Thursday, 22 September 2011

Last train home for the Coalition.


One of the rather smaller pieces of news this year has been the announcement of a High Speed Rail network in the UK. Smaller this is of course because despite this venture transforming how people are shuttled two and from work, it seems Riots, News of the World and the Royal Wedding have collectively pushed this interesting change in infrastructure well and truly into the middle pages.

The facts are it will cost £32bn, a cost which will be most likely shared between the Government and private firms, a mix that will mean a good oversight in how its being built and being built with good value for money. It will operate out of London to Manchester, and to Leeds via Birmingham. There are options to extend, but not as it stands. It will be completed in 2028/2032, Leeds scheduled to board the train at the latter date.

I rather oppose the High Speed rail network. I don't see the point and i consider it a high cost for something that won't see good use.

The UK has looked to countries such as France, China, Brazil and Germany with their High-Speed lines and wants in. You don't need to have a Phd in Geography to spot the flaw in these kind of comparisons. These countries far exceed the size of the UK. Geographically the UK is rather lucky that Leeds an Manchester can reach London already between an hour or two on existing train lines. Is slicing that time in half altogether worth it? Will people be pleased with the difference? Personally, i can reach Hull from St Albans in about 2 and a half hours and am very please about it. I reached the far reaches of Kent this summer in just over an Hour. I've reached London from St Albans in 15 Minutes. The speed of our services i think is already reasonable, for people that might have to once or twice a week visit the capital from Leeds, might accept the 2 hour commute, if it was wholly unacceptable wouldn't they just move?

Then we've got to consider the use of existing train lines. Aside from the notoriously busy London Underground and commuter trains in and out of London, are the trains that busy with commuters demanding faster speeds? I traveled cross-country from Peterborough to Stevenage (a train on its way to London) and i tell no lies, i had a carriage to myself. I have traveled before and it's been busy of course, but i've traveled at other times and it's been deadly quite. Outside of commuting times it has to be said, the 2pm from Hull to Doncaster i've been on my own before beside a few small kids who got off on route.

Finally, i disagree with the costs and time span. £32 billion doesn't seem to much compared to say the cost of hosting the Olympics or the size of our Governments debt. However that figure can be amended as time goes on and costs change - there's going to be a lot of inflation in the next twenty years. It could easily be £50bn at it's scheduled completion. By which time, will people still want it? Will it still have it's appeal? In 2030 cars will be more efficient and people might consider traveling in a car with good Miles per Gallon over paying £100 a ticket on the new trains. In 20 years peoples views can change, you've got to ask will people still want in 2032, let alone do they want it now?

The point of this venture is to try and move business away from the capital, Inshoring, is to encourage growth in areas far away from the capital which thrives from having the best transport networks. Geographically, Manchester isn't too far away, why not just split the money up into chunks of £1bn and hand it out to these struggling areas? Regeneration zones can probably provide the Governments aims. A screaming train, running on a dirty trainline that needs maintaining and manning, probably will not.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

2,977


This Sunday marks the ten year anniversary, if you can call it that, of the September the 11th attacks. Currently caught in the moment of it all i thought i'd share some thoughts.

It's really the only time in my life so far that i remember where and what i was doing at the time, excluding perhaps the 7/7 London Underground attacks. Too young for Diana's death and my younger siblings were all born at night, so this is the only "where and when" moment i've ever had. I was 8 and in Year 5 at Primary School. Nothing was said at the time from teachers, or nothing i'd heard, I presume because it was 2001 and teachers didn't have the internet access we have now, so it was only when i left the school door when i knew something had happened. Parents, all of them were deep in conversation, about a "serious incident", which given how close i lived to school, we didn't discuss until i got home and saw it on the news. The BBC had continuous coverage of the attacks on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and 3rd Hijacked plane that had crashed in Pennsylvania.

I remember being incredibly spooked by the mention of the name Pentagon, because as an 8 year old the only time i'd come across the American heart of Defense was in the video game Metal Gear Solid.

The severity of the situation was really emphasized by the fact Eastenders was cancelled that day.

It has been an event which really has been as much about the aftermath as it was the actual event. The foundation of the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the huge upscalling of intelligence in many countries around the world. Further, it marked some of the biggest conspiracy theories in history - i heard recently that a budget for a conspiracy movie had been $500,000, incredible for what's effectively a YouTube video.

I at one point bought into the idea of it being a hoax, and a massive home security scare put on by Bush. These feelings lasted only about 30 seconds in truth, as i realised that the videos i had seen were just a disgusting and scaremongering attempt to distort peoples truth of a country's Government. Further, i cannot help but feel that it is somewhat disrespectful of the dead.

Then there's the question of who dunnit. Well Osama Bin Laden and al-Queda plead guilty all to smugly for any sane mans liking.

Automatically you then address the issue of whether or not it was right to kill Bin Laden without trial, who was killed by US Navy Seals in May 2011. Personally, the War on Terror is like any other war, those who kill and get killed do it for a cause, in this case it was a war about beliefs which led to his death. Even if a trial was involved, he would most likely have been killed anyway, so as vulgar as it sounds, the Navy Seals just sped up the process.

Aftermath is a curious thing. Aftermath is what makes us study history, and produces post-event analysis that can enlighten even the most unenlightened. Motives, Costs and Responses are all part of the aftermath. In this case: extreme religious beliefs resulting in a hatred for capitalist Western Society, costing a huge American economic downturn (as desired) and a worldwide increase in security at home and abroad, ending with a response which has come to taint Bush's premiership: seeking to end the threat of terrorism through invasion.

While we learn about the aftermath and generate whatever opinions we have of Bush/Bin Laden, i worry we lose touch with reality, the fact in all 2,977 people lost their lives. People at work, people on the phone, people eating a bagel. Like drowning, those in the Towers had to wait in the sickening belief that they will perish. Some chose to die on their own terms by jumping, while helpless others died as the Towers went down.

On Sunday forget about Bush and whether or not it really happened. Mourn the lost and the hero's who perished. Spend the day and be thankful for those who lost their lives, who in a strange way, i believe made the world today a safer place.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Today's guest speaker: Phil from Marketing!




The title? A quote from the Simpsons when a marketing firm took over Sringfield Elementary because of a lack of funding (the picture however is from a similarly themed episode where the church becomes sponsored in order to raise funds). Of course this resulted in half an hour of family friendly hilarity with Funzo ruining Christmas. However, Free Schools now appear to be less of a cartoon creation and more a reality, with 281 applications to create a Free-School in the UK joining schools like Krishna-Avanti, Leicester as a wave of new Free Schools which seem set to revolutionize how kids learn.

A Free School is effectively independent from Government curriculum, and can be proposed by anyone: parents, teachers, charities, University's and even Football Teams - the only criteria that has to be met is that they must teach English, Maths and Science, and offer a broad and balanced curriculum (leaving a bit of room for maneuver). The only requirement is that there must be enough support from parents as to be able to fit 50% of the schools places.

It is bizarre to think that these new schools can offer a different kind of learning, that is so radically different to schools as we know it, which traditionally are based are Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. However, these schools and their ideas as how to teach are very much in the pipeline of the education revolution - Everton Football Club in Liverpool for example want to create a sporting and athletic atmosphere around their school, so as to encourage young, inner-city children to attend - the incentive of playing sport apparently is means of getting kids to school.

While we may sit and laugh at the extremes of having sponsored schools (Economic Monopolies brought to you by Wal*Mart/Leisure and Tourism in Association with EasyJet), this isn't much too far from what may happen, and what already is. An unnamed Free School has a connection with Apple, which as a result offers iPad's to it's students.

So what of these plans which have been on Tory pipelines since the days of Thatcher but have only recently come about under Gove, the Education Secretary. Well, as a principle i like the idea. Between the ages of 4 and 11, school can seem a little bit of a chore. Secondary school i feel is different, you're more independent which is a bit of an encouragement to attend (or on the flipside play truant). However, primary school can seem like a drag. Personally, i remember doing a lot of PE and having a lot of "Golden Time" in the later stages of my primary school life which makes me wonder how i got straight-5s in the KS2's. The point is, Primary School, while being the foundations of education, was not always what i wanted to do with my day. At home i had toys and a Playstation which i could play all day if i stayed at home, not just for an hour at lunch time as i might at school.

Free School's do offer incentives like these, its school revolutionized to a point where it's hardly a school at all - in Manchester a Free School is planned to be guarded by groups of the Army in order to promote ideals of respect and civility. But where do we stop? How are schools like these policed? Whats to stop Tesco's coming in and giving a lesson on the benefits of Land Banking? Nothing: Free Schools need not have qualified teachers giving the lessons.

I like the idea of modernising primary schools, things like mini white boards and computer rooms can really invigorate a child to participate in the classroom and can boost attention spans - however what we don't want is the Samsung School for mini electronics buyers. I'm all for a change but lets not have it run by Funzo and Phil from Marketing.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Observations from The Sunday Times.


Apologies to the culture vultures amongst you, but there will be no poem today. I've got some content in mind, but you have to realise to write a poem as a non-poet is actually quite hard. Anyway todays blog draws inspiration from a story from The Sunday Times.

The story (on page 10 who like references) deals with a story, i don't really know who to describe but i thought i should share. Girl, 11, pleads for cash to go to top school

Aliyah Tribak, a girl from the Tower Hamlets council estate in London, has been scooting about town (literally) in order to try and find a benefactor to fund her place at the Queen's College independent school for Girls. The reason being her mother failed to correctly fill out the bursary forms in order to receive funding from the school.

The girl has dreams, which she believe would become slightly closer to a reality if she get's to go to Queen's College, which charges nearly £15,000 per year. Aliyah wants to go into medicine.

The story paints an interesting picture really. From sunny-suburbia-in-St Albans, to do medicine is not too hard. I know of a few people who got onto decent medical courses from a state school. My mantra is that in order to fulfill a dream like this, you've go to work hard, you don't need to be from a pay-per school.

In fact i was talking recently about being poor, being deprived and i suggested that i am poor. A friend however suggested that there's poor, and then there's poor. Of course i argued that i am poor, given i fit comfortably into the Government's lowest bracket in order to get funding as to attend University. Without this, University and I would simply not have married in the way we have.

But, my friend who writes here, was right. I am not from a council estate and i did go to a good state school, which unfortunately for me get's better and better each year, leaving the records that we make in terms of results only a shelf life of a year, until the lower-sixth come along and bust them wide open.

This is all about social mobility. The truth is i know nothing about what social mobility really is. I look at myself in a rather misguided belief that i am Social Mobility. I am the idol, the leader who's breaking the trend. The council house-kid on his way to do Law with a years placement in the Houses of Parliament. Only the second person to attend a University in a pretty decent sized clan. But this isn't social mobility. This is just me using whats been given to me well - a decent school - and a decent household.

Aliyah on the other hand hasn't got that, or won't unless she gets the place at Queen's College. This is wrong. One can argue that people can break the mould and leave the council estate or poverty stricken areas of inner-cities. But this is a rarity, and we all know it. While Labour offered improved schooling and healthcare, the inequality gap grew which gives us situations and rather primitive reasons to riot.

For me, there needs to be a ridding of this idea of "fill the quota" placements in schools and University's and more serious screenings. A ridding of the private school help sessions for Oxbridge interviews and more of a method whereby of course a grade-A student from Tower Hamlets is perhaps proportionally cleverer than a grade-A from Eton.

Queen's College has the money, it has the bursary available, otherwise they wouldn't offer it. While i make assertions here, i think you can probably agree that Queen's College could bend the rules in this case, whats stopping them is most likely a pride thing, a small-C conservative (and big C no doubt) system whereby as described by Aliyah herself "in the interviews everyone came in posh cars and all knew each other", they want to keep its rich, exclusive feel to it.

I could of course be wrong, even so, Queen's College, Government or someone should step up and take the baton of encouraging Social Mobility. Front the money in order to show that the days of shunning further education for financial reasons are gone, and that anyone can follow a dream.