March 12, 2010
Growing up one of the family friends was a deputy sheriff. He said one of his favorite things about being a sheriff was when they got a call being able to turn the siren on and driving like a bat out of hell to get whereever they needed to go. This sheriff is now retired, but he assured me more than once, there wasn't any emergency but he just wanted to drive fast. Lights on, siren on and pedal to the medal. Reading the newspaper on my way to work last week, I came across two articles which could only make me shake my head. Two seperate stories involving the authorities and the responses they each had to seperate crisises.
We complained about how long it sometimes took for the police or even sheriff to get anywhere in the county. I mean goodness, the sheriff should be able to cover the entire distance from Walker to Pine River in under five minutes. It is only thirty miles! Here, apparently this feat can not even be guaranteed across town.
One of the local towns received a call. A shop owner was holding two people under the cover of his shotgun as they were trying to break into his house and his children's steal bicycles. He stuck his head out of the first floor window and told them to freeze he had them under the cover of a shotgun. The would be thieves replied they thought the house was empty and proceeded to put the bicycles back. When the owner ducked back into the house to grab the phone to call the emergency number the theives fled. The owner chased them on foot for a couple of blocks. The police showed up forty five minutes later.
The second article told how a local ambulance driver was under arrest. It seems in trying to hurry to a call for help, the ambulance crew encountered a herd of cattle in the middle of the road. The story got muddled at this point as the ambulance turned off their siren. The owner of the cattle got in front of the herd because he was afraid the cattle were getting spooked. They are not sure if the ambulance turned its siren back on to try to get the cattle out of the way or the herd simply was spooked. The owner of the herd was trampled. Not to be mean, but I grew up near cattle and know if they are spooked, ain't no way in hell I am standing in front of them. I can't figure out why the owner thought it was a good idea. The driver of the ambulance remains under suspension and faces a charge negligence and the equivalent of a manslaughter charge.
Just goes to prove the mentality of some people. The one trying to hurry to help someone else here gets stuck and gets into trouble. The thieves hurrying to steal and run away get off scot free. And the police can't make it to the scene of either.
One final bit from the shotgun owner and the theives. When he told the police he had them under the cover of his shotgun and he had two children in the house with him, the police dispatcher replied he should put the gun away for his own safety. After, the newspaper called and asked for a comment. Summing up the mentality of certain police forces here, they replied. "Once the suspects had fled, the caller should have informed us so we could have called off the officers." Yup, makes one wonder doesn't it.
March 10, 2010
Another red card is dropped into my little black mail box telling me I of course missed the mailman and he has a package for me. Of course not being able to deliver the package, they send it to the depot on the edge of the city where I can pick it up for the next seven days. I must admit, I am not sure if this means seven working days or just seven days and I do not feel the need to test this theory. So logging onto the internet and the Royal Mail system, I request my parcel to be delivered to the local post office. This package has went from the main depot to my apartment back out to a depot a few miles away and now is being delivered to the post office six blocks from my apartment. Yup, the English and saving the environment. Anyway, I am sorry to say the package was not my delivery of Reece's peanut butter cups and peanut butter M&M's. Something much more important to a person living abroad.
Leaving work early and catching the train home to pick up my package, I am greatly pleased. I have escaped work, the train is on time and I will make it to the Post Office before it closes. Ok, one more rant. Does the USPS and Royal Mail share ideas? If you are a normal office worker, how do you ever make it to the post office? It opens after you go to work, closes as you are leaving and they always seem to have a holiday to be closed on. But I made it to join the line of twenty to thirty people being served by two cashiers. Holding my red "Sorry we missed you" card and making sure I have my one pound fifty to pay to get the parcel delivered back to anywhere near my apartment, I have time to watch the comings and going of the working English. I count the number of people now in front of me and try to guess which happy cashier I will get to talk to. I watch as the cashier who is dealing with currency exchange get up from her booth because nobody is doing any business with her and go and stand drinking tea. Not my job to help customers unless they want currency exchange. I watch as the supervisor deals with a rowdy customer in the "payment" line who can't understand why if he is from another town twenty miles away with no ID they won't cash a personal check for him made out to his mother. I watch as the supervisor disappears somewhere behind never to be seen again. I watch as another cashier finally opens another window. I see a person walk up to a window in which the cashier had finished with the previous customer but wouldn't talk to the next customer until she had hit her button saying, "Window number 4" over the speaker.
I stood in line until the speaker would call out again at my turn. "Window number 4." Smiling I hand over my card to Sheila.
"Do you have any ID?"
I take out my Minnesota driver's license. Complete with photo, holographic loon reflection and signature.
Sheila looks at my license. She slides it back across the counter under the rabbit hole.
"I am sorry, but that is not acceptable. Do you have any other form of id?"
Now at this point I am thinking this is kid of funny. I have my canceled driver's license which I then hand over to her.
Sheila looks at my second photo id. "I am sorry, this isn't a valid id. Do you have a British driver's license? Passport or bank card (Atm card)?"
I and her my ATM card which has my name printed on the front of it like normal ATM cards.
Sheila looks at the card and hands it back. "I am sorry this isn't signed. I can't accept this. Do you have any other id?"
Now I must admit that I am started to get a little annoyed. I hand her my credit card which has ask for id written on the signature line like most smart people do. Nope, no good. I hand her my book card which is actually signed. Nope, it isn't an acceptable form.
Now I pride myself on the fact I am polite. At this point wen she asked if I have any other form of id, I started to loose my good humor.
"I just gave you two driver's licenses with photos and my signature."
"I am sorry sir, but they are not valid. They are not acceptable as English driver's licenses. They are not even EU standard." Well, duh. I am American with an American driver's license. "Do you have a passport?"
I replied to her. "Yes, I sent it off to be renewed and that is what I am trying to pick up right now." I can't decide whether I should scream, laugh or cry at this point.
"I am sorry sir, but without a valid id, I can't give you the package."
"So none of my ids are good enough, but the id I need to use is in the package I am trying to pick up."
"I am sorry sir, but we need to maintain the security of your parcels. What if we gave them out to just anybody."
Yup, I know this is a big problem in this country. I have the receipt of the package when I mailed it. I have the card with my address and name on it which you left telling me I was out. I have two forms of picture id from another country. I have a wallet full of cards with my matching signature issued in this country. I am telling you what is in the package and I can open it in front of you which will have my passport in it. Yup, big problem with package security here. Obviously, the criminals are much more sophisticated than back in the states. They sure as heck go through a lot of trouble to attempt to steal a package from the local post office.
Sheila gives me a glimmer of hope. "If your bank card was signed, then you could pick up your package."
"So you want me to sign my bank card and then you will give me my package?" Laughter is starting to win the struggle as to what I should do.
"I am sorry, but you will have to leave before you can sign it."
"What? You mean you want me to step out of the line, walk over to the counter where you can see me, sign my card, stand in the line and come back so you can give me my package."
"If you want sir, but I won't be able to serve you. You will have to go to a different window."
"WHAT?" At this point I am actually laughing. I step four feet away, sign my card and step back into line. Back to the watching game. As I progress to the windows again, I count the people in front. I should get window two. Too bad, a lady with a screaming child messed it up. My turn. "Window number 4" announces over the speaker. I really can't stop giggling.
The nice little old lady behind me thought I was one of the most polite people as I let her go in front of me to go to Sheila in window four. I got window two.
The lady asked for my id. I handed her the now signed ATM card. Five minutes later she had to apologize as the package had not been delivered from the depot yet. She must have thought I had lost my marbles as I walked away laughing.
The next day I returned to the post office. I counted the people in line. I counted the cashiers. When it was my turn, the speaker announced, "Window number 4." Laughing as I walked up to the window and slid the "Sorry to have missed you" card through the rabbit hole. "Do you have id?" Sheila took my signed ATM card which I should mention has absolutely no picture on it and got my package from the shelf. Security?? Maybe if she would have asked me to sign for the silly thing once she handed it to me, I might have felt a little better. But then again, she had seen enough of my signatures the previous day she probably could do it as well as I can.
March 06, 2010
Standing at Sunningdale Station in beautiful Berkshire, one station stop from Ascot and only a half an hour from home normally fills me with a joy. If I am standing on the platform, it means normally I am on my way home. I have seen rainstorms, snow, sleet, wind whipped leaves occasionally sunshine, airplanes from Heathrow going and coming, a few sunsets and even the moon and stars as I await the train home.
My friends at Network Rail are one of the simple joys which add to the joy of traveling by train. This is the company which is tasked with the maintenance of the rail lines. A private company not quite owned, but fully subsidized by the British government in order to hide its debts from the accounts of the British nation. No, I do not make this stuff up. If in doubt, check on Wikipedia.
Of course, all of the works of man should need to be maintained and I will not claim the rail lines carrying thousands of people daily should be neglected. I can only question how any group of people can be so inept at scheduling and their ability to carry out the repairs on time for the people who actually use the lines.
Network rail had scheduled repairs for the Reading to London Waterloo line for a Sunday morning. The repair works are between Ascot and Feltham. Makes little difference, but it is about fifteen miles of rail they closed to repair a few hundred feet of track. Well, these are the stations where they have the easiest time to turn the trains around supposedly. Network Rail figured the repair works should run until 3 pm and normal train service should be restored by 3:30 pm at the latest. During this period and up until 4 p.m., they wold operate a bus replacement service for the effected stations.
I arrived at the station at 5p.m. to the station to see the signs still flashing that there were engineering works until 4 and the buses would operate until that time. This is not construed as a good sign.
The guy across the platform was already on the phone to the helpline and hearing his side of the conversation, I was filled with even less good feelings. Here follows his part of the conversation. . .
It seems the repair works were overrunning(as usual) and the help line had lost the buses. They could not tell if any buses were in operation. I know they are supposed to be running until 4p.m. Wait, it is already 5 so are they still running? So can you tell me if there is one or isn't there? He hangs up for some strange reason. Shortly after, a bus going towards London shows up. When those of us waiting for the Reading train ask, the driver can only reply. "I don't know, but you can wait by the side of the road to see if they are going to turn up."
At this point, I decide to try my luck with the help line. Boiled down conversation from their side went something like,
"We are sorry, but the engineering works have overrun. I am afraid there are no buses running. Yes, the next trains are cancelled because they can't get through Feltham. No, I am sorry, but the train crews running the trains from Reading to Ascot have all been stood down, so there is no trains from Ascot until the train from Feltham come through. Well, the next train will coming at 8:29 through Sunningdale. Well, you could go to Ascot and the next train will leave from there at 8:34. Oh, yes, you are right, that is the same as the 8:29. No sir, I can only apologize for your delay." I will leave it to your imagination, but believe it or not, I remained very nice throughout the conversation. She ended very nicely with, "Have a nice evening."
Yes of course I will. I like spending three and a half hours in 28 degree F temperatures waiting for a train that may never actually come because nobody with Network Rail management uses anything aside from their backsides to think with. Yes, I know, I am being bitter.
The train did turn up at 8:33. They were not sure if the next train would be on time or not. "Due to a fault, no real time information can be displayed." Luckily, that message came up around 8p.m. replacing the message that there was going to be engineering works and buses would replace trains until 16:00.
March 04, 2010
One person at work told me I should take a trip to see the castle further up along the coast going east. Confident in my ability to remember items and figuring it could not be that difficult to find, I set off the next day to find this example of British engineering and posterity.
Arriving at the ticket office of the train station, I calmly walked up and said, "I want to go to, oh crap it starts with Ar something."
The ticket seller replied, "Do you mean Angmering?"
"Yep, that sounds about right."
Paying for the ticket, the gentleman even tells me which platform and when the train would arrive. Traveling on the Southern line along part of the south coast of England changing at Barnham. Switching to the connecting train, I watch the rolling English country side and soon, a large castle rises up on a distant hill growing nearer. It looks to be surrounded by a small town and I can see a good sized church nestled with the castle. With my excitement growing, I watched as it went by on the left side of the train. However, the next stop was Angmering, so I figured I couldn't be that far off from my journey of exploration. Leaving at Angmering station, I calmly follow the signs for the town center. Walking for approximately twenty minutes, I reach the city center. I must honestly say, there is a quiet quaint village with a whole lot of nothing there.
It is at this point I see a sign pointing further up the road with a small picture of a castle. Following the sign up the hill thinking the trees and hill must really be blocking my view, I set off again in search of the castle. About a mile later, at a t-intersection in the road, I find a road sign. It is only five miles to Arundel which is of course where the first sign was directing road traffic to the castle. Deciding it was a little beyond my walk capacity for the day, I trudged slowly back down into Angmering vowing to make it to Arundel on my next day off.
When I returned to work the next day, a few people asked me how my trip to Arundel was. I calmly replied, "Oh, I didn't go. I just got on a train and picked a station and then got off and went for a walk." Well, I can say it is at least partially true. Besides, everybody was amazed.
I would make it to Arundel a week or two later enjoying myself greatly. It is only about a ten minute walk at most from the Arundel train station.
On a final note, if you ever do find yourself in Angmering, there is one of the best fish and chip shops in the town center. Maybe I should have claimed my residence in Dorking. . .
Obviously from Arundel Train Station