Tag Archives: transport

My First Automatic Driving Lessons

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I have been learning to drive for over two years.

I booked my first lesson after I was unable to get to a friend’s wedding. It would have been easy to drive there and surely wouldn’t have cost the £40 taxi ride in petrol. The fare was fine but I was weak, wheezing and coughing every 5 minutes, so they probably wouldn’t have been able to hear their vows.

Two months ago my exasperated instructor suggested I try an automatic car which does not have gears. After asking whether I was ready occasionally, I was delighted to do a mock test and get no serious errors. You only have to get one serious error to fail and I would regularly get three. Something clicked and I put into practice what I had learnt. I had booked my test for this month. But as time went on and it got closer to the test and we started talking about it, my skills slipped. I had a lesson a month ago where I couldn’t work out what had gone wrong. I knew how to drive so why wasn’t I able to? It was really grinding my gears.

I called a driving school and asked for an automatic driving lesson. If you pass on an automatic you can’t drive a manual car. I was warned that the cars are more expensive to tax and use more fuel. After I accepted this briefing I was given the number of the instructor. I would recommend checking the website first as I was not told about a special offer and I didn’t know that an electric car was available.

“There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car. It happened so quickly I couldn’t process it.”

I was very nervous about my first lesson because I have heard of so many accidents and been part of one as a passenger. We were leaving the pavement. We looked past a parked car and the road was clear, so mum drove out. There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car speeding past.

He stopped a car length and a half down the road with a scratched door. It had happened so quickly I couldn’t process it. Mum noticed that the man said “got to go, I’ll call you later” as he dropped his phone into the door pocket, before coming over to get insurance details. Dad spoke about the driver who rammed a parked car outside our house last week while on the phone to his girlfriend. He hit the car with such force that a wheel came off and bits of bumper and brake light were scattered on the road. He called the police but as no one was hurt they didn’t press charges. A friend of a friend was coming out of a junction and a sign was blocking her view. She looked past the sign and the road was clear. She then entered the road and hit and killed a motorcyclist. Another of mum’s friends accidentally reversed into her dad, breaking his legs.

Finally, there was the driver the year above me at school  who killed her friend. She had just passed her driving test and her A levels. She reportedly went over a hill up the road from us too fast and lost control of the steering, hitting a brick wall next to the road. Her friend in the passenger seat had just passed her A levels and had a place at university. When I started sixth form the common room was quiet and sombre. That is why I didn’t drive at 18.

I live on a bus route to the city so I was able to get most places without needing to ask for a lift or get a taxi. In London the public transport is so good that there is no need. However, the buses to the Peak District only stop at the villages and are once an hour so it would be lovely to go somewhere off the main roads at a time that is convenient for my friends.

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The instructor got out and shook hands. I got into the driving seat and panicked. There was no third pedal, there was one massive one and one smaller one. ABC so that was the brake and the clutch. I couldn’t see past the car in the mirrors, the steering wheel and the pedals were too far away and I didn’t know how to adjust them. I couldn’t do the cockpit drill of making sure the car was set to my specifications.

The instructor was bemused. He knew I had driven for two years and I was sitting there doing nothing. “So, what do you do first?” he prompted. I told him and he waited for me to sort things out. I explained that this car was different from the Vauxhall Astra I’d driven previously and I didn’t know what to do. He smiled and helped. “What do you do next?” he prompted. “Put the clutch down and put it into…” I replied before I remembered that there was no clutch and no first gear, just a gear-stick. What did you do with it?

He demonstrated that you flicked the gear left to put it in gear and right to put it in neutral. He demonstrated that he had added plastic additions to the wheel to allow you to switch to manual if necessary. I frowned at the extra confusion this might cause and was relieved when he said we wouldn’t need them.

The ignition was higher up in this car and the key was in a different direction, so I wasn’t sure which way was on. The instructor had to show me how to switch the engine on. I was so embarrassed I struggled to remember the handbrake and indicator. The instructor wanted to laugh but smiled politely instead.

I hadn’t come out of the drive before but had only left from the side of it, so I did have a brief flashback of our collision, especially as we had just been talking about it. I nervously sat higher in the seat as I scanned the edge of the road on both sides quickly a couple of times before pressing the accelerator gingerly, inching out. He indicated and off we went.

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The accelerator required a steady and increased push to increase speed and the brake was really responsive. The slightest touch and the car would slow quicker than expected. I stabbed it gingerly, jerking the car to a quick stop instead of a slow gradual one. He said “I like to push my students so I might get you to do manoeuvres you aren’t that comfortable with.” “That’s fine”, I said. I had no idea what that would entail but I was about to find out.

At first the instructor was quiet. It was quite a change from my last instructor, who was chatty. I felt like I was being tested, which made me more nervous but I wasn’t driving as badly as anticipated. Or at least it didn’t feel like I was, until he said “mirrors…..mirrors….do you know what MSM means? No switch that off, what haven’t you done?……did you look in your mirrors?…..and then I heard a sigh. But I still forgot to check the mirrors before signalling. Embarrassed, I apologised again. I needed to get out of that habit for my instructor’s sanity.

After about an hour I did a few successful checks. His repetition had paid off. Then he said “I’ll give you instructions from now on.” I still drove like an idiot. I knew what to do, I was just driving like a boy racer. He said “what’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?”. “50” I replied, checking my speedometer. That was fine. He directed me on a roundabout to the start of a dual carriageway. I expected to go off but we kept on it until the speed limit was 60. I felt surprisingly comfortable doing 50 but was quite nervous about 60. It felt like the first time I went above 30 and felt like I was flying. I slowed as we approached a roundabout and I didn’t know what lane so I guessed and then indicated and changed into the correct one.  He asked how I knew what lane to go in and I told him how I went in the left for the first and second exist and right for the third onwards. He directed us around multiple roundabouts until I started to feel more confident. Then I was coming up to a roundabout when he said “what lane do we need to be in?” I guessed that I was in the wrong one. “I don’t know” I replied. “Look at the road markings” he said. I looked ahead and couldn’t see anything further in front. “Look further down” he said. There it was. I was in the wrong lane again.

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Then I saw a car coming towards me on the roundabout and drove forward. I was on autopilot thinking about how I was in the wrong lane and I didn’t think about anything else. The instructor braked for me and looked at me, scared.

“What would have happened if you’d gone out then?”

“I would’ve crashed.”

“Yes you would have gone straight into that car coming towards us. Why did you do that?”

I paused. Why did I? I won’t be doing that again. It was like the first time I went on a dual carriageway with my first instructor (I’m on my third) who also liked to push his pupils. I thought I could turn the indicator off with the wheel at 50 miles an hour. I was surprised as we almost swerved into an oncoming car and my instructor grabbed the wheel with lightning reactions.

“You did three dangerous” the instructor announced. “I’ll drive us back”. Now it was my turn to sigh. I was never going to be able to drive. Ever.

“I can get you passing by the end of November” the instructor said. Well, maybe there was hope on the horizon. If I could just drive towards it safely and slowly enough.

On the way back the instructor imitated my driving a little until I giggled uncontrollably. He looked at me. “What?”. Realising that I could laugh at myself and wouldn’t be offended, he proceeded to show me what I was like. “I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.” He smiled.

Nana Joan with my second cousin, Maliko.

Nana Joan with my second cousin Maliko.

I saw that I was driving with my arms stretched stiffly in front of me, my eyes mostly fixed ahead, occasionally looking down my nose at the door mirror as if I was looking down through spectacles and then quickly staring ahead again, then occasionally flicking my eyes to the other mirror. I was jerking the brake in a stop/start manner,scared-learner-driver-main holding the wheel gingerly with the edge of my fingers, flicking it to make it turn. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” The instructor said, bemused again. “Do you have a grandma?” he asked. “Yes” I said, smiling at the memory of Nana Joan in New Zealand, with her kind eyes, wide smile, curly brown hair (she still hasn’t gone grey at 89, I hope I have those genes) and laughter lines. “Would you drive like this with your grandma in that seat?” he asked, jerking the car to a halt repeatedly. “No.” I replied. I also had a bad habit of looking at my instructor when he was talking. “Eyes on the road please!” he reminded me.

My instructor explained that he used to be a taxi driver and that when he took the instructor’s test he realised how shocking his driving was. He said he passed second time because he was too cocky the first time and didn’t show the instructor that he was looking in the mirrors.

“I got honked at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.”

I thought he wouldn’t want to see me again, after moaning about how a student nearly damaged his car, but he later said that he enjoyed the challenge of teaching me.

At the start of the next lesson the instructor had me reversing out of a drive onto the main road. I was terrified but I was driving under his instruction and at snail speed. That was smoothly done, as was a turn in the road. However, I went off a roundabout into the wrong lane and the instructor corrected me. I got beeped at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.

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Later, when I went to change lanes I thought I had space to move in front of an oncoming car and I didn’t. I forgot that I didn’t have the right of way and expected the oncoming car to slow down for me. Not so fast. Taking time to judge distance and the rules of the road is more important than speed. Having road experience from being a cyclist I drive defensively in that almost every time I am on the road as a (mostly safe) driver or a passenger I witness dangerous driving and therefore I expect the worse.

Every driver should be a cyclist to get experience of what it is like to be a vulnerable road user having to go into the flood of traffic to turn right or trying to turn in front of you into side roads. I see dangerous drivers much more often than dangerous cyclists. I expect a driver to emerge from a side road without looking. This almost happened today and my mum was ready for it, swerving and beeping (only to announce her presence of course). I now even expect a car to park in the middle of the road on a blind bend.

If you are struggling to learn on a manual try automatic lessons. It should make you a safer driver and automatic cars are the future.

In a new suburb being planned in London I learnt that the area is being planned around driverless cars picking up and dropping off passengers. Just when I was getting used to the idea of Uber taxis, technology advances yet again. If I still can’t pass my test I will wait for the new dawn of driverless cars.

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Filed under Advice, Cycling, Driving, Uncategorized

A Sporting Weekend – The Yorkshire Tour

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On Sunday leafy Yorkshire was invaded by the French for the first time since the Norman invasion.

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Even our local newspaper was taken over, with a commentator yelling “speciale edition of ze Yourkshe post!”.

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A mannequin on a roof.

We arrived early in the morning in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. There were ancient stone houses and farmers’ fields everywhere and the smell of cut grass lingered in the air.

Parking spaces were already filling up on verges of the narrow country bridges and pavements. There was a festival atmosphere with many of the crowd in yellow, many already lining the route including the BBC.

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Quite a lot of people had camped overnight to get the top spots. Copyright literarylidi

We walked up one long steep hill. I pitied the Tour de France riders who would have to climb it. If it was me I would certainly get off and walk.

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We passed a field with numerous food stalls from hog roasts to Carribbean food to the local brewery stalls and then on to the Portacabin cess pits, although at this early stage they were still fairly hygienic.

Any stalls advertising coffee had lines of caffeine addicts desperately awaiting their morning fix. My boyfriend’s friends spent about an hour in it for theirs.026

A sausage sandwich was necessary for the wait. We found a bit of the verge that had been left as it was narrow and established our territory. With just crisps and chit-chat we whiled away the hours until lunch – a picnic. All the while spectators streamed past up the hill, desperate for a patch of grass to claim.

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A lot of people had cycled there including a lady in a polka-dot dress. A mother produced giant chalks and her children drew all over the road with them, including her. She seemed to be enjoying it more than them.134

Then just half an hour before the event began a large lady with small dark eyes close to her nose, her skinny older husband with parchment skin from years of nicotine abuse and their whiny little boy were walking in the road and stopped at us.

The mother eyed us up and decided we were soft targets.

“Do you mind if we stand here, we’ll stand behind you and won’t cause any trouble” she said aggressively.050

It was more an order than a question and without waiting for an answer she shoved herself and her family between us. We ignored them so she continued her tirade:

“don’t see why they mind, we’ve got as much right to be here as they have, it’s a free country, it’s not like they own the land. Anyway I don’t see why they’re sitting down” she glanced at me indignantly “there’d be a lot more space for other people if they stood up.”

Her husband timidly intervened “they might have been waiting here for many hours.” She relented slightly “well they may have but why shouldn’t we stand here as well, we’re standing behind them and we aren’t gonna cause any trouble are we?” she said to her offspring, who about ten minutes later started whining “is it gonna start yet? mummy when’s it gonna start? it’s been aaages! I’m bored!”

“Play with your sword then” the space offender suggested and her son started thrashing his plastic sword and shield about at spectators.

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The procession of police and gendarmes began at around 3 with continuous sirens and beeps. Then came the marketing cars and floats throwing out freebies. They were not as generous with them as I would have liked and of 121course most of them went to the boy beside us. But I imagined to get a cow keyring with some French on it. They were mostly floats for French companies but some were international. One had massive drinks on and ice cubes, a car sported a plastic bottle of wine the length of the roof:

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and there was a gym van with people on exercise bikes racing away.

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There was a van covered in cheese and one with meat advertising a French supermarket that we also shopped at in Turkey of all places.

Then there was a constant stream of police landrovers, motorbikes and cars with thin dainty racing bikes on. I started to feel a little sick at the amount of taxpayer money inevitably funding all those police, who were more needed along the route. Occasionally our stewart shouted “get behind the white line” but often forgot, so some people were nearly taken out by wing mirrors.

The crowd became more and more excited, with Mexican waves rippling about.

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Three generations in eager anticipation. Copyright literarylydi

Finally it was the race we’d all been waiting for. A helicopter swooping low overhead heralded their arrival.168

We heard the cheers rippling further and further up the hill as the police escort heralded the arrival of the leanest meanest cycling machines in Europe if not the world.

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I was expecting them to look exhausted but their matchstick muscle legs seemed to propel them effortlessly past, with not even a drop of sweat flying off onto us in the front row.They were almost sitting back in the saddle admiring the crowds, who surged forwards almost into the road. There was no steward to be seen and one guy stepped into the path of a competitor and he had to swerve around.

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I was absorbed in the atmosphere and in my camera, experimenting with the different effects.

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Then came the middle group really working, most standing up and leaning forward, smiling as the spectators shouted and screamed.

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The crowds were going crazy for it! Copyright literarylydi

 

 

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It was a Lycra line of calf muscles bulging out like biceps. I was unaware that the British cyclist had already passed as no one had acknowledged him in the fly-past.

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Then came the stragglers and this time I could just make out rivers of sweat running down their face in the 20 degree humid heat, having climbed at least 500 metres of torturous hilly bends. An ambulance whizzed past with its lights on.

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There was a pause and then everyone went into the road and started heading home, moving baby steps for about half an hour, when suddenly police cars and bikes parted the crowd and one straggler acknowledged the crowd with a wide grin as he palely inched past us in yellow.

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He even manages to raise a smile despite being crowded in. Copyright literarlydi

Then in true Yorkshire style, it began to rain as we headed to the car.

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Cyclist heading home in the downpour.

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We spent hours in a traffic queue overlooking the beautiful open countryside as Tour wannabes whizzed by.

On the way back I saw some “tourmakers” having a consultation in their frog green outfits.

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Would I go again? I doubt it. We waited hours and hours for about 15 minutes of cyclist champions but I don’t regret it because of  the sheer excitement and energy of the event.

When we got home we watched Lewis Hamilton win the Grand Prix which finished our grand day out nicely.

 

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July 10, 2014 · 9:00 pm

Introducing Turgutreis

My journey to Turkey started with a trip down to London as we were flying from Luton airport.

To get there I took a bus, two trains, two tubes, a train and then another bus. This was easy to do as links in London are pretty efficient, not as provincial as up North, where bus drivers take breaks every 15 minutes to read The Metro.

It was once I got to the airport that I experienced delay – our plane was late coming in and then this happened next to it…

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The oil spill delayed us by an hour. Green powder was spread all over it and then it was brushed up before we could depart.

When we finally got to Bodrum-Milas airport in Turkey we were tired and I was hungry (I am usually hungry). We got our taxi to the hotel, which was probably the most expensive part of our holiday at 80 Lira each. You divide by about 3 for Sterling so this was about £27 for an hour’s journey to our hotel in Turgutreis. The first thing we noticed was that almost everyone smoked. Our car reeked of it.

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Our hotel was lovely, having been built on the site of an old hotel only a year or two before. It was very modern and featured a spa, indoor and outdoor pool and private pier which we later jumped off to go snorkelling. But tonight I needed dinner before bed. Luckily there was a family-run outdoor diner just next to the hotel. I had some kebabs bursting full of flavour next to a Turkish family who were having dinner with their little one at about midnight.

 

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The next morning after a great sleep I opened the curtain to heaven on earth. Before us was the light blue of the pool and just in front of that the darker blue of the sea framed by the sun blazing down from the bright sky. I went onto the balcony and was dazzled. The light was so bright that my camera malfunctioned and all the pictures that day came out white. We spent most of that day getting accustomed to the brightness, squinting British tourists sweating in the sunlight.

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We thought we’d take in the local village and the new culture. It was a 15 minute walk away and we could walk along the seafront to get there.

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We saw lots of dogs and a few cats, both pets and strays.

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We passed a lot of cafes and restaurants with shouts of “hey bella take a look at our menu” “hello how are you English?”.

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Turkish delight

We also went down a street with tourist tack shops and also a bakers and tailors. The tailors was very busy with many alterations being made on the spot.

 

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Bougainvillea brought bursts of colour to the white buildings.

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I had some ice cream made of natural fruit juices, pistachio and blackcurrant. The locals were very friendly and cheerful.

We walked past the empty expensive shops in the harbour, admiring the tiled walls and the figureheads of Turgut Reis – the sailor who gave the village its name.

 

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After that we spotted the villlage mosque in front of a McDonalds and headed for it.

We weren’t sure whether we would be allowed in but it appeared that all was welcome. We were both wearing long dresses so we took off our shoes, donned scarves and entered an oasis of calm. There was one big carpet on the floor divided into sections for prayer and lots of beautiful tiling and chandeliers, with a big one hanging from the high elaborately painted dome in the centre.

 

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It was empty apart from some scholars buried in their books in the corner, prayer beads in hand. We took care to be quiet and had a rest there for a while. We heard later that the mosque had only been built about 5 years before.

On the way back we went to the supermarket to get lunch. There was fresh fish by the entrance and a man was picking out what he wanted for about £7.

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Then there was a vast array of fruit and vegetables piled up and further down were dried fruit and nuts of all varieties.

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On our way back we saw plenty of statues and flags with Ataturk (or “father of the Turks”). Ataturk was an army officer and the Republic of Turkey’s first president who ruled unchallenged from 1923 until 1945. He was responsible for wide-ranging social and political reform to modernise Turkey. These reforms included the emancipation of women and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. He briefly made the fez the compulsory national headdress and people faced heavy fines if they wore a turban. He was and still is treated almost like a religious figure, with one portrait description even describing him as “immortal”. In almost every city there is a statue of him.

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After filling our bags with local delicacies we headed back to our hotel for some sunbathing on the pier. The next day we planned to go over the border to Kos in Greece.

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June 1, 2014 · 8:55 pm

The journey to Istanbul and our First Night

I hadn’t even thought about the train journey. But it was just my luck that there were gale-force winds. When I got to the station many trains were cancelled or delayed.

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There were crowds of people staring at the boards in desperation, or anxiously chatting into their mobile phones. I assumed the worst, but scanning down I saw my train was at least running and only delayed by five minutes. I had set off at a perfectly respectable hour, 2pm. I even had time for a haircut and colour and had made the split decision to go brunette. I wasn’t sure of it, but the styling was good. By the time I got to London my train had been delayed by half an hour and my boyfriend had already had dinner.

When we got to the airport hotel I was suitably impressed; it was the sort that had Kettle Chips in the vending machine.

The next morning we were up at 7am which was easy enough. From there we drove to the cheap car park my boyfriend had booked online and then took a transfer bus the short distance to the airport. I hadn’t been to Gatwick before and was pleased with the variety of shops on offer. It wasn’t hard to choose where to have breakfast – Jamie Oliver had a restaurant there, which was a pleasant surprise. I expected only low-calorie options after his drive for healthy meals and so was astounded that a “full English” was on the menu. 019

After that I felt as heavy as my cabin bag, which luckily made it on to the plane with 0.2kg to spare for souvenirs on the way back.

We flew by Turkish Airlines and they were excellent, with complimentary Turkish Delight of course. I read my pocket guide book and phrase book and attempted to test my boyfriend, but he had no interest in it and said they’d speak English anyway. He was probably right but I wanted to make an effort. I then leafed through the book that had almost taken me over the 8kg limit: “Strolling Through Istanbul”, a fascinating guide book of the history and attractions of Istanbul. Unfortunately sometimes there was so much detail that I found myself reading the same paragraph multiple times. It all blurred into one literally as I found myself getting tired. 023 As we arrived four hours later, we flew low across the entire city. On emerging from the clouds we first passed long lines of hills illuminated purple in the sunset. Then as we got closer I caught glimpses of domes and minarets, even getting a picture of the Haggia Sophia (pronounced “Aya Sofya” in Turkish) and the suspension bridges criss-crossing the Bosphorous. It was magical.

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View of Haggia Sophia from the plane. Originally a church and built around 500AD, it rises majestically into the air. From the ground its minarets appear to touch the clouds.

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The Bosphorous

However we were brought sharply down to earth (and not just on the runway) when we tried to get out of the airport. It took us a while to find  the subway as there were not many signs until you had actually reached it. Then we assumed they would have ticket offices. No, there were only machines, and they didn’t take anything less than 10 Lira. This was a bit of a problem, we only had 100 Lira notes.

I sleepily suggested going back into the airport and buying something, at which my boyfriend pointed to the queue of disgruntled travellers waiting to get their bags through security. Oh of course. Well why didn’t we see if there were any shops in this large hall area then. We couldn’t see any nearby but I thought surely there would be some further along. Exasperated, we followed the sign for “buses”. This led to a car park with a couple of minivans parked up and guys sitting around smoking (almost everyone smokes in Istanbul).

So we headed back inside, with my boyfriend now thoroughly agitated and fed up. By this time we’d probably spent half an hour finding the place and wondering what to do, so my boyfriend finally decided to give my idea a chance and we went off in search of a shop. Sure enough, we found a “market shop” further down. We breathed a sigh of relief and bought refreshments. I got some sickly sweet cherry juice (I found most of their drinks are either too sweet or too bitter) and some watermelon chewing gum, what a novelty. We then spent some time trying to distinguish our route from the blurred map available and worked out that we’d need to buy a 3 Lira token for any number of stops in one direction. What a bargain compared to the tube in London!

My first impressions of Istanbul (formerly termed “Constantinople”) were that there were lots of mosques… 042

and stray cats… 039 It was heartbreaking seeing the poor mangy fluffy things scavenging in bins, some of them mere kittens. My boyfriend loved watching though them as he has a pet cat.

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I was expecting a standard modern posh hotel. However when we got there it was more vintage posh, or at least had been once. There were signs that the place was a shadow of its former self and the decor was quite overpowering. Everything was gold or crimson, even the walls. My favourite part of it was the winding staircase all the way up, which made me feel like a princess. The roof terrace was also fantastic, offering views across the city. We just walked up there and it was deserted.

Our bed was a modest double but all in gold velvet, with “Palace” written slightly off to one side in the middle. When we went into the bathroom there was a hanging basket overflowing with freebies, from dental kits to fluorescent blue shampoos.

There was a spa in the basement and I proposed we relax from our airport ordeal with a massage. We went down to the reception, which consisted of a small bar. When we turned around there was a small swimming pool and some rooms behind it, presumably the steam room and sauna.

After five minutes or so a young blonde and a Chinese girl turned up and booked us in. I went for a Swedish and my boyfriend went for a “Medical” as he had a sore back. We were sent to two rooms with glass doors. Thankfully part of them were opaque. There we were covered with so much oil that after having every limb attended to we slid off the table and into our clothes a little too easily.

I discovered that the girl I thought was Chinese was actually from Uzbekistan and had emigrated to Turkey for a better life. She had come from a large family and had considered going to university in Uzbekistan but it had been too expensive, so she was now excitedly saving for hairdresser college. She said she preferred Turkey as it was cheaper and there was more to do. None of her family had joined her and had no plans to, and I thought she was rather brave, being just 21 years old.

Following that my boyfriend and I could hardly keep our eyes open and we stumbled upstairs in a happy sleepy daze.

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December 15, 2013 · 10:03 pm

The Chaos that is Public Transport

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Recently we’ve read a lot about late trains in the news, but what about late buses? Surveys should be done on how often they are delayed. As a regular passenger I think I shall do my own.

At a time when Stagecoach recently reported an 8% rise in profits to £2.8 billion, how much of this is being filtered back to customers? Fares have been slowly rising for some time and travel times are worse than ever. I can’t believe my taxes line the pockets of the managers and yet nothing changes for us, the customers.

Today my bus didn’t arrive, resulting in what would have been a 25 minute wait. I had to take a taxi to get to the hospital in time. There was no complaints line given at the bus stop, I suppose because they would get so many. I had to spend 10 minutes in a telephone queue (which I am paying for, thank you Stagecoach) to see when the damn thing would actually arrive. I had to pay an extra £7 in cab fare due to the bus I was expecting not turning up at all.

Yesterday I ran for a tram and even though I got to it and pressed the door button, it just drove off. I was then charged a ridiculous fare on the next one for what was a 10 minute journey. Because it was now late, there were drunkards wandering around town, leading me to get harassed waiting for my connecting bus. A tall, lanky individual swaggered up to me with a beer can in hand and aggressively shouted at me for not talking to him, and then for walking away. Where was the next bus stop? At the other end of town. By the time I got there I only just made the bus. As soon as working hours pass in my city, buses descend into chaos, with one coming every half an hour for a busy route. Sometimes people are queuing across town.

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It is claimed a bus driver actually said this on a forum!

When I got the bus the day before that it took 40 minutes for a 20 minute journey because the bus driver, although 15 minutes late, took the usual two rest breaks. These stops are especially infuriating when you need to get work or just want to get home at the end of a long day. The driver turns off the engine and reads the paper or goes out for a smoke as time ticks by. I am not against drivers having a break, but twice in half an hour on a busy route is ridiculous. I have not had any trouble with female drivers however. They have been punctual and don’t seem to require rest breaks.

Stagecoach adverts on the back of the bus make me laugh: “Craig is looking at the car drivers and thinking how stressed they all look”. More like “Lydia is looking at the car drivers and seeing how relaxed they all look. Lydia is still on the bus getting late for work. Where are you?”

In comparison, First bus drivers don’t take any breaks at all in their schedule, yet still manage to turn up on time. Unfortunately you pay higher fares for this privilege and they come less often.

I am so fed up with having to take these excuses for public transport that I cannot wait to drive. I enjoy cycling because then I have control over journey time instead of helplessly being delayed while a driver chats into his mobile.

Customers must be wondering when profits are going to make a difference to their journey time or whether transport is just another black hole for them to pour their ridiculously high taxes into. I get taxed so much when I do extra work that there is no financial benefit, and then at the end of it I have to sit on a snail form of transport with a driver that stops for a break so often that it sometimes takes double the time necessary to get home. I’ve done the Euro Millions in a desperate attempt to win and free myself from this daily misery.

fingers-crossed

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The Driver vs Cyclist Dispute

This picture is not of the subjects referred to below

This picture is not of the driver or cyclist referred to below.

It seems the two-wheeler versus four-wheeler “war” has erupted once more. This time it’s a motorist bragging about hitting a cyclist. 

It appears that Emma Way boasted on Twitter “Definitely knocked a cyclist emma way_bloody cyclistsoff his bike earlier. I have right of way – he doesn’t even pay road tax! #Bloodycyclists.” It went viral and Twitterers were quick to alert Norwich police, who tweeted back: “We have had tweets ref an RTC with a bike. We suggest you report it at a police station ASAP if not done already & then dm us”.

This was especially affecting today as I did my second cycle commute. Why should we pay tax on this when potholes in bike lanes force us to dodge round them onto the road? When many roads still do not have red lanes? When we can’t use them as cars park in them? When they end without warning? When there is glass on them?

As blogger Reid of ipayroadtax.com points out, the reality is that there is no “road tax”. Road construction and maintenance is paid for by everyone through taxes. The Vehicle Excise Duty that motorists pay is levied according to engine size or CO2 emissions.

The negative sentiments of motorists towards two-wheelers was apparent when a friend said “sorry but if a bike even grazes my wing mirror I will go bat sh** crazy”. She didn’t relent even when I pointed out that this would probably happen because she hadn’t left the cyclist enough space.

As for the claim that two-wheelers should have lessons on rules of the road, I actually agree with this. I learnt from asking others, but there needs to be compulsory training in schools. Some in my city already run courses. This would encourage more people to use this green method of transport, as they would feel more prepared and confident.
I only had one problem today – a flashy hatchback wouldn’t let me get past him to the front of the lights. This meant I had to work a lot harder to cycle up a slight hill before they changed again. Let a bike get ahead of you to the front of the queue. They need the extra time.
On the plus side though, I have found red lanes that run through town! It takes me down quieter roads, I just have to be careful of the numerous side roads leading on to it. This time buses left me more space, and I took care to look behind me when coming out from bus lanes or parked cars.
Yes, both sides flout the Highway Code. But I believe the majority do not. Isn’t it about time we put share the roadaside our differences? Lets share the road and make both our commutes less stressful.
Most people admire my preferred method of transport, dicing with death and attacking hills deters them. Yet it is not as risky as they think – I have had no trouble. In fact, these challenges are the very reason I get a thrill from pedal power. Once you have conquered the gradient and potential danger you know that nothing at work can hold you back.
Cycling-to-work

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This year’s English Spring…

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I opened the back door today to this, the coldest spring since 1962. I saw some great snow photographs in The Metro, which I still enjoy on my way to work. Most seem to be outraged by the relentless wintry onslaught, especially when the calendar says that we should have daffodils not bare branches. Others however are using it as an opportunity to showcase their creations or fashion-sense. It didn’t stop my boyfriend going on a “10.62” km run last night!

I was glad to hear that The Duchess of Cambridge managed to get up to Windermere in the Lake District to spend time with Beaver and Cub Scout groups. Some of the footage for which was shot by my boyfriend’s housemate! He is one of the leaders of a group that attended. Luckily the Duchess went back early by train (Virgin of course), whereas the cameraman had to endure a 6 hour journey home. Although Kate looks down to earth in the photographs, the Telegraph is quick to point out that she is wearing £300 wellies.

The weather is in stark contrast to last March.

Meanwhile in New Zealand my relatives have been enjoying their best summer for years.

This is our fourth snow dump of 2013. I must really love this country to be 037putting up with this

But it gives me the perfect opportunity to make the most of the time indoors with a curry weekend. I intend to cook a korma tonight (ok I admit this one’s with a ready-made jar of sauce) and tomorrow a proper home-made dahl with red lentils and mushrooms. I had an M & S microwave one last night which was fantastic, but nothing beats healthier home-cooked food.

It was certainly better than the lamb tikka bhuna I had when I last went out to an Indian restaurant, which consisted of a couple of pieces in a watery thin sauce. With all the other meat on the menu being chicken it was clear to see that meal quality had been sacrificed in favour of cost-cutting. This could be another case where trusting reviews let my boyfriend and I down, or perhaps I just ordered the wrong dish, his was delicious.

Red Lentils

With heating costs rising it’s even more important to save money, and at around £1 per kilo these are great value. You only need 1/4 cup per person! I 027usually do 250g each time so I have plenty for leftovers and to freeze. Simply wash through like you do with rice and cover with boiling beef stock in water and add a tin or two of chopped tomatoes (one tin is enough for two servings). Boil for 5 mins, then simmer for 15 mins with a teaspoon each of various herbs and spices (I added mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cinammon, garam masala, coriander seeds and frozen coriander. You should also add tumeric or curry powder) and any vegetables you want, I used pretty much everything I had!  Fresh coriander on serving was great too. I’d recommend about 200g of spinach added just before you take it off the heat. If it needs sweetening up add more cinammon.

I chose to slow cook mine for a more intense flavour burst – it really made a difference! Overall it’s a cheap, healthy, high in fibre and filling meal. I have only recently discovered this and felt the need to share. I cooked the above dish from this recipe. If you try it do let me know how it goes.

As for the bizarre weather, there is some debate about whether this is due to climate change or the arrival of another Ice Age…what do you think?

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