Archive for September, 2007
Ray Perman finds a quicker, more comfortable alternative to flying. And, to coin a phrase, it doesn’t cost the earth.
It has always puzzled me why anyone would fly from Manchester to London rather than take the train. By the time you drag out from the city centre to the airport, allow for your check-in time and the slow trudge through security, have the hour’s flying time and then get in to London from any of the airports, the whole journey must take you at least three hours. Whereas the train takes at least half an hour less. Yet they do it. Train, I’m happy to say, is taking an increasing share of the market, but 40% of passengers still go by air.
From Edinburgh or Glasgow the time balance is more marginal. I left central London at 2.45pm last week and was home by 7.30pm, having had a relaxing journey and caught up on my emails with the in-train wi-fi. By air the time would have been at best an hour shorter – provided the plane had left on time. Trains are not immune to delays, but CAA figures show that they are still more reliable than air travel.
And they are much more comfortable. You get a larger seat and a proper table and can move around when you want to. Euston and Kings Cross are not my favourite places, but when you catch the train you only have to be there a few minutes before it leaves. UK airports (except the Isle of Barra) are now degrading and depressing places and you are forced to spend at least an hour there.
I’m just booking a month ahead and I see that the cheapest Easyjet flight Edinburgh-London is around £30, but onto that I have to add the cost of getting to and from airports at either end – a minimum of £15-20 and possibly over £30 if I take a taxi rather than bus at Edinburgh. The cheapest rail fare is £35 or I can go first class for £56, with free tea and coffee, food brought to my table and free internet.
And I haven’t yet mentioned climate change. Who says we have to make sacrifices to save the planet?
September 28th, 2007
“I spoke yesterday to my friends in Rangoon. They fear the worse but hope desperately for change. I make no excuse for pleading to you my friends on behalf of the Burmese people. This is their hour of need. Uncertainty, fear and just a glimmer of hope exist in that country. We can do something to support them, here and now.”
We can do something to help. I got a forwarded email this morning showing that there’s a two-way traffic of information and hope between Burma and the rest of the world.
I am pasting in the email, circulated by an Edinburgh branch of the Labour Party, asking for help on behalf of the Burma Educational Scholarship Trust, an Edinburgh based charity supporting Burmese refugees to continue with higher education.
“Of course BEST needs your support. Whatever happens over the coming days and weeks, change will not come quickly or easily. We will need to keep helping the constant stream of people fleeing from the country. And it’s not so far away. The UK government has just announced a dispersal of Burmese asylum seekers to Glasgow. If you think you can help us through raising awareness, personal support or would like to make a donation to BEST, you can go to the BEST website.”
September 27th, 2007
It was raining in Rangoon in the first film I watched yesterday. Monks with bare feet and shaved heads walked through the street among crowds of people carrying umbrellas. Most of them looked very young and vulnerable, their wet clothes clinging to slim bodies. Even though I had just looked at a spectacular photograph of the monks spread across the centre pages of the Guardian there was something startling about seeing them moving across the screen in front of me right here in the safety of my Edinburgh home.
Today filmed fragments on YouTube, Reuters and the Guardian show monks and their supporting masses moving among flames and smoke. The military has struck. Aljazeera website reports that seven people may be dead, three of them monks.
I am ashamed I know so little about the struggle for democracy in a far off country. I do not even know whether it is right to call it Burma (as the Western press tends to) or Myanmar as used by the UN and Aljazeerah. According to the BBC, Myanmar is a name imposed by the military junta so it is more sympathetic to use the name bequeathed by British imperialism.
I am just moved by the impact of these images on my screen; a distant news story becomes human as young men and women file past my desk in baseball caps and t shirts, sandals and jeans. One stops to raise a thumb at the camera smiling broadly. Smiling at me.
All the more powerful because the pictures are not BBC perfect. The video I watched first was made for Reuters by someone driving through the streets of Rangoon, and there are others on YouTube filmed in secret on mobile phones. Some doing it apparently simply because they can: “By posting this video, I am in no form or other making a political statement. I am simply uploading rare footage that might be of interest to a number of viewers out there.” (see YouTube)
But the unstoppable internet gives new hope to countries fighting for democracy. Aljazeera carries a report about the exiled radio and tv station, Democratic Voice of Burma broadcasting from Oslo with the help of videos smuggled out of the country.
Yesterday I clicked on the film because I am intrigued by the way old media is using new technology to bring new life to their news coverage. Now, I have no choice. I feel a direct connection with other human beings that reading a newspaper or watching the television rarely brings.
September 26th, 2007
The Road to the Isles is getting straighter. That’s good news for holiday makers with carsick kids and haulage drivers winding through some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain. But it’s not so good for wonderful old woodlands laid waste to make way for the bold, broad ribbon of tarmac unfolding a new straight A830 all the way to Maillaig.
Further down the coast: rare west coast woodland is protected on the SNH nature reserve at Taynish.
I had very mixed feelings on our last trip to Canna. I remember long, tortuous journeys, racing for the ferry with green-faced boys in the back seat threatening to offload their breakfasts at every passing place along the singletrack road. Now you can put your foot down and sail past Arisaig with only a sideways glance to catch sight of the golden sands. Our latest trip from Edinburgh to Mallaig took just under four hours, 17 minutes shorter than the AA estimate, and we weren’t rushing. When the final phase is finished the journey will be even quicker.
I know my feelings would be much simpler if I lived and worked anywhere along that route. Even with the new road this part of Scotland still feels extraordinarily remote. The remoteness is part of the allure but it is hard work trying to make a living in isolated shrinking communities where kids leave to go to college and rarely come back.
There are cheering signs of new bustling business in the little fishing port (and on the small isles). Not surprisingly Highland Council greets the road as great news for the local economy. But all progress has a cost and I wonder if the cost of road building ever includes the cost of the impact on the local environment.
Healthy survival of any human settlement requires good routes for trade and services. For the Highland Council this last £22million investment, with the help of European money, is a ‘lifeline for the community’. The loss of woodland must seem a small price to pay. But I think, or hope, that loss of our natural landscape may soon need to be factored into the cost of any new development. Those old trees on either side of the old A830 supported their own bustling community, a rich and complex mix of plants and living creatures: birds and bats thriving on West Coast midges. What was their value? Where and how will they be replaced?
Ironically, running alongside the A830 is an alternative route to Mallaig, a railway offering the most beautiful train journey in Britain running along the coast, passed heather tracks and through old trees. The young Polish hitch hiker we picked up on the road home said it was ‘like a fairytale’. Couldn’t we invest a few million to encourage more people to rediscover the magic of this way of travelling?
September 21st, 2007
“Brazil is a place of freedom even though it is so dramatically smashed up and kicked around. We are free and that is just a beautiful thing to be.” Os Mutantes from Sao Paolo talking to DJ Twitch from Optimo Glasgow on the Trocabrahma podcast.
I have been pestering Dougal for a piece of Global Gossip for my blog. He promises at least one story from his travels this year: from Bali to Brazil – with just a brief pause for breath in Glasgow. I know there are many good stories and that they will come but meanwhile I have pilfered some trophies from the trip Dougal and Tommy took to Sao Paolo in May to record the Trocabrahma exchange between UK and Brazilian artists and musicians – and back for return gigs in Liverpool, London and Glasgow.
It’s a wild, liberating concept (and inspired branding on the part of sponsors Brahma beers) with extraordinary results (not least Dougal’s blog about eating liver in a jazz bar in the early hours of the morning in that city of 18 million people). So I have snaffled a flyer from the Trocabrahma website for the podcast series. The first episode appeared on the new Channel 4 Radio website last weekend and I have downloaded it from the Trocabrahma website. It’s great stuff (congratulations to sound man Bobby and production team Claire, Tiff, Tony and Heidi) and I have inside information that the second podcast, out soon, will be even better.
All this will keep me happy for a while, but I will get that Global Gossip from Dougal yet. Maybe something about that complex Latin American culture where danger and freedom seem to go hand in hand with wonderful music and a zest for life, and Os Mutantes finds ‘a bunch of kids starting new stuff…not just writing to a formula…we’re at the start of something.’ And a rehash of the liver would be ok too.
You can subscribe to the Trocabrahma podcast via iTunes (click here) or Feedburner (here).
September 12th, 2007