Saturday, 5 May 2018

Pro logistics

I don't often write about anything relating to my job.

Sometimes we do things which look odd and clunky but in honesty are more reflections of people who really really want to make things work, and trust their colleagues and think about another way to get things done. Logistics is one of these. We have the ability not to look at logistics and not say that's ridiculous. So, this is what happened, and I only have a little bit of the picture.

My colleague H, who is British based but happens to be at our warehousing in Belgium contacts me on WhatsApp. Am I going into the office (in Manchester) on Friday, she asks. I haven't planned that far ahead and say I can do if needed. She then asks if I can take something from New Mills to Manchester. Depends what, I say, bearing in mind my commute includes a bicycle and a train. I get a photo. It's some caps. They weigh 650g. This seems entirely workable. That's fine I say.

Another colleague, also in Belgium gets in touch. Can I also take some garmin mounts, oh, and some shirts. I say yes and dig out my bigger rucksack.

So, this small package starts its journey:

Belgian Warehouse to station - with colleague M who gets a lift from colleague C
Station to Airport Brussells airport - M by train
Brussells to Manchester - M by train
Manchester airport to New Mills - M by taxi
Across the valley to my house - M by car
My house to station - Me by bicycle
New Mills to Reddish North - Me by train
Reddish North to Manchester office - Me by bicycle
Handed to colleague D in office
Manchester to Yorkshire - D by motorbike

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, Bicycles and Motorbikes

And this is all quite normal and ordinary and more effective, quicker and cheaper than courier, and by the time the package arrives with me it has gained other stuff I didn't know about. Metal things, maybe something to do with TT bars I hypothesise.

And if in five years time someone says, you must remember that package, this was an unusual request, yes? I say no, this is just one example of many of how we get things to places. We rely on good willing people and a system where someone centrally understands the various micro movements of its staff. It relies on people like my colleague M getting home to his family after a week away and at 10pm at night getting into his car to drop things off at my house. It depends on him and me having the kind of friendship where that's OK. It depends on me not being bothered about taking a 32 litre rucksack on my folding bike where normally a 15 litre would do. It depends on my colleague D going on his own  motorbike at the bank holiday weekend to see the Tour of Yorkshire. It depends on my colleague H knowing enough about her people to know that this can work and on her keeping a general handle on the packing. We're capable of moving things around quickly and flexibly and talking to each other and knowing each other. What there isn't, is paperwork for this kind of mundane event. Except this one, where there's this solitary blog entry which ties all the different gentle communications together into one brain dump.

I find it hard to believe that all businesses don't operate like this. When I worked on the Underground it was quite reasonable to drop something off with a train driver to hand over to a colleague organised to be there at the station waiting for it at its destination. Surely this is how all businesses with more than one base operate?

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Poem meaning

I've never thought about what my poems mean. I'm not sure what their meaning is, or even if meaning is essential? Maybe I use them in far too cathartic fashion, their meaning is me wanting to be understood, sometimes wanting to shock by truly explaining how things are for me. Not many people get to see the inside of me, and it's not how you think it is. The message I try to get over seems to be:

I am not strong
I am not stoic
I am not happy
Life is unfair
I put on a bloody good front

That's basically my inspiration.

It may be time for me to move on from that. I am interested in the outside world, I'm angry about stuff in the outside world, as well as being well informed and opinionated. I'm proper cross about the roll out of Universal Credit and the deafness of the government to hear how people are suffering as a result. I'm proper cross about the Windrush generation and our country's perverse attitude towards immigrants. I'm angry about the small minded racist bigoted country I feel we became, and where Brexit is the biggest red flag indicator of that. I'm angry for the millennial generation that has got the shit end of the stick as far as jobs and homes are concerned. I'm cross about a lot of things, but so are a lot of people and a lot of people write far better than I can about these. I have nothing new to offer on these subjects, nothing.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Why Poem

I've been challenged to explain why I believe what I believe about what poetry is, and what supports my belief. Gulp.

I  have no original thought on this. I'm relying on education.

I was given a poetry book when I was maybe 10 years old. My gran gave it to me. I was hooked on it, and bizarrely, off my own back, learned some by heart. I still remember some glimpses of these.

Things like
When as a child I laughed and slept, time crept
When as a youth I dreamt and talked, time walked
When I became a full grown man, time ran

I wonder, if I google that, how accurate my memory is, and also if the last line had the punch I remember, even though I can't remember what it was!

Then there was the songs of Hiawatha. Oh My. That was amazing. This huge rush of story, the rhythm as it raced along. Just inspiring.

But I didn't start writing until someone gave me Stephen Fry's Ode Less Travelled. It walked me through, step by step, how to write a poem. I got stuck in. And that was about technical things.

But the time when I truly thought about it was on Saturday morning workshops with Peter Sansom in Manchester. In a room with other people who thought maybe they could write poems. And there the concept of if the person doing the writing says it's a poem, it is a poem was put in front of me. OK, I can handle that, I thought, as my eyes opened to free verse. I also chucked away any attempt to be poetic in my writing. Chucked away the weirdness of thinking it was OK to put words in a non conversational order, and chucked away using poetic words too. Turns out I believe that poetry is something small, coherent, intense, intimate and conversational. It has to have words in it that talk to people living here and now. It can deal with big things but it really is equal when it deals with subjects a lot smaller, it's not all about the grand plan.

A poem

What is poetry, and what is it for?

I'm two people when I answer this question, well, probably more.

When I write it's a gushing, it's something I have nowhere to share, but something I want to speak, I want someone out there to see, to hear, to understand. I have a need to be understood, but some thoughts, beliefs, whether flickering or deep seated aren't the things the people closest to me have time for. Or maybe that's harsh. Maybe there are things about what happens inside me that they don't need to know, that would be awkward, uncomfortable or just plain unintelligible, incomprehensible. But perhaps if I write it in a poem there will be an audience, even of one lonely stranger who just gets one line and even if I never know they get that line, the hope that they will is enough. And that's how it is for me to write.

But there is more to writing than that outlet. There is the play with the words, the joy of a rhythm, a sense of pride in a perfectly formed phrase. Never a perfectly formed poem; that's something I've never finished. Even the one or two amongst dozens that I look at and think that's OK, I can be pleased with that, everytime I brush them down, pick them up off the metaphorical shelf, I find something discordant, something I really yearn to put right. I can't always do it. I can just see that it's somehow a bit wrong and could be better. This can go on for years. And sometimes it's just because it's me that's changed in the meantime, my view of the world, my perspective on the incident which triggered the poem that's changed and makes the poem more wrong.

Then there's the me that's the reader of other people's work. That me is fairly uncritical. I love a nicely turned rhyme, rhythm, lines which lead to other lines, lines which bounce, lines which make me chuckle or wince or stare in respect. I like words read out loud and I like them on paper. I like to see through someone else's eyes, to be challenged by difference. I am in awe of free verse writers. So bold, so brave, so something I can't quite do, not with true authenticity and sincerity. I'm all a little bit forced. Trite, ordinary, indulgent. I envy those who can pull it off.

I love a good pastiche. Nicking other people's work and playing around with how it works, learning, always learning, always playing, finding a twist, my twist, my twisted belief system making words suit me.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Northern Fail

I mix up my commute to work, alternating between cycling in and catching the train. I'm on a Northern Rail route on the train and generally on the A6 on the bicycle. The only other alternative cycle commute route being the canal tow path which at this time of year is a slithery muddy mess designed to get you into work in filthy clothes you'll need to put back on to ride home in. It's also dark, and with the added slosh, the opportunities to end up in the canal are greatly increased. As a woman alone, it also feels like I'm taking an unnecessary risk of encounter with someone who might randomly wish me ill.

I alternate depending on which journey, the bicycle or the train was more unpleasant last time I travelled to work.

The bike offers up a route so clogged with traffic, lorries, buses, that even the most accomplished filterer in the world cannot get through Hazel Grove in a fashion which feels even bordering on safe. Even stuck not moving in the middle of tightly packed traffic I feel intensely vulnerable. When there's a bus in front of you, a lorry next to the bus, a lorry behind you, and cars in the outside lane, nobody moving until the lights change, the vulnerability of my position is more than just mild discomfort. What if the lorry behind me has got so close to me he can no longer see me, what if he forgets I'm there? What if he's impatient and I don't set off quickly enough? What if a car doesn't see me inside them because they are looking for something larger and moves into the lane where I am, thinking I'm actually a space? What if the bus in front does something random and I'm sucked under its wheels. What happens at the next bus stop? How can I get myself to safety? The answer tends to be get off, get on the pavement and walk. This is massively slow - after all, what kind of commute of 16 miles is efficient when you're walking? Am I ever going to get to work? It's not that I'm in a massive hurry but there's the difference between what's a reasonable commuting timescale and what isn't. Any mode of commute which takes nearer to 90 minutes than 60 is not acceptable in my eyes, for my work-life balance. So I get scared off the bike and I catch the train.

The train. It too has many many many drawbacks. Firstly, there is a daily cost of near £10, somewhat more than the cost of cycling. It's more costly than driving too, which in my eyes makes it something I can only tolerate doing 2 times a week. Any more than that and the weekly ticket of around £28 is the way forwards, and when I do that, I feel defeated somehow.  The train service is appalling. It really is. Even with my two return journeys a week, my expertise in operating the Delay Repay system is telling about the tragedy of the thing.

The things which drive me most nuts are the operational decisions over number of carriages. I can understand a little bit when they are genuinely short of carriages and send two out on a rush hour service that normally fills four. What I find intensely irritating is the trains which they only ever schedule as two carriages. The stopping train from Sheffield to Manchester is a case in point. I don't believe that Northern Rail have any kind of way of knowing how many people get on the service from Manchester in the evening rush hour. What I know is that standing at Ashburys station awaiting the train due at 16:53 is pointless. I don't know why they schedule it to stop because nobody gets off and nobody can possibly get on. I sometimes wonder if it's a way of Northern being able to say there are trains at Ashburys x number of times an hour. On paper, I have three possible trains home from Ashburys

1. The 16:53 which I can't get on but which should get me to New Mills for 17:19
2. 17:09 where I change at Romiley for a train scheduled to arrive there at 17:34 but which oddly is always 10 minutes late. This should get me home for 17:44 but I'm generally still at Romiley then, awaiting my train.
3. 17:37 which should get me back for 18:05 but has been late on every single occasion I've ever caught it.

It's a little infuriating, this on paper 27 - 30 minute journey which has not one single time got me from A to B in that time. Northern really need to try harder to understand their own service needs, and customer volumes. Travelling on the 16:53 train for starters, or perhaps seeking feedback from the guards on a systematic basis. Planning, organising, acknowledging and accepting.

So, I submit complaints via their website. I put forward suggestions. I plead with them to look at their service needs, to understand that the Sheffield train should be a four carriage not a two carriage train. They schedule it as two, and there seems to be no way of shifting them from this thinking. No way at all. They don't even seem to understand it as a suggestion, always coming back with a "we use all available carriages" explanation. That's not an explanation as to why it's actually scheduled as a two carriage. It's a beating head against a wall thing to try to get them to know, to deeply, truly know their own service needs. I have no idea how to influence change on this. Nobody can do anything and nobody will take this seriously. It's infuriating. If I ride home from work, leaving at somewhere around 17:15 I am reliably home for somewhere between 18:30 and 18:45, pretty much identical to the time I get there on any of the three services above, except that the train sometimes gets me home for after 19:30 and on the bike I've never been that late.

I don't know how to get Northern Rail to listen and how to influence change. I really don't.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

My Manchester

The thing is, I love Manchester. The people have a way of reacting to things unexpectedly and creatively, often subversively. They bounce back from horror and respond to ugliness in whatever way you anticipate it least.

I ran the Manchester 10km in the days after the Manchester Arena attack, and it felt like solidarity. Manchester reacted by filling St Ann's Square with flowers Sea of Flowers, and people did this: Bee tattoos. We paint stuff More bees, we do poetry Tony Walsh poem. We do Pride better than anywhere else. The city is a crowded, churning, passionate place where folk don't take stuff sitting down.

I'd expected some kind of reaction to the Mobikes but hadn't thought it would be one of such criminality.  People steal the bikes, and I don't know why.  With the locks removed, that's it, nicked.  They put them in canals, they mindlessly trash these fantastic things.  I don't know why you'd steal one.  Kids as young as 11 years old.

Man tries to sell stolen mobike
11 year old done for stealing mobike

This was more what I was expecting:
Gold painted mobike more of this please

I had hoped for better.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Mobike - Nobike

I was a little over excited when I heard that the dockless bike hire scheme from Mobike was coming to Manchester.  I wanted this. I mean, really wanted this.

Basically, the plan for Mobike was that the company would drop off a large number of their bikes in town for people to use. You had to enrol with an app with a deposit of £29 and pop some credit on your account, with each 30 minute journey being 50p. People are encouraged to drop them into specified parking areas, of which there are only a small number in Manchester, coinciding with areas of heavy footfall. You can, however, drop them off and click the lock down pretty much anywhere, provided it's a public area, not anywhere daft, and preferably in a dedicated bike parking space.

It sounded like a great alternative to short bus journeys, a solution to short distance park and ride or station to workplace / shops. Convenient, practical, healthy and above all, fun. Bit more info here about what the owners had planned:

Mobike in Manchester

I embraced it. I like the idea of more people on bicycles around Manchester. I am a fervent believer, without any true evidence that safety in numbers applies, and that the more accustomed people are to seeing people on bikes, the safer it is to cycle in the area, because we're normal and anticipated and people driving expect to see people on bicycles around town.

There were issues, and in a born again disciple fashion, I believed we'd get over those.  Bikes were being vandalised, locks removed, bikes were being parked inaccessible on private property, in people's back yards, in lobbies of apartment buildings. I liberated one from inside a hotel in the fire stairwell with my obsession in full flow. Bikes started disappearing. They appear on the app but when you get there, they just aren't. You can stand in the middle of an empty car park showing a bike as present, but it's simply not there. Missing, presumably dead. I search high and low for evidence, for some kind of GPX device to show where it ought to have been. I diligently report them on the app. Some of them I report a couple of times a week, in the hopes that customer service might delete the misleading dot on the app so that others don't waste their time.

It became a lunchtime Pokemon for me. I'd walk miles, looking for a bike to go for a ride on. I'd report 6 in an hour as missing or mis parked in someone's security fenced compound. It started to stop being an adventure and become annoying.

On paper, you'd think there were maybe 15 - 20 in a mile's radius of my workplace.  There isn't one.  I've looked for every one of the bikes showing on the app (as below), and not one of them is an actual bike.  I've reported every one of these. Some I've been reporting for upwards of six weeks and have reported frequently and regularly, including photographs of the area from all kinds of angles. The bikes have gone, and I've no way of warning other people looking for a way to ride to their destination that they'll not find a bike to make their journey. I'd like to do my civic duty and help people but I just can't, the app doesn't change, it just keeps showing these bikes as really here. Nobikes.


I'd love to be able to pick one up at the station and ride to work, changing a 20 minute plod into a 10 minute bike ride. Truly I would.

But, for me, for now, it's not working any more, it's just not working. For me, Mobike has become Nobike.