Friday, February 24, 2006

London suffers again

The other day there was a report that the RMT want a deal so that they don't strike over the period that the Olympic games are on.

They want more money for the period the games are on, they want an increase in the amount of money their drivers will earn per hour just for when the games are on.

Are these people serious, what the fuck are they smoking at the RMT

Their members are paid to turn up to work no matter what the situation, I along with so many other people in London won't get a special Olympic bonus, so what gives, it is basically trying to blackmail London Underground to screw them out of more money.

Surely this has to be illegal, this is the union stating quite clearly that if they don't get a special bonus their staff won't work

As you can see from the link, I am not the only one who thinks this is a farce...

RMT Union wants Olympic strike deal


What is it?

It is a number for sure, but today it signifies more, it is the age I am now, another year has gone by another notch on the body has been added and I am now 33, never to be 32 again.

A lot has happened this past year that has gone by since I became 33. This time last year I was unemployed, I was without a partner, I was just beginning my second year of my OU and struggling. I didn’t even feel inclined to go out and celebrate my birthday because I felt there was little or nothing to celebrate.

Now, a year later, I have been working for nearly 9 months now in a job that holds a lot of promise for the future especially in extending my career. I am living with my partner now for the past 6 months and looking ever forward to more time together as we will go away this year to Paris (my anniversary/valentines present to her), trip around Eastern Europe for two weeks, visit a friend in Belfast as well. Also I am now in my third of four years on my OU course, finding it hard work, but when was level 3 of a degree ever going to be easy!!!

I have a lot more to look forward to, out tonight with Z and a dear friend of mine and his partner as well, a nice evening to look forward to, something which I certainly didn’t expect and certainly couldn’t have foreseen to happen previously.

There are those who aren’t around to celebrate which is a shame, it would be nice to have them around and join in the evening of what will be laughter, fun, etc.

Things are much more settled, more planned than for a long time, a lot of that comes down to Z, and the hope she gives me. I still have my moments where things get too difficult, but Z has really become a great rock in my life, and I try everyday to make sure she knows it.

Smoking ban at last!!!

Late to report it, I know….

At last the government has seen common sense and is to ban smoking in public places. It was great to know that MPs that don’t reside in England ensured that we English aren’t the poor cousins of the rest of the UK.

I do have a few concerns mind, firstly when are we going to stop MPs who are not from England have a say in matters that are specific to the English, the likes of John Reid, Gordon Brown, etc dictating that we couldn’t have a smoking ban in England, but their own constituents were to have a smoking ban in public. This is a serious anomaly with the UK government which has come about because of the screw up with devolution; the sooner it is fixed the better.

I do wonder why we have to wait until summer 2007 for the smoking ban to come into effect, why so long, how hard is it to ensure it starts this summer, I mean it isn’t like new equipment has to be bought, new training to undertake, and it is just enforcing a law which doesn’t take a lot to do. A golden missed opportunity here.

Lastly, I am very concerned as to how they will enforce this rule, I say this because for almost the last 20 years on the tube, there has been a no smoking policy, but I daily see it broken, I see people who think it is perfectly fine to smoke and get away with it, because no one can do anything about, these people even stand next to a no smoking sign as well, as almost an extra defiance to the rules. A lot of these people probably don’t recall Kings Cross fire, and what was deemed to have started it. What I think causes confusion for a lot of people is that smoking on the old British rail stations isn’t banned, or if it is, it is broken even more than on the tube.

I just hope this means that next summer I can go to a bar and not come home smelling of smoke, mean I can be out for longer without suffering the stinging in my eyes of the smoke and the feeling of needing to retch at the sheer haze of smoke that occupies some bars and pubs, and allow me to eat my food without having someone light up whilst I am eating like last weekend when I took Z out for her birthday celebration.

Devolution for England

In all of the devolution debates that have gone on, the Scottish, the Welsh, the Northern Irish have all been given their own local government which is perfectly fine, but in doing so what has happened is that those MPs who represent those areas are having a say in English matters, but English MPs can’t have a say in the other areas matters, a point in example is that all MPs have a say in the reforms of the English education system, but can the English MPs have a say in the Scottish education reform, can they hell. This devolution has been a one way process, where by the non-English MPs haven’t lost any of their power and can actually screw us English over and thus make our lives worse than their own constituents.

A further point with this, when London got its own local government in the Mayor we were told that we were to have much more power than we currently have. Why did that change, the simple answer would be, because Ken Livingstone won, the Labour Party didn’t want him to have power that they felt he would be able to use against them, so basically Londoners lost out because of this government wanting to remain in power and reward those north of the borders, west of the borders with more power and leave us English floundering against rules which others countries in the union don’t have to tell with, well thank you so very much Mr.Blair.

This is Mr.Blair’s take

Why English MPs are a lesser class of MP

Someone who is basically looking after his party’s fortunes rather than looking after this country.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Adventure in Slovakia

For the past week, I have been having an adventure in Slovakia with my partner. I had made a decision some months back to agree to go and see her home town in Slovakia and also meet her family. It turned out to be quite a trip.

You know how you have thoughts that something might go wrong, well me and Z both talked about it before I left that something might go wrong and that instead of me arriving 3 hours before she does, I would arrive either at the same time or after her, well lo and behold I arrived 2 hours after she did, and not for the reasons we thought either. We both thought I would be delayed in Stansted for some reason like snow at the airport her or in Poprad. In the end it was down to a problem with the plane, which meant instead of landing at Poprad-Tatry, I was in Kosice which is a good 2 hours coach ride away, not exactly the star to the trip I had in mind.

I had to wake up at 4am on the Saturday, to ensure I was able to check in on time, especially as the tube decided it would be a good idea to have engineering works, thus extending the travel time, thankfully I got to Stansted in time, and we actually took off on time as well, which surprised me.

With the flight leaving at 9am, I thought yep, I will be there at 12.30 as expected, oh no, not this time. At 12pm, they told us on the flight that there was a problem at Poprad-Tatry airport, which I later found out was false, it was a problem with a compressor on the plane, which meant we weren’t able to land at Poprad-Tatry, but would be flying on to Kosice. I am guessing they don’t have the maintenance crews at Poprad, so that is why we flew on.

This left me obviously with concerns, cause I don’t speak any Slovak, except for the bare basics, to say hello and please, thank you, not much use when trying to find out what has to be done and where to go. So in my own style I asked the stewardess to explain the situation, just about got the gist that there was a problem at Poprad, but we would fly on to Kosice and then there would be a transfer, yikes, a transfer and they don’t generally speak English, so feeling a tad stuffed. I hadn’t a need to worry, my partners family had phoned the airline to say that I was on it and that they would need to make it very clear as to what needs to be done, because I am profoundly deaf, and don’t understand Slovak.

What was funny, was when the plane was to begin the descent, one of the stewardesses asked me to take out my hearing aids. She said I need to take them off, pointing to my ears, and I have gold ear moulds, I said I need them, she was you need to take them off, I was like, I have to wear them I can’t hear otherwise, it was only then it dawned on me, she thought they were headphones for a stereo, and explaining that they were hearing aids, she was so apologetic. Poor girl, she was so embarrassed, had no idea that they could be hearing aids. I never thought that would happen.

Well we land at Kosice and when they open the door, bearing in mind this is a single building airport, very small airport, looks like an ex-military base with the military planes there, they ask for me, which was really nice, that was when I found out they knew the situation.

Once I got through passport control which took all of what 2 seconds, as it is so small, and the baggage carousel was right next to it as well as the exit for the airport, basically an enlarged shed. I had to figure out what to do, where to go, how long to wait, etc. Trying to converse with some of the staff was a waste of time, they enjoyed laughing at me trying to work out the situation, they didn’t really speak English and I didn’t Slovak, not a good thing, thankfully I found the right person, and they ensured I got the coach which took nearly 3 hours to turn up.

The coach journey gave me a view of Slovakia I never expected to experience whilst there. All the way through the countryside, through villages, towns, etc and then eventually 5 hours later or so than expected I arrived at Poprad-Tatry, hoping that Z would be there, no such luck, I was feeling so tired and dejected, I had been up for 12 hours plus travelling, not feeling too great. Thankfully Z and her parents turned up about 5/10 minutes later so it wasn’t too bad, but I was just dead on my feet from that, and I was thinking mmm, please tell me the rest of the week will be a little more relaxing.

That first night I had proper Slovak food – sauerkraut, with soup, not bad, it was quite nice, a little salty, but Slovak food tends to be saltier than I am certainly used to. I also met her sister and family as well that night. Trying to understand what they were saying was difficult, because I don’t understand the language and Z had to do a lot of translation between me and her family, though we did try hard all of us to find a way to get some of it across.

Poprad is a nice place, a slower pace of life than London, and more snow than I can ever remember seeing in all of my life in London. The last time I think I saw that much snow was when I was 6 or 7 years old, that is over 25 years ago, so you can imagine how I saw it. It was cold as well, and typically I didn’t prepare well enough for the cold and the snow, just my luck.

The first day we were there, we did a lot of walking around, with Z showing me parts of the town, I managed to land on my behind at least 2/3 times, of course wearing the wrong shoes for the environment, thankfully though I had a good coat to keep me warm, even with it losing the feathers at a rate of knots, by the end of the week, I look like a chicken…. Being Slovakia they had a local ice rink and it was very good luck that the Sunday was the day it was partly open to the locals for a couple of hours. I explained to Z that I couldn’t really ice skate, not that she believed me, because I said I wasn’t really any good at badminton and she feels I am. It was only after landing on my butt for umpteenth time that she believed me. I certainly stood out, that is for sure, the locals know how to ice skate, Z could, and I was the foreigner who was all over the shop, getting knocked, pushed about by the locals, and I was like a mobile chicane, holding everyone up. By the end of 2 hours I was shattered, tired and a little sore from falling all over the place, as well as trying to figure out how to keep balance. I most definitely need more practice, not that there is that much chance in London with our weather.
As Z said at least I tried and by the end I didn’t fall quite as often as at the beginning and I was getting somewhere, but nowhere near as good as Z.

The second day we decided to go to a place called Aquacity - Aquacity
We did the Vital package, 3 hours of relaxing, with steam rooms, saunas, snow cave - Aquacity Vital World

It was really nice to go, it cost 500sk each, which is about £10, might not sound a lot, but for the locals that is when the average wage is about 7000sk a month. Most of the people who were there, were from abroad – Poles, Russians, Czechs, Ukraine, etc. Sadly they lack decent manners, that is for sure. I am not one for saying bad about other nations, but they had no manners at all, lording it up and thinking they ran the place.

If you ever do find yourself in Poprad, you must go to Aquacity, I came out after the 3 hours feeling so light, and fresh, it was so fantastic, a much recommended place to visit. I couldn’t handle the snow cave, way too cold, but some could.

We also later in the week went to the High Tatras, with the intention of sledging; it was something that Z had done before when younger. We went to a place called Strbske Pleso. There were a lot of tourists there, many for snowboarding and many for skiing as well. It seems the runs that used to be useable for the sledging are no longer available as they are now ski runs instead, which was a big shame, as we had both hoped to have a good time up there sledging. It seems the area has given itself over to the ski and snowboard people and thus making money out of them for it. Fantastic views and you have to be careful of those who go very fast on their skis and boards.

There is also a lovely lake up there, and we thought we would go and have a look at it, a really breathtaking view, but the lake was covered in snow, and deep snow too as we found as we crossed it. Neither of us expected it to be so deep and no matter how we tried to find the right part to cross, it was more a trek than a simple crossing. We were only up there a couple of hours, as we did all we could do. The train to take us up there was so modern and clean, not like the horrible things that we find on London underground.

We also went out another night to a proper Slovak restaurant, and the food was fantastic, I really enjoyed it. The restaurant we went to had pictures of ice hockey stars, and there was an Ottawa senators game shirts, which I hadn’t expected to see. Ice hockey is big in Slovakia, very big, with plenty of snow and ice that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was.

Another thing I found to be a surprise was the fact that there a quite a few tescos in Slovakia, hypermarket tescos, generally more expensive than the local supermarkets, but I go away from London and there is Tesco, and they have roller blading staff in there as well, such a neat idea, who knows why we don’t have in London, so much easier to get things. Probably fail here as people don’t know how to use roller blades that well here compared to them it seems.

What was a really nice thing was there was none of the big fast food chains in Poprad, I know they exist in other cities in Slovakia, but not in Poprad, they said no to them being there, and it is so nice not to see McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, etc in Poprad, so I got the chance to experience more of the real Slovakia, without the intrusion of the big fast food chains.

The locals are also quite friendly, none of the usual stuff you suffer in London, although though if you are crossing the road, you best find a way to not get killed, they don’t seem to understand pedestrian crossings and the traffic lights go green whilst you are part of the way across, they give you maybe 5 seconds at most to cross the road, and that isn’t even feasible for the likes of me and I am reasonably fit.

I got to enjoy the local food quite a few times, with Z’s parents and sister giving me food and plenty of it, they serve big portions, boy I felt bloated a number of times as well. I managed to lose weight though, which I always end up doing when travelling, no idea why, other than my stomach feels funny for days before it settles and then it isn’t too bad, but the food is really nice. I am hoping that Z is able to bring home some of recipes, some we can have some of the food here, as it was really nice.

My time there felt not long enough, it was cold enough, and I did a lot of walking, remembering to walk on ice patches carefully, and not something common here. I found her family to be very nice and despite the language barrier, we all tried to find some commonality that allowed us to try and communicate.

I am looking forward to the chance to see Poprad in the summer, as it is even nicer apparently and the views I saw were amazing, the mountains dwarfing the town, whilst it doesn’t seem anything special to them, for me it is an amazing landscape, one which sadly suffered a catastrophe the other year where they lost the majority of the pinewood forest that covered a large part of the mountain. It looks quite naked now, with so much of it gone - High Tatras catastrophe

It isn’t expensive to go to at the moment, though with Poprad growing very fast and more tourists turning up, I imagine sooner rather than later it will be a place that gets more and more expensive to visit. So go now rather than later, although it did help me a lot by having a local guide me around, helping with translations as well.