Friday, 24 January 2014

I SPENT MOST OF MY LATE CHILDHOOD AND A GOOD PART OF MY TEENS pursuing a dark passion. The situations I sought were always steamy, sometimes hot and, occasionally, dirty. My parents knew of my obsession, tolerated it in private, but were clearly embarrassed about my predilections. The fact that my obsession frequently required the presence of three or four other boys, and that I often arrived home quite late at night, sometimes with my clothing in disarray, and usually tired and emotional, were burdens they stoically bore. Yes, readers, it is the vice that dare not speak its name. While other youths were innocently out and about having a crafty Kensitas behind the tennis courts, sharing an illicit bottle of Bulmers' Woodpecker cider, or fumbling with the elastic of Norma Nugent's nickers, I was…..the word sticks in my throat …..trainspotting.
THE LEAD IN MY PENCIL was always as sharp as my eyes (behind NHS specs, which later, much much later, became iconic),  Brylcreem gave me an immaculate side parting, and the Tizer in my school satchel was always served at room temperature, to wash down my favourite packed lunch sandwiches - white bread, margarine, Marmite, Kraft cheese slices, delicately drizzled with Heinz Salad Cream.

I AM GIVING YOU this totally unwanted, unnecessary and redundant information because I want to establish my credentials as a railway lover. I have authored nostalgic railway websites, built an amazing 00 gauge layout for my elder son, and still, occasionally dream of the unique whistle of a Gresley A4 thundering through Peterborough Station on a warm afternoon, some time in the early 1960s.

MY RAILWAY MANIA KNOWS NO BOUNDS. Well actually, it does. It comes to a juddering halt at the futile bid by some very well-meaning Wisbech people to restore the derelict rail link from Wisbech to March. There are two camps. The first wants the line restored as a Heritage Railway - The Bramley Line. 

THE SECOND, more audaciously, wants a fully working freight and passenger railway. Already, thousands of pounds of someone's money (Ed. "It's called Public Funds") has been spent on feasibility surveys, business plan audits, vision statements and community impact consultations. (actually, all those phrases were made up, but they sound good, don't they?)

CUTTING TO THE CHASE.  Here are five solid reasons why the railway between Wisbech and March will never re-open as a working business.

ONE - NO DEMAND. Ask yourself why the line closed in the first place. To passengers? Just go online, and check the per-hundred-of-population figures for car ownership in 1963. What is that figure in 2014? Doubled? To freight? I have been in Wisbech for over twenty years, and can just remember when there was still the occasional freight train from Nestle Purina crawling to heaven knows where. Now? It's all HGVs and roads. It's cheap, easy and takes ten seconds to sign up to an online petition, in this case the petition to restore the rail link. I would take it more seriously if everyone who signed had to commit to buying a full price season ticket for the line's first year of operation.
TWO - NO STATION. Rail travelers need somewhere to embark. Parking is essential. Shelter, safety, reasonable access are also obviously required. Although the trackbed is partially intact, there is no station in Wisbech. The two historic stations have long since disappeared under bijou boxy housing. Under a state funded initiative, some new stations have been built in recent years. The one in Newcourt, Devon, cost a cool £1.44 million. Where would it be built? In town is clearly a non-runner. The slight problems of no land and no access spring immediately to mind.
THREE - THE A47 TRUNK ROAD. Leaving aside that there is another pressure group dedicated to improving this vital east-west route, with complete dualling as a bare minimum, we have the slight difficulty that a few years ago, the powers that be concreted over the crossing just south of Cromwell Road. Everyone knows how dense the traffic is on the A47. It is a nightmare, even when it is flowing smoothly. So, how about every thirty minutes, the level crossing closes for a while to let a sparsely inhabited train through? Cue mayhem. Someone even suggested building a road bridge to take the road over the railway. Add in another cool couple of million to the bill.

FOUR - NO PROFIT. This is slightly more thorny. Some public transport service are run as just that - services. They are heavily subsidised from…yes, you've got it, the public purse. (Sighs, and reaches for wallet) A prime example is local 'bus services. As a card-carrying old duffer, I occasionally use my 'bus pass, and it is a rare experience to see money exchange hands between the driver and passengers. The buses exist pretty much solely for the benefit of the Saga Crowd, but the economics of bus transport are way, way different from that of the railways. Here's some quick maths. Research has shown (OK, I Googled it) to run a two carriage Diesel Multiple Unit of the 175/M class, costs £11.78 per mile.

It's 8 miles from Wisbech to March along the railway. I calculate that if you ran one train an hour, each way between 0800 and 2200, you would have over £2,600 running costs each day. If you estimated a day return as £10, that means 260 journeys each day. Really?
FIVE - NO MONEY. I started to calculate the overall spend on this project, including building costs, staffing, maintenance, revenue stream. I was using Excel, but after a few minutes the program gave up, the screen froze, and I had to reboot the computer. Britain - or at least your and my Britain - the Britain of ordinary people, hardworking families, folk who have to check their funds while using the ATM - have no money. We are taxed to buggery, snipped, pruned and crimped. We are manipulated by a political class slightly lower than a snake's arse. 

THERE IS NO MONEY. For you or for me. Away from the polemic, what is the journey a Wisbech rail traveler would most want to make? Wisbech-King's Lynn? Would be great, but not a chance. Wisbech-Cambridge? Who lives in Wisbech but works in Cambridge? Wisbech-Peterborough? Now you're talking! Oh wait…the train from Wisbech either veers off to the West, therefore missing March Station, or swings East to the station. And is then on the Cambridge line.

A LINK TO THE FREE WORLD would be brilliant, but it ain't gonna happen. Some of the lovely people engaged on this campaign need a wake up call, and should apply their undoubted talent, enthusiasm and talent to a less fantastical project.

Monday, 20 January 2014

NOW,  HERE'S THE THING. Which one quality runs through British veins, and is stamped through us like 'Welcome To Hunstanton' through a stick of seaside rock? Democracy? Well, maybe, but we have had our dodgy moments - we didn't trust women to vote until the 1920s. Sporting fair play? Occasionally, yes, but Australian batsmen during the 1932/33 Bodyline series might beg to differ.

Oh, I know, our infallible courts and wise judicial system? Do I hear the faintest of murmurs from the relatives of the Birmingham Six?

 Putting good taste, talent and respect on prime-time TV rapidly to one side, we are left with only one incontestable virtue. Since our ancestors found the tools and skills to put dialogue onto the written page, we have always been able to laugh at ourselves. We have a splendid back catalogue of scathing-put downs of each other, vicious cartoons, abusive parodies, and savage attacks on the establishment
And yet we are still here. We still have political elections which, despite the best efforts of immigrant activists, are as transparent and fair as any in the world. We can voice an opinion, state a case, give vent to a prejudice safe in the knowledge that we may be disagreed with, parodied, abused or insulted, but we can wake up the next day free to toddle off to our workplace without a visit from the police, or a mentally-ill suicide bomber.
But some so-called UK residents would have this changed. Mohammed "Mo" Ansar describes himself as 'A British Muslim'. He wears a funny little hat and clerical dress, and describes himself as a commentator and visiting lecturer.

Quite who pays him to lecture, or comment is beyond my limited intellectual scope, but he has a full engagement book of appointments with Left-Wing media spongiforms who hang on his every adolescent and ill-informed utterance. He has been offended by a silly little cartoon, showing a badly-drawn Jesus talking to an equally badly-drawn Prophet Mohammed. 

He and his parasitic followers have issued physical threats against a moderate Muslim who is trying to create a Britain where Muslims can happily rub along with other faiths, living and letting live, and respecting each others views and lifestyle choices. Here in Britain we have beliefs. they are many and varied, but they are strong.
If, Mo Ansar, your beliefs are threatened by an amateurish cartoon, then this speaks volumes about you as a person, and the faith which you espouse. We are strong enough to laugh at the cartoon, laugh at you, and laugh at your ignorance and medieval beliefs. I believe that air departure timetables for such comedy hotspots as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are readily available online.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Some hoped that the war which engulfed Europe in August 1914 would be over by Christmas. Some hoped that the 2014 centenary of the outbreak would be commemorated with dignity and unity. Both aspirations now seem as foolish as each other. Leaving aside the squabble between Michael Gove and his political enemies, it now seems that the contribution to the war by Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa is being marginalised. Evidently, a Whitehall spokesman told Australian journalists that there would be no focus on the ANZAC, CEF or SA part in the war, rather that officials were "concentrating on promoting the role played by those Commonwealth countries that achieved independence after 1945, such as India, Bangladesh and Nigeria." The official went on to say that this is to promote ‘community cohesion’ in the UK. Of this, more later.
While seated one night at the computer,
I was weary and ill at ease;
My fingers wandered idly,
Over the silent keys…
I knew not what I was writing,
Or what I was dreaming then,
But I dream'd a vision of hell, 

With the sound of a great Amen
(apologies to Adelaide Ann Proctor and Sir Arthur Sullivan)

Here's my recollection of that  vision of hell. And yes, I had been drinking. Since 1801hrs (getting the ice cubes out took longer than I thought)
Imagine the scene. Forget Hellraiser I, II, III or The Human Centipede. This is much, much worse. Danny Boyle has been commissioned by the BBC to direct the official opening of UK's 1914 Great War centenary commemorations. It's the O2 Arena. Cue dry ice, laser beams, the works. 

Scene 1 -  African dancing troupes and people in wheelchairs playing basketball, accompanied by some Benjamin Zephaniah poems.
Scene 2 - Anjem Choudary goes into an elaborate dance/rap routine with backing choir made up of BBC Question Time audience.

Scene 3 - the sound of artillery fire: more dry ice, and pretend smoke; a back projection of abused Edwardian feminists; an octet of obviously homosexual WWI infantrymen mince and camp their way around the stage to the music of the 1917 hit, A Bachelor Gay Am I  from The Maid Of The Mountains.
Scene 4 - A mock-up of the BBC Radio 4 Today studio. Guest editors George Galloway, Len McLusky and Dame Polly Toynbee of Tuscany recreate the outbreak of The Great War as it might have been covered by a 21st century news and current affairs show. A live link is established to a British trench, wrecked by a direct hit from a German shell. Ace reporter Rachel Burden asks a dying infantryman, "Give our listeners at home some idea of how it feels to have your legs blown off.."
Scene 5 - An awesome finale. A mixture of transgender awareness ribbons and white poppies flutters down on the audience. The audience gasps as Owen Jones and Diane Abbott appear, and enact a sensuous and passionate tango, symbolising the plight of workers in the third world. Finally, the audience is asked to stand and join in a rousing chorus of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, led by The Choir of The Gay Postal Workers' Rainbow Collective.

SATIRE IS NOT DEAD. Well, judging by the previous few hundred words, it may still be breathing, but it is pretty terminal, and a priest has been summoned. My serious point. In August, one hundred years ago but one million tears ago, tens of thousands of young men from England, Scotland, Wales, and both ends of Ireland went to war. Small contingents from various colonies and allies threw in their lot against German expansionism - India and Portugal to name but two - but our greatest support came from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa despite their having no dog in this particular fight. Their death toll: Canada - 62,000. Australia - 61,000. New Zealand - 18,000. South Africa - 12,500. Still, as I mentioned at the top of this blog, we wouldn't want any of our more recent guests to feel left out, so let's just forget about the lads from Toronto, Ottowa, Melbourne, Adelaide, Christchurch, Wellington, Jo'burg and Pretoria.
One Of The Old Platoon (Will Dyson, Australian War Memorial)
And then we have France. La Belle France. Frequently vilified by the ill-informed and partially-educated, the men of France were not 'surrender artists', but bore the brunt of German aggression. Alsace-Lorraine, Craonne, Verdun, Champagne - village after village was flattened. Britain's dead were numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Les Morts de France were numbered in the millions.
In conclusion, if someone is unwise enough to approach you with the suggestion that the 1914 centenary is an opportunity to celebrate gender awareness, diversity, the green agenda, multiculturalism, rainbow nations, or some other chattering-class, Sunday supplement conceit, I suggest you gently but firmly separate them from their reduced fat latte, upend the drink over their head, and kick them sharply where their balls would be, if they had any.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Not a great deal of Wisbech in this post, mes amis - just something of a statement of intent from an ageing blogger.        Phobia  - an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.
                         "she suffered from a phobia about birds"

Sometimes, just sometimes, it seems as though our wonderful language lets us down. Words assume a life of their own, sometimes accidentally, but sometimes with the help of latter-day Frankensteins in lab coats who connect the circuits, tighten the bolts, and then pull the giant lever to bring a new expression to an uncontrollable and frightening life. Take, for example, 'phobia'. With scores of prefixes, it is used to denote an irrational fear of something - spiders, open spaces, homosexuals, foreigners - mostly things which are, realistically, not particularly threatening.

Arachnophobia is a fairly common affliction, and in Britain it is less based on real threat than in some other parts of the world. Here, they may be loathsome, scuttling, bulbous, darting horrors that live in the dark recesses of our imagination (and the garden shed), but they are unlikely to inflict physical harm. In Australia, Iraq, Brazil, America and Africa there are frightful creatures that will bite you as soon as look at you, and if they cannot get their fangs into you, they will spray you with poisonous body hair. 

I am second only to Attenborough D. in my love of wildlife, just as long as the list of fauna is fairly exclusive - owls, tree-sparrows, blackbirds, frogs, squirrels - you get my drift?

The online dictionary entry for phobia included a small thesaurus of expressions which might line up alongside phobia. I am not so sure. Be patient, and follow me down a few pathways. Here are some synonyms - dread, horror, terror, dislike, hatred, loathing, detestation, distaste, aversion, antipathy, revulsion.

I dread the day when self appointed gangs of Muslim men patrol Britain's streets with impunity, attacking and vilifying fellow Britons who may not be behaving wisely, but are certainly not breaking any civil law.

The idea that a major British retailer gives carte blanche to its Muslim employees to pick and choose who they serve, depending on the contents of the shopping basket fills me with horror.
When a bully loses a rational argument, when his ideas are refuted by rational discussion, when his assertions are disproved by the facts, he has two choices. He can concede defeat and accept that his stance is unsustainable, or he can lash out violently and unpredictably, causing terror and suffering to those who disagree with him. 
I dislike the idea that Muslim men insist that their wives and daughters wear medieval costume on the streets of Britain, so that they will not inflame the lust of other men, out and about, living their normal lives.

I despair of the sheer gut hatred that Islamic organisations display when someone in the West - their adopted country - chooses to poke fun of their religion with a joke, a drawing or a book. The death threats and incantations are barbaric, and redolent of a primitive society.

My loathing knows no bounds for those who hijacked civilian airliners on 11 September 2001, and caused thousands of innocent civilians to die terrible deaths. Crushed, burned, suffocated, vaporised, dismembered. All in the name of Islam

Gangs of Pakistani Muslims across our busiest towns and cities - Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford, Telford - ply vulnerable white teenage girls with drugs, alcohol, flattery - and if that doesn't work - extreme violence. These children are gang raped, pimped, abused beyond your imagination, and then discarded because they do not fit in with Islamic ideals of womanhood. Detestation does not come close to describing my feelings on this issue.

That a handful of Muslims felt that it was appropriate to board buses and underground trains on 7 July 2005 and detonate bombs which destroyed innocent lives, took away futures and shattered bodies fills me with a certain amount of distaste, to put it mildly
I have to confess that I have a slight but nagging aversion to the chorus of feeble denials and condemnations from official Muslim bodies when they are confronted with the vile excesses of their co-religionists across the land. Disapprove? Then close down the mosques, sack the hate-preachers and give their names to our security forces.
It could be said that I have a certain amount of antipathy towards Muslim extremists who dance about on British streets burning poppies - an enduring symbol of loss, bravery and sacrifice, and a potent national symbol borne of poetry, death and heroism. The men that did this were metaphorically urinating on one thing that most British people hold dear in their hearts.

When I read that most Islamic terrorists imprisoned in Britain reject any form of reconciliation, therapy and re-education, I am almost overwhelmed with revulsion as I witness the depths to which some human beings - flesh and blood like me - can sink.
So, there you have it
. I have been through the thesaurus of synonyms, and I have to accept the verdict that I have a definite fear of Islam. An irrational fear? I leave you to judge.