Sunday, 30 December 2012

Motorway spray

Motorway spray

Having driven three long journeys in a matter of days, often in very heavy rain, it became apparent that motorway spray was not all it seems.

There are few worse hazards with visibility being significantly reduced. It is particularly bad as large vehicles are overtaken. There is a critical amount of rainfall for spray to be a serious problem. Drizzle and light rain are a nuisance but tolerable.  Steady heavy rain over a couple of hours builds up large flat puddles. Aquaplaning becomes more likely. Experiencing torrential downpours earlier in the year was unpleasant too. At least the ominous black clouds ahead gave advance warning. Even so the impression of driving into a waterfall was disconcerting with rapid braking by most, but not all, on the road.

 The nature of the road surface makes a huge difference too. On the M25 (thankfully not very busy) there were patches where spray was everywhere and then a hundred yards further on there was little, despite the rainfall being constant. A more mottled surface seemed to absorb moisture and had less surface-water. One of the worst stretches was on a new motorway - the M74 extension in Glasgow. This is barely 18 months old and the surface is slick and even - and extremely wet. Speeds were relatively low yet the amount of spray was significantly more than a few miles back. It is clearly possible to design roads - and motorways in particular - to deal with copious amounts of water. So what is going wrong? Is there some sort of compromise with traction and wear? Is it good old cost-cutting?

Finally there are a minority who share the Indian faith in karma. They do not adjust their speed to the conditions. And/or they do not turn their lights on. Hard to believe but true. 

Would such numpties show up on the proposed ‘black box’ scheme to reward safer driving by cheaper insurance bills?

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Water supply Kalimpong, Northern India

Water Supply Kalimpong...

All those fools who say the free market solves all problems should consider the calamity that is the Kalimpong water supply. Kalimpong is a hill town in the foothills of the Himalaya. It has a monsoon climate so it rains extremely hard from late June until September. Being on top of a hill there are problems of water storage. Water tanks have been built but there are too few and they are not sufficient. Those who can afford it (hotels and businesses) import water in large plastic tanks on the back of trucks. 

The residents and many small businesses rely on their own initiatives which produces a water supply system which is quite astonishing. This involves running a personal pipeline from a source further up the hill. All of these pipes then run alongside the road down the hill as can be seen here.

At times the pipes divert to run downhill into several properties.Unfortunately, because the pipes are exposed to the open air - and trucks, people, cars, bikes etc - they tend to leak - a lot. So even though water is scarce and precious the residents lose a lot. The supply is limited to a few minutes a day in the run up to the next monsoon.

Here pipes are lifted to go over a driveway - again putting pressure on joints and links. 

It is seen as normal and wherever a steady leak is running people gather with buckets and containers to collect whatever they can. 

At some point someone will come along and argue for a collective solution involving installing a water main and pipes running off to properties. But that will involve a co-operative approach and that is clearly anathema. So the madness continues. 

This is me signing off for a couple of days - have a good Christmas and should you be unfortunate enough to suffer from the downpours - consider Kalimpong.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Mumbai Test Match 23rd - 26th November 2012

Not bad for my first test match in India

Somewhat apprehensive approaching this match. England had been soundly beaten in the first test at Ahmedabad. This followed on from losing all three tests against Pakistan in Dubai earlier in the year. The omens were not good. Dhoni the Indian captain had asked for a test pitch which was a ‘rank turner’ with a view to making it more suitable for his team. 

Tickets had been obtained two days earlier from what seemed to be a reinforced garden shed by the side of the Mumbai Hockey Association stand. This was adjacent to the Wankhede stadium. Communicated by mime and gesture to get tickets which were hopefully high up and in the shade. Obtained two for the Sachin Tendulkar stand. Not really sure whether the tickets were correct. 

Arrived at the ground 45 minutes before the start. A queue of about 50 metres fed into a complex riprap-shaped concoction for security checks. It was almost the 4th anniversary of the attack on Mumbai by Al Qaida terrorists trained in Pakistan. Just to ratchet up the tension even further, the surviving captive had been hung earlier in the week. There were a lot of armed police and armoured cars about. Even so, the entry process was ponderous in the extreme. Among items that were verboten were newspapers and magazines, cigarettes and lighters/matches, cameras, radios, food, drink and anything that could remotely be used as a weapon. English fans were mainly allowed to take small bags in whilst Indian fans were far more rigorously challenged. A small heap of bags and banned materials grew by the entrance. 

As the queue ground snail-like into the stadium there were roars from those inside which only served to add to the sense of frustration at the delay. Eventually after being frisked at least five times the hike to the top of the stadium began. Officious officials met spectators at the head of the top of the stairs. The ground was barely one-sixth full although there were still large queues outside. India were 15-1. Jimmy Anderson had struck with his second ball. This was only revealed much later when the days highlights were played on the tv back at the hotel. Information within the stadium was paltry. No scorecard, no programme and very little information on the scoreboard or on the advertising hoarding which masqueraded as a ‘big screen’. There was no information about the England team - only the batting side were listed. It took some time to identify unfamiliar players in the distance and determine who had been included and who left out. The seats we had been allocated were in the sun, so alternatives higher and shadier were chosen. No-one objected. 

One man quickly made his presence very evident. Monty Panesar had been left out of the first test team. A selection howler. Here he made it clear just how much of a howler by bowling Sehwag early in his spell and then shortly afterwards sending back God (aka Sachin Tendulkar) with a cracking delivery which pitched on leg and middle and flattened his off stump. Cue much distress amongst the Indian faithful. Monty continued to bowl really well and with support from Graham Swann the Indian batsmen struggled to post sizeable partnerships losing wickets steadily. Pujara was an exception to his batting colleagues. Calm, methodical and assured, he gave a batting masterclass in how to cope with a difficult wicket. Watching him through good binoculars was a delight. His technique could have been filmed for a coaching lesson in playing the turning ball. 

Dhoni had his wish for a rank turner. Because Pujara, and latterly Ashwin, batted so well, it was not easy to assess what a good score was going to be. The odd ball turned and bounced and stock deliveries turned. How would England cope? The large dark brown Pariah Kites wheeling around above the ground ominously resembled vultures....

Pujara had strong support from Ashwin so India closed on 266-6. 

Thanks to further security idiocy and appalling crowd management, the gate used yesterday had a queue of almost 7000 people waiting to get in. At least they had the sight of an elephant walking sedately down the main road past the queue. Fortunately there was another gate available round behind the stadium. A five minute walk lead to a queue of barely 50 people. No attempt was made by ‘the authorities’ to address this imbalance. 
The morning belonged to England as they bowled India out for 327. Panesar 5-129 and Swann 4- 70. Pujara out for 135 for the first time in the series, stumped Pryor, bowled Swann. England made a cautious and slow response with Cook and Compton both using their full reach to smother  potentially spinning balls on the half-volley. Runs were gathered at barely 2 per over and this stately progression continued into the sixties. It was very tense with odd balls spitting, turning and bouncing. Compton was unlucky to get an edge to one of these ‘devil’ balls. He was followed swiftly by Trott who failed to read a non-spinning ball and was plumb LBW. More tension, especially as ‘KP’ was on his way to the crease. In the last test - the first since his re-integration - he had played poorly, and admitted that his head had been scrambled with all the commotion. The Indian fans were willing him to show his particular talents - but they also wanted him out. 

From the moment he took guard this was a different Pietersen. Solid, assured and commanding, he struck his first ball for 4 through the covers and then proceeded to score at almost a run a ball. He played shots all around the wicket and it quickly became clear that he was in the mood. With Cook lifting his pace a touch in response - they both benefitted from the left hand/right hand combination - the score rattled along. At the close of day two, England were 178-2.

Ignoring the first very busy entrance and nipping round the back meant there was little trouble queuing. Cook and Pietersen continued to build a terrific partnership of 204. Calm steady accumulation was accompanied by brilliance and audacity in a thrilling and riveting watch. When Cook was finally out for a splendid 122, Pietersen chased after him and caught him up as he was halfway off the ground to give him a very big hug. It spoke volumes.

The game then took an odd turn as KP continued to score steadily at one end and his partners struggled at the other. Bairstow fell to a close catch (off the fielder’s helmet so technically not out, but who needs DRS anyway?) and Patel followed soon after to another lifting turning ball. Once KP was out for a wonderful 186, only Pryor managed to reach double figures as the tail disappointingly (and predictably) collapsed for 413 giving a lead of 86. With England having to bat last on what was expected to be a deteriorating surface, had they thrown away a golden chance? 


The afternoon/evening session continued to provide the English in the crowd with more thrills and excitement. Yet again England’s spinners showed that not only were they better than their Indian counterparts, the Indian batsman were struggling to cope with them. Pujara was given out caught at short leg off his forearm - another dead cert for a DRS review. God failed again and the crowd became more and more subdued as wickets fell at regular intervals. India were 117 for 7 at the close - in effect 31 for 7!

A word about the crowd. It is quite astonishing that so many turn up to watch test cricket although the ground was only ever half full at its maximum. The BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) have their eyes and their bank balances resting on the IPL. They do little to enhance the watching experience. The police in the stadium are particularly hostile towards Indian fans, very officious and unpleasant. Whenever Tendulkar approaches a stand; which is quite regular as he is not a fast mover these days, so he is put out to graze in the outfield. There is an immediate and almost hysterical response from the fans. They roar their appreciation, chant his name and swarm down the terraces to the metal netting surrounding the ground. The police then usher them back - sometimes using their Lhati’s (sticks). Despite all this, the young fans in particular chant and sing with occasional bursts of rhythmic drumming. (How do they get drums in when so much is not allowed...?)

It all makes for a terrific atmosphere - particularly when English wickets are falling. It must be very daunting walking out to the middle with that roar building to a crescendo as the bowler runs in. There is one highly annoying feature of the tv coverage which jarred. A cameraman is designated to wander through the stands taking reaction shots of the crowd. Cue one bunch of (mainly) young men going bananas irrespective of how their team are doing. On a par with the Mexican Wave numpties.

The following morning saw England roll the tail over and bowl India out for 142. Monty 6-81, Swann 4-43. The target of 56 was reached in 9 overs as both Cook and Compton went after the bowling from the start and scored at 6 an over. 

Result: a 10 wicket win for England and one of their finest in their roller-coaster history.

Anguished deconstruction on Indian tv channels was delectably relishable as the failings of the Indian team were pored over. Dhoni’s request for ‘rank turner’s’ was seen as an own goal of monumental proportions and simply ‘not cricket’. 

Oh yes it was. It was a stunning about face from the first test. It was also cricket played brilliantly by England, especially man-of-the-match Pietersen and Cook, Panesar and Swann. 

Sunday, 16 December 2012


The right to bear arms is enshrined in the US Constitution. At the time of its creation the nation had been born of revolt from an overseas power. The role of a militia had been crucial in the move to independence. Given a degree of prescience, would a rational, intelligent, founding father, knowing what we know now,  still include the fatal clause - the right to bear arms - in the final draft? How would they react to some accurate crystal-ball gazing?

Would they approve of over-the-counter sales of assault rifles and automatic guns? Would they feel that the situation existing today is unsupportable and actually constitutes a threat to the health and well-being of the society? How would they react to the knowledge that half of the world’s guns are in the US with a population barely 5% of the total in the world? What would they think about the inertia at the heart of government as shooting massacre after sniper massacre after school massacre follow each other. Would they not look at each other in disbelief that a movement created in struggle should end up with a licence for crazy people to do maximum harm?

Would those sane scions of the enlightenment welcome the way that so many sleazy politicians have been bought off by a powerful gun lobby thereby enabling even more massacres to take place? 

Would those supporters of secular governance approve of fundamentalist baptists holding a ‘thank you God’ ceremony at the site of the latest massacre? And would they approve of the way the mainstream church denounces the evil but does not condemn
 rampant gun ownership? 

Knowing what we know now - wouldn’t these intelligent rational and sane citizens go back to the drawing board and rip up sections of the Constitution?

In particular, the madness that is the right to bear arms. 

Barmy beyond belief.

And these irrational, inadequate, sleazy, so-called democrats, dare to lecture the rest of the world about values. 

Time to take a long hard look in the mirror.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Indian Roads and Driving

Indian Roads and Driving!
To sit in the middle of a shape-shifting mass of vehicles is quite something. Our driver said, “There are no rules.” Not completely accurate. Traffic generally drives on the left - apart from the times that they don’t. 

Most vehicles are small - many are tiny, Rickshaws, Bicycle carriers and men with huge bundles of sticks or straw on their heads wobbling along on ancient sit-up-and-beg boneshakers. Lane discipline is unheard of. Taxis particularly intrude their way between and through lanes. A blockage in the road as someone waits to turn right results in a string of cars simply turning in to the lane alongside irrespective of whether any other vehicles are there. All this is achieved with loud blasts on the horn. Our roads are massively underused compared to Indian ones. Where we are content to have a single lane of cars, the Indians will have three or even four lanes, tesselating together as a semi-homogenous mass. Buses and trucks, being so much larger, tend to get their own way. 

One of the more astonishing sights - and there is plenty of competition - is that of a bus stopping in the middle lane of a 3 lane highway to let people on and off. When the traffic is at a standstill this is not a problem. It also happens when the traffic is flowing fast and free. The bus stops suddenly. Following vehicles swerve to avoid it, and the passengers who get off in front of them. While we were in India, there was a report of a bus driver being arrested after two of his passengers were killed in exactly those circumstances. It appeared to make no difference to the practice which is widespread. 

Another doozy was to meet a taxi reversing back towards oncoming traffic off a highway sliproad - on a bend. Our driver avoided the taxi as though this was commonplace. Taxi drivers are something else. They negotiate their way through a three dimensional melee without the use of wing-mirrors (they have been knocked off in earlier scrapes). They seem to have a sixth sense of where traffic around them is going and switch their position frequently to make progress. Countless near-misses and 

Lorries and trucks frequently carry forlorn messages such as ‘Obey the Rules’ or ‘Drive safely’. Many carry the totally unnecessary plea to ‘Blow Horn.’ Many drivers have two horns: one a little blipper which is used semi-continuously to warn vehicles and pedestrians of their presence. The other is the blaster to be used when things get serious. 
Approaching busy junctions resembles a giant free-for-all. And amongst the chaos stroll pedestrians......

Many Indians believe in Karma or fate. If it is their destiny to be knocked over at a busy junction then so be it. For it is written. They insouciantly wander through a veritable minefield with nary a care. They die in their droves. But it is written...

One particularly horrific story came from a poor rural area. People exist by the side of main trunk roads. A 5-year-old boy was knocked over by a truck and killed. Several other trucks then continued to run over the remains of the boy. Locals called in the police who did not want to know. Eventually they staged a blockade of the road and the flattened remains of the unfortunate victim were removed by his family. The truck driver who killed the boy drove off and was not apprehended. Drivers do not stop because they would be attacked and possibly killed by the natives....

Road surface conditions vary enormously. We travelled over roads that were as good as anything in the UK. Unfortunately these were few and far between. The majority of roads resemble old time dancing. Smooth, smooth, crap, crap smooth. And the crap are really bad. Craters, collapsed gullies, grids missing or broken. This has the obvious and dangerous effect that vehicles traveling in opposite directions try and occupy the ‘better’ parts of the road - even though this may be on the wrong side of the road for them.

It all makes journeys never dull, often fascinating and occasional scary. Very scary.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

India - what a shituation!

Just returned from a three -week visit. The main purpose was to watch the test matches in Mumbai and Kolkata. They were an experience of such wonder and intensity that they will live with me while I remain sentient. 
Alongside the truly incredible and the wonderful in India there runs a parallel world which is squalid and filthy. Unfortunately there are times when the degradation and squalor are brutally close. 
Here is one email sent to the Times of India - a quality newspaper costing the princely sum of about 6p. 

It is with amazement and dismay that I write. A country with Space Age aspirations has an Achilles heel. The statistic that the slum-dwellers of Mumbai - home to one of the biggest slums in the world - have to share one toilet between 25,000 inhabitants left me shocked and appalled. To see men (in particular) squatting by the roadside or train track to complete a bowel movement in both urban and semi-rural districts was further evidence of there being something rotten in the heart of India. 

Not just rotten but deeply stupid too. Flies do not discriminate between excrement and food. Nor do they discriminate between rich and poor, educated and ignorant. Flies spread disease. This is not news.

It beggars belief that a country with its eyes on space has done so little for great swathes of its population on the ground. Universal sanitation is a clear example of a common good. It is shaming to report that those with the wherewithal seem so dilatory in providing it. Will it take a mass epidemic affecting rich and poor for reason to prevail?

Bio-toilets are not only relatively cheap and hygienic, they do not need expensive treatment plants and pipelines. They also produce power for cooking and lighting. 

Is it asking too much to ensure that sanitation is available to all in India in the 21st Century?