Smart Motorways, Dumb Drivers

I see today that the UK has decided to stop any new “Smart Motorway” projects, insisting that they need extra safety precautions.  This is primarily the aftermath of coroner’s reports into certain fatal accidents on these Smart Motorways.

From the article…

  • In 2019, 15 people were killed on “all lane running” and “dynamic hard shoulder” motorways. This is four more deaths than in 2018.
  • The number of people being killed on motorways without hard shoulders increased each year from 2015 to 2019, and totalled 39 deaths.
  • By contrast, on so-called “controlled motorways” – a type of smart motorway which have variable speed limits and a hard shoulder – there were 24 deaths in that period.
  • On conventional motorways, which cover more of the UK than smart motorways, there were 368 fatalities from 2015 to 2019.

The M1 around where I live was one of the first Smart Motorways, and I’ve written a lot about how stupid people can be on those motorways – particularly about the availability of lanes, and a lack of general driving standards (Middle-lane cunts and the like)

From my experience, a lot of drivers seem to be incapable of reading road signs saying whether a lane is open or closed (although also even whether the approaching junction is the one they want or not, until the absolute last minute)  This also seems to be borne out by the latest rash of road-safety adverts telling people that they should ‘go left’ in case of problems on motorways (and fucking hell, in my opinion anyone who needs to be told this shouldn’t be in possession of a driving licence!)

As an example of this, one of the cases the coroners were looking at was one local to me where the person’s vehicle had a problem, showed the ‘engine problem’ warning light, and they pulled in to one of the emergency refuge areas.  Now, when that happened to me, I got out of the car (in a snowy January) and called recovery to get me off the road safely.  But not this twerd, oh no.  They gave it a few minutes, started the car, no light came on, so they pulled out to continue their journey.  (The ‘engine problem’ light doesn’t necessarily immediately light up on starting – for example, if the issue is to do with the turbo, the EGR valve, air filter etc., it’ll only come on when you accelerate over a certain rpm limit, at which point you’re shafted)  And that’s what happened to Twonktacular – the light came back on, the engine performance disappeared, and they got hit by another vehicle.   Yet somehow that’s the fault of the smart motorway, not the dumbass driver.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of motorways without hard-shoulders. And I’m sure there are considerations and gambles that have been taken about how people get to emergency refuge areas, how the road monitoring is managed/staffed and so on. But I also understand how impractical it is, with current traffic levels and so on, to have a quarter of each road surface only available to vehicles in emergencies.

All told, I don’t believe that Smart Motorways are inherently dangerous. I think drivers (and their decisions, or lack thereof) are far more dangerous than roads. You just can’t blame an inanimate road for human stupidity.


Slowly Opening Out

It’s been very quiet round here of late – mainly because of Lockdown 3.0, and there really hasn’t been much to do, or to report.

Thankfully, things seem to be slowly opening up again, and that’s making things look a lot more positive for the rest of the year.

Last weekend had some fun, in that the “Locked Up” crime writer’s online festival was held – organised by Luca Veste and Steve Cavanaugh (who also do the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast)  It was all done via Zoom, with a range of (roughly) hour-long sessions with various writers.  And it was thoroughly entertaining.

Even better, the entire thing was done to provide funds for The Trussell Trust, and was entirely reasonably priced at £20 for the whole thing.

I can actually see events like that being more common in the future – I think they make a lot of sense, allowing a sort-of-social event without needing to be social, and reducing costs along the way (it’s a lot easier to get people to talk for an hour from their own houses/offices, rather than having to bring them all in to a location, accommodate them etc.) while also opening it up to a larger audience, rather than limiting it just to people who can actually get to the location.


Jabbed

Yesterday, I got my first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine.

It was an impressive piece of organisation (which is how you can tell it was sod-all to do with national Government) – i got to the vaccination centre at 8:55 for my 9am appointment, went straight through, giving necessary information and so on, sat down, got the jab, and was out again by 9:05.

Interestingly, I didn’t have to do the expected sit-and-wait for 15 minutes to check I didn’t have any kind of allergic reaction.  I assume it was because I’d answered no to the questions “Are you on any other medication” and “Have you ever had an allergic reaction” – I know others on the same day in different locations still had to sit and wait – but no explanation was actually given.

Happily, twenty-four hours on, I’ve had no reactions of side effects at all to the first jab, which makes me fairly optimistic for things.

Obviously there’s still a way to go – there’s another three weeks before this dose is supposed to be fully effective, and my second dose is on 1st June.  Even so, that means that by the end of June I’ll be as protected as possible.


Burning Money

Over the last year, a number of businesses have (unsurprisingly) moved out of the building where I have my office. The move to primarily working from home and so on has made them more aware of the costs of the offices, and in general I can see that it makes sense for them to downsize and so on.

What’s been more of a surprise is that other ones have moved in.  Again, I get it for situations like mine, where it’s better to have the office, and where working from home isn’t practicable.

There are some of those new businesses though, that despite paying the office rental/lease for a year, haven’t actually been using the offices at all, and I really don’t understand that at all.

I suppose it’s a good write-off for tax purposes or whatever, but to me it’s still odd to be basically burning that cash for no benefit at all.

Obviously it’s not my problem, and nothing to do with me. It’s other people’s business decisions and so on. I just find it interesting, and slightly baffling.


Excessive Renewal

This time last year, I was planning on going to a friend’s wedding over in Madeira, and bought some travel insurance along the way.

Obviously it didn’t work out, because of Covid and the like, and the insurance didn’t get used for any other trips, for similar reasons. Thankfully, I’d had a good deal on it, so wasn’t too upset. Them’s the breaks, and all that.

This week, I got the renewal letter from the company, telling me what I’d pay this year.

Now OK, there’s been a lot going on in the world this year, and I assume insurance has taken a kicking (although I wouldn’t have thought it was a huge one, in comparison to travel companies, credit cards and the like) but still, the increase from last year to this is a 50% rise.  And bear in mind, there’s no way I’d be using it ’til at least May/June, so it would cost me more to able to use it for less time.

Needless to say, they’ve been told to fuck off. I’ll buy travel insurance again as and when I need it – but that’s still not going to be any time soon.


Raspberry Jammed

I’ve been a fan of raspberry jam for a long time, and it’s usually part of my breakfast. I’ve tried most of the different brands and types over the year, although over the last few years I’ve settled more on Tesco’s “Finest” offering, which is pretty well priced and tasty.  (Before that it was the Bonne Maman version, which was almost twice the price, and even now is £1 more expensive per jar)

Over the years, I’ve also always been interested in Fortnum and Mason when I visit London. I returned there in 2015 after far too long of not visiting, and have been back a few times since.

On that 2015 visit though, I saw they had some interesting jams – in particular, a golden raspberry one, and a purple one. I couldn’t get them at the time (because I was doing a ton of walking and theatre stuff, so wasn’t going to be carrying other stuff as well!) but on and off they’ve been on my mind since.

They are also ridiculously expensive – six-ish times the cost of my Tesco one, for a jar half the size! – so it’s a bit of a jump to be able to justify that kind of cost.

Anyway, back in October, I’d been to one of my favourite restaurants for my birthday meal (a saga in itself of rescheduling, lockdowns etc.) which is also effectively just round the corner from Fortnum and Mason.  So, having done an epic lunch, and needing to walk, I went in.  And having just spent a silly amount on Lunch (as well as a couple of drinks) it was probably the only time I could rationalise the price of those jams. So I did.  (Although I’m still gobsmacked at the price of them)

They’ve sat around since then, waiting to be tried, and it’s only been in the last couple of weeks they’ve been opened.

All told, they’ve been good, but definitely not worth the price. The golden one is noticeably sweeter and soft-of softer than standard raspberry jam, and the purple one is slightly different in taste (and very much so in colour) but certainly neither one is anywhere close to being something I’d eant to have on a regular basis – even if they were the same cost as the usual ones.

I’m really glad I got round to buying them and trying them, and to now know what they’re like. But I can’t see me getting them again.


Gradual Improvements

Over the last couple of months, I’ve slowly been upgrading some things around the house.  Nothing major, but a few things had started breaking or failing, so it’s made sense to replace them with better versions.

Among other things, a lot of my cookware was on the way out – my main frying pad had buckled (my own fault for thermal-shocking it too many times), my baking trays were grim and no longer non-sticking, and my wok had gone horrible with rust.  So I’ve replaced them all with better things – and in fairness, none of those bits was less than a decade old anyway, so it’s not like I’ve not had my money’s worth out of them.

This weekend, I’ve also replaced the main lamp in my living room.  I’ve had a (revoltingly cheap) uplighter for six years, that I bought while bankrupt, when the previous one’s halogen bulb died. I think it cost me £20, and it was ridiculously wobbly, but did the job – and has done the job for that six years without fail, and without any replacement bulbs.

However, during the week it started buzzing – not just from the bulb, but also from the switch, and to me, that’s not a thing where it’s wise to keep it going. So I had a look round for something new, and ended up with an interesting LED light that offers a range of white-balance colours, as well as being able to move lighting to my requirements and so on. It wasn’t the cheapest, and the lamps aren’t replaceable in the same way as a ‘normal’ bulb would be, but there’s also very little that can break, so we’ll see. Regardless though, I’m really pleased with it at the moment.

All told, I’m happy with how things are going – I’m not paying out stupid amounts for things, but I’m also not staying at the cheapest levels, because I simply don’t need to. Hopefully all these new bits will last me another eight to ten years minimum, and god only knows where we’ll all be by then…