Side-effects of technological change

This fascinating question was posted in a school governor webinar that I attended today, as we covered the services offered by the NSPCC:

With mobile phones being far more popular than landline phones, are children finding it more difficult to access Childline? What are their options?

I’d never thought about this before. It’s an example of a side-effect of technological change that I hadn’t considered. Like many other people I know, we ditched our home ‘land line’ phone some time ago. Fortunately, as one avenue of communication has closed down, others have opened up; children are now able to contact the service via other methods such as live chat and email.

When I started work almost 25 years ago, the big London train stations all used split-flap displays for their departure boards, like this one:

At some point they were replaced with digital dot matrix displays, which themselves have recently been superseded (at Euston at least) by new full-colour high-definition dashboards. A side effect of getting rid of the split-flap displays is that there is no longer any noise as they update, forcing people to keep looking at them as opposed to doing something else whilst listening for the audio cues.

I wouldn’t want to give up the benefits of new technologies — cheap mobile phone plans and information-rich dashboards in these two cases — but it’s interesting to see these side effects and note that not all of the progress is completely positive.

Got notified of the opportunity to go and see Magdalena Bay at their gig in London tonight. It was so tempting, but I couldn’t face being in a packed room with everyone singing along while the new COVID variant is out there. I really miss live music.

Snowpoet @ Green Note

Green Note

Green Note

Now that was a delightful night out. The Green Note is a lovely, intimate venue just a few yards away from Camden Town tube station. I got there early and brazenly plonked myself right at the front, a good move as the place was sold out and ended up fully packed. As it filled up I had the good fortune of the seat next to me being taken by Peter Freeman, a stalwart of the jazz scene who goes to gigs almost every night of the week. He was delightful company. Everyone in the band seemed to know him, and I overheard one of them say to him at as I left at the end that they always need to be on their game when he’s in the audience. What a wonderful way to spend your retirement.

It doesn’t get much closer to the stage than this. My table is visible in the lower part of the shot!

It doesn’t get much closer to the stage than this. My table is visible in the lower part of the shot!

Full up but they kept coming

Full up but they kept coming

Snowpoet were brilliant from start to finish. Lauren Kinsella‘s voice, and her delicate control of it, was the centrepiece. The band played a couple of songs where Lauren was accompanied by very little, and it was mesmerising. The rest of the band were amazing, with members jumping between instruments for each part of the set, playing seamless segues between songs and letting the music build, leap and soar.

In many ways it must be more daunting to play smaller venues than larger ones, with every last piece of the performance under the microscope, and a dependency for the audience and the performers to tune in and respond to each other. Awkwardly, the stage was placed at the entrance to the room which meant that anyone needing to go to the toilet, needing to come back from the toilet, arriving late or getting bar supplies had to shuffle past in between songs. After the first number, a latecomer tripped on the guitarist’s music stand, sending the sheets flying everywhere. The band coped admirably with the pauses and flying paper, keeping the audience engaged and sustaining the vibe.

I felt like a stranger when I entered, but fully part of the room by the time it wrapped up with a wonderful encore of Love Again. I’m really looking forward to seeing Snowpoet again sometime, and hearing more from them on record again soon.





Barriers, forms and looking after your customers

I pay London Midland nearly £4,500 for my annual season ticket. On Monday morning after arriving in London, bleary-eyed and limping along from my weekend's cycling, I discovered that I had left my ticket in the wrong wallet. Due to Berkhamsted station not having any ticket barriers and my train rolling up to a platform at Euston that was also devoid of ticket readers I only realised my predicament when I descended to the tube for leg two of my commute. Tube journeys aren't that expensive if you use a contactless card so I just sighed at my dozyness, resigned myself to having to pay for a couple of tube trips, waved my credit card at the yellow reader and figured I'd deal with it when I got back to Euston.

On the way home I was in a rush to catch my train in order to get to a school governors' meeting. There is always an attendant at the barriers at Euston and I thought that just perhaps there would be a chance that I would be able to let him or her know what had happened and he would wave me through. I couldn't have been more wrong.

I have discovered that the process you have to go through is as follows:

  1. Get directed to the customer service window, usually staffed by only one person with a queue of people in front of it. On this occasion it meant that I missed my train.
  2. Explain your predicament to the customer service agent.
  3. Buy a ticket home (£14.40 off-peak from Euston to Berkhamsted!)
  4. Start your journey but remember not to put your ticket in any barrier at your destination as you need to hold onto it.
  5. At a later point, when you have your season ticket with you—probably in peak hours if this is when you usually travel—speak to another customer service agent and get a pink 1970s-style (actually revised in 1996!) carbon-copy form to fill out with your details. These details include your full credit card number and expiry date for all to see.
  6. Hand the form over along with the ticket to be refunded, your season ticket, your photocard and wait about ten minutes for the form to be added to and stamped.
  7. Be given the carbon copy of the form (see below) and be told that “they will call you if there are any questions, otherwise the money will be refunded in about ten days or so.”

At first it seemed bizarre to me that a company would treat its season-ticket buying customers like this, making them jump through hoops when there is a simple error. Then it dawned on me that there is probably no incentive to change—the process is such a pain that there is automatically a barrier to people pursuing refunds, resulting in more money for the company. They also have a monopoly—there is no other way of going from Berkhamsted to Euston on the train—and so it isn't that I can go to another train operator that makes a point of having better customer service than their peers.

To give the firm a little credit, they have made some things easier over recent times such as giving us the ability to log a 'Delay Repay' claim using their iPhone app. Perhaps this could be the next area to look at. I know that the company couldn't replace the outdated paper ticket system on their own, but having something on my phone that proves I am a gold-card holder would make life much easier.


The Art of the Brick

We took a family trip to London today to go and see The Art of the Brick exhibition in the Old Truman Brewery near Spitalfields. Our boys (aged seven and five) both enjoyed it and we wandered around to a lot of excited calls of “Daddy!” and “Mummy!” as they came across new things.

Although a lot of the artefacts in the exhibition were impressive, the notes about each exhibit came across as pretty cheesy and at £47 for all of us to get in it didn’t feel like great value for money. Still, we had fun and enjoyed a look around the market afterwards. Photos from the exhibition are below.

[simple-flickr set=72157648671375860]

A windy day in London

Broken tree, Finsbury Square, LondonIt’s been one hell of a windy day here in the UK. The photo to the right is a shot I took this evening in Finsbury Square, London, of a humongous branch that had been ripped off of a tree. It was so big that instead of it being moved, a small fence had been put up around it.

Earlier in the day, looking out of my office window I had seen birds being completely batted away as they tried to fly into the gusts of wind. Newspaper was flying high up into the sky and the fence around the building site opposite my office had come down. One of my colleagues told me that he had nearly been hit by a flying hard-hat that had been blown off of a site workman (which would have been quite an ironic tale to tell for years to come, I think.)

The journey home was a bit of a mess – lots of tube lines were experiencing delays and it took me a while to feed myself into the crowd slowly flowing into Moorgate. I’d been warned by a text message from Mat that the Silverlink trains at Euston had scrapped their timetable and were just waiting for trains to fill up before sending them on their way so I knew what to expect. The staff at Euston seemed to be prepared and have everything under control – as I descended the ramp to the usual Silverlink platforms there were a bunch of British Transport Police and Silverlink staff keeping everybody back from the platforms and only letting people through when trains arrived. I misheard what they said and wandered through with a crowd heading for a Watford local service so waited at the barriers and took a short film of the goings-on:

I’m sure tomorrow’s newspapers will be filled with pictures of the aftermath of the storm but if you want to see more, somebody has just set up a Flickr group to collect photos.

Hopefully things will be back to normal tomorrow!

Run, Fat Boy, Run

On location filming Run, Fat Boy, RunMy brother-in-law is visiting us this weekend so we thought we’d take a drive to Spitalfields Market in London. As we walked over to the market, past Exchange Square, we noticed a load of trucks, lights and cables all being shifted around. On the way back we saw scores of people hanging around in smart business dress – pretty unusual for a Sunday – and on closer inspection we discovered that they were all extras standing around waiting to be filmed. The director was none other than David Schwimmer of Friends fame.

Not that exciting but worth a blog! The film doesn’t look that original but at this early stage I’m not sure I can judge. Would be cool to see the Exchange Square scene in the final cut, though.

Ripoff salad

Ripoff saladHad a lovely night out at the theatre with my wife last night, despite the efforts of the restaurant to spoil it by giving us this pitiful side salad for the princely sum of £2.50! Okay, we’d eaten half of it but still – how small is that? I mentioned it to the waitress who gave me an apologetic look and said “erm, yes…I know…”. The food was good but expensive – if you’re going to the Old Vic then the restaurant may be a good choice as it’s very convenient and quite atmospheric, otherwise there are plenty of other places to eat nearby.

The play itself was just okay as well. We had paid £28 each for tickets right on the roof of the theatre and could barely see the characters’ faces. The reviews were very good but I didn’t really feel that I got into it – it didn’t help that as time went by my bum started to feel as though it was leaving this world behind and the heat from everything below seemed to be collecting around us. Bits of the play were enjoyable – Kevin Spacey was very good when he was having an angry rant and Eve Best was excellent as the Irish farmer’s daughter – but the script seemed a bit too ‘theatre for thespians’ for my liking. At times I felt like shouting down to the characters when they were playing dumb and couldn’t see what was going on around them – I felt as though it was so obvious as absolutely nothing else had happened during the play apart from the central plot so why couldn’t they see it too?

Still, for all my grumbling it was great to go out for a lovely night of dinner and theatre with my wife – hopefully we’ll pick a better one next time!

Chloe Catling Cycle Challenge 2006

Dead tyreA few weekends back my wife, my dad, and a few uncles and cousins of mine all took part in the Chloe Catling Cycle Challenge to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust on behalf of Chloe Catling, a relative of mine who has CF. We had a great day out and managed to complete the 25-mile course in under two hours, which I didn’t think was too bad a time.

Jez, the event organiser, had a problem when his tyre burst on the first mile so we all scooted past him while his friends hunted around for a bike shop that was open early on a Saturday morning. The rest of the ride was pretty much problem free. Jez had roped in a number of friends and family to help with registration, signage, marshalling along the course etc and they all contributed loads to a making it a really enjoyable event. It was great to get out and about; I’m tempted to try some more charity rides this summer – watch this space.

Thanks so much to everyone who donated to or sponsored the ride – it’s all really appreciated. If anyone still wishes to contribute some sponsorship money you can do so at the page. Thanks!

See you on the ride next year?


AntennaA few weeks ago my wife and I went along to the wonderful NFT to see Antenna 18, the latest in a long line of evenings where they present a number of music videos and have some of the directors and producers there to be interviewed and answer quesitions from the audience.

We had a great time – two videos that I would recommend viewing are New Me by Jamie Lidell and Geisterschloss by Oliver Laric – both fantastic. In fact, Oliver Laric can be seen in the first video as well – he’s the guy bopping along dressed in white – as it was directed by his girlfriend, Aleksandra Domanovic. Finally, if you haven’t seen the Plan B video to No Good, you should definitely take a look – it’s like Sledgehammer revisited!

It was fab to do something different – London offers so many great cultural events and we don’t go to enough of them. We may well be back!

Cycle for Cystic Fibrosis

Chloe Catling Cycle ChallengeSpeaking of cousins, one of my relatives has organised a sponsored cycle ride around West London on Saturday 24 June 2006 to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. My cousin Chloe suffers from the disease and has to undergo a lot of physiotherapy, drugs and spells in hospital – by raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust we hope to help her and others.

If you’re not doing anything on the 24 June why not join us for a ride? If you’re not a rider you can still donate using the page. Every penny helps!

Critical Mass

Saw my first Critical Mass bike ride the other weekend as I was heading to the pub to meet Mik, Nick and Iain. It was very exciting – for a few minutes I felt that I was thrust into the middle of a premium blogging opportunity, armed with my trusty W800i camera and thoughts of what I would post, but it didn’t quite work out like that. It was fun for a few minutes – there were literally hundreds of bike riders and the car drivers were going nuts because they weren’t able to move – but unfortunately my photos and video didn’t come out that well.

I think the idea behind the Critical Mass rides is a good one – reclaiming public places in a peaceful way by using the sheer number of people involved. It sounded great to me since I read about the movement in the book No Logo by Naiomi Klien. It made me think of the photography exhibition on El Salvador I saw at the International Center of Photography in New York – people from El Salvador had no concept of land ownership until the Spanish invaded, which I find totally fascinating. It’s an important statement and one which I hope continues.


Sourpuss by Windchime, from www.sxc.huOver the past few weeks I’ve been subject to an increasing number of ‘silent but violent’ emissions on the train and tube and today was the last straw. Why people feel that farting on a packed train is a good idea I don’t know. I went into work with a blocked up nose today as I’ve caught an early autumn cold but it still managed to get through, and my mouth was open. Whoever it was on the Circle Line between Euston Square and Kings Cross St Pancras this morning, you’re a beast.

Next time I think I’m going to say something. Fellow passengers, you have been warned. Can we please get ‘no farting’ added to the Underground Etiquette?

JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge cancelled…again!

Stop sign - image by Haley SparksFor the Keep on running”>second year in a row, the London JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge was cancelled on the day I was due to participate. Last year was due to bad weather and this year it was due to terrorist attacks, so it really couldn’t be helped.

Many, many thanks to all of you who sponsored me – the money has gone to a good cause and it’s really appreciated. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to earn the money properly!