24 December 2020

Christmas 2020

This will be the most difficult Christmas of many people's lives, unable to see friends and family because of restrictions deemed necessary for public health. Yet there is hope in the form of the vaccines.

Jesus didn't exactly have an easy life, becoming a refugee pretty much as soon as he was born. His time on Earth saw him face opposition from the authorities that led to his crucifixion, as well as the thousands of other difficulties that someone growing up in his time and place would face.

Talk to God about your worries at this time. He understands.

And things will get better. Jesus has promised that.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

19 December 2020

Coronavirus #22: Tier 4

Well, that's Christmas pretty much cancelled for much of the country. Frankly the hope shouldn't have been held out in the first place.

The new more infectious strain is concerning and we now need to vaccinate as fast as possible to get out of this.

13 December 2020

John le Carré 1931-2020

The seminal spy novelist has died aged 89

One of my favourite authors, even if I didn't always agree with his politics, his spy novels created a tradition of gritty literature in their own right that stood as a proud counterpart to the likes of James Bond. He was a big influence in my own writing.

Rest in Peace.

Advent 2020

It's been a difficult year to put it mildly, but we have hope... from events 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ came into this world to save us sinners.

As a raised Christian, I have held the Christmas Story told many times and so a fresh take is always welcome. I have one to share with you.

The Hornchurch Passion Play, which I am involved in (it was due to be performed in April, but you know what has meant a delay until 2022), have posted a series of short monologues on their YouTube channel.

You can find it here:

Hornchurch Passion Play

I would highly recommend it.

Have a good Advent as possible in the circumstances.

05 December 2020

Brexit deal

This weekend we may know if we'll get a Brexit deal or end up with a No Deal in January. Or we might not. Some compromises are going to need to be made on both sides.

Let's sort this out; the uncertainty is bad for everyone.

23 November 2020

57 Years of Doctor Who

The show has not had a brilliant year. While Series 12 was pretty strong, the finale proved divisive. Series 13 has only just started production and will be just eight episodes because of the extra precautions necessitated by the pandemic. 

But the lockdown has not stopped some excellent additional material from coming out, although I admit I haven't really experienced much of it. I have too busy catching up on Big Finish audios, where the show's vast history is the source for excellent stories; Derek Jacobi's War Master in particular. 

We have a Christmas special, which will give us some escapism in what has been a difficult year to put it mildly. 

That's what Doctor Who has served to be for many people over the years. A break from an unpleasant world... and an inspiration for those seeking to create a better one.

Happy anniversary.

21 November 2020

Donald gets Trumped - thoughts on the results of the US Presidential Election 2020

It's all over bar the shouting; Trump's lawsuits are going nowhere due to the fact that he can't actually provide any evidence for his wild and crazy claims of voter forms.

So, some thoughts on how this has all turned out.

  1. It's a fairly standard election in some regards - unpopular incumbent doesn't get re-elected.
  2. Of course, it wasn't in others. Being conducted in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the way people campaigned. Biden was essentially confined to his home, not holding the kinds of big rallies that Trump did (and which left a trail of virus cases in their wake). This arguably helped him as it limited the risk of him making damaging gaffes.
  3. Trump getting Covid-19 was very much the "October surprise"; the way he handled it was shocking even for those used to him being awful. It's very likely the bad handling of this pandemic and the huge numbers of American deaths that result will be his biggest legacy; far more than getting America into any disastrous overseas wars, he has brought the equivalent of five Vietnams to American soil.
  4. The record levels of mail-in ballots also led to a record turnout - this is likely to become routine for many voters as it is a much easier process than long queues at a polling station. It also was something a lot harder to intimidate against.
  5. The Georgia Senate run-offs will be pretty close and who can turn out their voters better will ultimately win there.
  6. 538 were correct in that Biden could survive a 2016-size polling error, which is basically what we got. It's looking like Republicans were under sampled, with a real reluctance to engage with pollsters by hardcore Trump supporters and Democrats being very keen to make their feelings known.
  7. There were a fair number of ticket-splitters; those who voted Biden for President and Republican down-ballot. Biden outran lower-ballot Democrats across the board, essentially meaning that he had no coattails. With a 50-50 Senate the best possible outcome for them, Democrats have some cause for concern.
  8. Taking the "Latino vote" for granted - indeed assuming there is a monolithic Latino vote in the first place - was a big mistake for the Democrats and could have cost them a closer election. Texas is now a swing state, but it's unlikely to flip unless there is a seriously popular Democrat running.
  9. "Law and order" remains a strong driver of Republican turnout; riots scare voters.
  10. Biden is very likely a one-term President due to his age. Kamala Harris has four years to work on her overall public image as Vice President if she wants a chance at the top job come 2024.
  11. Trump will probably try to run in 2024 if he is capable of doing so; even being imprisoned doesn't legally stop you as Eugene Debs demonstrated in 1920.
  12. Biden is going to need a lot of political skill to get any major policies passed in a divided Congress; he arguably has it.
It's going to be somewhat of a return to normality. Only somewhat though.

15 November 2020

Coronavirus #21 - The end of the beginning

We have a vaccine. In fact, we are likely to have more than one, as we're waiting for the Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines to report back, which they should do in the next week or two.

The main challenge now will the logistics of rolling out the vaccine to millions. This will take a couple of months and the winter will be challenging.

This why it is important to keep wearing a mask and doing the other things. Don't be the last person to die in this war.

11 November 2020

Disease and war - Remembrance 2020

This year's commemorations of the end of the First World War and our annual remembrance of those who died for the peace and freedom we enjoy today are rather different. For one thing, we're not exactly enjoying a great deal of freedom at the moment, with heavy restrictions on our lives to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The very existence of that pandemic should serve as a reminder at this time that disease is very much a part of war. The 1918-20 pandemic came about at the tail end of the First World War, with efforts to fight it hindered by the extensive censorship imposed by the belligerent nations. The unsanitary conditions of the frontlines helped spread the sickness at a time when many had weakened immune systems from wartime deprivations.

Remember that warfare helps spread disease by the destruction of facilities for sanitation. Until the World Wars, you were far more likely to die of disease than actual violence. Even the World Wars had widespread epidemics, most notably of typhus in the Nazi concentration camps. Infected wounds could kill you just as surely as the wounds themselves, especially if you had no access to antibiotics. Cholera outbreaks remain common in wars today, such as in Yemen.

So, at this time, remember those who fell not just from gunfire, but germs. And work for a more peaceful world, because that will be a healthier world. 

07 November 2020

That's President-elect Sleepy Joe to you

When the polls closed on Tuesday and we saw the initial swings in the suburbs of Florida, it looked good for Joe Biden. Then Miami-Dade went heavily for Trump and people started to get rather nervous. The 'red mirage' turned out to be real... and it slowly dissipated.

Very slowly. It has taken nearly four days for the winner to hit 270 electoral college votes, due to the sheer number of mail ballots and several states banning them being processed until the polls closed. This process needs to be very much reformed.

Donald Trump, demonstrating that just when you think he can't go any lower he does it anyway, is completely denying reality, making spurious allegations of fraud with no evidence, as is his campaign. This sort of stuff is dangerous and it is fortunate with all the weapons being carried around that no-one has yet been killed.

President-elect Biden will have several tough challenges on his plate... including dealing with the Trump cultists.

01 November 2020

US Election Prediction for 2020

 OK, here's my prediction for Tuesday. I may be wrong on some or all of these.

  • Biden will win the popular vote by 5 to 10 percentage points, probably on the higher end of that range.
  • It will be clear, but not 100% confirmed, who has won on the night.
  • Biden will get 351 Electoral Votes, picking up Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (My full predictions can be found here)
  • He will just miss out on Ohio and Texas. 
  • Turnout will be at its highest since universal suffrage.
  • The Democrats will win both Houses of Congress.
  • Trump will privately concede, but publicly not do so.
  • Expect multiple criminal investigations into Trump as soon as he leaves office.
  • A lot of Republicans will not take this lying down and the next four years could be pretty tense.

31 October 2020

Lockdown 2

The government should have implemented this back in September, but were clearly too scared of being seen as a failure. Now a lot more people will die and we will face a lot more economic damage.

I also upset at the selfish minority who cannot obey simple instructions and have helped bring about the rise in cases that means I will have to spend the next four weeks at home.

Shame on the lot of you.

Sir Sean Connery 1930-2020

The first cinematic 007 has died aged 90

Arguably one of the greatest actors of his generation - and for many Scots, a national legend.

Rest in Peace.

24 October 2020

Polish court criminalises abortion

The decision by Poland's top courts that abortion due to foetal defects is unlawful as it violates their constitution is manifestly wrong.

I'm not the most comfortable with terminations for social reasons, but I believe that a ban does more harm than good. However, if the foetus is so badly deformed that their life will very short if they survive at all, I would support a termination without hesitation. It's not fair to make any woman give birth to a dead child like that.

Poland is slipping into autocracy and reaction. The EU must act.

17 October 2020

Coronavirus #20: On circuit breakers

With cases continuing to rise in the UK, calls have been made for a temporary "circuit-breaker" lockdown to 'reset' the pandemic back a month and create an opportunity to fix Test and Trace. Here are my thoughts on this: 

  • I am not sure how fixable Test and Trace actually is; there is a fundamental lack of engagement with the system from much of the public. But there are things that can be done.
  • We need to stop cases rebounding after any circuit breaker ends.
  • There are highly different rates of infection in different parts of the country, although there are rising cases in all of them.
  • A circuit breaker in the worst affected areas would be justified at the present time, especially with Halloween approaching. However, how much compliance there would be with it will be is unclear.
  • Money will be key in securing compliance; I am not sure how affordable this is considering the damage to the economy from the national lockdown.
  • Shutting schools would likely get R down below 1 on its own. A four-week half-term, with subsequent juggling of the rest of the school year to catch-up, would majorly reduce cases, with the added bonus that it would force many people to work from home.
  • A circuit breaker over Christmas would be very unpopular. One just before, however might just fly.
I would support a circuit breaker over October half-term, but we need something for beyond that.

03 October 2020

Coronavirus #19: Trump in hospital

I'm not taking anything the White House takes about Trump's condition at face value. I believe he has it, but I'm wondering just how bad it actually is as you don't go from positive to hospital that quickly.

Also, the "72 hours" comment at the press conference today raises massive questions about what Trump knew and when, because he was campaigning on the days before Friday.

26 September 2020

Coronavirus #18: The long game

We are likely to be at this whole social distancing for a while yet. The vaccines are making good progress and I think we will see at least one approved in time for Christmas.

However, roll out will take a good while longer as at-risk groups are rightly prioritised. I can see March before I can get a jab - and I will get one - with social distancing measures lifted gradually over the course of Q1 2021. At which point patience will have run out - it's already getting pretty thin.

Getting the world vaccinated will likely take longer; the manufacturing capacity just isn't there. It may easily be 2023 or 2024 before we get global 'herd immunity'.

During which time people will continue to get this illness and die of it. The WHO representative who estimated two million global deaths yesterday is being sadly realistic.

Barnet Fair (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.19, "A Private Little War")

Science fiction often holds up a mirror to our world - sometimes a black mirror (ba doom tish) - providing a fantastical commentary on a real-world situation.

One of the biggest real-world issues for the US at the time was the Vietnam War, with footage of the fighting broadcast nightly without government censorship into American homes and young men being drafted to fight in it.

While popular history depicts the war as "America loses to a bunch of rice farmers", in reality it's more complicated than that - for one thing the 'farmers' had pretty advanced weaponry made in the USSR and were themselves highly educated.


While examining the planet Neural for medical related herbs, Kirk reflects on the peaceful people of the planet who only use bows and arrows for hunting. At which point, a bunch of guys turn up with flintlock rifles and Spock gets shot. With Spock in a bad way and taken for emergency treatment, Kirk and McCoy dress up in native garb (meaning more pectoral action from Shatner, naturally) to investigate what is going on. Because the locals shouldn't have developed those weapons that quickly.

Of course, it turns out the Klingons are involved, giving one faction firearms technology so they can conquer the planet.

However, we don't really get much action with the Klingons. Instead, as soon as Kirk and McCoy come down, Kirk gets basically attacked by Bigfoot, whose bite is poisonous, so they have to go to a local leader and his wife...


This is an interesting concept, but woefully executed.

Firstly, we have Nona, the wife of the tribal leader of the Hill People. She's something straight out of William Ware Theiss' sex-fuelled imagination, dressed in tight leather trousers and a crop top with orange fur on it. It looks very well-tailored... like a sewing machine was involved. 

That's something true of all the costumes here and it seems the wig closet was raided too as most of the natives 

Speaking of sex, the scene where she heals Kirk using some root via psychic communion and flailing around making moaning sounds is well... I'm surprised that one got through Standards and Practices.

Then there's the rather problematic bit in which it seems she's basically using the herbs to control men... basically roofieing them. This proverbial elephant in the room isn't addressed, but we do see a bunch of other villagers try to rape her in what seems a gratuitous scene, along with an unconvincing death.

Speaking of unconvincing injuries, Spock is seemingly shot through-and-through by a lead ball with no visible exit wound... the penetration of flintlock weaponry was distinctly limited, especially at range. His healing is expected, but as part of that process, we get a pretty ridiculous scene where Nurse Chappell slaps him repeatedly to bring him back round.

The Hill People are problematic. Their diction is reminiscent of Tonto from The Lone Ranger and calling weapons "firesticks" is well, dodgy. They're basically a bunch of white guys playing Native Americans and the whole thing crosses over into cultural appropriation.

This is very much a Vietnam analogy - Kirk indirectly references the conflict himself - and the analogies would have been a lot more present had not Gene Roddenberry rewrote the episode, resulting in Don Inglis having his credit changed to "Jud Crucis" (a word play on "Jesus crucified") in protest.

The basic message of the episode is "the arms race and Vietnam are necessary because peace is impossible", which was debatable then and still is.

At least we don't get a comedy ending, with the episode ending on a sombre note. 



Overall, like primitive firearms, this misses the target a lot and hits other things.


19 September 2020

Coronavirus #17 - Circuit breakers

With more cases being identified and R now back above one, calls are being made for further restrictions and the government is considering a "circuit breaker" period of heavy restrictions during an extended half-term in October. Or earlier.

This - or even a full lockdown - is ultimately only a time buying measure. It may reduce the virus levels, but as soon as you lift one restriction too many, the virus starts coming back again. We have arguably done that since schools reopened.

Any circuit breaker period needs to be used to fix the wiring, such as ramping up test capacity and getting the tracing system sorted. This is easier said than done, although the app should help. I will definitely be installing it.

If we have to close something, I'd rather have closing pubs than a ban on socialising, but it needs to be based on the data.

12 September 2020

Brexit - again

Johnson's threat to breach part of the Withdrawal Agreement is a very bad move; why are the Tories so keen on holding onto Northern Ireland anyway?

I hope this plan gets blocked by the Lords - or the courts.

05 September 2020

Coronavirus #16: The younger wave

The 'second wave' in Europe seems to be very much among younger people, who are less vulnerable in general to the virus. Social distancing among this group seems to be much less followed from my own personal observations, making it easier to spread the virus between them. Then of course they could spread it to their much more vulnerable relatives.

We need to find a way to reinforce the need for social distancing at this time; messages from politicians aren't getting through to this generation, who don't trust them. The people they listen to are sadly just as likely to break the rules themselves...

No easy answers here.

We're hopefully getting closer to a vaccine, but it could still be a few months yet.

30 August 2020

US Presidential Election 2020

We're now just over two months from the US Presidential Election; although many will soon start voting with the use of absentee ballots likely to be extensive due to Covid-19.

Trump is going to try to use every legal and semi-legal trick to win - if he loses, he will claim voter fraud. He was even claiming it after he won, stating that he had actually won the popular vote when he didn't.

Biden is in a better position than Clinton was at this point with a significant lead. Trump is the worst position for an incumbent in decades and it could well get worse for him. He could somehow eke out a win, but I doubt it.

In any event, it's likely to be messy in US politics for quite a while.

29 August 2020

Chadwick Boseman 1976-2020

The death of the Black Panther star has come as a shock; we had no idea that he was so ill. The fact he did those Marvel films, all intense hard work, while battling the cancer that would ultimately kill him, is an achievement in itself.

His portrayal of King T'Challa was a massive inspiration to many black people. My local cinema, which is rarely even a quarter full even for major new releases, had a near full screen for Black Panther, which was a massive hit, disproving the mantra "get woke, go broke".

His legacy will be huge in film-making.

Rest in Peace.

15 August 2020

VJ Day - 75 years on

Today marks 75 years since the Japanese surrender in the Second World War that would bring the conflict to an end.

The Pacific conflict is very much forgotten in Britain and our involvement in that theatre, especially in what is now Myanmar, needs to be more remembered; it wasn't just an American show by a long chalk.

Let us remember those who served in atrocious jungle conditions, ended up in awful POW camps and died defeating a truly horrific regime. 

We will remember them.

Coronavirus #15 - a "second wave" in Europe

We seem to be seeing increases in cases across most of Europe now. It's not at the height of the peaks back in March and April, but still pretty concerning.

It seems that young people, reasoning (with some justification) that Covid-19 isn't going to get them, are increasingly ignoring social distancing. This is resulting in more cases overall, although not as much an increase in deaths.

The risk of course is that while younger people might not die themselves, they could easily spread it to those who are more likely too. While many of the most vulnerable may already succumbed to this disease, not all of them will have done and they could end up unintentionally killing their families and older friends.

Parties and nightclubs can wait a bit. I myself have postponed a planned holiday because I can't do it without quarantining when I return and I don't like wearing face masks.

Just be sensible people and wear a mask when you can't socially distance.

13 August 2020

What Is It?! (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.18, "The Immunity Syndrome")

Star Trek today tends to have season-long arcs where the only way to fully understand the story is to watch each episode in order; something true of most science fiction and fantasy shows. In the 1960s, with video recorders not exactly a thing in households, people might end up missing an episode with no opportunity to see it again.

So, each episode is basically one story, wrapped up in around 50 minutes and rarely mentioned again.

Anyway, I'm digressing, onto discussing the episode.


On their way to Starbase 6 for a break, the crew of the Enterprise encounter some strange distortion. A Starfleet ship full of Vulcans goes dead, then an entire star system. NCC-1701 must investigate a zone of space darkness that is draining the very energy from the ship - and its crew.

The primary 'triangle' in TOS is Kirk-Spock-McCoy and their overall relationship is very well established by this point. Spock and McCoy insult each other's species as Spock basically says that humans see one death as a tragedy, but a million as a statistic.

(That quote is attributed to Stalin, but there is evidence of similar satirical sentiments being expressed back as far as 1759)

Kirk is weary in the literal and metaphorical sense, the whole grave situation weighing heavily on him. Sure, Shatner does his... famous pauses... but the actor plays Kirk as more than just a cliché. Nimony and Kelley also do very well.

Scotty, Uhura and Chekov also aren't bad. Their material is a fair bit weaker as they're merely serving as plot exposition. Sulu is again absent, his position taken by recurring character Kyle, who doesn't have much too.

The overall mystery is a very strong one, with each layer unwrapped pretty convincingly. Well as convincingly as you can get in a show like this. The solution is a pretty good one as well.

The Netflix version contains the remastered effects, which I'd imagine look much better than the original ones were (although they did win an Emmy); those would probably have taken me out of the episode slightly.

One thing this episode contains in abundance is 'Starship Acting' as the cast throw themselves around the bridge, not always in the same direction. You'd think that they'd invest in some actual harnesses in Starfleet. 



A highly enjoyable, self-contained episode with a strong overall plot. Classic Trek.


04 August 2020

Beirut explosion

The explosion tonight in Beirut's port appears to have been accidental in the not on purpose sense. It is however seeming to involve criminal negligence.

A lot of people have likely died in what was basically a small nuke going off; many people will have lost homes and livelihoods.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Lebanon tonight.

02 August 2020

Coronavirus #14 - Media problems

Can the media please stop with fevered speculation over every comment by a member of SAGE - which is a very big group? It's causing undue stress and anxiety.

We need a sober analysis of the facts (which aren't great as is), not rumour-mongering.

I fancy a game of Fizzbin (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.17, "A Piece of the Action")

I've seen this episode before, but I didn't really remember much about it. So, I'm coming into this slightly cold.

Making a Second Contact after picking up a radio report from a ship lost a hundred years, the Enterprise crew discover a world that has based its entire culture on a book about Chicago gangsters; which is causing major development issues. With the Prime Directive loophole in play, they now need to fix the issue without getting themselves killed.


The overall concept of an alien world being contaminated by some esoteric human culture is a fairly common trope in science fiction. This is the sort of episode that you can easily imagine turning up in The Orville - now I'm imagining Adrianne Palicki totting a Tommy Gun - or indeed Doctor Who.  While there's definitely a 'Planet of Hats' aspect about this whole episode - most of the hats are awesome - there isn't time in this episode to explore other aspects.

It's a very strong episode for the regulars, especially Spock, who realises that this is not a situation where logic is going to work and is logical enough to admit it. Kirk is also having a lot of fun when he goes into full-on 'gangster' mode.

There is a lot of great humour in this episode: Kirk's inability to operate an old-fashioned car effectively, confusion over slang and the whole scene where they get a kid to distract some goons; although the last of course has some risks for the kid. They didn't pay him either!

A highlight of the episode is the 'Fizzbin' scene, where Kirk creates a weird card game out of thin air as a means to distract two guards. This is being Star Trek, it became a real game in the canon, featuring in an episode of Deep Space Nine. I wouldn't mind playing it in real-life, but you'd need a computer to handle the rules...

Paramount's backlots get used very effectively here, although a back wall is rather obvious in one shot when seen in HD.

The guest characters are pretty good - with Anthony Caruso's Bela Okymx demonstrating particular charm - but not truly memorable.

Two minor drawbacks. The lack of any active female roles is one, but perhaps understandable for the time. There's Uhura, sure, but her role in this is very limited. Also, Kirk, Spock and McCoy get captured more frequently than Kim Bauer.

Now I'm thinking of Elisha Cuthbert in Starfleet uniform. Best to end it there.


Not perfect, but a highly enjoyable episode nonetheless. Definitely a classic.


31 July 2020

Coronavirus #13: Putting the brakes on in the UK

Cases are starting to rise in the UK again; that seems to be pretty unambiguous. The localised restrictions in the North West and slowing down some more reopening make sense, although the communication has been pretty haphazard to put it mildly.

It's become clear that we've probably reached the limit of where we can reopen with present levels of infection and we need to work on getting the levels of cases down again. This requires continuing clear public health campaigns from the government, cooperation from the public and patience from all of us.

We are not likely to get back to normal before Christmas.

11 July 2020

Coronavirus #12: Heading for the global peak

While new cases continue to come down across much of Europe, the virus is very much in full 'rage' in many major countries outside it.

Most notably the United States of America, where the woeful incompetence of Donald Trump is being shown up in a way much worse than hoped. There are those who feared he would spark a massive war with his approach, but to the most extent, he prefers to pick on small targets that can't fight back. Now he faces an enemy he can't tweet bully into submission. 200,000 American deaths out of all of this is a real possibility; all the economic loss of the first lockdowns has been for nothing as governors opened up too early, Trump supporters refuse to wear face masks and the virus remains downplayed by many Republicans.

India, unable to fully lock down in an economy where millions live hand to mouth and South Africa that is largely the same, are also facing large increases in cases, with their testing systems unable to keep up.

It's likely we will get a number of healthcare collapses in the next few weeks as systems even in developed countries like the United States are unable to cope with sheer numbers, bringing up overall death rates.

It will not be a nice time.


While only a small percentage of people are dying from this, a significant minority of around 10% seem to be developing longer-lasting health problems as a result of this virus and rehabilitation for them is going to be something that will be a major cost going forward.

This virus doesn't seem to be Ebola or the flu... if anything, it's seeming a lot like polio - most won't have serious problems, only a few will die, but a lot of people will be seriously messed up by this.

I continue to pray for those working to tackle this situation. I would suggest you do so to if you are a believer.

04 July 2020

This Earth Thing Called Kissing 2: Electric Choke Collaroo (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.16, "The Gamesters of Triskelion")

Other titles I considered include "Game of Weird Clothes" and "Whip It Good".


As they are about to beam down to a planetoid, Kirk, Uhura and Chekov are 'yoinked' out of the transporter bay and taken to a strange planet in a trinary system i.e. one with three suns, where they are captured by some bloke who looks a bit like Ming the Merciless. Their intended fate - to spend their lives as slaves fighting for the entertainment of unseen beings called ""Providers".


Written by a woman - a comparatively rare thing in science fiction television even today - this episode has a load of concepts that I am sure I've seen in other works, including control collars used to ensure discipline, an array of very weird costumes (William Ware Theiss clearly had a field day) and brain aliens.

Indeed this episode has been parodied in a number of other shows, including Futurama and South Park.

The overall story is frankly rather poor; there's no true impression of the size of the enslavement operation, the whole security of the operation is reliant on a single person (what if he's asleep?) and the resolution involves some rather lucky misses with spears.

The regulars are mostly pretty good with Scotty, McCoy and Spock getting some fine material on the Enterprise. The main issue is Kirk, who again loses his shirt (good thing they've got a replicator) and falls for an alien woman. His willingness to bet this entire shp is rather worrying...

Speaking of alien women, we have Angelique Pettyjohn as Shahna, a humanoid woman wearing a silver cutout leotard more appropriate for BDSM and with green hair. She has no concept of romance... and generally no concept of acting with her dialogue very clipped. Kirk kisses her... twice. Because he's Kirk and that's what Kirk does.

The other guest stars are also nearly all poor; with the same stilted acting and some more ridiculous costumes. One of the slaves tries to rape Uhura on the grounds that he has been "selected" for her. After she fights back, the whole thing is never mentioned again. Something true of a lot of sexual assault survivors even now.

At least we don't get a comedy ending. 



To be rather frank, I wouldn't pay 10 quatloos for this, let alone a hundred.


20 June 2020

Coronavirus #11: Two metres or not two metres?

The government is reviewing whether the two metre guidelines for social distancing can be reduced to one metre, something many hospitality businesses feel is necessary to for their survival as their capacity is severely constrained at two metres to the point of unprofitability.

The science around the distance ultimately goes back to the 1930s and is subject to a lot of caveats; coughing is more likely to spread the distance than talking for example. Time spent at the various distances is also important. In a way, it's rather like radioactive exposure; a little won't harm you, but a lot will.

However, it is a lot easier to get rid of viral droplets than radioactive substances; the former can be destroyed with just soap and water.

Ultimately, a lot of this will come down to hygiene; a lot of the mini-spikes have been around meat processing plants where a lot of people work in close quarters, some of them not exactly with full legal papers (so they will be reluctant to speak up about any issues) and where hygiene practices can be sketchy. It's a good thing that proper cooking kills the virus too.

I'd personally favour Germany's 1.5 metres with an increased emphasis on face masks; you could wear them while not eating in a restaurant of course i.e. while waiting for the bill.

But I'm not a scientist.

13 June 2020

On the removal of statues

I'm perfectly fine with statues of slave traders coming down; it is not erasing history to remove a statue that is there to venerate someone. Churchill and Baden Powell, while holding views definitely unpleasant now and dubious even then, ultimately did more good than harm.

Ultimately, we should honour God above people. However, when we do honour people, we really do need a wider range of people represented. More than just white men made this country.

06 June 2020

Coronavirus #10: Coming down from the peak

The 'peak' has now very much passed in Europe; in Britain this was in the first week of April. Europe is starting to open up; 15 June will see full openings of many of the internal borders in the Schengen Area.

The UK quarantine regulations start on Monday, but I really don't see them lasting for too long - summer holidays abroad will definitely possible... but in a somewhat different form. Clubbing is likely to be very much off the menu, along with buffet breakfasts.

Fears of a 'second wave' are widespread, with every little rise in cases jumped on by people who believe we shouldn't be lifting lockdown now. We are going to see these mini-spikes across Europe, often hyper-local ones linked to a specific workplace or community. The overall trend in cases is something that needs to be taken into consideration and localised increases in restrictions may be needed as we continue to damp down this fire.

Ultimately, it will be imperative on us to 'stay alert' and take reasonable personal precautions to prevent further spread. That will mean wearing face masks, even if they are pretty uncomfortable, which will be a small price to pay to save lives.

05 June 2020

More than a grain of greatness (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.15, "The Trouble with Tribbles")

This is an episode that's rather hard to review. Firstly, it is considered an absolute fan favourite with a main alien that has turned up throughout the history of the franchise in some form or another - 14 times in fact, with the last appearance being in 2019 in a Short Trek that I don't think I've watched yet because it's not on Netflix in the UK...
Secondly, I've already seen it once.

Anyway, a Priority One message warning of disaster leads to the Enterprise racing to its next destination, a space station called K-7. There is in fact no disaster, which leads to a very annoyed Kirk... but there is a Klingon ship. There is also a trader selling small furry little creatures.


For a first professional script, this is a superb effort by David Gerrold (who would write two animated series episodes and was involved with the first season of The Next Generation before quitting after a dispute with Gene Roddenberry over a story idea that was dropped) with Gene Coon providing rewrites. There's a lot of humour, a great plot and an excellent 'threat'.

The regulars are all great, except for Sulu, who isn't in it (George Takei was away for much of the season filming the pro-Vietnam War film The Green Berets). Not just the top three, but Scotty, Uhura and Chekov all are very well catered for in this story; their character traits are wonderfully brought out here. Spock's "I don't feel emotion... until I do" trait gets an excellent appearance here.

No less than 500 tribbles were made for this episode; many went walkies after the episode, others would turn up around the set for months after the fact. They're fairly adorable, although I prefer my cute things to have eyes. The sheer number allows for some wonderful scenes, including Kirk half buried under the things when opening a storage hatch. This in fact took eight takes to get right, with Shatner visibly wondering when this will stop. Well, there are worse indignities an actor can suffer. At least the props were dry.

The bar fight in this episode, when a drunken Klingon insults Scotty's true love - his ship - leads to some truly epic Kirk-fu (without Kirk) that just works here whereas it doesn't where the stakes are truly mortal. Many points to James Doohan for doing most of his own stunts.

The Klingons themselves of course lack the refinement, not to mention the makeup, of their 'later' versions. They're portrayed rather like Cold War Soviets here, engaging in a spot of sabotage for gaining influence. There's a rather interesting bit that foreshadows a certain Star Trek: Discovery character...

One minor flaw - and it's enough to stop this getting a 10 - is that the tranquilising effect that Tribbles supposedly have on people isn't very consistent.



An absolute classic. Small and nearly perfectly formed, much like a Tribble, only it won't eat your grain. The Hugo nomination for this episode was justly deserved although another episode would win it.

Those tribbles was robbed, I tell you. Robbed.


02 June 2020

George Floyd

Many controversial police killing are often cases where a jumpy officer misinterpreted the actions of a person, often with mental health issues that mean they don't understand how to act around police officers.

Not the case with George Floyd, where kneeling on a man's neck for nearly nine minutes had no tactical justification whatsoever, especially once he become unresponsive. The officer who did this has been rightly charged with third degree murder and to be frank the others need charging as accessories.

There have many protests, there have also been riots. There has also been some real police brutality. Donald Trump has managed to set a new low, even by his standards, with his staged photo opportunities at churches... with peaceful protestors forced out of his way by tear gas just so he could do one of them.

Should Joe Biden become President in 2021, he will need to do a lot to heal the United States. The rot runs deep - Trump has some genuine popular support, there is deep-rooted and probably institutional racism in American police forces (including in Democratic cities like Minneapolis) and the justice system has real problems - like the grand jury system, which often fails to indict.

I pray for his success.

RIP George Floyd. You didn't deserve what happened to you.

31 May 2020

US Upfronts 2020-2021

Normally I'd be writing an annual review of the US television renewal and cancellation decisions, as well as views on the new shows, but this isn't a normal time.

The Covid-19 pandemic struck right in the middle of pilot season, with only one of them actually being finished before the stay-at-home orders put production on hold. Production on a lot of shows will not fully resume for a while and the summer season is likely to be pretty dead this year. This saved a number of shows that probably would have been cancelled.

Also, with the closure of TV by the Numbers, I'd lost a major source of TV news and ratings analysis. I've now added The Futon Critic and TV Grim Reaper to my subscriptions.

Anyway, some thoughts:
  • Madam Secretary's shortened final season on CBS was the best way to end it; it was clear that ratings were falling and the best thing a show can get is warning that the end is coming.
  • Legends of Tomorrow, having cycled out more cast members and brought new ones in, is proving to still be a lot of fun. It's the only one of the Arrowverse shows I watch and so whenever the crossovers come about, I have to look up various things.
  • Ruby Rose walking out on Batwoman suggests something was seriously wrong on production there. The recast will be interesting; I wasn't keen on the character when I saw her in a crossover.
  • The Blacklist is still going strong. I've said it before and I'll say it again; I don't know where they get their ideas from, but they must be some seriously disturbing places.
  • Have finally caught on Stranger Things and it is brilliant. I will most definitely be watching Season 4.
  • Time will tell if we start losing networks or streaming services due to the recession that this pandemic has caused.
I'd add some more here, but the pandemic has been massively distracting for me to the point I'm not following TV as much as I have.

28 May 2020

I'd like to speak to the manager (Review: 'Star Trek' 2.14, "Wolf in the Fold")

It's been a massive while since I last did one of these - been preoccupied with the Picard series for one thing. But I now plan to try to do one every fortnight, other things depending and complete the whole lot by sometime in 2021 or 2022...

So, here we resume... and to be honest, it's not a good one.

On the planet Argelis II, Kirk, McCoy and Scotty are in a nightclub watching a belly dancer do her thing with grins on their faces more akin to teenage boys. Basically McCoy has decided that the best treatment for Scotty after a recent head injury is for him to get some action. Scotty goes off for a late night walk for the belly dancer, there's a scream... and she's found murdered with Scotty holding the knife...

So, Scotty at a strip club looking for a casual hookup. Now, there's something that definitely needs some eyebleach. I can imagine Kirk doing it, or Sulu. Chekov at a pinch. Scotty, though... that just seems wrong.

After Scotty is accused of murder and doesn't remember anything about what happens, Kirk has a Lieutenant Karen Tracy brought down to conduct a memory analysis on him. She doesn't even get a line before she gets murdered.

It's pretty obvious whodunnit from the get-go; the actual revelation of the full circumstances of the murders then leads to a rather preposterous denouement where Kirk decides that the best idea to deal with a dangerous situation is to tranquilise the whole crew at a time when they should be pretty sharp. Also, a piece of technology introduced here for one episode never gets mentioned again, because it's too much of a 'game-breaker' in any plot.

Star Trek isn't exactly the most feminist show out there - the successors are much better - but this is particularly bad and critics have noted it as such over the years. After opening with an egregious example of the male gaze, the female characters generally just serve to be victims, with little real agency at all. Spock also gets an offensive line about women being more easily terrified.

The guest cast are pretty dire with some major overacting, there's a fight scene that's ridiculous even by Kirk Fu standards and the 'laugh at the end' seems very forced.

Finally, there's some awful handling of crime scene evidence.


A frank waste of 50 minutes; this episode is pretty bad all around and I can't think of much that can save it.


17 May 2020

Coronavirus #9: Back to school?

The primary debate about the moment in the UK's 'recovery' from this pandemic is about returning to school, with teachers' unions particularly concerned about how safe it is.

I'm of the personal opinion that this return should initially be voluntary, at least in June and with careful monitoring of any cases that arise in schools. Giving school children access to testing will be vital for that.

I also don't think that secondary schools should go back until September. Those pupils are too vulnerable to the disease and at a phase in their development where they are less willing to comply with social distancing because they believe that they are invincible at that age. While teenagers are far less likely to die from this disease than most, no age group is completely immune - and they could easily spread it to their parents.

10 May 2020

Coronavirus #8: A failure of imagination

In the final outcome of this pandemic, we are likely to have the worst outcome in terms of lives lost in Western Europe, with 40,000 dead overall a reasonable estimate.

There seems to have been major failings in preparation for this pandemic going back over a decade. A public inquiry is needed to answer some key questions.

It is tempting to blame Boris Johnson solely for this. He has a degree of responsibility, but the issues go back deeper to before his premiership and beyond elected politicians.

There seems to have been a general acceptance that when a pandemic did occur, a lot of people were going to die. The leaked Exercise Cygnus report suggests that lockdown was an idea that did not arise in people's minds.

PPE seems to have fallen off the radar - we should have had a bigger stockpile before this crisis. Why this wasn't done needs to be investigated. Also, those who have engaged in profiteering need to be named, shamed and if possible prosecuted.

Border closures, which a lot of countries were slow in implementing, would have definitely helped back in February/March. Now, it looks like action for action's sake. I would support a quarantine period, but there needs to be testing available to let people out of it and exemptions for low-risk countries, or you will finish off much of our tourist industry.

But the issues are wider than that. We have the most obese population in Western Europe and that is largely down to poverty; where junk food is cheaper than the healthier stuff. Tory underfunding of the NHS and misallocation of resources has meant that we are the 'sick man of Europe'. 'Austerity' has led to major issues of social deprivation, especially in the BAME community.

Major disasters tend to be multi-level failures; Chernobyl, Hurricane Katrina and the Great Leap Forward come to mind.

Ministers are not psychic; they cannot be expected to see everything that goes in vast departments. However, they dropped the ball and it may well very much be due to Brexit.

Moving forward, we need to ease up as fast as the science says - no faster and no slower as this situation is damaging health in other ways - then put in adequate measures for the next pandemic.

In a way, we were lucky this wasn't the 'Swan Flu' of Cygnus or something worse, otherwise we'd be digging plague pits now.

08 May 2020

VE Day 75 - in the shadow of Covid-19

The grand plans for marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe have of course ended up in tatters; with the pandemic forcing nearly all the major events to be cancelled and other stuff having moved online.

It's very difficult therefore to think of VE Day without thinking about our current situation. We're in the midst of the biggest public health crisis in my lifetime at any rate. There are signs that we are at least at the end of the beginning, with some loosening up of lockdown restrictions likely from Monday, although any timeline is not firm and should be based on the science.

The "Blitz Spirit" is somewhat of a historical myth. Many people were likely terrified of the bombs, sick of the deprivation and anxious for their loved ones. We might not have got a cheery reaction to the war, but instead we got a dogged perseverance. It would have been easy for us to accept Hitler's peace offer and escape the Blitz, allowing Nazi Germany and the USSR to slug it out.

But we didn't take that poisoned chalice. People sacrificed their personal wants for the greater good and Europe as a whole is better off.

This crisis will pass; we have lived through worse and survived as a nation. There are of course questions about the response and the preparation. That will be discussed in other posts.

Today, I want to give thanks to the wartime generation.

We will remember them.

25 April 2020

Coronavirus #7

It's clear that the Government dropped the ball in the initial handling of this; to be honest, most people did in one way or another. While the death toll is grim, we seem to have avoided the even worse scenario of a NHS collapse and infections are slowly coming down.

The question is of course how to lift the lockdown without risking a 'second peak'. A blanket "stay at home" policy cannot continue indefinitely, as we need to get the economy and society going again - we are likely to be dealing with this in some form or another for at least the rest of this year.

A lot of places will need to adapt for social distancing to minimise the spread of this; but let's remember how this is spread - by coughing and saliva. So, it seems to me that cloth face masks are the best way to reduce further spread and I would wear one on public transport if that was recommended.

For one thing, staying at home is boring and I want to see the world again.

12 April 2020

The Lord of Hope - Easter 2020

Since the churches have closed, we've been having services online streamed from the home of our minister. They're somewhat shorter than usual as it is rather difficult to sign hymns in a case like this, or to take a collection (people have been advised to use Justgiving or send a cheque when we resume "normal" activity.

It's a pretty unpleasant time for everyone, although of course much worse if you are affected by Covid-19 directly or indirectly. A lot more people are likely to die around the world before this virus is dealt with.

But things will get better and not just with regards to this virus. Things will improve across this whole fallen world. The Risen Lord will come back at some point (we do not know when) and create a new world, where the righteous will live free from the chains of death, fear and sadness.

Happy Easter. Have a good time at home.

04 April 2020

Coronavirus #6

Working from home gets a bit boring after a while. While I can talk online at with my colleagues, the lack of noise is something I miss. I might end up putting Spotify on...

28 March 2020

Coronavirus #5: It takes as long as it takes

5 days into what is currently a three-week "lockdown" and it feels like longer already. We've had over 28,000 deaths from this worldwide so far and that number is likely to increase yet further. As testing becomes more widely available, the number of confirmed cases will skyrocket, but that figure is going to become increasingly meaningless as time goes on.

Going out for daily exercise and shopping, there's still a reasonable number of people around, but they're of course keeping a distance and it's not like there is that many shops available. Most foodstuffs can now be acquired, but you have to be a bit less choosy than normal.

As to how long this lasts, your guess is as good as mine. We cannot operate on artificial timetables - any decisions have to be data-driven.

We're just going to have to be patient. At some point, this will be over and we can file it as a bad memory. For most of us at any rate.

21 March 2020

Coronavirus #4: We need a lockdown - and it probably still won't be enough

Judging by the number of people I saw out and about during a walk today where I got some food items as well, it's clear that the social distancing calls from the government are not getting through to many people. Especially in Havering.

To slow the spread of this disease and release the pressure on the NHS, we need to close more non-essential shops (estate agents, furniture stores, hardware stores), as well as forcibly break up mass outdoor gatherings.

Even then, that might not do it. We don't have the police capacity - we arguably never had - to enforce a nationwide lockdown. Many will happily run the risk of a fine and a jail sentence because "it's just the flu".

It's probably a matter of time before we get scenes like in Lombardy in London.

14 March 2020

Coronavirus #3

It's now very likely that we're going to have disruption from this for weeks, if not months. With bans on big events likely for at least March and probably April, it's probably not a very good time to be planning anything major because it will likely be closed or called off.

The question is ultimately how quickly we can develop an effective treatment that isn't reliant on the body fighting this off - not always possible, especially if you've got other conditions - or a vaccine. 'Herd immunity' through the bulk of the population getting the regular version of the disease is going to result in a lot of deaths and take a long time indeed.

I think we're going to be dealing with this for a good year or two and will to adjust our behaviour to adapt.

08 March 2020

Coronavirus #2: Northern Italy on lockdown

With the announcement of movement restrictions for large parts of Northern Italy and other prohibitions that will heavily restrict social life in the country for nearly a month, the impact of Covid-19 is having some real effects on this people. It appears that the quarantines imposed in Wuhan worked in slowing down the disease; which is buying us time to develop treatments and ultimately vaccines.

However, it's likely to be a pretty unpleasant next few months in any event; a lot of people are going to get this disease and a noticeable percentage of them will die of it. There are about 3,500 new cases a day and around a hundred deaths. We've not yet reached the peak and it might not be done this month.

Also, I suspect that No Time To Die will not be the only film put back because of all of this - however, with Black Widow not out until May, Marvel will likely hold off on a decision until April.

01 March 2020


With over 20 cases of Covid-19 in the UK and over 85,000 known cases worldwide with nearly 3,000 known deaths, we're dealing with a particularly nasty new disease. However, not one to panic about.

Sensible precautions seem to be the way to go; for example, washing your hands, being careful how you sneeze and knowing when you're badly unwell. For many people who don't get sick pay, going into work with a minor cold is something we have no choice but to do - but if things get more major, it's probably best to stay at home. Face masks are needed for health workers - don't buy one unless you genuinely need it. A lot of people will likely get very mild Covid-19 and recover without even knowing they have it.

The impact from this is far likely to be economic for those not directly affected due to global supply chain disruption and major event cancellations; remember that a lot of small businesses around a football stadium will lose out if a game is called off.

Hopefully this will be contained and run its course within the next couple of months.

24 February 2020

Deactivation of Twitter account

I have today decided to deactivate my account on Twitter. It is too toxic and the time I am spending on there is time I can use on other things.

23 February 2020

Bern Notice - or the US Democratic nomination process

It's looking increasingly likely that Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic candidate for President against Donald Trump in November and this contest will be interesting to put it mildly.

While Sanders will be the furthest left Democratic candidate since at least George McGovern, he will be going up against a scandal-tarred Trump whose approval rating, unlike Nixon's (whose slump came in his second term) is in negative territory. He's also polling well.

Sanders isn't Jeremy Corbyn - he doesn't have some of Corbyn's toxic associations for one thing. Also, with the US political system as it is, he will be likely heavily constrained by Congress in any domestic policy - in the way Trump kind of is. So businesses won't necessarily be as scared of him as a PM Corbyn.

I think there is a very good chance we end up with a Jewish President next year, although it ultimately depends on the economy. With Covid-19 in particular, there's a chance we could be in a recession come November.

17 February 2020

Armchair Time Traveller #4 LNER Continental Timetable October 1935 to May 1936

Playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order, I'm now jumping back almost 30 years to a vintage timetable that I picked up for Christmas in 2018.

Going back to the Grouping Era, it's time for this bad boy:

OK, it's not a man or a woman, but there's plenty of Bad in it... as in towns called 'Bad something'.

With a momentary pause in the bad puns, let's go...

The context

1935 was a year when the international situation very much began its slide down the slope to the depths of the Second World War. The Luftwaffe was formed and conscription was introduced in Nazi Germany as Hitler openly went against the Treaty of Versailles; the Nuremberg Laws were introduced that stripped citizenship from non-Aryans. Mussolini invaded what is now Ethiopia in a quest for imperial glory that was a brutal campaign from the outset.

On the other side of the coin, canned beer was invented.

The popular conception of railways before the war is of a world full of steam locomotives. Certainly steam engines were the norm in most places. Electrification was the norm on tram networks and it was starting to spread to railway ones as well, who wanted to compete with them and increasing numbers of coaches as roads improved. Steam locomotives aren't the cleanest of things and they're not the fastest either. The 'sparks effect' of electrification increased passenger numbers and helped develop suburbs as people moved to cleaner areas away from city centres, commuting into work on electric trains.

The timetable itself notes that an Italian line is being electrified, while Germany, the Netherlands and Italy were starting to wire up main lines.

In the UK, the Southern Railway had pretty much done its suburban network in 1930, with mainline services next, using the third rail system. Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne and Hastings were already connected, with Portsmouth being worked on.

The LNER itself had taken over electric suburban services in Tyneside and would start on wiring the line from Liverpool Street to Shenfield, although this was suspended with the outbreak of the war - British Railways would finish it off.

Europe had different political boundaries in 1935 - especially in the east of Europe, where the USSR was much smaller than it would become after the war and Poland was over to the east, including big parts of what is today Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. Lithuania in 1935 used standard gauge for its network, a result of the German occupation in the First World War so it had a direct connection to the network of most of Europe; there also appears to have been a standard gauge line to Riga, Latvia.

The contents

There is a lot packaged into this 185-page affair, certainly far more than you'd get in any modern timetable. To give you some of the highlights:
  • Plenty of terms and conditions stuff, including a statement that LNER will not be liable for any loss or damage at Sea (their capitalisation) due to, for example (and I actually quote):
    • The King's enemies
    • Accidents from machinery, boilers and steam
    • Accidents of the seas, rivers and navigation of whatever nature or kind soever
  • An eight-page index of continental stations
  • No less than 45 pages of fare listings, including fares from London via Harwich to many European cities, fares from 'provincial stations' of the Big Four to Harwich and fares from Harwich to European cities. All of these are in £.s.d. so you might have a fair bit of complex adding up to do.
  • Rates for a wide variety of luggage including:
    • Motorcycles
    • Cars
    • Typewriters
    • Sewing machines
    • Nautical Instruments (15 shillings to the Continental ports)
    • How to send telegrams from ships
    • Information on sending goods and parcels via train and ship (a train ferry service for freight was also around) 
    • A long list of agencies through which LNER sold tickets in both Europe and the US
    The actual timetables themselves take up a minority of the book and employ the standard format for the international timetables I have in my collection; you read the times down on the left hand side for services going away from London and up on the right hand side for coming back - this means you only have the station names one i.e. in the middle. The details of the through carriages available and any variations are at the bottom. One thing that is obvious is that the icons are a good deal more detailed than you would find in a modern publication. An example of the timetables can be seen below. I couldn't scan from this book without risking damaging it:

    There are also three fold out maps at the rear of the book, one of Belgium, one of the Netherlands and the one below:

    These schematic style, not quite geographically accurate maps for the LNER and LMS were created by George Dow and in fact were the inspiration for Harry Beck's world-famous London Underground Map. More information and history of these can be found here. 

    The fares 

    International travel was not exactly cheap at this time. £1 in 1935 was equivalent to £70 now. If you wanted to go to Amsterdam to partake of the red light district (it existed, but was a lot less in your face than today), you were looking at £4 17s 10d each for a Third Class Return via "Flushing" (Vlissingen, which no longer has any ferry services to the UK since the Sheerness service was terminated in 1994). That's over £300 each before luggage, hotels and meals were included. You were able to get special weekend tickets that allowed you to travel without a passport, but the precise information on these is not provided in this timetable. 

    (Yes, bachelor parties were around back then). 

    If your stag do inclinations stretched further afield to the Estonian capital of Tallinn, you were looking at £12 1s 9d for a Second Class Single; a visa was also required from the Estonian Embassy at 167 Queen's Gate, SW7 - open only between 10am and 1pm. This said, at least you could get a through ticket all the way there - you can only get a through ticket to Warsaw from the UK now, with the need to buy further tickets in Vilnius and Riga. Interrail is a thing for the whole Baltics now, but the cross-border connections are limited as you get further east and you might be better to get a coach.

    The travel times

    London to Tallinn was possible with four trains and a ferry. Departing at 0930 GMT on Day 1, you'd be at Berlin Schlesischer Bahnhof, in English "Berlin Silesian Station" at 0733 the following morning, a journey time of 19 hours and 13 minutes, via the Harwich-Flushing ferry. This is now, after two rebuilds by East Germany, Berlin Ostbahnhof and remains a major starting point for international services, like the EuroNight Talgo sleeper to Moscow-Belorusskaya. 

    Departing there 19 minutes later, you'd be in Riga at 0648 Eastern European Time on Day 3, with a two hour wait for a 2nd and 3rd Class only service to Tallinn, arriving at 1856. That's a 55 hour and 26 minutes journey.

    In 2020, there is no overland route shorter than three nights... Driving takes 28 hours straight; something impractical with the need to refuel, go to the toilet and sleep.

    London to Berlin was a 20 to 21 hour journey with a sleep either on the ferry or the train; although the former involved having to pay a supplement on the express train in Germany. Avoiding that would add another five hours to your journey as you had to wait for a later slower train,.

    Other fun stuff

    As mentioned earlier, this timetable has a large array of information on those wishing to ship goods via rail; as the railways were a 'common carrier', they were required to take nearly anything that was offered to them, no matter how profitable the market was. The exceptions were manure and stuff like lime that could damage their stock. So you could get ship propellers put on a flatbed.

    Full details of the rates available required you to contact one of the Goods Managers or a freight forwarding agent; since this would entail me doing a seance, I can't provide them to you. There were special inclusive rates for express goods at 805 Belgian francs per metric tonne to Antwerp, which was just under £6 - although this did not apply to perishables. These had to be delivered to Bishopsgate Goods Station before 3pm on any weekday.

    The most common freight wagons at this were 20-foot boxcars and those could be shipped to the continent without the need to tranship via the Harwich-Zeebrugge train ferry that ran from 1924 until 1987; these wagons could be sent as far as Poland and 'Roumania' (the spelling in English didn't standardise until 1975). LNER also advertised a through shipment company called All Rapid Transport Service, who said they could ship goods to Palestine (the British Mandate) in 9 days, China in 27 days "&c &c".

    Rather relevant in today's day and age were Customs regulations. At time where the European Union was over twenty years from creation, every frontier required some form of customs examination and the items that were subject to duty, restriction or outright prohibition ranged from the normal to the downright bizarre, like:

    • Tobacco
    • Hats
    • Field and Opera Glasses (there is a difference between field glasses and binoculars; the former lack internal prisms that can jolted out of alignment via rough handling)
    • Gramophones and Gramophone Records
    • Plumage
    • Handkerchiefs

    Also, don't try to bribe a Customs Officer or you could be fined £200. Also, you won't be allowed to pass Go.


    The inter-war years are considered a golden age for the railways and to an extent that's true, with the sheer array of international services, along with some very snazzy rolling stock. However, it wasn't exactly the fastest of services and international travel could be quite bureaucratic, especially if you wanted to bring home some hats.

    I'd go for a visit, but I wouldn't like to live there.