detail that David goes into. This detail gives the reader such a full and explained picture. All these extra details just add to your enjoyment of this book as you pick up all these little pieces of information. You read about how snipers actually do their work, the pros and cons of different guns, night vision goggles and attack strategies. If you have a square building and are to launch a rescue using 2 entry points, which ones do you choose? You choose the back or front plus a side. You do not choose the front and back or both sides because of the danger of shooting your team members in the cross fire.

There is plenty going on in this story, which makes you wonder how this conspiracy is working and you start to hatch your own theories. This novel has a very involved plot which covers a lot of ground. Nothing big or really surprising happens but this lovely collection of a whole host of details build into a very full but not deep story. The ending was okay with everything resolved. A nice touch is that not every potential answer to the conspiracy part of this novel did not hold true. Just because parts of this novel appear to be extremely relevant, they can be false leads to the solving of the mystery behind the ambush where 6 members of Charlie team were shot dead.

last man standing is an entertaining read and is quite light in it's tone. It is a good book for readers who do not read often or are new to books. I think last man standing is a good book for everyone and I shall be voting it 4 stars on shelfari .

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The terrier will not be moved!

Terrier dogs can be rather stubborn and will not be shifted. We know as we have an 11 year old Lakeland-Jack Russell cross breed terrier who can be stubborn and grumpy if he does not get his own way. Click the link to read the story of Hamish, an 11 year old Cairn Terrier who boarded a service bus in Glasgow and refused to get off!

Cairn terrier Hamish had icicles on his coat when he boarded the bus on Wednesday in Dumbarton Road. He curled up in a warm spot and refused to move.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thank goodness they wearing listening.

Every day I make the same announcement over the microphone on my coach that "seat belts MUST be worn at all times whilst seated". Most passengers comply with this legal requirement to wear a seat belt but many ignore this legal requirement and my instruction. Sadly a coach crashed and overturned yesterday in Norlfolk.

The coach with 49 people on board was heading towards Norwich on Friday after visiting nearby Holt when it left the road, climbed a steep grass embankment and flipped on to its side. Norfolk Police said most of the passengers were walking wounded, with 15 suffering minor injuries and five seriously hurt with potential fractures and cuts. The force added that "thankfully" the passengers were wearing their seatbelts - meaning that despite the injuries, no-one was killed. Some had to be freed by firefighters.
An East of England Ambulance Service spokeswoman said 17 people were taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
One passenger said: "We had been to Holt and were heading towards Norwich. Me and my husband dozed off and the next thing we knew the coach was on its side."
Inspector David Ball of Norfolk Police said: "The people were trapped in the seats, thankfully they had seatbelts on. If nobody was wearing seatbelts... they'd have landed on top of each other, it would have been a lot worse. Thankfully we have had no fatalities involved in this."
Police are trying to establish why the crash happened. No other vehicles were involved. The pensioners were on a Christmas bus tour run by Stowmarket-based Galloway Travel.

The medical team from Anglia One , the air ambulance serving Suffolk and Norfolk, was also called to the scene.

Its clinical team of Dr Pam Chrispin and East of England Critical Care Paramedic Andy Downes then worked with road crews to assess the passengers. Dr Chrispin said: “This was a major incident but, forunately, all of those on board the coach were wearing their seatbelts and this certainly reduced both the number and seriousness of injuries received. We wish all those affected a speedy recovery.”

...So, there you have it. Listen, "Seats belts MUST be worn whilst seated". Coach crashes are very rare here in the UK but accidents do occur. It is both a legal requirement and best practice to wear a seat belt at all times, these passengers endorse this and are alive to tell the tale.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Nice bit of scaremongering from the South Wales Echo

In the latest arrests on alleged terrorists in the UK, Cardiff came tops with 5 men taken into custody under the Terrorism Act. Now the South Wales Echo asks "Were these Christmas terror targets?". Cardiff city centre and Bridgend Designer Outlet may have been at the centre of a planned terror attack. Documents seized in dawn raids found at some of the houses are believed to have contained information about both shopping centres. Documents seized from raided houses on Monday are alleged to have had information pertaining to the McArthurGlen shopping centre just off junction 36 of the M4 in Bridgend, which is now formally known as Bridgend Designer Outlet. It is understood that following the discovery of the information the outlet closed. But the centre’s manager Richard Garrett said the site had only closed two hours early at 7pm on Monday because of problems caused by the snow. He denied he had received information in relation to any specific terrorist threat. He said: “To be honest, what we read or see from yourselves [the media] is all we would know anyway.”

...Well, this surprises me for a number of reasons.

These arrests were made by unarmed police officers. Terrorists are evil, violent people who carry and use guns. The police always close roads in Cardiff at the drop of a hat and claim this is because of health and safety in case people walk off pavements and get knocked over by moving vehicles. The police with their obsession of health and safety are unlikely to enter a terrorist cell unarmed.

Remember the arrests in London of 6 Veolia workers because they were overheard in the staff canteen joking about making an attack on the Pope. Maybe these Cardiff men were joking about having suicide bombers at Bridgend and Cardiff shopping centres, they were overheard and next thing they get a 05.00 house alarm call from the police. Oh dear, I have joked and raised my own concerns about the need to look closely at all the passengers before boarding them in both Birmingham Coach Station and London Victoria Coach Station. When you look at the density of passengers in the crowded waiting areas it frightens me that it would make a prime suicide bomb location with the prospect of many fatalities from the confined area. Will I be getting a visit from the police for expressing my concerns, remember I also have a beard!

Think about the timing of these arrests under the Terrorism Act. The police have had a lot of criticism lately over it's very rough handling of demonstrators in London. The police want to get the public back on side and frightening them by making arrests under the Terrorism Act is one way to convince the public that the police are their friends in the fight against all evil. At this time of year the police have their annual drink drive campaign with suspicion thrown on all drivers. This can cause a lot of resentment from sober drivers having to prove their innocence but with an increased awareness of a potential terrorist attack, the police will appear to be vigilant in protecting the public.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Nice bit of comment from James Moore .

There is a nice bit of comment today from James Moore in the Business section of the Independent newspaper, take it away James...

The failure's the same on the trains, the buses and the planes.

There are two major problems with the transport industry. One is having quarterly results fixated private companies providing essential services that usually require long-term strategic thinking and lots of investment. That's not easy to fix given that it requires action from politicians with both vision and a degree of common sense (good luck).

The other problem – and it applies to the railways, the airlines and airports, and even bus and coach operators – is that those companies treat their customers not as valued commodities, but as an inconvenience.

The most egregious example of this is the way passengers have been kept on planes and warned that they will be arrested under terrorism laws if they attempt to disembark. Or the bus companies which shrug their shoulders when their drivers treat people with small children and prams with a quite astonishing level of rudeness.

All of these examples – and there are many others – stem from the same root cause. That is, a complete lack of any incentive to do better. The structure of each industry means it is the company, not the consumer, that holds the whip hand. If you don't like the treatment you get at Tesco, you can probably find a Sainsbury's nearby, or an Asda, or a Waitrose or a Morrison's. But with transport companies, this is all but impossible.

...Nice one James! You sure know your sector and the reality of choice for passengers! If anyone working in the transport industry were to write this opinion on the internet then their line manager would promptly call them into the office to stop them writing about the industry's problems again. Thank goodness we still have a free press in the UK - even if the workers are not allowed to publish their opinions on the internet for passengers to be better informed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Accidental Farmer .

Thoroughly enjoyed watching Accidental Farmer on BBC1 television last night. Erin Taylor is a high-powered, London-based advertising executive and she buys a rundown farm in Yorkshire. Erin decides to make a go of it - how hard can it be to run a farm?

This one-off comedy drama was very good to watch. It made a very entertaining television programme that lasted 60 minutes, it was not too short and it was not padded out either. The whole programme had the character of a book rather than a television show. I think the writing of Daisy Coulam was spot on and I liked her humour that was not overplayed. The location of the farm in Yorkshire was beautiful and would be a lovely place to stay for bed and breakfast on a real working farm. I liked the dialogue of the characters, particularly Judith - the horsey neighbour, played by Sylvestra Le Touzel . I spotted an old actor from Spooks, one Raza Jaffrey who played Erin's boyfriend Mike. I do not know who the animal trainer was but there was a lovely little piglet who ran around Erin and the whole farm like a loyal family pet dog.

Well done the BBC for commissioning Accidental Farmer. Daisy Coulam scripted an excellent programme and I wish her many future programmes because I like her writing style. Accidental Farmer was a good television programme for when book lovers feel a little lazy but still want a good story.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Did you have a nightmare journey on the SDR?

Today the South Wales Argus asks...

Did you have a nightmare journey on the SDR?

WERE you stuck on the SDR yesterday? We had reports of people stuck for four to five hours due to the bad snow.

...Well, yes I did. The roads all around Newport yesterday afternoon were gridlocked. I was driving my coach down the A449 towards Newport when the telephone rang. Darren in the Cardiff office told me that there were severe delays along the M4 motorway around Newport and to use an alternative route. Rather than sit in a traffic jam along the motorway, I took Darren's advice and went into Newport along the old Chepstow road. I left the Coldra Roundabout at 14.30 and after a short distance I came to a halt. The traffic then crawled all the way into Newport city centre and I arrived at Newport Bus Station at 16.15 - my advertised arrival time was 13.15 - so my service was now running 3 hours late! Okay, this 3 hour lateness was not only due to the delays along the Chepstow Road, a journey that should have taken about 15 minutes rather than 1 hour 45 minutes. The nationwide company had decided to hold back my coach for 43 minutes in Birmingham for a connecting service that did not arrive into the station before I departed. There was reduced speeds along the M50 and A449 due to snow on the road but the Newport delays along the Chepstow Road still added 90 minutes to my journey!

The maximum a coach driver can drive without a break in the UK is 4 hours 30 minutes after which he must take a minimum 45 minute rest break. When I got to Newport Bus Station I only had 15 minutes driving time available, so I and my 15 passengers had to take a 45 minute break. I left Newport Bus Station at 17.00 and was determined not to get caught in the motorway traffic. I drove towards the SDR - Southern Distributor Road - the A48 as it is only 5 minutes drive from the bus station. I got to the traffic lights with the SDR and the traffic was at gridlock. Eventually I crossed the junction onto the SDR and it was a lengthy sequence of stop, crawl a few metres, then stop for ages. At 19.45 the traffic started moving at a steady 10 mph - I was queueing near the transporter bridge, what would normally be a 10 minute drive from the bus station NOT 2 hours and 45 minutes! These lengthy traffic delays in Newport alone added some 4 hours extra time behind the wheel.

I arrived in Cardiff Central Station at 20.30 - some 6 hours 45 minutes late.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Got paid my shift but did not take a coach out of the depot.

I left home early this morning to ensure that I reported for work at Treforest on time. It was heavy snow and very little traffic when I left home at 05.45 not knowing what I would face when I got to our depot. The car park was very thick with snow with plenty of spaces to choose from. I marched into the workshop and was greeted by my line manager and the driver for the first duty whose report time was 06.10 - 15 minutes before my allocated duty. I was told that no coaches would be leaving the depot for a while and to simply stand-by. I and the other drivers had simple tasks to do like sweeping snow around the depot and the car park, plus picking up litter from the coaches as all the cleaners ran away last night.

I had the really short shift that finishes at 11.00 although you gain 7 hours pay but do not get a rest break. My line manager and the nationwide company decided to suspend the 07.15 service from Aberdare and the 09.45 from Swansea due to the snow and the resulting travel chaos. Alan left our depot in his coach to go to Bradford but his instructions were to go direct to Worcester. This would avoid all the snow bound roads to Aberdare and then the many valley towns across the heads of the valleys road (A465), Abergavenny, Hereford, Ledbury and the Malverns.

All the drivers who managed to get to Treforest stood around chatting and waited for further instructions from management. It was then decided that the first service to operate from our depot to London from Cardiff would depart at 11.00 - this is the coach I would normally have brought in from Swansea. At 10.30 I was told to go home and I found the roads around Treforest Industrial Estate very icy indeed. Still not bad, 7 hours pay and I had not driven a coach on the public road.

When I got home I took our dog for a walk through the thick snow. Barney loved running through the snow and having a good sniff around. Then Barney started digging with his nose but I could see nothing through the thick snow. Then up it came, Barney's prize. Someone had discarded a doner kebab on the pavement and the snow had completely covered all traces of it. Barney found it and he wolfed it down, with that look in his eyes that says "this is mine, buy your own!"

Tomorrow I am on the early Bradford shift and I expect I will be following Alan by running empty as far as Worcester along the M4, M50 and M5. I think it will be a few days before all this snow thaws in south Wales and the roads get back to normal. The nice thing is that drivers do not get laid off, if they report for work they get paid.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The surprise of snow appears rather local.

I woke up this morning to snow, here in Cardiff. I went to work at Treforest and did my regular duty and drove a coach to London. I wondered what the day would hold for me as Cardiff was covered in snow. When I got to Junction 24 of the M4 motorway, just east of Newport, the snow stopped and the fields became green rather than snowy white. It was green fields all the way to London and all the way back as far as Junction 24 at Coldra. Then it was like going into another world, the snowy world. What a difference in the weather in such a short distance. All the way from Newport to London was a clear and sunny winter's day. West of Newport it was snow everywhere and quite deep in places. The traffic in Cardiff ground to a halt making journeys very lengthy indeed. Eventually I got home and felt as though there were 2 parallel worlds, clear winter's day England and snowy Wales. People in London were shocked at the snow and people in Cardiff thought it was nationwide rather than a spot of local bother. Strange world and I wonder what the weather will throw at me tomorrow?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The end of Book Army .

Sadly I received an email the other day...

As some of you may be aware, we have some rather sad news to share with you.
Two years ago, was launched with the aim of becoming the go-to social networking site for booklovers. It has had a great community from the beginning; book enthusiasts who have given great reviews and recommendations, and livened up the forums and groups. However, the decision has been made to close the site, after facing strong competition from similar sites and fewer advertising opportunities in such a tough economic climate. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank you sincerely for all your fantastic contributions to It's been a great
couple of years, and the team here will miss the site - particularly all of you - immensely. Should you wish to join another book site (sob!) then we've made it easy for you. There is now an Export function on your main profile page, which enables you to take your book lists and upload them to Library Thing , Shelfari or Goodreads . The site will be closing down on Tuesday 21st December, which we hope gives you plenty of time to get your content.
Once again, thank you for all your support.
The Bookarmy Team

...So, what was I to do? I looked at Library Thing and was shocked to read...

WHAT’S GOOD?... Enter 200 books for free, as many as you like for $10 (year) or $25 (life).

...Well, that is not on and it goes against the principal of all information being free on the internet! So onto goodreads and I found that the user book reviews are not shown in chronological order. That annoys me as Book Army always showed the latest reviews of a book first. That in my opinion should be the format for all book clubs as it gives a time line and perspective to the whole website. That left me with considering shelfari . Well, shelfari passes my simple test, all user book reviews appear in chronological order and are rated using the same 5 star voting system that I found so appropriate on Book Army.

I have now made the switch and have become a member of shelfari which I will use in the same way that I have used Book Army. It is not the biggest online book club, that is clearly goodreads, but shelfari gives me just what I want in a format that I approve. It is a big shame that Book Army stopped, I was surprised the website closed considering it was run by HarperCollins, the well known book publisher. Still, nothing stays the same on the internet and everyone has to move onto the next thing going. It was good that Book Army sent out that email to it's users rather than simply pulling the plug. If they had quietly pulled the plug without notice there would probably have been a backlash on the internet and sales of HarperCollins books would have suffered as Book Army users went into a sulk and voted with their pockets.

I have now exported the list of the 65 books that I have rated on Book Army onto my shelfari profile. It is nice to see what the average reader actually thinks of the books they have read because there is a lot of choice in the market and something for everyone. There is no need to stick with the top selling authors with their large marketing budgets, take a gamble and try something different. You could be pleasantly surprised by the quality of other authors who may not be in the best selling charts.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Passengers, customers or criminals?

The nationwide company has instructed every driver to make the following announcement along side all other safety announcements...

"As part of our ongoing commitment to ensure customer safety, where CCTV is in operation on our coaches it is for the prevention of crime and will be used as evidence, if required."

...Well, that was a surprise new instruction from the nationwide company. Why does the driver need to caution the passengers in this manner, so very similar to the Miranda warning across the pond? This is treating the passengers as criminals, it is not passenger friendly and is quite aggressive. I feel this warning is unnecessary, it is quite threatening and gives the wrong impression to passengers. This warning is needless because we should aim to grow the business rather than criminalize the passenger. It is pointless calling a passenger a customer, when really you are suspecting them of a crime. Changing the words from a passenger to a customer, does not avoid treating these people as potential criminals. All the good work that has gone on towards drivers being friendly has now been blown away by this instruction to warn the passengers about CCTV.

Will this CCTV evidence be used to enforce the wearing of seat belts by the passengers? Time will tell.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Another spy in the cab.

Today sees the activation of another spy in the coaches of the nationwide company. The spying device is provided by Traffilog . This technology from Israel collects data in real time and gives transport managers tremondous real time information on what their drivers and coaches are doing. All this information is relayed to a website and stored for future analysis. Transport Managers can view this data in real time or analyse the complete journey records at their leisure. There are 3 seperate types of data collected.

Temperature: One of the most frequent complaints from passengers is that their coach is too hot or too cold. The interior temperature of the coach is monitored by the Traffilog system and the temperature recorded. When the passenger complaint comes in this record is checked and the passenger is informed what the recorded interior temperature was. If the passenger was making a silly complaint then their complaint will not be upheld. If the passenger was making a valid complaint then the operator will be contacted and forced to repair their coach.

My past experience is that operators are reluctant to spend money and repair air conditioning systems and heater shut off valves when they fail. Then the coaches get very hot indeed, the drivers report the defects but they are ignored by the operator until the nationwide company responds to passenger complaints. In the winter I have never been cold on a coach but quite often women will complain that the coach is cold. I look at them and can see that they are only feeling cold because they refuse to dress sensibly for the weather. They get onto my coach feeling cold because of their lack of clothing and their bodies will take a long time to warm up, so they start nagging. I welcome the temperature monitoring system by Traffilog because it will refute these nagging women in the winter and force operators to fix the air conditioning and heater shut off valves in the summer.

GPS locating: Traffilog transmits the GPS location of the coach every 90 seconds. I welcome this facility because it should stop Service Support telephoning the driver whilst he is driving, to ask where the coach is and if he has serviced a particular stop. Service Support can then advise the complaining passenger where their coach actually is and when it may arrive at their stop. It will also stop passengers from lying that the coach never turned up at a particular stop. This GPS locating and recording will show the nationwide company just how unrealistic their published journey times actually are in practice. Forget the claims made by the nationwide company that most of their coaches arrive at their destinations on time, these records will demonstrate just how late the coaches are running every day!

D-MAS - Driver Manoeuvre Awareness System: Now this is the controversial part of the Traffilog technology. A quick glance on the internet will show you a newspaper story written by Yoav Kaveh of the Jewish, Haaretz national daily newspaper...

Traffilog's Israel operation manager, Yoav Megged, relates the difficulties involved in getting the monitor installed in high-tech companies in Israel. "At this point in time," he says, "when demand for quality human resources is greater than supply, the managers of companies are wary of employees protesting or quitting, and refuse to install our system." On the other hand, Traffilog monitors has been marketed successfully to trucking companies. Jafora-Tabori, which maintains more than 100 trucks, has managed with the help of the system to reduce driver aggressiveness dramatically, saving an average of 12% in fuel costs since the system was installed, or about NIS 2.5 million annually, that's 300,000 liters of fuel.

The company's management has decided to use the monitoring results more as a basis for incentives for good and economical drivers, and less for sanctions against aggressive and wasteful drivers, by offering outstanding drivers flight tickets for overseas vacation once a month.

...So what is D-MAS - the Driver Manoeuvre Awareness System? All drivers MUST log in before starting a vehicle by entering their unique 4 digit pin number. The D-MAS is a display with 5 illuminating lights, designed on the principal of a traffic light (red, amber and green). The D-MAS indicates to the driver in real-time the severity of acceleration, braking and turning manoeuvres. At the end of each journey the D-MAS also provides an overall score based on the total number of acceleration, braking and turning events conducted. - How to use D-MAS - Whilst driving: The D-MAS display will light up to inform you of any excessive accelerating, braking or turning immediately after the event has taken place. To dim the lights hold down any button for 3 seconds. - At the end of each journey: The D-MAS will bleep twice and light up one of the coloured buttons continually, this will signify your overall score for the journey. The overall score is calculated by assigning points to each event with red events being assigned more points than amber events etc.

My opinion of this Driver Manoeuvre Awareness System is that it will not affect the majority of drivers. The Driver Manoeuvre Awareness System is not a gimmick that the drivers can use, it is compulsory and I assume that any driver who does not log in with his pin number for each and every journey will be disciplined. Most drivers drive for their own comfort and safety, it is not a race to get to their destination at the advertised time! However the industry does have a problem with a very small minority of drivers who behave like boy racers. We all know the ones, the drivers who claim to get to their destinations on time, the drivers who tailgate other motorists on motorways, the drivers who violently switch lanes in traffic, the drivers who brake and corner hard. I do not have any time for these aggressive drivers and this Driver Manoeuvre Awareness System will record every journey these cowboy drivers complete. The data will be there for the transport managers to analyse and further training or disciplinary action will then follow. Also if a passenger complains about a particular driver's driving, then the recorded journey can be analysed and if the report shows green, then clearly the passenger is lying in an attempt to gain a money-off voucher and the nationwide company can refute their allegation. This Driver Manoeuvre Awareness System should enable transport managers across the whole network to get rid of by further training or disciplinary action the bad apples in the industry who are damaging the public service that sensible drivers should be proud of. This Driver Manoeuvre Awareness System should lead to smoother driving by the whole workforce and lengthen journey times to the embarrassment of the nationwide company. Smooth, safe and longer journey times, bring it on! The nationwide company has decided to invest in this Jewish technology because I believe that they do not trust their drivers to do a professional job. They clearly suspect that drivers are driving like boy racers and are missing registered stopping places, this Traffilog system will be the control measure of their authoritarian dreams. The big brother of Birmingham, who monitors your whole working day with the help of the Jews. The Driver Manoeuvre Awareness System also reports if the coach is stationary with it's engine running for longer than 15 minutes. Drivers who leave their engines ticking over are one of my pet hates. Did you know that their selfish laziness actually costs £8 an hour is wasted fuel oil? Transport managers can now stop this anti-social behaviour when drivers leave their coaches ticking over. This will make rest periods in London's New Covent Garden Market a much more pleasant affair as those ignorant drivers will now have to switch of their engines. Peace will return to this concrete jungle of South London thanks to the Driver Manoeuvre Awareness System. I will be very surprised if the top drivers receive any bonus for their good driving unlike the truck drivers working for Jafora-Tabori in Israel.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Curry in Bradford.

When I go to Bradford on the early shift, I do not have the breakfast in the Campanile hotel the next morning because of my early start. All drivers on the early shift get a money off coupon to use in the hotel restaurant. For a long time now we have had the very small menu labelled spring/summer to choose a meal from. Drivers were getting a little bored with the choice on offer but still week after week, we had the spring/summer menu. Autumn came and went with no change to the menu. It is now winter and still on the spring/summer menu the best bet was the lamb burger. Now anybody thinking of staying the night in Bradford would automatically think curry, not a lamb burger!

What a shock I got the other night when I was on the early shift staying overnight at the Campanile hotel in Bradford . The menu has now changed and it is labelled autumn/winter! Gone is the option of a lamb burger, so what shall I have? What is this - the Curry Club? Chicken Jalfrezi, Chicken Korma or Beef Madras with rice and a naan bread washed down with a bottle of Cobra. Yes please, Mr Barman, I will have one of those! And very nice the Beef Madras was too! Now that is Bradford for me, a bed and a curry. What more could a man want after a full day's work?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Truth versus fiction .

I enjoy reading books in preference to newspapers. I do enjoy a good story and the best fiction is the stories that are true to life. The book I am reading at the moment is called last man standing by David Baldacci. It is an action packed story involving the FBI Hostage Rescue Team and an undercover FBI agent. All good fun but the reader will always wonder just how far fetched the story may be. Now I read this true newspaper story about an actual FBI undercover agent. I am not making this up and it is not a new novel from David Baldacci...

The spying game wasn't all it was cracked up to be for Craig Monteilh, a convicted criminal recruited by the FBI to investigate the march of radical Islam into Southern California. His endless talk of violent "jihad" so alarmed worshippers at the local mosque, that they took out a restraining order against him. Monteilh spent 15 months pretending to be Farouk al-Aziz, a French Syrian in search of his religious roots. He prayed five times a day at the Islamic Centre in Irvine, Orange County, wearing white robes with a camera hidden in one of its buttons, and carried a set of car keys that contained a secret listening device. The enthusiastic attempt to catch local Muslims discussing terror campaigns backfired, however, when community leaders went to the police with fears that the suddenly devout young man, who got up to pray at 4am, had become a radical in their midst.

The terror case Monteilh had been helping build against Ahmadullah Niazi, the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden's bodyguard, collapsed in September, when the bungling informant revealed that his FBI handlers had instructed him to entrap his potential target and told him that "Islam is a threat to our national security". Yesterday, as details of his efforts to persuade Niazi to blow up buildings became public, leading US Muslim organisations said they have suspended all contact with the FBI in protest against the excesses of agents who are secretly, and in some cases illegally, monitoring mosques. "The community feels betrayed," Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella group of more than 75 mosques, told The Washington Post. "They got a guy, a bona fide criminal, and obviously trained him and sent him to infiltrate mosques... It's like a soap opera, for God's sake."

Monteilh, who had previously served time in prison for forgery, says he was recruited on his release in 2006 by FBI agents, who he met in doughnut shops and Starbucks outlets. After being given the code name "Oracle", he was told to root out radicals among the region's 500,000 practising Muslims. Over the 15 months that he posed as al-Aziz, Monteilh was paid almost $200,000 to pass secret tape-recordings of his conversations with local worshippers to his handlers. He became a regular at a local gym patronised by young Muslim men. "We started hearing that he was saying weird things," said Omar Kurdi, a Loyola Law School student who trained there. "He would walk up to one of my friends and say, 'It's good that you guys are getting ready for the jihad'."

In May 2007, Monteilh recorded a conversation in which he suggested to Niazi and another young man that they blow up buildings. Niazi appeared to agree with the idea, and the tape was subsequently used as evidence in the terror case against him. However, it now seems that Niazi had simply been attempting to humour someone he regarded as a dangerous extremist. Indeed, he was so concerned by "al-Aziz's" attempts to plot an attack that he reported it to community leaders, who passed details to police and took out a restraining order to prevent him from entering the Islamic centre. "Farouk had told them he had access to weapons and that they should blow up a mall," Hussam Ayloush executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said. "They were convinced this man was a terrorist." Soon after the restraining order was obtained, in June 2007, the FBI attempted to cut their ties to Monteilh. Several months later, the former agent was arrested and imprisoned on a separate theft charge. In January this year, after being released, Monteilh sued the FBI, alleging that the bureau conspired to have him arrested, then allowed his informant status to become known in prison, where he was stabbed. That lawsuit failed in September, prompting him to shop his bizarre story to the media.

...Well, that is one very funny story to laugh at indeed! The FBI recruiting a convicted forger in doughnut shops and Starbucks outlets with the message "Islam is a threat to our national security". Monteilh was humoured by the mosque and reported to the police for them to restrain the FBI undercover agent who was acting as a right nutter. Of course you can get up to 3 weeks from reading a book but this very short story certainly got a laugh from me!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Can we have our gun back please?

Women quite often will place their purse on the roof of their car, get in and drive off. If they are a really smooth driver and are incredibly lucky, then they may stop their car and retrieve their purse from the roof and learn by their experience. Generally they loose their purse and everyone rightly calls her a silly cow. I have just read this news story and this time it was a bloke. The Police Officer from the elite CO19 firearms unit had attended a briefing in Lambeth yesterday morning when he put the powerful stun gun as well as cartridges on the roof of his marked car. The weapon is believed to have dropped off somewhere between the Met's firearms base in Norfolk Row and Vauxhall Cross, where the officer stopped for petrol. A frantic search of the route has failed to find the bright yellow plastic gun, which resembles a handgun.

A Met spokesman said: “We are appealing for the assistance of the public in the return of the Taser. During the course of preparing the vehicle for operation after the briefing, the officer placed a Taser on the roof of a marked police vehicle. He then drove away from the base with the Taser still on the roof.”I do not think that the elite CO19 firearms unit of the Metropolitan Police will get their Taser stun gun back. The firearms officer has been suspended from operational duty and faces an internal inquiry.

...I expect there will be a lot of talk in the Police canteen and they will not be calling him PC Plod but PC Prick! One south London boy may be getting a second-hand toy gun for Christmas that will be the envy of his peer group because his new toy is clearly the dogs' bollocks!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Be afraid, be very afraid!

Sadly a 70 year old German tourist was killed by a shark, whilst she was swimming just 20 metres from the shore at the luxury resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. We will be going on holiday to Egypt next year and you will not be getting me into the sea. There are some very real dangers all swimmers face when they decide to go for a swim in the sea. I enjoy swimming a lot on my holidays but all my swimming is done in the hotel pool. Life is about managing risks and I can't see the point of putting yourself at unnecessary risk by swimming in the sea, when you can have a far more enjoyable swim in the hotel pool. I get far more pleasure from swimming in a hotel pool than swimming in the sea. This is without the risk you encounter in the sea from pollution and nasty creatures taking bites out of you. Some swimmers also get caught out at sea by the depth and current which can result in drowning, a fatal risk that is avoided in the hotel pool.

I am not alone in my opinion about not wanting to swim in the sea. Dominic Lawson writes a very good column in the Independent today...

Similarly, one must not say of the 70-year-old German woman who last weekend was mauled to death by a shark in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh: didn't it occur to her that if a few days earlier two tourists off the same beaches had lost significant parts of their anatomy (respectively, a hand and a leg) to two different sharks that it would not be very sensible to swim out in those waters?

...So, there you have it, be afraid - be very afraid! You have paid a lot of good money for your holiday, so do the sensible thing and only swim in the hotel pool. The three Russians and a Ukrainian tourist who were mauled last Wednesday got off relatively light, the 70 year old German paid the ultimate price for not learning from other people's misfortune.

Friday, December 03, 2010

It's snow go for Santa!

A charity Santa jog has been postponed until after Christmas due to the weather. The British Heart Foundation Cymru’s event was due to take place in Bute Park, Cardiff this Sunday but the charity said the risk of snow showers and freezing conditions meant it was unsafe to go ahead. Hannah Townsend, BHF Cymru’s Events Organiser said: “We have had to take this decision to cancel this Sunday’s event due to severe weather warnings issued this morning by the Met Office for Sunday. We have surveyed the paths this morning at Bute Park and they are really treacherous with thick ice and unlikely to thaw by Sunday. We have made every effort to try to and get a supply of grit to the route but the current snow crisis has meant delays in grit deliveries to the city."

...Well, this cancellation is daft. Oh yes, we have had a very light dusting of snow here in Cardiff but nothing much. I have walked Barney for a fair walk every day and he has loved it. The water has been rather cold, so this has stopped him jumping in rivers and streams. We walked past 2 fishermen this morning along the banks of the River Ely and there were small areas of ice on top of the water which did not deter these men from their hobby. To cancel this charity run is daft, people can get around Cardiff with ease. It annoys me how the British close things because of a bit of snow. There is no need for this, the weather and all it throws at us is just part of life, so get on with it. Schools across the country are closing for no reason at all. Think of the bad work ethic this is giving the pupils. To stop consenting adults from running around in a park wearing silly costumes is daft. Even the namby pamby school teachers in Cardiff are still reporting for work and all Cardiff schools are open for learning. So have a heart Hannah and let the consenting adults run around Bute Park and raise money for your charity. The event is now due to go ahead on Sunday 23rd January 2011. Hopefully the weather is not too cold for our fine weather friend!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Simple Act of Violence by R. J. Ellory .

When the fourth murder is discovered in Washington the newspapers give the serial killer a name - the ribbon killer. Detective Robert Miller is assigned to the case and things get complicated. This novel has 562 pages and was written in 2008. The story drags along as all the police leads come to dead ends. This tale lacks realism and I did not warm to the central character of Robert Miller. Nothing radical happened in this story and it has poor entertainment value. This novel fails as a thriller, it fails as a conspiracy and it fails as a social commentary. I did not like the structure of this book with it's brief chapters written in italics by the killer , and all the flashbacks that tell the tale of the killer's background.

R. J. Ellory has the skills of a good writer but A Simple Act of Violence is a poor story. There were a few bright spots scattered throughout this story but there were no big surprises. I took nothing away from this book. This novel is a tired story, a collection of not original themes strung together like a made-for-tv movie. It is a poor conspiracy involving an old favourite, the CIA. As you progress through this book your hopes drop, you feel as though it starts off good, then it drops to okay and then to poor. A steady decline that shows how poor the basic idea for this novel was indeed. The ending of this novel stretches it's lack of realism further still.

A Simple Act of Violence is a novel that I think you should let pass and I will vote it only 2 stars on book army . It is a poor crime thriller and is nowhere near as good as Ghostheart or A Quiet Belief in Angels . This is a shame as I enjoyed those 2 other R. J. Ellory books.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A bad hour of comedy on Channel 4 television.

There were two new comedy programmes broadcast on Channel 4 television last night. The first programme was called Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights and the second programme was called The Morgana Show . They were broadcast back to back and offered the viewer an hour of light entertainment. That was the hope!

Well, what a load of rubbish! I enjoy the stand-up comedy routines of Frankie Boyle and have loved his witty contributions to Mock the Week on BBC2 television. However, Tramadol Nights was very disappointing. Frankie's stand-up routine was only a small part of this programme and well down on his usual high standard. His routine was cheap and lacking of topical material. Frankie is paid to entertain an audience but he decided to bully the front row members of the audience for some very cheap laughs. The rest of Tramadol Nights was made from sketches that were frankly childish. The padding out of Tramadol Nights by these lengthy sketches made the whole programme drag. There was not one sketch that I found really funny and Frankie's stand-up was rather amateur. I shall not be watching this programme next week.

The Morgana Show was a new programme that promised something fresh, if the advertisements were to be believed. However, Morgana Robinson was a big disappointment. The style of the whole programme was simply a cheap take-off of Catherine Tate . Lots of laboured sketches featuring rather naff characters. Nothing in the whole programme made me smile or made me hope for more. The writing was cheap and none of the characters had an urban edge. I shall not be watching this programme next week.

So, that was two bad comedy programmes on Channel 4 television last night. I shall be watching neither programme next week because they are so badly written and cheap in both quality and content. If I had to suffer just one of these programmes which one would I choose and why? It would be The Morgana Show because it offers more variety than Tramadol Nights offers. Each sketch does not last as long as the sketches in Tramadol Nights do, so you will not get bored as quickly. Also Morgana Robinson's take-off of Cheryl Cole sounded voice perfect for an impressionist. That was not good comedy or original but simply a good impression.

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