My manifesto : Would you vote for me?

I have spent the last few months with a mix of arguing with the TV (usually at the unbelievable leftie leftie bias of all the main media outlets. I actually feel sorry for David Cameron every time he appears on the “unbiased” BBC they tear him apart and don’t let him finish a question whilst the Greens, SNP and Labour get uninterrupted chance to speak their mind) and yawning at election fatigue. I have to say I would be happy with any of the parties getting in power if they did everything they promised during electioneering season. It’s a shame real life does not reflect the pantomime that is the run up to the general election!

I keep saying to people I could do a better job then any of them clowns so here I am putting my money where my mouth is. My manifesto:

Higher taxes (but equitable in that the more you earn the more you pay). People talk about public services but don’t want to pay for them. The Nordic model of cradle to grave being looked after by the state is the result of higher taxes. Somebody has to pay for them!

Funding for public services would go on the service I.e refuse collection not layers of management to manage refuse collection (achieved through outsourcing public services to private firms on tough performance contracts (see below)

More private involvement in the NHS – some form of franchise model with rich spoils for the most efficient operators of healthcare provision to encourage entrepreneurial spirit and rid the NHS of its beauracracy, endless layers of management and target driven performance

In fact start the above sentence ” more private involvement in…..and add all public services to it. BREAKING NEWS privatisation is not that bad! Everyone moans at how shit there local authority is, how incompetent and inefficient they are yet the suggestion of a private company providing public services for profit sends shudders down the spine. When profit is the motivation -efficiency comes about unlike the wastefulness of the public sector, employing 5 managers to do the job of 1 or being a sitting duck to powerful unions backed by Labour to bring the UKs public services to its knees if it doesn’t get its own way!

Fair and equitable benefits based around rewarding work and supporting the (real) vulnerable, a safety net for all, added protection on those who have paid into NI and find themselves in hard times, more stringent tests for disability benefit that ensure those that do need help get it but those with a “bad back” don’t take at the expense of the former! Drug/alcohol/food addictions not treated as disabilities.

Educate the people on the EU (ban the Daily Mail would be a start), dispel the myths, work towards a stronger political and monetary union (yes, the €Euro one day), continuation of free movement of people and joining the Schengen borders agreement.

Put young people on a par with old in terms of discounted and free travel, free school bus travel,support to study beyond GCSE, scrap target driven education and focus on quality teaching to inspire and educate kids, not just to pass tests. Secondary school education would be around 40% exams/ 60% projects in final two years, reducing exam  stress -entire secondary school education amounting to a few exams not conducive to success! Schools would stop hounding parents over targets and attendance, periods of educational leave and work experience will be integral part of learning experience. Power back in parents hands not dictatorial academy principles. Mandatory Parenting classes to those who abuse system/ letting their children down.

University tuition fees will remain, university education too high quality and beneficial to give away. Student finance will remain fair and equitable to all. Better funding for mature students. Student finance Style don’t pay up front system for all adult learners and incentives to employers allowing staff to partake. Those on long-term benefits to partake in meaningful education with no sanctions.

People to be encouraged to take responsibility of their own lives- no win no fee sue your council/NHS/PPI bullshit will be restricted. 

Higher speed limits (motorways and non residential roads), removal of speed cameras but tough laws on dangerous driving particularly in local communities /schools. Education to likes of middle lane drivers and regular retesting to elderly and those caught dangerous driving. Sentences for causing death with a vehicle will be on a par with murder. Better education and tougher punishments for motorbikes and cyclists. Emphasis would be more on bikers taking responsible rather then expecting cars to “think bike”.

Tackling environmental issues, going beyond usual rhetoric

Cash for overseas development-we have short memories, our colonisation missions created these problems, I think we should bloody well sort them!

Build more houses, get shut of the stigma of social housing, build enough houses so that dodgy buy to let landlords have their houses repossessed and live a miserable existence as a result

Combine land use and transport planning, making use of brownfield ex industrial sites to make cities more compact. Some additional airport capacity needed, we can’t fall behind but should try to reduce short haul flights. Better use of channel tunnel and European High Speed rail for international connections. Ignore rich NIMBYS who don’t want new housing blocking their views. Better public transport. Sizeable towns and cities should have European model of trams,metro/underground and integrated ticketing. People shouldn’t be forced to leave car at home they should want to because of quality of transport system!!

People who want to take cannabis and other soft drugs at home hurting no one else but themselves can do so free from prosecution where it effects communities or leads to petty crime and all hard drugs then option of mandatory good quality support or criminal proceedings. No prison sentences for stupid crimes like purgery, non-payment of TV licence/council tax or benefit and other fraud. Petty criminals one strike then long prison sentences, crime must not be seen to pay! Prisons to be suitably shit places to live but provide education and opportunities once prisoners released. Proper support provided on release but again accompanied by a one strike and you’re back inside rule. People must take responsibility for their actions. Tougher sentences to deter crime.

Would you vote for me?
(Potentially coming to the UK in 2020!)

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Zero hours contracts: my experience and other unscrupulous working practices 

I’m not completely against zero hours contracts. As a mature student I am employed by a few employers (they can all go screw if they think I’m signing exclusivity agreements!) and it suits me to pick and choose when I work to top up my student loan. I can see how they would not benefit someone on benefits although in my opinion this is the fault of the local authorities and Job Centres for not having not an ounce of flexibility in benefits applications to change from week to week. The minute you have a minute change in circumstances your housing benefit application or other benefits are cancelled and you start again and have to wait weeks for the cash in the meantime your landlord kicks you out because you haven’t paid your rent. There really is no incentive to go to work unless it’s secure, long-term and well paid. Here is a radical idea. Why don’t we make zero hours contracts work? Instead of Red Ed trying to dictate how business does business by banning them why don’t we modernise (and computerise) the welfare system (making huge public spending savings at the same time cutting out these public sector jobsworths) and allow people on benefits to take zero hours work. At the end of the month the benefit claimant logs on to their benefit account (much like the much widely used and trusted online banking systems) types in how much they earned, the system does a quick calculation and adjusts the benefit in an instance. It uses the same formulas the jobsworths take four weeks to work out! Simples!

There is in my opinion a much bigger employment issue practised by big companies who obviously see they will be crucified for having zero hours contracts so go for another sneaky underhand employment practice. This is when they create lots of 8 hour part-time jobs. This benefits the company as a large employee base creates flexibility ( one full timer off sick is worse then a couple of part timers off ill) and lots of part-timers reduces the tax bill. Part-time jobs are not a problem. On the contrary they offer flexibility to employees with other commitments, or they should. Instead however big “reputable” companies create 8 hour part time jobs but expect complete flexibility out of their employees. 8 hours is nothing so is good for parents to fit around school hours or students around study but you tell the employer you’re a parent, carer or student and you’re immediately out of the running for the job because they want someone with nothing else in their lives ready for when the employer wants them to do 8 hours in the week! This is a far bigger and widespread problem then zero-hours! Obviously business needs some flexibility in its employees but you can’t offer minuscule contracts and advertise them demanding maximum flexibility from employees. Employees are people,with more to life then work!

As I mentioned my zero hours work suits me but one of my employees,G4S are still cunts! It’s good that I don’t  particularly need the work or inclusion on my CV and hence references so I can speak freely about this joke of a company who apparently in the limited training they provide boast of being an amazing company to their clients and staff. Just don’t mention the London Olympics security fiasco! They have a computer system where I can see all the available work and select suitable shifts. No problems so far. They then hound you by text and e-mail sometimes over ten messages a day when they are struggling to fill shifts. It’s not just “can you work, we are short staffed and would appreciate your help” messages either. They expect you to text back either way and offer a good explanation why you can’t work making a mockery of the whole official computer system to select work. No mate, you have given me a zero hours contracts because you can’t be arsed to employee proper staff and don’t respect your employees enough to offer holiday and sick pay but don’t then think when you can’t satisfy your clients I’m going to be at your beck and call! I’m not sure they appreciated my reply to why I couldn’t steward at the foot all match ” because I’m watching it on Sky at home”.

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Why I’m not anti-benefits And why Labour have failed decent honest working people in the North?

I may seem anti-benefits by my rants on Twitter however it is hard to do your views justice in 140 characters. I want to put on record that I love benefits. I can’t imagine living in a country without the safety net and I think it is reflected in the comparison between the UK and other developed countries in terms of our standard of living, homelessness levels etc etc.  People pay into National Insurance, they raise children (the future of the UKs economy) and do good in their community and I wouldn’t go as far as saying it is our right but I think it is fair to expect help when we fallen on difficult times. I would probably take benefits further with some form of mortgage protection (considering the Government bailed out so many banks I don’t think they can bemoan some kind of joint scheme) so people who have contributed to NI for so many years can be confident they won’t lose their home should the worst happen (sensible considering our housing shortage. The alternative being repossessed, housed by the local council in a hostel before finding a council house long in the future must cost local authorities greatly!). 

It’s great that people who go out to work on crap wages get topped up by the state and can claim back on (drastically overpriced) childcare. There can’t be much incentive working in Tesco for less then a living wage and having to faff about sorting childcare and struggling to fit in family time and leisure stuff but everyday thousands across the UK take responsibility for their lives and their families (including myself for many years whilst I worked up the greasy ladder at work) and I’m proud that the tax credits exist to support these families (not to mention the Lib Dem tax cut on the first 12K). I disagree that forcing Governments to implement a living wage Would solve the need to top up wages because forcing companies to implement a living wage would just result in them employing less resulting in more people on benefits and reducing the economic activitiy of businesses which also contribute to the states kitty.

Furthermore I’m not against one person working families. It seems plausible for families to bring up their own children and we should support flexible working and the like to facilitate this. I believe good parenting leads to good adults in the future so if mum and dad want to work part-time or dad/mum want to stay at home then this shouldn’t be an issue. Nobody says it but childcare providers are not unlike the landlords making a pocket out of housing benefit. Childcare providers are cashing in knowing most charges are covered by the childcare element of tax credits. There,I have said it! 

I know what you are thinking, you are reading this I love benefits blah, blah, blah. There must be a BUT coming up. And you’re right. There is a but. The leftist elite at the Guardian who pop into a food bank once and decree the deprived condition of the poor don’t tell the full story. I grew up on a council estate. I live in an ex mining community where everything is the fault of Margaret Thatcher. Labour controlled my shit hole during the miners strike and continuously since but it’s still all the Conservatives fault. Labour’s manifesto here could be to kill your kids and they would still get in. Yet, these guys are more shrewd then people give them credit for. The leftist media might like to portray them as victims, as a little bit thick, as abandoned by the elite but it’s simply not true. As the Guardian would discover if it lived here day in day out instead of sending an Oxford educated Home Counties born middle class journalist for half an hour for a photo shoot with the “deprived”. Yes the vast majority are hard working. On a commuter train route into Leeds, the morning trains fill up with many Heading to a variety of employment types. Yes , many want the best for their children and play an active part in such. Equally however there are a significant number who abuse the system. Our political elite seem to find it acceptable to use “scrounger” rhetoric to describe immigrants but it seems to have come a taboo to separate those who are using benefits as a safety net in hard times or for good reasons (such as actual disability that restricts or prevents work) from those who are taking the piss. 

There are people who have never worked in their life. They have council homes (absolutely nothing wrong with social housing, I’m not sure why the British are obsessed with owning!) which they have never paid a penny of rent on (there is something wrong with this). They have never contributed a penny to national insurance, to council tax. They have children. Lots of children. Starting a whole new generation of scroungers whose role-model parenting leads them into the same life dependent on the state, having children who in turn have a life dependent on the state. This same pattern reproduced across so many Labour strongholds in the North of England.

People bemoan the “unfair” ATOS checks and if people who need and should get support are not getting what they need then these fit-to-work assessments are a huge injustice because I know of people who are enjoying a life on disability benefit,free vehicle and the right to park dangerously wherever they like with a blue badge when by there own admission there is no reason why they couldn’t work. I know someone who pulls out a walking stick for his periodic assessment yet makes money on the side doing heavy lifting and deliveries in his mobility estate car despite his “bad-back”.

People scoff at the idea of “belittling” those on benefits by making them work for benefits but consider this? If benefits are the equivalent of 12 hours employment at just above minimum wage, would it be wrong to ask a single mum to work 10-2 three weekdays each week in a library or in another local service if it fits around childcare issues etc? 

People criticise the idea of benefit sanctions for missing appointments and whilst I appreciate the jobworths with little man/ little woman syndrome who work here. I once tried at job centre when I was looking for a better job. They have got to be the worst places in the UK conducive to finding a job. Equally as I found out when interviewing at the job centre in Torquay once they are full of people playing the system presenting themselves as unemployable.  It is not fair sanctioning someone who is at a job interview. Again I suspect the Guardian will pick up a case of this happening to someone unemployed the result of the recession and desperate to return to work, and run a story on how the deprived are treated! Equally though if you have to be at the job centre for ten minutes just once a fortnight to guarantee your benefit you would take responsibility and just be there. As an employee I have places I have to be and face action if I’m not there. It’s called the real World!

And don’t get me started on drug/alcohol addiction being a valid reason for disability benefit…..

I anticipate people who really need or really l deserve our help struggle to get it whilst instead the political correct brigade and leftie lefties in their ivory towers defend the indefensible and paradoxically are to blame for the issues of inequity in our welfare system! Our welfare system should be fair and equitable. It should reward work at its core whilst providing a safety net to all, supporting the vulnerable but clamping down on those abusing it. This clearly isn’t happening. 

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Speed is not that dangerous…..

I’m big on road safety. I’m very lucky to have only been involved in a few minor shunts (none my fault I should add) nor do I know anyone who has been seriously or fatally injured in a road-traffic accident or by a vehicle as a cyclist/pedestrian/ other/innocent  road-user. I consider myself a safe driver. I stay alert. I appreciate my car could be a weapon of mass destruction with just a momentary loss of concentration or a few pints inside me. I know that it’s highly unlikely a kid will run out from the parked cars I’m passing or a boy racer will fly round the bend I can’t see round but I have to be prepared for it. I wouldn’t want to imagine the guilt of having a death on my conscious even if I was doing everything right and wasn’t legally to blame. I realise it’s a pain to physically check the blind spot every time you want to overtake on the M1 but considering the consequences of hitting another moving car with combined speeds of 140 MPH I think it’s worth the neck strain for the extra check. This is why I just can’t get my head around people who step out into the road without looking (like the guy at Garforth station this morning I could have potentially killed had I not been alert!) or the cyclists who creep up the side of buses thinking they might win the battle with a ten ton double decker!

I hate if only’s. If only I had looked before crossing the road. If only I had slowed down for the bend. The list could go on and on, and not just for road safety. It has got to be a sound principle for life. If people did the if only test before doing the “thing” then “if only” can become “I’m glad I……..” . Life is short and precious. Mowing down a kid, being in a head on collision yourself on the motorway or being killed by a truck on your bike because you thought the Highway Code didn’t apply to cyclists is a waste of life that could so easily be avoided.

That said, I don’t agree with current policy on road safety at all. I get in my car, I’m doing 70 on the motorway. I’m alert, I’m checking my mirrors, blind spot. I’m aware of the traffic around me. I’m constantly trying to preempt and second guess the environment around me. Then some dick on a motorbike flys past me on a bend on the other side of the road risking my life, his/her own life and the life of a potential car coming the other way. Yet policy would dictate I “think bike”. Am I wrong to think the campaign should be aimed at bikers to take responsibility for their actions, to adhere to the rules of the road and speed limits and “think car”. Why should I have to overcompensate for their failings?

I’m also dead against reducing speed limits in general! Yes, if I had to pick ether being hit by a car doing 20 or one doing 40, I would rather take my chances at 20MPH. But I think the big issue is, why am I getting hit by a car in the first place? A girl at my son’s school stepped into the road and was seriously injured by a car doing 30 MPH ( luckily she is OK now, the accident was her fault and the car driver was not at fault). The dad of said girl was obviously upset and was pictured on the front of the local rag stating his daughter would not return to school until the speed limit on the road was reduced 20 MPH. Considering the schools aggressive attendance policy I’m guessing the girl would have returned to school the minute she was discharged from hospital otherwise finding herself with a £60 fine from the schools dictator sorry principal (aka bullshit speak for headteacher). I can’t help but think though that surely the answer was to address the cause of the accident. I doubt the girl will ever step out into the road again in her life without checking but a less drastic action to others surely is better road safety education. By campaigning to reduce speed limits rather then bollock his daughter for nearly killing herself people are not benefitting from taking responsibility for their actions. Why should innocent car drivers have to overcompensate for a girls thoughtless actions. Road safety campaigners are quick to call for blanket speed reductions without considering the serious consequences for the economy of slowing the nation down. Aside from the economy reducing speed limits just means people are getting minor injuries being hit by cars at slow speeds. We are not tackling the problem. Doncaster is a final bastion of decent speed limits for motorists. It’s main roads into the town have a 50 MPH limit (40 through the built up bits) yet Leeds and Wakefield up the road now seem to have blanket 30 MPH limits the minute you come off the motorway obvious because the local authorities have caved in to road safety campaigners demands without any actual thought for road safety.

Speed is also the authorities tool for dealing with road safety. Speed cameras are incredibly handy at generating cash but fail to deal with dangerous driving. Any idiot can slam on the brakes for every speed camera then drive dangerously the rest of the time and never get caught. I travelled up a relatively quiet M5 last week, doing 70 ish up the inside lane. Every now and then I would come up against some idiot in the middle lane doing 68 and have to swing right out to the outside lane to safety pass whilst pissing off Mr Audi who wants to do 90 MPH in the outside lane so is up my arse, tailgating until I get round the middle lane driver. In this scenario a speed camera would do me  for going slightly above 70 on a quiet motorway ( there is no set limit on German autobahns) whereas the twat in the middle lane or the tailgater will carry on driving badly and never be dealt with!

Speed is just one element in road safety, it should not be the only tool in road safety campaigners arsenal.

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A blog about @Parkdean’s showers!

Yes, my blogs have really got that boring, I’m writing about my morning shower!

A blog about Parkdean’s showers!

I enjoy the great British seaside caravan park holiday. I grew up with it and despite venturing to more exciting and exotic locations these days I do still try and squeeze in a British break every year. My teens don’t share my youngest’s and ours love of Cornwall so a holiday park provides a bit of a base of normality for them. Although the lack of mobile signal and dodgy wi-FI on the site don’t help! Who doesn’t secretly enjoy a game of Bingo and some lame holiday park entertainers?The last couple of years we have done Parkdean’s (a poor man’s Haven which in turn is a poor man’s Butlins) White Acres Holiday Park near Newquay. I stayed here as a child about 25 years ago before the package holiday to Spain had fully taken off. It is sad to see the demise of the UK’s seaside holidays but I can’t help but think that the industry could do more to make a week at a holiday park in Cornwall seem as appealing as a fortnight half-board in Majorca with First Choice.

Generally I’m happy with White Acres. Indeed this was our third visit and I’m hovering over book now for a fourth next Easter because we still haven’t fully “done” Cornwall yet. I look at my Trip Advisor review I have wrote for my recent visit though and I’m knit-picking. Yeah, generally everything big was good but there are lots of little things and I have to admit by the end of the week, the sheer amount of little things was becoming overwhelming. There is so much choice for holidays you just can’t get away by providing average and not dealing with the little things. You can see my full trip advisor review at http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g186239-d619130-r265001815-Parkdean_White_Acres_Holiday_Park-Newquay_Cornwall_England.html but one of the little problems was the shower in our caravan.

Every morning on this break, on the fortnight here in 2014 and the week in 2013 I would climb into the tiny caravan shower, switch on the water flow, set on hot. Hot water would fall on me and it had the makings of a good shower. But then it went freezing cold, like artic circle freezing cold. Even though the setting was on hot! So I fiddle with the controls even though it is already on hot. No hot is coming. Then suddenly out of the blue, burning hot water. The setting is on cold. I couldn’t let the kids risk the shower. They would have been boiled alive! So I spend 3 minutes jumping backwards to the shower door to avoid the freezing cold followed by the burning rain. I daren’t put shampoo in my hair because I can’t guarantee I will get a good temperature of water to wash it out. I risk a bit of shower gel but have to wipe it off with the towel or else rinse it with ice cold water. I paid £600 per week for this privilege. So I thought I would have a sneaky shower and hair-wash in the swimming pool shower. No chance of that. Out of the 6 showers only one is working and it is a drip but a sign is up saying we are aware of the fault and will rectify it shortly. This sign was up in 2013, 2014 and 2015! 

Do I really want to holiday somewhere where I can’t have the most basic of facilities, a hot shower?

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Tales from my travels

Less a blog, more a travel book! And not a very good one!

A general selection of my musings from my recent travels, not particularly well presented, organised or relevant but something attracted you to start reading this……

I was always a timid traveller. I would get anxious just before a long drive and I was convinced every time I got the train up to London for leisure there was a bomb onboard. And don’t even get me started on sea and air. I think it was a mixture of believing everything I saw in the media and reading/watching too many depressing books/TV shows. I always liked the idea of travel but was a tame tourist hence the bomb excitement over a simple train ride to London, almost a daily occurrence for lots of folk. It was only after joining the railway industry that I started to commute to London daily. I now look at the idiots who struggle with basics like finding their seats and my worries of yesteryear have long gone despite the risk of terrorism on the transport network probably more prevalent these days. Over the past couple of years I have aimed to get some sort of authenticity from my trips as opposed to run of the mill nice and easy package holidays. By authenticity I mean 3 nights without a proper bed slumped across 3 seats on night trains from Brussels to Helsinki instead of taking a three hour flight. It also means I get the moral high ground with the top dog at Greenpeace who flies from Brussels to Amsterdam because the 1 and a half hour train journey is too long for the environmental groups exec. My wife prefers the destination where as I’m for the journey which causes some conflict when it comes to planning our jollies.

My recent trip to Finland I did on my own, well I was meeting people in Helsinki who had set off 3 days after me and got there a couple of hours before me. As well as the risk of being shot down or hijacked (I don’t worry about engine malfunction because I have watched enough episodes of Air Crash Investigation to fix any mid-air scenarios that may arise) they also miss out on the rich tapestry of life you get on 96 hours of train journeys which you simply don’t get on a three hour easyJet flight.

It’s disappointing the German railways (DB) City Night Line brand is being withered away. Gone is the night train to Copenhagen replaced by an (ancient) regular train from Frankfurt to Hamburg. The train stops everywhere and takes 8 hours. Decent night trains could offer a real alternative to flying short-haul (perhaps even for Greenpeace employees) unfortunately from my experience they are far from a luxury product full of interaillers, the less affluent, ethnic minorities and drunks. Doing lots of miles in the dead of night, the fact most German stations are hives of activity all hours making them safer places to wait after hours then some of the UKs dingy affairs along with the bargain fares give the railways something to work with to compete with the airlines especially with the environmentally conscious travellers. That is assuming unlike the Greenpeace gaffer they are all for the environment signing Heathrow third runway petitions and chaining themselves to trees and not bathing for months until it comes to their own travel habits. I would love to see a selection of luxurious (but not too pricey to out price the average guy) sleepers leaving the UK every night for varied destinations in mainland Europe. Maybe I’m wishful thinking for a romantic vision of sleeper trains whose days have now passed. It’s odd to see the only sleepers getting any TLC are the UKs. I have never been on the Anglo-Scottish one but the FGW Penzance one is pointless. It sits around so much en-route it could leave Paddington a day late and still make Penzance on time. It acts as a late train from London to Exeter and an early morning commuter train for Cornwall. It’s two main cities Exeter and Plymouth have awfully unattractive pick up and arrival times!

Frankfurt to Hamburg was no difference to the norm described above. I started with 3 seats to myself so made a bed, sharing a carriage with a few women and all was well until Cologne. It was there,that a bunch of drunks got on, thinking it was hilarious to sing and bang the floors for effect. This went on for two hours. It really is a sad reflection on society that people have so little respect for each other and I have blogged before that I expect these morons are regular guys and girls who for some reason (usually alcohol) and increased confidence from being with friends seem to find it acceptable to behave like cunts. I would love to track them down when they are being normal, going to work and reading the kids bedtime story and just stand in front of their houses and make loads of noise and shout rude words to see if pisses them off! Back to Germany and I can’t help but think that Germany is like the UK in the 1980’s. I expect Angela Merkell may take offence at being called backwards but I don’t mean it as an insult. The spitting, boozing on the streets from morning until night and what seems like mandatory smoking for everyone from aged 12 don’t seem too great however it was good to see a country that doesn’t ban things for being too risky. Posters and magazines that would be slated by Mail and Express readers in the UK (like the Hovis bread advert because the girl had a short skirt) are plastered around underground stations and on proud display in newspaper stands not censored behind dark plastic wrappers so as to not cause offence or heaven forbid be seen by teenagers. Because teenagers don’t know about these things! Health and safety which apparently is a construct of the Brussels beauracrcy machine is ironically nowhere to be seen in Germany. The train doors release as the train slows down at the station not ten minutes after stopping to make sure all the people who lack the common sense not to open a moving train door are catered for. German underground trains don’t carry minute detailed instructions for boarding with prams or standing clear of the doors because people just get on with it. In fact it’s good to see a city of a decent size with good urban transport (Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham take note). It’s good to just be able to get on with your life, free of nanny state, free to make my own decisions and free to live with the consequences. The only bit of nannying I want from the state is the freedom to get on with my own life without fear of other people effecting that freedom. I like the anything goes attitude of the German’s and the Dutch too. Neither are Coca-Cola or booze companies banned from sponsoring things because they are pure evil and the reason for liver cancer and obesity, nothing to do with people’s responsibility. On a lesser note it’s also nice to see a huge selection of reasonable priced and quality food and drink at German stations, open beyond dusk. It’s a far cry from the stale, overpriced Upper Crust sandwiches and other crappy Select Service Partner offerings here in the UK.

It’s a shame the demise of European night trains. I did the Paris to Berlin one and now that’s gone, I didn’t make Copenhagen on the night train because it broke down at Hannover and now that’s gone. Although this did mean I got to do the regular ICE /DSB daytime train from Hamburg to Copenhagen which uses the ferry from Puttgardin to Rodby. What was otherwise a pleasant international journey was again marred by 7 guys sat in the seats directly in front of me. I have to hand it to them though, they broke a new record in alcohol consumption. Again they seemed like regular guys on a weekday. They started as we left Hamburg at 925 am with about five cans each of top strength beer and doing shots downing miniature spirit bottles whole. The train was shifted into the car deck of the Scandlines ferry and we had to vacate the train during the crossing. When we returned to the train they had added a bottle of duty-free Whiskey to their collection which they had finished by Denmark’s capital. How can people even be alive after so much alcohol consumption. I can’t imagine how their bodies took it in. As the booze intake increased the decibels they output also increased. One of them can’t have been as drunk as the others or his conscious didn’t abandon him after 5 pints because he kept telling them to shush, although towards the end this was as annoying as the other noise. I like a beer on the train. I like to look out of the window, to read, catch up on work, daydream, sleep, even talk when I’m travelling with company. Although usually travelling in a group usually makes it cheaper to go by car. I would be embarrassed to cause so much of a disturbance to others. I can’t see why people think that kind of behaviour is acceptable in public places!

I’m pleased to say the next leg of my journey, a five hour train from Copenhagen to Stockholm, 12 hour sleeper to Lulea and then 2 hour bus ride across the border to Kemi in Finland was drunk free and a pleasurable journey with the only thing rising through the journey being the amount of snow on the ground. In fact I was the drunk being told off. I was about to open my 330ml can of Heineken when the train manager appeared from nowhere and told me only booze purchased onboard can be consumed. Although I’m against these schemes which profit the train company at the expense of the passenger (and an illegal monopoly) it was noticeable the nicer environment. Not wanting to diss the Germans again but the Swedish are a much sexier bunch then their dowdier German near neighbours, even the Swedish men almost manage to pull off those bright colours. It seems a lot more modern then some of its European neighbours. There is a distinct lack of neon lights compared to Belguim and Germany but still a lot of heavy industry, a rarity in modern Britain. It’s also amazing to see just how much snow they have but most amazingly how it doesn’t stop everyday life. Public transport remains (very) efficient, pavements are also cleared, the UK could learn a lot.

I make it over the border into Finland at Tornio and a short bus ride to the city of Kemi where I have 4 hours to kill before my sleeper train to Helsinki. It’s like stepping into the apocalypse. There was an eyrie mist off the Baltic Sea over the town at dusk which gave it a strange glow but there were literally no people, no pedestrians, no cars. Everything was closed. Shops, restaurants and bars all closed about 5pm, even the pubs. The fact the Christmas tree was still up and lit in the main square made me seriously think some kind of Armageddon happened around Xmas and I’m the first to arrive on the scene (or that it’s a marketing ploy as it is in Lapland area). I know the urge to leave home in minus 5 temperatures amidst lashings of snow must not be tempting but for a whole city it was bizarre. You know it’s bad when you do a find your nearest McDonalds search and it comes up with one 150 KM away. I eventual found a Pizzeria on a side street and guess what? I was the only customer. The pizza and beer was good followed by a walk round a late night supermarket (9pm late night not late night by normal standards) just to pass time. All the stations I have been to on my travels so far have been huge with food and drink to while away the hours to departure. Unfortunately Kemi Central station like everything else in Kemi has nothing but a deserted waiting room. It doesn’t have many trains. My connections have all worked perfectly so far and as I wait here at Kemi station for 3 hours (not even any wi-FI) Im starting to wish I hadn’t added in extra contingency to account for delays. My journey home is much tighter connections, will be interesting to see if I make it back to West Yorkshire by Maundy Thursday as planned (read on to find out if you are that interested). As I left the pizzeria I commented to the waitress whose English was far superior then my non existent Finnish about the town being quiet and when I said I was killing time for the train, she asked where to, to which I replied Helsinki, to which she replied “naturally”. Maybe a bit of North-South divide present in Finland too. I can’t see Kemi ever being a Northern powerhouse in any sense! 

So my third night in a row of not much sleep on the train proved the worst. The train was busy. A girl was asleep in my seat when I boarded and didn’t want to wake her and claim my rightful seat like I would have in the UK owing to the potential language barrier of making my case. Although up until now I have found the Finn’s English very good which makes my complete lack of knowledge of the Finnish language a tad embarrassing. Obviously though I have never had course to learn Finnish and would struggle to remain competence owing to my little need to speak it overall. I feel like telling everyone I speak a bit of Dutch and French to highlight I’m not a complete idiot. I took another empty seat waiting for someone to kick me out of it en-route but nobody did however the guys in front decided to fully recline their seats leaving me with very little room and not much sleep. Out of the window vast landscapes of what I can only describe as Christmas tree forests whizz by, the snow had started falling thick and fast and the traditional wooden finish houses made for pleasurable window shopping en-route. A couple of quick stop offs in Tampere and Turku before onto the capital. Being from the North of England where the highlight is getting a 20 year old cattle truck over a 30 year old pacer, there is something exciting about travelling on the modern double deck trains. So far have spent all my time on battered old sleeper rolling stock somewhere on a par with the UKs mark 1 stock. It was interesting to note a short shower hose in the toilets of Finnish commuter trains which I’m guessing acts as a sort of bedae? Interesting toilet habits of the Finns. However on arrival Helsinki will have to wait. I’m checking into my hotel and catching up on 3 days missed sleep. It’s bloody tiring this authentic travel!

A week in a  Helsinki  and day trip to Tallinn taught me a number of things:

It’s bloody cold in Finland.

Everybody in Helsinki  lives in an apartment (literally didn’t see one house)

The state control all sales of spirits and wines (except pubs) through its Alko brand stores (personal freedom and monopoly issues going on here!)

The Finnish are far too keen to get naked- I’m talking Saunas.

Helsinki to Tallinn is just Dover to Calais before duty free disappeared- booze cruise time!

So it’s time to start the long trek home! My first mistake was to believe the Silja line advertising that the port of Turku was a short walk from the station. A short half hour walk although it did transpire there was a station at the terminal served at ferry times. My bed for the night was the MS Baltic, a huge ship to take me to Stockholm with a short stop in Mariehamm which I believe is for some customs loop hole so the ship can sell cheap booze or something. Despite this being my third ferry crossing of my jolly I’m feeling somewhat apprehensive about this journey across the Baltic Sea. Although the crossing actually proves relatively smooth my cabin is at the back near the engines and so the sway of the sea has been replaced by the vibrations of the engines. The journey seemed more of a river passage then a sea crossing. The Baltic between Turku and Stockholm is littered with lots of islands. 10 hours, a fine buffet,a few bottles of duty free and a bad nights sleep later and I’m in Stockholm and around 30 hours from the bright lights of West Yorkshire.

The next leg of my long journey home was Stockholm to Copenhagen by train. I have found the Swedish railways highly efficient making huge distances without losing a single minute en-route. I had pre-booked food with my reservation and received a ready meal of Chicken in white sauce I had to microwave myself on the train which was nicer then it sounds. I think I arrived in Copenhagen on the same day the entire population of Denmark were leaving by train for their Easter break. I needed to make a reservation so went to the ticket office where they have a deli-counter style system where you take a ticket and wait to be called. Not good when your train leaves in 5 minutes and you get number 519 and they have just called 226! I finally made it out of Denmark and over the border into Germany, home edging ever closer. I have covered around 1000 KM since jumping ship at Stockholm and all has been ontime that is until the penultimate train before I reach the night train in Hamburg to take me through the night towards Brussels and the Eurostar back to the UK. 

One day at home and then it’s a 300 mile drive to Cornwall with the family for the week! I need a rest!!!!!

P

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It’s not cheap to ring home from abroad! A blog about @EE and high charges to use mobiles abroad.

I’m sick of hearing how apparently it’s now cheaper then ever to use your mobile phone in Europe. Bullshit! Some networks boast charges are just the same as using in the UK. Bullshit again. Everyman and his dog has a monthly package of calls, texts and data even most pay as you go users. As you can’t use these packages in Europe this automatically means that you will have significant costs as whatever it costs to use your phone in Europe you still have your normal package to pay. I pay £45 a month for my “free” (lol) phone, unlimited calls, texts and data. I have just spent the last ten days in Europe and EE were so kind so cap my calls and texts at £2 a day. That’s very kind of them. So for March I can pay my £45 package and £20 for the ten days I have been out of the UK. Data is the “best” deal (double lol). For £12 I can have 500MB of Internet over 7 days. Not bad. Nobody really understands what MB means but hey £500 is a huge number. I mean if someone offered me 500 chocolate bars or cans of Coke for £12 I would be like hell, yeah! Well no, not really. It lasted a couple of days. 

Bear in mind my hotel had free wi-fi, European cities generally offer free wi-fi and even public transport offers free wi-fi,that, wait for it……actually works. (Take note Virgin trains East Coast). Also I switched off all my notifications because obviously smart phones are always beeping and updating and using data 24/7. I once bought 50MB of data abroad off EE for my I-pad and forgot to stop whatever my I-pad does. It lasted 3 minutes!!!!! I won’t make that mistake again. I’m sure my I-pad is up to something big to use that much data in a few minutes. I’m sure it will give me a notification one day telling me it has cured cancer! Back to my phone and I even had it in don’t roam mode. I literally switched it to row,m and checked my e-mails and Facebook for a few minutes every now and then. And it was just gone! I ended up buying too 500MB bundles and two smaller 50MB bundles spending £30 despite having unlimited data on my package. So my usual £45 phone bill in April is £95! It’s so cheap using my phone abroad the advert says!

Here’s an idea. Why can’t I just use my current minutes, texts and data when I’m in Europe? Is this such a huge problem for mobile networks?

I highlighted this to EE on Twitter who suggested I call them to discuss my concerns. Which translate as they have no response and I’m making them look bad on Twitter so they are trying to contain me. You have to ring EE because they are a communications company who you can’t contact electronically. Do you think they will say “yes Paul you are right, we will lower our prices immediately for all customers using their phones abroad” or do you think I will get to pick loads of options, none of them quite what I want before being put on hold for hours and then getting through to a non English speaking person who hasn’t a clue what I’m on about but will read me some spiel about call charges in Europe that just confirms what I have just said that it costs a lot to use EE abroad and I didn’t need to ring them for this. I wasn’t suggested EE had made a mistake on my bill, I’m suggesting the bill is right, it’s the call charges abroad that are so high!

Don’t waste my time!

P

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