Monthly Archives: July 2011

Stagecoach in Hampshire

Whilst searching for something else I stumbled upon this website which details how much Hampshire County Council spend with Stagecoach – £7,670,531 per year which equates to £767,053 per month. The payments are broken down and detail the category under which they’re paid and the category is the contract reference number. Using HCC’s own website the contract reference numbers are shown against the route they relate to. So, for example, it can be seen that the majority of Stagecoach Winchester depot’s contracts are all grouped under contract W235 which a look up then indicates brings them around £34,000 per month!

In September the bus subsidy cuts will come into effect reducing the £34,000 per month by possibly around a third. This comes on top of the loss of their largest single contract, Alton College, which was won by Go-Ahead who will be taking over in September. Tough times ahead methinks.

Spooky!

Think of a person and then click on the picture, the genie will guess who it is by asking 20 questions. It took only 11 questions to correctly guess Amy Winehouse but failed to guess Stephen Fry, offering instead, Jonathan Ross. Maybe that’s because I couldn’t answer all the questions with certainty. He doesn’t have children, does he? ;-) Nick Clegg was guessed in 14 questions.

From Cathy Buckle

Both Cathy Buckle and my mother-in-law have recently returned to Zimbabwe after a month away. Mother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed her time here in the UK. Her previous visit was at Christmas time so it was a great surprise to her to discover that it could be nice and warm in the UK! She marvelled at many things including seeing our trees in leaf for the first time and was surprised by how many different types there are. Here’s Cathy Buckle’s thoughts on her return home which echo my mother-in-law’s.

Dear Family and Friends,

Coming back to Zimbabwe after a month away is a huge shock to the system. Conditions in our third world country can probably best be described as surreal, and that’s being polite! The strangeness of the experience starts before you even set foot in the country. Sitting in an international airport looking down the list of departures for destinations all over Africa, your eyes are drawn to the word ‘cancelled’ and your heart goes into your mouth. You look back across the line and are not surprised to see that it’s Air Zimbabwe flights that are cancelled. Our national airline is still on its knees, a litany of excuses continuing to humiliate us with the word ‘cancelled’ on airport departure boards around the world. It could be any number of reasons today: unpaid fuel bills, unpaid staff, striking air crew.

Arriving at Harare International Airport, the contrast with the service you’ve just left behind in the first world is dramatic. Bored surly and unwelcoming Immigration Officials do not greet you or smile at you; they scowl as they thumb through your passport leaving you feeling as if you should turn round and go away again. In the ladies toilets only one of the door latches on the row of stalls closes; there is no soap in the dispenser and a huge plastic barrel of water stands in the corner, uncovered and exposed to a myriad of germs.

Encountering two police roadblocks in the first ten kilometres from the airport is the surest sign that you are back in Zimbabwe. What do they want? What are they looking for at their incessant roadblocks? It takes just a few minutes to be reminded that these officials have perfected the art of making everyone feel as if they are a criminal. With pity you look at the crowd of commuter omnibuses that are inevitably pulled over at every roadblock. Their passengers tired, thirsty and frustrated as time and again the vehicles are stopped by the police and the drivers have to hand over money.

Out of the long grass on the roadside four school children wearing bright purple uniforms and white shirts emerge. They look to be eight or nine year olds and on their backs they wear little school satchels but this is not their only load to bear. Each child carries a large bundle of sticks and branches balanced on their heads: firewood for their Mum’s to cook supper with. Wood for the fire which will be their buffer against the freezing winter nights and provide the flickering light by which they will do their homework.

After iPods and iPads, trains, buses and aeroplanes, computers, laptops and broadband – this contrast is so dramatic that it leaves you wide- eyed and deeply shocked at just how far behind the world Zimbabwe has fallen.

Arriving home the potholes and gullies on the suburban roads are deeper than ever and there is no water and no electricity in the house. An African Hoopoe stabs the browning grass for the last insects of the day, calling its mate again and again: “Whoop–whoop, whoop-whoop.” The sun turns blood red as it sinks into the dust smothered horizon and for a moment the absurdity and abnormality is banished, because this is home. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

A good or bad thing?

Volunteer bus drivers save Isle of Wight routes reports that volunteers will be used to drive rural routes which have lost their IOW Council subsidies and were due to be axed. In a deal between Southern Vectis and the IOW Council, Southern Vectis will provide the vehicles as well as “training, fuel and insurance as part of a deal forming a wider agreement with the council.”

On the face of it this sounds like a very good thing with those areas which would have lost their bus service continuing to receive the service as before. On the other hand Southern Vectis buses will be running scheduled services with unpaid drivers. According to VentnorBlog this will require “60 volunteer drivers to operate nine routes across the Island”. That’s more drivers and routes than quite a few small, independent, bus companies have!

Is this the thin edge of a wedge?