Apropos of Nothing, revenge of the son of the sequel

Monday, April 2, 2012

Another completely random selection of thoughts...

Quirky Budget Day Traditions on Two Sides of the Atlantic:

The government presented a new budget last week and just like in Canada, where they've also got a new budget, the media coverage was er... extensive.  In Canada the budget is presented by the Finance Minister.  Here in the UK the minister responsible for all financial and economic matters is called the Chancellor of the Exchequer, currently George Osborne.  The presentation of a budget is all pretty familiar stuff, but there is one tradition here that is quirky enough to make it worth blogging about: the red box.

Red boxes are the traditional cases used by British government ministers.  They look like little red briefcases, and are meant to be used to carry official government documents from place to place.
The design of ministerial boxes has changed little since the 1860s. Covered in red stained rams' leather, it is embossed with the Royal Cypher and ministerial title. The 2 or 3 kg boxes are constructed of slow-grown pine, lined with lead and black satin and, unlike a briefcase, the lock is on the bottom, opposite the hinges and the handle, to guarantee that the box is locked before being carried.

The colour red has remained the traditional covering of the boxes. The lead lining, which has been retained in modern boxes, was once meant to ensure that the box sank when thrown overboard in the event of capture. Also bomb-proof, they are designed to survive any catastrophe that may befall their owner. (Thanks again, Wikipedia!)
Fun, eh?  The most famous red box is the one used by the Exchequer to carry the new budget.  Unsurprisingly, it's called the Budget Box.  It's traditional for the Exchequer to pose for photos with the Budget Box outside of 10 Downing Street (the home of the Prime Minister and the UK equivalent to 24 Sussex Drive).  It is impossible to get through the week that a budget is presented without seeing at least 739 different photos of the Exchequer and his little red box in front of Downing Street.

Osborne Red Box
I will spare you the other 738...

And, for my 4 UK readers (Patrick, Anne, Paul, Jeremy... I'm talking to you) here is a fun Canadian budget fact: In Canada there is an inconsistently followed tradition that the Finance Minister will buy or wear new shoes on Budget Day.  There's even a Wikipedia article entitles "New shoes on budget day".

Jockey Wheels and Monkey Sprockets:

I'd like to take this opportunity, once again, to thank Cycle Training UK and Lambeth Council.  I've mentioned them both before, but their generosity regarding all manner of cycle training really deserves another nod.  Astute GSWPL readers will remember that I had two sessions of one-on-one cycle safety training in the fall, which made me eligible to take a full day bicycle maintenance course at no extra charge.  So that's 4 hours of on-road training and about 7 hours of maintenance training all for the grand total of £8.00.  I honestly still can't believe that.

I also can't believe how shockingly low the pressure in my tires has been, more or less forever.   That's just one of the things I learned last Sunday when I spent the day in a nice little workshop learning all about my bike.  It was a very small class of people - me and two other women, and a female instructor - which meant that we got to do much more hands on stuff with our own bikes than if there had been a class of 12.  I've already mentioned that I had an impromptu flat tire fixing lesson a few months ago, but we went over all that again on Sunday, and then got into some more interesting stuff.  I now know how to correctly apply a patch to an inner tube, and how to get my back wheel in and out without touching the chain, and I can replace brake pads and cables and adjust the brakes in two different places.  I can even make a stab at some gear adjustments.

Bike Hospital
Leila and Sarah, trying to adjust something on Leila's vintage racer bike, which was charming, but had lots of quirky old-fashioned parts that were making both of them sort of crazy.  My bike may be boring and heavy, but it's also pretty easy to fix.

I even rotated my tires, because the back one was terribly worn, especially considering I've had the bike for less than a year.  I must be cycling much much much more than I even have before.  Or possibly my tires, like the rest of the bike, are just kind of cheap and crappy.  No matter, the now-rock-hard tire pressure, plus a slightly higher seat, plus tuned up brakes, made the ride to and from work on Monday seem like a breeze.  I was cruising comfortably in gears I've barely used before and have cut about 5 minutes off my commute time.  I suppose the most surprising thing was how simple most of this stuff is.  The whole thing was ridiculously empowering.

As for jockey wheels and a monkey sprockets: one is a real bike part that needs occasional attention, and one is completely made up!  And I know which is which now.

Bike bits from the training room.  Not pictured: jockey wheels.  Also not pictured: monkey sprockets

The Zoology of London Road Crossings:

I've already mentioned zebra crossings, which are always marked with a Belisha beacon.  But since I've lately been forced to delve into the murky world of the Highway Code I've discovered that there is a whole zoo of crossings out there.  As a reminder, the zebra crossing is the one with the white stripes on the road and the magic flashing lights where you (theoretically) can just stride confidently into the road and everyone should stop. (Once again I'm compelled to point out that here it is pronounced ZEB-ruh.  Not ZEEB-ruh.) 

One down from the zebra crossing is the pelican crossing. No, I am not making this up.  Have a look at the Highway Code yourself if you don't believe me... it's gripping reading.  Pelican crossing are what the Brits call the ones where you have to press a button to make the little green man on the other side of the road come on.  Fairly standard.

Moving on from pelican crossings we have the puffin crossing.  They work the same way as pelican crossing except that the little red and green men are not all the way across the road, but instead are just above the button.  Puffin crossings are also equipped with "pedestrian detectors" that determine how long the keep the green man on.  Interesting.

Even more interesting are the toucan crossings, so named because they allow cyclists to cross at the same time as pedestrians without getting off their bikes.  So two can cross at the same time... get it?

Toucan Crossing
Green Man and green bicycle!  There are toucan crossings on my cycle route to work.

And finally, rounding out the menagerie is the very rare pegasus crossing, which I have not yet encountered in the wild.  Pegasus crossings allow controlled movement not just for pegasuses but also for any other of your hybrid mythical beasts including, but not limited to: griffins, manticores, centaurs, hippogriffs and minotaurs.  

Ha! Not really.  A Pegasus crossing allows people on horseback to cross the road, and have buttons mounted much higher up so you can reach them comfortably from horseback.  And of course they have little green horse-and-riders.

Pegasus Crossing 2

The Big Brother Effect:

The UK is, I think, the most surveilled society in the world. (Karen - am I right about this?) CCTV cameras are everywhere.  I've always known this in an abstract sort of way, but on Sunday read a statistic that said the average Londoner is captured on camera 13 times every hour.  That made me sit up a bit straighter (not least because I didn't want to be caught slouching from eight different angles).  I did a bit more digging and came across a very interesting article in the Guardian (which is a very popular paper that I might actually be inclined to buy and read, except the crossword is bloody impossible) about some research done in Cheshire and extrapolated out to the whole UK.  That research figured the number of surveillance cameras in use in the UK is more than 1.8 million, or one for every 32 people.  

I admit I did not actually take this picture, it's from Wikimedia.  You can tell I didn't take it because the sky is NEVER that colour here.  Though on Tuesday it was a pleasing shade of much lighter blue, and the sun was shining and I ate my lunch outside along the Lambeth Cut Canal, which was really nice.  Footage of my lunch break is probably already up on YouTube.

More alarming still is the fact that apparently a huge majority of these cameras are owned by private companies.  This was a surprise because I assumed (as, I think, do most people) that it's the government that's watching our every move with cameras outside buildings like the ones pictured above.  Instead, it seems most cameras are indoors.  In the sample in Cheshire of the 12,333 cameras counted a mere 504 were run by public authorities.  That's just kind of creepy.

Also creepy: this photo I took on my walk to the Tube:

Lambeth CCTV
A Lambeth Council CCTV Enforcement vehicle.  Apparently they roam around behind their mirrored windows taking photos of parking violations and people driving in bus lanes and such.  Then they issue the tickets, sorry - Penalty Charge Notices, by mail.  I'll probably be getting a £50 PCN for illegally blogging about an enforcement vehicle without previously applying for a Lambeth Council Social Media Dispensation Approval (Form 127-A)

Less creepy, but still interesting, is the fact that the Tube system has 11,000 CCTV cameras across the network.  This doesn't bother me much though, partly because it means that when people do stupid things on the Tube it's possible that they'll get called out by sharp Tube staff.  For instance:
Tube Driver:  Stand clear of the doors please.  Mind the closing doors.  (Pause)  Please keep clothing and personal items out of the doors.  Do not obstruct the doors.  (Pause, Pause)  The train can not move out of the station until the doors are clear.  Please do not obstruct the doors. (Pause, Pause, Pause)  Would the lady in the third carriage who has inserted 3 wheelie suitcases, a picnic basket and a schnauzer between the doors please remove them?  You are causing a delay to the service.
And that's all I've got for you this week.  If you're lucky, and the stars align, and I get a long weekend off for Easter I may get to blog from some exotic near-London destination.  If not, I'll just rant some more about my driving test.  Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

I don't need any excuses (budget or not) to buy or wear new shoes!! A.

Karen said...

According to current stats, yes, the UK sure does love their CCTV cameras. If there is any fear that another country could take away this title, they can forget it. Afterall, just imagine how many more cameras will be installed with the Olympics!

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