A surreal day

Actually most days since Thursday morning of last week have a been a little surreal in the sense that I don’t feel quite awake and not taking everything in fully. I’d just arrived at work and got the phone call I’d been expecting for a couple of weeks but then when it came it seemed ‘out of the blue’. My mother had passed away. She’d been progressively getting weaker, becoming less interested in eating, and sleeping almost all the time. The comforting part was that she’d lived until she was a few weeks short of being 94 and died in her own bed, in her own home and in her sleep.

Since then we’ve been busy with all the necessary things like Registering a Death, informing everyone who knew her (she had a very full address book), making funeral arrangements etc. But now I’ll explain why this is titled ‘A Surreal Day’.

A couple of months ago I bought ‘A private guided tour of Southampton City Art Gallery’ at an Auction of Promises. The tour had been arranged before mother’s death to take place today. Essy wanted me to cancel it but I wanted to do it because it was something to interrupt the constant stream of jobs for the funeral etc. I’d been looking forward to the Art Gallery visit very much since as a 15 year old boy I’d often spent time after school looking at the paintings. Before today’s visit I’d been asked if there were any specific paintings I’d like to view. One immediately sprang to mind, I’d last seen it about 50 years ago, couldn’t remember who’d painted it but described it’s content to the Curator. ‘Ah, the untitled Paul Delvaux’ he immediately told me. Paul Delvaux is a surrealist. The painting’s not normally on view nowadays and is sometimes lent out, but I was fortunate in that it wasn’t being lent out at present and was in storage in the vault. I was taken to the vault and the painting was brought out for me to view! If you’re interested here’s a link to some Paul Delvoix paintings including the one which had caught my imagination 50 years ago in the vault.

The other artist whose work I wanted to see was A D Lucas (his rather eccentric father Richard Cockle Lucas, who was also an artist, had him christened Albrecht Durer. Poor soul!). A D Lucas was about the only decent painter Southampton has ever produced. In the late 60′s I almost bought an A D Lucas from a pal of mine who had an antique shop, his paintings weren’t that expensive then but I still couldn’t manage it. If only ……. Here’s a link to some of his work. One A D Lucas was on public display but I got to see the whole of the Southampton City collection.

Final highlight was viewing an L S Lowry which I hadn’t asked to see since I didn’t know they had one. An absolute cracker! Every hallmark of Lowry’s work was in it – mill chimneys, back to back terraced house, telephone poles and wires, flat caps, and of course lots and lots of “matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs” [haiku url="matchstalkmen.mp3"]

A car is now essential according to the Rowntree Foundation

For the first time the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said in its annual minimum income study that for families with children owning a car is essential. The section on transport commences on page 16.

Public transport was seen as being inflexible. For parents who had to take children to school or childcare and then get to work at a certain time, buses were not a realistic option as they could not accomplish the journey in the time available. Groups also cited examples of emergencies when it would not have been possible to use public transport, or affordable to use a taxi. Bus fares were universally considered very expensive and taxis prohibitively so. Discussions suggested that, although there were costs involved in owning a car, it offered better value for money than public transport.

As well as travelling to and from work and school, the car would be used for shopping trips and would mean that families could do a weekly shop in oneouting and take advantage of bulk-buying economies. It meant that there was no need for a separate budget for taxi use, and it also replaced the 2008 and 2010 use of coach travel for the family holiday.This change in the decisions about transport reflected a qualitative shift in perspective rather than a complete change of opinion. In earlier MIS research,the requirement for a car had been hotly debated by urban groups but it wasdecided, on balance, that minimum needs could be met by using buses with occasional taxis. In 2012, however, the balance of opinion had tipped theother way.

The report cites that bus fares have become much more expensive relative to the cost of running a car. In the past 15 years, for example, the cost of motoring has risen 50 percent but the cost of bus travel has increased by 100 per cent, according to the RPI.

Captchas, Passwords and the DSA

I moaned and groaned about captchas just over a year ago. Now I know who to blame!

He appears to want to make ammends for introducing this abomination to what would otherwise be the pleasure of registering for something. buying something etc. online. “At first I felt really good about that because I thought, ‘Look at the impact that I’ve had’,” he says. “But then I starting feeling bad.” And then he “devised ReCaptcha, a system that uses each human-typed response as both a security check and a means to digitise books one word at a time” ….. thereby adding, for me at least, even more annoyance!

I wanted to register with the Driving Standards Agency in order to check my CPC hours online and one of the captchas was a letter with a circumflex above the ‘a’! A British government website expecting users to have French keyboards.

The registration progress with the DSA is one of the most complex I’ve ever come across. It starts off simply by asking for your Driving Licence number and Postcode, enter those and click ‘Next’. That seemed a good start but the next page then says your login password will be mailed to you. ‘MAILED’ to you as printed and put into an envelope which a man comes by van to take to a sorting office, it’s then transported by van or train to a place somewhere near where I live where it’s again sorted and given to someone with a bike and a big bag of letters to deliver to my house. All this takes some days. My bank, which holds information I consider to be of the utmost confidentiality don’t go to these lengths. I really couldn’t careless if someone else were able to see how many CPC hours I’d accumulated. They can’t steal them like they could money if the accessed my bank account.

Anyway the letter finally arrived with my passord – s*76*i8d. The asterisks represent the same character but the character itself could be one of several; uppercase ‘i’, lowercase ‘l’ numeric ’1′. In order to be sure which it really is you need to know the typeface used in the printing of the letter. Try it in Word with various typefaces and you’ll see how a lowercase ‘l’ is the same as an uppercase ‘i’ in some typefaces. Anyway it kept rejecting my attempts to login and wouldn’t indicate whether I’d got the password wrong or the damned captcha. After about 20 attempts I gave up and rang the DSA.

Customer Service put me through to IT who couldn’t acess my password on the computer but could read a copy of the letter to me giving it with the result that they didn’t know what it was either! They the gave me a new simple one over the ‘phone. Why they can’t tell you how many CPC hours you’ve accrued over the ‘phone after asking ‘security questions’ my bank will tell me my balance by ‘phone after I’ve done the security bit.

All the good work gone to waste

If ever there is a bus company held up as a shining example of good customer relations, communications and service it is Trent Barton. Trent Barton pride themselves on the friendliness, helpfulness and general good nature of their drivers who know many of their regulars by their first name. They proudly have a Wall of Fame where drivers are acknowledged for what they do. For example “On a Friday evening in January a distressed lady got on Adrian’s H1 bus at Heanor. She explained to him that she had just lost her purse and that she needed to get to Derby. Adrian came up trumps with a free ride into Derby, and even provided her with £20 of his own money so she could get home safely, which she returned back to Adrian a few days later. How’s that for service!”.

So it was with complete dismay that I read the BBC news report of a young lady who’d been refused travel on the last bus of the night because she was 20p short of the required fare. She started to walk home and was then raped on the way. The bus company was Trent Barton.

Absolutely tragic on two fronts. Tragic in the extreme for the young lady and tragic in a different way for Trent Barton. All the hard work of employing those who they they think are the best drivers, then allowing them freedoms none of the national operators give to make their own decisions. I heard another story of a Trent Barton driver who’s bus broke down down buying all the passengers a cup of tea at a nearby cafe while they waited for a repalcement bus. He put the receipt in to the company who actually thanked him. Try doing that as a driver for one of the nationals!

A lot of Trent Barton’s hard work and investment blown by one ‘stupid’ driver. I’m sure that there must still be a pool of goodwill for Trent Barton but this goes to show just how one ill judged moment can ruin so much hard work.

Keep digging

There’s a rather sad story here about a particularly stupid bus driver who just kept on digging himself deeper and deeper into a problem unitl there was no way out. It started very simply when he, incorrectly, claimed that the passenger’s concessionary bus pass wasn’t valid at the current time. The passenger then explained that the rules changed in April, most driver’s would begin to think “Am I certain what I said is correct?” The next spade full of digging was to switch the engine off and just sit there. Further excavations continued as he tried to enroll the assistance of other passengers to take his side. Having dug yourself in this deeply it would be quite difficult but not impossible to climb out of the hole – be humble, apologetic and hope for the best! But no, this driver was intent on digging his way to a new job in Australia, he refused to speak to First Customer Services who the passenger had got on her mobile phone. Customer Services had to contact the driver’s depot and they in turn radioed the driver to tell him that the customer was correct in what they said. The driver’s hole digging had taken 20 minutes.

Nobody likes to admit they’re wrong, or even possibly wrong, but there are times when you have to swallow pride and let things just pass over you. You don’t hold up a bus for 20 minutes just because you think someone shouldn’t be travelling. You tell the passenger that you believe what you say is correct but will check it with the company when you get back to the depot, then get on with the job of driving the bus.