Friday, December 31, 2010

London Parking Fines

The BBC reports that overseas driver are not paying parking fees and when given a fine they simply ignore the fine and drive home. Westminster City Council reports that between July 2007 and October 2010, 45,437 tickets issued to foreign-registered vehicles had been written off because the driver could not be traced - with £3.2m still owed. That is £70.42 per ticket. Let me add my 2p.

This was reported after 20 UK councils and police forces responded to a Freedom of Information request. The BBC did not state clearly who requested the report, either the BBC or the Campaign group the Sparks Network. May I ask why this took a freedom of information request? Why is this a state secrete? Are councils afraid the public is going to think they are awash in cash and may demand lower taxes?

And may I ask the councils; what’s the bitch? Had those 45 thousand people just paid the meter what would have been the take? Subtract this from the outstanding fines and that is what councils really think they lost. The only money they lost was the fee, which is applied to control parking and giving shoppers a chance to park. This in itself generates taxes paid by merchants. Yes, the councils are entitled to the fines but only government sees not receiving money not directly due them as a loss. If everyone paid the parking fee and never got a fine, how much money is “lost”?

Apparently the UK cannot locate foreign owners under current EU regulations. As the European Union is attempting to behave like a United States of Europe it should be easy to locate registered cars. Here, when a car is stopped, the police know within minutes the owner name ad address along with outstanding warrants or suspensions. When I get a parking ticket the make and model of my car is printed on the ticket along with my license. The government keeps track of that and when you reach five outstanding tickets you car is located and booted. You are unable to dive it until the fines are paid. It is too bad that Brussels has so much control over London life but that is what happens when you sign your rights away. Still, I think innovative ways can be found to collect fines on foreign cars. It could be a money maker.

Monday, December 20, 2010

London Snow Disrupting Lives

I see that the snow is causing a lot of problems for people trying to get from one place to another. They are focused on this and having no way of getting on they are greatly troubled and many are getting beyond the good manners they would normally have. May I say: get a grip.

With the snow disrupting everyone's lives and making travel next to impossible, has anyone asked how the elderly and disabled are doing? Are they able to get food and medicine? Can care givers get to them? Yes, at this time of the year it would be nice if we could all get out and exchange presents. Burt many cannot get out, even on a sunny day. Can we give them some thought. Isn't this the spirit of Christmas?

I am not trying to make light on people trying to travel to see family, but there are so many trying to stay warm, fed and use the toilet on a daily basis. Let us all see if we can give them a merry christmas too.

Merry Christmas to everyone.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

London Underground Error

This BBC news story tells how passengers were left off at a closed tube station during a strike action. The train came to a stop at Canada Water and the doors opened. No one got on but several passengers got off only to find no way out. One thing I find disturbing about this article is how confusing it was to read. It illustrated what had occurred on several dates and I was left confused as to what occurred on a specific date. I have other questions that should have been brought into the article.

Once the passengers exited the train and found the exits closed. Was there any indication that another train was coming soon? Was there no indication to the driver that the station was closed? As the passengers were probably away from the platform be this time probably not. Was no staff person viewing this on CCTV? Monitor stations are off site (I think) but somebody in security should have known.

Passengers had to exit by climbing out of a fire escape. Were there no alarms when the escape hatch was opened? It was reported that a member of staff did spot them and helped them. Did he help them out of the fire escape? Why did he not just open the doors? Did he have any way of communicating with the passengers? Maybe it's just me but a lot is missing in this story.

This could have been bad. What if a passenger got injured during the escape? What if a passenger was in a wheel chair? Do fire escapes handle wheel chairs? Did the fire escape have an Oyster touch pad? In my lame attempt to inject humor that comment does try to illustrate a point. London Underground has a vast arsenal of equipment and electronics to monitor its system to prevent theft, fire and loss of life. The inquest on the 7/7 bombings shows that the system can be improved but in this case the system should have been in place. I would hope that tube bosses do not just scoff this off as “driver error” but use it to learn that things can go wrong and look for ways to prevent it from happening again. This did happen on several occasions so maybe they are not making this a priority. Tube passengers need to know that if something goes wrong they will not be left on their own. As for the BBC I think they could have done a better job it reporting this.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lost Souls of London

For as long as I have been visiting London, I always had a rule to venture off to the side streets and back alleys. Many years ago I spotted a milk bottle that was delivered to a house that had a golden oak wood door with stone jambs. It was in posh neighborhood and what surprised me was that milk was still being hand delivered in central London. The bottle sitting on the stone step framed by the doorjamb made an excellent photo, too. Often the back streets will bring me to a nice local pub without all-those American tourist. I was searching for one last March in SE1 and got myself really lost. Well, you’re never lost with an Oyster Travel Card.

I started my last day with a tip to the V & A and then a pint at the Grapes. I took a bus to Victoria station and then a bus to Borough. The bus left me off near the Royal Oak but I walked to the Lord Clyde, having not been there in a few years. From there I walked to Union Street to find the Charles Dickens on Union Street. The Lord Clyde was not serving food on Sunday so I went to the Charles Dickens to see if it was open and doing food. Not being too sure of its location, I also ventured up to Southwark Street and having failed to fine the pub I decided that I was lost. I was walking down Redcross Way back to Marshalsea Road when I spotted a gate that was decorated with hand written notes and personal items. It was reminiscent of the Gate at Kensington Palace after Princess Diana’s tragic accident. My first thoughts were that somebody died or was killed here and people were leaving their remembrances expressing their grief. I did see two other men at the gate talking about gate and the yard behind it. It looked undeveloped and I did not want to intrude so I asked no questions of the men.

As it turned out this was a graveyard from the early 1800’s with the remains of 148 people. It was discovered during a 1992 dig, for what purpose I do not know. More than 45 of the remains were found to be between 22 weeks gestation and seven days after birth. Sixteen of those found where under one year old. The adults were mostly women in their thirties and older. This has to be a telling illustration of what life must have been like during the time of Charles Dickens. We can easily say the women had a choice in their lives but I doubt that they did. The innocent babies had no choice in their outcome. I do not know how they died but they must have suffered immensely.

Often I find pleasurable gems in out of the way places, sometime I do not. I was glad that I did not know what this place was when I walked by as my holiday would have ended at that moment. May the lost souls of London be at peace and have refuge from the lives that they must have endured. From the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11642938 and Kelvin Brown about Cross Bones Graveyard.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gastro Pubs

Gastro pubs have been around for many years and I have been to many of them. They serve delicious food and wonderful beer and wine. I just wish they would go away. There, that should solicit hate mail. So, what is it that I don’t like about gastro pubs? The concept. Regular pubs serve good, traditional food at a reasonable price. You tend to get a lot for your money and you never have to worry about which fork to use to stick your roast. High-end restaurants also serve good food albeit prepared for magazine covers and for people who think that micro portions make a better meal. I am sorry but a small bowl of carrot soup should not cost three times that of a pint. Gastro pubs try to marry the two and I don’t think they can. It you want to open a 5 star restaurant please do. But make sure your place looks the part. I can’t say that I enjoy paying a high price for food if I am sitting on second hand furniture. If you spend nothing on tables and chairs then why does the price have to be so high? What rule did I miss that says gastro pubs have to look like second hand shops?

Gastro pubs are good for the consumer, nonetheless. A young lad can impress his date and ladies can dine together away from the local. This can be done without dressing to the nines or studying cutlery placement. In as much as gastro pubs do not compete with the Savoy or the Dorchester in d├ęcor they should be nicer looking than a boozer. Many pubs are elegant and nicely appointed. They have good floors, undamaged furniture and attractive wall treatments. They can be better looking than some homes. Gastro pubs should be no less.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Help the Pirate Club

The Pirate Club in north London is trying to build a narrow boat so that people who cannot easily get on board can experience the fun of a cannel trip. To help raise money for this Rosco White is setting out on foot and will run in the 2010 Virgin London Marathon. He is doing his best to help those who cannot walk and I think we should help him. We take so much of what we do in our daily life for granted that we forget that others have a difficult time with little things. Just try going to market in a wheel chair. Can I talk? Yes. I have an artificial leg and have been in wheel chairs several times. How you view the world changes forever. Good luck Mr. White and good going to the Pirate Club.

The Pirate Club is a Registered Charity, no. 308009, and is supported and regulated by the Charity Commission. They govern all UK Registered Charities, and hold details of the constitution of our organization.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Airport Security

I went on my annual London holiday this past March, and always I had a wonderful trip. I got to see my old friends and made some new ones along the way. I think making new friends and meeting people is most important. Not everyone is friendly, I must say. Many people have resorted to being bad and that has led to more and more security measures in airports. During my recent holiday I ventured to Dusseldorf as well as London. Travelling from Pittsburgh to Charlotte and back I went thru security a total of seven times. Before I left I read in the news how things were being tightened up and people were going thru more rigorous scrutiny. From what I read I was expecting a strip search, cavity search, pat downs in areas that have never before been patted down, etc. What are my thoughts on this now that I am back? None of this was a big deal. I have an artificial leg so I am used to the metal detector going off. But I never had issues with the security people. They always acted professionally and I was never delayed for more than several minutes. Once I got to the lounge I still had to wait for my flight so the look-see they did on me was not a time delay. I once had my leg x-rayed. That was nice and I saved my medical co-pay too. At worst I was asked to have a private pat-down in London on my way to Germany. They took me to a private room where two men had their way with me. I would tell you about it but what happens in security stays in security. To anyone apprehensive about going thru security checks I say, allow for time, chill out and don’t worry.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New US Embassy in London

The US Embassy in London is moving to a new location. If on schedule the embassy in Mayfair will relocate to Battersea in 2016. If will have a positive affect in many ways. The current location has just about become a fortress since the September 11 attacks in America in 2001. Streets have been closed and or relocated. Security is heightened and the natives are irritated to no end. They have been battling to have their area go back to normal. The London congestion charge also added to the headaches for the embassy. The staff, who work in the embassy must pay a fee to enter central London if they drive from outside the zone. The US has not paid that fee as it views it as a tax and embassies do not pay taxes. So the new HQ will be south of the Thames in a congestion free zone. This story continues in the Times.

Not trying to bring politics to my site I have to chastise the Drudge Report for their miss-leading and provocative headline: Obama plans $1 Billion Brit Embassy. Yes, the estimate for the new embassy is expected to be 1 billion. But the US sold the old building for the same amount so it’s not like my beer tax is going to go up over this. And, I don’t think Mr. Obama even cares about this. The planning for the new building was in the making long before he moved into the White House. I am sure that he is being briefed and has comments but a lot of this is out of his hands. It’s not like he or the wife get to pick out color chips and carpeting. Congress allocates the funds so ask them about all of this. Mr. Drudge’s headline implies that the cost and new building is Mr. Obama’s doing and that is miss-leading. The headline should have simply announced that the new design was selected and leave the true details within the story.

The new building will generate electric power and have a moat for security. A moat around a building in London. Where have I seen this before? No word yet what the drawbridge will look like. I can just see the US Marines standing watch with long bows. Oh well, the beer is kicking in so I should end this now. Looking forward to seeing you all there in 2016 for the pig roast and jousting competition

Monday, February 22, 2010

Underground Conspiracy

I am not a conspiracy theorist but if I were I would think Transport for London was engaged in a cover-up. After all they are an underground movement. Ever year in January they would increase the fares and I would set my calendar by them. They would then publish a PDF copy of the rates and how they applied to the different modes of travel. I would know exactly what a one day or seven day travel card would cost. If you wanted a bus-only pass that cost was clearly shown. They no longer publish their PDF copy (here is the 2009 copy). Nor do they publish anything showing the cost of travel that is easy to find on their website. Why is that? Why can’t I go to TfL and see what they offer and for what price? One can use the Journey Planner to find the cost of a fare but I have yet to see the cost of passes. There is information on the web from the Mayor of London and that too was an odd read.

They also made a change to their bus route maps. I had a link to the main page, which has been changed in 2010. It took me a small effort to find the new page. They did this as they saw it as an improvement to better serve their customers. If you are a London resident it has but if you are a visitor like me it can be confusing.

Maybe it’s me? It usually is, but I think an organization offering a product for sale should be clear as to what the costs are. Perhaps TfL needs to consult the Plain English Campaign?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Try New Things

The Times of London reported that the proliferation of English bars and eateries in Spanish coastal resorts is causing the British to stay away. Well, duh! Why would anyone spend good money to travel to some other country only to eat in the same type of pub that is walking distance from home? Well, me for one. But I had good reason. I popped into the Whole Foods in Kensington once. I did it to find it so I could tell others and they were serving Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I had a pint because I had to. But that doesn’t mean you must do the same. The joy of travel is to see and do things you can’t do at home. I love talking to the people I meet as they are as curious about America as I am of England. But I do see why the Brits are staying away. Years ago I noticed that the souvenirs I was looking at were the same Chinese crap that I saw in New York, albeit another name painted on. You should have seen the shock on my face when I first found out that London Fog was made in Baltimore. When I come to England (and Scotland, Wales and Ireland) I want goods made in that country buy the people in that country.

Readers of the Times story reminded other to travel further inland to enjoy the real essence of the country. One can stay in London and all you need to do is get out and explore the nooks and crannies of the city to find interesting places to eat. I always stay in Bloomsbury near Russell Square and it is a world apart from Oxford Street, which is not very far away. Walking up and off of Marchmont Street brings a nice selection of restaurants and pubs. China House is one of my favorite places. Ok, so it’s not English. The North Sea Restaurant may be what you desire as well as the Norfolk Arms or the Lamb sorry, you will have to Google this one). Prices tend to get a little less the further you move away the tourist centers. Use your travel card and head out to the outer zones for more treats, You can make excursions away from central London into day trips and find places like the Spaniards Inn. All for the cost of a bus ride.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Spaniards Inn Hampstead

I am off to London this March (7 thru 22) and I have many plans. I have been to London many times in the past but each trip brings new excitement. I was unable to visit in 2009 and my last trip was in April of 2008. At time I first visited the Spaniard’s Inn in Hampstead. Located on Spaniards Road where Hampstead Lane meets at the tollgate, the road narrows to form a venture tube. Most interesting to watch the cars come to a near halt to get thru.

The first thing I noticed upon entering where the many people enjoying the cool but sunny Saturday afternoon. The Inn is surrounded on all sides by Hampstead Heath, which has miles of walking tails. Tow other items you will quickly see are walking boots and dogs. That Saturday I counted at least four. Dogs, that is. There were more boots than what is in Harrods. Dogs are so well behaved in pubs and they give the place a home good feel. There should be a law mandating all pubs have a dog or even a cat. The Spaniards knows how to take care of the dogs. Outside they can get their paws washed at a wash station and inside they can eat a meal of organic dog food. The owners just have to be nice people.

Turning my attention to more important matters I turned my head to scan the beers on display and found another first for me; Worthington White Shield. Having missed my bus stop I had to hoof it up Spaniards Road and was quite parched. This is such a lovely ale and very refreshing. This would make for an excellent nightcap at home before bed for you younger people. Some of us have late night issues requiring early sessions. But that’s another story. White Shield is a classic bottle-conditioned India Pale Ale that really brings tears to my eyes. For one, at some point I am going t have to leave the pub. And I can’t get it in the states.

See this Wikipedia article on the Inn.