This blog is now closed …….

….. but remains as a historic record.

It was hacked by criminals and code inserted to do all sorts of nasty things to visitors computers. The moment this was discovered the site was shutdown and for some months I tried to cleanup the damage done – without success. I’ve now been able to use the database to link with entirely new software which is why, if you have visited in the past, the visual appearance is nothing like before. However, all the articles, photos, video etc. are again visible for your renewed enjoyment.

Christmas

Cathy Buckle’s latest letter from Zimbabwe came today and gives us some idea of what we have to look forward to – we leave for Zimbabwe on Friday! This will be my first Christmas south of the Equator where the temperature is likely to around 30C. Chilled beer and a BBQ is not what I’m used to at Christmas but I’ll give it a go :-)

Christmas in Zimbabwe is the time of soft sweet litchis, plums, mangoes and peaches. It’s the time to eat small, sweet purple grapes straight from the vines and to take turns with the birds for pawpaws and figs. It’s the time when its hazardous to sit, stand or put anything under avocado trees as the high up, unreachable fruits ripen and crash to the ground at the most unexpected times. Christmas in Zimbabwe means towering purple rain clouds, sausage flies and flying ants. It means rhino beetles and chongololos, large spiders and even larger snakes. Christmas is that alluring time when flashes of red, crimson and scarlet tempt you into the ever thickening bush to discover wild and beautiful flame lilies. It’s the time of year for mahobohobo fruits: sweet, juicy and oh so more-ish and for mushrooms of all shapes and sizes – so tempting to pick but so lethal to eat.

Christmas in Zimbabwe is that first green maize cob scalding hot from the pot: soft, tender and sweet leaving butter running down your fingers and dripping onto your chin. For some it is chicken and rice, for others turkey and ham and everywhere meat sizzles on braai fires.

Christmas in Zimbabwe means reunion. It’s the time of year when everyone’s on the move. Transport is a nightmare, lifts are like gold and everyone is weighed down with bus bags and bulging luggage. The roads are chaotic, buses and kombis overloaded and impromptu police road blocks appear every ten to fifteen kilometres. The queues outside the passport offices and the borders grow longer while the bribes get bigger to match people’s desperation. Instead of more people staffing home affairs and immigration offices there are less and the looks on people’s faces change from anger and despair to disgust and resignation. Zimbabwe’s new tradition, thanks to a decade of political and economic mayhem, is the great, international, annual migration to reunite with families scattered all over the globe. To the disapora and from the diaspora hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans try to get together and be normal families, just for a few weeks.

Christmas in Zimbabwe means school leavers. A couple of hundred thousand O and A level students pour out onto the roads, waiting for results, drinking too much, playing head banging music and all the while knowing that there is almost no chance they will find a job in a country where unemployment hovers around 90%. Those that can will have no choice but to join the estimated three and a half million other Zimbabweans living and working outside the country. Those that can’t will set up roadside stalls under trees, wheel and deal, sell airtime, become cross border traders and spend their days looking for ways to use the education their parents struggled so hard to get them.

Christmas for MP’s in Zimbabwe this year is the car loans of US$30,000 that were given to each legislator which have been written off by the Treasury at a cost of US$9 million. And on the other hand, for the vast majority of us, Christmas 2012 is a time when the shops are full but the pockets empty as we juggle the bills, chase every dollar and wonder if, by this time next year, our country will have finally become the new Zimbabwe we so desperately need and want.

Stupid question of the day

Today I had to pick up passengers from a cruise ship docked in Southampton and then transfer them to Heathrow for their flights home. Everything went as normal in Southampton, the port staff checked passengers as they left the terminal and those booked on my coach were directed to over me. I loaded their baggage into the hold and they got onto the coach.

We arrived at Heathrow and as usual I announced which terminal we were at and asked the passengers to remain seated until I’d unloaded their luggage onto the pavement. Having done that I invited them to leave the coach and collect their luggage. Then the stupid question of the day was asked “Which suitcases are mine”? I paused for a moment completely lost as to what to say, the best I could come up with was “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue I just loaded all the cases presented to me”. How can someone have travelled to the cruise ship with their luggage, unloaded it on the ship, reloaded it before leaving the ship, somehow retrieved it in the baggage hall before going through customs, bring it to the coach and then say they don’t know what it looks like! After the scrum of everyone grabbing luggage there was nothing left on the pavement and the guy who didn’t know what his looked liked had disappeared with everyone else so I guess his memory must have returned.

A 30 metre bus!

Dresden has unveiled the Autotram Extra Grand, an unfeasibly long bus meant to revolutionize public transport systems – combining the capacity of a train with the manoeuvrability of a bus. It’s 30 metres long, has two waists, and can carry 256 passengers along busy urban streets anywhere. Not only that, the Autotram can be driven by any bus driver – no special license needed.


.
Designed and built by the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI in Dresden and the Technical University Dresden, the bus is currently undergoing tests in special facilities outside the city, but is set to make its debut in Dresden traffic – on normal routes with real passengers – in October.

“There is a lot of know-how invested in it – the computer is driven by a pretty clever steering algorithm,” Matthias Klingner, the institute’s director told The Local. The Autotram comes with a special steering system on its four regulated axles, which ensures that the back sections of the bendy-bus precisely follow the front section.

“Thanks to this patented multiple axis steering, the vehicle can manoeuvre just as easily as a 12-metre bus, forwards as well as backwards,” an institute statement said.

First day in a new job

Last week I resigned from my part-time bus driving job. In many ways it was hard decision, the company was one I respected very much, my fellow drivers were a pretty good bunch and all staff are treated well. So why did I resign? In a nutshell I’m too old for the intensity of driving an urban bus service with its need for super alertness whilst negotiating roundabout after roundabout, traffic lights, crossings, parked cars, cyclists, pedestrians, bells ringing every few hundred meters requesting a stop, issuing tickets whilst all the time trying to keep the bus running on time. Its rare to hold a set speed for more than a few moments, you’re always braking then accelerating. Stopping and starting. And doing all that for up to 11 hours a day. It was wearing me out and leaving me irritable once I got home. You need to enjoy your work not only for your own sake but also your employer otherwise you wont be doing it properly. I no longer enjoyed my work so I was doing neither myself, my employer, nor my family any favours.

So today I started my new part-time job (2 days a week) driving a coach. The company I work for do a huge amount of work with the cruise ships that use the Port of Southampton and it’s cruise related work which I’ll be doing. Here’s a picture of my coach as I waited for my passengers today. The ship in the background is the Mein Schiff, a German cruise ship.

I was to do the Windsor Castle shore excursion. We had a nice journey up to Windsor, a Blue Badge guidewas on board to give a running commentary in German on where we were, what they’d see etc All I had to do was give them a nice smooth, safe journey. Once there I parked in the coach park and I had several hours to myself before returning them to the cruise ship by late afternoon.

And a modern coach is such a joy to drive compared with a bus- climate control where the driver’s area can be set differently to the passenger area, no rattles, cruise control, a super adjustable in every direction drivers seat, even a driver’s fridge for sarnies and a drink! Absolutely effortless.

Bus Operator Tweets

You may have noticed this new addition to the right-hand column. It displays the 5 most recent tweets from these bus operators:

@arrivanortheast
@BluestarHQ
@Cardiffbus
@Centrebus
@diamondbuses
@FirstCymru
@FirstBus_Devon
@FirstWYorks_bus
@gonortheast
@ipswichbuses
@on_lothianbuses
@METROBUS
@NewportBus
@reading_buses
@SouthernVectis
@trentbartonlive
@harrogatebus
@keighleybus
@lancashirebus
@velvetbus
@yorkbus
@YellowBuses

If you know of more tweeting bus operators I’d like to include them. Thanks.