18 April 2019

It's A Good Thing that The Good Place doesn't actually exist - Easter 2019

One of the best new comedy shows in recent years has been The Good Place, which explores ethical issues in a great way while being really rather funny and highly quotable to boot. It won a Hugo for "The Trolley Problem" and I wouldn't be surprised if "Janets" from the latest run does the same.

The key concept of the show is that whether you go to the "Good Place" i.e. heaven or the "Bad Place" is dependent on your actions in life, with good ones gaining you points and selfish or harmful actions losing you points. It becomes clear over the course of the run that it's a rather flawed system.

And it would be a flawed system in the real world too. Very few of us would be able to get into heaven on our own merits; my attempts to change some of my bad habits this Lent have been an abject failure by my own admission. The good thing is, we don't need to rely on our own merits; Jesus' death on the cross gave us so many points that he could share them around for everyone who follows him... and more. This doesn't eliminate the need to try to be good people - there is no place in heaven for the selfish or evil - but it does mean we don't have to feel bad over every failure.

Thanks, Jesus. To all my readers, Happy Easter.

17 April 2019

Extinction Rebellion

So a bunch of eco-activists have decided to draw attention to the whole issue of climate change by disrupting public transport in London through various means. They've done that, but also managed to annoy an awful lot of people in the process. Getting realistic change generally involves getting the people with the power to make it happen on side somehow, not by antagonising them.

In relation to climate change, the boat has arguably sailed on any meaningful action to prevent it. We're not going to be able make the necessary changes by 2030, because humanity is at heart a selfish and greedy species. The best we can reasonably do is prepare ourselves for a 4 degree rise over the course of this century and once climate change really starts to bite (it already has), it's going to be very unpleasant for a large number of people.

I can take some grim comfort from the fact I'll likely be dead by the time it happens.

Forgive us Lord our selfish ways.

09 April 2019

Brexit #2

The current Brexit clock stands at 3 days; it is highly likely that it will be extended at the European Council's emergency summit tomorrow, although how long remains to be seen.

There is an increasing frustration at this process among all parties:
  • The EU wondering why we haven't managed to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement or figure out what we actually want instead
  • Hardcore Leavers wondering why we haven't actually left
  • Hardcore Remainers wondering why we haven't revoked Article 50 or gone for a second referendum when it was obvious we were sold a bill of goods
  • Theresa May who frankly would rather have had this sorted out ages ago
  • A lot of the general public who are just sick of the whole thing
Much of the problem is among people who think compromise is a synonym for surrender. The Withdrawal Agreement, with its possibility of an indefinite customs union without any say in its operation, is seen as Leave by the Remain side and Remain by the Leave side... who rarely can actually cite any EU regulations, let alone ones they disagree with.

There is no easy solution here, there never has been. Not without finding some unicorn and the only one we have is busy supporting our coat of arms...

25 March 2019

The Mueller Report

I'd very much like to see the whole thing (or as much as gets released) before I can fully conclude on it, but I can believe that much of the Russian interference operation was conducted independently with the aim of weakening Clinton and electing Trump, whose views were much closer to the Russian world view.

Not exonerating Trump of obstruction of justice is the key finding, but I'd like to see why a decision wasn't made to charge him. If it was made by the Attorney General himself, then... well... the corruption is obvious.

18 March 2019

Christchurch and Utrecht

The recent attack in Christchurch is going to be New Zealand's 9/11; in terms of the relative population alone, it is the equivalent in terms of size. Tightening of gun laws will follow.

The attack in Utrecht today saw three people killed. I've been to the city myself and it's a lovely place, now having joined a long list of names of places where murder in the name of bigotry has taken place.

Both white supremacist and Islamist terrorism are two sides of the same coin; an insidious ideology that believes the best way to deal with a perceived threat against your people is to attack not the source of the actual threat, but something with only a tangential connection to it.

What did the people in the mosques have to do with Islamic extremism? What did the people on the tram have to do with Donald Trump? Next to nothing at most.

Vulnerable young men (and it is nearly all men) are being radicalised via the Internet and via our prison system. Something needs to be done about that without putting our fundamental freedoms at jeopardy.

May all the dead rest in peace and all the injured recover.

05 March 2019


We are supposed to leave the European Union in 24 days. I don't think that will happen. I somehow doubt that any legal clarifications on the backstop (which is necessary because we have no idea how long a trade deal would take to thrash out) would ever be enough to satisfy the ERG. Come next week, Parliament will almost certainly vote against May's deal, against a no deal and in favour of an extension.

The EU will likely grant that, but the price may be a second referendum, which I would personally support. I am very uncomfortable with the idea of just revoking Article 50 without a second vote; while there was certainly criminal activity in the lead-up to the referendum, it didn't exactly involve ballot stuffing and much of the propaganda was called out at the time. In any event, just overturning any big vote like that sets a bad precedent.

At the end of the day, I really just want to go in the quicker queue at passport control and not need a visa to go to Europe for holiday. It's trivial, I know, but much of the stuff the EU is barely noticed in daily life. Free movement is nice, but I'm very unlikely ever to take full advantage of it due to my not exactly brilliant language skills. Customs checks aren't something I deal with at all in my daily life, except for the one time I had to pay £10 extra postage for the import duty on a game I bought from the US. Goods standards... if we left we can raise them ourselves. In any event, most companies would stick to EU standards to avoid having to do two different production lines; they're the global standard in a number of fields, I believe.

Ultimately, I'm just sick of the whole thing. Are you?

02 March 2019

Armchair Time Traveller #3: BR London Midland Region Timetable, June to September 1964

So, back to Britain for the third part of this ongoing series, in which I look at old train timetables.

I acquired this tome (it's so big that 'tome' is the only word one can really use to describe it[1]) via eBay, which is the go to source for historical train timetables of all eras and countries. When I shuffle off this mortal coil, then someone is going to be selling my small collection on a future version of this site, I'd imagine/hope...

Anyway, an explanation. BR for most of its history was split into a number of regions, largely aligned with the boundaries of the pre-nationalisation Big Four, although there were differences and changes over time. The London Midland Region or LMR for short was based around the boundaries of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS - interestingly, these initials are trademarked by the Government so we might get a return of this to join the other three Big Four companies). In practice, this meant services from the four London termini in the picture in a generally NW direction, although the now closed and demolished Broad Street connected to the now London Overground line to Richmond. Services crossing the Pennines also came partly under LMR's aegis.

The historical context

While not the first electrification project carried out by BR, the West Coast Main Line electrification from London to Glasgow, opened in stages from 1959 to 1974, was arguably the most major event of the first half of the near 50-year existence of the organisation. Locomotives constructed for this operation, namely the AL6/Class 86, still ply our rails on freight operations to this day, with some now earning their keep in Bulgaria.

As a result, steam haulage continued on the London Midland at this time, with a major presence for the LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 mixed traffic engine, colloquially known as the "Black Five", along with the BR Standard Class 5, its post-war development. 

However, diesel and electric stock was well established. 

On the Chiltern Main Line out of  London Marylebone, the four-car diesel units later known as Class 115 were in operation. Their interiors were a good deal more luxurious than the more bus-like ones of other Mark 1 based units, to serve the better off commuters of Buckinghamshire. St Pancras had the Class 127, also a four-car unit. Both had the capacity for passengers to see out through the front window and watch the driver at work, although some would pull the blinds down.

The Sulzer Type 2 (Class 25) became so common on the LMR and elsewhere that enthusiasts nicknamed them "Rats", the standard term for them today, but plenty of other types were around.

Electrification from Crewe to Liverpool, as well as in the Birmingham and Manchester areas had resulted in the introduction of the Class 304, with a rather distinctive compressor noise.

However, 25kV was by no means the only spark game in town. The iconic Woodhead Line from Manchester to Sheffield has 1500V DC overhead with units and locomotives to match, some of which ended up in the Netherlands. 

The Bury Line, later converted to a tram line had 1200V DC side contact rail from its World War One era conversion and the Class 504. 

The Watford DC Line, operating from Euston to Watford Junction, shared with the Bakerloo Line (which also ran to the latter at this point) and now part of London Overground, had also been done at the same time, with 750V DC third rail; Class 501 units with bars on the windows to prevent passengers from leaning out were used here as well as to Broad Street and Richmond.

Now about Broad Street. This station, situated next to Liverpool Street, had been severely damaged in air raids in the Second World War and was progressively being run down over this time - the route had limited appeal for those going to central London as faster alternatives were available. It would finally shut entirely in 1986 and be replaced by the Broadgate shopping centre.

Speaking of closures, Richard Beeching was Chairman of British Railways at this time. This is of course a name very familiar to any British rail enthusiast for the wrong reasons. The Great Central Railway, while closed after his return to ICI, would lose its through services to London in 1966 and close entirely in 1969. It has services here in the London St. Pancras to Sheffield line, although many of the intermediate stations had closed in 1963.

Also noted are the closure of Normacot and Cheadle stations on the Crewe-Derby Line (today served by East Midlands Trains) and the closed Cheadle branch line off that respectively; the former had closed in March 1964 and no trace remains, while the latter went the year before with only the station master's house surviving. A proposal to run charter trains to Cheadle for Alton Towers in the 1980s did not come to fruition and the track has since been lifted.

The contents

After a couple of full page notices advertising freight services and warning about engineering work for the WCML electrification, we then have a 13 page index of stations, followed shortly after by 16 pages on seat reservations (2 shillings each) and Regulation Tickets (to enable you to ride at all on a particular service, no charge). A long list of trains that could have been much more simply with a symbol above the appropriate service in the main timetable, where people are going to look anyway!

We then have the sleeper services, which were much more extensive back in 1964, also operating out of St Pancras, Marylebone and Kensington Olympia, the last being an arrival point only for some reason. With many terminus stations being reached in the wee hours, BR helpfully would shunt the sleepers to one side so you could get a longer kip. Also, I have to love this line (emphasis mine):

Dogs or other livestock are not allowed to be taken into the sleeping cars.

This sort of line begs the question of just what someone took on a sleeper train to result in the need to specify that. I'm imagine a chicken clucking all the way down Shap...

We then have the boat train services to the island of Ireland, which has the option on the ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire to have an "open berth" with either a made-up bed for 8 shillings or "rug and pillow only" for 7 shillings. So, a big dormitory with a rug and pillow on some bunk? Who is running this ferry service? Ryanair?

The summary tables for key routes take us up to page 110 and then we get to a whole string of passenger information, including "Specimen single fares between principal stations", which like Ronseal, does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, giving a table of second class fares between the key station. Euston to Glasgow will set you visitors in 1964 back 84 shillings exactly i.e. £4 4s.

(For ease of use, prices were often displayed in shillings and pence only).

This is a walk up flat fare - discounted advance tickets were not a general thing in 1964. Basically around £80 at today's prices. You can get an Advance Single on Virgin Trains today for £65, but you're looking at £141.50 for the any off peak train variety.

However, discounts were available including:
  • Mid-Week Period Return: Go out on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, return on those same days in one of the following weeks within one month.
  • Excursion tickets: To go to principal towns, holiday resorts and for special events.
  • Holiday Runabout Tickets: A rover ticket
  • Circular Tour Tickets: For when you want to take a more indirect route.
  • Ramblers' Tickets: Travel to one station, come back from another
The vintage terms of the 1960s appear as we work our way through the rest of the passenger information. There are a list of charges for bicycles, perambulators ("prams" being the contraction from the 19th century that has superseded this word[2]) and humanity's best friend, Canis familiaris i.e. the dog. Dogs at the time had to be tied up or caged in the guard's van in many cases - they also needed to be "efficiently muzzled" to prevent them from barking or requesting other stations on the LTS line[4].

It was common at the time to send luggage you didn't need on the trip ahead of you when going on holiday or up to university (or public school!). This cost 2/9 for each package to be collected and conveyed or conveyed and delivered within Great Britain i.e. part of the road journey being included. For the whole trip, you'd pay 5/6.

Finally, we have a quick section on London Underground services with a tube map.

The rest is timetables with adverts for various services repeated throughout to save space.

The travel times

So, how long is it going to take you to travel through the London Midland Region of British Railways?

I'll cover three types of services here: a London region commuter service, a London to Scotland journey and a 'Regional Railways' service in North Wales.

London commuter service

The Chiltern service from London to Aylesbury Town in 1964, using Class 115 DMUs, took 58 minutes in the peak times, stopping at all the stations on the route - the service frequency was every 15 minutes. For example, 5.57pm departure would get you to Amersham at 6.55pm.

Today, you can do that journey in 54 minutes; the service also goes on for a further nine minutes to the 2008 opened Aylesbury Vale Parkway. Not really a huge difference, but remember that the 115s had a lot more doors.

Long distance

One of the key railway journeys in the UK is from London to Glasgow; the Lowland Sleeper goes there and it is the limit of long distance electrification on the West Coast Main Line. There were in fact three main stations in Glasgow at this point in time - Central, Queen Street and St Enoch. The last of these was closed in 1966 and the site demolished; it is now home to a shopping centre.

The Royal Scot, the 10am departure from Euston to Glasgow Central, arrived after a stop at Carlisle at 5.10pm, a journey time of 7 hours and 10 minutes. Today you can do the journey in 4 hours and 29 minutes on a Pendolino, which is of course considerably shorter.

Regional Railways

Liverpool to Manchester is the oldest inter-city railway route recognisable as a railway in the world (opened in 1830) and can be done in under 40 minutes today depending on what train you get, although the average is around 54 minutes.

In 1964, the journey lengths were about the same, but with a much lower overall service frequency. Today I believe the actual issue is congestion...

An important note - Manchester Piccadilly was not the main station at this time (for one thing undergoing rebuilding as part of electrification), with Manchester Exchange being one of the main calling points. This was closed in 1969 and is now home to the Manchester Central Convention Centre, connected to the Metrolink tram network.


The long distance times here show much electrification sped up journey times nearlywherever it was introduced. I've been on steam hauled rail tours and while they are limited by the need to fit in with other traffic, they're not exactly very fast affairs. And you might only have one book to keep you entertained; for many members of the public, steam only became glamorous once it had disappeared.

1964 would be the end of an era for British Railways; for one thing, it would be British Rail from 1965 onwards...

[1] It weighs 868 grammes or 1lb 14.6 ozs in old money.
[2] Not the only contraction superseding the original world. You have a (tele)phone, women generally wear bra(ssiere)s[3] and many fly on a (aero)plane.
[3]Be careful not to mix that word up with brasserie.
[4]Thank you, I'm here all night.

16 February 2019

Star Citizen: Removal of 'Kumar Chameleon' from this blog

As Cloud Imperium have instituted a new policy requiring any fan-fiction published online to be submitted for their approval via a rather onerous progress and an actual legal release form, I have decided to terminate writing Kumar Chameleon and remove the six posts so far from my blog.

I still intend to play their game, but it's a deep shame they seek to limit fandom in this way.

27 January 2019

Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

The sheer level of evil carried out by the Nazis during the Second World War is staggering and not just carried out by a few people. People built the camps (or directed those who built), planned the transport trains and directed the arrivals to death or 'life'.

It arose out of deliberate dehumanisation and fear. Things that are sadly on the rise again in this world.

We must work very hard to prevent more genocides from occurring and remember those murdered without any justification whatsoever.

12 January 2019

Plans for 2019

To be honest, I've not really got any firm ones. I intend to carry on with the timetable posts, but those will be done as and when I find the time/inclination to do them.

I may well do some other posts; I've really gotten into Rimworld lately...