Monday, 10 December 2018

The joy of exing Xmas

Spoiler Alert

If Christmas is your thing and I know some people who wait a whole year for the next one, you probably shouldn't read this. This vitriolic diatribe is about persuading you to abandon much of the 21st Century UK Christmas and make your own fun. If you feel the very idea is mean-spirited and tantamount to murdering David Attenborough, you should probably look away now. If however part of you thinks that there could be real joy to be had in walking the road less travelled, perhaps I can persuade you? You have been warned...

We cancelled Christmas last year. We simply, after forty something years stopped doing it. We celebrated the solstice on the night of the 21st. What with it being a real, observable thing requiring no faith based belief system and all. After the solstice it gets lighter daily, that surely is worth getting excited about? I know some people who are devout Christians and for whom Christmas is a massively important part of their year. If that's you, good on you, crack on. It's not though, my philosophical world view and I don't really want to play any more.

Our plan worked well. We lit a fire as it went dark (did I mention I like a fire) and had shed loads of candles on. Then ate food, had presents and went to bed. A shorter day that didn't start at 5AM or finish when you get bored of Mrs Brown's Boys had some tangible benefits: Our model had consequentially less chance of one eating or drinking oneself to death, the telly was no crapper than any other day and we actively avoided a row by being asleep.

We have fiddled around with the idea a little for this year but the core elements remain. For me the most significant factor is the feeling of release from the compelling need to do odd things because nearly everyone else does. This sense of liberation is something that will now be hard to give up easily. You will take my un-christmas from my cold dead hands.

Things we won't be doing during this years festive season or I hope ever again:

  • Sending Christmas cards or I imagine getting very many. I figure if we are worth talking to it will happen on one of the other 364 days in the year. If we aren't or you aren't, at least we won't both be pretending simply because it is dark, we are off work and the Victorians didn't have social media. Sorry if you are going to miss getting one, but honestly the joy of not writing them far outweighs the joy of trying to decide what to do with the bloody things for a fortnight before throwing them away.
  • Opening an advent calendar. Why, what is that about? I know Chris Rhea has already set off because I have heard it via The Daily Mash. Why doesn't' the arrival of the Messiah simply have a theme tune, it works well for Chris? We can all count to 24 and the date is on most people's phones nowadays. Do we need to mark the days with bad chocolate?  More to the point are there any religious celebrations we can't reduce to a chocolate-centric shopping opportunity? I was tempted to add to my keep list (see below), the Blue Peter Advent Crown just out of sense of nostalgia and because it had small fires on it (fire is good. I should have said that earlier). The fact it has tinsel on it, ultimately did for that idea. 
  • Eating turkey. It's proper shit isn't it? The best type of turkey is a chicken and that is so good we eat it all year round. Why have one day a year when you eat something worse for a special occaision? What kind of crap tradtion is that? The American settlers had no choice, the forests where full of them and food was scarce. We do, don't be stupid.
  • Anything to do with elf's: On a shelf, in a blender, negotiating with Michel Barnier about an amended Brexit settlement. In fact no elf based capers at all. Don't really have a problem with elfs, yet somehow the whole elf thing seems to have snuck up on us, for reasons I'm not really sure of. I'm against it.
  • Putting good whisky out for a reindeer herder when you could just drink it straight away. Some of it will evaporate that's why the bottle has a cork in it. Plain daft, not in my name.
  • Going out for a works Christmas dinner in some kind of fun park style, mass catering, 7th circle of hell event venue. You get a bad dinner, worse wine, but with glitter, tinsel, a party popper and Slade. You pay 35 quid for food and entertainment that under normal circumstances you wouldn't accept from a one hygenie starred kebab shop, on the way home after a skinful of IPA. Truly bizzare. Our running club holds it's Christmas do in January, genius idea. By then the staff are sober enough to heat the food up properly and as they do this stuff more than 10 days a year, don't drop things on you or fight with the Maitre D.
  • Feeling festive, whatever that is? This transcendental state often seems to involve mince pies, permanent inebriation and emotional meltdown from many true believers. They keep it together for a couple of weeks on the run in through most of December. Then colllapse faster than the agent of any Spice Girl but Posh claiming  their client is "to busy" to go back on tour one more time. Our festive friends implode or go full on supernova fruit loop for 48hours under the strain of providing, funding and experiencing a "proper Christmas." 
  • Mulled wine, that bollocks is just bad wine made worse. It tastes like stuffed up warm ribena  and that is not even ribena at it's best. Actually It tastes worse than the mouthwash at the dentist after a particularly painful scale and polish. I suppose it doesn't have the bits of plaque and blood in it when you spit it out, but that is all I have to say in it's defence. 

Things we are retaining because you can pick and choose what you do it turns out.

  • A tree and a few trees outside with lights on. Although the one inside is admittedly plywood it is a "tree" and the ones outside look nice whilst it is darker than Theresa May's political prospects. Anyway we are keeping trees with lights on, but no angels, fairies or other mystical tosh. I don't see fir trees in much scripture although I must confess I have only skim read a good proportion of it. As it stands it is mostly too bloody hot for coniferous trees in the middle east and I doubt it snowed much even a couple of millennia ago. We nicked the tree idea off the Germans, who nicked it off the Romans, who nicked it off the Pagans. I'm nicking it back, I like a tree.
  • Presents probably less of them but it' still nice to buy the kids a bit of stuff. I just won't be pretending though that a curiously coca cola inspired, weirdly attired, overweight, middle aged white bloke, has snook in whilst we were asleep. Strangely Santa  rather than trashing the place after roughing us all up a bit, prior to stealing the car keys and making off with the laptops, has decided inexplicably to leave loads of stuff for us to open, because he knows we have been GOOD. 
  • Doing something stupid or being in/near fancy dress on Boxing Day. For the last few years we have chased a turkey and/or a Brownlea around Otley Chevin. In the past mountains have been climbed, or raft races entered or some form of getting outside has been indulged in. Vitamin D is hard enough to come by without getting a whole pigs liver and a pint of cod liver oil down you before lunch during the dark days of winter. Being outside might just help a little. I will take the risk.
  • The  Royal Institute Christmas Lecturers. Top people talking about science but dumbing it down to a point I can understand it and so can my kids. That is definatley worth keeping and even getting a little enthusiastic about. It's Prof Alice Roberts this year, she is great, she knows about bones and dead people.
Have a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. Here's to longer days and shorter nights. Remember you don't have to do anything you don't want to.

Posted on 09:30 | Categories:

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Even more thoughts on a Harrogate Relief Road

Cairn Hotel in town this morning, NYCC are presenting their addendum to a report on congestion in Harrogate.

We are now offered:

A modified package B - sustainable interventions of many kinds, but including bus lanes, bike lanes, town centre pedestrianisation and crucially road space taken off cars, (not sure why no park and ride in this package seems daft).


Package E (iii) which is the sustainable stuff above, plus a park and ride, plus a relief road (the blue line above) but with no junction on Bilton Lane.

Many people speak at the start, the best for me are a guy Tony Hart (sorry if I got your name wrong) who is hilarious but also eloquently opposes the route in many ways.

The Keeping Nidd Gorge Gorgeous guy also has a go and was rousing and clearly angry, he feels North Yorkshire Council have produced a report that is not fit for purpose, as we still don't have enough detail on the proposed route. I cheered at the end, many loudly applauded and the meeting chair gave up on asking the crowd to be quiet, he must have known when he was beaten.

This morning Andrew Jones MP was on the front page of the Advertiser opposing a relief road. Graham Chalmers was dishing out papers at the start, nice touch it set the scene.

When Councillors commented on the report, Richard Cooper - Harrogate Borough Councils leader did the same as Andrew Jones and rather well. I have had my fallings out with Richard in the past over a bike crossing, but he was good today. He essentially said he was dead against the road as it would destroy the gorge, the greenway, the golf course and a fair few people's houses (he didn't mention Henshaws, but they look like they are in the line of fire too). He said we should go for sustainable initiatives big time and then if people still wanted to drive they can sit in the traffic. Music to my ears.

Don Mackenzie defended the idea of consulting on both packages, his view though is I feel to build a road. He said something along the lines of getting people out of cars is dead hard and people in his constituency want less traffic in Harrogate. I don't know if Don is motivated by a belief a road will work, or if he is interested in East -West connectivity but he seems willing to defend his view against a fair bit of political and public opposition.

What happens now is I guess that both packages will go to public consultation. What matters if that happens, is that all 100,000 Harrogate residents get a chance to respond and not the whole of North Yorkshire. Don Mackenzie said that was what would happen let's hold him to his word.  Richard Cooper though thinks the road will never happen even if it gets to the funding stage. We shall see.

For me ultimately I think the clinching questions are, and bear in mind initially I thought a relief road was an ok idea but it would be fair to say my view has changed.

  1. Will a relief road work? Based on the report(s), which I think fail to make a convincing case and the experience of other places were roads like this have been built and overall traffic volumes have increased. I have profound doubts, and so I don't believe it is worth a 100 million quid punt.
  2. Is it worth stuffing up the gorge, the golf course, Henshaws and the Greeenway for now we know that's where it would go? For me no, I would rather do sustainable stuff and over time behaviour will change or people will sit in cars.

More on the meeting from the advertiser here

To be continued...

Posted on 11:33 | Categories:

Friday, 26 January 2018

A Barely Defrosted Steak Pie - Leeds Commuting

No one likes biting into a  barely defrosted steak pie, at least no-one I know. That's how I feel about travelling by Northern Rail at the moment. It will keep you alive but it is not satisfying and you end up with gravy and ice on your face.

I have been taking the train more recently, my car died. I bought a folding bike. I end up on the Harrogate Leeds train one or twice a week now.

The trains usually run on time, there are new ticket machines, you can buy tickets online via an app and there are more, quicker trains on the route I travel. The staff are pretty friendly these days and they are trying to turn around a brand that was badly tarnished by under investment in the last decade.

Northern Rail get quite a lot of stick and in fairness some is deserved. I am often one of those  winding up their social media account on twitter, I doubt doing this though is the vehicle for change I would wish. It is more a reflex action for their decision to run an account that seems to designed to deflect people's attention away from the reality of the service they provide. A service which even they know is far from perfect. If their account was one that was actually interested in helping travellers who are often stuck at a station as a service fails, or is short formed and so rammed to the gunnels, or because in my most recent case water was leaking in though the window seals as we wound our way to Harrogate in an overstuffed 2 car train where 4 cars is the norm. Perhaps people would be more inclined to give them a break?

The fact that they are still running some 1980's bus bodied pacer trains long beyond their design life is shocking. My dad helped design these at the end of the1970's they were a 15 year stop gap that's a very long gap to stop. I make it 35 years or so. I have not travelled on such poor trains since I rumbled round the Peloponnese in the 1990's. These leaky, inefficient, noisy, hangovers from the last millennium do nothing to justify the £10.60 return I pay to travel 34 miles. The industrial action that is a blight on services sporadically is not helping their cause. Two train crew operation seems likely to endure, sort it out Northern.

Trains are full, even outside of rush hours they are busy, they must be turning a profit and they receive considerable government subsidy. If we are to get even more people into trains and off the roads we need a better railway yet. The train operators have to do more and they need to keep up the pace or they should expect more whinging and scrutiny form people who are in my case at least trying to travel more sustainably than a single occupancy car journey.

They must do more though, even though I think things are on the up they could do worse than consider some of the following:

1. Carnet style tickets you get a 10% discount  or some such for buying your journey's upfront in blocks of 10 or a dozen (and Northern get the cash upfront too) and you use them over a maximum 6 month period. This works well elsewhere and the regular but not daily commuter like myself gets some benefit.

2. Do something about their pricing structure. Some fares are discounted if you buy upfront some are not. Working out season ticket prices requires the persistence of a saint. If you split your tickets you save money, this is all just avoidable and exploitative crap.

3. An oyster card style app has got to happen hasn't it? Buying a ticket is still a right faff.

4. Travel for kids and students is priced as though they are merchant bankers, they deserve way more price breaks than they get. We should do better for our young people.

Much of the whinges above are probably not even things that Northern could fix but WYCA and Chris Grayling could, we deserve better. I'm not asking for Crossrail 2 just something that doesn't leak and is cheaper to travel in than a car.  I want to do my bit to fix congestion, but I can't do it on my own.

Posted on 07:01 | Categories:

Friday, 15 December 2017

More thoughts on a Harrogate Relief Road

North Yorkshire County Council's chances of getting a relief road in the Nidd Gorge took a hit today. Don Mackenzie deferred putting his Relief Road out to consultation for 6 months or so. I imagine in no small measure as a result of the hue and cry the idea was attracting. He has toned down his rhetoric but I feel he is still struggling to "see beyond the bonnet", here is a quote.

He said "sustainable transport and demand management measures would need a carrot and stick approach to encourage people to use public transport, walk or cycle and discourage them from using their cars. As well as looking at such things as an improved cycle network and pedestrian schemes, options now to be considered in greater detail could include steep increases in parking charges, the extension of on-street parking charges, congestion charging and other measures."

Now that sounds like scaremongering to me or at best an inability to look at the whole picture. Try this... What if you raised your parking charges in town but used the revenue to fund a free circular mini-bus service round town, this is where the traffic data suggests many local journeys are made? That is a carrot and stick measure. Leeds Beckett where I work runs a similar shuttle bus service in Leeds, there is also one run by the hospitals of Jimmies and the LGI. Both are well used and cost about 30K per bus per annum.

He also suggests the conventional bus services are good and under used. True but they could be better, why use the bus if it is no quicker than your car because it is stuck in the same congestion? So increase your bus priorities, give them lanes to themselves in rush hour, this stuff is fairly well understood and it's use is wide spread. 

Do all and more of the bike and walking stuff that we already have plans for. It won't solve your problem, but it can contribute around about 10% modal shift, or half of a relief road's alleged effect on town centre traffic at a fraction of the cost.

Put Park and Ride schemes in. One at the Show Ground, one the Skipton Road side Jennyfield way. They are fairly standard in many big towns and cities. All of the above suggestions are absent or under represented in the current sustainable transport and demand reduction package (option B).

What I propose above is option B+. I'm sure we could do way better  than the above (option B++) if we really looked hard. Hopefully the impending 6 months of improving the sustainable and relief road offer will be evidence based and not just a way of polishing the relief road turd, whilst spreading fear about cars being crushed in a sustainable inferno. 

Don and NYCC seem to have a car centric view of the solutions to the problem and I guess that makes sense even if I think it's shortsighted. Cars are the overwhelming mode of transport in Harrogate.

However the answer for me is to encourage people to use their cars less in town. Not to build greater capacity. I think we have reached or are close to peak car in Harrogate if the congestion is a guide. If the solution from a road point of view is a relief road down the Gorge on balance I have failed to be convinced of the arguments advanced for it. It seems to offer too little benefit for the damage it would do. I have argued in the past a relief road might be a price worth paying, but I now believe it would not be. I changed my mind, I hope on the evidence or rather the lack of it and if I am honest because of the very strong public opposition to a road down the gorge.

I  think a relief road in the gorge is dead in the water now, too many of the people of Harrogate don't want it. Don is right about something though, the other choices mean people thinking about how they get around town, he calls these difficult decisions. For me the difficult decision would be to do nothing.  The first task is to get local people to understand that whilst a car is convenient because it is on the end of your drive. If you then have to spend 20 minutes sat in traffic before you can get into town, actually it is a right royal pain in the arse.

The final difficult decision is to implement a plan that looks at solutions to Harrogate's transport problems that look beyond the bonnet.

To be continued.

Posted on 08:51 | Categories:

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Ode to the Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny ambled in to Starbeck
Oddly for a vegetarian mammal it brought eggs,
It left them somewhere safe and said.
"Den access is not what it was, check it out small humans."
Then enigmatically but helpfully,
"Its all about the Last Straw."
Then he took himself off for another year.

Posted on 02:26 | Categories:

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A few specifics then Councillor Broadbent

It's election season, Starbeck is to have a new County Councillor after the frequently politically useless Liberal Councillor DeCourcey Bailey leaves the theatre of Harrogate politics. I only accuse her of being politically useless because she seemed to be totally reactive at her best, or mostly actively inert even when her residents were asking for her help, on issues her party supported. Phillip Broadbank is the new contender, I got their Party Leaflet through the letterbox yesterday and a wonderful mix of policy-lite soundbites and meaningless waffle it was too.

I would like to vote Liberal, hard as my heart is I can't support the Tories, they represent the dark side of armegedon in my mind coupled with all that is tooth and claw in human nature. Thing is I really need a few specifics form Councillor Broadbent before I can help vote him into office in Starbeck.

Will he commit to lobby actively for increased bus priorities on the Knaresborough Road? Will he try and progress the Harrogate sustainable transport plan which puts a cycleway Harrogate- Knaresbrough (via Starbeck) but seems to have ground to a halt in the Hands of Rebecca Burnett and Richard Cooper.

50K of public money has been spent on this where is the report? Do we have funding or have we just thrown the money away? Will he seek to find out?  If he says he wants to explore sustainable transport options.

Will he do something about some form of youth provision in Starbeck? A youth club, youth worker or bike project or perhaps skills training working with Carl Nelson at Veloheads in Starbeck who already does some of these things with kids, just not ones form Starbeck that kind of thing. If he says he wants to fight to reduce antisocial behaviour that would seem like a concrete form of action.

I'm sure I can think of a few others but that will do for starters. Over to you Phillip.

Posted on 08:03 | Categories:

Thursday, 30 March 2017

In the world of Harrogate Borough Council this makes sense

Begin forwarded message:

From: Harrogate Borough Council <>
Subject: Response to your Bins and recycling enquiries submission
Date: 24 March 2017 at 14:41:44 GMT

Dear Rachael Prince

Thank you for your enquiry, received on 23 March 2017.

I appreciate that you returned the bin at the time it was offered, but once a bin has been refused, it is not possible to re-issue it. The garden waste service has been reviewed and restructured to make it more equitable for all residents, and it will be offered in the first phase in 2017 to those who currently use the service and then extended to other residents in 2018.

It is not simply a question of providing the bin, but of being able to provide sufficient vehicles to empty the bins.

The garden waste service is a non-statutory service, which means that your council tax does not include a charge for it, so you are not being charged to receive a different level of service from your neighbours and they will of course be charged from June 2017 if they wish to opt into the service.

If you need 
to contact us again about this enquiry, please quote your case reference FS-Case-20074126.


Customer Services
Harrogate Borough Council
PO Box 787

email: contact us
tel: 01423 500 600
Posted on 01:43 | Categories: