Saturday, 30 April 2011

London Diary 44

I hate her. Everything about her repulses me. When she comes close to me, my skin crawls and my gut wretches. My nostrils fill with the smell of bile and all I feel is a deep urge to be as far from her as possible. But my thoughts are occupied by her. Every second of every minute of every waking moment, she is in my thoughts. In my dreams, all of them nightmares.

And yet I cannot get rid of her. For some reason I enjoy the way she poisons my life, I revel in it. Although I am repulsed, I want more of her. I look at her and I want to harm her as well as love her. But in the end, this cannot last. This self destructive impulse that drives us, that binds us and destroys us. For whatever fate had instore for us, it was not love. Love is not like this, hateful, deceitful and cunning. There is no communication but that of sex. There is no will that binds us except lust. There is nothing that I feel for her except a wretchedness.

I see her approach me as I wait in the cold of the spring night. All hope evaporates from me. Any sense of independence is gone. Instead I feel sickened to see her. To touch her and feel her hot embrace. But yet, I do not want to let go of her..

Friday, 29 April 2011

Referendum 2011: Why I am voting Yes to AV



I normally do not vote.

That is a fact. In the 12 years that I have legally been able to vote, I have done so three times. Pretty pathetic. But I am making a big thing about voting in this referendum Why?

Firstly, it is an opportunity to express an opinion on how I am governed and who spends my tax money.

Secondly, I am unhappy about the way I am governed. I believe if AV is rejected, then the whole impetus for electoral reform will stall. While all forms of politics are generally pretty awful, I have to be realistic and live within the system. So instead of plainly moaning about it, when there is a chance to change it, I am going to seize the opportunity.

There are plnety of places explaining AV and First Past the Post - our current system, which really does suck nuts. It inspries very little confidence within me, it retains some of the worst MP's, it does breed apathy and the mandate given to many MP's can be shockingly low.

I am not sure if I want full PR, but the current system certainly does not work. The amount of cash scandals in the last Parliament saw to that along with the number of corrupt cheque waving tossers who were re-elected. Ugh, it just simply failed in every way.

I am under no illusions, the country (who decides to vote) will overwhelmingly vote no. It is sad, but there has been a real lack of interest in this debate. I am not so naive to believe that things can only get better, but if only there had been some real fire, even approaching last year's televised debates. But there is not, ignorance and apahy will dominate the second national referendum ever. But I will still vote yes, but not for the reasons you probably thought of...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Referendum 2011 - My Decision



On Thursday is the first referendum in a generation covering the whole of Britain. And many people, such as myself would not have been alive at the last chance that the whole of the UK had a chance to influence the direction that it is politically heading. Most of the time we let other people, politicians decide for us, and accept meekly the consequences with a bit of grumbling.

But on Thursday, May 5th, the UK will be able to take a decision whose influence will ripple far into the future.

How we vote for those politicians.

And the bulk of the country will not even bother to go out to vote.

Normally, I am not a voter. I am a bad citizen. And that is because I hate the system. On Thursday, I get to change, in a very minute way, the system itself. For me it is a chance too good to miss.

I know that my vote will be useless again. I know that the status quo will probably reign supreme, as change in the UK is very slow. But I still, for once, feel the need to head out and vote. To maybe change this rotten system.

And that means, I will be voting Yes. But why will I vote yes? Ah, that will be revealed tomorrow...

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Referendum 2011: Yes or No?

This is a blurry shot of the Houses of Parliament.



In here, we elect an odd 650 people who become some of the most influential people on the planet, every five years. A legacy of colonialism and a relatively strong economy, the UK punches far above its population size.

So the people that we elect here could have a say on what happens in your back garden. Certainly when it comes to armed conflict, as the UK has been peacefully waging war, on an almost continuous basis for the past 70 odd years.

(I am not a fan of our wars, hence my vote in the last election).

And next Thursday, we have a historic moment, a first for me, a referendum. Where I can choose how I can elect these crooks.

And it is interesting that the AV system being proposed is used in the London Mayoral elections, in the Scottish Parliament and for the Welsh Assembly, so it is a system that many people in the country are used to using.

Thanks to our lack of constitution and revolution, we never had a really choice in how to vote for our politicians. Instead, decisions have been made...by politicians...on how to vote for them...hmmm...

But good news everybody! On Thursday May 5th, this choice is going to be extended to the lot of us. And in 10 or 20 years time, when (and if) my kids are in school, they may well read about this vote. And they may turn to me and ask:

How did you vote?



Or was I too drunk from the wedding to even know about this vote? Just like most of the UK...

It is sad that this once in a lifetime event to really change the political landscape has barely registered on the national consciousness, as we have been far too preoccupied with someone else's wedding and the chance to get drunk over two consecutive Bank Holiday weekends.

I kid you not, this is what most people have been thinking about over the past few months. Just take a look at the Beeb's front page. It will be dominated by the Royal Wedding, but barely a peep about the different voting patterns on offer on May 5th.

But what do I think of both systems.

Well, I think it is clear to anyone that has a trawl through my blog, that I am deeply cynical about much of the British political system. While I think the UK is a fantastic country, the people who run the place are, well, to be honest, wankers.

But then, we get what we deserve.

Every five years, while there are elections, there is no political interest. No real want to change the system, or to improve who we send to represent our wishes and desires in Parliament. Part of that is the problem of power - it is too centralised in the UK as the Treasury collects virtually all the taxes. And he who pays the piper, calls the tune.

If we began to decentralise our tax collection, then you would see a real interest in politics at all levels...

But I digress, this is about the system of voting at a national level.

How will I vote?

Just over a week to decide.

It is a toughie...

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Yes or No - a choice or more formally, a referendum

If I wanted to increase the hits to this blog, it is pretty simple what I have to do, especially since I am living in London.

1) Drag a photo of Prince WIlliam and Catherine Middleton off the web. Something like this.

2) Talk abut dresses. Or guest lists. Or republicanism.

3) Repeat, rinse and recycle.

But as I mentioned yesterday, there is a far more serious matter on hand in the next week, and that is the first national referendum since 1975. You see, the UK is a funny place, because Britain (or England and Scotland back then) never had a successful revolution, Parliament can act with the authority of a despot, as the monarch gradually seceded powers to it. And it does, we basically elect a dictator every five years, such is the way our democracy works. We have no constitution, we have no guarantee of freedom and to be honest, if it was not for the EU, we may have even more oppressive laws.

And yet, the debate on the referendum has been paltry. In fact, less people will probably vote in next week's referendum than will watch the Royal Wedding.

And that is scary, because unlike the Royal Family, there will be some real ramifications to our lives after May 5th's vote.

So how will I vote? Well, I think I will talk about that tomorrow?

And I expect my blog stats to be really low after this. Sad, but that is what the public wants. More glitter instead of substance. But then again, we cannot com-lain about the politicians if we don't use the chance to change the way they work...

Monday, 25 April 2011

God Save the Queen...thank godness for the Bank Holiday...and the vote?

Oh yes, it is the Royal Wedding coming up. How lovely, and gut wrenching. For those that are committed monarchists, it stands for the solidifying effect that the Royal Family has on the UK. For those who are committed republicans, it stands for all the despair that they feel in their lives. And for those like me, it is nice to get an extra Bank Holiday.

So the big question is am I a republican or am I a monarchist. Nay, what is actually the bigger question is how am I going to vote in next week's referendum, which will be the first referendum that I will ever be able to partake in since reaching voting age. For me, this whole wedding is a flash, a bit of hocus pocus to keep the hoi polloi happy. But the referendum on voting reform, the first national referendum in a generation is far more important to how we govern ourselves but receives less than an ounce of media coverage. Such is the vapid nature of our media selves, but also society as a whole the whole question of ta referendum has barely come across people's minds, while the whole issue of who is going to this wedding is all over the newspapers.

Sigh.

Oh well, nothing more to do than despair at how awful we are as a country Life must be too damn comfortable if one of the most important decisions in so many years is being left to a generation of imbeciles like us...

It is an important week coming up in the life of Britain. Unfortunately, the really important event, is going to be overshadowed by a frivolous piece of theatre. More to come...

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Proof!



Even the DVLA knows I have passed my test! I rule...

I got my licence in the post yesterday (no, this was not the surprise package).

Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Easter TV



I do look forward to the whole Easter weekend when it comes to television. In between shifts, it is nice to sit down and watch one of those Ancient Bible Stories. You know, I want to see Charlton Heston riding a chariot or holding the Ten Commandments above his head. Hell, I want to see it all. The toppling of the Philistine's temple, a heroic revolt . Hey, I will even take the non-Christian tales.

But where are those films? Those legendary bladder busters, relieved by the handy nearness of my own toilet. Nowhere! Check the TV schedules (do we still have them in this digitised/multichannel world), and it is filled with lousy programmes about someone's upcoming wedding. Ugh...just leave them alone!

Friday, 22 April 2011

What's the surprise?

And this came through my letterbox yesterday, while I was out and about getting meat and other things from my journeys through South London:



A sign of getting old, but I will blog on this. When you are a child, a letter through the mail box is one of the great joys in life Through your teens, letters become a sign of aging, and each one is scruitinised and studied. But at some point, letters become unimportant. Maybe it is the avalanche of bills and bank statements along with paltry payslips that wears your joy away. Or maybe it is the pace of life that makes you forget that you even have a letter. Even the occasional birthday or Christmas card becomes something that is ignored rather than celebrated.

Anyhow, as I said, I got this notice yesterday. Unusual, as I have not ordered anything through the post recently. So who is it from, is it something important, or something fun? I am not expecting any important letters, or deliveries from anyone official or intimate. And as I missed the postman, I have to head off to the sorting office (a few minutes walk) to find out what this is. Unfortunately, today being a Bank Holiday in the UK, I have to wait until tomorrow to reveal my surprise...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Comment Box is there to be used!



I love you all.

Hopefully you love me too. Or at least can tolerate me.

If so, let me hear from you.

What are you thinking about, once you have read the words of an imbecile, written on this blog.

I want to know what you are thinking of.

Fun, happy, sad, entertained?

Or fed up at the endless spelling mustakes?

The comment box is below, I would love to hear from all of you!

Don't be shy. I don't bite. Well, only the attractive ones;)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Charlie's Second Holiday to Poland - a look back at Poznan

Living in the UK, Poland is an easy and cheap destination to head to. Regular flights from all of London's airports (including the evil that is Luton), a currency that is still relatively cheap (Poland does not have the Euro, so the Zloty is something our useless currency can afford) and drinkable water (though the Polish would not be caught dead drinking from the tap). Poland also has remarkably pretty cities, which are easily accessible for a city break from the UK. If only we had a buoyant (debt fueled) economy that could support such last minute escapades to frivolous destinations. Wait, is this a political tirade or a look back at a pleasant holiday? Oh, here's a pretty pic of the Cathedral:



I need to take more holidays. And this year has been filled with a couple of cheap European holidays that surprisingly I have never done before. I have always eschewed the short haul city break in favour of more long haul flights. It is interesting that while many of my peers are now getting the taste of long distance travel (one person recently asked me for advice on a journey to Mexico), I am doing the opposite and beginning to explore Europe.

Part of that is a fact of life. When I was younger time was rich and money was poor, so to get more bang for my buck, I spent big on the airfare but made sure I was in a particular land for at least one month, and I made sure it was cheap. So I went to a lot of far flung destinations. As time shifts, money becomes greater and time becomes less, the focus shifted to Europe. Instead of spending 24 hours on a return trip, I spend four or five for my travels on the air, allowing more time at my destination. I also can afford European prices, plus, very importantly, time is more squeezed by necessity. And here is another pretty pic of another Poznan church, to prove that the European short break is alive and well:



Part of me knew this a long time ago . When people ten years ago were asking me why I never bothered with Europe, I told then that I would when I could afford to. And part of that shift also reflects life. In your twenties, you are invincible. Crazy destinations, death defying foodstuffs and a single man exploring the world. But as you edge into your thirties, the body and the mindset changes. Hey, it is time to age a bit gracefully!

While it is cool to back pack, hitch hike and generally muck about with as many women as possible while 23, doing it ten years later looks a bit odd and at 43 is positively barmy. Also I cannot digest cucumber skins. The first sign of aging, when different foods begin to negatively impact on your body. For some reason, it was cucumber skins that got me to first think about my own mortality. Wait a minute, is this a look back at a pretty European city or a treatise about life? Here's a pic of some modern art in Poznan to soothe those nerves:



And yes, what I do on holiday has changed a lot. On my recent European trips, I have been doing more...well, sedate things. That is partly due to the fact that Europe, from an adventuring point of view is pretty sedate. I have been hitting the galleries and the cafes instead of the mountains and the deserts. In Europe, everything is smaller, the climate is easy, and let me be honest, as an EU citizen, the visas are easy (non existent). The whole holiday begins easier, so I continue it that way. Contrast that to my recent long haul to Sri Lanka where it can be hell just to cross the country (and it is a tiny island) or even my adventure in 2009 to India where the North East provided me with some fascinating glimpses into how powerless us humans can be against the forces of nature and poor planning. Oh well, I have already got my next holiday booked, yes it is to another European destination, and it is a new country, so it will be number 34 on the list! But I got another 7 weeks to go until that holiday, so the mystery will remain for a while longer until I reveal to you all, dear reader, where I will next travel to. Until then, here is one last look back at Poznan, through the eyes of another camera...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Charlie's Second Holiday to Poland - Poznan's Ostrów Tumski



Poznan's Ostrów Tumski - it has Cathedral Island just like Wroclaw - is situated just to the east of the city centre in the middle of the Warta. This is the oldest part of Poznan and if you are looking for the foundation of the Polish State, it is not Krakow, but here, on this island that the first rulers of what would later become Poland set up camp.

Poland's ancient (well, ancient by European terms) history pretty much start on this island. The mechanics of what would eventually become the Polish state originated on Ostrów Tumski. And today, Poznan's Cathedral Island hosts the impressive Cathedral of Pozanan. Pretty, towering and of course, like Catholicism across this nation in general, a symbol of the city.



Inside the Csthederal, it is just as pretty as on the outside, but in contrast to many other Catholic places of worship that i have visited in Poland, it is quite stark and devoid of any obvious decoration, following its rebuild after WWII. Still, the pews fill up for mass, and the faithful flock here at all times to pray. As I have mentioned previously, Poland is Devout and whether you are comfortable or not with Catholicism it is a fact in this country. So just go for the ride, and enjoy it I suggest...



Around the island there are plenty of attractions including the usual ecclesiastical buildings attached to the Cathedral as well as a Museum (not open on a Monday). There is also a lot of parkland and a genuine water pump that you can play with! As I had visited the Cathedral just after the anniversary of John Paul II's death, there were also plenty of people paying tribute to the former Pope. Just like in other Polish cities, there is a statue to him outside the Cathederal, which he visited on one of his nine pastoral trips to his homeland.



Overall, this island is one of the prettiest parts of Poznan and is well worth the trip and time spent. Fascinating, some may say holy, and historical, take some time out and head here to Poznan's Ostrów Tumski...

Monday, 18 April 2011

Charlie's Second Holiday to Poland - a Monday in Poznan

Monday's are a funny day in Poland. If you are going to work, you do so as normal. If you are on holiday, you wake up late, try to find breakfast and then head to the museum. Only to find them all shut!

Yep. Unlike us spoilt, decadent UK snobs who believe in our cultural sights being open everyday of the week, the Polish tourist industry receives a complete body blow when it comes to Mondays, as foreign visitors and domestic happy hounds are left scratching their heads, wondering what it is they should do...

Well, it means one thing. Random sightseeing around the city, with a dose of shopping to boot!

Ugh, shopping...



All right, maybe shopping is not all that happens in Poznan, but they do love it. Like every other European city, shopping is central to Poznan. You could say this is because Poznan, one of the oldest settlements in Poland was traditionally a trading centre, on the confluence of major road and river routes. Certainly the history of Poznan, its role as a centre for mercantile activities is one that surprised me when I came to the city. It can be seen in the market square, one of the largest I have seen on my travels, and compared to the size of the city (small) the market square is, well, big!



But enough about shopping. The streets of Poznan are pretty enough to wander through. Old cobbled streets, bits of castle and walls litter the centre of town. It is pretty, and while not as densely packed with history as say, Krakow, Poznan has a lot of fine places to wander through.



Getting around Poznan is really easy. Like many other Polish cities, the tram rules the streets. A travelcard (which will also connect you to the airport) provides unlimited transport across the city's buses and trams (but only within city limits). One thing I do love about Eastern Europe is their tram systems. I wish we in Western Europe had kept this form of public transport, as they are just so quick to get round town. Still, why lament for something we don't have, when we can enjoy it when we travel...



There is plenty of artwork around the streets of Poznan. Some of it very good and some of it obscure. A lot of it corporate, and for some reason (probably as I~ visited Poznan in Lent) there were a lot of bunny rabbits around town. Purple bunnies...



Spending a Monday in Poznan? Well, take some time out, enjoy the city and bounce around town. The museums are (mostly) shut, but it is a great place to chill out and relax in. And if it sunny, even better!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Charlie's Second Holiday to Poland - Kornik Castle

A short bus ride outside Poznan lies the town of Kornik. And this is it.



To be honest, there is no reason to actually visit the town per se. Sure there is a pretty lake nearby, but the town itself is a dull, drab, commuter ville. Except for one, huge thing which lies on the edge of the town, close to the lake - Kornik Castle!



A very brief history, it was constructed by a local noble family in the 17th Century. It was then repaired, rebuilt, passed onto other nobles. Pretty much like any other castle in this part of Europe. And inside Kornik you can get a slice of some recent Polish history. Take a look at the piano that Chopin tinkered on. The armaments used to defend the country. Hell, even a printed work from Copernicus.



Inside the castle, the decorations are fantastic. Coats of arms on the ornate ceilings, wonderful paintings of past lords and nobles, beautiful pillars supporting the structure and a winding staircase leading to a tantilising tower that is not open to the public :(



Outside Kornik Castle is a arboretum, the beautiful grounds of the castle. As spring had just cracked when I was in Poznan, that meant it was winter in the gardens. Right now it must be glorious, but when I was there it was a little chilly. Still, it was beautiful to wander round the grounds of Kornik. Plenty of trees and woodland surround the castle and it is a pretty walk round the grounds.



Getting there and away:

Kornik Castle is a quick bus ride from Poznan. Bus routes 501 and 506 leave every hour to shuttle between Kornik and Poznan. The Castle itself is a five minute walk from the market square.

It costs around 35zl to get into the castle, but there (unfortunately) is no English translations available. Oh and you have to wear slippers (provided) to walk around the castle.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Charlie's Second Holiday to Poland - Poznan's Goats!



Step into Poznan's wonderful market square at around 11:55am. Hurry, there is only five minutes left! Gather the kiddies round while you can, for there is a little treat for them!

Look up at the clock tower and wait for the striking of 12 noon. And note there are two clocks on this tower. The upper clock on the bell tower is completely inaccurate. It is the lower one you must look at. For when it strikes 12, the goats come out to play:



Oh yes, those little goats, the symbol of Poznan. Fans of Curried Goat and funky tasting cheese should not shout of their unique flavour while in Poznan. As the locals love their goats, this symbol of the city. An almost sacred flesh that is not consumed but instead enthralls the spectators everyday. And look around the city while you travel, for the goats are everywhere!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Charlie's Second Holiday to Poland - Poznan's Parklife!

Poznan is surprisingly green. I say surprising as the Polish do not seem so keen on their urban spaces, but are more keen on heading out to the countryside itself. But unlike the other cities I have seen in Poland, there are some huge parks within Poznan!



This is Malta, an absolutely massive stretch of green just to the East of the city centre. With a boating lake, a dry ski slope, a miniture railway and a new aquatic centre being built, this has to be one of the funkiest parks I have visited in all my travels world wide. And I have been to a few of them. This may not be the world's biggest urban park, nor the prettiest, but it certainly has to be one of the most diverse. With bits of modern art dotted around plus one of Poland's oldest brick buildings within the park, this is a great place to spend a few hours strolling along - especially if the sun is shining!


(St John's Church, the old Poznan HQ of the Knights Templar in Malta)

The next big park has to be Citadel Hill. Situated a tram ride north from the centre it is a grand affair. Sunday is the day that after church the families come out. Mum, dad, children and grandparents enjoy the sun, some ice cream and candy floss, as well as the weird statues that you will find here:



Citadel Hill also houses one of the funkiest war museums I have seen. Small but perfectly formed, there are old aircraft and tanks on display, as well as a history (in Polish only) of recent conflicts in Poland and that the Polish people took part in. Even without the translation, it pictures the brutality of Poland's recent history.



But you do not have to venture far out of the centre. There are so many little green squares and parks within the centre of Poznan itself. By the university are the gorgeous grounds of the castle, and whisk along the tram lines to see many little plazas and squares. Now that spring had started to bloom, Pozanan's parks looked really pretty in the sunlight...



Pozanan is a riverside city, and the authorities have (wisely) decided not to build right up to the river banks. Striding the confluence of the Warta and Cybina this is a place that would be subject to many floods. But instead of luxury apartments of unsuitable land (like in London), there is green on either side of the waterways. What is bad for private developers is great for the city dwellers allowing a breath of fresh air through the city centre.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Charlie's Second Holiday to Poland...

Yes, I am back, from holiday, and it was to Poland...again...

I might be gaining a thing for this country, but enough for that, it was a brief city break that I took last week to Poznan. As you know last time I already visited Wroclaw and the wonderful Krakow.



Poznan is a very different beast from these two cities. Wroclaw is wonderfully cultural while Krakow contains a genuine honeypot of attractions. But that is partly reflected in the history of the city of Poznan. More to come on that later...



Just like the last time I went, I am shocked that Poland still remains an undiscovered country. Whoever runs the Polish tourist board should be shot. Poland is cheap, easy to reach from the rest of Europe (as it is smack bang in the middle of the continent), and is filled with fascinating cities, history, great countryside and of course stunning looking women. The only thing I am not a big fan of is the food, which, to be polite is interesting.



So join me for the next few days enjoy a few tales from my latest visit to Poland...

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Motorcycle Diaries (11) - Passed!

Here's the before pic:



And here's the after pic:



Yep, no 'L' plates and that means one thing - I passed my motorbike test! That's right, I finally have a licence to ride any motorbike, of any shape or size that is legally allowed in the EU on any public highway across all 27 countries of the EU. I can carry a passenger on the back (pillion) or I can have a sidecar attached. I can also ride Trikes and Quadbikes, should the fancy take me.

That is also the reason why I have been a bit quiet on the blogging front this week. I have been busy getting nervous about this day.

As always, getting a licence in the UK is hackneyed process that seems like a never ending story of test, hoops and general wiggly bits. So here is what I have done, a rough timeline of getting to this stage, a fully licenced rider.

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1) CBT - Compulsary Basic Training: A one day course that is mandatory for anyone who does not hold a bike licence if they want to ride. You don't really pass or fail this course, you just have to show the trainer that you have reached a particular standard of riding.

You can either ride an Automatic bike (scooter) or a manual motorbike and you will get the same certificate, valid for any motorbike with an engine size no bigger than 125cc. You have to ride with 'L' plates, cannot leave the UK on your bike, cannot carry a passenger and cannot use the Motorways.

That is why, up until now , my bike has always had 'L' plates. Until today...

I got my CBT in June last year, two weeks before I picked up my motorbike, from a work colleague who sold it to me for a song! And that legendary CG125 has done a lot for me...


2) The Theory Test: The theory test is done on computers and is divided into two parts. The first is a set of questions, and the second part are a set of videos where you have to spot the hazard - the hazard perception test.

I passed my theory test in April, almost a year ago, before I had even rode a motorbike. Why? Well, the test is valid for two years, which gives you a time limit where you have to pass your practical test(s). After that, you got to start again. I knew that by passing the theory test, I had to pass everything in two years, or I would have wasted my money on it. It is a good incentive to get you to the next stage...

3) Module 1 of the Practical Test: Home of the famous swerve test, you are required to do a series of maneuvers around an enclosed space.

I passed this just before I left for my holiday at the end of March. I kept that quiet becuase after Part 1, there is...

4) Module 2 of the Practical Test: This is riding around for up to 40 minutes, taking in various roads. The test has recently changed, with independent driving now a feature of the test. This means that you follow the road sings to say, Tunbridge Wells or something like that.

There are three types of practical test you can take, and depending on what test you take, it can restrict your licence. The first is the Direct Access, which is what I did. This means riding a (manual if you choose) bike, with an engine size of at least 500cc and a power output of at least 35kw. Oh, and you have to be over 21. If you pass a test on a bike like this, then you can ride anything, ever. And as I also have a car licence, that means, sidecars/trikes/quads/whatever are all open to me.

The rules get slightly more complicated if you ride a smaller bike. Oh, and if you are under 21, then you are restricted again. Here are the rules. Oh, and if you take your test on an Automatic bike (scooter) then you are licenced to ride Automatics only. Ah, the joys of British laws...

Yeah, so you need to do four separate tests/courses before you earn your licence to ride a bike. I do not think that any other category of driving in the UK needs so many ways to part with your cash...

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In conclusion however, I am unrestricted, able to ride anything, manual, automatic, with any amount of wheels (bike wise). But for now, I think I will stick with my little beastie. It's good enough for me, just now without the 'L' plates - yey!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Petrol Prices...wahaha

It has been a long time coming, but for anyone that uses a car, how does it feel now to own a piece of the road? That freedom to get up and go anywhere? And the fact that it now costs £1.35 per litre of fuel (and for anyone old school that is over £6 per Imperial Gallon).

Even for my little motorbike, I am going over the £10 mark to fill up a full motorbike tank. Small change in today's worthless currency known as Sterling, but interesting to note that before the New Year I was struggling to put anything more than £10 of fuel in my bike.

So what is going to happen to us, in Britain? How are we going to cope with arguably the most expensive petrol prices in the world. Yes, I know that most of it is taxes, but the simple fact is that we have run out of cheap oil. Even if the tax was reduced, eventually, the price of petrol will shoot up.

And while the shock of going over £1/litre remains fresh, the fact is that it is pretty easy to see petrol hitting £2/litre by the Olympics next year. And then what? Are we still going to be driving to that out of town shopping mall? Is that commute to work going to be made easier by blasting out the Heart FM breakfast show? Are we going to go cruising every Saturday night in overpriced sports cars in an attempt to let off my testosterone?

The Internal Combustion Engine is heading the way of the dodo. While there will be plenty of years left in it, and plenty of oil left, the key to mass car use is affordability. Once the price of oil reaches a certain level, it becomes unsustainable. And that is exactly what is happening now with the price of petrol. No we are not going to see a sudden cycling revolution, but small shifts in the pattern of behavior will happen. People will drive less to the take away, opting instead to walk. Those damn buses are going to get more crowded.

And most importantly, that Great British Tradition of queuing up on the motorway to get to some awful shopping centre to queue to get into the car park to queue to max out the credit card and then queue to get a cup of coffee will dry up in favour of something less abominable...like queuing for tea...

All right, I am a bit tongue in cheek today, habits will not change over night, and cars will remain king for a while to come. But people will one day look fondly back at the time when noxious gases and smog filled the air around London. At least the sunsets have been nice...

Friday, 8 April 2011

Blogger vs Wordpress

The battle for the geeks has commenced! Who will it be. In one corner is Blogger. Made even more convenient by your gmail account, it has all the buzz that you need.

And in the opposite corner sits Wordpress, the plucky independent owned by some small California company.

The fight is thoroughly exciting, but which one to choose.

Usually, I blog in blogger. If you look at it, my Blogger blog is far better connected than my Wordpress blog. If you scroll down the sidebar, you can see the links to my various film projects as well as my blogroll of the other blogs I read (on various blogging platforms).


My Wordpress blog on the other hand is far more sparse. It is not as well decorated or personalised, and even my photos are hosted via blogger, not wordpress. However, I have far more connectivity on Wordpress and more importantly, a lot more hits.

Essentially, both blogs are the same, I just copy and paste. There is no variety or imagination, just simple copycats.

What is interesting are the sources of my visitors and what they head for.

Search engines are the biggest sources for me, but on Wordpress, the occasional blog also refers my to my boog providing a surprising jolt to the numbers. Blogger does not seem to have that.

And the guys who come onto Blogger generally head for either the stuff about Star Trek or the London Overground (which, by the way, sucks as a post).

The visitors to my Wordpress are far more contemporary. They have ranged from my recent slip into Shoreditch, my love of Kremowki as well as the fairly serious post about the recent revolution in Tunisia.

Anyhow, I will soon be improving my Wordpress site. I am also getting fed up of google randomly loosing my photos everytime I upload them. So I will slowly improve my lot with wordpress, and tinker it up. Who knows, it may eventually become my blogging platform of choice...

But first I got to learn how to add a blog roll...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Joys of London Luton Airport - A not-so quick Guide

Here is my guide to London Luton airport. How to get there, what to do when you are there and how to make it as painless as possible. This is a long blog post, but, to be honest, the guides out there on the web are pretty awful and non consistent. Even for me, a Londoner, getting to London Luton Airport is a mini-exercise worthy of Sisyphus.



This is Luton Airport, London's fourth largest airport and the fifth busiest airport in the UK. Yep, this airport is busier than the airstrips that serve Birmingham (the UK's second largest city), Edinburgh, Liverpool or Glasgow. And I had the...pleasure...of using the airport recently on my holiday. Despite all the flights I have taken from the UK, this is the very first time I have used Luton Airport.

FACT: Getting between Central London and Luton airport is a difficult and expensive exercise. In fact, Luton airport is the hardest airport to get to from the centre of London (or from anywhere else in the city). The airport's authorities plus the companies that provide public transport to the airport take great delight in making this airport transfer one of the most expensive and least convenient options that I have ever used in all my travels worldwide. And that includes getting to LAX airport.

First of all is the location of London Luton Airport. It is over 30 miles from the centre of London and that means Luton Airport is far from the loving embrace of TfL. Instead, you are in the realms of private bus and train companies who conspire to make as much profit out of your travelling experience to London Luton Airport.

So here goes. Make sure you have your passport, boarding pass, and I hope that cheap airfare was worth it, as you will probably spend just as much money on the airport transfer as you did on the ticket. And depending on where you are flying to, the transfer between the airport and Central London could just be as long as the flight itself.

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Getting there and away by Road:

If you have access to a car, then use it. Unfortunately the main access to Luton Airport is via the M1, which is probably the worst motorway in Britain. Luton airport lies just off junction 10 of the M1 but the amount of roadworks combines with the amount of crazed drivers who believe that faster is better means that accidents and tailbacks are frequent. The nearby A1(M) is a little better, and less prone to accidents, but it is a lengthy detour through Bedfordshire between the A1(M) and Luton Airport.

In short, the M1 motorway is the way to get to Luton airport by car but be prepared for long delays, especially if catching an afternoon flight.

Ah, but there is one more thing. Luton has a drop-off charge. Yes, alongside the usual short term and long term parking, to just drop off a friend or relative outside the terminal of London Luton Airport is a £1 charge for a full ten minutes to kiss your loved one goodbye.

Yeah...

I would love to give a time limit but it really does depend on the traffic. Two hours from anywhere in London to Luton Airport should be ample. It could be within an hour if travelling at 2am and it could be four hours or more if stuck in rush hour traffic or on the M25 while trying to get to the M1 motorway.

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Getting there and away by Train:

Luton Airport, in theory, should be one of the easiest airports to reach, as it lies on the Thameslink line which serves both North and South London, as well as direct fast trains from St Pancras station. And then here comes the problem. Luton Airport is the only one of London's airports without a train station in the terminal building. The nearest train station is Luton Airport Parkway, which is a ten minute bus ride from London Luton Airport. Yes, there is a regular shuttle bus linking the airport with the Parkway Station. But, you have to pay for this shuttle bus. Yep, that is correct. You pay for a train ticket, and then pay for a bus ticket (£1) from the train station to the airport. Of course you can get around this by actually making sure your ticket says Luton Airport Bus, rather than Parkway, then the £1 is included in the price, but of course, keep your ticket with you to show the driver of the bus.


There are advantages to the train. You avoid the M1 motorway and so are pretty much guaranteed to make it on time, plus at one hour, it should be the quickest way to get from airport to the city. It also runs throughout the night (from St Pancras only) and so you can get to Luton at any time of the day.

The disadvantages are that this is a British train, so reliability is sketchy, plus the route is operated by First, probably the least loved transport company on the UK (it's a very funny link, click on it). The train fares are also extremely complex (and pricey), with fares ranging from £15 to £48 depending on whether you are travelling off peak in 2nd class to peak in first class. Plus you have that annoying shuttle bus, so for people with huge amounts of luggage, the transfer between the train station and the terminal building at Luton Airport is a hassle.

Oh and if travelling on a weekend, watch out for rail replacement bus services which will make your journey hell, and probably longer than getting a coach direct to Luton Airport.

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Getting there and away by Coach:

It may seem bewildering, especially with a quick trawl through the internet showing that there are a million bus companies running coach services between London Victoria (calling at Marble Arch, Baker Street, Swiss Cottage and Brent Cross) to London Luton Airport. In reality, you will be getting onto the 757 Greenline commuter coach which starts its long haul from Victoria. All those other competitors are in reality little more than booking agents for the 757 coach.



One important note. If in Victoria, the 757 coach does not go from Victoria Coach station, nor does it go from the Bus Station (which is located outside the main railway station) but it departs from the Colonnades on the side of the Greenline Coach Station on Buckingham Palace Road (nowhere near Buckingham Palace).

Although the 757 is a Greenline coach, this service does not depart from inside the Greenline coach station. So for those that know Victoria well, the bus stop for the Greenline 757 is on the main road halfway between Victoria Rail station and Victoria Coach Station. Get it yet? All right, here is a map link:



There are two ways to get a ticket. First is to turn up and buy a ticket on the coach. These are pretty big vehicles and so this is a likely option, unless there is a big group of you who want to travel. The price of an open return ticket from the driver is currently £22 to and from London Luton Airport. Bring change, as the drivers can often run out and of course keep the stub which is valid for three months on any Greenline coach day or night. The 757 runs 24 hours a day at intervals from 15 to 30 minutes.

But £22 is expensive. And yes, there is a second, much cheaper way to get a ticket on the 757 Greenline and that is to book online. This is where Easybus, Terravision, National Express and those other great bastions of customer satisfaction and airport transfers kick in. You could get a return trip between Central London and Luton Airport for under £5 (which should also include the cheeky card surcharge). But there are two problems with this.

First of all, you are locked into a specific coach, as in the coach that leaves Victoria at 05:30 in the morning. Or the coach that leaves Luton airport at 15:00 in the afternoon. If you miss your coach (ie: your flight is delayed) then tough luck, your ticket is invalid, although you could try your luck at the customer service counters at Luton airport. What happens if your coach is non-running because it is stuck on traffic on the M1? I hope that you never find out...

Secondly you have to make sure that you print out the ticket. Not the confirmation email you get when making the booking. That means logging onto the website that you booked your ticket on, and printing the physical ticket to show to the driver. Of course, this means you have to create an account with Easybus, Terravision, National Express etc to make sure you can access the ticket to print. Yeah, more spam in your inbox...

You also have the disadvantage of being stuck on the M1. Of course, if there is an accident on the M1 and the driver is forewarned they will use the A1(M) route (which most of them know about) but you do have the problem of missing your flight. Like the car you need at the very least to give yourself at the absolute minimum, two hours to get from Victoria to London Luton Airport. Just for the record it took me two and a half hours to get back from Luton Airport to Victoria yesterday on this very coach. Longer than the plane flight I was on...

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Getting there and away by Taxi:

A very expensive option, working out at least to £100. But if there are five of you, and you have been disorganised in booking something in advance, this is the way forward. Again, factor in a lot of time to get up and down the notorious M1 motorway from Central London.

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The airlines that use Luton Airport:


Luton airport is the bastion of the cheap budget low cost airlines that have made European air travel affordable to many over the past decade. Easyjet, Ryanair, Wizz and many others have many weird and wonderful destinations from Luton Airport. But there is a reason I have never used Luton Airport before, and that is mainly due to the hassle and expense of the airport transfer.



Whenever I look at a cheap flight I also factor in the cost of the transfer. If the difference between a flight from Luton (or Stansted or Gatwick) is less than £50 what that same destination would cost me from Heathrow, I would go to Heathrow airport, as the airlines that use Heathrow have better customer relations, plus the transfer for me to get to Heathrow is the price of a local bus fare - £1.30, as I live ridiculously close to it.

You also do not have to run the gauntlet with regards to the rules and regulations that the budget airlines have with regards to hand luggage. Plus the cheeky card/fuel/I feel like it surcharges (it can be as much as £7 on the ticket) are usually included in the quote of the Heathrow based airlines.

Also, for a full priced airline, you can check your bag into the hold (for free), which means that you can carry liquids and shaving blades to your final destination, as they are not in your hand baggage. This means that you can save a small fortune (and time) on buying shower gel and shaving implements at your final destination, plus you can carry them back home. The budget airlines always charge for checking in luggage, which means I usually take only hand baggage, which means I have to faff around at my final destination to remain clean.

A budget airline also requires you to pre-print your boarding pass otherwise they will charge you for the privilege of printing one for you at the airport. Some budget airlines allow you to print your boarding pass at the time of booking, while some do not allow you to do so until one week beforehand. Now if your holiday is say, two weeks long, you have to find an internet cafe somewhere while on holiday to print out your boarding pass, and of course, pay what could be an extra quid in that cafe for one sheet of paper. Or get it done at the airport for £10. You can of course pay online in advance (for a discount) to get the airport staff to print out your boarding pass, but then you have to queue up for it...

This boarding pass game is the biggest catch that these airlines have. Do not get caught out by the bas***ds!

The budget airlines are also notorious with cancellations. They will cancel flights on a whim, and so will happily leave you stranded. The full price airlines are more likely (due to the fact they want to retain the facade of service) to get you onto the next flight if they cancel.

A budget airline is exactly that, you get what you pay for. Great if you are young and single or travelling as a couple for a quick holiday to the continent. Not so great if you are with a family in tow, are elderly, disabled or have some plans of real importance at your destination (such as your first holiday in ten years). The budget airlines consider you guys as a pain in the neck, and will make it as difficult as possible for you to get on board.

My advice to you is to pack light, put it in one bag, carry it with you on board and have some cash at the other end to find a chemist so you can top up on toiletries. As the destinations served by these airlines are mostly in Europe, what you can buy at home is easily available where you will land. And do not forget to print out that boarding pass.

One thing that is annoying is the flight itself. To make up for the fact that the ticket is so cheap, the airlines bombard you with spending temptations such as buying drinks and snacks while on board, onward travel for your destination or lousy presents. While all airlines do this to make extra cash, some of the budget airlines have their stewards/stewardesses on the tannoy every five minutes trying to gouge out your wallet. And you would be surprised at the amount of people on a prissy two hour flight who really cannot go without their cup of coffee...

Easyjet in particular is really irritating for this, and to try and get a bit of sleep on their flights is almost impossible. I am one of the lucky people who finds it quite easy to sleep on a flight, unless some annoying twat is announcing there is an 'Oystercard for sale along with the last bacon cheese toastie'...

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London Luton Airport itself:

London Luton Airport is no architectural gem, but it is handily small (by London standards anyway) which means you are not going to go on a huge walk around the terminal to get to your gate. Saying that, at peak times it does get crowded and as in every other airport in the UK, security can be a hassle.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Luton Airport. Security was quick and easy. I have done it plenty of times before, so I know what is required. Shoes, belts and watches off, empty the coins out of my pockets and put mobiles and laptops into the trays provided along with my jacket. It took me ten minutes from entering the queue to get my belongings scanned, my (pre-printed) boarding pass checked before I was in the departure lounge.

That is the quickest anywhwere in the world. And that is partly due to the fact that the bulk of travellers are like me, young, single or couples and without children who have regularly travelled before and so know the score. However, if you do need a plastic bag for your liquids, the airport will charge you £1 for the privallege. Bring your own plastic bags or leave your cosmetics behind!

The eateries are fairly bog standard:



Coffee shops on both sides of security, and a burger outlet next to the check-in desks. A little bit above the prices you find on the high street, but it is what you expect. Take some sandwiches with you if you want to eat cheaply.

There are some free (for UK debit card holders) cashpoints in the Departures and Arrivals hall, as well as the usual rip-off money exchangers offering awful rates. The toilets can get packed at peak times, so watch out if you are caught short and use the facilities before security if you have the time.

The gates are not that far from the security zone, but the airlines rarely advertise the gate until twenty minutes before the gate officially closes. This will mean a mad scramble to the gate itself and a lot of jostling as people push, fight and shove to get in before you. Relax, join the tidal wave and wait for everyone else to shove themselves onto the plane. You normally walk out from the gate to the plane, but there are occasional bus transfers from the gate if the plane is parked far out on the apron.

On arrival, Passport Control was fairly quick, but that was probably due to the fact that I was on one of the first flights arriving at Luton Airport that morning. I could easily see this getting crowded later on during the day.

There are plenty of information booths in he arrivals hall, plus the ticket booths selling coach rides or train rides into London or across the rest of the country.

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So that is it. A very long guide to London's fourth airport. Yes, I know, it is f**king ridiculous that this city has five airports, but that is what us capitalist pigs believe in. Choice. Unfortunately, as you have seen here, London Luton Airport is not the choice of someone who has made it in this world.

If you are young, travel light and are well prepared with your bookings and are happy to waste a little time on lingering, than London Luton Airport, plus the airlines that use it are a cheap and easy way to explore Europe.

However, if you have a family and are prone to bouts of poor organisation, then opt for something else. By the time you go through the hassle and hidden costs of using Luton Airport, then it would work out about the same to use the airlines out of Heathrow. But whatever you are doing, or wherever your are going, then one thing left to say from me to you. Good luck and bon voyage!

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Just for the record, the plane flight cost me £45 return (including all surcharges) and took me one and a bit hours one way. The coach ride from Victoria to the airport cost me £12 including the booking fees, and yes, I was on time for every part of my journey. I spent a few quid on razor blades when I got to my destination, all in all, £60.

It took me one hour 20 mins to get to Luton (at 5am) when I left for my holiday.

On the way back, it was two and a half hours to get back from Luton airport to Central London (in rush hour, with an accident on the M1).

My journey yesterday was one hour 20 mins for the flight, and four hours to get from Luton airport to my home in South London, all on public transport.

I carried hand luggage throughout the journey.

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Charles Michel Duke (often called El Director) is an imbecilic film maker who delights in travelling to as many places as possible while not making films (a rare event) in the hope that someday he will be able to merge his two passions of travelling and film making into one ball of awesomeness. He has used four out of London's five airports on his travels to 33 countries worldwide, all of them destinations south of Edinburgh. Listening to him is like listening to a tumble dryer spin round and round. Endless...