Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps, the Tories’ Housing minister is demonstrating consistent imbecility. For example, on the Radio 4 programme earlier this week on squatting (From Frestonia to Belgravia: The History of Squatting: Frestonia_R4_1111), he equated the ‘crime’ of squatting with that of murder to Robert Elms. Today, on the Today programme, he demonstrates that he cannot organise his diary or coordinate announcements with the release of contradictory statistics. I feel compelled to record these for readers. He is truly egregious and dangerous. The Today recording can be heard here: Shapps_251111

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Medvedev Tells NATO something

It is like the cold war starting again. The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, goes live to tell the Russian people that NATO’s missile shield with ‘facilities’ located rather close to Russian borders and installations is a threat. Enter talks or suffer the cosequences, he says chillingly to camera. Associated Press’s report can be found here: Medvedev

What exactly is going on here? It is not widely being reported with the print and TV/radio media preoccupied with the Leveson Inquiry into press intrusion. Did the story itself go under the radar, or has the media forgotten that superpowers flex their muscles when provoked? If so, what is the provocation? Is NATO planning to move against Syria, or more likely Iran? Or is Medvedev staking his place in history as his tenure fades?

Squatting

So the next attack by the Conservative Government on civil society is to outlaw squatting. Rather than outlaw empty properties at a time of housing shortages (at fair rents), the Government is proposing to spend more valuable parliamentary time to discuss further attacking civil liberties.

The house I live in is habitable now and functions as a co-operative because it was squatted. It was the subject of a compulsory purchase order a number of years ago for a road development that never happened. 14 years on the house and two more in the block provide housing for 12 people at affordable rents and empowers them to manage the properties – skilling members along the way.

Again, the property owning classes cannot countenance fair use of property. Better to have houses empty than be given an incentive to render them habitable. Greed. As for the Government, shameful.

Bob Diamond on Today

Bob Diamond, the CEO of Barclays Bank, was on The Today Programme on Radio 4 on Friday 4 November. He’d given the inaugural BBC Economics lecture the night before and came on to face John Humphrys in a kind of defence of banking. Listening to him, one might have thought that all was rosy in the the world of banking. These valued institutions have regrettably moved away from the Captan Mainwaring approach – sitting down with the local bank manager to agree a loan – but the branches are friendly and well decorated. A bit of miss-selling of financial products – in particular pension protection insurance – was nothing too serious. And paying lots of money for the best financial talent is justfiable. Himself included. It’s a global business. His own salary was a bit of a contention – he didn’t like being asked about it. As always in these situations, they generally argue that it is up to the remuneration committee to decide salaries. The fact that the global economy is on its knees because of these people seems not to have registered. Listen here

Nice tie.

Left Luggage facilities – Köln Hauptbahnhof

Originally posted: 9 September 2010

Here is another gripe. For a long time, left luggage facilities in the UK were non-existent. A few now can be found in major railway stations, but they are very expensive. London Victoria charges £8 for up to 24 hours. It can also take 15 minutes or so to get one’s case accepted as it has to pass through a X-Ray machine and valuables accounted for.

Germany is a little different. In München traditional left luggage lockers are abundant and reasonably priced. In Köln, the left luggage facility (pictured) costs 2 Euros 50 for up to 2 hours and 5 Euros for up to 24 hours. One places the case in the hole at the bottom, the door closes and luggage is taken to some underground storage area. One retrieves one’s case by inserting a card and waiting. So, it takes a fraction of the time to deposit a case and costs up to 1/3 of the price.

Ingolstadt lecture theatres

Originally posted: 6 October 2010

It is always interesting to visit other universities. Notwithstanding the people, the architecture usually says someting. Yesterday I was in Ingolstadt in Germany visiting a colleague. The campus such that it is offers a very relaxed and open environment for staff and students alike. There’s lots of glass – and hence natural light. Lecture theatres are always curious places as they are invariably enclosed boxes with steeped seating. One looks very much like another. Look at them from the outside and they are pretty anonymous. Not the ones at Ingolstadt, however!

Banana case

Originally posted 2 August 2010: Here’s a little innovation for you from Sainsbury’s.  Those of you like me who carry bananas around know only too well that they are prone to damage in one’s bag. The solution, a protective case in the shape of a banana!

However, the designers may not quite have got the curvature right. For my organic banana this morning, I found the curvature insufficient. This meant that I had to squeeze it in to the case. Consequently, when I retrieved it this morning after a typically strong cup of coffee, it was as bruised as if I had carried it uprotected in my pannier bag. On what basis did the designers decide on their average curvature?

Time now for a bit of a rant: easyJet! The route between Gatwick and Munich is troublesome. It is never on time, but now even worse it is prone to cancellation. Now there is another little trick. Instead of cancelling the flight, they  ‘postpone’ it to the following morning. Actually, they put on a completely new plane – unscheduled – which one has to take even if  it is no longer convenient. Normally, if they cancel the flight, one can make a no-cost transfer to a flight of choice that reflects one’s changed circumstances. What’s more, because the flight is not on the system, they force passengers to check in manually. I waited 2 hours to check in earlier this week, even though I only had cabin baggage. What was Michael O’Leary saying about easyJet’s performance recently? Suffice to say, easyJet, my next journey will by by rail.

Workbench

I’ve been doing quite a bit of DIY in the last few days in Germany. In executing my tasks, I have been to a number of Baumärkte to buy materials and tools. What I found particularly interesting is the origin of many of the tools on sale. In my experience, in the UK, many tools and materials are sourced from far-away places. For example, I recently purchased a workbench that was made in China. I expected the same to be true of German retail. In fact, the domestic sourcing in the German Baumärkte is extraordinary. This bench is a German brand made in Germany. The price was comparable; it was easier to assemble than my UK equivalent.

The extent to which this is a phenomenon of building materials and tools I am unsure. Further research is required. For example, kitchen equipment (I know that there are some high-end UK manufacturers making toasters,  for example).

Mailbox

This is my latest handiwork – a mailbox attached to a wall (designed by Portferm of Mannheim, Germany). It may look simple, but it has a serious design flaw for which I have no explanation. It is designed, from what I can see, to sit flat against a wall. Do so, and the top cannot be opened, something that is required for the post person to insert the mail.

The solution, of course, is to mount it on wood. A little less elegant, I feel. But it works.

Berlin: Railway station and airport

The building of Hauptbahnhof in Berlin was a real prestige project. The glass building over four floors that emerged is impressive to say the least. But it suffers from that most irritating of modern construction diseases, shopping mallism. Instead of left luggage, there are places to buy stuff. Actually, the shortage of left luggage space is excused on the grounds of security as the station is in the proximity to the Bundestag and the Kanzlerresidenz. (There are a few lockers located adjaceent to the parking area, and a staffed facility on the main concourse – but when I visited, the queue was very long). Contrast with Köln Hauptbahnhof, posted 6 November 2011.

Travel advice: if you have cases that you want to leave, go somewhere else. I’m not sure if the other stations – Ostbahnhof, Friedrichstrasse or Alexanderplatz – have left luggage facilities. Watch this space.

As for Shoenefeld Airport, it is a real disaster. Very few seats, plenty of shops, though few places to buy a drink and sit down and relax prior to departure. If you are travelling easyJet, the ground staff are very strict with the one bag policy. Expect to be surcharged if you can’t get your manbag inside your case and it still fit into the measuring frame that they have.

The entry to the gates is appalling. Dank corridors take passengers to passport control causing confusion and long queues. Maybe worth taking Lufthansa from Tegel.