4 January, 2010
I've noticed a few news reports this morning about shortages of road salt in certain areas of the UK, so I have sympathy with the need for local councils to prioritise and restrict their use of grit. However, though Lancashire County Council is responsible for 6,961 km of highway and prioritises 2,418 km, its policy for deicing pavements and cycle tracks seems a little extreme.
We will only... treat footpaths in periods of prolonged severe weather conditions i.e. significant snow, slush, and frozen slush. It does not include general frost and ice.
Cycle tracks are not mentioned at all.
So the designated cycle route to the University, one of the city's primary employers (with 13.1% of its staff commuting by bike in 2007, the highest proportion in the county), goes totally ungritted, accumulating several nights of unthawed frost into thick sheets of smooth ice whilst any thawed frost refreezes into black ice.
Perhaps due to its near-coastal location overlooking Morecambe Bay, Lancaster very rarely experiences lying snow, so the primary source of road ice is frost (and rain, of course). It really isn't some marginal risk which can be safely ignored. Besides, 'significant snow' has a degree of texture so is relatively easy to cycle over – I was doing so quite happily in December – but full-on ice is impassible.
22 May, 2009
There's no free car parking on the University campus. Staff can buy permits, as can some students, and visitors can pay & display or obtain vouchers pre-purchased by the departments they're visiting, but in short, bringing a car to campus almost always incurs a fee. And rightfully so.
A fairly obvious response has been for drivers to park off-campus instead, on the verges of the surrounding roads. Since the campus has a semi-rural location, those roads are narrow lanes, totally unsuitable for parking (it's downright dangerous) so, as today's weekly e-mail newsletter reports, the Council is imposing 'No Waiting' restrictions; in effect, on-street parking is banned anywhere within a kilometre of the centre of campus.
Which explains why there has been an upsurge of parked cars along Whinfell Drive, a residential street at least 15 minutes away on foot. The full cycle ride from town doesn't take that long, and the bus takes ~20, IIRC.
13 August, 2008
When I moved into this temporary office last year, I was concerned about the surrounding relatively tall buildings blocking sight of the surrounding countryside, but the grassed quad hasn't felt oppressive, as the large weeping willow has been a pleasant feature and a break in the southern side introduces plenty of light. I've seen a lot of this sky!
Yet another reason to regret having to move back into my refurbished, open-plan permanent office, in a noisier part of the campus, in a couple of weeks....
Click the image for an enlargement.
28 May, 2008
Ear of the beholder
Attending an exhibition at the University's Peter Scott Gallery, I was rather annoyed to hear the sound of a circular saw coming from the adjacent music rooms, not least because it didn't seem to be doing anything – I couldn't hear the blade engaging with anything.
Except people's minds, perhaps. After a few moments, the sound stopped, and an audience politely applauded. Ah. One of those concerts.
Otherwise, the exhibition was pretty good. I wish I could recommend visiting, but you've only got until 16:00 today, 11:00-21:00 tomorrow, then it closes at 16:00 on Friday. Entitled 'Art of Japan', it's a small exhibition of 17th-20th Century woodcut prints, including Hokusai's iconic 'The Great Wave off Kanagawa', plus a smaller number of watercolours and silk paintings. As always, I toured the whole gallery then returned to appreciate the highlights at length; considering the size of the exhibition, a 'hit-rate' of three exceptional pieces (according to my taste, anyway) is impressive, particularly as two were from the University's own collection.
12 December, 2007
Why does cheap meat (especially catering bacon and sausages) smell so disgustingly sickly-sweet? I have to open the windows whenever J. has brought a bacon bun into the office for his breakfast, and it's deeply unpleasant to pass County Diner (Cartmel Coffee Bar, as was) each morning.
The Diner's extractor fan has been carelessly sited to output into the main entrance to County South's quad. The replusive effect is the absolute opposite of the smell of fresh bread emerging from a baker's: had I been tempted by the idea of a sausage bun, the smell would change my mind instantly. It must be even worse for vegetarians.
Seriously; why is it so repugnant – isn't the scent of frying bacon supposed to be extremely tempting?
The only reason I can think of is that the high water content of cheap bacon causes it to boil rather than properly fry. Oh, and that cheap sausages contain the parts other manufacturers don't mention....
2 November, 2007
What would happen if...?
The Guardian reports the "most bizarre tests ever conducted in the name of scientific inquiry" *.
Things like injecting an elephant with 3,000 times the human recreational dose of LSD, then watching it keel over, dead. Or grafting the front half of a puppy onto a dog's neck (alongside the existing head), then repeating the experiment 19 more times over the next 15 years.
BTW, I love the photo accompanying the Guardian article, depicting an elephant's eye.
*: Effectively reproducing the substance of a New Scientist article without the courtesy of a link back to NS. Naughty.
21 October, 2007
I can REALLY see my house from here
It's not news that Microsoft's equivalent of Google Maps features oblique aerial photography of certain areas in addition to the standard top-down vertical images. However, I hadn't realised that Lancaster is included in the coverage.
Blackpool is one of the examples used to advertise the facility, but I discovered that the coverage continues up the Fylde coast as far as my home town (and no further, nor further inland). It may or may not be coincidental that the University has fairly close links to Microsoft.
It's good to be able to examine locations from four sides, and the quality is excellent; I can distinguish the colour of the drain pipe in my back yard, and see that my curtains were open when the plane passed.
Click the thumbnail to make the plane fly closer, or zoom in, or enlarge the image, or something.
3 October, 2007
Grr! The University's student newspaper has nicked one of the Ministry's photos to illustrate an article about the city.
It's great that they're interested, and though I say it myself, it is a pretty good photo, but I really object – no, I find it unacceptable – for a supposed journalist to appropriate content and republish it unacknowledged, especially when that content is clearly labeled as under copyright ('© NRT, 2006' is both visible at the foot of the page and less visible in the image's <alt>> tag).
As everyone should know (never mind semi-professional journalists – the article went out under the Assistant Editor's name), web-published content is afforded the same level of copyright protection as any other form of publication: it does not automatically enter the public domain, unless the content owner has clearly provided a user agreement such as Creative Commons – which I don't.
Had I been approached for permission (which I've been happy to give to those who have asked in the past), and been given credit for the photograph, I'd have had no problem. However, I very much object to it have been just taken, unacknowledged.
For some reason, I particularly object to this being done by a self-defined semi-professional, who'll presumably cite experience of journalism and associated standards when advancing his future career.
[Update 12:45: the editor apologied very quickly, so there's no problem.]
30 September, 2007
As is entirely proper, prospective UK university students are under no obligation to declare disabilities at any stage of the application and pre-registration process. I fully support that in principle, but in practice it's problematic.
If the first an institution knows of a need for special provision¹ is the moment a student presents him/herself on Arrival Day (at the same time as hundreds of other students², all clamouring for room keys, etc.), it can materially disadvantage the student and put the institution in a very awkward position.
To give a specific example, a student arrived today in a wheelchair. Had the College known 3-4 weeks ago, she could easily have been given a ground-floor room, but without an apparent reason to do otherwise, the Residence Office had allocated a second-floor room. At the very start of term, all accommodation is fully-booked; there's no possibility of changing rooms until natural attrition kicks in and people leave. In the mean time, the student will have to use the lift – on the other side of the building – and pass through 2-3 other flats to reach her own.
Similarly, the College was unaware that a new student has Asberger's Syndrome until his/her parents had a quiet word with an Assistant Dean on Arrivals Day. I don't think it's reasonable to expect the standard, non-specialist tutorial system to have identified and made appropriate provision without prior warning and, without being flippant, I doubt the student would have sought assistance, at least not before a social/academic problem had already reached a critical point.
It's difficult. The College wants to help and, once alerted, is very good at providing support (and, importantly, respect for individual needs) but just as importantly no-one should feel obliged to be treated differently. Everyone has the right to decline a safety net (or avoid stating a need for one), so long as he/she accepts the consequences of doing so. Academic Review Committees (i.e. disciplinary procedures) tend to be sympathetic to genuine problems which had been declared beforehand, but 'excuses' after the event are less likely to be accepted.
1: Beyond the bare-minimum provision demanded by accessibility legislation, of course.
2: And worse, parents. I can appreciate that it's stressful to leave one's child in a strange place, especially a utilitarian student bedroom, but please don't take it out on College staff who are very likely to be volunteers doing their best to facilitate the process. They're not legally-liable College employees, and certainly not customer service agents able to allocate better facilities if a parent is sufficiently aggressive.
24 August, 2007
Worst of both worlds
Earlier in the month, I mentioned that my area of Lancaster is about to receive wheelie bins and recycling boxes; two of the former (for non-recyclable domestic waste and garden refuse respectively) and three of the latter (two for glass, paper, card and cans, one for plastic bottles).
As the comments on that earlier entry show, S. and I immediately spotted the problem of using wheeled bins on particularly steep hills, but there were also issues of storing all those containers in tiny yards and the imposition of full-size garden waste bins on those who have no gardens.
Following complaints, it seems the Council has changed its corporate mind. We're not going to receive wheelie bins automatically, after all. Instead, we'll continue to receive 'traditional' bin bags, plus the recycling boxes. However, one aspect of the wheelie bin scheme will remain: fortnightly collection.
I really don't see this as workable. One of the main reasons the Council didn't introduce fortnightly collection a while ago was that wheelie bins were unavailable, and it wasn't viable for people to store thin-walled bags of stinking food waste for up to a fortnight. The Council must have eliminated every cat and rat in the city, as that previously defining problem is suddenly considered trivial.
It could be argued that since wheelie bins are still available on request (it's just that they're no longer to be compulsory), those with concerns can have them.
Yet that'd be disingenuous. It's not me that needs the bin.
It'd probably take me a month to fill a full-sized wheelie bin, so I could just about manage without one, filling my indoor kitchen bin then putting out one bag each fortnight.
In contrast, my next-door neighbours fill three bags each week, and store them outside. By mid-week, the first bag is already in their yard and the local cats have moved in. One of the best aspects of the Council's original plan was that my neighbours would have been obliged to render their waste inaccessible to animals (and to reduce the absolute amount of it). Now it's going to be even worse. My yard will to be the place for cats to dine and defecate.
[And no, I don't feel able to persuade my neighbours to change – that's for the Council.]
[Update 06/11/07: There was a fortnightly collection yesterday morning; yesterday evening, my neighbour put out the first full bag of the next fortnight.]
26 July, 2007
Just heard that the University is about to begin 'the Halo Project'. Excellent! Especially when the students are away, the multi-level maze of passageways and wooded parkland on campus would be ideal for a live-action version of the (depressing) combat game.
Earlier this year, the University won awards for 'Pac-Lan', a 'mixed reality' game using mobile phone and RFID tags to enable players to keep track of one another’s position as they pursued each other. Halo would be the obvious next stage.
Oh. "The Halo Project will create a wide and safe pathway around the perimeter of campus for walking and jogging with improved street lighting." Bor-ing.
19 July, 2007
Well, that's it for another year. The latest crop of Bowland College's students have graduated. Well done, and all the best.
It was interesting to see some of the parents, and novel to see some of the students graduates in suits (especially 'footy' Jo). Then again, my bearded, ponytailed head probably looks odd poking out of a white shirt (shock; horror: I'm wearing a non-black garment) and college tie.
From the 'behind-the scenes' side, it seems to have gone well; no last-minute sabotage this year (see the last line here); the only slight misjudgement was including chicken pieces in the buffet. I wouldn't have expected many people to want to fiddle with greasy chicken skin whilst wearing their best clothes, and I wasn't surprised to see those serving platters barely touched.
One other observation, which will probably sound more depressing than I intend:
As usual, I was left with the college camera, to capture a few images of the event. There are only a few practical, vaguely interesting angles in the enclosed quad, and it's difficult to obtain characterful photos of strangers when I don't really look like an accredited photographer. Hence, every year, the results are the same; only the faces change. I'm uncomfortable about publishing the images, as it introduces a sense that it's all a slow-moving production line churning out generic graduates, when that really isn't accurate beyond the most superficial level.
1 July, 2007
In the news
It's interesting to note that a certain S.Gregson¹ wrote to the Lancaster Guardian in order to introduce himself to the electorate of Kendal as their prospective MP with policies including reallocation of church funding into education, 'abstainance from interference in the internal affairs of other nations' and clearer separation of church and state by removing Bishops from the House of Lords. It's even more interesting that he said all this in 1837.
The Lancaster Guardian is 170 years old, and my local fish & chip shop celebrated by wrapping orders in a reprint of that first front page. It's a fascinating document, both in terms of content and in phrasing: extremely mannered, but often with an edge, as if containing subtle digs at past critics. Much of the material would only be meaningful to locals (for example, the River Lune seemed to be interchangeably called the 'Loyne' in 1837), but a few points stand out as of more widespread interest.
Thomas Bond and Son Beg leave to inform their Friends and the Public, that they have succeeded to the business of Captain Hawthornthwaite; and have constantly on hand choice Stocks of Main, Arley, King, and Habergham coal; Cannel Slack, &c, to which their attention is respectfully invited.Coal? All that mannered circumlocution for coal?
- Thomas Alderson, Hosier, thanks the public for their support. Oh, very funny.
- George Jackson, wine and spirit merchant, and also agent for (big breath...) Royal Exchange Assurance Of Houses And Goods From Fire, London (Established by Royal Charter In the Reign of King George the First) offers fire insurance for livestock. Imagine visiting a modern off-licence to insure your sheep against fire.
- Apart from that purveyor of flammable intoxicants and fire insurance, there are a couple of other odd combined professions. James Milner² was a plumber and glazier. Are they naturally related trades?
Robert Speight was a whitesmith and bell-hanger (who begged to inform his friends and the public that he had also secured the services of a blacksmith).
- There's only one actual news story on the entire page, occupying the final third of the final column (of six). It reports a severe 'flu epidemic in London, with totally full hospitals and queues of coffins outside cemeteries.
- Apart from the crest of the Royal Exchange Assurance, etc., the only illustration on the page is a printing press, advertised by Messrs. Clymer & Dixon – printers of the Lancaster Guardian. Coincidentally. They:
have the pleasure to inform their Friends and the Profession that they continue to manufacture the PATENT COLUMBIAN PRINTING PRESSES in the same way as heretofore... notwithstanding the various attempts to supercede them.See what I mean about subtle digs? I'm sure there's a story behind that comment.
- Another advertisement in the adjacent column is for Richard Batt's Academy, a school in Meeting-House Lane, providing a full list of fees and requirements of pupils (it would cost 15 shillings for a child between 7 and 9 years of age to attend for a term, for example, plus a further 2s. 6d. for the use of School Books and Stationery and as a contribution to heating costs, plus a Reading Book, a Grammar Book, an Arithmetic Book and a bible, all to be provided by the pupil's 'friends').
However, the longest item on the entire page, accounting for ¾ of a column, is a collection of reviews of Richard Batt's book 'Gleanings In Poetry' (7s. 6d., 670 pages, with notes & illustrations). The Christian Advocate feels that "the notes are large, yet full of instruction, and interesting without any mixture of fiction... the work is well printed, on good paper, and in an excellent type" (Messrs. Clymer & Dixon again, perhaps?). The Kendal Mercury "can confidently bear our testimony to its cheapness." I think that's supposed to be complimentary.
- Mr. Decimus Woodhouse republishes a note from St. James's Palace in which Major-General Sir Henry Wheatley, keeper of the Privy Purse is "honoured with the King's commands to express his Majesty's sense of your polite attention in sending the two bottles of Essence of Ginger". That's Woodhouse's Æthereal Essence of Ginger, 'certain in affording instant relief in Cholera and oppression after Meals'.
Don't ask about Woodhouse's Balsam of Spermaceti. Just don't ask.
[Update 26/01/08: one of Woodhouse's descendents tells me his potions didn't help him, as he died in 1841, aged 31.]
¹ : I think this was Samuel Gregson (Senior), father of Samuel Gregson (Junior), himself Mayor of Lancaster, MP, co-founder of the Natural History Museum and partially responsible for the word 'dinosaur', and of Henry Gregson, also Mayor and in whose memory the Gregson Arts & Community Centre was built.
² : who:
in returning his sincere thanks to his numerous friends for the very liberal encouragement he has received for upwards of thirty years, begs to inform them and the public, that he has taken his Son into partnership, and they hope, by strict attention, excellence of workmanship, and reasonable charges, still to merit a share of public patronage.
Could you imagine such an advert from a plumber in 2007?
26 June, 2007
Don't cut the corner
If one has, say, a old sofa one wishes to dispose of, Lancaster City Council offers two alternatives*.
- One can call 'Furniture Matters' direct and have it collected for renovation then reuse by local disadvantaged people.
Unfortunately, one can't leave the sofa in the back yard for collection, one has to take time off work to be at home when the charity staff visit. Even then, if the sofa doesn't meet their minimum standard (a label proving it meets fire regulations, for example), they won't take it.
- One can call 'Bulky Matters' and for a fee of £15 for up to three items, have it collected for disposal at the local tip.
Having arranged collection, one can leave the sofa in one's back yard and go to work; one doesn't need to be present when the council staff visit.
However, as the leaflet left by 'Bulky Matters' indicates, the sofa will be taken to 'Furniture Matters' first anyway, to see if they want it. Potential 'Furniture Matters' direct donors and 'Bulky Matters' clients are not told this in advance (though, to be fair, press releases on the Council's website do imply it).
My advice: just call 'Bulky Matters'
. It's drastically more convenient and if the item is reusable, 'Furniture Matters'
will get it anyway.
Thanks to A. for experiencing this so others don't have to.
*: Well, it could hardly offer three alternatives, could it?
13 June, 2007
A while ago, the University offered free (I think) sleeveless dayglo waistcoats to personnel who commute by bicycle. I didn't get one myself, partly because I already have a sleeved high-visibility jacket and partly because I was unwilling to wear the logo of a cycle activists' group.
I suspect uptake failed to exceed supply, as it seems leftover waistcoats have been issued to outdoor cleaning staff, who now wander around campus displaying the slogan 'Fitter, healthier, quicker' across their backs.
17 May, 2007
What's the problem? No, really: what IS the problem?
Apparently, there's a proposal to erect a mobile phone mast in Golgotha, on the eastern edge of Lancaster. I've been trying to discover a little more about it, both in terms of factual information and pro/anti arguments. I've been struggling.
There's any number of web pages stating that a certain councillor is objecting, and informing local residents how to support him, but I've yet to find a single explanation of precisely why there are objections. The best I've uncovered is:
It's the last thing you want to see - a mobile phone mast going up next to your house
Well, yes, who would actively welcome a ~13 m mast? Yet people love their mobile phones, so presumably there's an acceptance that masts have to go somewhere. So why not there?
Don't misunderstand; for all I know, there may well be an extremely good reason to object; my point is that the objectors don't seem to be even trying to rationalise it, never mind raise specific issues based on proven facts. It's as if it's self-evidently A Bad Thing, to be opposed without further discussion.
"Why don't you want it?"
"I just don't want it."
Not. Good. Enough.
14 May, 2007
Good view, but damp
One of the items at a College management meeting earlier today was to distribute copies of the new smoke-free workplace regulations as they apply to College residences.
It is possible for students to register their individual study bedrooms as smoking rooms, by written permission of the head of the College & Residence Office. One of the conditions specified, presumably quoting legislation, is that the designated room must:
have a ceiling and, except for doors and windows, be completely enclosed on all sides by solid floor-to-ceiling walls.
So how many student bedrooms are open to the sky?
3 May, 2007
Just a bit of fun
One effect of the early fine weather is that students have started to use disposable barbecues before College authorities have had an opportunity to post signs prohibiting them.
It's actually quite impressive that in the time between smoke being reported coming from a litter bin and a porter arriving with a handheld fire extinguisher, a reignited discarded barbecue was able to consume the bin (metal inner, plastic outer) so utterly that it might never have existed, melt right through the adjacent metal drainpipe and heat a wall to the point of bricks shattering.
Pointless, spoilsport regulations, eh?
13 April, 2007
Arriving at work today, I was told by a cleaner that I won't be able to park my bike in its normal place on Monday, as "Her Royal Highness" is visiting.
Having checked with the Press Office, it seems HRH Princess Alexandra, the University's ex-Chancellor, will indeed be here on Monday. However, it's not to open the refurbished entrance to my office building, which might explain why Alexandra Square (I wonder where that name comes from...) is to be off-limits to cycle parking. She will merely be passing through the Square on the way to view the Hesketh Collection of rare books and manuscripts and attend the University's Fellowship Dinner.
I quite understand, of course. One can't allow bicycles in the approximate presence of a Royal personage – that simply wouldn't Do.
No, I don't believe it's a security issue – it never has been before.
5 April, 2007
Wild about Lancaster
Sometimes I really appreciate not living in a major city. There was a kestrel over my street earlier today, and I've just seen my first bat of the year, flying over my own yard.
Then again, I saw a peregrine falcon perched on Chester Town Hall (it, not me) last November, watching (it and me) the thousands of christmas shoppers.
23 February, 2007
Sorry to be pedantic, but when I read a press release about a new police support officer who can be "... seen around the Campus with a yellow reflective coat riding his pannier fitted mountain bike", I wonder whether PCSO Owen is cold when his coat rides around without him.
5 February, 2007
Close to home
Well. That was poignant.
I've just returned from the cinema, having seen Nick Broomfield's 'Ghosts'. It's the story of Chinese illegal immigrants coming to the UK and struggling to subsist whilst paying-off their debts to people-smugglers and support their families in China. I'm not spoiling the plot by revealing that it culminates in their deaths – that's the whole point.
The striking point is that the film was directly based on real deaths which occurred within half an hour (by bicycle) from here, exactly three years ago tonight. Though it took weeks to establish the precise number, 23 illegal immigrants drowned whilst picking cockles in Morecambe Bay in poor weather.
Having overheard a conversation with an usher, I discovered that at least one group of tonight's audience members, who appeared to be Chinese, had limited command of English. It'd be tempting to draw the obvious conclusion, but I have no way of knowing.
Broomfield is famous for his documentaries, in which he appears on-screen as an active participant, but unlike 'Fetishes', 'Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer', et al., 'Ghosts' is a feature film (Broomfield's second). It's nominally fictional, though based on the facts of the Morecambe Bay tragedy and Hsiao-Hung Pai's undercover reporting for The Guardian, and unscripted performances by non-professional actors recorded on hand-held cameras* had a realistic feel.
Though the film was about the overall experience of immigrant workers, initially in Norfolk then Morecambe for the key sequence, rather than focusing on the tragedy itself, it was that section (actually filmed in the Bay) which affected me most.
Though the film did feature a couple of time-lapse sequences earlier, I'm almost certain that the speed of the incoming tide wasn't artificially accelerated. Having lived at the edge of Morecambe Bay for approaching 14 years, and having grown up a similar distance from the Dee Estuary, I've seen for myself that the wave front can move that quickly. At the mouth of the River Lune, high tide can be 10 metres above the low water mark. Imagine that: the water surface can rise 33' vertically within six hours. On almost entirely level mudflats, picture how much more land is immersed by even 1 cm rise in water level, and the actual rise averages almost 3 cm vertically per minute. Think you could outrun that, whilst avoiding invisible patches of quicksand and deep, fast-flowing gullies? Terrifying.
Leaving the cinema, I was briefly tempted to cycle out to Hest Bank, the point where the bodies were brought ashore, but soon dismissed the idea as it's a bitterly cold night. Says it all, really.
*: One sequence in a supermarket seemed to have been filmed covertly, which could have been for effect, but I can certainly imagine the company declining authorisation – a reminder that the supermarket chains are (no doubt inadvertently) secondary employers of underground immigrant labour wasn't exactly a marketing opportunity.
24 January, 2007
Libraries at sunset
I've already established that I had my camera with me today, which was fortunate, as this was a clear evening in the one week of the year that my normal leaving time almost exactly coincides with sunset.
I obviously took a couple of photographs, on the path from Alex Square to the perimeter road. I'm afraid I was, well, careless, and the images are blurred, but the colours alone justify publication.
5 October, 2006
One thing I will say for the new(-ish) commercialised Freshers' Fairs is that the marketers know their targets.
In return for their contact details, the students are being given vouchers, free samples, an-
BALLOONS! Ballooooons! Yay!
9 September, 2006
This is the 2006 Heritage Open Days weekend, an annual event during which various buildings of architectural/cultural significance, not normally accessible to the public, are open for visitors. Most towns across the UK have one or two; the Lancaster district had 17 this year, of which I visited five today with F. and my camera.
By their nature, they're private premises, even discreetly anonymous, so it was fascinating to pass through an unregarded door into a Masonic Hall, or though an unnoticed side door and up a flight of stairs to a room absolutely full of Baroque plasterwork. One doesn't often get the opportunity to tour the offices of a ringtone company, which happen to occupy a Jacobean townhouse visited by 'Bonny Prince' Charles Stuart in 1745.
It was also good to meet the people associated with the buildings. Attendants at permanent museums primarily guard the exhibits, typically in silence, whilst professional guides can be knowledgeable but disengaged. That's not quite the same as being shown Masonic temples by a Lodge Secretary, or a school chapel (larger and more ornate than a typical parish church) by a teacher, or a partially-disused church by the people who voluntarily maintain the building week-to-week, or even just talk about the weather with the inhabitant of an 18th Century Almshouse – not a re-enactor but a real resident. Personal involvement does add something.
5 September, 2006
Listen to Lancaster
I'm not entirely sure why, but the Guardian has published a podcast (.mp3) tour of my home town*, amongst other areas of North West England.
It's, well, kind of cheesy, and factually incorrect on a few points, but worth 14 mins of one's time, if only to hear the local accent.
*: i.e. where I live, not where I was born.
18 August, 2006
Lancaster currently has two cinemas: a dedicated arts cinema in a theatre and a two-screen mainstream cinema. According to a leaked redundancy letter to staff, the latter is to close next week.
No, really; it might actually happen this time.
It was purpose-built in 1936, but 1,592 seats were too many by 1971, when the circle was divided into two smaller auditoria and the stalls became a bingo hall. That was the situation until 2003, when a brand new multiplex complex was built a few streets away. Feeling that they couldn't compete, ABC closed the old cinema, making the staff redundant.
However, it then became clear that the multiplex wasn't going to open: legal issues mean that it's stood empty since then. A small local cinema chain secured the lease to the old building and reopened it as the 'Regal'. They must have known that the multiplex's problems would be resolved eventually and, as expected, as soon as a revised opening date has been announced for the new complex, the Regal is closing. They're not going to try to compete, and the staff are out of work again. Good business, I suppose.
I can't say I'll miss it. As the ABC, the cinema was basic but unpretentious and entirely adequate. The same place rebranded as the Regal just seemed contrived and rather seedy. The new management introduced a pastiche of 'traditional' cinema style, but the world has moved on. Sending a teenager out into the auditorium with an tray around his neck to sell ice creams during the interval wasn't quaint, it was retrograde and a bit embarrassing (as was having an interval).
The management seemed a little overbearing, too: the manager often stood in the foyer overseeing the queue and popcorn stall in a somehow menacing manner. It's the sort of thing that might have worked in the 1960s or 70s, when management could command respect from the audience, never mind the staff, but in 2003-6 it merely appeared unwelcoming to customers and made the staff nervous about being watched.
Pity about the job losses, but on the whole: good riddance.
7 August, 2006
I want to be a builder.
What other job allows one to state intently at a blank wall, mutter something about it looking "about right", then hit it with one's full strength and a sledgehammer?
If that's a bit cryptic, we're entering the second week of remodelling of University House. The main entrance is closed (well, removed), the temporary main entrance is what was a window, and all but the supporting walls (hopefully...) on the ground floor have been ripped out.
It must be a little traumatic for those who have worked at the University since 1964, some of them in this very building for most of that time.
21 July, 2006
The University's Academic Registrar retires in September, 38 years after arriving. She's being replaced by a 'Director of Governance and Planning'.
I don't know how I feel about that. Does the title matter?
On a slightly different matter: it occurred to me this week, preparing for the graduation ceremonies, that as a teenager reading the university-based novels of Graham Greene, Tom Sharpe and David Lodge, I never dreamt I'd work in a university myself, even less a collegiate one with SCRs, JCRs, quads and uniformed porters.
17 June, 2006
On the way to Sainsbury's just now, I passed a police cordon – lots of blue & white tape and officers directing pedestrians to the opposite pavement (US: sidewalk). I also saw my first forensics team, in white hooded overalls, working in a secluded pedestrian underpass.
It's probably a vain hope, but I do hope it's nothing more serious than a drunken fight.
[Update 21:10: See the link in Calephetos' comment. It was a murder, as I'd half-expected.]
[Update 21/02/07: the murderers of Rikki Judkins (50), themselves aged 19 and 15 at the time of the attack, have been given minimum sentences of 18 and 15 years respectively, if 'respect' is an appropriate concept in their case.
Judkins, a Coventry man with learning difficulties and psychological problems, was stranded in Lancaster overnight due to a 'mix-up over his bus ticket' – he had one, but it wasn't valid until the following morning. I can just imagine a driver's malicious glee in refusing him access to the last bus of the night.
Presumably Judkins wandered around looking for shelter. Maybe he was trying to sleep in the pedestrian underpass, maybe he was just walking when he had the misfortune to meet two of the local thugs. I can imagine them making some smart remark, and Judkins' response being considered insufficiently deferential.
So they punched, kicked and stamped him to death, making sure by dropping a rock on his head.]
17 June, 2006
There's a fountain in Lancaster's Market Square, which happens to be sponsored by Nuclear Electric. It also happens to be leaking at present, apparently (I thought they were supposed to... whatever).
A Green city councillor has taken the opportunity to hope, in a letter to the local newspaper, that the same engineers aren't involved in building the next generation of UK nuclear power stations.
Cheap, Emily, cheap. This is the level of rhetoric which enables me to dismiss anything said by these hippie busybodies.
5 May, 2006
All or nothing
There's a poster on the wall in the foyer of Uni. House (central admin) – not something merely pinned to a noticeboard but framed, like a certificate or official statement. My line of sight must have passed over it dozens, probably hundreds of times, but I've never really registered that it's advertising Anglican services at Lancaster Priory.
Where's the one advertising the Blades Street Mosque, or the Wiccan 'Whatever-Wiccans-Have'? For that matter, where's the advert for the Polish Kościół or the catholic Cathedral? So far as I'm aware, the University isn't allowed to promote any one religion or sect, so I don't know how that slipped through.
No offence to Anglicans – I'd feel exactly the same way if, say, a Hindu temple was receiving preferential treatment – but this needs to be a case of all religious groups being equally represented, or absolutely none.
Investigations will be made. There may be a vacant space shortly....
27 April, 2006
Yesterday, Ian rightly mentioned that the inside (i.e. nearest the kerb) two feet of a road is the most likely to hold debris or have pot holes. Cars and larger vehicles push stones, etc. out of the main carriageway, but bicycles don't have the weight or tyre width to do the same. It's a fundamental flaw of on-road cycle lanes; most debris collects in the area reserved for the very sector of traffic most vulnerable to it.
There's a particularly bad example in Lancaster, where Bowerham Road becomes Barton Road. Heading south, a sweeping descent to the right crosses a road junction. Normally, traffic on the main road travels at speed, but there's always a chance one might have to brake. In the cycle lane, that means doing so on loose gravel. The very idea scares me, so I never use the designated cycle lane, instead sticking to the main carriageway.
The only person to question that was another cyclist, who insisted that all cyclists should use all cycle tracks/lanes at all times – "show some gratitude" and "use it or lose it". Well, so far as I'm concerned, losing it would definiterly be the preferred alternative. The Barton Road cycle lane is only a couple of years old, and was much better when it wasn't designated as such, as passing cars kept all but the gutter clear of stones. I'm not remotely 'grateful' for the segregation.
Despite their inherent design flaw, the rest of Lancaster's on-road cycle lanes actually aren't too bad, if one carefully watches for debris. It's the off-road cycle track that annoy me, as several with perfectly good tarmac have been resurfaced with loose gravel. Last week, the Environment Agency resurfaced one of theirs with crushed glass; the local newspaper reported punctures and vets' bills. There's also an issue of occasional pedestrian hostility (actively inflamed by the same local newspaper), meaning shared-use cycle paths can be unpleasant to use.
All of which explains why I tend not to use dedicated cycling areas, preferring to ride on the road itself.
21 April, 2006
There's a notice in the Uni. House porters' lodge saying:
This office will be unmanned from 3pm.
I think 'unmanned'
is the correct adjective, but I can't help reading it as a verb....
7 April, 2006
The pungent Dr. Merriman
One of the University's senior History lecturers, Marcus Merriman, died last week aged nearly 66, a matter of months before he was due to retire. I didn't have reason to encounter him often, indeed I'm not sure whether we ever spoke in person, but I certainly recognised him whenever he was in earshot, as a founding member of the institution and a true character.
He spoke at Bowland College's 40th Anniversary dinner in 2004, and in preparing for the event, visited my boss (the current Principal) a couple of times. On each occasion, I thought I'd have to go in and rescue her, as I could hear Marcus shouting at her in an agitated manner, but he was deaf and excitable, and that was just the way he spoke.
The Independent published his obituary today. Even without knowing the man, it's worth reading about a 'heroic' academic who owned (and used) a cannon.
"Pungent"? Yes, I was startled to read that in the Independent article, too, but it has nothing to do with the olfactory sense of the word.
3 April, 2006
I think it must be work experience week at the local secondary schools, as there's a slightly overawed-looking teenager wearing a shirt and tie in the Uni. House post room today.
No offence to the Uni. porters, who do an excellent job, but I tend to associate the role with older men (I think they are all male), especially retired police officers. Is university portering really a career to which 14-15-year-olds aspire?
26 March, 2006
Effete southern national newspapers might offer CDs and DVDs as promotional freebies, but the Lancaster Guardian has its priorities straight:
FREE pint of beer for EVERY reader!
I'd be fascinated to see how they'll manage that without getting the paper wet, and how many 10-year-old paperboys are found paralytic in ditches.
14 March, 2006
Each year, a group of local inactivists erect and occupy a yurt in Alex Square (i.e. the middle of campus), to celebrate One World Week (I thought they disapproved of globalisation... whatever).
The University doesn't give permission, but the hippies are easily ignored and it'd be impolitic to evict them. However, it's occurred to me that they could, in theory, be arrested for Loitering Within Tent.
12 March, 2006
Snow? In March?
It never snows in central Lancaster. Well, it never sticks, anyway – I think it's something to do with inshore winds.
So it was a bit of a surprise to wake to several inches of snow in my yard and in the street, and more arriving in one of the more intense blizzards I've ever seen in (lowland) Britain.
As soon as it stopped, later in the morning, I walked (not cycled) to Williamson Park, hoping to take a few photographs of pristine whiteness before anyone else ventured out.
It seems I'd misjudged my neighbours....
10 March, 2006
You can't say that!
In researching text to accompany a few photos, I discovered that a prominent local landmark, the disused Royal Albert Hospital, opened in 1870 as the 'Royal Albert Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles of the Northern Counties'.
Things change, eh? By modern standards that's a rather... startling name.
3 March, 2006
As I said, I didn't have my own (6Mpx) camera with me today, but when another blizzard began, I decided to borrow the office camera. Photos of happy students in the snow might be useful for the prospectus or other publications, so I rationalised it as being not only for my own benefit!
Unfortunately, the 2Mpx compact is both restrictively basic and rather difficult to use well, and few parameters (such as exposure or white balance) could be manually configured, so the results aren't great.
2 March, 2006
Nay! Nay, I say!
The City Council is undergoing consultation about whether to repeal a 1978 byelaw which bans cycling on Morecambe promenade. I'd heard that the byelaw had already been amended years ago, so was slightly startled to hear I've been acting illegally.
The promenade is already fairly popular with cyclists, so I don't see a reason why it couldn't be treated like any of the district's other shared pedestrian/cycle routes. From personal experience of having stopped to speak to a police officer on the promenade, without being challenged about cycling, I'd say there's no interest in enforcing the current byelaw, and that the Council is merely tidying its statute book(let).
However, I've just read the draft rewording (.doc format), and discovered that it is, or will be, illegal to break a horse on Morecambe promenade between the hours of 10:00 and 18:00. Scandalous!
24 February, 2006
I suppose it's normal for planners to adopt systematic names for new housing developments. A cluster of streets in my childhood home village were named after motor racing circuits: Monza, Daytona, etc. Here in Lancaster, many streets in Bowerham seem to be named after dukes; in Abraham Heights, it's US presidents.
Each time I cycle through Primrose, I'm impressed that the cross-streets are named after fine, aspirational standards:
Okay, I'm easily amused.
15 February, 2006
I'm attending an all-day Section Heads' meeting tomorrow, to discuss strategy, five year plans (v. stalinist...), etc.
I've just received the final, draft (eh?) agenda, and noted:
Makes us sound like sheep*....
Actually, that's a remarkably accurate, rapier-like satirical insight. Whoever typed-up the agenda needs to be commended, or sacked.
*: I suppose in a region less dominated by hill sheep farming, one's first thought might have been of a certain weedkiller, but that's an even less flattering concept.
13 February, 2006
What are they expecting?
Cycling to work this morning, I saw a 'Your Speed Is...' active sign being installed on a lamppost on Barton Road. I don't know how it'll work (radar?), nor whether it has been located well (~50 m after a school and a childrens' crossing point).
The worrying thing is that the seven-segment-LCD -type display goes up to 199 mph, on a fairly tight bend in a 30mph zone.
1 February, 2006
Well done, Nigel!
The current lead item on the 'ticker' on the BBC News home page is that my local fish & chip shop is the best in the UK!
And I was cursing them for the shop being closed last night, as they were away in London....
30 January, 2006
There's an odd little booth near the middle of campus; no larger than 3m x 2m, in recent years it's been a baked potato kiosk, then one selling ice creams, and now it's a mobile phone repair shop. It's too small for both a shop sign and a window display, so it just has a series of slogan boards at the foot of the window, swapped every fortnight or so. The current one caught my attention.
Technicians may visit your home
Is that a threat
4 January, 2006
A nice round number, though 'unlucky for some'. It's also the number of sp*m e-mails received by my work account overnight. Not over the week I was away, but overnight.
Admittedly, there were three sp*m flood attacks, but I still think ISS (Uni. 'tech support') need to improve their spam filters.
Another annoying thing is that the filters merely identify suspected sp*m, but still deliver it to mailboxes. That's of limited value....
23 December, 2005
Heh. A medical practice in Morecambe has taken out an ad in the local paper thanking their patients for their patience during renovation of the building. Patients with patience? Well, it amused me....
The ad on the facing page is a bit worrying, though: koi carp promoted as 'ideal seasonal presents'. I thought the advertising of pets as presents was discouraged nowadays, and an expensive ornamental fish isn't exactly cuddly, anyway.
Not to mention "Bonzai's now available." Is he?
12 December, 2005
At least it's quick
The University's 'Tech Support' division has made a change to its user services: consumables such as blank CD-Rs and DVD-Rs will no longer be available from the reception desk, but from a vending machine nearby. It'll also dispense cables, batteries, USB pen drives and even mp3 players.
I suppose it'll reduce queues and make better use of techies' time, but I can't help visualising the vending machine as being of the snack food type:
- Insert money.
- Make selection.
- [Chosen item falls 1.5 m into a metal trough. Crunch.]
- Retrieve fragments of mp3 player.
- Queue at reception desk to complain.
16 November, 2005
Journalism (or genetics) today
Main headline of the local student newspaper:
From small chestnuts come mighty oaks
I despair (again).
15 November, 2005
S'mine! All mine!
The University seems to be hosting a 'cycling roadshow' (an exhibition of aggregates and pink tarmac, perhaps?) today, in a tent marked 'Lancashire: The Cyclist's County'.
Strangely, the cyclist in question isn't named.
13 October, 2005
Insert clever title here
This morning, I noticed a tiny sign indicating that there's a Police Office on campus – it seems that's a legal requirement. However, we remain one letter away from it being occupied: there hasn't been an Officer there within living memory.
Having asked around, I've discovered that one of the College Principals wants to install soundproofing and make the office available as a piano practice facility whilst the Police aren't using it. I suppose a soundproofed room would be handy for interrogations, too....
13 October, 2005
The University's 'Travel Plan Co-ordinator' circulated an e-mail this morning promoting a potential scheme whereby, as I initially understood it, staff could buy bikes at a rate subsidised by the University and Inland Revenue (ie. the employer and tax authority). That'd be a great idea, and an encouragement to those considering cycle commuting. I began drafting a reply saying that I'm not currently looking to replace my bike, but that I'd like to express my support for the concept, and might use it at a later date.
However, before sending that, I happened to read another response, from someone who'd already studied the small print at the scheme's website.
Contrary to the initial announcement, and the <title> of that web page ("Buy bikes tax free with Cyclescheme and the Government Green Transport Plan. Save up to 50%"), this doesn't involve buying outright – it's a leasing scheme, with an option to buy at the end. Throughout the period of the lease, the bike remains the property of the employer.
I found the initial presentation of the plan to be extremely misleading, and having discovered its true nature, I react with hostility, but more objectively, I have major doubts about whether this really is the best option for the typical user.
One further drawback is that though the scheme doesn't specify particular bike manufacturers or types, the employee is obliged to buy (sorry, 'acquire') his/her bike from a limited number of shops – there's only one within the Lancaster area – which might well be agents for a narrow range of manufacturers. I've experienced that before: my bike was stolen a few years ago, and the insurer obliged me to obtain a replacement from one specific shop, which only had one model of a comparible type and cost. I was riding a crappy Raleigh (they make awful bikes!) for at least a year before I could afford to replace it with something truly of my own selection, my current bike.
Another disadvantage is that though the University would retain full ownership of a leased bike, if it was stolen, the employee would have to keep paying for it. I suppose that's rational, but it's not something I'd accept.
Applying that logic to the whole proposition, I do acknowledge that it might suit some people, but I certainly won't be giving it further consideration.
So, a market opportunity remains: if anyone wants to formulate a subsidised 'buy outright' scheme, you have my support. In principle, that is – I'd need to see the small print!
27 September, 2005
From the Lancaster Citizen:
Two chickens were stolen from a shed in Lancaster's Ashton Road. The chickens were later recovered by police.
22 September, 2005
I can't claim credit (or blame) for spotting the following slightly odd juxtaposition in the University's internal e-mail newsletter:
THE VICE CHANCELLOR WOULD LIKE TO PAY TRIBUTE TO THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS OF STAFF who have completed 40 years' service with the University....
OLD MATTRESSES AT THE UNIVERSITY COULD BE TURNED INTO HANGING BASKETS as part of a new recycling scheme....
9 September, 2005
Is that a...?
Does anyone else think this thumbnail of a map of the Lancaster area looks like something from an anatomy textbook?
It's a size issue – really. On the full-size map (not 1:1 scale!), the peninsula looks more like a geographical feature and less like an, er, appendage.
I suppose this illustrates just how exciting Morecambe isn't.
21 August, 2005
What; like contriving wars to separate indigenous people from their natural resources? And buying them off with shiny toys like a new telecommunications system, run by (and for) corporations in the 'mother country'?
Surely that could never happen.
Click the image for more.
12 August, 2005
Relying on thin ice
One of the advantages of ISS (tech support) at the University is that everyone has a pet project, an area of expertise perhaps only tangentially related to his/her job description. I'd like to say it's deliberate and encouraged by managers, but it's more just a default reaction to everyday requirements.
Unfortunately, these extracurricular specialisms soon become core to peoples' de facto roles within the system, and when one person is off work, everything falls apart – there's no formal support for, say, troubleshooting Java, only one man's personal interest, and if he's unavailable, enquirers are out of luck.
10 August, 2005
Now this I have to see.
Click the image for an enlargement.
18 July, 2005
On aggregate, leave it alone
The short section of cycle track linking Collingham Drive and Bailrigg Lane, Lancaster was resurfaced a couple of weeks ago. The grass verge had been encroaching onto the tarmac, so that needed cutting back, but otherwise I was surprised that the Council considered there was a need to do more. I've always thought the surface was very good (not that I'm a tarmac connoisseur) – no potholes, puddles or even trivial irregularities.
The job took three days, and hence was in three sections marked by dividing ridges. Not a problem; after the tar layer had been laid and a smooth coating of sharp gravel smoothly applied, a heavy roller would press the stone into the tar, simultaneously removing the ridges.
Yet that never arrived. Day after day, as I had to decelerate to a slow walking pace to negotiate tight turns on loose gravel, I gave the workmen the benefit of doubt – perhaps they couldn't return to finish the job in ambient temperatures of over 25°C, and would do so when the weather moderated. In the mean time, the surface was degrading, particularly where bike tyres were carving narrow ruts in the gravel. Car tyres might do the roller's job, and force stone into the tar, but narrow bike tyres preferentially push it aside. If the roller ever turned up, it'd also be less than ideal to press horse sh*t into the finished surface.
Complaints via the University's online staff newsletter have drawn a response from the Uni's Travel Plan Co-ordinator: The University wasn't involved in the planning, but he's checked with the City Council and... it's finished. That's it. One of the better cyclepaths in Lancaster has been effectively downgraded to a roughly-surfaced semi-rural track. And to state the obvious, I've paid for this deliberate degradation via my taxes.
The stated aim of the City Council was "to provide a safer surface in icy conditions". Firstly, that's irrelevant for at least nine months of each year, and secondly, the reasoning makes little sense. Coarser aggregate within a fixed, otherwise 'finished' tarmac surface would be great, but loose gravel probably won't even last until winter, and is currently a skidding hazard.
Our Travel Plan Co-ordinator reports that "they [the City Council] are not proposing this treatment for any more routes this year, but it is (at the moment) part of the County Council's standard specification for cycleways." I struggle to believe this is based on engineering principles, and can't help wondering whether it's just cost-cutting, though if that's the case, why not just have left it as it was?
That's my primary objection: it was already absolutely fine.
14 July, 2005
Lancaster's free weekly newspaper, The Citizen, reports the London bombings as "London bomb anguish spoils mum's birthday" – the only angle even mentioned is a local woman's concern about her London-based son, who wasn't even in the city that day.
Incidentally, if you follow that link to the paper's website, you may spot a story beginning:
Bring me sunshine
Pubs and bars in Lancaster and Morecambe were jam-packed as hot and bothered locals headed for refreshment this week.
The version published in the paper was somewhat different, and rather pathetic. There, it was:
Bring me sunshine
Sun-seeking tourists filled Morecambe to bursting point at the weekend.
That's this week's cover story, illustrated by a photo showing a large section of Morecambe main beach (the one with sand, rather than the mudflats) very thinly scattered with about twenty people; about typical for late November in a real resort. The inset shows someone in a bikini, which, okay, is startling for Morecambe, but still, this has to qualify for some sort of 'talking-up nothing' prize.
8 July, 2005
Mother of all colleges
Look; Pendle College and Grizedale College are adjacent to one another on the Lancaster University campus, and have a similar sort of status in the University history. Is it really so surprising that they became merged in my world view, and that I've just informed a senior member of one that he helps run Grendel College?
28 June, 2005
Congratulations! Take a seat
It always amuses me when senior academics are promoted to full professorships with the announcement that '[Name] has been awarded a Personal Chair', as if he/she has previously had to stand or share.
Note to N.Americans: A European (or British, anyway) academic doesn't become 'Professor' on attaining a PhD – someone with a PhD is addressed as 'Doctor', and has a long way to go to become 'Professor'.
27 June, 2005
Fortress Bailrigg (again)
We're locked-down again. All but one access route to University House (central admin) is locked, and that one side door is blocked, no, hidden by two bouncers in Uni. Security uniforms. Apparently, several people are cycling to the G8 Summit in Edinburgh, and passing Lancaster today; there's a presumption that they may call in on the way, as an ongoing response to the University's prosecution of other protesters.
A 6'1" bearded man with a ponytail, wearing sunglasses, shorts, a 'Firefox' T-shirt and dayglo cycle jacket was obviously stopped attempting to get into the building. Unfortunately, that was me; the duty porter had to vouch for me.
As I've been writing, the cyclists have arrived. They seem to have done a circuit of the northern perimeter road, dithered aimlessly in Alex Square (outside Uni. House) then regrouped at the hitching post, back on the perimeter road. I'd say there are about twenty of them, with an impressively powerful and clear bike-trailer-mounted sound system; if I pause 'OK Computer' on my mp3 player, I can hear every word of... 'Hail To The Thief'. '2+2=5' as protest song? Whatever.
23 June, 2005
Maybe in the next edition
The University prospectus includes a feedback form, which a surprising (to me, anyway) number of people do return.
One submission received this morning informed us that we provide insufficient details about (not 'for', 'about') amputees.
12 June, 2005
Lancaster station by night
Lancaster railway station looked quite attractive this evening, a few minutes after closing and hence deserted, but before the lights had been switched off. Even at 23:20 there was plenty of light in the sky, to, allowing me to take a couple of photographs.
6 May, 2005
It Says Here
So, Lancaster's Tory again, after eight years under Labour. I think it has to be considered that way – this was always a Conservative stronghold until the extraordinary 1997 election ousted the 'Thatcher-in-all-but-name' government, and with the backlash against the Blair government and an outgoing MP who, frankly, was an ineffectual representative of his constituency, it's no great surprise that the area has reverted to its more usual party allegiance.
The magnitude of the swing was rather surprising - 2001's 0.9% Labour majority has turned into an 8% Tory majority. Even if 2,278 votes hadn't been wasted on the Greens, their 4.4% applied to Labour wouldn't have been enough, especially as, by the same argument, votes not wasted on the other no-hoper party, UKIP, probably would have contributed 1.9% to the Conservatives. I could say 'if only a few more natural Liberal Democrat voters had tactically voted for Labour (as I did), we might have held the barrier against the Tories', but that would have required a lot of tactical voting.
Actually, that implies that the Tories did particularly well here, but that's untrue. Their share of the vote only rose by 0.6%, whereas the LibDems, Greens and even UKIP improved their shares by 5.9%, 1.4% and 0.5% respectively. The significant, and obvious, difference was that their gains were at the expense of Labour, whose share dropped by 8.3%.
If only we had a fair electoral system in the UK. The Conservatives received 42.8% of the votes of only 64.5% of the eligible electorate, which, as the single highest total, was enough under the 'first-past-the-post' system. However, it means 57.2% of voters didn't vote for the person elected as their representative. As a proportion of the entire electorate, including non-voters, that means the new MP has a mandate of 27.6%.
28 April, 2005
Sometimes I really like cycling to work. This morning I passed seven squirrels, four rabbits and a startled stoat - startled because, as with all the others, it didn't hear the bike until I was 3-4 metres away (not that I was trying - I'd probably have been more obtrusive if furtive).
You don't get that in a city as large as Manchester, nor even in rural areas if travelling by car.
24 April, 2005
The website of the University swimming pool has a safety notice:
Diving must only take place along the sides of the pool.
Perhaps I'm missing something, but from where else would one dive?
Actually, that's not 'from'
, but 'along'
, which doesn't sound too safe.
21 April, 2005
Didn't ask you that
The University website has a feedback form, inviting comments about the site itself. It clearly states that it's not for general enquiries, and that prospectuses cannot be requested via that route, but it's a truism that if a form – any form – is provided, it'll be used for whatever purpose the user chooses, irrespective of the provider's intentions.
This morning's haul is slightly atypical, but not by much:
- Someone requesting a Nokia handset (what?) and a prospectus, but only providing a name, house number and street name – no town or nation. The syntax suggests it's somewhere in Africa.
- The parent of a potential student commenting on the website. Critical, but a fair point; exactly what we welcome.
- An existing member of staff complaining that certain pages don't fit on her monitor without scrolling. And?
- From Lahore, Pakistan, an extremely long (7,443 words) treatise about world poverty, I think (didn't read past the first paragraph), which had been pasted into the box clearly marked "Please add any other comments which you would like to make about the website".
- Someone complaining that she was unable to order a prospectus via the correct form, as that form's drop-down list doesn't include 'Great Britain'. That's because officially (and the list of countries is taken from an official government source) there's no such country – it's the UK. A non-Brit might have been confused, but this comment was (by definition) from an applicant already in the UK. One would have thought she'd at least look further down the list, for 'UK'.
I sometimes think we should use this form as part of the selection process. The minimum standard of English required in order to study at a British University is relatively high, so those so grossly failing to understand the form mightn't be qualified. Those ****ing-up for non-linguistic reasons are probably just undesirable....
19 April, 2005
Not literally, you fool
I've just attended a meeting at which it was reported that one of the accommodation blocks is experiencing thefts of food.
Hardly novel for a university or any situation involving communal living. The odd part was the suggestion – quite serious – that chicken fillets (the edible kind) are frequently being stolen for use as the inedible kind (ie. bra inserts).
18 April, 2005
Should have thought of that before
Last September, the University hosted the Corporate Venturing Conference, attended by BAe Systems, DuPont and other companies with significant presences in the region. Predictably, certain activists protested outside the building, and six broke into the venue itself.
Several months later, the protesters have now deployed the 'wide-eyed innocence' act, on being charged with Aggravated Trespass ("trespass with intent to intimidate, obstruct or disrupt"). They invaded a meeting on private property (those standing outside were on private property too - campus isn't a public space), and expected the University to like it? Yeah, right.
It seems so. An unnamed student quoted in a student newspaper (disclaimer: with which I've had problems before) apparently said the University:
... has a duty to allow and even facilitate the expression of views opposing unethical companies and the University's involvement with them.
Utter rubbish. No organisation is obliged
to invite protesters into its private property or actively encourage blinkered criticism of itself.
If you want to exercise your freedom of expression, do it from public space – off
Note that I don't necessarily support or defend the alleged actions of the companies; this posting is about the illegitimacy of the activists' actions, not their cause, and, to be honest, to gleefully mock their naïvity.
1 April, 2005
The main campus of Lancaster University has a perimeter road and one which bisects the ring via an underpass beneath (yes, really) Alexandra Square. My office overlooks the western side of the underpass, so my third-floor window is actually level with the canopy of a mature sycamore tree.
Consequently, at this time of year, I get to see something a little uncommon, close-up: sycamore blossom. Click on the image for a clearer view.
And no, this isn't a tiresome 'April Fool' joke.
28 March, 2005
Just park it
A couple of hundred years ago, they might have been an appropriate means by which a populace could convey public opinion to their slightly remote lords & masters, but nowadays, with saturation media coverage of even local issues and public policy influenced by polls and focus groups, I don't see the point. I've always thought them an anachronism, but a specific example has arisen.
Recently, Lancashire County Council decided to close Greaves Park nursery school (kindergarten) in Lancaster, but protests from parents obliged the Council to think again. Having taken those views into account alongside other considerations, such as cost and the absolute necessity of there being a nursery school in that location (perfectly adequate coverage apparently exists elsewhere), the Council confirmed the existing decision.
Last week the local paper, The Citizen, reported that parents had launched a petition against the decision, and already had 350 signatures. And? The parents had been heard, and their objections deemed insufficient to counterbalance the other factors. So far as I see, the matter's closed. The Council had to listen, and did, but it didn't have to agree. The Council already knew the decision would be unpopular with some in the local area, so why does the precise number of objectors matter? A vocal minority (and let's face it, 350 from the area's entire population is a pitiful number) can't just keep making further representations until they 'win' an outcome they like; that's collective petulance, or genteel mob rule.
Incidentally, please don't mistake this as support for the Council's decision. I'm commenting on the decision-making process, not the issue itself.
Even if the very concept wasn't outdated, I distrust the accuracy of petitions anyway.
- Firstly, they can be faked (padded with false identities) too easily.
- Secondly, assuming all names are genuine, petitions can be padded with irrelevant contributions. I wonder how many of those 350 actually live in the affected area, or even have children.
- Thirdly, peer pressure could add the signatures of several people who mightn't otherwise choose to contribute. Had this been a secret ballot, I don't believe all 350 would have voted.
It's probably better as the subject of a different posting, which I don't have time to write right now, but I simply don't believe in collective action. I'm not a member of any political party, pressure group or trade union. I feel no urge to add my voice to anyone else's. Irrespective of whether I agree with a petition's objective, I wouldn't sign. I'm vehemently opposed to the introduction of identity cards, and have used
of the negative aspects
, but I won't sign the No2ID
I wonder whether public bodies are obliged to observe any specific protocol about petitions, such a logging their receipt or formally adding them to the documentation of a decision-making process. Personally, If I was a civil servant receiving a petition, I'd politely thank the person making the submission, then dispose of it unopened.
21 March, 2005
Big School's out
I knew that school holidays reduce the volume of rush-hour traffic through there being no 'school run', but I hadn't really appreciated that University vacations have a similar effect. Today is the first working day of the vacation*, and traffic was particularly light this evening. It could have been a coincidence, I suppose, but there were less cars parked on campus, too.
The issue of undergrads bringing cars to University at all is something for a different posting...
*: not an oxymoron - 'vacation' means the undergraduates are away, but the postgrads and staff still go in each day! In the context of higher education, 'vacation' and 'holiday' aren't exact synonyms.
10 March, 2005
Says it all
A certain prestigious faculty has always regarded itself as a little different to the rest of the University, promoting itself as an autonomous School rather more than as part of the overall institution. Now it's literally turned its back on the rest of us.
The core of campus is organised along a single north-south (semi-)covered walkway, the 'Spine'. Each College and academic department has its main entrance off the Spine - except one, whose new reception opens onto the perimeter road instead.
Be like that, then.
21 February, 2005
Revise that ritual
In 1964, Princess Alexandra became Chancellor (titular head) of Lancaster University. Forty years later, at the end of 2004, she retired, so Sir Chris Bonington is to be installed* as the University's second Chancellor next month. Exactly as in 1964, there will be a service at Lancaster Priory, a procession across town, and a ceremony in Ashton Hall (in the Town Hall). I understand there'll be a drinks reception on campus afterwards. For those who don't know, campus is three miles (5 km) from the city centre.
In 1964, the campus was still largely a building site, and many aspects of the University operated from temporary premises in town, but that's no longer the case - we could easily accommodate a ceremony here (we seem to manage degree congregations each year) and have an acclaimed chaplaincy building. I can imagine there being a compelling argument that a formal event in Lancaster itself symbolically bonds 'town' and 'gown' - I'd fully agree with that justification - but I haven't heard anyone make that argument; it's happening this way simply because it did last time.
However, it's the other aspect which is rather more questionable: why is a religious service involved at all in the activities of an overtly secular institution, and why a specifically christian service in a multicultural society? Forty years ago, the Church of England was a state religion, and church representatives were even involved in the governing bodies of the University, but I'm immensely pleased to say the link between church and state has essentially evaporated and there weren't any religious elements in our 40th anniversary celebrations last year.
So why's it happening? What were the organisers thinking of? Personally, I seriously doubt whether they did think about it. It was done that way in 1964, so should be replicated in 2005. I suppose that's the nature of tradition, but if the precedent (of only one previous installation - this isn't a custom extending back hundreds of years) no longer makes sense, I'd say the opportunity for re-evaluation ought to have been taken.
*: Yes, 'installed', though I don't think plumbers, electricians or telecom engineers are involved.
14 February, 2005
What does history smell like?
I ought to know, as according to Push Online, Lancaster has:
"... tourist-fuls of history oozing down its winding little streets."
The randomly italicised overview of the University and city also mentions that:
"Lancaster dates from Roman days and still has plenty of honey-coloured Georgian limestone left to show off at parties."
Buggered if I've seen any - it's sandstone (and a bit older than Georgian, by, oh, a few hundred million years). I don't think I've ever seen honey-coloured limestone, not even in "lumpy Cumbria"
, nor in the "250 acres of landscaped woods, parklands and fields circling the campus"
. I wonder if they ever stop circling to let people go home. Maybe not, as it seems students sleep in Alex Square.
6 January, 2005
Just outside the city, there's a disused water treatment works, quite an impressive early 20th century building which was renovated a couple of years ago. It has potential as office space or as a car showroom, but as it's remained vacant for longer and longer, there's been growing pressure to integrate it into the local transport network. Sandwiched between the A6 main road and West Coast railway line, it's in a good location to act as a railway station for South Lancaster and, in particular, the University.
However, my altered route to work took me past it this morning, and at least half the building has been occupied by a Porsche dealership. That's a setback.
20 December, 2004
Like any British city, the main streets of Lancaster have decorative lights for the christmas period.
There's a bizarre dive-bombing holly-and-lightbulb biplane in St. Nicholas' Arcade, but the more elegant lights in the trees of Dalton Square are my favourites, so I cycled down the hill to take a photo (click to enlarge).
27 November, 2004
Several districts of Lancaster have a kerbside collection of recyclable waste - a green plastic box is filled with metal and glass by residents, and is emptied by the council every fortnight.
Well, done, Lancaster City Council!
Unfortunately, there's a limited market for the recycling of plastic bottles (allegedly) and cardboard, so it's uneconomical for them to be included in the collection scheme. Fair enough; it's still possible for residents to take such materials to the recycling centre themselves. Cars are welcome, as are bicycles, though cyclists can only carry a limited quantity of waste. It often makes more sense to carry larger bags to the site on foot.
Only, that isn't allowed. Though it's perfectly fine to take children and pets into the site, by car or bike, pedestrians are not permitted to walk through the gate. It's for health and safety reasons, which evidently don't apply to children, pets or cyclists.
Burn fossil fuels to drop off your waste: no problem. Use the most environmentally-neutral form of transport conceivable: nope, can't allow that.
Well done, Lancashire County Council.
[This link has more, but I don't think it's permanently archived.]
18 November, 2004
In wet weather, the cycle path between Bailrigg Lane and the University floods. A puddle about 2m (6½') long and 3-5cm (1-2") deep forms across the full width of the path, and a little further on, another puddle some 6m (20') long submerged the entire path and adjacent grass to a depth of 10cm (4"). It's not a problem for cyclists, except when the smaller one, on a sharp corner, freezes in winter, but it's awkward for pedestrians. I noticed that Estates workers dug up the verge a few weeks ago, presumably to install drainage.
Until it stopped this evening*, we've received quite a lot of rain over the last couple of days; not heavy, but steady. I thought at the time that artificial drainage would be pointless in such circumstances, as the flooding is a result of the subsurface water table rising higher than the ground surface, not rainwater being unable to flow away sufficiently quickly. However, I admit I was mistaken: the drainage work seems to have had an effect. Instead of two puddles, there's only one - at least 20m (65½') long and 20cm (8") at its deepest (i.e. the water is 10cm higher overall), well above ankle level.
The only alternative pedestrian route adds about a mile (1.6km) to the trip.
*: Yes, the rain stopped. I've just cycled home in the first snow of the year.
11 November, 2004
Parking my thoughts
Even as someone who doesn't own a car, I'm aware that neighbours in my street complain about an inability to find parking spaces outside their own homes, so my first impression was favourable when I opened a letter from the Council this morning, which proposes a residents' parking scheme. The city centre is a ten-minute walk from my house, so I presume commuters like to use my street for free rather than pay for car parks. That's not so good for residents.
However, on reading the rest of the letter, I immediately changed my mind. The Council plan is to sell parking permits to residents for £25 pa for their (our) own vehicles and £2 for two passes allowing residents' visitors to park, each pass allowing ten uses before having to be replaced.
I strongly feel this should be free to residents and their visitors, not a source of revenue for the Council. Rather, I feel one of the very purposes of the Council should be to bear all expenses - tax payers already fund the Council.
Bugger. As I write, I'm changing my mind again, and see an alternative argument. If the scheme is to be implemented here in the Moorlands district of Lancaster, why should the tax payers of another district have to subsidise Moorlands car owners, especially if the commuters start parking on their streets instead? It does make sense for only the beneficiaries to cover the setup and running costs, perhaps offset against revenue from parking fines. Similarly, I'd have to question why non- car owners in the affected area (e.g. me) should subsidise their (our) car-owning neighbours.
23 September, 2004
The route to and from work was fairly photogenic today.
23 September, 2004
Round the Pole to Lancaster
It seems the manager of the University bookshop has suddenly turned proactive: he's secured Michael Palin for a book signing on 13 October. So far as I know, this is the shop's first signing session. This has to be a bit of a coup for the campus branch of Waterstones, since I'm not aware of any previous signings, either here or at the 'senior' branch in town. Well done!
These sessions could be the salvation of high-street bookshops. I rarely buy from such shops nowadays; in fact I found out about the signing whilst selecting a guidebook to New York City, but I've returned to the office to order it from Amazon. For one thing, it's £3.30 (30%) cheaper. For another I don't have to deal with shop staff.
The staff of the University shop seem okay, but as it's primarily an academic bookshop, the range of non-academic books is limited, so I rarely call in.
With one exception, the staff of the city centre Waterstones are useless. They seem to regard themselves as the cream of Lancaster's intelligentsia, too good for anything as mundane as dealing with customers. Their loss.
There is a branch of Ottakars, but since I tend to only use high street bookshops as a browsing resource, and Waterstones is convenient, I can't really comment on the Ottakars staff.
There's also a specialist sci-fi bookshop in Lancaster, but I won't promote it by quoting the name; I find the owner annoying, and avoid visiting.
19 September, 2004
We're experiencing slightly odd weather at present. Autumn is certainly approaching, and under heavy cloud it's been appreciably dark by 19:30 each night this week, yet the leaves are only just starting to change colour, and as the image shows the fields are still very green.
Similarly, the last few days have been very windy in Lancaster and the nights have been cooler, yet I saw a distinctly summery morning mist over South Cumbria today, suggesting still, relatively warm air there.
17 September, 2004
I knew that by the time campus reorganisation finishes, the accommodation blocks previously known as Graduate Hall will be incorporated into the Bowland College estate; indeed, the name has already been changed to Bowland Hall. However, I was a little surprised to hear that we (Bowland College) are taking part-ownership immediately; students move into some of the 'houses' next week.
11 September, 2004
Before processing the photos mentioned in the previous posting, I went into town, and took a couple more!
9 September, 2004
Have a random photograph
I don't have a particular reason to show this picture, the by-product of an experiment into the new camera's capabilities in low light. The photograph was taken at 19:53 i.e. after sunset and appreciably dark even under a clear sky. The thumbnail image is taken from the raw image; click on it to enlarge a brightened version.
25 August, 2004
Lancaster's evening deluge
At about 17:40 this evening, the sky was clear and I had my 'office' (back bedroom) curtains drawn to minimise direct sunlight on my PC's monitor. At 17:40:30 (approximately; you get the idea), rainfall was drowning out my music.
I've probably witnessed heavier rain in Lancaster, but never of this intensity sustained for so long. Large raindrops were bouncing 30-50 cm back up from the road and roofs until those surfaces became totally submerged by laminar flow. Gutters couldn't cope, neither those on houses, causing water to fall in sheets from some roofs, nor kerbside gutters, so within 3-4 minutes the entire road was under a couple of inches of water. My road is relatively flat, orientated across the top of the hill; I could only guess what the downhill roads and those near the bottom were like, so I got ready for a quick bike ride as soon as it stopped.
Yet it didn't. There was lightning, with thunder audible after a count of five or six (i.e. close but not immediately overhead), but somehow each flash was accompanied immediately by a redoubling of rainfall intensity. It went on and on for a further ten minutes or so, not even easing, until suddenly there was no more water falling onto the street from the sky, just the roofs. At the back of the house, it was still falling, which confused me for a moment; the edge of the rain must have taken a few seconds to pass.
I went out immediately, but the gutters were already recovering. However, at the bottom of the hill, where surface drainage from the Moorlands and Primrose estates merges and is supplemented by that from Scotch Quarry, the road was impassable to pedestrians and my bike. I took a couple of photos, and with hindsight should have quickly dodged around an alternative way to catch the flash flood elsewhere, but it was fascinating to just watch from where I was.
By the time I did move, almost all the flow was back underground, but I took a few more photos of the aftermath anyway.
This was nothing like the Boscastle flood last week, of course, but even such a brief episode of severe weather (by UK standards!) did have a worryingly appreciable effect.
21 August, 2004
Cycle ride: Lancaster-Galgate-Trough of Bowland-Jubilee Tower-Lancaster
Last night, my mother rang to tell me that Galgate, the village just south of Lancaster where I lived 1994-96, was on the TV news: the River Conder had breached its flood barriers after sustained (though not especially heavy, to my knowledge) rainfall. This morning I took my new camera for its first outing, to Galgate.
Oddly, there were few signs that there had been flooding at all. A few houses had sandbags across their doorsteps and part of the flood barrier (a low concrete wall lining the bank) was demolished, but there were no indications that the river itself had been particularly high (flattened vegetation, silt deposits, etc.).
Glad that there hadn't been more damage, but secretly disappointed at the lack of a photo opportunity (!), I decided to cycle out to Dolphinholme to see if the River Wyre was particularly high. Foolishly, I forgot the layout of the village and took a wrong turn along a road parallel with river but out of line of sight. I'd already decided to go on to the picturesque hamlet of Abbeystead, also on the Wyre, so didn't bother to retrace my steps. It was further to Abbeystead than I remembered, and some sort of fete prevented me from wandering around with the camera, so I decided to go on yet again - it couldn't be much further to the Trough of Bowland. Thus, the ~4 mile trip to Galgate reached its furthest point, after 18 miles....
Since I'd already gone to that effort, it seemed to make sense to return to Lancaster via the viewpoint of Clougha, Jubilee Tower. However, I'd only had a cup of tea and a bowl of corn flakes since waking, and hadn't brought a drink, so I began to tire on the long climb from Abbeystead (130m asl) to Jubilee Tower (287m), into the wind, having already been to 300m at the head of the Trough (that's 130m to 300m, back to 130m then on to 287m, if it's unclear). If I'd planned this in advance, I doubt I'd have chosen it!
Though cool, thankfully, the weather was still humid and hence a little hazy, but the new camera managed to take better photos than I expected. These are reduced to a publishable size, but the originals have a better resolution than the naked eye - very impressive.
A stop at the viewpoint gave me something of a rest, so the final few miles back to Lancaster wasn't too bad, considering it's a tough ride at the best of times: 287m-53m in 4km, then 53m-111m in ~750m (three hairpin bends), on to 134m in ~500m, down to 63m in 1.5km, then a final 20m climb in ~200m.
In total, that was 28.41miles (45.72km) in about three hours, of which 2hrs 21mins were spent in motion. Only 20 miles more than expected!
20 August, 2004
When I went to bed last night, the sky outside was orange; sodium streetlights reflected off low clouds and drizzle. This morning, the rain was sufficient to wet the road, but little more, so this view at Hala Square was surprising: the tiny Burrow Beck was so full as to be just about overflowing its banks. There must have been heavy rain in the night, but this is still a good illustration of the effect of relatively brief rainfall on already saturated ground.
20 August, 2004
It's lucky I took a photograph of the Brock Street dinosaur when I did. I noticed earlier this week that it was missing, and the Lancaster Guardian has explained that it won't be returned to the city centre.
The Massospondylus (a species named by Richard Owen himself) was meant to stand at Owen's birthplace for a couple of months, but last weekend it was found face down in the flower bed with badly damaged front legs, as if somebody had sat on its back.
It's been moved to the nursery (that's plants, not children!) at the council's White Lund depot, near the landfill site. Wonderful.
8 August, 2004
Lancaster has a new piece of public art, though considering that it's made of birch twigs, not a permanent one. Good thing I took a photo while it's still fairly new.
The sculpture, at the corner of Brock Street and Thurnham Street, Lancaster, UK commemorates the birthplace, two hundred years and a fortnight ago, of Sir Richard Owen, founder of the Natural History Museum, London and inventor of the word 'dinosaur'.
6 August, 2004
This is going to be meaningless to those unfamiliar with Lancaster University, but I know a couple of alumni read the blog and might be interested in imminent changes on-campus.
With the relocation of two Colleges to the South West building site, and other relocations dodging demolition work on the main campus, we're about to implement several new and changed names. I've known them for a while, but it should be okay to mention them now, as they were officially revealed to staff and (technically) students today.
You may need to take notes; I know I'm struggling to understand some changes, and I played a (very minor) role in determining them!
South West Campus is now adopting a permanent name: 'Alexandra Park'.
The new access road from the A6 to Alex Park will be named 'Barkers Drive' (provisionally). The existing winding road from the traffic lights will be named 'Bigforth Drive' - an awful name, but relevant. Besides, I've never heard this road referred to as anything other than 'the drive', and I have a feeling the names won't catch on.
Cartmel College is moving to Alexandra Park, centred on Barkers House Farm.
The existing Cartmel buildings, plus new ones to be constructed in 2005/6, will join The County College as 'County South'. Academic departments in the College (e.g. Educational Research) will therefore have new postal addresses. The John Creed building will retain the name, but will become part of County College. Cartmel Avenue will become 'Creed Avenue'.
Obviously, County is to expand!
Lonsdale College will also be moving to Alex Park. It doesn't look as if their new buildings will be quite completed by October, so the move may be in stages, but the renaming will go ahead to reflect the final situation:
- The existing Lonsdale College will become 'Bowland North'.
- Graduate Hall will become 'Bowland Hall'.
- The Art building will become 'Bowland Annexe'.
- The wings of Bowland above the shops on Alex Square (formerly Bowland Annexe!) will become 'Bowland Tower East Wing' and 'Bowland Tower South Wing'.
- Bowland Tower and Slaidburn House will retain their names but will become a part of Furness College (for now).
- Lonsdale Avenue will join Bowland Avenue i.e. they'll become 'Bowland Avenue East' and '... South', respectively.
Again obviously, Bowland will be expanding (a lot!), though in the short term, the 'new acquisitions' will house Fylde College students whilst the existing Fylde blocks are demolished and rebuilt.
Here's a confusing part: Fylde admin/social facilities will remain where they are, but the students will be housed in Bowland North (Lonsdale, as was) for 2004/5. Meanwhile, Lonsdale admin/social facilities will remain in Bowland North for a few months, until buildings are ready in Alex Park. Many Lonsdale students will go straight to that ultimate location in Alex Park, but if some blocks aren't ready, some students will occupy... Fylde. Fylde in Lonsdale, Lonsdale in Fylde. Okay? There is a good reason for it, honest! I hope any parents of prospective students, perhaps reading this, don't get the impression their sons and daughters are to be messed around - this arrangement genuinely minimises disruption and decreases the risk of anyone occupying substandard rooms.
That's Bowland, Cartmel, Lonsdale, County and Fylde. Graduate College will expand into adjacent new blocks; Pendle will take one new block, too. Presumably Grizedale will be unchanged, and Furness... I don't know about Furness, but I think they're moving to Alex Park for 2004/5 whilst the existing accommodation is demolished (that's begun) and rebuilt, at which point they'll move back to the current location by 2005/6.
1 August, 2004
According to statistics reported by the BBC, I work in "the best place to look for love in England and Wales". Analysis of the 2001 Census shows that 93% of adults in the 'Lancaster University' electoral ward are single.
It's a University. All first-year and some third-year students live on campus, the staff don't. Not so startling a statistic, then.
A related article, quoted in a 'Ten Things' round-up of the weeks news, states that:
According to the last census, anywhere with 1,500 residents or more, and bigger than 20 hectares, is an urban settlement.
As a letter to the BBC website observed, that phrasing means 'Wales' qualifies as 'urban'. Even rewording it to specify 'individual settlements'
rather than 'anywhere'
, that's a strange definition. I grew up in a village with a population of around 2,000, and certainly wouldn't call that urban.
This may explain, and partially discredit, an earlier BBC report about the Census, which stated that:
According to the 2001 census, nine out of 10 people in England and Wales are living in urbanised areas.
31 July, 2004
Jonnie is big on birthdays. Largely by failing to decide on one definitive event to mark the event, he manages to extend celebrations for up to a week. This year it was dinner on Wednesday, drinks at a pub last night, and we're going camping later today. Very cunning....
Given the good weather, we went to the Water Witch yesterday evening, to sit outside by the canal. The quickest route from home to the pub passes a historical part of 'industrial Lancaster', so I took a few (fairly inconsequential) photos on the way.
31 July, 2004
Monopoly broken up
Until earlier this month, the pale area in the accompanying photo (click to enlarge it) of Furness College quad was occupied by a 'Monopoly' board, which was a landmark for several generations of students. Unfortunately, it hasn't been maintained and was undeniably scruffy, so has been removed.
I have no idea whether the College was consulted; if this had been Bowland, I'm sure we would have mobilised the JCR to repaint it.
The College is about to undergo major modifications, with several accommodation blocks to be demolished and replaced (photos will follow), so if the board did have to go, this was an appropriate time to clean up the quad. Presumably the pale paving slabs will have evenly weathered to match their older neighbours before the end of the project.
12 July, 2004
What about us?
This is Graduation week at the University. An expected total of 4464 students are expected to graduate, graduands of both the University itself and of associated institutions whose degrees are validated by the University. Over the full week, there will be 17 Degree Congregations in the Great Hall. The Chancellor, HRH Princess Alexandra, will preside at the afternoon ceremonies Mon-Thursday for the final time, as Sir Chris Bonington takes over the role soon.
In addition to those receiving their first degrees (Bachelors-level degrees; higher degrees are awarded separately in December), Honorary Degrees are to be awarded to Dr Ahdaf Soueif, Sir Ian McKellen, Dr David Starkey and Professor Tim Berners-Lee (the last will be awarded in absentia as a HM beats a HRH - he's receiving a knighthood this week).
As always, we're broadcasting all ceremonies as live webcasts. We offer two formats, each in two resolutions (and hence bandwidths), and all four feeds are both embedded in standard pages for viewing in a web browser and are provided for use in standalone media players. Footage recorded by the University TV unit is being processed via brand new hardware and a remarkable codec provides a video stream so clear it's a little unflattering to some. Needless to say, last-minute refinements this morning were an inordinate hassle, but the results are a credit to the institution.
Which makes it all the more depressing that a mere pilot project by another University was a leading item on the BBC Wales News home page today. All credit to them for joining the bandwagon, but they're not exactly steering it.
Internal recriminations and e-mails to the BBC will ensue.
6 July, 2004
To get a bit technical, high winds in France and Southern England have stirred up atmospheric particulates, so this evening Lancaster saw an unseasonably colourful sunset behind the Southern Fells of the Lake District.
This thumbnail image could be anything - click on it for a larger, more comprehensible version.
28 June, 2004
To the naked eye, this seemed to be a fairly clear evening, if not sufficiently so for long-distance photography, so I took a few of the Lancaster skyline instead. However, I think I left it too late to catch the light (~22:40); only one image is worth publishing, and I'm not even sure about that.
Click the image to enlarge, though that magnifies the grain too....
And no, there's no such word as 'silhouettography'.
27 June, 2004
Cycle ride: Lancaster-Over Kellet-Tewitfield-Lancaster
This week's cycle ride was a little longer than usual; I'd anticipated two hours for the destination and route I'd chosen, but it took a full three hours (to within 15 seconds, according to my bike computer), of which I was stationary for only 28 minutes. It was slightly disappointing that I 'only' covered 28 miles (47 km) in that time, but well over half was off-road, so I travelled slowly.
I had a vague plan to cycle to Over Kellet, a small village in the less-visited area immediately north of Lancaster, between the coast and the Lune valley. I've probably passed through the village no more than twice in a decade. Looking at the map, it seemed appropriate to return along the canal towpath, in which case it made sense go a little further north, to the point in Capernwray where the road adjoins the canal.
I noticed recently that there's an alternative route to Halton, heading almost directly north from Moorlands and avoiding the need to head west into town just to double back out along the river; on the map, it looks as if over a mile is saved. I'd been that way once before, with Harriet, but had forgotten. In hindsight, I'm not sure it was worthwhile, as it involved following a metalled road disused for decades, and hence severely potholed, then a steep gravel track on which I had to decelerate to walking pace. If I'd followed the Lune Cycleway, I could have travelled at least five times as fast.
Skirting Nether Kellet, I approached Over Kellet past two quarries; there are several in the area, which I think extract carboniferous limestone, probably crushed for aggregate. Incidentally, I noticed a signpost advertising a caravan park adjacent to the quarries. A week or so in a thin-walled, single-glazed (with poor sound insulation, I mean) metal cuboid within tens of metres of the noise and dust of loading huge lorries with stone, not to mention blasting, seems a strange holiday. I wonder if the owners warn clients when they book.
Over Kellet was quaint, if not actually picturesque, but the village green seemed to attract lost drivers, so I couldn't casually wander around. This was the case along the road to Capernwray too, which became extremely annoying. Approaching Jackdaw Quarry and the diving centre, I noticed a low-flying buzzard very nearby, and would have liked to stop, but there was a car following me closely and no passing places I could pull into, so I had to keep going, even when I realised the profile and colour of the buzzard were odd, and even when I realised it was a red kite - my first sighting of one since ~1993 and my first ever in England. A few hundred metres further on, I pulled off the road, let the car pass, then went back, but the opportunity had passed.
This was where I'd intended to join the canal and head back, but as usual I changed the plan, going on to Tewitfield, the northernmost navigable point on the Lancaster Canal. A number of private gardens in Borwick and Priest Hutton were participating in an open day, so the villages were unexpectedly crowded by pensioners, who seemed unable to comprehend that a country lane is still a road, not a footpath.
Tewitfield was somehow depressing: an 'A' road passes over the M6 motorway, the bridge embankment truncating the canal, which unceremoniously just stops in a field behind a pub, a few metres from continuous traffic.
I'd travelled 15 miles (25 km), so presumably faced the same again to go home. The entire return trip was along the canal towpath, a direct route in I just had to follow it, but the Lancaster Canal is unique in having no locks in the full navigable reach from Tewitfield 42 miles (70 km) south to Preston, so follows a rather circuitous path avoiding hills and valleys. Within minutes I thought I'd chosen badly, as projecting tree roots and stones made for slow, uncomfortable riding. By Carnforth, my shoulders were aching and my right hand was cramping (I don't know why, but that often happens on fairly long rides), so was thankful that from there on to Lancaster, the towpath has recently been levelled and I was able to accelerate to ~15mph, half as much again as I'd achieved on the rough track.
I'd summarise the ride back from Tewitfield as just a slog, the discomfort and even boredom outweighing the minor achievement of having been to the end of the navigable part of the canal. This mirrors my attitude to some styles of hill walking. I certainly enjoy walking, but for the views and either solitude if I'm walking alone or shared time with friends if I'm not. I don't walk for the sake of walking; I have little interest in walking from A to B merely for the achievement of having walked from A to B, especially if a road or railway links them anyway!
There was one final highlight as I entered Lancaster: a sudden flash of electric blue feathers revealed a kingfisher, only the second I remember seeing, which I was able to follow for ~500m.
A few digital photographs are here. I'm afraid there are none of the red kite, nor of the kingfisher, so you'll have to take my word about them.
25 June, 2004
Pigeons, meet the cat
In the University's weekly bulletin sent by e-mail to all staff today, there's a notification that a revised car parking scheme will be introduced in the new academic year (i.e. in October). This acknowledges that there has been severe overcrowding of limited car parking spaces on campus this year, with some drivers parking on grass verges and unsafe corners, and tennis courts having to be commandeered as overspill parking during open days. It also takes into account the fact that ongoing building work will not only further impinge on existing space but also increase the campus population without significantly increasing parking provision.
The new measures are:
- to reduce the number of parking permits issued to staff and students, and absolutely limit that number. One problem this year was that far more permits were issued than available spaces, erroneously relying on some people not using them daily.
- to significantly increase the cost of each parking permit. The current price actually discourages the use of public transport; the revised price will make the latter a far more attractive option.
A specific example: it would cost a student £13.50 to park a car in a space on the perimeter road for the full year Oct. 2003 to Sept. 2004. A member of staff would pay £16.00, which neatly coincides with the return bus fare to town for a fortnight - £1.60 per day. If the student permit was raised to £240, that would match the cost of bus travel for the 30-week academic year.
Prices and zoning limitations (spaces on the perimeter road versus spaces on inner roads, closer to buildings) are yet to be determined, but though there's no specific mention of it, I'm hoping there'll also be a revision of policy regarding who qualifies for permits. Until 2003, first year students were ineligible for on-campus parking, and I'd support a return to that. They all live on-campus, within walking distance of every part of the University, so having their own vehicles nearby is an unsupportable luxury. These are the same students who sat in front of bulldozers when the University tried to level an unused grass area for an overspill car park - you can't have it both ways, kiddies.
I'm really pleased that the University administrators are beginning to acknowledge their legal obligations to reduce car usage and move towards a greater balance between private and public transport by improving alternative transport. Relative to the current arrangement, the revisions may appear draconian, but really this is just a readjustment to real-world conditions; the magnitude of change might seem severe, but the outcome should be perfectly reasonable.
I'm sure it's going to draw considerable criticism, though, as the title suggests. Drivers like their little comforts, and are bound to complain. That's why I was particularly pleased to see the announcement comes from one of the Pro-Vice-Chancellors and the University's Director of Resources, hence conveying the clear subtext that this is indeed a notification of what will happen, not a consultation exercise.
18 June, 2004
East Lancaster Road
I happened to have the digital camera with me yesterday, so took a slightly different route home from work, following the eastern margin of the city between the edge of the built-up area and the motorway. I even took a few photos.
18 June, 2004
We're locked in! All but one door to University House has been locked, and that remaining door is manned by a uniformed security officer checking IDs.
Posters all over campus this week have been promoting the 'Day of Rage', a day of student protests about college relocations, the closure of our highest-rated department, and the perception that the University's senior management have no interest in meaningful consultation. University House (central admin) would be a prime target for as-yet-undeclared stunts, so access has been cut off. Staff and visitors are being asked to identify themselves and their destinations before being allowed in. For once it'd be convenient if I'd dressed more formally.
4 June, 2004
View from the hill
East Road is about the steepest part of my usual route home from the city centre; having crossed the traffic lights by the cathedral, there's little more to do than get into a low gear and pedal away, watching the scenery pass rather slowly. Hence I see this view very frequently, and have time to consider it, but I still can't decide how I feel about it.
The regularity of the repeated shapes is quite striking, particularly when the sun is low and the brightly-lit end walls contrast against the dark roofs, and there's something endearing about the dozens of little chimney pots, yet there's also something crushingly mundane about the near-identical houses: little boxes for little people, all the same.
Click the image to enlarge.
Did anyone notice the oh-so-clever Fish reference in the title? Oh well...
2 June, 2004
Cycle ride: Lancaster University-Conder Green-Lancaster
I cycled home the long way today; heading south from the University (home is north!), to Galgate then along Conder Green Lane to, surprisingly, Conder Green. From there, I followed the disused railway line, now a cycle path, along the river north back into the city. The last part was the main reason for the alternative route, as I wanted to take a couple of photographs of the semi-derelict linoleum mill buildings, for a CD cover, but I took a few photos of the rest of the trip, too.
29 May, 2004
I can see my house from here
In addition to the usual maps, Multimap.com now offers aerial photographs. I'm not sure what practical purpose they serve, and image resolution is poor (deliberately - they sell high-res images, but don't give 'em away!), but just for interest, I've compared my home area of Lancaster, NW England, UK to the village where I grew up, Northop Hall (Pentre Môch), NE Wales, UK. I found it interesting, anyway, though it mightn't mean much to those unfamiliar with the places.
23 May, 2004
Cycle ride: Lancaster-Heysham-Hest Bank-Halton-Lancaster
In February, I cycled to Sunderland (Lancs.!), with the vague intention of returning via Heysham. The trip to the former took longer than expected, so I abandoned the latter for a later date. Due to other commitments and plans, that didn't happen until today.
The cycle track to Morecambe is familiar, but this was the first time I'd ever turned south from there, along the coast road past the West End and Sandylands. Not the nicest of areas, but that's more of a comment on their reputation than anything specific I saw for myself; parts of Lancaster look worse. Sandylands merged seamlessly into Heysham, which was initially disappointing; the 'historical village' appeared no older nor inspiring than any estate built in the 1950s-60s. It was only when I turned off the main road towards the church and Heysham Head that I found the original village, which was far more as I'd expected. The contradiction actually confused me, and I cycled past it, out towards Half Moon Bay and the nuclear power station. I'd planned to look at that area anyway, then returned to the village to sit on the cliffs.
Beyond that, I didn't have any plans, which is the way I prefer to cycle. From Heysham Head, I saw that there was a promenade all the way from Heysham to Morecambe, and I knew that it continued north almost to Hest Bank. A previous cycle ride had also shown that the the canal towpath is a shortcut back to Lancaster, so that's the route I chose.
The southern parts of Morecambe looked rather better from the promenade than from the main coast road (which is really set one street back from the shore). The decline from the resort's heyday was obvious, but these guest houses and small hotels seemed to have aged gracefully, in contrast to the tacky and ultimately counterproductive 'amusements' of the northern area. I have to say that part did look better than usual, too, on a sunny day and seen from the modern promenade.
I got up to 20mph on the quiet part of the promenade, so was in Hest Bank sooner than anticipated. Consequently I idly turned left along the canal, towards Carnforth rather than back towards home. I think my objective was to follow the recently resurfaced section of towpath to its end, but luckily my mental map reasserted itself within a few minutes and I realised I could be cycling a further ten miles in the wrong direction. For speed, I returned to the main road at Bolton-le-Sands and back to Hest Bank. Somehow I missed the canal turning, and found myself on the Halton road. Not a problem; I crossed the river there and followed the Lune Cycleway back to Lancaster.
I wasn't obsessively watching the clock and speedometer, but since my bike computer logs these parameters, I might as well mention that I travelled 28.52 miles in 2 hours, 38 mins (and 33 seconds), not counting stops; call it a further twenty minutes. Maximum speed was 27.5 mph (44.3 km/h), probably downhill into Halton.
Oh; the accompanying photos are here, with several more comments about the trip.
21 May, 2004
Another clear, sunny morning, so I cycled to work via the park, and took a few photographs. I think I prefer the thumbnail of this one, as the lighting seems even more dramatic.
18 May, 2004
Good weather, a digital camera, a cycle ride to work. Do I need a reason to take photographs? There's no particular theme to these images, they're just photogenic views I happened to pass.
2 May, 2004
River and Moor (Lane)
Since I was by the river today to shop at Sainsburys, I took a few photos, and a few more on my way home. Nothing special; just typical views of Lancaster.
1 May, 2004
Court closes drugs flat
Lancaster's free local newspaper, The Citizen (no website) reports that a ground floor flat in Morecambe was raided by drugs squad officers last week. The police found more than 500 used needles and other evidence of heroin use, so Lancaster magistrates used relatively new anti-social behaviour legislation to impose a closure order, and the building must be vacated for three months.
I'd better clarify that I have negligible knowledge of the issues involved, and I have no more information about this specific case than is provided in the short article. Perhaps there's something else that I'm missing, but from the available evidence I'm not sure the magistrates took the right action.
Officers discovered a large number of used needles, but they were in hospital-grade sharps disposal bins; I can't think of a more responsible storage and disposal technique. Of the 500 needles, 1 (one) was found down a grid in an alleyway at the rear of the flat; the Citizen points out that the area is used by children going to school, but that's over-emotive rubbish, and no doubt applies to every street, path and alley in Morecambe.
I don't condone heroin use and associated anti-social behaviour at all, but it's foolish to deny its existance, and in the circumstances this situation seemed to be under control. The police knew where the addicts were congregating, as did the council, and it seems someone in the flat had an organised and responsible attitude about needles. Now the addicts have been dispersed, so the authorities will have to find them again and expend more resources on monitoring them, and needles will presumably be discarded less responsibly across a wider area.
Perhaps the police and council do have to be seen to be taking some action, and immediately local residents will probably be pleased (for three months...), but I don't really see what has been achieved in the long term.
27 March, 2004
I don't work for the local tourist board, but can't resist reporting that Trail magazine (no website) has ranked Lancaster at number six in its top ten best places in the UK for walkers to live, based on criteria such as house prices, incomes, proximity to hills, good pubs, outdoor gear shops, sun and traffic. Lake District towns take the very highest positions, as might be expected; Coniston is no.1.
18 March, 2004
I'm just back from the cinema, having seen 'Cold Mountain'. I haven't written a review of that (yet) [update: it's here], but wanted to comment on the experience itself.
The Dukes is Lancaster's arts cinema, and the best I've known. The screen is advertised as the largest north of Manchester. Realistically, that probably means west of the Pennines and south of the Scottish border - Newcastle, Edinburgh or Glasgow might have something larger. Maybe not, as the trend is for multiplexes with multiple (no, really?) smaller screens rather than one huge one, as at The Dukes. The auditorium is that of a theatre, and the screen fills the stage; whenever the main stage is in use for plays (I'd guess that's 6-8 weeks spread throughout the year) the screen has to be removed.
The atmosphere is good; professional but not 'slick', and very much that of a theatre rather than a cinema. Three minutes before the film begins, an announcement invites people in the foyer to go through to their seats.
Thankfully, typical cinema soft drinks, popcorn, ice cream or sweets are not offered for sale, but drinks from the foyer bar are welcome in the cinema itself, in plastic, er, glasses. There's never a problem of litter being left afterwards - the audience are trusted to behave reasonably, and that respect is returned.
When I first moved to Lancaster a decade ago, the cinema's programme warned viewers to dress warmly, as the auditorium wasn't heated. Funding later added heating, but I doubt that came from ticket sales - one of the best aspects is that one can occasionally watch a film on a huge screen with as few distractions as in a darkened living room, with under ten people in the auditorium.
In fact, it was rather surprising to find that about ¾ of the seats were filled for 'Cold Mountain'. From a quick glance around the room, I was a little dismayed to see that the vast majority were around 60 years old. That's not really ageism, merely an indication that this wasn't a typical Dukes audience, and was likely to be of a type I've occasionally encountered there before: very infrequent cinema goers, who simply don't know how to behave. Rustling sweet wrappers might be common in most cinemas, but are so rare at The Dukes as to be particularly noticeable. Full-volume conversations in the middle of a film wouldn't be acceptable in any cinema, but as I said, these are people unaccustomed to cinema etiquette.
Luckily, it was a false alarm, and the audience were unobtrusive throughout, only betraying their inexperience of Dukes custom by leaving the moment the credits began - the regulars stayed to the end of the credits, as usual ;)
7 March, 2004
Cycle ride: Lancaster-Cockerham-Glasson Dock-Lancaster
I was expecting to say that today's bike ride was shorter than usual, but 17.84 miles (29.73 km) is a little above average. I can say it took less time than usual, at 1½ hours (80 mins moving), as I'd planned a specific destination and route in advance, and didn't amble.
Having taken this image three weeks ago, I wanted to capture the reverse angle: Sunderland from Crook Farm, near Cockerham. The route was straightforward, and didn't look very far, following the main road from Lancaster to Thurnham then one long lane across the coastal plain to the mouth of the Lune. Some of the views were good, but largely replicated images I've already presented here, so I didn't stop. From Crook Farm, Sunderland looked tiny, the sight line was dominated by Heysham power station, and I could see rain approaching from Lancaster, so I didn't hang around after taking a couple of images.
As planned, I headed back via Glasson Dock, a tiny village which was Lancaster's main port for the relatively brief period between silting of the riverbed making Lancaster itself unsuitable as a port, and industrial changes removing the need for Lancaster to have a sea port at all. There's still a yacht marina and a couple of cafés, and the Glasson Branch of the Lancaster Canal allows access from the sea to the main canal, so the village must have something of a tourist trade, but it's pretty quiet at the start of March. It wasn't particularly photogenic in the rain, so I didn't pause there, either, heading straight home.
Nearly 18 miles in 80 minutes isn't exactly impressive, an average of a little over 13 mph (21 km/h), but the light wind that hadn't even been noticeable on my outward journey was surprisingly steady all the way back, and it was a real struggle to stay above 10 mph.
29 February, 2004
This isn't 'new' news, but it's only just reached court: a 55-year-old woman appeared at Lancaster Magistrates Court this week, charged with 69 counts of animal abuse. Several months ago (before I started this blog, or I would have mentioned it at the time), the RSPCA raided her home, removing - from a standard-sized house - a total of:
- 22 shih tzus, 19 dachshunds, 7 Lhasa apsos, 41 bearded collies, 28 Yorkshire terriers, 12 chihuahuas, 20 Pekinese, 37 poodles, a corgi and 57 mongrels: that's 244 dogs;
- 16 birds;
- 5 cats and 2 kittens;
- 1 rabbit;
- 1 chinchilla.
I don't think I need to offer any comment on that....
[Update 10/6/05: For various reasons, the woman only faced nine charges of animal cruelty, and was sentenced today, to three months imprisonment plus a lifelong ban from keeping animals.]
26 February, 2004
A spectacular sunset, seen as I was leaving work. Click on the image for an an enlargement.
24 February, 2004
Out of office
I'm working from home today and tomorrow. The trades union representing lecturers and computer-related technical staff, the Association of University Teachers (AUT), is striking over long-term pay deals, and campus will be picketed. The AUT is only one of several unions on campus, so all other staff are expected to attend work as normal, and I'd have no qualms about crossing a picket line, but my boss kindly gave me the option of working from home instead (she is doing so too).
"Lecturers and computer-related technical staff..."? Yes, that's me - the AUT is the union I'd be expected to join, if I was a member of any union, but I'm not.
On the whole, I don't particularly like working from home, with the dual problems of being too comfortable during the first half of the day (it would be easy to stay in bed that little longer, and be distracted by personal projects) and not having a distinct stopping point at the end of the day (in the past I've kept going, sometimes as late as 22:00 before realising I haven't eaten); I had far too much experience of that lifestyle during my PhD. Just for a couple of days, though, it's okay.
21 February, 2004
Cycling again: Lancaster-Morecambe-Hest Bank-Halton-Lancaster
This has been the third consecutive weekend with good weather, so I went for my third consecutive weekend bike ride, taking the digital camera. Again, I only had a rough idea of where I was going: Hest Bank, where the Chinese cocklers died three weeks ago.
After crossing the River Lune at Sainsbury's, I followed the cycle track to Morecambe. No photos there, as the view across Morecambe Bay was hazy, and who'd want images of Morecambe itself? It really is a shabby shadow of a seaside resort; rather squalid and depressing, so I didn't stop, following the promenade straight to Hest Bank. This is a pleasant little village, with some rather unexpected upmarket houses. I suppose it's a prime location for retirement, on the coast and close to the amenities of Morecambe, but not too close.
The sea front car park at Hest Bank is the usual starting point of guided walks across the Bay, and I think it's the place where the cocklers went onto the sands for the last time. Considering that significance, it's rather nondescript: a pleasant viewpoint on a clear day, but exposed and bleak in bad weather.
This was the furthest extent of my planned ride, so I consulted the map and decided to follow minor country lanes back to the Lune at Halton. Within a minute of leaving the coast road, the whole environment had changed, and there was no sign that the pretty village with the ugly name, Slyne, is only a short walk from the sea; this could have been rural Bedfordshire.
One of the reasons I'd taken this route was that I'd spotted a local landmark on a nearby hill: two communications masts crudely disguised as trees. I've noticed them for several years, and this was an opportunity for a closer look; see the photos.
The route onwards to Halton was unexpected slow, as I hadn't realised the road was so minor as to be an unsurfaced track, too muddy to ride my bike. Once on a real road again, the trip into Halton was picturesque, as was the ride along the cycle track back to Lancaster and Sainsbury's.
The whole ride took about two hours, with 26 minutes of stops, and covered 17.5 miles. That's rather slow, but includes over a mile of pushing the bike on rough ground.
Since I ended at Sainsbury's, I did my weekly shopping, so this might be seen as a trip to the supermarket, the long way!
18 February, 2004
Just a pretty sunset, of no great significance.
Okay, here's something: this was the first evening this year on which I've been able to cycle home without lights at the normal 'home time'.
The photos are here; click on them to enlarge.
15 February, 2004
Cycling again: Lancaster-Sunderland-Lancaster
Another cycle ride today, this time exploring the north/west bank of the River Lune downstream of Lancaster, somewhere I'd never been before in over a decade of being a Lancaster resident. I've been to Morecambe a few times, and to White Lund Industrial Estate midway between Lancaster and Morecambe, but the rest of the 'peninsula' was entirely unfamiliar, partly because it's not on the way to anywhere, and partly because the land around White Lund is unattractive - sight lines are dominated by industrial units, and for some reason any remaining land is used to graze horses; since the local water table is at (or above) the ground surface, grazed land is invariably a dispiriting mass of mud. Combined with wind-blown litter and smell from the adjacent Salt Ayre landfill site, the result is very off-putting.
However, only about a mile along a tiny riverside road, things began to improve. The road is covered by high tides (to the depth of a car roof, as indicated by a line on the wall of the pub car park at 'The Golden Ball', which seems to offer a ferry service for customers trapped by the tide!), so littered with driftwood and silt, but the views across the estuary were pretty good, of a very familiar landscape from an unseen angle (photos here).
Further on (surprisingly further - I hadn't appreciated the distances involved), there was little indication that the green hills and village of Overton were even coastal, never mind in a pocket between a city, a run-down seaside resort and a nuclear power station. Back on the estuary road, again silt-covered and clearly tidal, the sense of remoteness was even greater, as the unusually flat (for N.Lancashire) land seemed absolutely empty in every direction, and the sky seemed bigger than usual. I'm not entirely sure I liked it.
At the end of the road is the hamlet of Sunderland, at the mouth of the Lune. This is where trading ships stopped to collect river pilots, who would guide them up the estuary to the port of Lancaster. The river ceased to be navigable long ago, so I'm not sure who lives there now; I can imagine the nearby fields would support a farmer, artists might like to stay/visit, and I saw a couple of fishing boats, but otherwise I'd guess the cottages are rented by seasonal holiday makers.
The last kilometre of the road is unsurfaced, and one section is only passable at low tide, so I had to walk with the bike; eventually the road ran out completely and I would have had to cross the beach to the very end, Sunderland Point. However, there was nowhere to leave my bike, and nothing at the end anyway, not even the prospect of an especially good view, so I turned back a couple of hundred metres short of the objective.
My original plan had been to visit Sunderland Point, then return to Lancaster via Heysham (specifically the nuclear power station) and the West End of Morecambe, two other places I've never been, but it had taken much longer than expected to get this far. If I returned the way I'd come, Sunderland would obviously have been the halfway point. To return the long way would have put Sunderland only about a third of the way along a total route of around 30 miles (50 km), so I went straight home! I'll visit Heysham and Morecambe another time. Today's ride took about two hours (actually moving for 105 mins, according to the bike computer) to cover 19.05 miles (31.75 km), peaking at 26.6 mph (44.3 km/h).
6 February, 2004
Tides kill 19
Maybe somewhere like New York it's common to hear a helicopter pass over one's house then hear that same helicopter a minute later on a live national news report, but here in Lancaster it hadn't happened to me before today.
Lancaster is within walking distance of the coast, more precisely the vast sand flats of Morecambe Bay. When the tide is out, it's out as far as the horizon, but returns at terrifying speed. The flats are also an extremely complex environment, with a shifting network of gullies and quicksand.
Furthermore, they are home to some £6 million ($11 million, currently) worth of cockles and a traditional industry harvesting them. In recent years, the area has been opened as a public fishery, and once permits are obtained, anyone can go onto the sands to harvest. This has caused predictable ill-feeling amongst the locals, but putting protectionism to one side, there are genuine safety implications of inexperienced people entering such a treacherous environment.
It's bad enough when harvesters from other areas of the UK visit (as is their right; I'm certainly not saying they shouldn't), thinking they know the conditions because they've previously worked in North Wales or the Bristol Channel; somewhat different situations, and Morecambe Bay can still surprise those fishermen. However, once permits are obtained, there's no way to prevent multiple people sharing them, and to prevent sub-contracting or the employing of totally unskilled labour. There have been numerous cases of illegal immigrants and 'unemployed' benefits-claimants being caught working on the sands. Harvesters can earn £500 per day, but the illegal labourers are unlikely to see much of that.
It's unproductive to say "I told you so", but anyone who has read a local paper within the last couple of months has been repeatedly told about a tragedy waiting to happen. Now it has.
Yesterday afternoon, a group of over 30 went out, and were caught by the tide. The alarm was raised at 21:20. Fourteen people escaped or were rescued, and at the time of writing, eighteen bodies (16 male) have been recovered. Those rescued seem to be Chinese nationals, with little command of English, so it's not really known how many were in their party.
[Update, 22:15: the final death toll seems to be nineteen.]
[Update, 16/2/04: another body has been found, taking the total to 20. One source claims there may be four more as yet undiscovered.]
4 February, 2004
Lots of weather
Last week we were threatened by severe winter weather (a threat which didn't materialise in Lancaster, but that's not the point). This week it's flooding, due to rainfall.
Heavy rain fell all day on Saturday; not heavy showers or sustained light rain, but sustained heavy rain. Not a problem for me; I just stayed in for 42 hours from Friday to Sunday. Sunday and Monday were okay, but the rain began again that evening and by yesterday the water table was at the surface, even on high ground, so further rain had nowhere to go. The storm water drain in my street was full, and this was at the top of Lancaster - I can only wonder what was happening in town.
Cycling to work, I saw sports fields under water, and the tiny Burrow Beck was in flood, about a metre (call it 3') above the normal level, five times its usual width, and with standing waves more usual on a major river. I was momentarily concerned to see it had already reached the top of two bridges, which could easily have become blocked forming unstable dams - when that happened on the (much larger) River Roeburn in 1967, a large proportion of Wray village was swept away, even stone-built terraced housing. I've been past again today, and there a couple of fresh gouges in the stonework of one and the council have installed a barrier deflecting floating debris away from the other, so it's in hand.
The rural section of the route to work was totally flooded, but only to a depth of 10cm (4"), which wasn't a problem.
So, fairly trivial for me, but my daily route largely follows a ridge of high ground, so I saw little of the impact elsewhere. Apparently the Lune was extremely high through Lancaster, and A. was sent home early from his work placement in Kendal, as the Kent was flooding over a large area of southern Cumbria. The national news reported major flooding, particularly in North Wales. Capel Curig, Gwynedd received 167mm (6.5") of rain within 24 hours - four times the average February rainfall in London. The Guardian adds a further statistic: that Capel Curig has received 426mm of rain since Saturday, equivalent to half of London's average annual rainfall. The day was also anomalously warm, with Hawarden, Clwyd (where I went to school) registering the second highest 3 Feb. temperature ever, 16.2°C (the highest ever 3 Feb. temperature was yesterday too, in Yorkshire).
More heavy rain this morning. My boots and waterproofs, already challenged yesterday, seem to have given way today, and I'm looking forward to 'home time', so I can get changed. However, if that's the worst I have to worry about, I'm better off than much of the country.
3 February, 2004
New Chancellor for the University
So, the new Chancellor of Lancaster University is to be Sir Chris Bonington CBE, taking over the role from HRH Princess Alexandra who has been the Chancellor for the full 40 years since the University was founded.
For those who don't know already, Sir Chris Bonington is Britain's best known mountaineer, having led and made 19 Himalayan expeditions, including 4 to Everest (which he climbed at the age of fifty in 1985), and having made many first ascents in the Alps and greater ranges of the world. He has written fifteen books and frequently appeared on TV. His existing connection to the University is an honorary doctorate conferred (by Princess Alexandra) in 1983, plus work with the University to promote the region, especially the Lake District.
To further clarify, the Chancellor is the titular head of the University; metaphorically the Chairman rather than the Chief Executive, a role held by the Vice Chancellor. The Chancellor's most visible function is to preside over degree ceremonies. So he's not directly going to be my boss!
On the whole, I'd say Sir Chris is a good choice. There's a certain caché in having a member of royalty as Chancellor, but with Princess Alexandra's decision to retire from the post, the challenge was to find a public figure combining a degree of gravitas (few events are more formal than a degree congregation) with public recognition and popularity, without descending into populism. I think that balance has been achieved.
My personal distaste for snobbery makes me a little uncomfortable about this, but having a respected Chancellor is rather important for the prestige of the institution. The whole charade of Princess Alexandra visiting with her personal maid and toilet seat (yes, really), and wearing brand new white gloves in case she touches commoners, is somewhat distasteful, but hey, how many University Chancellors are in the royal succession? Sir Chris can command as much respect, but more for his manner and achievements. That said, those who care about such things will get a warm glow from his resemblance to Edward VII....
31 January, 2004
Mmm... smell that benzene
According to Homecheck, the air in my neighbourhood contains:
NO2 Levels : 15 - 20 ppb (Moderate)
NOx Levels : 24 - 32 ppb (Moderate)
SO2 Levels : 4 - 6 ppb (Moderate)
Benzene Levels : 0.50 - 0.75 ppb (Moderate to good)
Butadiene Levels : 0.1 - 0.2 ppb (Moderate to good)
CO Levels : 0.2 - 0.4 ppm (Moderate to good)
PM10 Levels : 17.5 - 20 µgm-3 (Moderate)
Lead Levels : 20 - 40 ngm-3 (Moderate)
Ozone Summer Mean : 20 - 24 ppb (Moderate)
Ozone Daily Mean : 20 - 30 days where ozone >= 50ppb (Moderate)
28 January, 2004
After the anticipation I mentioned last night, it was probably inevitable that nothing would happen. An hour or so after I posted that entry, the sky cleared, and remained so until at least midnight. This morning, the ground was clear and there wasn't much of a wind. I thought last night's rain had frozen onto cars and the road, but no, it was liquid, so the cycle ride to work was entirely routine. I wasn't even cold.
Later this morning it was cold out, with a cutting wind, but there was still no snow until 13:00, when the real Arctic stuff started to fall - tiny, dry flakes totally unlike the typical large, damp clumps we usually see. The clumps tend to melt on contact with the ground, so it requires a sustained fall for surfaces to acquire a noticable covering. In contrast, the view out of my window was white-over within five minutes of the snow's onset today.
Then it stopped again, the skies cleared, and now, after four hours, the snow has almost all gone. I just hope the meltwater hasn't already refrozen; I'm leaving for home on time for once, just before dusk, to minimise the risks.
To give the forecasters credit, I think we've just been lucky in Lancaster; conditions elsewhere in the UK have been worse.
26 January, 2004
The sun had risen only a few minutes earlier, illuminating the sky which in turn illuminated the ground, but direct sunlight had yet to reach the fields. Presumably combining the colours of the grass and sky, the heavy frost was a startling shade of turquoise for a short period; contrasted against the still-dark hedges and trees, it seemed to glow (click to enlarge the image).
8 January, 2004
A couple of months ago, when water started pouring through my office light fitting from a punctured water main upstairs, the occupants of a nearby office were somewhat amused. Imagine the level of my sympathy when the same thing happened to them this morning....
Someone in the Estates Office is going to have to face tough questions. Evidently there are undocumented mains buried in the concrete between the floors, which might be forgivable in an old, heavily-modified building, but not one built only forty years ago.
5 January, 2004
From the UK's National Statistics website, and hence 2001 census, I see that my electoral ward, John O'Gaunt, has a population of 7,100, from a total of 133,914 resident in Lancaster. On Census Day 2001 (29 April), the UK population was 58,789,194, of which 49,138,831 were in England. That means my ward contains 0.012% of the UK population ;)
In terms of marital status, the ward is anomalous, with a high proportion of single (never married) people, at 53.2% (all Lancaster (L): 32.8, England & Wales (E&W): 30.1).
95.5% are white (L: 97.8, England: 90.9), 70.3% claim to be christian (L: 76.3, E&W: 71.8), though 19.1% claim no religion (13.6, 14.8), and I doubt those 70.3% practice regularly!
Residents tend to describe their health as 'good' (ward: 72.7, L: 67.4, E&W: 68.6), very few are 'not good' (6.9, 9.9, 9.2), but I suspect this is related to the age structure of the ward, with 37.8% between 16 and 29 (L: 20.4, E&W: 17.5).
That in turn is easily explained: students. Whilst 47.4% of residents are employed (L: 54.0, E&W: 60.6) and 2.5% are unemployed (3.6, 3.4), 10.4% are 'economically active full-time students' i.e. students with part-time jobs (L: 4.0, E&W: 2.6) and a massive 22.5% are 'economically inactive students' (9.6 4.7). That translates to a percentage of total resident population of 26.3% (over 1 in 4), compared to 9.7% (approx 1 in 10) for Lancaster and 5.1% (1 in 20) for England & Wales. However, there are distinct clusters of student housing in the ward, and I don't live in one of them; my unscientific impression is that my street is mainly occupied by young families and pensioners, probably because the houses are quite small.
22 December, 2003
I went to work via the park this morning, as I happened to have a digital camera with me and the weather was pretty good. Today is the shortest day of the year and technically the first of winter. It's appropriate, then, to see the first snow of the season, not actually in Lancaster (though it is forecast for tomorrow) but at least in sight, on the horizon.
19 December, 2003
Who nicked Bowland Tower?
Today was extraordinarily foggy here in Lancaster. We occasionally see foggy mornings or evenings (or rather, don't, because of the fog...), but it's rare for it to last all day. Cycling to work, I met light mist as I entered the Uni. grounds, though town itself had been clear. Unusually, the mist thickened during the morning, despite the sky directly above being cloudless. By 13:00 it was as dense as I remember seeing on campus, so I pointed a digital camera out of the window (click to enlarge the image).
The density varied all afternoon; campus must have been at the very top of the fog bank. I really wish I'd thought to go up the Tower, as the view from the top must have been wonderful at times, projecting above the cloud.
7 December, 2003
This afternoon was rather cold but clear and sunny, so I went for a short bike ride, taking a camera. A few images are here.
I was particularly pleased with the first - the park has a small lake (large pond?), surrounded on all sides by trees and rock (the park is a relandscaped quarry) so in winter gets little direct sunlight and is pleasantly shadowed. As I was passing, a single sunbeam had found its way through the trees, catching only the water from the fountain, which became the apparent light source for the whole area.
9 November, 2003
Bonfire Night was last night. Or rather, it was 5 Nov. (Wednesday), but Lancaster City Council always saves its big firework display until the nearest Saturday evening.
Castle Hill was as crowded as always, but we found a good spot amongst the graves (it was better than that sounds), able to see a large patch of sky between the trees. I often wonder whether it's better to watch from the castle, with the fireworks going off almost directly above and filling the sky, or from the park almost a mile away and somewhat higher, to get some perspective against the skyline. Last year I did go to the park, but in heavy rain, so that wasn't a fair test. A locally renowned photographer, Jon Sparks, has certainly captured some excellent images from there. I noticed that 3-4 people around us at the castle were pointing compact digital cameras at the sky, but I really doubt they would have caught much of the spectacle, with coloured explosions filling the whole sky, not just the area of a viewfinder. I'd have thought it better to forget the camera and capture the memories.
I successfully managed to blot out the noise of the crowd - in the past there have been annoying loud conversations and people pushing past, but this time there was just the bangs of the fireworks, half-drowning the jingoistic music from the council's PA's - mainly Elgar, it seemed. The fireworks themselves were excellent, particularly those that went up, burst, then burst again as the individual sparks fell. I was slightly disappointed that there were fewer really big rockets than in past years, at least at the start of the display - I love to hear the deeper thud of their launch, and watch the faint, fast-moving glow as each ascends far above the main explosions, then the perfectly spherical explosion of brilliant colour or pure white, sometimes changing colour as it fades. All week the weather had been very windy, so perhaps the display team had withdrawn anything that could have been blown significantly out of the controlled area. Saturday evening itself was relatively still, so it seems a few of the biggest rockets were reinstated towards the end, and the finale was no disappointment. An excellent 20 mins.
I'd been in something of an antisocial mood all week, and could quite happily have gone for a quiet drink in a pub afterwards or even just gone home, but it was decided we'd go to Vicarage Fields where as usual a large bonfire had been lit. Almost everyone I've known socially in the last half dozen or so years seems to turn up there each year, and that's not to say I relish seeing many of them.... Another negative point is that it means about 100 people try to get served at the same small quayside pub at once, which isn't a pleasant experience. To their credit, the owners had taken the excellent initiative of erecting a beer tent at the back of the pub, by the fire, so the crush to get served was almost negated. I didn't fancy a drink - it was still only 20:30 and I wasn't in the mood anyway, but we walked round the fire, the others stopping to talk to various people. As the fireworks had started at 20:00, I'd noticed the fire really catching, and flames reaching high above the trees. By the time we got to it, it had died back drastically, but the colour of the flames indicated that it was still remarkably hot - though the tips of the flames were yellow-white in the cold night air, the base of the flames and the overall impression of the fire was transparent blue - quite a bit hotter than the average domestic fire!
As it happens, there weren't many people we knew at the fire, and none we'd choose to spend the rest of the evening with, so we did go to a pub. The first choice, the Three Mariners (one of the oldest pubs in Britain, apparently, and currently failing because the building site next door is driving custom away) seemed full, unless people were voluntarily drinking outside in a builders' yard, so we went a bit further, to The Bobbin, a gothy pub I rather like. From there to The Whittle (which has been The Golden Lion for about as long as I've known it, about eight years, but it's not easy to change a pub's traditional name!) as there was a guitarist playing (okay, but I didn't find her material compelling), then to The Gregson because its on the way home and open until midnight. I don't think we stayed until closing, but it was straight home from there.
27 October, 2003
Sunset (so what?)
Not exactly profound, but just in case anyone has the vaguest interest in what Lancaster looks like at dusk, here's yesterday's sunset.