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Caravans, coasts and councils

I went for a lovely walk yesterday by the sea. It was a bright autumnal day and all seemed very pleasant. I could see the next town from the top of a hill and thought that it would not take too long to reach it along the coast path. Except that the National Coast Path is no such thing. Beware acorn symbols if you trying to get anywhere quickly. The coastal path was diverted due to some sad caravans who wanted the sea view without the distraction of unsightly walkers spoiling it. Then there was the £1000 fine threat if I did not close the gate after crossing the railway. It amazes me that so many country paths send us across a working railway line, and yet I was threatened with a £600 fine if I crossed to catch the train that was standing on the opposite side of the road but which I couldn’t reach due to faulty level crossing barriers. Neither the police nor the rail company would give permission to cross for fear I would injure my dear little legs and sue them, even though it was originally a designated pedestrian crossing. So I had to miss my train and wait an hour. That was 3 years ago and I’m still cross.

I decided to ignore the acorn signs and pick my own way – sadly without sight of the sea  towards mt destination as directly as I could. (Checking a map later showed me that this hunch was completely right and the acorn walk is distinctly inland and meandering). I did find an opportunity to rejoin the cliffs, only once again to be confronted by more rows of dull white caravans, and a sign saying: the Permissive Path is closed due to coastal erosion – and we’re not going to let you across our precious holiday park. Sorry for the inconvenience.

And that was the end of the sign.  No map, no arrows – once again I had to use intuition to continue my journey and get there before dark fell. I have never been so glad to see a pier, knowing I had at last arrived, having taken considerably longer than expected. I did not predict that I would need to scramble up  a meter high bank to avoid the incoming tide, the eroding cliffs and rejoin the promenade. (There is a ladder but this is only about a foot wide – skinny walkers only, then).

Before my walk, I had sat in a cafe and read the newspaper and how £8m has bene spent on aggressively evicting squatters. And that we might have secret courts, should that elusive phrase ‘national security’  be deigned to suffer otherwise.

I thought, again – what a crazy country and world we live in. Our priorities are all about money, control, property, and we behave in ways that fly in opposition to our supposed own national values of open justice and supposed rule by the people. We nanny about safety and fence off the cliff tops with numerous signs; but the caravan park won’t shrink – the public have to get trapped and lost instead. So yes I enjoyed my walk, but what a shame that  something as innocent and relaxing as some sea breeze and exercise stil doesn’t let you escape the deeply imbalanced world we live in.

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Put an end to our culture of drunkenness

I was going to make today’s entry about Passenger’s Charters on trains – what companies really ought to pledge to passengers, and a code of conduct for passengers to each other. I wrote a humorous column on the latter 10 years ago, but my gripesPut an end to our culture of drunkenness

I was going to make today’s entry about Passenger’s Charters on trains – what companies really ought to pledge to passengers, and a code of conduct for passengers to each other. I wrote a humorous column on the latter 10 years ago, but my gripes remain and have multiplied, especially since portable music and computer games have come back into fashion. I wrote on Hubpages about noise pollution and the needless sounds of electronic equipment; the prevalence of screens; and high decibels in both public and private places. Public transport remains an area where we are subjected to the tastes and activities of others, just as we are in the home, especially in more pleasant weather when windows are opened.

In both noise pollution and anti social behaviour, there seems a claiming of territory where just a few make a noise that is thrust upon the rest of us. It’s only one window in every block of flats, one tish, tish beat from headphones in each train carriage. Now those noises are in the street and our libraries. One ran a campaign called ‘anything but shh’ but some people enjoy the quiet of a library to read and work. Any city centre library I know renders that impossible, and now loud voices, mobile phones and audio visual from the net are rarely curtailed at all.

However, what has really brought me to sit down and write is drunkenness. I have witnessed football fans spoil journeys from 6am til late at night, again because of being addicted to those little ring pulls on cans they can’t stop downing. However, it is not just football that makes journeys rowdy and unpleasant. Travelling at a reasonable hour on a branch line into a city, I was accosted by a train full of young yobs on their way for a night out. I had thought that on a week night the train would be empty and that it was too early for those at the end of a night and too late for anyone going out. Yet this seems prime club time, and those on board where already way past it before they eve boarded. They illegally chain smoked in toilets, (and also avoided fares in there) and were not curtailed at all by staff – eve when there were only a few of them.

What pub or shop or venue would allow such a crowd in without a word?

It seems again that rail staff are more interested in their own interests than that of their passengers. They are more interested in collecting the revenue from unruly passengers – even though many of these are the chief fare dodgers – than turning away decent members of the public.

There badly needs to be training and support for rail staff. The conductor is mostly alone and I have already commented on the lack of transport police. What pub or music area would not have security? What sports stadium? Where many businesses will not open with only one member of staff, trains run permanently like this, even on very long trains and late at night or where trouble is know to be likely.

But there is a greater problem: our drinking culture. Scotland had adverts in cinemas to discourage this and it is something that any country with this problem needs to take up. It was designed to undo the idea that being very drunk is something to boast of or encourage. Although there’s been attempts to stop drink being consumed by getting at places that sell alcohol, the real problem is with individuals. They need to stop the idea that such large consumption is acceptable or good.

I don’t want lots of laws and fines and people being questioned and hauled off by police in militia style. After today’s news about the public anger at police kettling protesters and the 30 year anniversary of the Brixton/Bristol riots I do not advocate any change in policing or law that lends itself to more of this. We want to be free to enjoy our activities. C clubbing and sport are not bad in themselves. However, drinking has become a sport in itself, and the dancing or the game sometimes are not what the evening is about. For some, it’s about picking fights; for others it’s simply getting hammered.

A stronger attitude in work places would be a start – that a serious hangover is a disciplinary offence and that it is not something to share without shame. That, as the Scottish adverts said, we let people say no to another alcoholic drink; and that soft and hot drinks all night every night is never sneered on. Bars keeping hot drink machines on later helps – I note they are often switched off early in the evening and staff can grumble if customers ask for a latte. I realise they take longer to make and the machines need cleaning out, but staff are able to accommodate coffee making at other busy times – why not late at night? Aren’t cocktails time consuming to make?

Places of education could also assist; instead of assuming that drunken students are inevitable, take the attitude of a posh school: that this is not the advertisement you wish to make for your prestigious establishment. Is this how you want your company to be seen?

Football clubs want to attract people and be synonymous with their city, but poorly behaving fans mark against the city ad the club. The same is true generally of bad behaviour. My recent trips make certain towns yob cities in my mind now, regardless of how others might behave and all the attractions they have. Football and other sports clubs should also work to discourage their supporters from spoiling it for all those majority of well behaved people who also enjoy spectating.

The argument that drink makes a venue money untrue as alcohol is often cheap and not much more than a soft or hot drink. Whereas venues need to make enough to keep in business, it is wrong to do so by encouraging antisocial behaviour which is also damaging to those undertaking in it.
The Quakers newsletter recently featured an old temperance poster about football and alcohol. One wonders if temperance oughtn’t return. There is nothing wrong in drinking in moderation, but so many people seem to have no idea how to do that. Without being prescriptive and controlling, isn’t it time we helped them?

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I like Trains

So says the band and so do I. I’m not an enthusiast, although I do understand why people are. I’d like to stick up for the geeky image of trainlovers. Unlike some rotten newspapers suggest, having a passion for the horses of the iron road seems a harmless hobby. It’s a quiet, obtrusive interest, and there is a kind of beauty and tranquillity about steam trains.

When I say I like trains, I mainly refer to riding on them.

Which is why when train journeys are so often stressful and unsatisfactory, when things so regularly go wrong, that I am angry.

I constantly rue the 1960s Beeching demolition of lots of useful lines, leaving many rural places stranded.

Since privatisation, we’ve been asked to accept high fares, slow and unreliable services, rude staff – and whatever anti social behaviour selfish fellow passengers feel like, especially in terms of noise and drinking.

It seems that train staff are only concerned that customers have paid; our security, comfort and offering service are not of concern. Whilst happy to confront customers regarding  tickets, staff will not risk conflict over antisocial behaviour.

I’ve seen a mainline train stopped by police for a single person with a “ticket irregularity” but not when a hoard of violent drunks are aboard.

Instead of a welcoming message as one boards, many companies’ first tannoy declares at length that if as advance ticket holders, you are found on board the wrong service, you will have to pay a penalty fare. How that word – penalty – jangles.  They offer cheap fares but think of reasons to make it hard to not pay more.

Why do we have so many rules and conditions to trap people into punishment?

The phrase ‘rail service‘ has become ironic now, with companies pointing to targets to pretend they are doing well. We all know that statistics are misleading and that what really counts is often not quantified and not quantifiable.

If a rail company constantly displays signs about the abuse of employees not being tolerated, it says that they do something to incite abuse. They are quick to take passengers to court over assault, but not to stop it happening between passengers. One line particularly hides when drunken football fans get on – when their presence is most needed – and has led to unrelated passengers being attacked. There is nowhere near enough transport police available for the trains services. Several counties have only 5 staff, in total. Train crews consist of the driver, perhaps trolley/bar staff, and what used to be called a conductor. They are badly trained to deal with problems and I daresay it’s their unions who tell them to keep themselves safe – no matter what happens to those on board.

I would like to see a rethink re alcohol on trains and the end of these rules where trains without drinking allowed on them have to be pre-advertised. Carrier bags of cans to be consumed by already drunk people – I have seen them start at 630 am – should not be allowed on the train.

Trains should return to being the pleasant way of travel they ought to be with greater penalities for train companies who do not deliver what is deserved.

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