Monday, 28 November 2016

Giving Up Monitoring

I've decided to resign from my voluntary post as a moorings monitor for the Canal and River Trust.  There's not much to do over the winter anyway, with all mooring sites reverting to 14-days between November and March and the Ribble Link closed for the season, but I won't be taking it on again next year.

It's partly for health reasons. My usual route was to cycle over the hill from Lancaster to Tewitfield and monitor my sites at Carnforth and Hest Bank on the way back via the towpath. But the heart medication I'm on at the moment, whilst doing its job, has the side-effect of making cycling more difficult - at least uphill - and whilst I could go both ways on the towpath (except north of Carnforth where it's not suitable for cycling) that too has its problems. 

Between Carnforth and the outskirts of Lancaster, despite being part of Sustrans Cycle Route 6 (The equivalent, supposedly, of the A6 trunk road) it's badly rutted, so badly in fact that I once came off my bike and nearly ended up in the cut. There are also numerous bridgeholes with poor sight-lines and - ludicrously - "speed bumps" - which make for a slow and uncomfortable ride. In Lancaster itself, the towpath is just too busy with other cyclists, walkers, dogs, children etc  to be able to make reasonable progress and at times I have felt like an intruder.

But I've also been asking myself why I do it in the first place.  Most volunteers are motivated by the desire to assist others in need of help as well as hoping to get something out of it themselves.  I was hoping for exercise (but see above) and also by a wish to keep in touch with the cut and with canal people now I no longer have a boat.  But boat monitoring proved to be a rather solitary occupation. Most moored boats turned out to be unoccupied and whilst the few boaters I did speak to were generally supportive of the monitoring programme, there weren't very many of them. Nor did I get the chance to meet any other volunteers.  In two years of monitoring only one volunteers' meeting was called. And although we were invited to a Christmas meal last year, in retrospect I suspect we gatecrashed the local depot staff's annual "do", although they were far too polite to say so.  

Management of the programme was very much at arm's length and conducted by email, whilst feedback on the progress and benefits of our work wasn't forthcoming. Our finding were reported directly into a website from home and until I suggested it weren't even acknowledged.  When I reported my cycle accident I received only a cursory enquiry about my health and certainly no apology for the state of the towpath.

So, not getting much out of it for myself I asked myself whether I was helping others. Although the boaters I'd met were appreciative of my - and other monitor's - efforts I couldn't help coming to the conclusion that my voluntary work was benefiting mainly middle-class, white, relatively-wealthy boat owners, who, whilst very nice people, are hardly the most deserving folk in society.  If I'd been getting a lot out of it myself I'd have been happy to help them, but as I wasn't I couldn't see the need to carry on.

I can carry on cycling, but perhaps on flatter, better-maintained routes and will still walk along the towpath on my way into town. But for the time being my voluntary efforts will be targeted elsewhere.


Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Internet Shopping

I don't really do "internet shopping". I actually enjoy going to the shops and having a good look at things before I buy them, whether that's food, clothes or anything else really. But there are some things that it's getting increasingly hard to find without going online.

There used to be a bookshop in Manchester run by publisher "Ian Allan" and specialising in books on transport. As it was located on the approach road to Manchester Piccadilly station I used to call in regularly on visits to the city and rarely came away empty-handed (or with a full wallet!) But rising rents have put paid to the bookshop as what was a row of interesting shops and local cafes becomes a street of coffee outlets, craft beer bars and  a branch of Waitrose.

For some reason that I can't fathom most bookshops don't sell many transport books. You might find the odd railway book or two, but very little on buses and trams, or canals for that matter. So when I heard that someone had written a book on one of the local bus companies that ran services around my home town of Llanelli in the 1960s and 70s I knew I'd have to go online to get a copy.

I found one easily enough and, in typical internet fashion, it was ordered yesterday and delivered this morning. But of course the book on "Samuel Eynon & Sons Ltd" of Trimsaran was not the only one on offer and I came away with this little lot:

I first became aware of Eynon's buses when I started travelling to school. The boys in my village who passed the 11 plus went to school in Llanelli on the service buses of the South Wales Transport Company, part of a large group of companies and considered a respectable way to travel. The Girls, on the other hand, not only went to a different school, but a different town - catching a "school special" provided by Eynon's. Eynon's used second-hand buses from a variety of sources - including London Transport - but it has to be said that they were not usually in the best state of repair, the company obviously being run on a shoestring and not at all "respectable" -  I'm looking forward to reading more.

Of the other books, "Steel Wheels and Rubber Tyres" is the third part of an autobiography of a well known former bus manager. I've enjoyed the first two parts - and the "behind the scenes" insights into bus operation. So well-known is the author that when he died recently a bus in Halifax was specially repainted and named in his honour.

"Home with the Heather", the only second-hand book in the package, is an account of a journey from London to John o' Groats and back undertaken by Getrude Leather - then a middle-aged woman (and not even a bus enthusiast!) - on her own in 1955.  I've been aware of it for some years and in a way I think it was a bit of an inspiration for my own "Around the Edge of England" bus tour, although unlike me, Gertrude undertook the journey in one go, didn't have the benefit of the internet for timetable planning or booking accommodation and didn't have a free bus pass! When she got to John o' Groats, she turned around and came back - by bus of course!

"The Delaine" commemorates 125 years of operation by a family-owned bus company of that name based near Peterborough. It's one of the few family-owned firms to have survived the various upheavals of regulation, de-regulation, nationalisation and privatisation during its existence. Most of the others have been taken over by the big groups or just gone bust. The Delaine also operates in a part of the country - the edge of the fens - that I've always felt attracted to, although I can't for the life of me think why and it's always been one of my favourite bus operators despite the fact I've never lived within 200 miles of any of its routes!

And lastly "The Long Reach" is an account of the rather esoteric subject of bus services run by council-owned bus undertakings in Manchester and Salford  that extended well outside the municipal boundaries.  Many "municipals" (as they were known) were restricted to running within the borough boundary but Salford, and Manchester in particular, ranged far and wide. I moved to Salford shortly before the two operators were subsumed into "SELNEC"  - a forerunner of Greater Manchester Transport -  and can remember "Manchester" buses running well into Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire and even what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire.

So, a £20 purchase became one of almost four times that. One of the dangers of internet shopping perhaps - although it's likely that the same thing would have happened in the Ian Allan bookshop. At least my books arrived at the same time as the annual letter from the DWP informing me that they will be paying my "Winter Fuel Allowance" any day soon.

If things get desperate I suppose I can always burn them to keep warm!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A plan for everything - except what went wrong!

I had a few contingency plans up my sleeve for day one of the most recent phase of my Around the edge of England bus trip.  I thought I'd planned for everything that might go wrong - but I didn't.

To read about some of the problems public transport users can face (at least those making eccentric journeys to while away their old age) and how they overcome them, follow this link.

Just to add insult to injury, Greater Anglia trains have turned down my request for a "Delay repay" refund on the grounds that the 1400hrs London, Liverpool Street to Norwich Greater Anglia train (which caused the problem)"isn't one of ours".

I won't let them get away with that, although I was expecting difficulties of a different sort in making a claim as I had "split ticketed" the journey and bought the Lancaster to London ticket from Virgin Trains (because their website lets you choose a seat and so avoid getting stuck behind a blank wall on the Pendolino) and the London to Harwich ticket from Arriva Trains Wales, because they post the ticket out to you for nothing and they are publicly-owned (by the German public that is!)

UPDATE:  After following Greater Anglia's "Appeal" system, they have agreed to refund the whole cost of my ticket(s) from Lancaster to Harwich.   And so they should!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Miscalculations on the Edge





I was tidying up parts of my Around the Edge of England blog when I realised I'd miscalculated one of the journey distances - and thus the cumulative distance of the trip so far. It was only a small error, but significant enough to warrant correction. Becuase of the way I've structured that part of the blog however I had to go through it and also correct all the "cumulative distance" figures from that point onwards. Fortunately, or so I though, the error had occured towards the end of the trip, but in the course of putting things right I uncovered another mistake.

There was nothing for it but go back and add up all the 183 bus journeys, 11 ferries and the trains and trams again to achieve a correct total, this time using an Excel spreadsheet, which was what I should have done in the first place.

Interestingly, at first the various errors all seemed to cancel each other out and for a long time I was only 1km adrift, but then  I noticed that I'd entered the distance of the bus 149  from Grain to Strood as 8.6km, which was clearly wrong as bus 148  Rochester to Grain - an almost equivalent journey - was 22.1km!  
Wareham, Dorset. 2,000km from Lancaster via the Edge of England
After correcting this - and some further mistakes - I found I'd done 40km more than I'd thought and I'm now 3341.2km into the journey.  It also meant that the "landmark" distances of the 1000th, 2000th and 3000th kilometres  (I'm measuring in metric to annoy any Brexiteers reading this) all occurred in different places to where I'd thought (Mullacott Cross, Devon; Wareham, Dorset; and Westcliffe-on-Sea, Essex if you're interested).

Hopefully I won't make the same mistakes in recording Days 35 to 40 of the trip which, starting tomorrow, will take me from Harwich to Kings Lynn - a stretch of the coast I'm really looking forward too, even if the connections on the first stretch are so dubious as to require a "back-up plan to the back-up plan"!