Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Another Rant about Trains

I know I only blogged yesterday, but I have a further rant about Trains. I see a trend here…

So, trains. Back in the good old days, the British railway was nationalised, and called… British Rail. Then between 1994 and 1997 it was privatised and because the jumble of companies we have today, Virgin, Arriva, CrossCountry etc etc. The idea of privatisation is to allow market forces to take control. This will mean companies compete, so attempt to undercut each other on price, outdo each other in terms of customer service and so on. Great! Cheap trains, good service and options if you dislike one of the companies, who could ask for more.

But this isn’t how it happened. Various parts of the network were given to different companies for 15 year or so contracts. So in practice, Arriva run all but five of the train services in Wales which means for me to get the train anywhere, I have no choice. So the real competition isn’t on a day to day level, but when the contracts are up for renewal.

But even here there isn’t really competition. A while ago Arriva drew up plans to run a twice-daily Aberystwyth to London service. But to do this, Arriva would stop at some of the stations currently served solely by Wrexham & Shropshire. W&S appealed to the Welsh Assembly, who then banned Arriva from running the service. Why? Because the W&S line couldn’t support a couple more trains a day? Nope, because it would mean W&S would lose money and might go bankrupt. Now I thought the idea of competition is that there is some competition… It should be a form of economic Darwinism, where the weaker companies fall aside to allow the stronger companies to offer the best service. That’s not what happened here.

Another issue with privatisation is that the company only has the contract for a set period, and is out to make money for its shareholders. If you had two years of the contract left, and you might not get it next time what would you do with your money? Would you invest it in infrastructure, new trains, reducing overcrowding? Or give all the money to your shareholders? Well, Virgin have gone with the second, the BBC reporting that Virgin’s Chief Exec claims that ‘with only two years left to run of its franchise, he says he cannot justify investing in new rolling stock’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11758780). So privatisation has served all of the drawbacks, but none of the benefits have been allowed to happen.

So there we go, rant about trains over (unless the Arriva Strike on Friday goes ahead, in which case I will be very annoyed!)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rants about The Times, Trains and some Happy Stuff as well

I said I would be blogging again soon, so here I am. Sorry it’s been a while, I have been crazy busy.

So, the student protests in London. I’m not going to talk about the violence; I am going to talk about the Times’ view of the protests and the whole student fees thing. On Thursday, page 2 of the Times carried an article called something along the lines of ‘Protest and Pantomime’ in which the author argued that the protests just show that students have no idea about politics or economics. This greatly offended me. I understand politics, and maybe I was na├»ve when I listened to Mini-Cameron (aka Nick Clegg) say that they would vote against fee rises. But a demonstration is a way of using the freedom of speech that democratic politics is built on. So if anything, those students understand politics better that those who sit in pubs and grumble but don’t actively do anything.

Secondly, this article stated that students and graduates should pay for the university system and there should be little government help. Why? Because students/graduates are the ones that benefit from university, so why should those who do go to uni pay for them. OK, I can kind of see the logic to this, but on the other hand… There are a lot of benefits that are government funded that many people don’t use. For example, as far as I know, my mum has never claimed job-seekers. So should my Dad pay more tax than her, because he has? This idea of ‘those who benefit should pay’ just doesn’t work. And I would challenge you to find one person who hasn’t ever visited a doctor (who has a uni education), lived in a house that was designed by an architect (uni educated), been protected by a law that has been enforced by a judge (uni educated). I think my point is made. Everyone in Britain benefits from universities. Without them we would have no educated people driving innovation, developing live saving drugs, creating the technology that runs our daily lives. So everyone has an interest in people going to universities.

Ok, two rants down, one left, then some nice stuff. Arriva Trains Wales, how I hate thee. Another two journeys, another two times arriving late. I got back Friday to Aberystwyth station 40 minutes later (no drive for a while, then an inexplicable crawl from Borth to Aber) to see a poster on which the lovely people at ATW proudly state that the Cambrian line has something like 98% punctuality. I would love to know how they have figured that out, because I don’t think I have ever been on the Cambrian line and arrived on time. OK, one way they do it is by claiming that being 10 minutes late is still punctual. Rubbish. 10 minutes late is 10 minutes late, that isn’t on time! So that annoyed me, but now there is a possibility of a strike o Friday, the one time I really need to be somewhere and can only use ATW. GRRRRR…..

Anyway, happy times. Goo Goo Dolls gig on Thursday night was awesome, and would advise people to check out Unkle Bob, the support act. This was followed by a wonderful weekend of Ultimate Frisbee. Disctators (Aber Interpol team) came 6th, and I was very proud to be a Disctator. And congrats to Mwnci See, winners of Petting Zoo 2010, and Do who came ninth but showed a lot of talent and promise.

Monday, November 1, 2010

MYA 2010

Ok, today we are back on the subject of Methodism, one of my favourites…

On the 19th of November, Methodist Youth Assembly 2010 kicks off just outside Swindon, and I am happy to say I will be there. It’ll be my first MYA/MYC that I won’t be there in any official capacity (I was a District Rep in 2006, Planning Team 07, Youth Exec 08 and Facilitator 09). It is going to be a good weekend, although the travelling will be a bit of a killer. I am looking forward to meeting old friends, making new ones and hopefully influencing the Methodist Church for the better. It is great that the Methodist Church does support the voices of young people and does listen to them. But the pessimist in me wonders how much longer it will last.

Why do I say this? Well, this year, for the first time, you could monitor the sale of tickets online, as they were sold through an internet site. And at midnight last night the booking closed. And out of 350 tickets they have sold a grand total of… 155! Not even half. Now I am not going to speculate as to why the sales are so low, because I honestly don’t know. But I am worried how it will look to the ‘Big’ Conference (the governing body of the Church). In 2008 Conference fully committed to a total restructuring of Methodist Youth, and pledged £4.4m for the initial five years of the Youth Participation Strategy. At Conference 2010 this budget was halved, killing of any idea of a full time young person working in each District, and even cutting the Youth President’s roll to part-time. Questions were being asked of the value for money of the YPS, especially in such a hard economic environment.

So how will Conference see this massive drop in the numbers of young people attending its main youth event? In 2007 we had 230ish people, 2008 was about 250, and last year was massively over booked with about 310. Again, I don’t know what has happened, but I know what Conference might say. ‘We have spent millions of pounds, and young people don’t seem bothered. So let’s cut our losses, pull the money and spend it on something else which is looking more successful.’ I will admit I am generally scared this may happen, and I’ll fight it tooth and nail (I will be at Conference 2011, see my earlier post). I know I am thinking well ahead, but it could happen. Possibly short-sightedness and money-saving exercises could, no WILL, be disastrous for the future of Methodist Youth and ultimately the Methodist Church. I have heard (and said) this so much, but young people aren’t the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today. Yes numbers might be low, but then if there is nothing for them to get involved with then numbers will just keep dropping.

I’m not sure how to finish this post, other than if you do want to come to MYA 2010 and didn’t book a ticket, try and get one! Ring up the Children and Youth Team, email them whatever. But it would be great to get a lot more people there. Who knows, it could save the Methodist Church…

Monday, October 25, 2010

Being Locked Out

Well, I’ve had an interesting weekend. On Saturday morning I managed to lock myself out of my room. I then had a choice, pay £25 to get the landlord to come out and unlock my room or save £25 and just go without stuff for 48 hours. I obviously chose the latter.

The only clothes I had were chav-y looking trackies, a frisbee top, rugby socks, a hoodie, one pair of underwear and some hiking boots. So it go some interesting comments from people, but oh well. I also, luckily, had my phone and iPod, so could still contact people and check emails/Facebook. Technically I had my laptop, but the power cable was in my room, so that wasn’t much use.

I tried picking the lock with a paperclip and screwdriver, but it turns out it’s a lot harder than Hollywood and YouTube make it look, so I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be without my stuff. Luckily we effectively have a spare room in our house, so I had a bed.

As the day progressed, I started to get a headache, so I went for a walk along the whole seafront in Aber, one of my favourite things to do when I’m in a bad mood and certain people aren’t around to cheer me up. It was productive as it gave me inspiration for a poem/meditation/prayer (still yet to actually be written). As I headed back towards my house I thought, ‘I’ve had a rubbish day, and not a brilliant week, I’ll get a Hollywood Pizza to cheer myself up… oh no, my wallet is in my room!’ So instead I had pasta and cheese, not quite the same.

Sunday was better. Though I felt totally underdressed for church, the morning service was very interesting. Then I got the offer of a free Sunday Lunch with a couple from church and two other Methsoccers. The food was lovely, as was the conversation. Then music went… and OpenSpace started, which I always enjoy. As is tradition, OpenSpace was followed by a trip to the pub, and a very lovely friend bought me nachos, which made me happy.

I returned home to find a housemate and a fencer playing Rock Band, and I couldn’t help but join in. Then bed called, and I knew I would soon be back in my own room.

And now I am! I went to the letting agency and got the spare keys, and my one my big comfy bed, surrounded by all my technology on charge. But this weekend has made me realise I can live without a lot of stuff, and I actually enjoyed the experience.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rants on Trident and the Lib Dems

Quite a bit has happened in the past week or so since I last blogged.

There has been more talk about cuts. Schools budgets (in England at least) have been ring fenced, and the MoD isn’t taking as big a cut as it thought. So much for every department taking its share. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see schools losing money, but the MoD… Give up Trident and there is a lot of money saved.

As an International Politics student, I have thought a lot about Trident. I remember watching the Leaders debates before the election, and listening to Cameron and Brown saying that Trident is necessary for the safety of the country. The whole time I wanted to ask them one key question. ‘A country attacked the UK, would you really sign the death warrants of hundreds of thousand civilians, and press that red button?’ Because that is the ‘safety’ Trident offers. The Geneva Conventions forbid the deliberate targeting of non-combatants (civilians), so to use a nuclear weapon would be a war crime. And imagine having the deaths of hundreds of thousands on your conscious… I know I wouldn’t.

Also I have lost a lot of respect for the Liberal Democrats since the election. We had very similar views, or so I thought. Looking after students, scrap Trident, etc. They get a sniff of power, ally with the Conservatives and suddenly they are giving in to £7000 student fees, saying they won’t vote against Trident, and generally being the fall guy face of all the cuts. I hoped the Lib Dems would be the voice of reason in a tricky coalition, but instead they seem to be there just to make up the numbers. But oh well, only four and a half years to go.

But, I’m going to be positive to finish. Twice a week Methsoc, or a contingent of us at least, invade our local Weatherspoons, and usually end up chatting to one of the barmaids who’s shifts seem to match our visits. Last week she said she was interested in coming to church, so I persuaded her to try St Pauls. This Sunday she came, and really enjoyed it. So I feel Methodist visits to pubs, as it is a great place to witness.

And on that note, I’ll live you. Sorry for my rants.