Monday 30 November 2009

Traffic chaos on the Greenwich Peninsula

Ask anyone who travels (or indeed has ever travelled) by car on the Greenwich Peninsula what the major problem is and they will probably tell you that all roads lead to the same place; quite literally. There are two major 'A' roads going from east to west and a 'B' road in between; these all lead towards Central London either via Blackheath and Deptford or Greenwich town centre itself. Then there are two 'A' roads going north to south - on culminating in the Woolwich Ferry and the other in the Blackwall Tunnel. In amongst these major arteries are a variety of smaller roads which, or course either take you nowhere or back to one of these major routes. The choked access across the Heath or the equally choked access through the Tunnel are the only ways into London.

Imagine then, these routes which can barely cope at the best of times (which I think is about 3am from Sunday into Monday!), when some sort of traffic trouble hits. Yesterday evening there was a car fire a few hundred meters from the entrance to the northbound tunnel; this apparently affected the road surface, lighting and CCTV. End result - the tunnel had to be closed. Now that is fine on a Sunday night (it sometimes happens to allow maintenance) but that is not so good in the Monday rush-hour. The almost immediate knock on effect as traffic is diverted is heavy traffic towards Woolwich (to use the ferry) and towards New Cross and Deptford (to hook up with the roads that will take you over Tower Bridge etc.). Of course, there is also the traffic being diverted off the A2 causing chaos at every junction.

I didn't know this when I set out for the Doctor's surgery at twenty to nine this morning... although I did note the nearly stationary traffic building up through the Village. After the Doctor I went down through Charlton to the Peninsula for some shopping; traffic through the light-industrial area was jammed heading towards Greenwich and the 422 (with amazing foresight) had been diverted to follow the 486 route (thus avoiding the stationary traffic towards Greenwich.

The tunnel was expected to remain closed until Wednesday although reports on the evening news state that it is now re-opened although traffic views taken from local cameras still look extremely congested.

Lucky I didn't get stuck in any of it or I really would be fuming. On the basis of this chaos one can only hope that vehicle transport of any kind will be BANNED when the Olympics come town and that everyone (competitors and dignitaries included) will be obliged to use public transport. The Borough has no less than three venues; Greenwich Park, Artillery Barracks and the O2. All of these in delightfully well served and accessible areas which aren't affected by traffic problems  at all... wait a moment, I think I might have to write to my MP.

Friday 27 November 2009

Skywatch Friday (20)

Glowing chemtrail

The noise of modern life

Good morning, this is BBC Breakfast

486 to North Greenwich
Charlton Station, Charlton Church Lane
Please stand back from the yellow line
Mind the gap
8:57 to Cannon Street
Welcome to London Cannon Street,
Customers are advised to use any available exit at the gate line

Ground Floor, going up
Your call is number... three... in the queue
The fire alarm is about to be tested
Fire has been reported in the building,
Please leave by the nearest exit
The fire alarm test is now complete
First Floor, going down

A good service is operating on the Jubilee Line
This train terminates at North Greenwich
Mind the doors please
This train terminates here, all change please
A good service is operating on all London Underground Lines

486 to Bexleyheath Bus Garage
Cemetery Lane
You have... one... new message

Next on BBC1...

To appreciate the music of modern life you really need to have heard these announcements - nothing beats the lift lady and the way she says "going do-own"! At least they've replaced the existential crisis of the announcement at Cannon Street which sounded like it was asking customers to use "all available exits at the same time" - it turned out to be only slight less impossible when in fact it was "all available exits at the gate line".

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Another financial story

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the banks today in the case which has been rattling around the Courts for over two years. The investigation into unauthorised overdraft fees started with the launch of a test case in 2007; millions of claims were put on hold by the banks whilst the test case was decided; thousands of other claims weren't even submitted whilst the outcome of the case was awaited.

Commentators and observers prophesied that without these charges there would be an end to the current free banking system.

This ruling is unlikely to see the end of the controversy, however, as it is likely that the OFT will start looking into other routes (this case hinged on unfair contract terms) to see if money paid in charges can be recovered.

That's the press. What about the real story? I am perched firmly on the fence on this one. On the one hand, when you sign up to your bank account you agree to these terms and conditions (although you may not have actually bothered to read them!) so when the charges are incurred it really ought not to come as a surprise.

I've suffered from them myself (and indeed would have joined the queue for reclaiming them had my bank not refused to consider looking into it until this case was decided). The complaint is not so much with the charges but rather the scale of the charges.

Example: several years ago I had an agreed overdraft on my account (which I used on a monthly basis); at this time I was receiving monthly (?) statements - or rather not receiving them, as although the bank claimed that they were posted they rarely arrived with me. I don't use Internet banking (I can never remember the huge amount of security information required to log onto my account) - this meant that I rarely had any idea of how much money was in my account; or rather how far into my overdraft it was. Towards the end of the month I exceeded my overdraft by a few pounds (maybe even pence) - charges ensued; further into my unauthorised overdraft and direct debit payments are bounced - further charges ensue. The cost of lack of a few pounds - well over £60. This means that the next month I am £60 nearer reaching the unauthorised limit; and the next month even nearer, etc. etc. etc. This went on for several months. The bank refused to extend my overdraft limit; even though I pointed out the situation (and the fact that they were exacerbating the situation).

Now I admit in the above that I was at fault, and so I remedied the situation by changing the date of direct debits so that they came out at the start of the month; the bank solved their problems getting my statements to me.

What annoyed me (apart from the fact that it cannot possibly cost them £30 to not pay a direct debit) was that they will not try and work with you. Recently I got a print out from the cashpoint and discovered that my account was overdrawn (something that has not happened for a very long time). Being a responsible account holder I rang my bank, knowing that they had reduced my overdraft three times in six months - to make sure that I wasn't going to exceed my limit. I probably was, it transpired, by the time that pending payments were made. Could I increase the limit (even temporarily) to ensure that this didn't happen. No. I didn't ignore the situation, I asked for help - and the bank effectively stuck two fingers up at me. The biggest insult of all - my account isn't even a free account! I pay £15 a month for my account!

Sunday 15 November 2009

Lord Mayor's Show

The annual show of pageantry in the heart of the City of London took place yesterday. The parade which consisted of floats, bands a carriages and was more than three miles long (longer than the route that it follows!) celebrates the investiture of the new Lord Mayor.

This year we had grandstand seats just in front of St Paul's Cathedral (a little further along the route than we normally stand).

When we arrived it looked like the forecasts of bad weather were far off the mark with bright sunshine and a blue cloudless sky; although the stiff wind prevented it from being warm, even in the sun.

The parade started, and we could hear the drums of the first marching band coming along Cheapside and New Change long before we saw the start of the parade. This float was The Aldersgate Ward Club - a fantastic construction. There are 25 wards in the City (rather like electoral districts) and each of them have a Ward Club.

This float was from Cheapside and was the costumes and much of the float was made up from recycled materials!

This large side of meat which must have been fighting the winds all morning represents the Worshipful Company of Butchers of whom the Lord Mayor is a Liveryman.

London Buses and Black Cabs (taxis) feature prominently in the parade - open top buses holding participants from Livery Companies etc. and Cabs specially decked up for the occasion as the one on the right representing the RAF.

Branches of the military also play a large part in the parade, on the left the RAF and on the right the band of the Royal Marines. The army were also there (complete, at one point, with a tank!).

This veritable zoo drew much admiration from the crowd, and also some worry when a particularly strong gust of wind almost lifted the Chinese Dragon off the ground!

Animals featured several times in the parade with the beautiful bird (left) and the city dragon (right) being two more fantastic examples.
Here's another Chinese Dragon, surviving the wind and the rain!

By this point in the proceedings it was really beginning to rain seriously, having had a few showers on and off for the previous half hour or so. The people in front of me thoughtfully decided to put up their umbrella up; tipping it backwards, thus blocking my view and tipping water into my lap. I pulled up the hood on my waterproof mac and put up with me legs getting wet!

This is the Plaisterers' float; of whom the Lord Mayor is an honorary Liveryman and also the mother company of one of the two Sheriffs Mr Peter Cook.

The rain continued to pour down, but the tail end of the show continued to pass, wet horses, wet riders and all.

At last, the bit we have all been waiting for - the Lord Mayor himself; Alderman Nick Anstee. Sadly he was waving out of the wrong side of the carriage as he passed us!

That isn't the end of the day though. The Corporation of the City of London has a massive clean-up job to do before the City workers flood back into the Square Mile on Monday morning... and of course the parade itself is still on the return journey from the Royal Courts of Justice back to Mansion house where dignitaries are entertained by the new Lord Mayor for lunch. We headed back to the Livery Hall where we were having lunch - thankful at last to be warm and dry (well, drying out).
The evening is usually characterised by a fireworks display from barges on the Thames, this was cancelled yesterday by the Port of London Authority due to the high winds.

By the time I made my way home the weather was clearing (left) - although walking through some of the narrow City streets (right) it was easy to appreciate the long history of the day.

Did you know: the word 'floats' originates from the barges used in the procession back when it used to take place on the Thames.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Monday 2 November 2009

Bright night

Tonight the moon is nearly full (99%). I took some shots from our patio - and managed to get some interesting shots through the trees. It is a clear (and very cold) night.