Tuesday, May 31

Motorways are useless

My job involves me working away for weeks on end and I do a lot of motorway miles both commuting to the job and as part of the job itself. Having driven a fair number of miles on them, I’ve come to the conclusion that Motorways are a waste of time.

The problem is HGV’s (or for non English readers, 42 ton Trucks with trailers). There are (with one or two minor exceptions) two and three lane motorways. You might as well replace them with a single track road.

The speed limit of the motorway is 70 MPH, which was introduced a LONG while ago when the absolute top speed of the majority of cars was about 70 MPH and they were fitted with cable operated drum brakes, skinny tyres, high centres of gravity, no seatbelts or crumple zones and other safety related devices. So it makes perfect sense to keep the limit at 70 MPH when you have infinitely safer cars which can out perform and out brake by several orders of magnitude the cars of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Most, if not all, HGV’s in Britain have a limiter fitted which does not permit them to exceed 56 MPH. This is due to the ruinously high cost (due to tax) of fuel – a truck travelling at 56 MPH will consume a good deal less fuel than at 70 MPH.
However the speed limited HGV’s play with each other and for some reason, the drivers think that, if they don’t have the speed or power to overtake a truck on the flat, as soon as a hill or incline is reached, they will somehow miraculously gain the additional speed and power to overtake another truck.

I have timed the trucks overtaking and based on estimates, (estimate that a truck is 50 ft long approximately and that it takes one about 1 ½ minutes – on a good day – to overtake the one in front) they overtake at a relative speed of about 0.7MPH. This difference could be explained by the minor differences inherent in the manufacture of anything and if one limiter allows (say) 55.7 MPH and the other allows 56.4 MPH, then that’s all the difference that they need to justify this inconsiderate overtake.

As they travel in convoys (or at least bunch up in convoys) and two or three can attempt the overtaking manoeuvre one after the other, then for a long time they effectively block off two lanes of the motorway. If this is a three lane motorway, it reduces the road effectively to a single "A" carriageway in terms of carrying capacity and due to cars and vans attempting to overtake these lumbering rolling roadblocks, the outside lane is reduced to 50 MPH or less.

If the road is a two lane motorway, then the result is worse, reducing the carrying capacity to about a good B road.

If any truck driver is reading this and wishes to explain why they feel entitled to delay everyone else, I’d be grateful for an explanation. I was taught to drive with the rule “Don’t drive in such a way that you cause another road user to brake or swerve due to your actions” and “Drive with consideration for other road users”. I’d take this to mean that if you are driving something weighing 42 tons, you don’t use your vehicle to bully and force other users out of your way by swerving violently into the path of an overtaking car, forcing it to brake heavily, and hog the road … but that’s just me.

The Guvermint (they govern, make an absolute mint out of the population in tax) might as well just leave the A and B roads as is and the journey times wouldn’t be much different.

HGV’s seem to account for a large proportion of accidents and delays (I’d estimate 50% based on listening to the traffic announcements and based on a job related statistics are HGV related – either shed loads or crashes from this class of vehicle). Watching them “slipstream” (or, if it was a car, tailgating) by driving a few feet from the truck in front answers the reason why they are often involved in multiple pile ups. They slipstream to save expensive fuel – the truck in front punches a hole in the air, the following truck can take advantage of it and thereby use less fuel to travel at the same speed. Formula one car drivers do the same.

There is hope on the horizon. The M42 has been selected for a trial which involves using the hard shoulder as a running lane during peak demand times, effectively turning it into a four lane motorway. As part of this trial, trucks are forbidden to overtake and if it proves successful, it will be applied to all motorways. Germany has various overtaking laws, the practical effect is that you cannot overtake a vehicle in front unless the difference in speed is so great that the overtake can be executed within a set time – so it is OK to overtake something like a tractor which travels at about 10 to 12 mph but not much else. It should prevent the “I’ll take several minutes to overtake and block the road” attitude of truck drivers.

I was travelling back on Friday (always a bad day and especially so just before a bank holiday weekend) and was travelling at the dizzy speed of about 20 MPH in the outside (i.e. the fastest lane) of the motorway due to the congestion and a double solid wall of HGV’s in the inside two lanes when I passed a child’s small pedal car against the crash barrier in the central reserve. It looked a little forlorn, the bright red plastic of the body and the little yellow steering wheel and windscreen and the white wheels gradually becoming coated in grime and fading in the sun.

I wondered how it had got there. Had someone taken it up the motorway as a joke, had to pedal furiously to keep up with the traffic flow and become exhausted ? Had they lost control (hard plastic wheels not having the same degree of grip as the more usual tyres) and skidded into the crash barrier? Had it been stolen and abandoned by some heartless TWOCer?

I was surprised that the police hadn’t closed the motorway for at least 6 hours to recover it and designate the area as a crime scene for forensic purposes.

Tuesday, May 24

Cockneys , Zen and navel fluff

The Geordie sense of humour is a bit off the wall and often takes a practical form which is memorable for the observers, not so amusing for those with a lack of sense of humour. Particularly if you are the target of the joke.

It can be helped along by the differing customs we have up here, particularly as it relates to babies. For example, it is considered good manners to give a new born baby a silver coin (nowadays a 50p piece) bearing the year of their birth the first time you meet the baby. I’m not sure why, but it does serve a practical purpose of providing cash to buy baby clothes and equipment and if the parents don’t need this assistance, can be saved for the babies future. Plenty of people who aren’t Geordies have remarked on this so I know it’s a local (or at least a Northern) custom.

This line of thinking was inspired by a discussion I had over the weekend with Sonia.

I had been working in the house (redecorating the bathroom) and arrived at Sonia’s house smelling like a marathon runners favourite shoes. So I was ordered into the bath pronto while she bundled my clothes into the washing machine.

Now I’m not sure what strange space-time continuum causes the effect but navel fluff (at least on me) is ALWAYS a different colour to the clothes I’m wearing. White T shirt, blue fluff. Go figure. As you lie in the warm water of a bath too short to allow you to stretch out fully and bent like a banana, you are forced to contemplate your navel. A deep Zen like trance can overwhelm you contemplating why the fluff behaves like this, transmogrifying into a different colour to the rest of the world. It’s amazing really.

Sonia shouted up the stairs with words to the effect of "What are you doing? Making out your will?". I told my little pocket venus that I was contemplating the fluff in my navel and the bath water was now cold so could she come up and scrub my back please?

I was reminded of an incident that occurred with my wife (which I related to Sonia). She - my wife, that is - used to play squash and was in a sort of league with a group of her friends. One of the group was a cockney and always appeared to me to be aggressive and extremely nosey. He wanted to know all your business and rudely questioned everyone as if it was his right to know every last detail. He wasn’t popular but as his girlfriend Janice was a nice lass, everyone tolerated him (just!) for her sake.

Anyway, one Friday evening the subject of belly button fluff came up in the conversation (as it does) and my wife, having a mischievous sense of humour, asked the company if they still had their baby cushions made out of navel fluff. Fortunately everyone clicked on and several agreed that they still had theirs or their mothers still had them (for sentimental reasons) while others said they had thrown theirs away years ago. This mystified the cockney so my wife explained that it is a Northern custom that mothers collect the fluff from their babies navels and make a baby cushion for the cot. The others chipped in with their own family traditions relating to the fluff from babies navels and kicked off a vigorous discussion about what age this activity ceased and the size, washing methods used and other aspects of these baby cushions etc. etc.

The following week the cockney walked in and said “You facking baaaaaaar staaaaaaawrds!!!”

It seems he’d gone into work and struck up a discussion about navel fluff baby cushions and the expected reaction and ribbing took place.

Sometimes there IS justice of a sort … but the reason for the chameleon like colour change of fluff still is a mystery.

Tuesday, May 17

Links Added

I've finally got off my well padded posterior and puzzled out how to add links to other blogs.

I have put the ones in I visit daily and from these few, you can wander freely around other blogs and while away the hours .. or days .. or bloody hell!!! is that the time!!

I recommend the parking attendant one - it might give you an insight into an articulate and educated blokes view of his job.

The gun ones may surprise you - the "Look what happens in America" argument irritates me as people do NOT actually do what they say. They never objectively look at what DOES happen in America. One day I might do a posting on why the American constitution was set up and its influence. It might give an insight as to why I added these links.

I'll add others as I get the time and inclination .... or not as the fancy takes me.

Monday, May 16


I've been working away with my job and only back home for the weekends to wash my shirts and sweaty socks etc. and have my ears chewed off by Sonia. A whole weeks worth of conversation compressed into a half day ...

Another reason I haven't blogged is that the election and the associated irritation has occupied my attention for the past few weeks. You can imagine my disappointment at Saint Tone of Sedgefield getting back into power again.

On 8th May, I was invited along to the Legion Club by a few friends (some much older) to have a drink to commemorate VE day. They are quite an eclectic bunch who are not politically correct and aren't particularly inclined to call a spade a hand held, foot operated excavating device. I'll edit the comments for the forceful and colourful language that they used - I would estimate the group sitting around the table had a combined age of 500 years and a combined time serving in the Armed Forces of probably 150 years. You learn to curse fluently without repetition after that sort of experience.

David was a submariner, originally from Northampton but he was based in Blyth during the Second World War where he met and married a local lass so he's stayed in the area. He doesn't say much about his experiences but his expression when pressed for information reveals that it must have been traumatic. A tough, phlegmatic character, now in his 80's, a shock of white hair, chin scraped clean and still made out of piano wire and whipcord. he's a very talented woodworker and cabinet maker.

Cyril is physically the opposite - rotund and bald and jolly. He was in the "wavy Navy" (RNR) and served on MTB boats during the war, originally based in Dover and the Western Channel but transferred to the Med where he spent the rest of his war service around the Greek Islands and the Adriatic. He doesn't say much about things either. I'm trying to persuade him to write things down as this arm of the service isn't well documented and he was in the thick of things right from the off. He's quite bookish and well read - mainly self educated - so he wouldn't have too much trouble doing so.

Geoff and Allan were pongoes (Army) - one a tankie, like me, one a trog (infantryman), both professional soldiers and they both did their bit on D-Day, through northern Europe and later in Korea.

Then there was Paul, one of my mates from the TA (I never had much sense - as soon as I was out of the regulars, I rejoined the TA) and Dave, another TA wallah.

After remembering old mates (and surprisingly, when I started to count up the ones I personally served with, there were quite a few who were dead - some in service, others through natural causes) we got around to discussing life, the universe and the rest. Inevitably, it turned to the state of the country and the direction it was going.

Cyril made a point regarding the re-election of Tony Blair. He quoted the figures of the percentage of the votes gleaned by Saint Tone of Sedgefield (for brevity, I'll abbreviate it to STOS) and compared it to the percentage of votes Hitler got in 1933. It was surprisingly close. Once started he made a list of the similarities between the two - cronyism, secret cabinet meetings, forcing through laws and bullying the lawyers to make the laws fit his plans, a vision of how society should be and taking the country to war on false pretences. His recitation and comparison was chillingly accurate. He then went on to defend the SS which left everyone gobsmacked. However his reasoning was based on fact rather than hysteria and he stated quite eloquently that the very best lawyers in Germany at the time had formulated the laws which authorised the final solution and had them passed by the Reichstag. Therefore the mass slaughter of the Jews in particular was done under the full sanction and authority of the law. Hence his argument that, regardless of how repulsed you are by the system and the ghastly conclusion, you cannot blame the SS guards any more than you can blame the whacky antics of the various Government bodies in this country as they are both sanctioned and backed by due process law.

This kicked offf a storm of protest (as you can imagine) but Cyril is nothing if thorough. He quoted the references and books that supported his assertions and after much discussion, we came to the conclusion that the bugger might just be right. Which brought us back to STOS and his style of Government. The conclusion sat uncomfortably with the assembled population but it dawned on us that the comparisons were uncomfortably accurate.

The unanimous conclusion was that the country we had been born into was gone and that if things were to kick off again as they did in 1939, then everyone wouldn't think twice about if they should volunteer. They wouldn't! David growled "Let the *%!#**!! who are benefitting from the system go and fight for the system". Though everyone agreed that the lazy dole-wallahs who had managed to milk the system and live very comfortably on benefits would be incapable of doing what was necessary. It would violate their rights.

The numbers of foreigners (their words, not mine) in the country formed a very effective fifth column who would in time of war be a real and tangible threat. But they are the new British - political correctness forbids discriminating against them. Alan said "I didn't fight for this ...". He's rabidly anticommunist ( he saw what the Russians did in Germany, fought the Communists in Korea and does NOT have any tolerance of their defenders) and would cheerfully export all the left wingers to somewhere where their political philosophy is taken to its logical conclusion - North Korea, for example. He sees STOS as being the grinning face of Communism and doesn't like him one bit.

After much to-ing and fro-ing we decided to play a tabletop game for money.

The argument arose between the Navy lads who wanted to play Ludo (apparently a popular navy game) and the rest who wanted to play dominoes.

They were still arguing the merits of each game when I left ...