fredag 29 december 2006

Low-tech train ventilation

Mark1 carriage window
Originally uploaded by seadipper.

These sliding ventilators came into use in the 1930s. They were an advanced design with an aerofoil to deflect the air flow over the moving train and provide draught-free ventilation if they are opened up to the black marks on the notice above the warning sign.

If the weather is hot and you want a good blow, you open them all the way.

Unlike air conditioning, they do not consume a lot of power, are inexpensive to install and maintain, and do not break down when they are most needed, in the middle of the summer.

They also have the advantage of letting some steady ambient noise into the train which drowns out the annoying sounds of mobile phones, personal stereos and loud conversations, so you can blank it out and concentrate on what you are doing. I suspect they are more hygienic than air conditioning - I have always wondered what life-forms live in the ducting.

Unfortunately, some bright spark though that hopper ventilators (windows that open inwards from the top) were a better idea than these, so after the mid-1970s, they were no longer fitted to new trains and on some of the old trains the sliding ventilators were replaced by hoppers. These do not stay shut or half-open properly, prevent blinds or curtains from being fitted and cannot be opened without causing a hell of a draught.

It was then concluded that air conditioning was essential on new trains apart from those used for short journeys. So most new trains have full air conditioning. This means that carriages are so complex that they cannot be stored without running up the systems regularly, which means they need quite a lot of attention even if they are not in service. This is why trains are overcrowded whilst surplus carriages are likely to be scrapped as it is too expensive to keep vehicles in reserve.

Slam door train

Mark1 carriage door
Originally uploaded by seadipper.

These were very dangerous, so it was said. So they scrapped 1500 vehicles which could have gone on for another 15 years. This cost £1.5 billion for the carriages and another billion to upgrade the electricity supply because the new trains are heavier and use more current. As the price of electricity has gone up and will go up more in the future, this has to be paid for.

The doors were a hazard because they could be opened when the train was moving, or if it was stopped and there was not a station platform, and people were sometimes hit when people opened doors before the train had come to a stop. But the money would have been better spent on almost anything, like improving NHS Accident and Emergency services, which are closing down all over the place. This would have saved a lot more lives than were ever lost due to the train doors.

It would in any case not have been difficult to devise an electric latch to stop people from opening doors when they shouldn't, and it ought not to have cost more than £100 a door, which makes between £600 and £2000 a vehicle - peanuts money.

onsdag 27 december 2006

What will replace trains like this? The story continues

43162 Bristol
Originally uploaded by Thrash Merchant.

The Department of Transport issued a document on the subject in January 2006, as a preliminary notice for the guidance of potential suppliers of the new trains. This is known as a Prior Information Notice (PIN). The gist of the thing is that the trains will be in service for a long time and nobody can be sure what circumstances they will be operating in - for instance, to what extent diesel traction will remain affordable or what type of service the trains will be providing. Thus flexibility will have to be built in to the design.

Which all seems quite sensible - some of us have been saying this for years and it is reassuring that it has now got through to the highest level.

What does it mean in practice? Clearly something very different from the sort of inflexible, high-tech train that has been favoured for the past few decades and which is what the train manufacturers want to sell. Indeed, the specification seems to be saying, in a roundabout way, that the HST fleet should be replaced by conventional trains of locomotive-hauled carriages. This could well be what the civil servants at the DfT actually have in mind, but they can't spell it out as the notion goes against the conventional wisdom in the railway industry. But in the end, they may well have to be explicit.

The DfT anticipates commencing the procurement of the new High Speed Trains 2 (HST2) project with the release of an advert in September 2006.

Following release of the advert the DfT will invite expression of interest from potential bidders in the form of a response by an Accreditation Questionnaire that shall be available from the issuance of the advert.Those suppliers that are successful in being shortlisted will be invited to tender.

The current HST stock was introduced between 1976 and 1982 and were deployed to serve a wide variety of intercity flows. They provide front line services on high value trains across the Inter-City East Coast, Midland Mainline and Greater Western Main Line Train Operating Companies.

It is proposed to replace this ageing train fleet with a fleet of "new generation" HST's. This will require the specifying, designing, prototyping, testing and manufacturing of a fleet of new trains in order to replace the current HST fleet.

The estimated capital cost of this replacement programme is expected to be of the order of 1 000 000 000 GBP for the trains with further expenditure envisaged for the depot and related works. Funding arrangements are yet to be considered.

The trains will continue to be used on intercity passenger services and are integral to the long-term future of a number of franchises.

The aim of this project is to:

Deliver increased carrying capacity per train: We forecast increased demand on interurban services, so we would want HST2 to maximise passenger carrying capacity. The three main options for this are to increase the length, height or width of trains.

Deliver a fast, reliable journey time: As per capita GDP increases, so does the value of time. HST2 will need to match or better competitor modes in terms of reliable end-to-end journey times. Options for improving reliability include increasing physical robustness, reducing the complexity of the design, maximising the use of proven technologies and subsystems, and proper testing of a prototype train.

Meet customer requirements: We forecast an ageing and more affluent population and expect them to be more demanding in terms of comfort, ambience and on-train facilities. HST2 must be capable of accommodating these requirements. This is particularly important because the high revenues from inter-urban services permit cross-subsidy of services for which there is a sound economic case, but which have low revenue yields.

Improve safety: In a more affluent society, the value of life also increases. HST2 must also be as safe as we can reasonably make it. The safety objective should cover both passengers and railway employees (whether working on train or track), and it should focus particularly on reducing the risk of fatal accidents and include consideration of collision/derailment survival and evacuation characteristics. HST2 should seek to design-in improvements to personal security.

Deliver an environmentally sustainable solution: Fuel prices are expected to rise and environmental concerns to increase. HST2 should be as fuel-efficient as possible, with minimum generation of noise and emissions. We also need to ensure that we factor in the risk that some combination of fuel-price increase and environmental concern renders diesel operation non-viable during the lifetime of HST2. Emissions should be assessed at whole societal cost, rather than at point of use.

Minimise cost: The Business Case must be predicated on the whole-life, whole-system cost. This subsumes (a) the up-front cost of trains, maintenance facilities and any upgrades required to the infrastructure, (b) the ongoing cost of maintaining and operating the trains and infrastructure, and (c) financing cost.

Offer flexibility of deployment: A clear understanding will need to be made of the markets HST2 is intended to serve. Nobody can forecast with total confidence demand levels or passenger expectations. Assessments of how to optimise the carrying capacity of lines may also change over time. It is therefore desirable that the HST2 design should be capable of operating as many different types of inter-urban service as possible, eg non-stop or 20-stop London-Edinburgh services, on WCML as well as ECML, and possibly on longer-distance commuter routes. The ability to cascade the trains with minimal modification cost (e.g. by exploiting modular design) also has a value.

NOTICE DATED: 31.1.2006.


tisdag 26 december 2006

What will replace trains like this?

HST at Redruth
Originally uploaded by seadipper.

This is Britain's Inter-City 125 High Speed Diesel Train. It was introduced as a stop-gap design in the mid-1970s. The type is still in front line service on Britain's non-electrified main lines, and the fleet is just being refurbished and fitted with new engines to keep it going for another fifteen years.

Nobody can work out what to replace them with.

söndag 24 december 2006

A really big tax fiddle - and legal too

I came across this on the website of Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC)...

“So much has happened in the past three years to progress the development of Jersey and the Channel Islands as a tax-efficient environment to attract those property-owning corporates, etc... seeking to set up offshore property companies and unit trusts... However, as with so much offshore, it just takes some changes in tax legislation elsewhere to provide an impetus and take the offshore market to a new level.

“This certainly happened with Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) in December 2003... The massive growth brought about by these changes led to the coining of the term 'JPUT' as the market norm for the holding of UK based property assets in a tax efficient way to shelter the sale of the property assets from SDLT...

“While ‘seeding relief’ (a concession for new unit trusts – henry) has been withdrawn, the legacy is a fantastic one of a much deeper market in indirect property owning offshore unit trusts...

"The future, at least the immediate future, for offshore property funds and companies remains favourable in my view. There is critical mass, the structures continue to be flexible and provide tax efficient benefits to investors, the income yields remain attractive for those London listed offshore property companies pursuing this route..

”Longer term is naturally harder to assess, but the offshore market continues to evolve. We are already seeing some innovative structuring for European property investment, both in the near and far continent, as property investment groups seek to continue to use the islands and also seek the benefits of the offshore route for the first time."

For the document in full, see

So ordinary people get clobbered by the tax, whilst those who can afford to pay for the best advice get off scot-free. And meanwhile, we are all urged to grass on people who work a little fiddle job whilst claiming a meagre Social Security benefit.

So is the Chancellor really concerned about this leakage? The liberal press tut-tut about it on some pages and advise their readers how to take advantage of the loopholes elswhere on their pages. The government and EU have leaned on the Channel Islands authorities.

But really, the Chancellor has nobody to blame but himself. The people who frame these taxes are supposed to be experts, and should have been able to forsee how SDLT and any other tax can be avoided. SDLT is in any case a bad tax as it discourages land transfer and therefore is an obstacle to the most efficient use of land.

The Land Value Taxation Campaign submitted a report to the Treasury when the SDLT was up for consultation. The Campaign advised that the tax on land transfer should be no more than a charge to cover administration, and that the appropriate way to tax land should be through a charge on the annual site rental value (land value taxation), payable by the beneficial owner. Such a tax could not be avoided by offshore ownership as the liability would remain, with the ultimate sanction of forfeit of the land if the tax was unpaid.


lördag 23 december 2006

Crossrail again

Crossrail differs from previous underground lines which have reached out into the suburbs over entirely new lines, in some cases parallel to existing main lines, or by taking over lines previously belonging to the main line operators.

Only Thameslink shares tracks with the main line operators, and this gives rise to concerns which are inherent to such a concept.

The first is delay propagation. Although Thameslink provides good connectivity, the service is unreliable. The line joins two separate networks and transfers disruption from one to the other; a delay at, say, Luton, will affect passengers at Haywards Heath, and there may be knock-on effects to other services. The long-standing and familiar problems with inter-city Cross-country are another example of such delay propagation across networks, and Crossrail can be expected to suffer from the same thing.

The second concern is the rolling stock, which is inevitably a compromise, as it must be configured primarily for inner suburban use, with seating which is acceptable for perhaps 20 minutes. This is not a trivial matter, as one of the attractions of public transport is that the time can be used productively, which is not possible if passengers have to stand or the seats are too cramped and uncomfortable to allow the use of, eg a laptop computer. Such is the discomfort of the Thameslink rolling stock that many passengers on the Brighton line prefer to go to Victoria and change rather than use a direct Thameslink train. Suitable stock for Crossrail will require wide doorways and large areas of clear floor space for circulation and standing, and so, like Thameslink, will be avoided or disliked by passengers travelling longer distances who expect to sit and get on with something during their journey.

A further drawback of Crossrail in its present form comes from lack of capacity on the GW main line; even though some freight services will be squeezed off, it will still be necessary to turn back trains at Paddington.

A possible alternative would follow the same underground alignment from Paddington to Stratford as the present Crossrail proposal, but as a tube line. At Paddington, it would link to the existing Hammersmith branch of the Metropolitan Line. The Jubilee Line terminus at Stratford (photograph), would become a through station, and Crossrail trains would then continue to Stanmore; thus the service would run from Hammersmith to Stanmore, crossing over itself at Bond Street.

This would provide much of the functionality of Crossrail at a fraction of the cost. As an independent route with no junctions, conveyor-belt reliability could be expected. It would also allow more frequent services on the Paddington to Hammersmith route, improving communications to an area of London at present poorly served by public transport due to the limited capacity of the northern arm of the Circle Line between Paddington, Baker Street and Aldgate. There would be no need for the Abbey Wood branch as passengers could go to Canary Wharf by remaining on the train as it loops back, and the DLR will soon be providing a service to Woolwich.

I have never seen such a proposal. Can somebody look at it?

Religion does more harm than good - Guardian

"More people in Britain think religion causes harm than believe it does good, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today. It shows that an overwhelming majority see religion as a cause of division and tension - greatly outnumbering the smaller majority who also believe that it can be a force for good.

"The poll also reveals that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain by almost two to one. It paints a picture of a sceptical nation with massive doubts about the effect religion has on society: 82% of those questioned say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. Only 16% disagree. The findings are at odds with attempts by some religious leaders to define the country as one made up of many faith communities."

Guardian, 23 December.

Which is why people are queuing up to send their children to Catholic and Church of England schools. This is an example of what is, I believe, called "congnitive dissonance".

fredag 22 december 2006

Sex workers

Nasty little bit of political correctness in the Guardian, referring to the victims of the serial killer in Ipswich. The girls needed the money to feed their heroin habit. And even leaving aside the risk of getting into the hands of complete nutters, being a prostitute is a dangerous activity.

Some of the trouble is our attitude to drugs. Nicotine is OK even though it affects innocent bystanders, at least we only have to wait till next year before it will be possible to go into pubs and restaurants without getting smoked out. Why they don't promote chewing tobacco in the country is a mystery, at least it does not annoy other people or cause a fire hazard.

Alcohol is the big one but the government encourages it - it is a nice earner for the Chancellor. The police can hardly cope here in Brighton at the weekends and all night long there are noisy people walking through what used to be a quiet area so you have to sleep at the back or with the windows closed. Alcohol does far more harm in aggregate than the hard drugs.

Heroin is the problem it is partly because it is illegal and it therefore gives rise to a lot of crime as the addicts will stop at nothing to get the money to pay for their next fix. One answer might be for the NHS to have places where people could go and inject themselves with the stuff, or even detain them as in-patients in mental hospitals. Which would also stop users from become pushers and spreading the habit. And the reduced crime would help to empty the prisons.

As for cocaine, the trouble here is that all sorts of "respectable" people are taking it. Maybe the NHS should stop paying for treatment for the problems it causes, and perhaps, too, crimes committed under the influence of drugs should be regarded as "aggravated" offences and punished more severely.

Certainly it needs a rethink, as the present system is not working. One question that is rarely asked is why people want to take this stuff at all.

tisdag 19 december 2006

Shop your neighbour to prevent benefit fraud

An advertisement appeared recently in the local paper asking people to shop their neighbours if they thought they were working and claiming benefit. There is a whole web site where you can report benefit fraud.

Of course I do not condone benefit fraud. But asking people to report on their neighbours is how the Nazis operated. I suspect most people would still not report their friends and neighbours if they knew about their benefit fraud. But if it became widespread practice, it would destroy the trust which helps to cement society. Goodness knows, the fabric of society is falling apart in Britain without any help from government departments asking people to shop their neighbours.

Despite recent changes, the withdrawal rate for benefit when people enter work remains a deterrent to work and an incentive to fraud. There are still people, mostly at the bottom of society, who cannot afford to go to work! This is the inevitable consequence of targeting the most needy – people move into the target area and stay there. This encourages people to rot in idleness, to the point that they many will never be able to work again. At least, if they are committing fraud, they are contributing something to the wealth of society and maintaining their skills. It is the system that is wrong. It is the same system that has left me with an increase in asset value that is more than I could ever have possibly earned through hard work.

The way to stamp out fraud is to take away the incentive. This means a move, and of course it cannot happen overnight, to a universal benefit such as the Basic Income advocated by the Green Party. The way to pay for it is by substantially replacing existing taxes by Land Value Taxation. Then there will be no more fraud. Sadly, it seems that the government and civil service are still under the spell of fear, uncertainty and doubt spread by the small number of people with vested interests against such a shift in revenue-raising methods, so overdue change is not going to happen.

Crossrail alternative

I have had comments on my alternative proposal. These are

Where is the link to Shenfield?
Where is the relief of the Central Line from Essex to Oxford St?
Where is the link to Heathrow?
Where is the link to Maidenhead?
Where is the link to The Royal Docks and Abbey Wood?

My alternative proposal does not address these but
(1) Shenfield is not an important destination. Chelmsford might be.
(2) People should be encouraged to use the airport on their side of the capital.
(3) Passengers would continue to have to change at Stratford. This is not ideal but changes are acceptable if the design of the interchange is satisfactory.
(4) Maidenhead is not an important destination. It is not a hub and has a population of 60,000. Reading is a worthwhile destination but would involve major infrastructure works. High Wycombe would be better than Maidenhead as it has almost three times the population, and this would make use of the redundant GW line as far as Ruislip.
(5) The Royal Docks and Abbey Wood are served by the DLR.

The disadvantage of reduced connectivity would surely be offset by the much more reliable service that could be run from Hammersmith to Stanmore. It has only two termini instead of several, and the route involves no junctions or conflicting movements, which is where delays come from - it is a simple shuttle service which would give conveyor-belt reliability and optimum capacity. It would also, incidentally, give much improved services in the densely populated North Kensington area.

Like Thameslink and Cross Country, Crossrail will give rise to something called network delay propagation; there is a body of literature on this subject. I hope people will take notice of it before the scheme goes ahead.

Overshadowing all of these issues, however, is the uncertainty over which will be the major areas of expansion in London and the South East

måndag 18 december 2006

My tax demand for £0.00

Last week I received a statement from the Inland Revenue telling me that I owed £0.00.

I telephoned to say that I did not need this information and if there were any cuts to be made in the "service", this might be a good place to start.

Needless to say, the bureaucrat I spoke to explained how important it was to tell people this. I said I could have been notified by email as I had completed my return on line. There was no answer to this.

Meantime, we are threatened with wholesale closure of post offices.

The tax system costs over £25 billion a year.

The Rule of St Benedict - is it relevant today?

The Rule of St Benedict - lecture by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This has all sorts of interesting things to say, and is by implication, highly critical of early 21st century capitalism.

Text of lecture available here

söndag 17 december 2006

A Crossrail alternative

Ladbroke Grove Tube Station
Originally uploaded by raworth.

The long branch of the Metropolitan Line from Paddington to Hammersmith via Ladbroke Grove could form the basis of an alternative Crossrail.

In this option, the line from Paddington to Stratford would follow the same route as the present proposal. but it would be constructed to tube standards instead of full-size main line dimensions.

At Stratford, the line would join up to the Jubilee Line. The service would run from Hammersmith to Stanmore ie Hammersmith - Paddington - Bond Street - Liverpool Street - Stratford - Canary Wharf - Waterloo - Bond Street - Baker Street - Wembley Park - Stanmore, so the route would be like the Greek letter alpha, crossing over itself at Bond Street.

This would have all the advantages of the Crossrail, and none of the disadvantages, at lower cost, and existing proven types of stock could be used.

It would also allow more frequent services on the Paddington to Hammersmith route, at present restricted due to the capacity of the busy northern arm of the Circle Line between Paddington, Baker Street and Aldgate.


The sheep
Originally uploaded by phatcontroller.

Crossrail is the proposed major east-west route across London. It is intended to link the Great Eastern and Great Western main lines with an underground section running across the middle of London. It is suggested that trains will run from, Shenfield and Stratford in the east to Maidenhead in the west, but because of the limited capacity of trains on the GW main line, many trains will turn back at Paddington and it will also be necessary to cut back on the number of freight trains using the GW line. A rival proposal is for a service to Reading rather than Maidenhead, on the grounds that Reading is a more useful destination. The proposal also includes an option for a branch running south to Canary Wharf and Woolwich, to provide an interchange with South-Eastern services.

The central section will run mostly in tunnel from Stratford, via Liverpool Street and Bond Street, to Paddington.

Amongst the benefits are that people will be able to make journeys between the outer suburbs and a variety of central London destinations, without changing. It will also relieve the busy London Underground Central line and the northern half of the Circle line.

Unfortunately, experience with Thameslink, the north-south equivalent, suggests that the project as it stands could have serious drawbacks.

The most important of these, as perhaps regular travellers will know, is that a service across London that joins two main lines is liable to be affected by delays on disruption occuring on either of them and indeed can transfer the disruption from one main line to the other. Crossrail will be vulnerable in exactly the same way.

The second is that using a high speed main line for suburban stopping services may not be the best use of resources, especially when it is at the expense of freight operations.

The third is that the lack of capacity means that many trains will have to turn back at Paddington. This has further potential for disruption and means that many passengers will have to change to continue their journey.

The fourth, which again has been the experience with Thameslink, is that the trains are necessarily designed for a twenty-minute journey but that passengers may be obliged to use them for much longer trips for which they are not suited due to lack of seats and general comfort.

Alternatives should be explored.

lördag 16 december 2006


This week's New Scientist had a feature on creationists who are trying to do "creationist science". Of course science cannot be done with preconceptions of this kind.

But one conclusion to be drawn is that creationism itself is worthy of serious investigation - as an exercise in social anthropology.

The revival of creationism is an interesting phenomenon in its own right. Adherents of Christianity and Judaism are not required to believe in the literal truth of scripture. In order to do so, creationists must first accept that these texts came directly from God, which raises the immediate question of how they came into existence? Were they encapsulated in a rock, perhaps a meteorite? Did they arrive in the form of a celestial email, perhaps via a modem connected to the numinal realm - to the mind of the supreme creator who conjoured a material cosmos into being from eternity?

If indeed creationists imagine they can know the divine mind in this way, then they are claiming an authority which exceeds that which their humanity allows them. Only the numinal can fully comprehend itself; as St Paul points out, "we see through a glass darkly." To claim otherwise is a form of blasphemy or idol worship.

We must ask, then, why groups of people are taking up such a position, especially in the light of two centuries of philology which has demonstrated the fluidity of language.

One reason could be that it is an espousal of a form of totalitarianism. In the light of the last century's totalitarianisms, the present creationist revival could well be a rewarding subject for study.

75 year old passenger killed on Brighton bus

Bus Interior
Originally uploaded by seadipper.

A 75 year old passenger was killed on a Brighton bus recently. The bus, operated by Stagecoach, was going down North Street when a man carrying a can of drink wandered into the road and the driver had to brake hard. The passenger, who was standing, presumably getting ready to alight at the next stop, was thrown down and sustained head injuries from which he later died.

Of course it is not possible to comment on the precise incident, or on the vehicle in which he was travelling, but the illustration shows that the grab poles are so far apart that it is easy to be out of reach of one and at risk of falling should the bus brake hard or go round a corner. I have myself ended up in someone's lap when a Brighton & Hove bus turned a corner as I was moving forward to get off the bus.

The advice given is that people should remain seated until the bus stops but this is impracticable as the driver might move off before the alighting passenger had reached the exit.

The real problem is that the buses are designed this way for wheelchair accessibility, but the fact is that making buses accessible for people with one disability makes them dangerous for people with the much commoner disabilities that go with advancing age.

The whole issue of wheelchair use on buses needs to be reviewed.

New Blog

My old blog was becoming a bit of a hodge-podge so I have split it into three different blogs.



This blog has become a rag-bag of assorted topics so I have split it.

fredag 15 december 2006

Land and the Catholic Church

People have a right to the basic requirements for the sustenance of life. These are the four classical Elements - air, water, earth and fire. Air is not too much of problem, water is ok for some, and fire can be tricky. The most contentious one is land, because people can come along, put a fence round it and claim it is theirs. If anyone contests their claim to ownership, they are backed up by the law of the land plus any force of their own they may care to impose. Land is just regarded as a commodity to be traded like any other, not as something essential for people to live upon and make their livelihoods. Yet humans can do nothing without land.

Since 1891, successive Popes have issued Encyclicals dealing with social and economic issues. Collectively, this is known as the body of "Catholic Social Teaching". It has far-reaching and radical things to say about all sorts of matters but has consistently skirted round the land issue. We get hints about people's rights to property ownership and the duty of stewardship that goes with such owneship, but it stops there. Peasants' land rights in Third World countries sometimes get a mention but this is invariably discussed in terms of rural land distribution, which is no solution at all, as people are discovering in countries like El Salvador where land distribution took place in the early 1990s.

Aside from the official hierarchy we have bodies like CAFOD, which do an excellent job on the ground but go astray when they start talking about politics and economics. Thus we had the Jubilee 2000 Campaign, which was about debt relief, and ingored the fact that the biblical Jubilee was primarily about land. The only other land rights that get much of a mention are the land rights of the Palestinians, yet the English have also had their land stolen from them and most people haven't even noticed. It is not difficult to demonstrate that this is the root cause of much of the malaise in this country, as indeed in most countries in the world today.

Perhaps Pope Benedict, who has just issued a statement on Human Rights, will at last engage with the subject directly.

torsdag 14 december 2006

If you think this is just for raving nutters, try doing it yourself

yvonne & john
Originally uploaded by lomokev.
We go in the sea at Brighton at 7.30, most mornings summer and winter. Sometimes we have newspaper and television features about us. The usual line is to portray us as raving nutters or eccentrics.

If you think that, just try doing it yourself. In the winter you could die of heart failure, cold water shock or a panic attack. If the sea was rough, you could also die at any time of the year, again, either from panic, or being swamped by the waves or smashed down onto the shingle. And you might think you would be all right and die because you have misjudged because you can't read the sea.

Sea bathing is not a trivial activity. This was well understood in the eighteenth century by Dr Johnson and his intellectual circle, who were dedicated sea bathers and came to Brighton regularly; they pursued the activity in order to hone their minds through engaging with the wild forces of nature. They treated the exercise as nothing less than a scientific experiment, in the same spirit as did the pioneering natural philosophers of the seventeenth century who founded the Royal Society. Consequently, those who entered the sea in all weathers were regarded with respect - so much so that anyone who aspired to be a "person of quality" had to be seen in the sea at Brighton. And that is why Brighton came to become Britain's leading resort at the end of the eighteenth century.

Sadly, the sight of bathers in a winter sea today is little more than an occasion for popular bemusement. Yet it remains significant. A recent article in The Observer told the story of a severely autistic boy who was taken surfing, and through this, was drawn out from himself for the first time in his life. If the effect on the mind of engaging with the wild waves were more generally understood, sea bathing would not be regarded as a mere fun activity.

tisdag 12 december 2006

Busted by the builders

Busted in New Road
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
New Road, Brighton is getting an expensive new paving scheme for theatregoers to admire during the interval. But it is going to take several months. It seems that the people who let the contract did not stipulate that satisfactory access must be maintained to businesses affected by the work.

Worst affected was the hairdresser on the corner, who has been there about ten years. In fact, his trade has been hit so badly he has had to close down and the shop is up for letting. I wonder what compensation he will get for having his livelihood ruined.

In due course, the expensive roadworks, paid for out of public funds, will enhance the rental values of the properties that benefit, and as the owners will pocket the added value, the taxpayers whose money has been spent will see very little return on their investment.

Paying for Council services - ongoing saga

How to pay for services provided by local councils has been a bone of contention for years. We used to have Rates, which were a payment based on the annual rental value of each property. They were unpopular because they are the only tax that is paid for directly out of pocket, so people noticed them, unlike Income Tax which is paid by employers, or VAT which comes wrapped up in the bill when you buy things.

Rates were replaced by the poll tax, officially called the Community Charge - which was a fixed charge per individual, but many exemptions had to be made and it proved unworkable. After the poll tax we got Council Tax, which is based roughly on the selling price of the house or flat. It was a quick fix and worked as long as it was low. But inflation and changes in the amount that councils get from the goverment have meant that it is being used to raise more revenue than the system can sustain, with the result that people on low fixed incomes are having to pay more than some of them can afford.

So the government set up a new Committee of Inquiry under Sir Michael Lyons, Professor of Local Government at the University of Birmingham, to study the whole business and receive submissions from interested parties. This took place in 2004 and 2005, but then the government decided to extend the terms of reference to include the actual functions and organisation of local government.

Meanwhile, it appointed three more committees - the Leitch review of skills, the Barker Review of Land Use Planning and the Eddington Transport Study, which have now produced their reports.

The Barker review was originally meant to propose way of making more land available for housing, but it has gone on to cover planning in general. An interim report advocated the introduction of development charges - payment for planning consent to capture the resulting increase in land value. This is much the same policy as failed in 1947, 1967 and 1976, when owners just kept their land off the market pending a change in government and repeal. Presumably this is why it was dropped from the final report.

The Eddington transport study is a weighty document which I ought to study but do not have the time.

And now that the three committees have done their work, the Lyons Inquiry has gone out to another round of consultation in the hope of pulling things together. Unfortuntely, there is a short deadline - presumably under pressure from the government - for submissions by 21 January. It does not give much time considering that decisions made will have to be lived with for the next few decades.

The key issue here is the is the potential role of land value taxation in solving all three of these problems. Transport infrastructure is a key factor in creating and sustaining land values. Planning decisions can result in fortunes being made from the release of latent land value when development is allowed to go ahead. And existing taxes which bear on labour - effectively, payroll taxes, have been a major reason why opportunities for on-the-job training through apprenticeships and the like have almost vanished.

However, the chances that Lyons will recommend land value taxation are slim, and he did, the report would be shelved. There are powerful vested interests who make sure they have got the ear of the civil service. Judging from the replies one receives from government departments on the subject, the vested interests appear to operate on the FUD principle, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt.

About the Lyons Inquiry
About Land Value Taxation

måndag 11 december 2006

Land speculation

Development site
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
This is described as a development site. It was some kind of stables or building yard, and the last time it was used was more than fifteen years ago, when it had bric-a-brac stalls in it. Then they were kicked out, and somebody got planning consent for some houses. Since then it has just been something to be traded on at a profit as the land values in the area have spiralled, but nobody has bothered to build the houses. Somebody is going to get caught out when the crash comes, but the chances are that for a long time to come, the houses will exist only on paper.

The planners usually get the blame for a shortage of land but this site is one of several in the middle of Brighton which have had planning permission for years. But why bother to build when you can make money by trading sites on?


Gregorian Chant

Originally uploaded by designucdavis.
Gregorian Chant is a good thing. Plainchant is another name for this kind of music. It is very old - at least 3000 years. Jewish Christians brought the music from the Jewish liturgy into the early church and it has been there ever since. Some tunes are found in both Jewish and Christian liturgies, though sung in a different style.

It was not written down until the eleventh century, when the four-line notation was invented by Guido d'Arrezo. Before that, the tune was indicated by little curved marks called neumes; these are similar to the cantillation marks found in Hebrew printed bibles. But because they do not indicate the actual pitch of the notes, the music had to be learned by heart, and there are sometimes slightly different versions of the same music as a result.

Musicologists have been comparing old manuscripts marked with these neumes, and it is now possible to gain a better idea of how the music was performed before the four-line square-note system was introduced. There is a book called the Graduale Triplex which includes both the four-line notation and the older neumes written in over the top of the music. If you follow both, it makes the music sound more lively and prevents it from becoming plodding and dirge-like, which is always a hazard with chant when you just look at the notes.

The four-line notation used for Gregorian Chant is easier to read than the modern five-line stave, and when chant is written in modern notation, important information about how to sing the music is lost.

It is not written in a key, but in one of eight Modes or moods, of which the modern major and minor keys are two of them. Some modes have a bright feel to them, others are sombre and reflective, so the music includes a wide range of "palettes" - colourations. Mostly, the music spans little more than an octave so is not too demanding on the singers, and a good choirmaster will adjust the overall pitch to stay within the range of his performers.

"Performers" is not the right word, though, because the music is prayer, not performance, and for this reason, "rehearsals" are live and better referred to as practice.

No special musical talent is needed to participate. The key elements are, in order of importance.

(1) Listening, because the music comes out of silence.

(2) Breathing

(3) Sounding

If a group of people follow these principles, they will make a lovely sound.

In the Western (Latin) tradition, the language of the chant has been Latin. Gregorian Chant music does not go well into English because the vowels are awkward and the stress points in English sentences are all wrong. But in these days of large-scale population movements, the need to achieve integration and increasing multi-national contacts, such is the EU and its institutions, the time for Latin has returned. You can even listen to the news in Latin on Finnish radio, as hardly anybody knows Finnish.




News in Latin (with a Finnish accent)

fredag 8 december 2006

Brief glory over

Nearly all gone
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
The gales have now torn off nearly all the leaves from the weeping prunus in the Pavilion gardens at Brighton.

Transport Integration

Transport Integration
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
This is a really good system, a joint venture between Brighton and Hove Council and Brighton & Hove Bus Company. It takes the stress and uncertainty out of bus travel, as you know how long it will be before your arrives. If you find you will have a long wait, you can choose an alternative route, or walk, or take a taxi.

The buses are tracked by a GPS system.

This information display is on the concourse inside Brighton railway station.

torsdag 7 december 2006

How to waste a valuable corner site

As well as being an eyesore, this is a waste of a valuable corner site. If the designers had done their job properly, they would have made better use of the site and used this frontage, eg as a showroom, thereby adding rental value and making a more attractive facade.

The Brighton planners have a lot to answer for as well, because the brief for the site should have stipulated this corner building had a frontage to both sides.

måndag 4 december 2006

Brighton storm

Brighton storm
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
Today was the biggest sea we have had for several years - probably around 2001. At high tide the waves were touching the deck of the pier.

West Pier wreckage

West Pier wreckage
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
The walkway has been left hanging in mid-air now that its supports have been knocked over.

West Pier wreckage

West Pier wreckage
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
A lot more has been washed away, the stanchions in the middle of the picture have been knocked over and the walkway that it supported is hanging in mid-air.

söndag 3 december 2006

Efficient design

This steam locomotive which looks like it dates from around 1914 was a very clever engineering concept actually designed at the start of World War 2.

It was designed to be constructed out of standard and easily-made parts, many of which were also components of other existing types and therefore used a common pool of spares.

The boiler is a simple cylindrical construction which was much less costly to manufacture and repair than the complex boilers used by the other railway companies at the time. It also has the advantage of having plenty of space for steam storage so in effect it acts as an energy container, which is exactly what is needed in railway conditions when the use of energy is intermittent.

By all accounts it was every bit as good as the equivalent designs of other companies, such as the Class 5, but they had a reputation for rough riding at speed which could have been cured by adjusting the balancing/and or suspension; steam engines have heavy reciprocating components which can cause problems if not carefully balanced.

lördag 2 december 2006

Brief glory

Weeping Prunus
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
This tree is in the garden next to Brighton Pavilion. It is some kind of prunus. It has two brief spells of glory. In the spring it is covered with blossom. In the autumn, the leaves turn a golden colour but are gone after a few days as soon as the wind blows them off.

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

New Romney station
Originally uploaded by seadipper.
Went there last summer for the first time. It really does have the atmosphere of a full-scale steam age main line, with the right sounds and smells.

Most of the locomotives are scaled down versions of the LNER Gresley Pacifics, with two cylinders instead of the three cylinders of the prototypes. They were designed by the engineer Henry Greenly.

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