Friday, June 23, 2006

Virgin: be nice

My evangelism for long-distance commuting took a bit of a dent this week when Virgin Trains suddenly withdrew the ticket option I had been buying, effectively putting the price up by £10 a day. This is because of the increasing popularity of many of the peak-time services.

Now, I will admit I was getting quite a good deal, paying just over £20 return most days to get to London and back. This is undoubtedly good value for the distance, as is £31 for a day-trip. It's a great service and very reliable. But for the commuter option, I had budgeted this year to pay around $4000, while the season ticket or daily return option is about £7000. My sense of what is reasonable to pay in travel or living has gradually been adjusting from my student days, when I spent about £5000 in rent with an income of £4,500, plus what I could get out of overdrafts, credit cards or temping in the summer. When I moved to Stoke from London, mortgage for a plus train travel was an equitable swap for renting a one bedroom flat with a nice dock.

So my perspectives on money are a bit different from people who spend their money on such things as clothes and CDs, though i have been gradually moving towards a position I would call a bit more normal. I spend about a third of my income now (after tax) on travel. On this basis, a season ticket will only become viable one I hit the over-£30,000 bracket, which isn't a sum quickly attained in my sectors. I'll remind you, in case you were just tempted to say 'move back to London' that the current average house price there is £270,000.

I gather fares to Birmingham and Manchester are subsidised to make it a shopping destination. The fact is, Stoke-on-Trent has next to no jobs in the professional sector as yet. Manchester and Birmingham have more, but for anything in journalism or NGOs, London is still the place to be. If Stoke is ever going to be viable as a place for professionals to move to - as is apparently the aim of the large sexy new developments - it needs to capitalise on its position as *the* place to easily escape from. A far nicer commute than Croyden, with house prices that are actually within reach of anybody under 35.

Stoke has a great quality of life: value for money, beautiful countryside and atmospheric heritage, good pubs, restaurants and theatres. It ain't a work destination yet. So my point, shot out to cyberspace where it can be ignored all the more publicly, is: lower the season ticket prices - £4000 is enough for a train company to make in a year, is it not?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Grafting research

British blogs are boring. And this one is no exception.

Today, from the joy of being able to type again (more on that later) but being too tired to actually think, I did a field audit. Sometimes the BNP and others say 'Britain is full'. Well, I'd like to challenge that. From my viewpoint on the train, there are times when there are no houses at all. You frequently go past vast stretches, filled with nothing but one rabbit, or a pheasant. Britain, I can assure you, is not full. So that was my hypothesis and here are my results. I think this is an audit, but it might be something else. A tedium, perhaps.

The White Llama field audit I
(yes, I might do this again, it was such fun)

The count was carried out this morning, June 2, a Friday. I travelled southwards from Stoke-on-Trent and looked Eastwards (right) from a fabulous tilting Virgin Pendolino.

I tried to count each field. A ‘-‘ means the field was empty. Each dash represents often a big field, so bear with my joy upon seeing a sheep after many, many empty fields. I'm not a numbers person, so my estimates are a little like the tribes whose words for numbers are 'one, two, several'. I recorded everything I noticed, but my perspectives are quite narrow. I didn't record every tree or house, that would have been pointless! Places are in brackets. I drifted off somewhere after Rugby.

(Britannia Stadium), one crow, - - - - - - - more than 50 sheep! More that 30 sheep, - (Stone)
.- - houses, houses, - one cow, 7 cows, - 1 walker, - 10 cows, trees, several sheep, - - 100s of sheep, forest, - 12 cows, - - - - - 1 pigeon, - - - - - 9 sheep and 1 crow, - - 1 ornamental cow, 3 horses, 4 horses, 1 horse, some shetland ponies, 1 horse, a village, cliffs, - - 1 blackbird, some bright roses, - houses, (Colwich), - sheep and cows, - - many cows, 5 sheep, lake, - - - - - settlement, - - - a cluster of sheep, full of sheep and geese, houses, - - - - - diggers, - cluster of cows, 5 horses, 100 sheep, - lakes, - - - - - - - - 12 cows, - 2 horses, - - - - - - - - many cows, - sewage farm, diggers, houses, man with dog, rugby goalposts, more houses, curious junction of trains, - - 3 crows, - - geese (Canadian), lake, cows, lake, - lots of cows, - - - - proper growing fields, - - - - TNT big depot, sign 102 miles to London, town... - 2 crows, clustre o traffic cones, 5 horses, strange processing plant, - bird of prey! - 5 horses, - - farm, - - rugby post, (Nuneaton), allotments, still Nuneaton... - - - 2 horses, 3 horses - sprawling suburbs, - - - - a balloon?, - 4 horses, - - - - - - 1 crow, - - - many sheep, a few horses, - - - - 7 sheep, - - - - many black birds, lots of cows, sheep, more cows, - 2 pigeons, - - houses, a row of cows, water place (Severn Trent), RUGBY! Rail stuff, - - the first church noticed, forest of aerials and spying equipment, horses, cows (many), several cows, BIG cows, - - - - - M1, - at this point I became concerned about whether this was fruitful exercise, marina, - - and sleep.

Next week, if you’re very lucky, you might get the post Rugby stretch.