The train now departing

The government seems determined to push through the HS2 high-speed rail line, no matter what.

This bizarre obsession with a grandiose scheme costing £50 billion, that will cause untold misery and inconvenience to thousands of people for the next fifteen years, is defended with extraordinary illogicality.

For instance, it is argued that it will solve problems of capacity on the existing network. How, exactly, will a new railway line built between London and Birmingham increase capacity on the lines to Swansea, Penzance or Norwich? Let alone on the lines where the worst capacity problems are experienced, the cattle-truck commuter services in the Southeast?

Will it not simply deliver more passengers onto trains departing from Birmingham to onward destinations, thus worsening capacity problems in the Midlands?

And how, exactly, will a line that stops at Birmingham create economic growth in the North of England – forgetting that the Southwest and Wales are also among the worst-performing, most underinvested parts of the country? Birmingham is not in the North, although I suspect few London-based politicians know that. But it is already the second wealthiest city, after London.

The aim is to extend the line to Manchester and Leeds sometime in the 2030s, but a lot can change by then. My bet is that the line won’t get beyond Birmingham, the northerly legs will be cancelled owing to rising costs. Would it not make more sense, if Northern regeneration is the aim, to start the new line at Leeds and work southwards?

And is there not in any case an argument that says the line is just as, or even more more likely to deliver additional prosperity to the South as to the North? The money following the money, as it were? Unless, that is, the service is only one-way. But it is hard to see exactly what prosperity is being talked about, and how it will be delivered. The evidence of the worldwide development of railways in the Victorian period is that prosperity may blossom around the railhead, but it is bled from communities not served by the line.

Then there is a simple point to be made about priorities. There are already adequate rail services between the various destinations proposed for HS2. To disparage them as ‘Victorian’ is disingenuous: the routes may have been laid down in the C19th, but the lines, the rolling stock and the stations — the ticket prices — are modern and could, given a fraction of the cost of HS2, be made more so.

Thanks in part to the Beeching cuts, other parts of the country are not connected to the rail network at all. Should these not be served first, and the network upgraded, before the national profit for the next fifteen years is expended on this one project, massively greedy for money and land? Should we not be focussing on high-speed broadband as a deliverer of future prosperity, rather than on wasteful physical travel?

HS2 will doubtless end up as the ‘first-class’ business service and have little to do with transporting ordinary people. It’s easy to envisage a ticket costing £200, great for MPs and business executives, local authority bigwigs and NHS managers rushing between conferences on taxpayer-funded expenses. The ordinary traveller living at either end, hoping to visit relatives or attend job interviews or go Christmas shopping or get to far-flung airports will be shunted onto the existing ‘slow line’, a third-class service for a third-class citizen; a line so starved of funds that non-paying passengers will be carried, clinging to the carriage roofs.

Has anyone supporting this incomprehensibly expensive project tried to imagine actually using the service? Apart, that is, from fantasising about the thrill of hurtling uncontrollably through a blurred green landscape at 250 miles an hour, to a place where you would probably rather not be going, hoping against hope that bored children will not have dumped a concrete block on the line during the night?

Have they, for instance, ever travelled on Eurostar’s dismayingly grotty ‘low-speed’ Channel Tunnel service, HS1, for which you have to book months in advance?

The pricing is unpredictable, fluctuating wildly according to demand, and there is seldom a seat available when you need to travel. Booking on-line is a matter of guesswork: you tell the computer when you need to travel and where from, and to; it tells you to guess again. The return journey is equally an uncertain process, with a completely different price being charged and no guarantee of seat availability at the time of your choosing.

Will this then be the model for HS2? You can’t just turn up and get on a Eurostar TGV train, you have to ‘check-in’ half-an-hour ahead of departure and be searched for contraband. It’s the train that thinks it’s an airline, only with the shabbiest decor and most uncomfortable seating imaginable. Like an airline, in fact.

Only, one that never gets off the ground.

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My 250th post

Spoiler Alert

Hi y’all

For my ceremonious 250th Bogl Posting I’d like to explain, or try to explain, why I’m torturing myself like this.

You can take it seriously; or, in the spirit of the Mindbogl itself, not.

First, comes the grammar crusade. I’m the founder President of the Save the Semicolon Society, SSS. I’m a bit conflicted about that, because I’m also trying to Save the Adverbial Form (SAF) at the same time. (Notice how, in the previous sentence, I used an adverb, ‘seriously’, and followed it neatly with a semicolon. Eight points.) In these, my 250 Posts, you will find many semicolons (;) and many words ending in -ly, and other, more subtle adverbial forms, that qualify verbs.

It is deliberate, I assure you.

Both of these handy features have been disappearing late in common English usage, as anyone who has ever replied ‘I’m good’ when asked at the supermarket checkout how they are feeling today will testify. And so I use many more of them than are necessarily necessary; especially nowly.

I’m also hoping hopefully to Save Me (SME).

You may notice that, in my Bogl, I continually refer to myself. ‘I’ do this, ‘I’ do that. Such a thing is ‘mine’. Such a person is ‘me’. It is not a solipsism, it has nothing to do with the ‘Me generation’ and a Californian-style self-regarding narcissism funded by the therapy industry. No, it is because these Posts are highly personal to someone I know only as myself. So I am also the de facto President of the First Personal Pronoun Society, or Me.

I love WordPress and all who sail in her, but there are one or two matters I have to contend with. Apart from the impossibility of single-spacing any text with a hard line-break, as with a poem, it posts your Posts in reverse chronological order. For readers who may be a bit backward, that’s backwards.

So if, like me, you’re attempting to create an entirely new form of literature, the autobiography told as a series of personal reflections on contemporaneous but completely disconnected events, replete with semicolons and adverbs; current affairs linked to past moments in one’s life, not by personal experience but by synchronistic philology (you can tell, I’ve been at the fermented fruit again), then you have to start — where do you have to start, guys?

Right. AT THE OTHER END.

And, if you respect that, you will see that my life veers wildly between joy and despair, low comedy and high tragedy; vapidity and deep meaning. You will learn, if you have not already, that life is a game; and I know that that is your life too, and the lives of every other bugger on this planet.

So, forget the search for meaning. Find whatever gives you joy and cling to it for dear life.

Unfortunately, I forgot to.

Gute nacht, meine freunde

– Herr Professor Doktor Ernst P. von-und-zu Bogl (By Appointment)

(Emperor and Editor-in-Chief, The Boglington Post.)

Now is the Winter of our Content

Does anyone have an idea for how, without using lethal force, I can dissuade mice from camping in my piano? (See Posts passim, e.g. July).

Yes, they’ve moved back in again, occupying several keys around Middle C. It’s the third time since I first carried out the operations previously described and, frankly, it’s getting to be a chore, dismantling my piano every month and sucking out the nesty stuff and shit. Especially as I don’t even play it.

Some others who have moved back in again recently are the students.

The town where I live has a university of international standing, which the new Pro Vice-Chancellor is seemingly doing her best to level by dint of chucking all the library books in a skip and filling the space instead with beanbags.

With a settled population of around twelve thousand, in August the town swells mightily with holidaymakers heading for the beach, and the roads are choked with caravans. This is as nothing, however, compared with September, when the population doubles with the arrival, in the same week, of twelve thousand students, all heading for the pub.

Friday 20th, last Friday, was studentsallmovebackinagain day. (Shall we hail it ‘Stripy Friday? Objections on a postcard, please.) Having completed his gap year, my son is now one of them, a ‘fresher’. We drove his stuff the half-mile up the road and, with the help of some improbably nice kids in yellow sweatshirts labelled ‘hero’, carted his boxes upstairs to the drab little room smelling of degree despair, with its salutary view of the tax office across the car park, where he will spend the next nine months.

Let’s hope he doesn’t waste them.

That night, the internet slowed to barely a crawl, as twelve thousand students went on-line, all hoping to lose their virginity on the same night.

As a point both of principle and logistics, my TV set isn’t connected to an aerial. We lived on the farm without TV for ten years while we brought the kids up free from malign influences and Simon Cowell. I still congratulate myself as being a non-viewer of television, but, thanks to the miracle of this tiny silver laptop, and the boredom that comes with enforced retirement, I can plug-in to a big TFT screen and downstream improving material on the i-Player: old David Attenborough documentaries, recycling CGI sequences of axolotls taking to the land; Newsnight, with Jeremy Paxolotl; cheesy episodes of Inspector Montalbano (to improve my Italian, you understand), with lashings of catch-up on the side.

All summer I have had no problem doing this; last night, however, my crepuscular attendance on the television industry came to a crashing halt. I spent several hours glugging from a winebox while staring morosely at the Refresh whizzer going around like a washing machine on medium spin, until at length the caption came up: ‘This content doesn’t seem to be working’…..Oh, is that why there was nothing much happening on the screen? I was wondering, it looked like a normal night on BBC-3.

Frankly, it would be more entertaining watching the tax office. So with a heave and a sigh, I set off for the kitchen to investigate who has moved in under the keys around Middle C. I hope it’s mice, and not more students.

Let’s eat cake!

I’m so depressed, I’ve almost given up living. And only three more to go until my 250th Post. A milestone, indeed.

Where are you, my lovely Spammers? I haven’t had any Spam now for a week, and that was only the usual obsessive nerds pushing me to use more H’s to optimise my Ghargle Rhankins. Spammers are my only friends! Nobody else reads my blog.

Over the past 20 months I’ve had only 11 Comments, five of them my own replies to the others, which were all from friends, wives and ex-lovers – no longer! The number has remained the same now for six months. It used to be more. I can’t believe nobody has anything left to say. Even if you hate me, tell me!

And then there are the Followers and the Likers. No-one has Liked anything I’ve written since about last April, although there’s loads of interesting, beautifully crafted, perceptive, humane and humorous stuff here about Syria, and Hunzi my lovely dog, paedo-hunts and punishments, existentialism, secondhand cars, trees…

According to WordPress, the biggest number of weekly hits I’ve had lately is three, all for my Jazz CDs catalog – none for anything I’m writing about the world and its foibles. You guys only ever seem to open-up my tired old Pages and don’t read the latest Posts, which are the whole point. And you don’t seem to Like the Pages anyway!

I used to get about two new Followers a month. I checked back on you, you’re all crazies – religious nutters, Viagra salesmen, self-proclaimed artists from rutted feudal Carpathian demesnes and obscure boroughs of New York, Germanic pixies who make and hope in another life to sell weird craft stuff.

I don’t – can’t – write anything for you, I don’t know you.

Some of you keep doggedly emailing me. One guy takes photos of not very interesting things and mails them to me every day. Another is talking to the hand, I consigned him to my own Spam folder months ago as I don’t believe in multi-level marketing schemes any more than I do in fairies. But he keeps on trying, a double-Spammy.

You Followers never seem to read my stuff after the first experience; never Comment, never Like… Why are you Following me, other than to induce a sense of paranoia?

And the Bank is writing to me again, to tell me I have no money to pay bills. They think I don’t know that? I just wrote off for a job as a salesman!

I’ll be 64 in two weeks. “Will you still read me, will you ever feed me”? As the Beatles almost sang – they were a popular music combo when I was a teenager.

So let’s make my 250th Post an occasion to remember, eh, li’l Spam buddiez?

LET’S EAT CAKE!

Panic over

Formerly the world’s most inept reporter, I knew deep down that if I ever did dare to write about the situation in Syria (Post: The Road to Damascus, September), events would immediately take a turn.

Parties on all sides, weary of wars either suffered or imposed, are falling about with relief at the latest Russian proposal, that the Syrian regime should simply hand over its chemical weapons arsenal, you know, the one they haven’t got, to an international team of destructors led by — Russia.

And the Syrians have immediately agreed to the plan, avoiding the punitive rain of cruise missiles threatened by Obama since they nerve-gassed fourteen hundred civilians in Damascus on 21 August. Or not. (The Russians are still claiming the civilians gassed their own children in order to bring America into the war. It’s the sort of thing Russians would do, of course — showing exemplary loyalty to the Motherland.)

Thus at one stroke Obama is off the Congressional hook he has been visibly writhing on, Cameron need no longer feel embarrassed about losing the vote, Hollande can stop pretending to be Jean-Claude van Damme, and Putin can go on smirking in that peculiar way that makes him look like he’s being punched in the jaw in slow-motion by a large man with an invisible fist.

So, that’s all right then. Panic over.

Postscriptum

It has occurred to me to ask rhetorically, although I have not seen or heard it mentioned anywhere else, for what purpose Syria appears to have accumulated what is said to be a thousand tonnes of lethal Sarin nerve agent?

Prior to the civil war, Syria had only one putative enemy, Israel. Pop. eight million. By a ghastly statistical and historical irony, six million of those are Jews (figures courtesy of Wikipedia). If 200 litres can kill 1400 people, how many exactly would a thousand tonnes… you do the calculus. I can’t bear to.

Synchronicity? Don’t knock it!

Some months ago, my estate agent called to say they wanted to show my house to a Mr Philips,  a property portfolio owner from London.

I hate speculators of any kind and don’t believe in people owning other people’s homes as a business. My house is really too small to make money from renting it. And I particularly dislike carpetbaggers exploiting the relative economic chasm between the capital and up-and-coming rural areas like this.

But there hadn’t been any interest for a while, so I put aside my principles and agreed to let him come. I said that I would go out and let the agency handle the viewing, in case I said something unpardonable to him.

Just as I was leaving at the appointed time, a smooth-looking bloke in grey slacks and a blazer arrived outside, with a gorilla in tow whom I gathered must have been his estate manager, the guy who extorts the rents. The blazer put on a dazzling smile, and in a condescending tone announced:

“Hello. We’ve come all the way from London to look at your house.”

I think he may have misread my socio-economic indicators.

As a student in London in the late 1960s, I shared a flat with some old school chums above William Hill’s bookmakers’ at Moravian Corner, on Chelsea’s famous King’s Road. Behind us were small streets, some with former stables used as storage premises for the many antique dealers with showrooms on the fashionable main drag.

Every summer, the ex-minor public school, ex-army ruffians and part-time offenders who worked behind the scenes repairing, stripping and faking-up the ‘antiques’ (a light charge of buckshot would give a chair an authentic-looking case of woodworm), would rent trucks and head out into the wilds of the British countryside, particularly Wales, for a fortnight ‘on the knock’.

There, they would set about conning old ladies in dilapidated cottages out of their rustic chairs, clothes chests and Welsh dressers — particularly prized as, the ‘old thing’ they picked up for forty desperately needed quid in Tally-wherever could be stripped, repaired, matched with a new top or drawer-base, have some artificially aged brass handles added and would sell, typically for anything between eight hundred and a couple of thou, to the upwardly mobile urban multitude eager to reconnect with their peasant ancestry; or be shipped-off by the container-load to the US, Germany or Japan.

I could see no difference between the ‘knockers’ and this Philips character. He could sell a two-bed upstairs flat conversion in some nondescript suburb of London and for the same money buy four little garden cottages like mine in the outskirts of a Welsh university town, where students and professionals alike are desperate for temporary accommodation, doubling his rent at a stroke.

Swallowing my tongue, I muttered something like, ‘Well don’t just look, buy it!’, and dragged Hunzi briskly away across the road for our morning walk in the exurban space beyond, a walk he knows in dog-language as ‘Round the Sewage Works’. Later on, I got a message from the agency to say that Mr Philips wanted to send his wife over to look too, and was my studio building insulated?

‘Of course it’s bloody insulated’, I snapped. ‘Does he think I’m so stupid as to keep seven grand’s worth of music equipment, including a four thousand pound guitar, in a fucking garden shed?’

We’re still on the market.

But here’s a curious thing. Way back in 1988, I wrote a comedy play called Subject to Contract, about a firm of small-town estate agents in Thatcher’s Britain. It’s never been performed. I came across it in a box a few days ago, and gave it an approving read-through.

In Act Two, a yuppie couple from London are taken to view an old lady’s country cottage, that they hope to get on the cheap, and Justin, the smooth-talking husband, says to her, condescendingly:

‘Hello, we’ve come all the way from London to look at your house.’

Synchronicity? Don’t knock it!

Transitionalising the bar

I have been losing sleep over the word ‘transit’.

It really worries me that ‘transit’ at some stage in the long history of the world became a verb. It simply doesn’t sound like a verb. ‘Edit’ sounds possibly like a verb, ‘remit’, ‘credit’, ‘inhibit’, cohabit and so on, there’s a good-sized family of -it verb endings in English, but there is something peculiar about ‘transit’.

It’s clumsy to conjugate: ‘I transit, you transit, he/she transits…’

All our verbs ending in ‘-it’ seem to have had their proper endings chopped off. When you think about French, most of the verbs end in -er, -ir or -re, and this is consistent with their Latin derivations. English verbs seem to have arbitrary endings, so that on their own they are not always recognisable as verbs.

‘Transit’ comes from the Latin ‘transire’, meaning to cross, as in the sense of movement from one side to another. The root word is the preposition ‘trans’, meaning ‘across’. ‘Transit’ in Latin is the third person singular of the present tense of the verb, meaning ‘he, she or it crosses… something (there has to be an object to cross!)’. So ‘transit’ is not logically the form we would use as a transitive verb, it is first and foremost an English noun. You couldn’t say in Latin ‘ego transit’, the first person singular of ‘transire’ in the present tense being ‘transeo’.

We speak of a parcel or a passenger being ‘in transit’, or the ‘rapid transit authority’ that transports you from a to b. It is perhaps a special usage in the transportation industry. We hear of ‘the transit of Venus’ as an astronomical phenomenon, when Venus is observed crossing the face of the sun. Less often, we talk of something ‘transiting’ from one side to another across a given space. But we would rarely tell our husbands on the phone: ‘I am just transiting the high street now’, when we have the perfectly sensible ‘crossing’ at our service.

Or wouldn’t we? It sounds absolutely like something a policeman would say!

From ‘transit’ there is also a descendant noun with a slightly devolved meaning, ‘transition’ – the process of being in transit from one state or place to another. The good Dr Jekyll makes a ‘transition’ to the evil Mr Hyde. The actor makes a ‘transition’ from stage to film. A transvestite makes a ‘transition’ between the male image and the female.

The implication of ‘transition’ is more that of an ongoing change of place or state, than of an actual physical movement between two states or places. And it requires an auxiliary verb: you ‘make’ the transition.

More horrifying, therefore, is the new usage of ‘transition’ as an intransitive verb! Our American cousins have started to say things like: ‘He is transitioning to his new job’, or ‘the war is transitioning to a state of highest threat’; meaning, I suppose, that something or someone is changing from one place or state to another.

The idea of ‘crossing’ a space, in the prepositional sense, has become lost; while those similar friends, ‘transport’ and ‘transform’ (even ‘change’ and ‘affect’) are left on the shelf.

I hope then that I never live to see or hear the logical transitive form of ‘transition’: ‘transitionise’, meaning to put someone or something into a state of transition. For, one can easily see the development of this, yet a third-stage verbal development of ‘transit’: ‘I transitionise, you transitionise, he/she transitionises….’  ‘I’m sorry, Miss Jones, but we are transitionising you to another department…’

Worse yet, a verb developed from the adjectival form, ‘transitionalise’ (to imply putting someone or something into an interim state of change): ‘Bashar was completely transitionalised by a radical preacher…’; ‘We are transitionalising the situation….’ ‘This service will halt at New Street to enable passengers to transitionalise to Platform 4…’

It’s ghastly, I know. But there is a precedent. I have in the past been accused and found guilty of…….

Editorialising.