A miscellany of interesting articles

A few articles curated by your truly, from a foreign and historical perspective.

New Yorker magazine: House of Secrets – Who owns London’s most expensive mansion?: Witanhurst, London’s largest private house, was built between 1913 and 1920 on an eleven-acre plot in Highgate, a wealthy hilltop neighborhood north of the city center. First owned by Arthur Crosfield, an English soap magnate ……..

History Today: Living in a material world: While it rightly condemns ISIS’ brutal destruction of the Middle East’s rich architectural heritage, is the West neglecting its own, more subtle cultural vandalism?

The Atlantic: Was Dickens a Thief: A new novel portrays the young writer of The Pickwick Papers as a conniving founder of modern mass culture.

The American Conservative: The Disastrous Economics of Scottish Independence: The SNP’s huge electoral gains do not change the monetary math that would collapse an autonomous Scotland.

History Today: Britain: apart from or a part of Europe?: The ‘Historians for Britain’ campaign believes that Britain’s unique history sets it apart from the rest of Europe.

Speaking at the Planning Applications Committee as a member of the public

I was never a member of the planning applications committee in the eight years I was a councillor. I never considered myself as being a ‘hired gun’ when speaking at planning applications committee meetings, either for or against a planning application. And it would be verging on the pretentious to consider it as operating like a barrister.

No, I always hoped that I’d be speaking as a concerned, informed, and commonsensical citizen.

This Wednesday evening I’ll be addressing the planning applications committee as a member of the public, not in the favoured position as a councillor.

I’ll be speaking on behalf of the objectors to the applicant’s second application to build houses at the rear of 4, 6, and 8 Macdonald Road in Lightwater. The officers have recommended refusal of the application, so the pressure is off a little in my 3 minute argument against the application. Even so, mustn’t let the objectors down by failing to put their case forward, and to leave a strong message in the minds of the committee, just in case the applicant returns with a third, and amended, application.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

About that token thingy in the article on my steam fix

Perhaps, just perhaps, you’re a curious soul who wondered the purpose of the token mentioned in a number of the photos in the previous article.

The Mid Hants Railway – The Watercress Line – website describes the use of tokens in signalling systems. Jeez, I was left confused. I needed a simpler explanation of the use of tokens. I’ve tried my best to find one. This best I can do, after reading over-complicated explanations in forums and such, is suggest Wikipedia’s good description HERE.

Single track railways can have trains in operation going in opposite directions, so long as they can pass each other on loop lines, or more normally at stations. A system to control access to the single line track is needed to avoid collision. At a basic level, a semaphore signal or traffic light signal controls train movement. A more secure system is needed to avoid mistakes. One such system is the use of tokens passed from the signalman to the train driver permitting access to the single track. This is part of Wikipedia’s description of the use of tokens,

Each single-line section is provided with a pair of token instruments, one at the signal box at each end. A supply of identical tokens is stored in the instruments, which are connected by telegraph lines. A token can be removed from one instrument only if both signalmen co-operate in agreeing to the release. Once a token has been removed, another cannot be removed until the token which is “out” is replaced in either instrument. By this means, it can be ensured that at any one time, only one token is available to be issued to a driver. Tokens belonging to adjacent sections have different configurations to prevent them being inserted into the wrong instrument.

Where the single line section is part of a through route, then it is likely that each passing train would require to surrender and collect a token at each token station. Key tokens are usually placed in a leather pouch attached to a hoop, enabling a fireman to put his arm through the hoop held up by the signalman.

Hope that’s clear. Here are some photo’s of the system in use at Mid Hants. Images of the key tokens can be seen HERE. The image inside the Arlesford signal box – courtesy of Mid Hants Railway – shows a token instrument on the left in red.

Passing the token7a-Inspecting the tokenArlesford Signal Box and Token Machine

Getting a fix of steam

Passing through Alresford over the weekend we decided – well, actually it was me deciding to stop really – by the Watercress Line – officially the Mid Hants Railway.

There in Alresford station was a steam locomotive and carriages about to leave. Quick decision, yep, a round trip to Alton and back. The train left about 15 minutes later, plenty of time for a cup of tea, and a few conversations with the volunteer railway staff.

I asked myself why the fascination with a dirty, noisy, and not very efficient means of propulsion. I concluded that it was all about mastering the ‘beast’. Feeding the engine’s fire, and keeping the water level toped up, all to manage the process of manufacturing steam, and then with valves and levers to use the steam to create motion. Put simply, man controlling machine.

On the return leg – from Alton to Alresford – I got off at Ropley to look at the engine sheds, while my wife carried on to Alresford for shopping. It was a pleasant longish chat with the volunteer ticket inspector at Alton station where I was convinced to assuage my steam fix. I followed on the next train. Here’s my photo record of the experience.



The strong jobs growth in the UK: Part 2-Dispelling the myths

Part 1 of ‘The Strong Jobs Growth in the UK’ looked at the three key factors supporting jobs growth in the UK, contained in How has Britain created jobs while France and Italy have struggled? by Andrew Sentence in the Daily Telegraph,

During the election a few myths were floated about nature of the jobs created. In this second part I’m highlighting how Andrew Sentence dispells these myths,

…. One is that all the increased employment is in part-time work and zero-hours contracts. This is not true. Full-time jobs account for more than three-quarters of increased employment since 2009. The latest official estimate is that fewer than 700,000 people are on zero-hours contracts out of a workforce of more than 31m (just over 2pc).

Another myth is that jobs growth has been concentrated in low-value-added sectors. In fact, the biggest job-creating sector over the past five years has been professional, scientific and technical services – firms like my employer, PwC. We have 500,000 more jobs in professional and related services compared with five years ago – a quarter of the total employment increase over the recovery. We have also seen strong jobs growth in other hi-tech sectors. In information and communications, 150,000 new jobs have been created in the past five years.

The official employment statistics for the UK can be seen at the Office for National Statistics HERE. I’ll leave it to you to sift through all the Labour Market data.

The strong jobs growth in the UK: Part 1-Three key factors

I’m a firm believer in the value of employment. It’s one of the things about which I’ve written here on many occasions. There’ve been few credible suggestions as to why the UK economy has been creating jobs while other advanced economies have not. An article in the Daily Telegraph by Andrew Sentence is among the most plausible. Not least because he’s a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, and a senior economic adviser at PwC.

In his article – How has Britain created jobs while France and Italy have struggled? – he identified three key factors supporting strong jobs growth in the UK, North America and Germany. Here’s the part of his article where he describes the three key factors,

The first is a flexible labour market – as excessive regulation and high employment taxes can stifle job growth. In a flexible labour market, wages can adjust to changing economic conditions – and subdued wage growth has been an important factor encouraging employers to retain and recruit workers in the recovery. Workers are also free to move between jobs, as the structure of the economy changes. And a flexible labour market facilitates the growth of part-time jobs and self-employment, where that suits individual lifestyles and circumstances.

A second ingredient is having business-friendly economic policies, aimed at encouraging enterprise and investment. Investment in the UK has grown by more than 4pc a year across the recovery – more than twice the rate of GDP growth. Under the Coalition, the corporation tax rate levied on business profits was brought down from 28pc to 20pc. The UK has a strong reputation as a business-friendly economy open to trade and investment, and this has been a consistent theme of government policy since the 1980s.

The third factor supporting employment growth in the UK, Germany and North America has been political stability. Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany for nearly 10 years, and Stephen Harper has been in power in Canada since 2006. Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and David Cameron has been Prime Minister since 2010. Over the course of the recovery, the four leading economies have had the most stable governments. By contrast, France has had three prime ministers since 2010 and Italy four.

Flexible labour markets, business-friendly economic policies and political stability are a powerful recipe for employment growth. The good news for the UK is that this recipe should be in place for the next five years…..

A Great Spotted Woodpecker spills more than it eats

Great Spotted WoodpeckerAgain, another rubbish photograph of mine. On our garden bird feeder, I try, when I’m around, to discourage the Jackdaws and Pigeons from snaffling all the suet logs.

I’ve worked out that our small suet log basket does a reasonable job in being difficult for the bigger birds to feed from. The variety of Tits and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are what we try to encourage – pretty successfully at the moment. I guess they’re feeding their growing families.

By the time I get my camera in position the pesky Woodpecker is off like a shot. I did manage to capture this photo of, I think, the female Great Spotted Woodpecker, who as you can see in the photo, like a drunken alcoholic spills more than it eats.