Friday, 27 November 2009

Cash Machines

Here's something which came up the other day...  When you take cash out of a bank account using an ATM, it asks you whether you want an "advice slip" with your cash...  Now, I've never said yes to this, so I wonder what advice it gives you - is it advising you on how to spend the money you've just taken out?

"Hmm, those trainers look a bit worn, so I'd start of by getting some new shoes, and then, ohh, it's nearly six o'clock, you must be getting hungry - there's a nice Thai restaurant not too far from here which is excellent value-for-money..."

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Rail Travel

Something I've not done for quite a while now, is travel any great distance by rail…  Since passing my driving test, I have relied on the comfort, convenience and familiarity of my own car - perhaps too much, but certainly no more than many other people I know…

On the face of it, this seems mad…  Rail travel over any distance is likely to be less expensive than running a car, for a start, and you can hand the responsibility for the route, the handing of the vehicle, indeed, everything, over to the rail service operator…  It sounds relaxing - the idea that you can sit back while somebody else drives you to wherever you want to go…  Without the need to concentrate on driving the thing yourself, you can sit back and read a book or magazine, write a song, listen to music, or just to sleep…  I'm surprised that there are any cars left on the roads at all!

However, when one actually experiences a long-distance rail journey, it is not difficult to see why I, and many others, prefer traveling by road…!  To begin with, the relaxed, carefree picture of rail travel painted in the previous paragraphs only holds true if everything runs smoothly…  It only takes one small thing to go wrong, and the picture is hanging skew-wiff, the colours are running, and the artist himself is found dead in an alleyway with stab-wounds in his side and his money and passport stolen…

And there are many things that can delay or disrupt a rail journey - from a swan on the line, to the engine breaking down…!

But the worst bit of it all, is that you, as a mere passenger, are powerless to do anything about it!  As you sit frustrated in Coach D, Seat 30(A) listening to crackling announcements in what sounds like a foreign tongue over the speakers - "we apologise for this inconvenience" - you get later and later for whatever it is you're traveling for, and you realise that, had you been traveling in your own car, you could at least have tried to do something to help yourself…

Delays on the road are irritating, of course, but at least each driver is the master of his own destiny, the captain of his fate…  On the train, we are in the hands of others, and it never feels so bad as when you're waiting for news, and no news arrives, and nobody on the staff seems to know what's going on, and the unexplained delay drags on for hours, with no respite, no chance to get off and stretch your legs, and only the questionable fare of the "buffet car" to sustain yourself…

Furthermore, another large problem with traveling by rail is the vehicles themselves…  Hot, cramped, and poorly equipped, the trains of today are a far cry from the glamourous mode of transport those living in the golden age of steam came to know and love…  Perhaps it is my fault, for picking a career that doesn't (yet) seem to pay well enough for me to afford a First Class ticket, but I firmly believe that even Standard Class could be greatly improved from the unnerving experience it currently is…

Passengers - sorry, "customers" - are packed into the railway carriages as tightly as possible, and the result is a distinct lack of comfort, privacy, and individual discretion…  Everyone in the carriage can hear your telephone conversations, see what book you're reading, hear the spill from your iPod headphones, read what you're writing over your shoulder - you have no choice but to share these details of your life with whoever happens to be in the same train as you, for the duration of the journey…

And the rail companies don't exactly make life easy for you either...!

You are asked not to leave any luggage unattended "at any time", but nobody is on hand to explain how those traveling alone can visit the toilet, or buy a coffee, without dragging heavy suitcases and handbags everywhere with them…!

You are instructed to "familiarise yourself with the safety notices displayed around the train" which, on inspection, are rude and unhelpful…  (Much like some of the station staff one encounters on these journeys!)

"Please do not put feet on the seats" requests a sign displayed next to every group of four seats around a table - I am always tempted to write "I wouldn't need to, if you provided adequate leg-room!" underneath it…  (The tables themselves are small, and if more than one of the four passengers grouped around them wishes to read a newspaper, or work on a laptop computer, it presents a taxing logistical problem…)

A man in the corner, in a tie-dye shirt and leather skull-cap, picks his nose as he describes, in detail, his recently sexual exploits to whichever luckless individual is on the other end of the 'phone line…  Normally, I would run a mile from him - on the train, I can go about two inches in any direction, before colliding with something, or someone…  I can only sit in my seat, squirming with discomfort, turning up the volume on my iPod and hoping against hope that he dies within the next five minutes - or at least gets off at the next stop…  Disappointingly, he clings onto life, and not only stays on the train, but stays on the 'phone, for the next hour and a half…!

So, surrounded, at close proximity, by strangers, many of whom are very strange indeed, too hot with a jacket on, but too draughty without it, hemmed in, not just by people, but by absurd safety regulation, and with barely enough room for oneself, let alone one's things, the attractions of traveling in one's own car dangle temptingly before one's eyes…

The ability to make stops whenever, and wherever, you choose…  The ability to put in an extra piece of luggage, which you may or may not need, just in case…  The freedom to choose the temperature, the speed, the route, the radio station, the refreshments, and so on…  And not have a hundred other fraught travellers virtually sitting on your lap as you do it!

Saturday, 14 November 2009


It's raining today... It was raining yesterday... I will, most likely, be raining tomorrow... So here's a (possibly) interesting thought about rain...

For a while, I've wondered whether or not rain feels softer when you're higher up... After all, if you drop a penny from 6 feet above the ground, it doesn't do any damage (except maybe to your self-esteem when you realise you've been reduced to dropping pennies from different heights) but if you drop a penny from the top of the Empire State Building it can actually bury itself in a person's skull, or so I'm reliably informed... This is, I think, because from a greater height the penny has more opportunity to increase its velocity...

So, when rain falls from the clouds, if you're on the top of the Empire State Building (which somehow gets itself dragged into all kinds of conversations along similar lines as this) it's fallen a far shorter distance to reach you than when you get rained on at ground level... Does this mean that it feels softer?

I don't know, and I'm unlikely to find out right now, so I thought I'd ask you, my bored and undernourished readers who may or may not exist, to email me at with an answer, if you know the answer, that is... If not, feel free to email me anyway!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Regular Meals

For some time now, I've had a theory about the way people eat... The standard way to organise one's daily food intake is in three meals a day - breakfast in the morning, lunch at midday, and then an evening meal... But this leaves a gap - all through the night, your body is getting none of its essential nutrients!

It seems that "normal" people will eat three meals over a (roughly) twelve-hour period, and then eat nothing for the next twelve hours... Now, to me, this looks a bit unbalanced!

There are twenty-four hours in a day, of course - so, if one is going to eat three meals each day, they ought really to be spread even across those twenty-four hours, to ensure regular sustenance... That would result in one meal every eight hours... If one plans to eat every six hours, one should eat four meals in a day... And if one eats meals every four hours, those meals should number no fewer than six! This, of course, maintains the regularity of nutritional intake...

Naturally, the portion sizes are tailored to suit how often one is eating - whether it be two large meals each day, one every twelve hours, or twelve smaller snack-like meals each day, spread two hours apart... But the most important thing is that it be even and regular...

I am the architect of a healthier, happier society... No need to thank me!

Monday, 9 November 2009

It's November

And it's suddenly all cold, which means a chance to drag out the scarves and coats which have been so neglected over the summer... Soon, it will be Christmas, no doubt...


The "Christmas Creep" (the process of Christmas "starting" just a few days earlier every year) has so annoyed me that this year, my goat is well and truly got! I have taken to boycotting any products which associated themselves with Christmas until at least the beginning of December... Only a few days ago I didn't buy a drink which I normally would've bought, because there was an image of Santa on the can... Yes, that is how bad it's got!

Usually, I don't "do" protesting, boycotting, or generally freaking-out about anything... But this Christmas thing is getting ridiculous, and I have been moved to act... Sure, it won't make any difference - there are enough Christmas gluttons, who need to have their fill, and would start hanging tinsel in July if they thought they could get away with it, to outweigh the few who, like me, feels it's all going a little bit too far... But in my own little world, I feel better for having made my useless (and largely unnoticed) gesture, and be damned to the grinning maniacs who spread their Christmas Cheer earlier and earlier by the year!