Saturday, 5 October 2013

Celebrity chefs should stick to cooking celebrities

It started with Jamie Oliver.  Thanks to his inexorable zeal, my students (some of whom currently attend the same high school where I was a student ten years ago or more) can scarcely believe it when I tell them that, back when I was at school, you could have chips (and nothing else) for lunch every day; that cakes, biscuits and sugar-coated doughnuts were only 20p each; and that the vending machines sold an endless supply of carbonated saccharine elixirs like Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and Lilt.

More recently, I have watched Heston Blumenthal attempt to 'recreate the wonder and excitement of childhood food' by building the world's largest Flake '99 (supposedly, this would help 'kickstart a revival' in the great British tradition of ice-cream vans), and a gigantic packet of Hula Hoops.  Seriously?!

These chefs have got too big for their boots.  We don't need any more puffed-up, self-appointed social workers, dieticians, psychologists or sociologists strutting around, taking it upon themselves to right what they perceive to be social wrongs.  Can't they just go back to cooking food?!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Managed motorways

One of the things which frustrates me when I am driving is roadworks - they cause congestion and disruption; they delay your journey and make you late; and (more often than not, sadly) these days, they come complete with ‘Average Speed Check’ cameras squatting malevolently by the roadside every couple of miles. But at least you know that, once the roadworks are finished, and the Average Speed Cameras have gone, the road will be better for it - the road surface will be improved; there will be extra lanes added to increase traffic flow and ease congestion; the road markings will be clearer to read, and easier to follow… (Well, usually, anyway!)

There is, however, one form of roadworks which cause endless pain and confusion while they’re going on, and which don’t even improve the road for drivers once they’re done. I am talking about ‘Upgrade to Managed Motorways’ roadworks.

‘Managed Motorways’ means the big LED screens that hang on the gantries over the carriageway. The idea is that live traffic information can be disseminated to those using the motorway quickly and efficiently, warning drivers of any impending delays or lane closures, adjusting speed limits accordingly, and generally keeping the driving population well-informed - thus helping to improve everyone’s journey.

The only problem is - this doesn’t actually work.

I have seen Managed Motorways schemes on various different stretches of motorway across the UK, and there are plans to upgrade many more pieces of road to include this. The trouble is, however, that the information displayed on these screens is almost always either out-of-date or completely irrelevant.

I have seen Managed Motorway screens saying ‘Warning: Fog!’ on a totally clear day, and then not say anything when there actually is mist or fog in the air.

One time on the M25 (around Jct 23), the screens told me ‘Slow! Animals In Road!’; of course, I never saw any animals in the road - not a single beetle.

There is a screen on the M11, around Jct 8, which tells you have long it will take to drive from there to Jct 9. In theory, I can see how this would actually be very useful - but I have driven past here so many times, and the screen only ever says ‘Distance to A11 (Jct 9): 15 Miles, 13 Minutes’. I have never seen these figures vary - ever.

The Managed Motorways upgrades add nothing to the motorway driving experience. The information they give you as you’re driving is supposed to help - but it doesn’t. So all the disruption and frustration when the upgrade roadworks are happening is not even worth it, in the end!

Added to all that, the costs associated with these upgrades are enormous. To upgrade the M25, from Jct 5 to Jct 7 (a mere 15 miles), to a Managed Motorway scheme is costing the Highways Agency £129 million. That’s £8.6 million per mile of motorway - for outdated or useless information. Bargain.