Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

But then....

First a bang, then a jolting and a loss of power as the train glided to a halt between stations. Silence, as we looked out to the golf course on one side and, on the other, a dull piece of heath-land with the wind shaking the trees and grasses, or went on reading, dozing or tapping away at something electronic.

Soon, the guard came through with a "Sorry, we'll let you know as soon as we know anything", which was all he could say, and came back to do so rather too often. Eventually, it became clear that what most of us had probably guessed was all too true: someone had managed to cross the trackside fencing and had been hit by the train.

Almost at once, an instant case study in human behaviour: two quiet and conventional ladies perking up to discuss the grisly implications with a certain shamefaced relish, the impatient chuntering that the police and emergency services weren't instantly on hand - and not from the red-faced man and his wife all done up for a black-tie do, ensconced in the residual first-class compartment, but from an apparently laid-back young man who was, shall we say, not exactly dressed for self-importance. And me? I had a book to finish reading.

Eventually, police and emergency service people appeared, walking along the track, and attending to whatever they had to do, and finally the train company's emergency team got on board. Quite apart from the initial tragedy, and whatever the effect it must have had on the driver, it appeared that the collision had damaged the train itself.

It was about two hours before all the necessary inspections and re-arrangements had been done, and the train was able to move us all to a station where we could join another to take us back to London. All in all, it was three hours later than expected that I got home.

But somebody didn't - and what's three hours against a life?

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Guinea pig on wheels

It looked like an interesting day out of London, or at least something different: being one of a bunch of test cyclists for the Transport Research Laboratory's mock-up of a separated cycle path running round the outside of a traffic roundabout. However, no photos or videos are allowed, and they'd rather anyone else didn't know too much about what they're looking at, for fear of biasing the way people behave in or react to the tests.

Enough to say it involved using one of their bikes (acquired from the London cycle hire scheme) for a couple of sessions performing various possible ways of using the roundabout, with different forms of entrance to and exit from the cycle lane, and cars making their own way round, with stops to check reactions after each test, and a questionnaire at the end.

As ever in experiments and surveys, it doesn't seem possible that any individual reaction could tell them much, not least because in my usual blithe over-confidence, I wasn't particularly noticing the various subtle differences in layout and markings (perhaps that was the point). I did suggest it might need some more realistic circumstances (the odd pedestrian stepping out without looking, motorists jumping the give way lines, van drivers cutting in unexpectedly - that sort of thing); but they just smiled politely.

Still, there was a cup of tea, a chocolate biscuit, and time to chat about things like the quirks of recumbent bikes, Horrific Accidents I Have Known, and when it will be economically feasible for the cycle hire stands to be equipped with one of these newfangled 3D "printers" to produce cycle helmets on demand.

Oh, and £50 for expenses. Did I not mention that?

It was all over at a civilised hour, but then the limitations of public transport outside London became clear: buses only every half hour, and a slight delay en route meaning a half-hour wait for the next London train. That would have been the sum total of that observation, but then.................. (to be continued)

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Not my idea of fun

Dangling forty-odd floors up the Shard....

Friday, 3 May 2013

Thursday, 2 May 2013


That's theme that caught my eye this time in Paris. Not just the way Sacré Coeur looms over the northern part of the city, and in this case the narrow and crowded Rue de la Goutte d'Or, running parallel to the Marché de la Chapelle.

Ironically, perhaps, bearing in mind not only the basilica's religious function but also its more nationalistic and political associations, since these days the ambiance of the whole area is distinctly North African - as in this display of finery.

But domes seem to have had a fascination for entirely secular builders and designers in the nineteenth century. The Galeries Lafayette have their dome-lit atrium (and on the upper floors you can see its outside):

The Petit Palais (built for an international exhibition) bears the badge of Paris, flanked by angels and all sorts of decorative detail:

And though the Pantheon, dominating the southern view from the roof of the Galeries Lafayette as the Sacré Coeur does the north, was built earlier and as a church, it's echoed - even challenged - by the dome of the Opera House, with embellishments that no-one could have been expected to see from the ground: