Monthly Archives: June 2018

Reading matters (Whatzup, Malc?)

I was getting the fears — that one of those unaccountable reading blocks was impending. If so, the only known remedy is a small delay until the itch needed scratching, and then reach for one of the usual standbys (in a really bad episode, it’s Anthony Hope).

The precise circumstance was finishing Tim Shipman’s Fall Out, the inevitable continuation of his All Out War. Between the two, there’s a detailed account — mainly from Shipman’s excellent contacts in the Tory Party, of how Britain has been sucked into the ultimate slough of despond by the whole #Brexit fantasy. If it wasn’t such a national tragedy, or if one was observing from a safe,  transoceanic distance, it would be Opéra bouffe, with racy, uplifting Offenbach carolling. Perhaps a later generation will see it like that; but we have to live it.

My usual practice would be to look for a light, uplifting novel. Indeed, I had laid in some potential candidates.

I suspect they may have to wait, for something else came to hand.

Welcome, Bruno, Chief of Police

Why did nobody tell me?

First thought, surely not same guy as The Cold War? To some surprise, it is he.

Walker is (one assumes) still mainly based in Washington DC, but has his bolt-hole in the Dordogne. Somewhere before the Vézère joins the Dordogne, we find the fictional St-Denis, where Bruno keeps the peace. It’s limestone country, with caves in the cliffs which brood over the river, and provide ample opportunity for any amount of mayhem.

Malcolmian aside:

I have very pleasant memories of the Vézère: so here they come.

We had dumped the elder two daughters on their grandmother, while the third would appear the following January. We drove down through France, in search of a few days sun-and-unsobriety. We got torrential rain, and — when the rain desisted — glowering cloud and mists. So we headed further south. By the time we reached Angoulême, we would have been brassed-off, had the brass not been so tarnished by weather. At least it was warmer. So we left the bedroom shutters open, and headed to the hotel dining room for sustenance and liquid refreshment. After which we bedded down. Mistake.

The open shutters had admitted mosquitos, which soon made their … Bzzt … zap … marks.

Fortunately I had to hand the obvious remedy: a crunched copy of the Daily Telegraph. Not, by any stretch my usual poison, but acquired as a left-over from the Bentley Boys hotel (now deceased) in Le Mans — there’s a story there, as well: Malcolm ‘fixing’ the wind-up rear window of the decade-old Redfellow wagon (hence the clip at the top of this post), while all the glossy new gear Jaguars and Rovers snootily sniffed, sneered and departed.

So, with this trusty Torygraph sports section (that’s significant in what follows) vorpal sword in hand, I took on the manxsome foes. And rested from my successful effort. Until the morning light.

What was revealed was a somewhat altered wallpaper, splattered with blood-charged bugs. We breakfasted, and made our prompt adieus.

And then something wonderful.

Suddenly the clouds had cleared. It was all benign, sunny and we were blithe.

We rounded a bend, and there was the perfect lunchery. We stopped, ate, and shared

beakers of the warm south!
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene.

The waitress wanted from us just one favour: the news section of that Daily Telegraph. For it featured the wedding of Charles Windsor to the virginal Lady Diana Spencer. Which dates the whole business around the 1st of August 1981.

Back to the main event.

Here is Martin Walker’s opening paragraph:

On a bright May morning, so early that the last of the mist was still lingering low over a bend in the Vézère River, a white van drew to a halt on the ridge that overlooked the small French town. A man climbed out, strode to the edge of the road and stretched mightily as he admired the familiar view of St. Denis. The town emerged from the lush green of the trees and meadows like a tumbled heap of treasure; the golden stone of the buildings, the ruby red tiles of the rooftops and the silver curve of the river running through it. The houses clustered down the slope and around the main square of the Hôtel de Ville where the council chamber, its Mairie, and the office of the town’s own policeman perched above the thick stone columns that framed the covered market. The grime of three centuries only lately scrubbed away, its honey-colored stone glowed richly in the morning sun.

The man is:

Benoît Courrèges, chief of police for the small commune of St. Denis and its 2,900 souls, and universally known as Bruno…

He has two tasks in mind: to frustrate:

the inspectors who were charged with enforcing E.U. hygiene rules on the markets of France. Hygiene was all very well, but the locals of St. Denis had been making their cheeses and their pâté de foie gras and their rillettes de pore for centuries before the E.U. even existed, and did not take kindly to foreign bureaucrats telling them what they could and could not sell …

and to oversee the Liberation Day celebration. That gives Walker space to introduce other characters:

Bruno had posted the ROUTE BARREE signs to block the side road and ensured that the floral wreaths had been delivered. He had donned his tie and polished his shoes and the peak of his cap. He had warned the old men in both cafés that the time was approaching and had brought up the flags from the cellar beneath the Mairie. The mayor himself stood waiting, the sash of office across his chest and the little red rosette of the Légion d’honneur in his lapel. The gendarmes were holding up the impatient traffic, while housewives kept asking when they could cross the road, grumbling that their bags were getting heavy and that they had to get lunch on the table.

Jean-Pierre of the bicycle shop carried the Tricolor and his enemy Bachelot held the flag that bore the cross of Lorraine, the emblem of General de Gaulle and Free France. Marie-Louise, who as a young girl had served as a courier for one of the Resistance groups and who had been taken off to Ravensbrück concentration camp and somehow survived, had the flag of St. Denis. Montsouris, the only communist council member of the town, carried a smaller flag of the Soviet Union, acknowledging one of France’s wartime allies, and Monsieur Jackson held the flag of another ally, his native Britain. A retired schoolteacher, he had come to spend his declining years with his daughter, who had married Pascal of the local insurance office. Jackson had been an eighteen-year-old recruit in the last weeks of war in 1945 and was thus a fellow combatant, entitled to share the honor of the victory parade. Bruno was privately proud to have arranged this. One day, Bruno told himself, he would find a real American, but this time young Karim, as the star of the rugby team, carried the Stars and Stripes.

By now I am hooked.

There’s even better news: this is the first of a baker’s dozen in the series.

Should get me through July.

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Where’s the rest?

Plywood shelves, particularly when I overload them, need to be inverted every year or so.

So all sorts of trivia, tucked into books, turn up.

Thought for the moment: when did I teach Lawrence’s The Rainbow?

A little touch of Sherlock in the night

  • School lined quarto lined. Quick guess: GLC Supplies. Quarto (7 in by 9 in) was an imperial paper size, so pre-ISO.
  • Obviously that dates from the days before word-processing — not just because it’s handwritten, but it’s from before the RSI set in and I still had a fair fist. My wordprocessing (an Amstrad 8512, then a borrowed Macintosh — I never got the BBC Micro to hack it) started in the early 1980s, so we’re already into digital archaeology.

Is there a small ring-binder with the rest of these teaching notes?

References are probably to the Penguin edition.

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How big a man? How big a hand?

And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.

[1 Kings, 18.44]

I didn’t sit, pre-adolescent, in the choir-stalls of St Nicholas, Wells-next-the-Sea, without absorbing the good stuff. That’s Elijah, by the way, anticipating the storm to come, and about to run from Mount Carmel to Jezreel.

Next week

As of this moment, it’s difficult to see which particular storm is about to break over us:

  • We were anticipating brimstone and fury over the return to the Commons of the Lords’ amendments on the Brexit Bill. It needs just-into-double-figures of Tory MPs to fly the coop. That’s still booked for Tuesday and Wednesday. Worst/best scenario (i.e. whoops-oh-nasty impacting on ventilator fan) looking less likely.
  • On Tuesday a certain Arron Banks is — at the third time of being called — supposed to be up before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The subject was intended to be ‘fake news’ (on which Mr Banks is an unquestioned expert). He managed to find £12 million down the back of his sofa to bung to the Leave.EU campaign. Since, by all accounts, he was on his beam-ends around the millennium, questions were already there to be asked. Now, with all of his emails to the Russian Embassy and beyond ‘leaked’, with today’s Sunday Times offering a very partial account, with Carol Cadwalladr (star of the Cambridge Analytica business) still on the job, and sharing a by-line with Peter Jukes (who, we gather, was the original data-miner for these emails) in later editions of today’s Observer, with Christopher Wylie (ex Cambridge Analytica) suggesting further relevations, that could be the main event.

So, may we be living in interesting times. That’s a profound wish.

With earthquakes in Grimsby, it could even be the End Days.

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A talent to amuse (and offend): English theatre is not cuddly — it’s often crude

A kind of domino-theory applies here:

Act ye ffirste:

Sheridan Morley (one of the near-greats, himself) entitled his biography of Noël Coward, A Talent to Amuse. Which Coward certainly possessed in abundance.

Coward also came with a very waspish tongue:

There are bad times just around the corner,
The horizon’s gloomy as can be,
There are black birds over
The greyish cliffs of Dover
And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC …

That, apparently, dates from The Globe Review of 1952 (and a Columbia recording 78, DB3107); but I hear in it an echo of Auden and Isherwood ‘funking’ off to New York in January 1939. Vera Lynn trilled Walter Kent and Nat Burton (two good new York Jewish lads who’d obviously never seen any blue bird near the Kent coast) in 1942.

Not to mention the sardonic humour involving the recently-widowed Mrs Wentworth-Brewster.

Noël got away with his saucier stuff because it was between consenting, well-heeled adults in private clubs. Hoi-polloi received a toned-down version.

Act ye seconde:

That somehow emerged from reading The Guardian‘s obituary of Glynn Edwards (Dave the Barman in The Winchester Club of Minder). In particular this:

He also appeared in Littlewood’s production of Lionel Bart’s musical version of Frank Norman’s play Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be, opposite Miriam Karlin and Barbara Windsor. When the stage production transferred to TV, Edwards recalled, some of Bart’s riper lines (such as “Once in golden days of yore/Ponces killed a lazy whore”) were suppressed.

Remember the essential conceit of the play is chancers, crooked cops, tarts and their pimps, off-duty, in a 1950s basement club. Even after the transfer to the West End (886 performances at the Garrick Theatre), the actual delivery changed from night-to-night, not just because that was Joan Littlewood’s improv style, but — more important — in 1960 the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship (see below) still ran.

The bowdlerisation of decent filth became total when Max Bygraves turned the title-song into well-scrubbed pop. Look far enough and one may find an ‘original cast recording‘, with Alfred Marks and Joan Heal doing that lyric. Pasty chalk and very whiffy cheese.

Act ye thirde:

A few weeks ago I spent some days touristing in a van. The other inmates included three teenage girls from Noo Joisy, who knew, and belted out, their better-known lyrics from Hamilton. Since then I’ve seen the UK production: it may — just may — have had some rough edges sanded smooth. Even so (and get the full opener here), there’s something illuminating, and even chilling when 15-year-old girls (one my grand-daughter) are bellowing:

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar? …

And more.

Act ye fourth:

  • Where was I on the evening of 26 September 1968?
  • At the theatre in Colchester (not the new Mercury Theatre), allegedly overseeing a group of sixth-form boys, for a performance of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle.
  • How do I know?
  • Because that was the day the Lord Chamberlain’s theatrical censorship (see above) was abolished, by the Theatres Act, 1968.
  • And, predictably, the actor playing Grusha Vashnadze marked the occasion by whipping out her boob.

Act ye laste:

None of this ought to phaze me.

I spent five decades delivering the saucier bits of Chaucer and Bill Shagsper to impressionable young minds, always trying to measure the distance from what is on the page (with the back row of hard men, once they’d sniffed which way the wind blew, way ahead of me) to what is acceptable to adolescents and near-adults.

And I’ll tell all-comers: the stuff fed to these tender years is filth. Filth, I tell ‘ee!

Romeo and Juliet? My memory is that was Gove’s first selection for his up-graded English syllabus. I guess he hadn’t fully appreciated the character of Mercutio. The tone of the play is set by that opening exchange:

SAMPSON: A dog of the house of Montague moves me.
GREGORY: To move is to stir; and to be valiant is to stand: therefore, if thou art moved, thou runn’st away.
SAMPSON: A dog of that house shall move me to stand: I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s.
GREGORY: That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall.
SAMPSON: True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall.
GREGORY: The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.
SAMPSON: ‘Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids, and cut off their heads
GREGORY: The heads of the maids?
SAMPSON: Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads; take it in what sense thou wilt.
GREGORY: They must take it in sense that feel it.
SAMPSON: Me they shall feel while I am able to stand: and ’tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.
GREGORY: ‘Tis well thou art not fish; if thou hadst, thou hadst been poor John. Draw thy tool! here comes two of the house of the Montagues…

I trust you were catching and counting the knob-jokes there.

Just when we’ve navigated past that, we run into Juliet (‘not fourteen’), as her mother tells her—

think of marriage now …
The valiant Paris seeks you for his love. […]
So shall you share all that he doth possess,
By having him, making yourself no less.

With the of-the-earth, earthy Nurse intervening (lest we miss that insinuation):

No less! nay, bigger; women grow by men.

And we’ve got the Queen Mab speech (II.iv) still ahead.

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Iron in the soul-less modern railway

Last weekend we came up from Stansted to Peterborough and changed onto the ECML for York. That meant for the first time in decades I was crossing the Fens by rail.

A stop at March, the arcaded platforms and the footbridge reminded me of the ironwork that GER and GNR stations used to sport:

Just as the loss of decent older railway architecture can never be forgiven (Birmingham New Street as much as New York Penn), one gain from privatisation has been the fresh paint that stations have received. Nowhere more so than the £800 million expended on St Pancras (though, again, the hike to the extension for the Midland Services is a pain, and the subterranean Thameslink platforms A and B barely reach ‘grimness’) — but the soaring arch of Barlow’s original trainshed is properly one of the world’s ten station wonders:

But termini are not my theme here. Nor the serpentine curved roofs of great through-stations (York, Newcastle)

I sing the body (pre-) electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.
It’s the lesser stuff, run-0f-the-mill, out-in-the-sticks, stopping-train places that we need to cherish. Too many have been trashed for no obvious gain. True, probably more have been turned to domestic housing — often lovingly, and with imagination. Elsewhere we find them as offices.

What’s not to like about Birmingham Moor Street? —


That’s another I’ve recently rediscovered, doing the interchange to reach Stratford-upon-Avon. As above, I’m no fan of next-door New Street — that vast concrete appendage to retail therapies.

So, a recommendation: Simon Jenkins, Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations.

The cover illustration, making my point about Victorian functional ironwork, is Wemyss Bay — where the Caledonian Railway ends and CalMac’s ferry to Rothesay begins. It’s only recently restored, and reglazed, after years of neglect — and it should be on every bucket list.

One last word:

Crossing the Thames I always look out for the LCDR iron insignia on Blackfriars Bridge. It’s a relief from the lunacies and over-inflated architectural horrors of the river ruined sky-line. It’s a reminder we once took pride in the small bits of our surroundings:

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Untruths we are sedulously taught: #94 ‘Danegeld’

A small irritant, but they do these things to aggravate:

Each week the i paper has this weekly quiz. Now, I’m a sucker for such click-bait. It’s the errors and plain obtuseness that gets to me every time. Two examples of which are on show here.

For #9, Professor Tim Birkhead of Sheffield University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences debunked the guillemot egg last year:

Professor Birkhead said: “The myth about guillemot eggs being pointy to allow them to spin like a top in the wind was debunked by scientists about 150 years ago but that idea and the idea about them rolling in an arc to prevent them falling off the cliff edge are still widely believed today.

“However our team has found that neither of those ideas are true and in fact there are a variety of other reasons why guillemot eggs have this peculiar shape. One is related to the strength of the egg.

“Guillemot colonies are very vigorous places and guillemots aren’t very good flyers. This means that on a windy day a guillemot’s neighbour can crash land on top of it in the nest. The egg needs to be particularly strong so when that neighbour does land on top of it, the egg doesn’t get crushed underneath them.”

A century and a half, and the reality hasn’t obtruded into the consciousness of puzzle-setters, huh? Par for the course.

My niggle this week was #4. And the strict answer is gafol or (in Late Latin manuscripts) tallagium. Hence tallage (see below), the tax the Norman and Angevin monarchs imposed on towns and demesnes where they could do so, and which persisted until 1340, when the natives became sufficiently uppity to have it suppressed.

A check with the OED would show:

The name [i.e. ‘Danegeld’] is not known to occur in Old English, and the actual contemporary notices, beginning with Domesday, are mainly of fiscal character. Bromton (14th cent.) calls it ‘tallagium datum Danis’, apparently identifying it with the gafol or tribute paid to the Danes in 991, and on two subsequent occasions, to buy them off. In the so-called ‘Laws of Eadweard’ (Schmid 496) it is described as an annual tax to hire mercenaries to resist and put down pirates. This might identify it with the heregyld ‘army-tax’ levied by the Danish kings to maintain their army and navy (see Anglo-Saxon Chron. 1039–40), and said to have been afterwards remitted by Edward the Confessor. Mr. Freeman suggests ( Norm. Conq. II. Apparently Q) ‘that Denageld was a popular name of dislike, originally applied to the payments made to buy off the Danes, and thence transferred to these other payments made to Danish and other mercenary troops, from the time of Thurkill onwards’. The Danegeld was levied as a land-tax by the Norman kings; it disappears under that name after 1163, but in fact continued under the name of tallage.

So ‘Danegeld’ wasn’t a Saxon ‘tax’ — which itself raises the question of how it might be raised — but a convenient Norman way of mulcting the natives.

There’s a further dimension here

‘Danegeld’ wouldn’t be a Saxon term. It’s Old Norse Dana-giald and Old Danish Danegjeld.

However, look across the Channel, and — long before Æþelræd the Redeless (hence ‘Unready’) gets the ordure for paying off those pesky European interlopers — we find Karolus Calvus (a.k.a. Charles the Bald), inheriting West Francia from Charlemagne, in a bit of a pickle. He’s got trouble with Brittany suffering a serious dose of the independence business (these Celts are ever the same), more of the same down towards the Pyrenees, and along comes a huge fleet of Danes up the Garonne as far as Toulouse.

Charlie, with or without the follicle-challenge, was a man of pragmatics. He paid off the Danes with 7,000 lives of silver — Max Adams footnotes page 57 that this is:

A rough equivalent, perhaps, to the wergild or head-price of a hundred ealdormen.

Above which, Adams reckons that bung was

the first of thirteen such ‘Danegeld’ extracted from Frankish kings.

Historians debate the merits of ransoms paid to raiders, of the dangers of setting such precedents, with the benefit of hindsight. But Charles was inventing a Viking policy on the hoof; the kings of Atlantic Europe would watch and learn from his mistakes and successes over the next three decades and, often, adopt similar expedient solutions.


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A really good deed in a naughty world: London Reconnections

Two starting points:

London Reconnections is a website and magazine dedicated to quality, long-form writing about London transport.

Covering everything from the history of the network to current and future transport operations and policy, new content is published weekly online. The best of this, along with some yet-to-be-published articles can be purchased in our beautiful print compendium which is published bi-monthly.

  • I enjoy trains, trams and I’m just back from Switzerland, where they do these things properly.

So ten days ago I was on Virgin East Coast from York to King’s Cross. Despite all the doings over this franchise (since revoked), Virgin (actually Stagecoach) and Grand Central provide us with a decent, fast and — provided one can book well in advance and has a choice of times — cheap service. We left York the statutory quarter-of-an-hour late, thanks to the usual problems between Edinburgh and Newcastle, and arrived at King’s Cross with about the same delay. So far, so good.

Our flight to Basel was easyJet out of Luton, which means Thameslink from the bowels of St Pancras. Again, some ten minutes delayed at each end. As for Luton Airport, it is as dismal an experience as one could self-inflict: surely there must be better ways of shifting the self-loading freight from check-in to departure gate without hiking across the whole county of Bedfordshire?

At EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg (the most ungainly naming in the air transport industry?) we were stood for half-an-hour in glazed corridor before we were filtered through passport control. Not nice.

The the joy — the sheer delight — of the #50 bendy bus to Basel SBB central station, from where we have a choice of #30 bus or #11 tram.

A day out

On Friday we had one of those Rover-tickets — go anywhere across Switzerland for an inclusive fee. For a mad moment we contemplated milking it: Basel ☞ Lucerne  ☞ the Gotthard route to Lugano, and back again. When our madness passed, the daughter and son-in-law had devised something a wee bit more modest. Which also involved the magic of a properly-integrated transport system.

Get this:

  • Basel to Lucerne, depart to the second, arrive ditto;
  • Quick whizz from the platform to the port, to board PS Stadt Luzern, built in 1928 and converted from steam to oil in 1954. The period salon and dining room make this the Flaggshiff of the fleet:

  • A gentle cruise along the lake to Vitznau. What with the ambiance of the steamer, the fantasy erections along the coast, and the place names, my mind had shifted into Anthony Hope territory.
  • At Vitznau, another transfer — to the Rigi rack-and-pinion railway. Then all the way up to Rigi Kulm, at something above  5,700 feet. Breath-taking views and ear-popping height.
  • Back down again to the intermediate station at Rigi-Kaltbad, a walk past an alpenhorn trio (seemingly mother and two offspring) at practice.
  • Then a short wait for the cable car back down to Weggis. Also in the car, carting their dismantled alpenhorns (which makes then almost conveniently portable) were the afore-noted trio.
  • At Weggis, the longest walk of the day, ten minutes downhill to the waterside, precisely meeting the docking of PS Uri:

  • PS Uri may lack the acme of elegance that is PS Stadt Luzern, but still puts on a fair show. There’s an air of decadent glamour in dining as the scenery glides past. Uri is a lovely lady, vintage 1901.
  • And so back to Lucerne, and a stroll across that iconic covered bridge.
  • At which point we were left to our own devices. I couldn’t work out the route through Interlaken to Bern. Probably just as well, for an announcement told of trouble on that line.  We took the hourly train through the karst country of Entlebuch and cheesy Emmental.
  • Time to re-fodder. The DK Eyewitness guide lists Le Mazot in Bärenplatz:

Popular with both locals and tourists, this Valais speciality restaurant is renowned for its raclette and rösti. Friendly service.

Agreed, except too many fondues can generate a whiffy restaurant interior. On second thoughts, we ate on the front terrace.

  • And so back to Basel.

That’s how a properly integrated system should work.

Harsh realities

I started this post with London Reconnections. Remember?

And yesterday I sat, glued to the screen, as MPs of all parties gave the Secretary of State a right old pasting over the total cock-up that is the revised timetable and the running disaster of Thameslink and Northern Rail. Paul Waugh hints at a mini-Ragnarök:

Corbyn’s top team have long felt that it may take just one major policy row or big ‘event’ for May to be toppled. Yesterday’s roasting of Chris Grayling over train chaos north and south, with both Tory and Labour MPs ladling on the gravy over his slowly spinning political carcass, felt ominous. The front pages of both the Manchester Evening News and Yorkshire Post have coordinated their condemnation (given the Thameslink commuter cancellations, will the London Evening Standard show solidarity today with its own front page too?). As the Post’s editor rightly said, when Lancashire and Yorkshire are united, “it is quite simply time”.

Matt Chorley, doing The Times Red Box morning brief has this:

Ding dong — ladies and gentlemen, this is your guard speaking. We’re sorry to announce that the Failing Grayling service is suffering from widespread criticism due to foreseen circumstances.

This is the second-class service from the Department for Transport, via the Ministry for Justice, to Frontpage Central.

The introduction of a new timetable on parts of the network has led to delays and cancellations, which Failing Grayling would like to reassure passengers it takes no responsibility for, and would direct all complaints to Network Rail, even though that is the one bit of the railway Failing Grayling is in charge of.

It was not possible to have predicted that not training enough drivers for new train services might have meant those services could not run.

Grayling has serially warmed his arse in four Cabinet chairs: Justice/Lord Chancellor (so disastrous that Michael Gove was drafted in), double-hatted as Lord President of the Council and Leader of the Commons (so useless that Andrea Leadsom was his next-but-one replacement), and now at Transport (presumably on the mistaken notion that nobody could be as dire as Patrick McLoughlin). To rub in the horse-liniment, Chorley appended this to his pice:

Why am I specifically recommending London Reconnections?

Because its author tweets as @garius, and here explains the Northern Rail end of the debacle:

Right. So Northern is WELL outside our London beat. Which is why we’re not covering it on our timetable pieces on LR. People keep asking about it though, so here’s a basic overview of the issues up there (as we understand it). /1 #NorthernFail #NorthernRail

One of the big issues is similar to Thameslink (although Northern have been more open about it): Drivers. Again, don’t just assume that because a person can DRIVE a train they’re CLEARED for every route or EVERY TYPE of train. That’s not how it works. /2

The new timetable means a lot more services that terminated at Manchester are now meant to be through trains. This was the DfT’s idea. Presumably someone over there looked at the history of Thameslink and thought: “Hey we should do MORE of this!”

That obviously then changes (and makes more complex) the driver requirement: you now need lots more drivers trained on the WHOLE route. And, just like GTR, Northern seem to have underestimated the effort required to prepare for that. /4

As with Thameslink, there have also been infra issues and the rollout of new trains, which has only served to sharpen these training issues. Just as critically, there’s an ongoing industrial dispute about Driver Only Operation up there. As a result, no one is working rest days /5

That last one is way more of an issue than you might think. TOCs rely on drivers volunteering to work on rest days to make up their numbers. When they’re not prepared to do that, suddenly you have big problems. We’re talking 20 – 30% short of the no. drivers available you need /6

Where Northern’s issues do differ greatly from down south, however, is in the level of responsibility that Network Rail need to accept for the situation. They’ve failed to deliver several major projects on time, which have caused Northern a lot of grief /7

Delays to electrification at Blackpool, for example, made it even harder for Northern to train enough drivers in time. The biggest screw up, though, has been with electrification of the Manchester – WCML corridor. /8

Manchester/WCML is running about 6 months late. The reasons for that, well, where to begin? Let’s start with ground surveys. The original contractor (Balfour Beatty) didn’t do as many of these as (in hindsight) they should have done. /9

The old joke is that you ALWAYS pay for ground surveys. Especially when you don’t do them, and that was true here. Cue lots of unforeseen issues. Put it this way: we now know a lot more about just how many abandoned mines there are around Bolton. /10

It also turns out that our illustrious railway building ancestors thought that straw and manure was a really good way to fill voids in the Farnworth tunnel. Cheers lads. /11

Not that our more recent forefathers are entirely innocent. The project uncovered some VERY slapdash work from the BR era (cue howls of denial from the Renationalista Brigade), and that a lot of the fixed assets weren’t in anywhere near as good condition as expected. /12

EVENTUALLY, BB fessed up to these issues (and others) and walked away from the project (oh noes!) but luckily another contractor agreed to step in and fill that gap (yay)…

…except that contractor was Carillion.  /13

So  Carillion then collapse in January, revealing a whole host of EXTRA issues. Add in some terrible weather and flooding for good measure and suddenly NR are having to admit that a whole chunk of the work that Northern’s timetable depends on isn’t going to be done in time. /14

So all of that, taken together, is why Northern is rubbish, and is going to stay rubbish for some time. They don’t have the infra or the drivers, but they can’t change the timetable because when they DO have those things they’ll need it to be this one. /15

“Oh but just change the timetable back! Or just change it again in August when the work is done!” I hear you shout.

Nope. That’s not how the railways work. Timetables are NATIONAL. So – for very good reasons – timetable updates only happen twice a year: May and December /16

And if it’s a choice between taking a knife to services on the existing timetable to make it work now, so they can then add those cut services officially back in the moment work is finished / drivers are trained then that’s what they’ll do. /17

Partly because it does make a sort of brutal sense to do that, pragmatically speaking, BUT ALSO because – rather obviously – TOCs (and by extension the DfT) like money. /18

So they want to be starting to recoup some of the inevitable losses and penalties this will be causing them from the very moment they can. /19

So: short, non-19-threaded-tweet version: Northern is fucked for a lot of the same reasons as Thameslink, but also for some shiny extra ones as well. You lucky, lucky northerners. 

And like Thameslink, all those reasons mean there IS no quick fix. /20

If you want further reading on the Thameslink stuff (which talks about drivers and why they matter) our coverage starts here: …

For Northern-specific stuff, you’ll want to be picking up @RAIL and @Modern_Railways in the coming weeks/months. We will be! /END

And that’s my lot for today.

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