Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Be Seen, Be Safe

Published by Carriage Driving Magazine in 2008

Be seen, be safe

Darker nights are coming. I have to say the weather this summer (2008) has been so appalling that many daylight hours have been pretty murky too. While out driving my car today I was startled not only by the increased number of Bank Holiday cyclists on the road but by the difficulty of spotting them when they weren’t wearing high visibility clothing or displaying lamps. On major roads, when traffic is travelling up to the 60 mph speed limit, it seems crazy not to give cars as much notice of your existence as possible. Anything that makes you, as a vulnerable road user, more visible, will help to keep you alive. The further ahead car drivers can see you, the more easily they can slow down and give you room as they pass. This doesn’t just apply to cyclists. You as a carriage driver are highly vulnerable, and your horse even more so.

I know that traditionally the appearance of the private carriage was quiet, almost understated. But think about it; when we’re out exercising today do we use our good holly whip, our show harness, our glossily painted and patent-leathered gig and our candle powered lamps? No, we drive battle wagons and exercise carts, for practicality not tradition. We share the roads now with cars and heavy goods vehicles, not to mention tractors and farm implements, and they all travel much faster than we do and are very much more likely to hurt us than we are to hurt them. We need to make our working carts and carriages as visible as possible, and reserve our sober traditional turnout for ceremonial occasions.

Adding visibility is not difficult. A visit to any cycling web site will give you lots of tips. For a start, the driver (or cyclist) who wears a high visibility waistcoat, fluorescent yellow with reflective strips, will be seen from a greater distance than one who blends into the landscape in grey, dark green or brown as many of us do in winter waterproofs. My coat’s pillar box red but I still put a waistcoat over it, and that only cost me £3.

You’re lucky if you have a grey or a piebald or skewbald horse, whose white coat will be readily seen out on the road. For those of us with darker coloured animals, reflective leg bands for the horse will be highly visible on account of their rapid movement, while a reflective noseband or browband sleeve should make it obvious where the front of your turnout is!

Many carts and carriages are painted very soberly in green, black, maroon or dark blue, which again blend too easily into their surroundings. My everyday cart has a black body but I’ve redone the wheels and shafts in Hammerite scarlet. Yes, it’s loud, but black and scarlet is quite a traditional combination, and it gets seen. Cost, about £7. Tip: avoid blue, which is a “receding colour”, in other words less visible than the red end of the spectrum.

Down narrow country lanes, a fluorescent flag displayed above hedge height may well be useful to warn oncoming traffic of your presence, and there’s no harm either in hanging a fluorescent banner of some kind, possibly with a warning triangle on it, from the back of the carriage. However, legal minds in America have sometimes advised against also displaying messages or advice, such as “Caution Young Horse” or “Please Pass Wide and Slow” reasoning that in the aftermath of an accident (which God forbid) these might be construed as an admission that you were not in control. Concentrate on being visible.

Does your vehicle carry lamps, or reflectors? In the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989[1] most of the attention is focused on the lamps and reflectors of motorised vehicles, while the poor old carriage horse is pretty well ignored. However, we’re told that “Nothing in these Regulations shall require any lamp or reflector to be fitted between sunrise and sunset to - (e)  a horse-drawn vehicle”. It doesn’t say you can’t carry working lamps in daylight though, and it certainly helps your visibility to do so.

I’m not supposing you intend to drive on the roads in darkness, though having once been overtaken by twilight when hacking back from a show in the 1980s, I can say it was a very pleasant experience to drive a trap with the lamps lit – but only so long as the roads were quiet! You probably wouldn’t want to use your good carriage lamps for everyday work, and even the best traditional candle powered lamp only gives 25% of the minimum required light (4 candelas) legally required for use on the roads at night.

Cycle lamps, however, are not expensive, and they come with mountings that adapt very kindly to the metal frames of modern carriages. All you need is a screwdriver;  they don’t require any drilling and they don’t damage paintwork. I carry a red lamp on the rear of the cart, and a white on the front. I put the white lamp well out to the right, at car headlamp level, by fixing it on the stem of the front step. Two would probably be even better. Bike lights using LEDs are surprisingly powerful, and by using rechargeable batteries – about £8 for a set of 4 AA NiMH – you don’t have to keep on forking out for fresh ones. They last pretty well; I’ve only recharged mine twice this year, and I drove for over 50 hours between May and the end of August. A pair of cycle lamps, a front white and a rear red, will set you back anything from about £12 to whatever you feel like paying (some are very expensive). They stand up to weather and cross country work without complaint, and they do get you noticed. Neighbours who see me regularly on our rural roads tell me they spot the pony and me from much further off when we’re carrying lit lamps, even though we’ve always got the red wheels and the yellow waistcoat.

Up to 2005, flashing lights were reserved for the emergency services because of their high visibility, but cyclists may now ride with flashing lamps provided that the “light shown by the lamp when flashing shall be displayed not less than 60 nor more than 240 equal times per minute and the intervals between each display of light shall be constant.”[2] So now you know. Flashing lights are particularly noticeable when the light sequence is “chaser” mode. This rapid sequence is very different from the binary flash of the emergency services, but it’s highly visible and motorists certainly associate such LEDs with a vulnerable road user. Flashing lights are not discussed in the Statutory Instrument as a mode of lighting for carriages, but I often flash when I’m out driving, and I haven’t been told off by a policeman yet!

NB I make these observations as a regular carriage driver, NOT a lawyer.

[1]  Statutory Instrument 1989 No. 1796, Part I, The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989
[2] Statutory Instrument 2005 No. 2559, The Road Vehicles Lighting (Amendment) Regulations 2005

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cold calls

I disengaged the phone call blocker this morning in case the hospital Waiting List secretary tried to call. (My call blocker doesn't like switchboards because they are, de facto, Number Withheld.)
Immediately I got a cold call from an unintelligible lifestyle survey man, on a spoofed "local" number that has already called twice today (well, Blackpool is more local to Cumbria than wherever this call really came from).
-Good monning Ma-am, how are you todday?
-I'm fine, how are you?
-I am calling from Life Style Survey.
-Ma-am, ve are recodding dis call for training pupposes
-Oh goody. (Well, it's lunchtime and the Waiting List secretary has returned her phone number to switchboard, so I'm not missing anything there.)
-Your telephone number is: o von fife tree six tree six nine...
-Dear me, no, you've got that all wrong...(I give him the correct number)
Long silence punctuated with an occasional Um...
-Your telephone number is: o von fife tree six tree six nine?
-No. (I give him the correct number again.)
Long silence...
-What number are you trying to call, dear?
He gives up trying to correct his data.
-You are Miss Christina Millud?
-No, there's nobody here called Christina Millud.
-You are family member?
-No, there's nobody here called Christina Millud.
Long silence...
(I give him my real name out of pity.)
-You are living at Dee Back, Grin Hom?
-Certainly not.
-You are living at Dee Back, Grin Hom?
Another long silence.
-You post cud is CA tin tree TA?
-Well done, have a coconut.
-Ma-am, you post cud is CA tin tree TA?
-Yes, dear.
-You are owning your house? renting?... (to be honest I couldn't actually tell what he was rattling off, but the list is so predictable I know what he's asking, so I tell him I own it.)
-What age bracket do you fall into? tventyfive to tirtyfour, tirtyfive to fottyfour, fottyfive to...
-I don't.
-Ma-am, what age bracket do you fall into?
-I don't fall into anything. Such a trial to get out.
-What age bracket do you fall into? tventyfive to tirtyfour, tirtyfive to fottyfour, fottyfive to...
-Ma-am, what age bracket do you fall into? tventyfive to tirtyfour, tirtyfive to fottyfour, fottyfive to...
(At this point I lie. Doing my best shouty voice.)
-Ma-am, what newspaper do you rid?
-I don't.
-You don't rid newspaper?
-Are you smoking any cigarette?
-I don't smoke.
He's getting the idea now.
-What is your annual incom? fifteen to tventy thou--
-What the hell do you need to know for? I'm not going to tell you that.
Long silence.
I'd kept him on the phone a good ten minutes by the time I hung up.
The bloody system called me from the same number five minutes later.
I've reconnected the call blocker. I will call the Waiting List secretary instead of waiting for her to call me.
The bloody system has just called me AGAIN from the same number.
I have blocked it. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Trying to make head or tail of political schisms

 I have not been a very political animal until this year. I felt - in common, I suspect, with many of the populace - that "all politicians are the same".  I live in a safe Conservative constituency, where an earthquake of Richter-scale 7 proportions would be necessary to unseat our current MP. He's a nice chap, but without exception he votes the Party line in debates. So although I have always dutifully gone to vote I never had much hope that it would change anything.

2015 UK Labour Leadership election

Ed Miliband resigned as leader due to poor Labour results in the 2015 General Election, and a leadership contest ensued.
Following the Collins review, the party's internal electoral system had been revised to a pure "one member, one vote" system:  previously one-third weight was given to the votes of Parliamentary Labour Party members, one-third to individual Labour Party members, and one third to the Unions and Affiliates. (1)
Now, members and registered and affiliated supporters all receive a maximum of one vote and all votes are weighted equally. This gives the grass-roots membership far more influence.
Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership at the last minute with the support of 36 MPs. A number of prominent Labour figures, including Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Jack Straw, David Miliband and Alastair Campbell, claimed that Corbyn as leader would leave the party unelectable in another General Election. However, Corbyn was decisively elected by Labour Party members in the first round, with 59.5% of the votes.


What is it about Corbyn's policies which have triggered such a huge response in voters?
Return of the NHS to complete public ownership?
Free education from primary to tertiary level?
Re-nationalisation of the railways and nationalisation of some heavy industries (eg steelmaking)?
I think it is primarily his principle that political decisions need to serve the best interests of "the man or woman in the street" rather than those of large businesses and economic interests.

Party response

This is where it gets dirty. We as a nation have got so used to right-wing policies over the last 30 years (even with "New Labour" in Government) that this shift towards traditional Labour values has been dubbed "Trotskyist". Although I don't think Corbyn's policies are those of communism, but of democratic socialism, clearly the elected Labour MPs don't feel he's got what it takes to win a General Election. A leadership challenge was first discussed in the British press in November 2015 when the PLP was split over Britain's participation in air strikes in Syria.  Another challenge was predicted in April 2016 after Ken Livingstone's allegedly anti-semitic comments led to his suspension; Shadow Cabinet members allegedly held talks with plotters.

The EU Referendum on 23 June

Corbyn spoke to Labour rallies throughout Britain advising that we should remain in Europe. He had previously been critical of the EU, and this didn't change, but he advised remaining in the Union to reform it from within. However, the position he took, and his reasoning, were not susceptible of use in media soundbites - and such a position was easily construed as weakness by both Remainers and Leavers. It was very little reported compared to louder, brasher mouths uttering promises that, immediately after the Leave vote, were admitted to be lies.
Journalists at The Guardian reported that a small group of Labour MPs and advisers had been talking about a 'movement' against Corbyn to take place on 24 June  ie, immediately the Referendum was decided.
On 25 June, a 'Saving Labour' campaign website was created, to encourage members of the public to email MPs to urge them not to back Corbyn. Hilary Benn, Shadow Foreign Secretary, contacted members of the Shadow Cabinet to inform them that he had lost confidence in Corbyn. Corbyn sacked him. At least 20 MPs resigned or were dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet over the next few days. A vote of no confidence in Corbyn was made by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on 28 June, with Corbyn losing the vote by 172 to 40. He however insisted that his mandate came from the party membership, and he refused to stand down. On 8 July he challenged the rebels to put up  candidates against him.
Over 100,000 new members were reported to have joined the Labour Party by that date, taking membership numbers above 500,000.
The party's National Executive Committee (NEC) met on 12 July 2016 to set a timetable and procedure for the election. They decided by secret ballot that the incumbent leader would automatically be on the ballot in any leadership election. They also decided, contrary to usage over the previous 7 years, not to allow the members who had joined the party in the past six months to vote in the leadership election. Approximately 130,000 new members who had joined since the EU referendum would be unable to vote - unless they registered as "Registered supporters" at a fee of £25. This angered me more than the resuscitation of the six-month rule; it looked like a cynical attempt to prevent the poorest of these new members voting, on the assumption that they were the ones likely to support Corbyn.
Angela Eagle (MP for Wallasey since 1992) and Owen Smith (MP for Pontypridd since 2010) stood against Corbyn. Nine other Labour MPs declined to stand. Eagle withdrew from the campaign after a short time leaving a 2-horse race between Corbyn and Smith.
Labour donor Michael Foster brought a High Court legal challenge to contest the NEC's interpretation of the rules that allowed Corbyn to be a candidate without having to secure nominations from Labour MPs/MEPs. On 26 July 2016 the High Court ruled that there was no basis to challenge the NEC's decision.
The Collins Review of leadership elections had concluded that the eligible electorate would include members without qualification; so Christine Evangelou and others brought an English contract law case against its General Secretary, Iain McNicol on behalf of the whole party, concerning the eligibility of members to vote if they joined the party after 12 January 2016 (i.e. less than six months before the start of voting). An initial ruling that these members could vote was overturned by the Court of Appeal a few days later. The "£25 for a vote" arrangement however still stood...
The latest is that the Labour Party appears to be stripping people of the right to vote - in a somewhat selective manner. "The compliance unit is working through applications to check whether the 180,000 new registered supporters who signed up to take part in the vote are eligible, or if some are members of, or public advocates for, other groups."..."[John] McDonnell claimed the party was exercising double standards in suspending [Ronnie] Draper while allowing long-time party donor Lord Sainsbury to remain a member, despite having given more than £2m to the Liberal Democrats." (2)
What the actual F does this political party think it is doing to itself?

The Other Lot

While all this internal strife was going on in the Labour Party, the Conservatives also fell apart. After the EU Referendum David Cameron resigned because the vote went for Leave rather than Remain. Smartest move he ever made. We had a brief nightmare vision of Boris Johnson (3) as a possible Prime Minister - and woke to the reality of Theresa May. And, despite her support for the Leave vote, she's showing a canny reluctance to invoke Article 50 (4) which would trigger the UK's actual exit from the European Union. But by contrast with Labour, the Conservative party has had no challenge to its basic policies, and so it has rapidly glued itself back together.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Patchwork of Sleep

I think I have cracked it.

I can't sleep for a whole night in a bed at the moment. The hip complains and prods me awake. I've tried toughing it out, but for the last couple of months I have spent the early hours, through the dawn to 6 or 7am, in the recliner in the front room. It's more comfortable there, and I don't keep disturbing my husband's sleep.

I have watched a good deal of nocturnal Olympic TV, most of it with my eyes shut - I missed Mo Farah's fall, but was awake for the interview after he'd won. I have discovered that BBC 2 broadcasts snippets of documentaries and many versions of its between-programmes signature, and that my favourite is the furry 2 that squeaks and does a somersault. I've also been permanently dopey during the daytime and prone to falling asleep while I work at the computer.

However, I think I've found the right balance.

Go to bed at my usual time with the usual bedtime painkillers.
Expect to wake around 2am unable to find a position that doesn't hurt.
Go down to the kitchen, make a hot drink, take another dose of painkillers and set up camp in the recliner with specific cushions and a pillow, and the furry throw which I bought cheap at Poundland and seems to have an extraordinary ability to induce sleep.
Sleep till, usually, 5am.
Go back to bed and sleep till 7.30am.

On this regime I have been awake and normal (well, as normal as I ever get) for a whole two days now.

Still - roll on the pre-op assessment, and a date to have the hip replaced.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Very Grumpy Woman has a very grumpy day

Arthritis is a bugger.

I'm waiting for a hip replacement, agreed in May, surgery date still unknown, but pre-op set for next Thursday. In the meantime I exist on painkillers which put up my blood pressure and make my ankles swell, and blood pressure medication which makes me faint if I stand up too fast. At night I sleep for an hour, wake, turn over, stifle a yelp and try to sleep for another hour, until after five hours I can't stick it any longer and go downstairs to resume the painkillers and try to sleep in an armchair.

I've snoozed through some extraordinary television in the small hours recently, but this sleeping (correction, non-sleeping) pattern does not make for a sharp and lively brain. I am irritable. Chattering noises become unbearable, whether caused by Classic FM ads at the distant end of the house or unidentified objects in the front footwell of the Honda. A few days ago with this in mind I dug around under the front seat and seized on the locking wheel-nut socket and the spare nuts which were in a rattly moulded-plastic pack and seemed to be the likely culprits. I put them on top of a box in the car shed.

I've managed despite the brain fog to keep on top of my (mostly voluntary) jobs. One of these was to re-write bits of the Fell Pony Society's Display Team script ready for 4 displays over 2 days at Lowther Show this coming weekend. So with the event in mind - and the rainy weather - I decided I'd take the car up to Harold's Tyres and have the front tyres swopped to the back and vice versa for more grip in the inevitable Lowther mud.

It didn't go well.

Mid afternoon on a Wednesday shouldn't look like a busy period on the road, should it? I was quite relaxed following Mark Broadbent's 'Fenix' articulated horsebox down from the motorway to Shap; I knew it was on its way to pitch camp at Lowther, as indeed were many of the big driving-trial competitors. I stopped off at the doctor's surgery to pick up a fresh supply of the prescribed drugs, and so I didn't see the Fenix wagon again. I did however catch up with a tail of traffic behind a tractor and loaded silage trailer, with which I chugged along between second and third gears for several miles until we all reached Bessy Gill and could overtake. At Clifton I caught up with a second slow tractor. And at Gilwilly Industrial Estate, a third.

By this time I was operating on autopilot and kept thinking I had missed my way. I hadn't, fortunately; I reached Harold's to find it conveniently only half full. I drove into an empty bay, and reassured the helpful chap in charge of it that I hadn't "brocken" anything. I explained that I had checked all the tyre tread depths were legal, but I wanted the front tyres exchanged for the less worn back ones and vice versa.

He cast a professional glance over the Honda's alloys and asked me for the locking nut tool.

I searched my memory, discovered the picture of the locking nut socket lying in its packet in the shed, twenty-five minutes away down the motorway; swore; and departed.

On the way home the niggly rattle resumed. I was feeling savage by now. I stopped on the car park of Go Outdoors and stomped through the rain to open the passenger door, wrench out the underseat drawer and leave it in the footwell. When I drove back onto the motorway, I was moderately soothed to find the niggly rattle had disappeared. Pretty much the first good thing that had happened all afternoon.

I was going uphill somewhere around Hackthorpe when I saw a group of three HGVs ahead. I shifted into the middle lane to overtake them, but when I got level with the second wagon's tail, it began to indicate to pull out. I couldn't get out of its way into the outer lane - my mirror showed me a white Transit pickup barrelling up it far too fast and too close for me to risk moving over - but at that point the wagon began to move into mine, the driver evidently determined to keep up his revs and thinking I was just being obstinate.

The middle lane is not meant to contain a Honda CR-V and a 35-tonne artic. Not side by side at the same time. I braked. Hard. Luckily I've just had the back brakes "done" and despite the rain and the speed, they held and the car stayed in a straight line.

The wagon filled the middle lane ahead of me, the Transit whooshed on by. I had time and space a minute later to overtake safely in the third lane. But I will be replaying that gap narrowing in front of me for the rest of the evening. 
And all that, ladies and gents, is why I've got sweet F.A. done this afternoon.

I took my car to our local do-it-all garage man this morning. A former rally driver who was once badly injured as a passenger in someone else's car and so possesses more rebuilt joints than I do, Chris is one of the bright spots of the village. "I don't have a cold. I don't have hay fever. I do have a runny nose." Blows nose on garage cleanup paper. "I am just generally delicate."

When I proffered the locking nut socket in its packet he ignored it. "Your wheels don't have any locking nuts."

Enough said about all participants.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Grumpy Old Woman and Tall Food

During my daughter’s seven-month stay with us, with our new grand-daughter, our mealtime habits changed. Where once we used to listen thoughtfully to Radio Four, we had to compromise with the chewing-gum-for-the-eyes that is presented on TV over the supper-time period. This wasn’t because daughter is particularly lowbrow or we particularly highbrow. The fact was that the needs of the baby at that time of the day tended to make her rather vocal, so the thread of a story or a nuance of comic timing  came off a very bad second to her demands. So we perforce became visual rather than aural consumers of the broadcast media at mealtimes.

As a newcomer to the early evening TV time slot I was very surprised by how many cookery programs are put out. I’m now aware of how fashionable food is, and how vital is its presentation. Inconvenient plates of vast acreage are placed lovingly before the foodie, bearing a concentrated and astonishing array of edibles garnered from all corners of the globe. I know globes don’t have corners, but you understand what I mean.  

I admit that many of these arrays look delightful. Tastyvision and smellyvision have yet to reach us, so on a TV food show colours are everything. And colours we are given, along with facial and vocal expressions of delight from the people who actually get to touch-smell-taste the products of the many celebrity cooks. What piques me, though – and piques me even more when I am just occasionally out there, dressed up and paying for it – is the excess of presentation that food seems to need, as evidenced by the catering profession.

I did see one well known foodie person on TV disparaging a wannabe chef for producing “tall food”. And rightly so. Not only is it so 1990, but a plate a foot wide with a tower of tiny edibles tottering in the middle is a waste of effort on everyone’s part – chef and customer alike. Chef spends time assembling the edifice, while customer has to calculate how he can safely eat it without the whole thing collapsing into his neighbour’s lap. I have to say that the critic, for once, got my applause. I don’t want to puzzle out how to deconstruct le gros bonnet’s presentation. Stick it all on a plate – prettily if you must – and just let me eat it.

Drizzles of any kind are irritating, too. Weatherwise they are neither one thing nor another; wet without making an effort, so I don’t want anyone to drizzle on my grub for me, thanks; whether with olive oil, mayonnaise, sundried tomato purée, brown sauce or anything else. Give me the choice of doing it for myself.

“Coulis” are snob’s blobs. Smudged artistically into a plate with the back of a spoon they are an insult, as are dots, squiggles or stripes of sauce like punctuation marks around a central noun of food. If you really are offering me a nice sauce to complement your dish, give me enough of it to let me pick it up and eat it. I’m of the opinion that this drizzle-smudge-squiggle school of presentation is no more than a cheap cheat; using very little material to create a pretentious dish. It offers me food in such a stingy way that I couldn’t even slide a palette knife under it. If I want not to eat food, I won’t put it on my plate in the first place. Don’t ask me to pay for it just because it has been painted onto a bit of porcelain.

And puddings – as opposed to desserts. A proper pudding needs a pudding dish. Pudding dishes are designed bowl-shaped so you can get your spoon into the duff and consume it sumptuously, down to the last puddle. Their sensous curves are meant to collect those juices or sauces to be scooped up and savoured at the end of the whole delicious experience. Serving a pudding on a flat plate defeats that satisfaction. You’re not giving the waiter much chance, either; how’s he supposed to control custard when he brakes or turns a corner?

Finally, there’s a pointless tendency in fashionable eateries to present you with a miserable little spot of pud surrounded by, not even drizzles, but dustings of cocoa powder or icing sugar. If the drizzle-smudge-squiggle is mean, this miserly dusting is just plain pointless. You can’t eat such culinary daftness. It is impossible to pick any of it up unless you lick your finger, wipe the plate and suck it.

Join me in exorcising this ghostly pretence at food. When your pudding is eaten and coffee is imminent, the proprietor, chef and/or waiter will be unctuously hovering, all-but prompting you to say that everything you ate was simply lovely. Don’t be swayed by their desire to be praised as well as paid. This is your cue to sigh ostentatiously – if necessary, several times – and then say loudly and with deep regret, “I do wish you had washed the plate.”