Thursday, 3 June 2010

Have you tried switching it off an on again...

Modern technology is a wonderful thing, but when it goes wrong it can create problems that wouldn’t have happened in simpler times.

Today I experienced this on my journey back from Great Yarmouth.

I’d timed leaving Great Yarmouth so that I could go back a slightly different and possibly more scenic way that the way I had arrived.

There are two lines into Great Yarmouth, one via Acle which most trains go along, and one via Berney Arms which only one or two trains a day go along.

Berney Arms is possibly the remotest station in England. It’s not that it’s very far from anywhere; it’s just that the only way to get to Berney Arms station is by train or on foot or by bike; it isn’t possible to get there any other way. The nearest road access is miles away.

The train merrily made its way along the tracks to Berney Arms. The driver pulled into the station and then went to open the doors.

And that’s where the problems began.

These modern trains use GPS to tell themselves where they are. In theory this means that a train will always know where it is. If it’s in a station it will know which platform it’s at, so it knows how long the platform is compared to the length of the train and only open the doors that are actually in the station.

Unfortunately, this does require the GPS to be working correctly.

I’ve been on trains before where the GPS has gone wrong and it’s not been possible to open the doors. In those occasions the driver has apologised profusely to the passengers wanting to get off and then driven on to the next station.

This isn’t a problem if there is a train every fifteen minutes. It would be a pain if there were only a train every hour, but it still wouldn’t be impossible.

However, when this is the second and last train of the day, and the next one isn’t due for another 20 odd hours, and there are 10 people waiting to get on it does start to become a problem.

Try as they might the train just refused to accept that it was in a station (I think it thought it was either still in Great Yarmouth or perhaps on a beach in the Maldives)

In the end they resorted to the oldest trick in the book. They switched the train off, and then used the emergency door release to get the doors open and let the people back on. They then closed the doors and fired up the engine (and I’m assuming the computer) again. At this point the train proudly announced "We are now arriving at Berney Arms" and promptly opened the doors, then refused to shut them again for about five minutes.

It was starting to look a little problematic, how do you deal with a train load of passengers when the trains broken down. Normally you would make them wait for the rail replacement bus, but when there is no road to get the bus to you, what do you do?

Eventually, after lots of going backwards and forwards (and some pretty hefty kicks it sounded like to the doors) the doors finally closed and stayed closed and the train was able to pull off.

But I don’t know if they ever properly fixed it. All the way into Norwich the train was still merrily displaying a message that "This is Berney Arms".

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

And how are you spelling that... II

Having commented yesterday on the people of Norfolk setting little traps for the unwary tourist (which I witnessed being set off today on the bus as a passenger asked for a ticket to Hunstanton and was told "do you mean Husten",) I was reminded that the same thing happens down in Cornwall.

The sleepy fishing harbour should be spelt Mouzell if it were written as it’s pronounced. So how it became Mousehole (other than a particularly spectacular bet) is a mystery.

Beyond their Piers

1996 was the "Year of the Pier", where there celebrations up and down the country of the UK’s piers.

Just 14 years later you could never have told that it had taken place.

Today Colwyn and Blackpool North are slowly decaying.
Southport is looking bleak
Brighton’s West Pier met a fiery fate, a fate that Weston-Super Mare’s has also succumbed to.
Hastings Pier has been closed as it’s unsafe and if you believe the story that was on the local news up in Norfolk last night, Cromer’s will go the same way within two years.
And if it hasn’t been hit by a ship or caught fire in the last 12 months Southend Pier will have one of those things befall it within the next 12 (It’s always either being cut in two by ships or spontaneously combusting)

Given the numbers using Cromer pier when I visited today, it would be a shame to see them go.

However, at the same time they have lost some of the sparkle that started the craze for building them in the first place. Whilst Victorians marvelled at the thought of being able to walk above the water we barely give any thought to the fact that it’s several satellites in space all working together that tell the Sat Nav how to get to the car park for the pier.

Perhaps the pier is just too much a 19th century institution. Will they last another 14 years, yet alone to the 22nd century?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

And how are you spelling that...

The people of Norfolk have a trick up their sleeves.

They’ve kept their powder dry whilst the Welsh have gone all out to advertise it.

The trick - that their place names are spelt nothing like they are pronounced.

With Welsh, you know you’re not going to be able to pronounce it correctly. With Norfolk you walk straight into the trap without realising.

Lets face it, Hunstanton looks like it should be Hun-stan-ton. Wymondham looks like it should by Wy-mond-ham.

So how the hell do you get Hunsten from Hunstanton and Windem from Wymondham?