lördag 29 september 2012

No room for two

No room for two, originally uploaded by Henry░Law.

The occupant of the aisle seat was rather large and so nobody could have sat in the window seat on this class 159 train.

British trains are the narrowest standard gauge trains in Europe. This is probably because greedy nineteenth century landowners would only sell a strip of land of minimum width to build the railways on. After much cost and effort, it became possible to run vehicles 2.82 metres wide over the entire network, provided that they were no more than 20 metres long. This became the standard for the mark 1 stock. In the late 1960s it was considered desirable to run longer vehicles and it was realised that with a bit of tapering of ends and recessing of things like door handles, a 23 metre vehicle was possible, with an actual width of 2.74 metres, the same as the actual width of the mark 1 bodyshell. Some vehicles were, however, built to the full width of 2.82 metres, including all the 20 metre long suburban stock (classes 317, 455, 465 etc), and a few full-width vehicles were built to a 23 metre length for service on the former GW routes out of London (classes 165/166). These latter have a very limited route availability.

Since the mark 3 stock was introduced, gauge clearance work has been carried out which allow the vehicles to operate over much of the system. However, more recent 23 metre stock has generally been narrower, typically 2.7 or 2.6 metres.

Given the epidemic of obesity, one might have thought that those concerned with the specifying of rolling stock, now the Department for Transport, would have realised that optimising the width of new passenger trains would be a priority. Instead, they have specified even longer vehicles for the new IEP trains, 26 metres long, which will mean a further reduction in width and some very expensive infrastructure work on top. In a rational world, where people were considered important, the DfT would have specified a minimum width of around 2.8 metres, which would probably have resulted in a vehicle slightly longer than 20 metres but less than 23 metres. As it is, a couple of generations of rail passengers will be forced to travel in sardine-tin conditions. One also has to wonder what would happen if one had reserved a seat, only to find it impossible to use owing to the size of the passenger in the adjacent seat? When there are enough complaints and the situation becomes untenable the train companies will end up having to remove a file of seats and adopt a 2+1 configuration, which will play havoc with the economics.

Why say Mass in the vernacular?

Went to Mass this morning. It was concelebrated in Swedish by a Polish priest and another from somewhere in southern Europe, possibly Croatia. As a foreigner myself, it is no criticism of them to say that I had great difficulty in understanding what was being said. I could barely understand the reader either, who had a strong local accent. Matters were not helped by an indifferent sound system. Since more than half the congregation were immigrants, they probably also had trouble understanding the words.

Having the option to say Mass in the vernacular is beneficial - given an accurate translation, it should lead to better catechesis, amongst children, for example. But the use of the vernacular was only ever permissive, as is clear from the text which states that "Mass may be said in the vernacular" - in other words, that it normally would not be.

It is also the case that when the use of the vernacular became prevalent forty years ago, people were less mobile than they are today. But it makes no sense to say Mass in the vernacular when the neither priests nor a large proportion of the congregation are 100% fluent in the local language. It was presumably for precisely this reason, amongst many others, that the use of Latin became and remained the norm for so many centuries.

This is surely a situation where the Extraordinary Form should be used, with priests celebrating largely in silence and with the congregation following in printed translations in their own languages.

tisdag 4 september 2012

Now broom at Transport

With a new Transport Minster, Patrick McLoughlin, announced today, comes the opportunity for a re-think not only of HS2 but also of the Hitachi IEP. The penalties for cancellation of the first tranche will probably be horrendous, but this is not the train the railways need. If the fleet order can be confined to the current 370 vehicles, it would be worth taking a loss to avoid saddling the country's railways with hundreds of trains that are unsuitable for the services on which they will be operating and are an overpriced and over-elaborate solution to a relatively simple problem.

måndag 3 september 2012

Singing Latin in church

We had our monthly Latin mass today, so it was easier to join in the singing. Some people in the row in front turned round to me at the end of the service and said how beautifully I sung. It turned out that they were visitors so perhaps they will come back, having liked what they heard.

People have said that to me before but of course I haven't the foggiest idea what I sound like when I am singing. It is probably more to do with the Latin. The language is unusual in having open vowels alternating with simple consonants. All you have to do is open up your mouth and vocal cords and let the sound come out. Which means that the sounds are clear and travel well - an important factor in the days before microphones and loudspeakers.

It is a good reason why the Catholic church authorities should make a determined effort to promote Latin and overcome the prejudices against it.

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