Quiet carriage etiquette: do you pass the test?

8 August, 2013

I’m not very organised, but sometimes I like order. For example, I like ‘quiet carriages’ on trains to be, well, quiet. Sometimes I feel a bit lonely in that, so I am heartened to see someone has used his anger creatively to bang the message home (though not so loudly as to upset other passengers).

Image: Quiet Carriage, by Kai Hendry on flickr.com (licence: CC BY 2.0)
Image: Quiet Carriage, by Kai Hendry on flickr.com (licence: CC BY 2.0)

The subject of quiet railway carriages divides people nearly as efficiently as Marmite. I’ve found it’s one of those issues that can send pleasant conversations hurtling suddenly in unexpected and frightening directions. So, although I’ve whinged about quiet carriages before, I generally try to avoid the topic.

You see, I’m one of those people that thinks ‘quiet carriages’ should be just that: quiet carriages. We will forgive you for missing the signage (designed, apparently, by someone whose line of sight is tuned to a different frequency than everyone else’s); but, once you’re aware of the situation, you deserve all the indignant, passive-aggressive glances you get for turning perfectly good music into pebbly rattlesnake piss.

However, many people see attitudes such as mine as anal, aloof and uptight. So, I was delighted when I discovered this morning that someone else (a chap called Tom Scott) was so irked by behviour in quiet carriages that he came up with this:

The Quiet Carriage Proficiency Test.

Try it, it’s fun. And, if I had my way, it would be legally binding and enforced by burly train guards.

Birmingham activists must up their PR game if they are to remain relevant to the local community

17 July, 2013

A Birmingham community is leading the development of its local area. But it must respond to its detractors if it is to remain relevant to all stakeholders.

Moseley Village
Image: St Mary’s Row Village Green, by Brendan Patchell (licence: CC BY-SA 2.0)

Moseley started life as a village. It is now a thriving area of Birmingham with a broad mix of residents. It has a compact centre of vibrant pubs and restaurants, which cater to all sorts and span a wide price range. In addition, the few hundred yards of central Moseley host an award-winning monthly farmers’ market, the annual folk and jazz festivals that attract international stars, a regular arts market, independent food shops, two chain supermarkets, a number of independent cafes and at least three live music venues.

Moseley also has a very active Community Development Trust (CDT), run largely by local volunteers. The Trust has persuaded the City Council to let Moseley become the first area of Birmingham to have its development plans led by the community. For this purpose, it has consulted locally and created a Supplementary Planning Document to the city’s main strategic plan. It has to do this if it wants any chance of success: proposals will only be listened to if they are in harmony with the existing council strategy.

But all is not rosy in Moseley. There is growing opposition to the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), and I suspect the opposition has the potential to be more damaging to the SPD than is being acknowledged.

Dialogue is in danger of succumbing to factional fighting. I don’t know who’s right, but I do know that the opposition is charismatic and visible. Moseley CDT is much less so. The opposition is fronted by a lively character who is talking directly to local businesses and putting posters in shop windows. By contrast, Moseley CDT has stopped posting updates through residents’ letterboxes and now expects people to visit its website for that information. The opposition’s poster contains fewer than ten, catchy, words; the CDT’s A1-sized information poster (only brought out on special occasions) is packed with small text in very, very long lines.

I understand the pressures. Moseley CDT is working hard on substance and has little extra capacity to use on PR (volunteers have other lives too). Unfortunately, I think it needs to find some. Because, unless it can prove it is as visible, as relevant and as uncomplicated as those who currently oppose it – and can provide lucid clarifications to any confused messages – it may soon find it no longer has the support of local interests.

Who cares what people think? My garden is a mess and I love it

9 July, 2013

By anyone’s standards, my garden is a mess. I avoid it, so it grows. And recently it’s been growing a lot. I avoid it through a mixture of shame and panic: the neighbours are probably muttering about it and I buckle with the thought of having to tackle it. But I love it. And, today, I believe I have finally come to terms with that.

My garden bench, hiding somewhere in my garden

I have no lawn, but I do have a lot of grass. I have visiting cats that bolt from the rapacious undergrowth like frightened – well, like frightened cats – and scare the living crap out of me while I’m hanging out the washing.

I have bees in my garden, and butterflies and insects. I have glorious spider-webs that shimmer in the dew and winter frost. In summer, I have pale, soft, furry grasses that crumble in a child’s hand to be scattered like snowflakes. (I also have two dead Christmas trees hidden somewhere underneath.) I have wild poppies in yellows and reds, with bees jumping in and out of them, and brambles with beads of white flowers.

I have a few cultivated plants too, still struggling valiantly since they were neglected five or six years ago. I have a large bush of a thistle, with fantastic purple flowers, and another extraordinary purple thing that I’ve no idea what it is or whence it came. I have a flowering currant, fighting against the garden’s relentless onslaught, and something else that looks pretty when it flowers.

Periodically, I will extract the suffocating cleavers from these to give them a little breathing space. But, ultimately, the cultivated plants have no chance. Some have fallen already; the garden will have them all in the end.

I have done almost nothing to my garden for years, so Nature is taking over.

That’s right: Nature is taking over.

So why do I feel I’ve neglected it? Why do I consider myself a Bad Neighbour for not butchering my lovely grasses in favour of a crisp and tidy lawn? Why do I panic when friends want to see my garden, or feel sheepish when they ask me about it?

In short, why am I so rubbish at getting off my backside and crushing Nature like a normal person would?

Because normal people, apparently, are tidy. They are better than Nature and they’re going to show it who’s boss. They will chop it and order it and keep it under control. And that requires good, honest and regular work, which proves they’re not lazy and have earned their place in the world through pointless toil.

Or, if accusations of laziness don’t bother them, they simply dump a load of concrete on it.

Why? Why do we feel so intimidated by the natural way of things? Maybe scientists will one day discover that Humankind arrived from space on the back of a spider, but until then I think it’s safe to believe we are as much of this Earth as anything else that grows on it. Why are we so scared of that?

Of course, many people enjoy gardening for precisely the reasons that I enjoy my garden. And I envy that passion, dedication and delight more than I can ever explain.

But I am not that person, and I’m tired of wishing I was. So, at last, I shall allow myself to love my garden guiltlessly.

On the tenth day of Christmas…

4 January, 2013

I decided to share ten albums that I discovered this year.

‘Discovered’ can mean either that 2012 was when I first heard an album or that 2012 was when I decided I liked it.

The order’s not as strict as it looks. (I could do with a system of ‘-ish’ lists that falls somewhere between the uniform equality of bullets and the rigid hierarchy of numbers.)

I won’t bother you with descriptions of them or with unhelpful personal responses to them; I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself, should you be so inclined.

Top ten albums that I discovered in 2012

  1. Who Needs Who
    • Dark Dark Dark
    • 2012
  2. I A Moon
    • North Sea Radio Orchestra
    • 2011
  3. Living With Ants
    • Mechanical Bride
    • 2011
  4. The Law of Large Numbers
    • Emma Pollock
    • 2010
  5. Grown Unknown
    • Lia Ices
    • 2010
  6. The Sad Machinery of SpringThe Sad Machinery of Spring
    • Tin Hat
    • 2007
  7. An Awesome Wave
    • Alt-J
    • 2012
  8. Loveblood
    • King Charles
    • 2012
  9. All the Wars
    • The Pineapple Thief
    • 2012
  10. The Year of Hibernation
    • Youth Lagoon
    • 2011

Note: Although the links are to Spotify, the dates are taken from last.fm because I don’t trust Spotify’s chronology. (I’ve no reason to trust last.fm’s either, save that I’ve not yet noticed any glaring errors with it.)

Born in 1972? Help me celebrate online

28 February, 2012

It’s a bit ambitious, but I thought it would be fun to try and get stories from forty people who turn forty this year.

I had wondered about threading them together, like Arabian Nights; I might still do that, at the end, but let’s keep it simple for now.

So, the theme is simply ‘1972’.

The stories will be presented online in some way and will all go live at the same time (hopefully sometime before the end of 2012 else we miss the point).

The story can be about anything you like, fact or fiction. There are just three rules:

  1. You must turn forty in 2012;
  2. Your story must have some connection to the year 1972;
  3. Try to keep your story relatively clean and inoffensive.

Fancy joining in? Please register your interest below. If enough people are interested, I’ll go ahead with it.

Join the Forty!

(Don’t worry, I’ll keep this information private.)