All’s Well That Sandwell

August 28th, 2018

We were feeling a bit lethargic, so it was a surprise we managed to start on what we’d planned for a while: a look round the Desi pubs detailed by Creative Black Country in their book.

Desi pubs- pubs run by (and to some degree for) Asians are a familiar thing in and around the Black Country- we’ve even visited a few, like The Pool Hayes or The New Talbot, and let’s face it, what’s not to like? Indian food and beer. Sounds awful.

So then, into Walsall, a quick change to a bus bound for West Brom, up through Caldmore, passing very near to one Desi pub, and right past another. Through Stone Cross, lamenting the loss of the old cinema, and into West Brom.

We passed one of our targets on the way in, without realising in time, and continued into town. A slow walk down the High St pedestrianised area, and everything goes a bit Indian; sari shops, Asian grocers, and the pubs, bars and grills. We passed by the magnificent (but very faded) Lewisham Hotel, as was- now Desi Junction, passed The Prince of Wales (to return later), and ended up at The Sportsman for lunch. The return journey took in the Prince of Wales, then a break in the bus journey back took in The Red lion.

I’d not been to West Brom town itself for some time, and not the true centre for the best part of 30 years. It seems (I’m sorry to say) to be better than Walsall- the market thrives, it’s extremely multi-cultural, there’s not too many empty shops in the bits we saw, and there’s clealy been some investment in the High St.

Independent Thought

August 14th, 2018

I picked up this article on Unherd via Twatter, bemoaning the loss of bus services in rural areas, and the general loss of non-profitable bus services, especially outside the capital.

It’s a good article, and you can see the impact, even around here, with a good, sensibly priced bus service. As I’ve commented before, some close-by areas in Staffordshire are now unreachable out of peak hours, even if we have gained a service to Lichfield.

Now, my blog was kind-of focused on my restricted opportunities for going on the piss, but also mentioning less well-off workers: the people that are out working for a living but can’t afford the considerable expense of a car.

The article mentions those, and adds another category: pensioners who either can’t afford a car, or indeed can’t drive (perhaps they never learned, perhaps medical conditions prevent it) even if they can afford it.

All of these people are being hit by reduced services and increased prices as subsidies are reduced and the non-profitable routes are stopped or limited. Getting to work, the shops, the job centre, medical appointments etc, and yes, the pub, suddenly gets harder, more expensive, and more time-consuming. People are getting isolated.

All of this because a route doesn’t stack up on a balance sheet. The real social cost of poor public transport acn’t be measured in cash terms. The private-sector model has its place, but it’s not here.

Immobile Again

August 6th, 2018

I’ve had yet another trip into hospital, a repeat of last year’s procedure to try and deal with the uncomfortable swelling in my trousers. This time on my mission to visit all of the West Midlands’ hospitals, it was the Royal Orthopedic. Day surgery only, and an exemplary case of great care, efficiency, and ease, from start to finish.

I’ve had a couple of examples of the reverse recently, which I haven’t blogged because I do not wish to add fuel to the funeral pyre the current shits in power seem to be arranging for the NHS. About the only complaint I can make about this hospital is location and parking, but that’s really a secondary issue; a favour from a family member soon sorted that.

So, I’m back off the bike, unable to drive for a while, and off work for a bit, so I’ll quite possibly get ranty here and on Twatter. Still, at least I get chauffeured about and I don’t have to suffer the Oldbury Viaduct for a while. Plus, this time, I’m not getting snowed in, so at least soon I’ll be able to make it to the pub.

Expense

August 6th, 2018

It’s been a pricey month. First of all the Lupo, is a disgusting example of how VW quality just isn’t what it was, had a failed alternator at a mere 18 years old. The it needed a service and MOT, all of which passed without difficulty.

The Scirocco, meanwhile, adds to the cost. A major service, a minor suspension link, and a radiator leak, a tweak of wheel alignment. The new tyres will have to wait a short while.

To be fair, both cars haven’t cost very much in repairs as of yet, and bearing in mind we’ve had the Lupo for some 13 years now, it still looks presentable, and drives well, there’s little to complain about. The Scirocco costs more, but racks up the miles (and again to be fair, there’s been very little outside serviceing and consumables in the 30,000 miles since I’ve had it). I also wonder if the radiator may have been weakened by me being a clumsy twat, though it showed no signs of a leak until very recently, and given the recent hot spell, it needed fixing.

[edit]

The expense continues into August. Our boiler, installed in 2006, has failed. Repair is possible, but not insignificant, so a new one it is, and surviving like it’s 1930 with no hot water. Still, as someone pointed out to me, fascism and the right is on the rise, so it’s all just nostalgia, huh?

A Sad Loss

July 17th, 2018

I was greatly saddened to hear from BrownhillsBob that we have to say goodbye to The Plastic Hippo, a man who made the local blog scene so much the richer.

This blog is just a random (and infrequent) outpouring of what I do, and what I think. It strays away from political comment most of the time, and my writing could never be described as eloquent or witty: there’s locals much better at that than me, and now we’ve lost one of them.

The Hippo, together with the also sadly departed Mark Blackstock did so much to help build up a local online community that I only ever managed to be on the very periphery of. His shock at the loss of Mark is still there.

I only wish that he’d been well enough recently to turn his talents loose on the huge cock-up that is Brexit, and the everlasting cock-up that constitutes the governance of Walsall Council, because it needs it. I just don’t have the imagination or writing talent to do it justice, unlike him.

I met him in person only a couple of times, but he was a nice guy; likeable, sociable, witty, and caring.

His online prescence made a huge impact for someone who claimed to be a technophobe, whether it was picking apart all that was wrong politically, or giving the odd arsehole a well-deserved kicking in the comments. I’d hope his blog remains online for a long time to come.

I’d like to pass on my sympathy to his family and friends, and just say rest in peace.

Largs

July 2nd, 2018

I’m just catching up. Typing this a clear month late, we went to Largs. just over 30 miles west of Glasgow; so it’s where lots of Glaswegians head on a sunny day, as we found when we arrived after a gratifyingly easy journey north, through the city, and back out the other side. The seafront and the pubs were packed with people.

It was quieter later in the week, though still busyish; with Glasgow so close (under an hour on the train) there’s lots of day trippers.

So then, Largs: so many churches. A couple of impresssive churches, but so many. I’m a great fan of churches, less so of what goes on in them, but here they spent a metric fuckload of cash on them, with two Church of Scotland chruches with impressive towers looming over the town.
Besides that, the town is largely traditional seaside; a big, wide prom, a small seafront collection of funfair rides, a kiddie’s play area at one end, a park and boating lake at another.

There’s plenty of pubs too, which you’ll find over at PubBlog, though real ale, and especially good real ale, was a bit scarce, though we fared better for that on a trip into Glasgow.

Talking of trips, the proximity to Glasgow ensured good public transport: a station in the town on one railway line, another line (with the wonderful Wemyss Bay station) just a short bus ride away, ferries to Bute and Great Cumbrae. We even managed to get Dunoon (lovely, but in need of more TLC) and Rothesay (underwhelming) piers in, and all of this without using the car apart from actually getting there. We also managed a trip on PS Waverley on a gloriously sunny day, in a week of sunny days and returned suntanned 🙂 .

Arrival

April 23rd, 2018

Saturday involved, after sorting a couple of household things, a beer trip to meet Andy & JC. We’d arranged to meet at around 2pm in The Crystal Fountain in Cannock, so as that’s in the wilds of Staffordshire that means the horrors of Arriva. Andy, of course, has little choice but to use Arriva or walk, but that serves him right for living in a backwater.

So, the given meeting time means we need lunch. And the Arriva 1 or 2 connects Walsall, Cannock, and Bloxwich. The Bell is in Bloxwich. The Bell is known to serve good cobs and beer, and has a nice beer garden. It’s a sunny day. So, The Bell it is. A short hop on a NXWM 10A, a ride in the 89 through Pelsall, and we’re there. a swift couple, some lunch, and off to get the Arriva 2: it goes round the houses a bit, but stops very close to the Crystal Fountain.

It also stops, according to TfWM data as used by bus apps and, seemingly google, here:

It doesn’t. The 2E stops there, but the 2 goes around here:

So we got to watch it go round the corner.

The positive side of this is that the 1 is actually quicker, using the A34 more, and with a short walk from here (confusingly named “St Johns Road” on the bus and “Forrest Avenue” in the TfWM Data):

we were at the pub. Which sadly, didn’t give a good impression: lots of noise, blokes stood in doorways, limited beer selection, terrible music being played loud in the beer garden, and some of the decor from that lovely refurb damaged. We moved on.

Now, one thing that I’ve got very used to with NXWM is that they have very accurate, responsive GPS transponders in the vehicles. A smartphone app can , therefore, give you a countdown (or indeed a count up if a bus is very delayed) of an ETA that can be frighteningly accurate- when it goes to “DUE” the bus will literally appear with a minute.

We’ve been caught out by this before in Selkirk: other companies evidently use less accurate transponders or update the feed slower, and you can wait around longer than expected, or indeed, give up, and leave the stop, and miss it as it sails past you 2 min later. This time we waited. In the rain, as like Andy said, “Arriva can never keep to a timetable”. Eventually, the 2 arrived.

We then thought a visit to The Colliers Arms might be nice as the 2 passed through that way. We knew it did, we’d been past. On the outward journey last year, on the other half of the one-way system. Worse still, we missed out on The Star too.

This left us with The Masons (whatpub link). You can see what I thoought of that. Thankfully, The Ivy House, and a finish back at The Bell saved the day, but then NXWM must have been channeling Arriva, by seemingly not running any 89 buses for a couple of hours in the early evening, so the route back was via Walsall. Our bus mojo was not strong this day.

Bearing up under the strain

March 13th, 2018

So, I decided to go and take a look at the nicely refurbished Ogley Junction Bridge, and hopefully cross it and get to Chasewater, extending my recent short rides.

I got to the bridge, avoiding the ditches in the towpath, and continued on, marveling at the fact that my knees seemed to be coping, but there was an unpleasant grinding, and for once, it wasn’t me. Then the gears started to complain, and change chainwheels without asking.

A look down showed the chainwheels to be wobbling alarmingly. That’ll be a broken bottom bracket bearing then. I changed down the gears to reduce load a bit, and nursed the bike home, having made it to Anglesey Wharf.

With a borrow of some suitable tools, and the application of a good amount of force, the bearing came out, not as the intended cartridge, but as a collection of mucky parts; the ball bearings got lost, but the remains of the races tell all:

A destroyed bearing shaft and remains of the races.

At time of writing, the new one is installed, but I still have to fit the new chain that seemed like a good idea while the bike was in bits. I don’t suppose the bearing had done too bad, shifting my 18st body about for five years in the filth and mud of the towpath, and a Shimano replacement was comfortably under 15 quid. Slowly, the bike gets more and more upgraded bits….

There Is No Cloud

March 7th, 2018

..there is just someone else’s computer.

I’ve touched on this before, here. Devices and software we buy can give us great things: we can stream films or music rather than shipping physical media (move bits, not atoms), and deliver amazing connectivity, but when these services depend on someone else’s computer (and if you can’t touch it, it isn’t yours), you can’t rely on them being there.

A very small illustration. I have a bus time app. It is was great. I’d look at a bus stop on the map it grabbed from Google Maps, and it shows me destinations, routes, and more. The data is publicly available, and indeed, Google Maps itself uses the data built into maps- essentially, all the app does is glue together some bits of data, and present it nicely.

Suddenly it stopped working, with a typical error message for phone apps, saying it couldn’t connect and to check my data connection- which was fine. I assumed a temporary problem.

A month or so later, it’ still not working. I email support, and remove the app, re-install it. Clear the data and cache, then eventually wipe the phone. Still no good, so I install on a different phone. Still no good, and still no answer from support.

At this point I can only assume the company is no longer maintaining it, and whatever server it calls home to on the Internet is no longer operational.

For 3-4 quid of app, this is not a problem, but it might piss you off a little if you’ve bought some IoT hardware (Hive, or Ring, for example) and they decide to pull the plug. If you’ve just migrated a huge datacentre into cloud, it could be a disaster.

Remember: if you can’t touch it, you don’t own it, and even if you can touch it and do own it, unless you control every service it needs, it can be taken away from you.

Anyway, not all bad, I ended up with a better app 🙂

[Edit 14/03/2018]

I’ve now had a reply from the app’s author:

Fixed about half an hour ago.
Sorry for the outage and not replying sooner. I have moved suppliers and the problem should not recur.

Which is kind of a shame, as I’ve given up and moved to something else now.

No More Beyond the Northern Wastes

February 22nd, 2018

With the reduction of subsidies from Staffordshire Council, our relatively recent discovery of Chasetown and Burntwood as places to drink and eat looks like it will end in April, when the NXWM 10 bus route stops going further than Brownhills at off-peak times.

This is a bit tedious; that’s exactly the sort of times I’d be wanting to use it, but it’s just an inconvenience: I don’t rely on that route for work. There’s changes to Arriva services too, which means a Saturday evening trip to The Crystal Fountain is out, too- and even a daytime visit would mean some clock-watching in early evening.

As I said, this is just inconvenience for me, limiting my drinking choices. I’ll live. It could be more serious for working people (let’s not forget that not everyone works 9-5, and not everyone has access to a car).

It is, of course, a direct result of council cuts, caused by government austerity measures, once again most seriously affecting the poorer people the most: those that can’t afford taxis or a car.

The other factor here, of course, is our old friend bus deregulation. The bus companies are private enterprises, with obligations to shareholders. They want t make money, so if a route isn’t profitable, and they’re not being subsidised by a council, they’ll stop running it- and who can blame them?

Why is it a surprise our roads are choked by private cars?

Good old free enterprise, working for the good of all, again. Thank $deity we’re free of the inefficient shackles of public transport run by non-profit organisations.