Monday, 8 July 2013

Будь готов!

In 1908 Lt Gen Robert Baden-Powell (Who you really should have heard of), Hero of the Second Matabele War and possible repressed homosexual,  Wrote a book called 'Scouting for Boys'.  Had it been written more recently, I fear that it would have had slightly different connotations.  But at the time it was a rewrite of some military manuals that B-P (As his friends called him) had written some 20 years previously.

In part 3 of that weighty tome, Beepy (As I liked to call him, during our times of fraternal intimacy) decided that the Scout motto was to be:  BE PREPARED.

Nice, simple, straight to the point... Be prepared for anything that might happen, be aware of the situation, and plan for things that might happen.  It's good advice - I mean he also says that you should also be prepared to give your life for your country and suchlike and he goes off on a bit of a 'Dulce et Decorum est' kick for a bit.  But generally good advice.

Most of us do it, we're aware of danger, we sort through the possible outcomes of our actions and generally plan, using our previous experiences as reference.

This should scale up wouldn't you think?  I mean, if I can look after my two children, out of the kindness of my heart, with the bare minimum of lost limbs and emergency replacement of bodily fluids, then surely... Someone whose job it is to look after something should be able to look after it.

I'm talking, in a roundabout way of course, about the people who look after our transport infrastructure.  The average range of temperatures that we have to put up with in England is somewhere between about 6 and 14 deg C during the year and we get about 3 feet of rain and 1,500 hours of sunshine. Now do you foreign types understand why the English are usually depressed?

So, in the Winter, it snows on the high ground - Which mainly inconveniences people who have chosen to live in places where there's a nice view, or have particularly hard sheep.   You'd expect there to be all kinds of carnage wouldn't you?  But strangely, the people who get hit hardest by this weather tend to plan for it, they drive proper Landrovers (not the new ones that look like that one they designed for the first Judge Dredd movie) - You can tell the people I mean by the way they're always using phrases like 'Southern Softies' and 'This isn't snow - We've not had real snow since 1963'

Then comes the Spring.  Now, two things happen in the spring (Well, a lot of things happen in the Spring, but we're only interested in a couple of them).  In a warm Spring, the snow on the high-ground melts, runs down the mostly granite mountains and quadruples the volume of water that's being dumped into little streams.  These streams carry on as best they can, flowing themselves out to the coast until they hit something man-made, like a canal, or a diverted river that now goes through a town-centre or a housing estate that was built on the cheap on a flood plain by a company more interested in profit than anything else.  So you get a few weeks of news reports showing new Ford Focus' (Because it always seems to be a Ford Focus, or at a pinch, a Renault Laguna) being carried out to sea, and sandbags, and worthy people who can't get insurance sleeping in the local church.

If it's a cold Spring, we get snow on the low ground.  Not Northern Territories of Canada fifteen feet deep snowdrifts, not majestic untrodden snowfields as you might see on the rolling Steppe of whatever we're supposed to call what we used to call Russia now (Probably something with 'Stan' on the end) but about four inches of grey slush that's only really a problem for motorcyclists who've forgotten their waterproofs.  What happens after the first afternoon of snow?  The entire country shuts; Offices close, public transport stops, Electricity pylons are brought down.  Councils complain that they've not bought enough grit and everyone else complains that we should be more like Iceland in our preparedness (But not necessarily in our banking or volcano situations)

Then, as surely as Summer follows Spring... Ah... Perhaps I should have used a different simile there... We have Summer.  A usual English summer is six weeks of moaning about not having a summer, a week and a half of all the red-top newspapers having the words 'Phew!', 'What', 'a' and  'Scorcher' on the front page every day and then eight weeks of people meeting up at random and saying 'Well, I guess that was Summer then.'  Ice-cream sales septuple, as do those for suncream and ironic sunhats.  Everyone who has a caravan makes for the coast, there are a couple of pileups due to inexperienced drivers being hit by crosswinds but it's pretty quiet really.

But there was one thing... On my way into work this morning I heard a traffic report that was about a stretch of road that I use every day being partially closed for emergency maintenance as... Wait for it... ONE OF THE CARRIAGEWAYS HAD MELTED!

British roads are coated in something called Asphalt (or Tarmac...Which you will probably have some spare of and can do a lovely job on my drive, If you happen to be a member of the Irish Travelling community) which has a melting point of about 120 deg C... The temperature yesterday was about 26 deg C. - So, how does that happen?  Well, a lot of asphalt isn't exactly 'new' It gets re-used, melted down, mixed with thinning agents and re-laid.  If you do this on the cheap, it can lead to it taking on the consistency of toffee - Highways Agency doing things on the cheap? Surely some mistake!

Phew! what a Scorcher!

Then Summer rolls into Autumn, and Mother Nature covers the English countryside with a beautiful golden cloak of leaves.  Or, as the rail companies call them, thin sheets of uncontrollable, train-stopping organic matter that bring the country to its knees!  OK, I admit that modern commuter trains have fairly piddly engines, about 800 Bhp or so, but you'd think that there'd be a mechanism for handling the track being a bit slippy, like a brush in front of each set of wheels, or one of those 'cowcatchers' that you see on front of trains in Cowboy films, or an unemployed person strapped to the front with a couple of cheap wallpaper scrapers and a determined expression.

But all these things happen every year, If I can write about them and I'm effectively a know-nothing chancer who lives to make people smile, why can't clever people think about them and solve them before they happen?

This country was called Great Britain for a reason you know, (Actually, they say that it was to distinguish it from Brittany in France... Brittany in this case meaning 'a bit like Britain' - like Irony means 'a bit like iron') And we should go back to those times and resurrect Baden-Powell, he'd have us sorted out in minutes.

For as the great Man said himself, 'To get a hold on boys you must be their friend.'

Actually no, that doesn't really... erm... Oh Bugger-it!

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