To Scrappage or not to Scrappage?

Recently the UK government announced a scrappage scheme, whereby you can scrap your old car and get £2000 or more in return for buying a new car. The theory behind this is pretty straightforward, incentivise people to get their old, unevironmental cars off the road and at the same time stimulate the UK car market. Simple.

Of course although many people have jumped at the chance to get this ‘free money’ the reality is much more complex. It looks as though some car dealers put their prices up on the new cars that they then ‘reduce’, meaning you can save more money from just buying a car without trading in your old clunker. Not so good from a money standpoint. And from an environmental perspective, the strict scrappage rules define that any car over 10 years is worth scrapping – but is that necessarily the case? Are we just creating more landfill from the unrecylclable parts of a car rather than learning to maintain what we have – a much more green approach to life.

Either way the scrapage scheme is here with us for a year at least, so make your own mind up. As for us, well our car isn’t quite ten years old – even if we did have enough spare cash to buy that new Ferrari I need for my pre-mid-life crisis. Mmm… red.

Brit Drinking

I was amused this morning to come across an article in the Daily Mail discussing how our British excess drinking habits appear to people from the US. The amusement was doubled by seeing a quote from my friend and ex-drinking partner in New York, Robert Kelsey – yes, he of book writing fame. The article can be summed up pretty succinctly in that we, as Brits, not only like our booze but actually need it to function as the witty, urbane folk that the rest of the world see us as. Alcohol in all its forms acts as a necessary launching pad to having a good time, impressing the opposite sex and finding a life partner – dictated perhaps by whether they have the same capacity for alcohol as ourselves, or maybe just enough propriety to not mention our drunken indisgressions once we sober up.

The whole world of British drunkenness has now been re-presented to me on my return from the US. As a Brit abroad it used to amaze me that our American friends would generally limit themselves to two beers a night, with rare exceptions. Now I have US friends who can, and do, imbibe to relative excess and handle it very well indeed, so I know that stereotype doesn’t hold true for everyone. The different does seem to be how drunk New Yorkers act when compared to drunk Londoners, and driving across town at 10pm last night after a great game of five-a-side football was yet another eye opener. The pavements of Old Street were overflowing with people barely able to stand upright, and seemingly intent on committing suicide with every passing car. Groups of skinny, rat faced boys, dressed in sharp shirts with slicked down mousey brown hair, seemed intent on catching our eyes as we drove past in obvious need of causing a fight with any excuse. “What you lookin at? I’ll fuckin’ have ya!”.

Drunken Brits at our best achieve Oscar Wilde levels of eloquence and witty banter, at least in our own minds and those of our drunken friends. At our worse, we’re lying on pavements in our own vomit, clothes in various states of disarray, blood on our faces from the last fight and looking forward, when we regain some small portion of our alcohol ravaged brains, to a chance to recount our heroic exploits to our friends, most likely over a pint. As an ex-ex-pat all of this is at times something to be embraced, and at other times a great source of embarrassment. Why can’t we just have a few, quiet drinks without feeling the need after the second to carry on? Why can’t we learn to get drunk while retaining some level of class? Perhaps this is the great leveller of class, with everyone from royalty down being a complete drunken idiot at some time. The only difference is that one drinks Krug by the carriage-load, the others drink cheap, strong Stella by the shitload. Social excess drinking is surely the glue of our entire empire.

Hilarious Olympic Handover Antics

Well the Beijing Olympics 2008 is now over, and amazingly Britland managed to come fourth – following China, USA and Russia. Congratulations ‘Team GB’ – but please don’t take this as a reason to stick with that ridiculous, over branded name. What is it in the British mentality that can’t take pride in things that have been the same for a long time? We just have to re-brand and re-invent it all the time, normally to the embarrassment and frustration of most people. I think it’s something to do with the fact that, as British people, we don’t fully embrace the re-branding process but just pay lip service to it. Brand is something that has to represent your character fully, it isn’t just a flashy new logo (however jaggy and unreadable it is) or a nice tagline, everyone has to buy into the brand.

So with all this heroic expenditure on new Olympic logos for London 2012, and the general excitement/lack of government support for the Olympic re-generation in east London how come no-one spent a few minutes telling London Mayor Boris Johnson how to act at an international event? On stage we have three men in suits – the Mayor of Beijing, the head of the Olympic committee and Boris Johnson. Two of those man manage to stand still, with suits smartly closed – one of those men is moving back and forward on his feet, suit open showing an expanse of shirt clad belly, occaisionally waving into the crowd. Guess which one? Then there was the flag ‘waving’. To be fair though, it is a big flag. My only question is this – did no-one think, amidst all these millions of pounds of expenditure, that teaching Boris how to act would be helpful in representing our country? Or did the extra money go to really nice stickers on the London bus that was our main contribution to the handover ceremony? I would link to the video on BBC, but for some reason it’s hard to find now…

Of course if all this Olympics-ness raises a feeling of ‘nuh’ in your soul, then check out the Hipster Olympics instead. Whuh?

The Land of the Cover Version

What is it about England right now that leads us to be constantly fascinated by leftfield cover versions of well known songs? Every day I hear something that’s a cross-genre cover/mash up/something that brings me up short as I try to work out a) the original song and b) the artist singing it.

Right now there’s a country version of ‘Walk this Way’ coming over the air which is cute but probably forgettable (except in nightmare). Yesterday on the train we had four young Suffolk lads blasting a Chris Cornell cover of Seven Nation Army from their mobile phone as they debated whether or not to mix the rum with their soft drink, or to drink it neat and follow up with the soft drink* – they all agreed though that Chris’s version was better than the original, which just goes to show that there’s no accounting for taste, or lack thereof.

*The answer was rum first, soft drink later as “We’ll get more drunk that way” “You’re roight!”. And lads, for reference, having the money to get drunk in Ipswich does not stop you from being ‘skanks’ too like your penniless friends – sorry.

When Public Transport Goes Right

One of the things that’s struck me now that I’ve returned to the UK is the huge focus on being green. For example books on how to be ecological at home, reducing your carbon footprint and generally feeling better about yourself by helping the environment fill the shelves at the local bookstores. We can only hope they used recycled paper. Combined with the rapidly increasing extortion happening at British petrol pumps it’s now even more sensible to use public transport, in theory at least. In practice the now privately owned railways seem to enjoy creating ever more complex and confusing ways to charge us more, especially at rush hour. Government subsidies anyone?

At least this was what I thought until we wanted to make a trip up to Norfolk to see the family this weekend. Hiring a car for a long weekend would have cost us at least £100 before we even got to insurance and the petrol – so much for easycar then. Not sure what to expect I headed over to the National Rail site, central search facility of all the local rail services. A bit of searching later, and I’d managed to find a few six quid advanced singles between London and Norwich – giving a round trip price of £24 for the two of us*. Amazing and totally unexpected, especially as we were leaving two days later.

Our green pound well spent, we enjoyed a wonderful long weekend with the Norfolk and Suffolk parts of the family. Full of the wonders of highly changeable British weather, inquisitive ducks, potty training nephews and the chance to expand Miette’s experience of English culture with a classic spotted dick. More wine, vicar?

*For comparison, my sister is coming down to London during rush hour from the same station and is paying £40 for a return – almost four times the cost. Plus we had the bonus of seeing Piers from The New Statesman seeing someone off from the platform. Splendid.

En Londres

Well we’re now living right next to the cheapest road on the English Monopoly board, sunny Old Kent Road. Yep, we’re in London! Yay!

We’ve had a good couple of first days back in London. After a slightly delayed flight, sitting on Toronto tarmac with no air conditioning for 30 minutes, we arrived 30 minutes late into Heathrow. Thankfully Air Canada’s in flight entertainment, designed by Miette herself, was in full working order so I got to watch two movies about New York being destroyed (both great for different reasons. With no sleep under our belts, we were picked up at the airport by dad, who then drove us over to meet t’other Matt at our temporary digs south of the river before we all wandered around on the south bank for a bit trying to stay awake/human.

Now we’re getting back into English habits, or at least learning them for the first time in Miette’s case. Water heaters that operate on Economy 7 and need to be switched on before a shower. Hobbs sandwiches at Borough market. Tesco supermarkets selling everything you need, and a lot you don’t but have to have anyway. Big electrical plugs. Pants meaning pants, not trousers. Coins that weigh you down and break wallets. Remembering to swipe Oyster cards at the beginning and end of your journey. The cost of everything compared to Canada and the US; sometimes it’s not as bad as you think it will be, others it’s doubly worse. Having the same accent as everyone else, or not in Miette’s case. The different sound of police sirens. Television licences, and the fine British programs they fund. Proper bacon… mmmm.

It’s good to be home.

An Aside: 3 Mobile Broadband for Apple Mac OS X

Now some handy hints if you want to use 3‘s Pay as you Go Mobile Broadband USB modem on your Apple Mac.

  1. First up, you have to get the black modem – the white one doesn’t have the right software on it (only OS X 10.4 and greater). The black modem is only available at 3 shops right now, big ups to the helpful staff in Carphone Warehouse on Tottenham Court Road who told me that.
  2. Secondly, the instructions will tell you there’s a CD to install – they lie. Instead, plug in the modem and run the package that shows up in your Finder as a plug in hard drive. You’ll have to re-start your laptop at this point.
  3. When you plug in your modem, the program should automatically launch, if it doesn’t then start the program first before you plug in the USB modem.
  4. Finally, when you get the modem from the store and buy some credit they should really tell you that this credit is not already applied to the modem, but maybe they won’t. If they don’t tell you this, then you can see your modem’s working by going to www.three.co.uk/my3 – if that page comes up (and pages outside of it won’t) then you can click on the icon to activate your topup. When you do this be sure to choose the Add On Broadband option in the dropdown and not just ‘top up’ otherwise you’ll end up paying £1 per Mb, rather than getting 1 Gb for £10. Oops.
  5. If you make the mistake of setting your credit to ‘Top Up Only’ like I did, then make sure you don’t browse any pages – instead, log into the my3 page and re-allocate your credit. Of course to do this you need the password for your 3 account… which gets texted to your modem when you register. Unfortunately on the Mac you can’t access this password, so you’ll have to go down to a 3 store and borrow a 3 phone to retrieve the password – unless you have a friend handy with a 3 phone you can borrow. Simple.

Having gotten the browser working I can say it’s a great value, fast mobile broadband service – I just wish they wrote better instructions and software for Mac!

Glasto in ‘not sold out’ Shocker

Amazingly this year’s Glastonbury Festival did not sell out over the weekend.. This is a slight change from previous years where the tickets were all but gone within a few hours. I guess that means all my friends will have tickets, but unfortunately I’m at a wedding that weekend so I won’t be there. Ah well.

As to why there are still tickets left, well a number of reasons are being suggested. The ticket pre-registration process was the same as last year, so it is doubtful that that was the reason for the slow down. Most likely culprit is the current line-up which is seen as pretty crap, generally because Jay-Z is the biggest touted headliner and most hardcore Glasto folk are more indie/rock/dance than rap – not that I’d mind seeing him perform as I’m sure it’ll be a good show. Another reason is the explosion of alternative festivals in Britain now, each aiming to be a new Glastonbury. Perhaps we are seeing a social network effect in real life, with big social networks becoming less common and focused, niche networks sprouting up to directly support the needs of smaller groups of people. Would you rather go to a festival that just plays music you like with all you friends, or to a large, expensive, crowded festival that tries to be all things to all people?

Shakin’ it UK Style

Last night at 1am GMT, so actually yesterday evening at 8pm EST for me, Britain had its biggest earthquake in 25 years. The earthquake was only 5.1 on the richter scale, yet was felt over most of the country from its epicentre in Lincolnshire – even down to my mum’s near Norfolk. Thankfully noone was killed and there seems to only be one injury. Still, it’s yet another earthquake I’ve managed to miss – in fact I don’t recall ever actually being in one! Maybe one of these days.. just nothing too exciting.

The Song Remained the Same (Led Zeppelin in Concert)

Well Led Zeppelin have just finished their one-off gig at the O2 arena in London. From the Radio 6 broadcast I’m listening to the set list was full of classic Zeppelin tracks – Song Remains the Same, Kashmir and Stairway to Heaven all featured. Hopefully soon someone will put some bootleg tracks up and we can all have a jolly good listen to find out how the old rock fogeys have held up. Some of us can’t afford £86,000 for a pair of touted tickets y’know.

In related news, the Vicar owner of Bron-Y-Aur, the small cottage in Wales near Machynlleth, has asked that Led Zeppelin fans refrain from doing the pilgrimage to his remote home. Back in my young student days in Birmingham I made that trip as part of an ill fated camping weekend. I hadn’t planned on it being a special visit, but as soon as I saw that cottage named on the Ordnance Survey map I had to go. It was dusk when I got there, so I snapped a photo of the wonderfully atmospheric, tree covered driveway then went home – happy to see the place where Page & Plant had spent a weekend creating some amazing songs.