All Aboard the MisGuided Bus at last!

All aboard the MisGuided Bus

Well, the expensive potential white elephant which is the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway is running at least six months late (and with additional contractors being called in, that may be optimistic), so this week must have been a great relief to the Council. At last they were able to get a section open to demonstrate the system to overexcited councillors and then – today – a few busloads of members of the public. I was amongst those lucky competition winners, and here are some of the photos I took of the new buses, as well as a video shot from the back seat on the upper deck (as there was already one out of the front available on YouTube).

All aboard the MisGuided Bus
All aboard the MisGuided Bus
All aboard the MisGuided Bus

The buses are pretty standard types, with lots of executive class extras which I’m sure the schoolkids coming in from St Ives every morning will enjoy, such as leather seats, wifi connectivity and power points, as you can see. I’m sure the Guided Busway’s publicists will focus heavily on these amenities, but they’re nothing to do with the busway – the operator could choose to make these available on any bus on any route, if it decided they made commercial sense. I’m not sure why the Guided Busway passengers need this added incentive to take the bus, but they certainly won’t be complaining.

All aboard the MisGuided Bus
All aboard the MisGuided Bus

The buses appear to have a biofuel option, which again is nothing to do with the Busway, although I’m sure it’ll be publicised heavily as part of the claims that the system has some sort of green credentials, despite covering Cambridgeshire with what I’ve read is over 100,000 tonnes of concrete. Other than that, the only outward difference between the vehicles and the normal Park + Ride buses is the little “guide wheel” poking out by the front wheel, which keeps the bus on the straight and narrow while the driver tries to remember not to use the steering wheel. There will be single-deckers running too.

Anyway, on to the trip itself, which was accompanied by one of the project managers, much to our relief, rather than some council PR vacuum. As I said, this demonstration was obviously organised as soon as it became possible, to show that at least some progress had been made (the whole system was scheduled to have been operating by now), but the thing is still a long way from completion. There are no finished bus stops (stations?) yet, and when we got to ask some questions, we got some intriguing answers. We were told that the chassis on the newly-delivered buses are not as straight as they ideally should be, and that it’s hoped they will “bed in” to meet the guideway’s requirements. Also, the guideway is to have some sort of surface put on it still, but the builders haven’t even been able to decide what that should be yet!

Here we go then, six minutes from Cambridge Regional College to the north-west of Histon:

Despite being as resolute in my opposition to the MisGuided Bus as I was when it was first suggested, I don’t want to let that colour my judgement of the efforts of the engineers who are bringing this giant experiment to life. They seem to have done a good job, and I’m sure they’ll see it through to a successful opening and eventual operation. But more than anyone, they’ll know that Cambridgeshire could have had so much more (i.e a railway), for a lot less money, if it hadn’t (yet again) been for the inadequacies of local democracy allowing one person’s misguided vanity project to somehow trample over public opinion and rational technical argument, and snowball into reality.

Note: We passed at least one cyclist balancing his way down the tracks (see below), using it as a shortcut. This won’t be necessary if and when the cycleway is completed, but with such easy access from the road, the prospect of herberts in stolen vehicles using the busway as a drag strip is quite frightening…
All aboard the MisGuided Bus

In The Loop – hilarious

Just back from a preview screening of In The Loop, the movie extension to the fantastic The Thick Of It TV series, held at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge and with writer/director Armando Ianucci present for a Q+A with a sell-out audience.

If the laugh-out-loud count is a measure of a good comedy, this one coasts past the line after about 10 minutes. I can’t remember laughing so much at a movie for years, and I doubt I’ve ever laughed so much at sheer sweariness. Armando Ianucci said he was inspired to use comedy to point out the problems in modern politics by classics such as The Great Dictator and Dr Strangelove, and he certainly gets over his central premise, that major misguided decisions can be made as a result of a combination of minor, well-intentioned ones. Impressively, it’s never revealed which party is in power, who the Prime Minister is, and which country is being invaded, but obviously it shadows the invasion of Iraq. If you like intelligent comedy, whether you’ve seen The Thick Of It or not, you’ll love this.

Looking for the best sit-down Chinese restaurant in Cambridge?

I haven’t done a restaurant review for ages, but I was blown away by our meal at The Peking in Cambridge tonight, so I’ve dusted off my reviewer’s hat (not seen since the days of AdHoc and RealCity magazines) and put this one on LocalSecrets and Tripadvisor…

“In its old – rather downmarket – home in Burleigh Street, nobody seemed to believe that the Peking could be quite as good as it was claimed to be by fans. Now it’s moved to a new building opposite the new “Leisure Park”, and although it’s an unexpected choice of location, the new restaurant itself is a bright, modern affair which seems much more in keeping with the classy cooking. It’s only a few metres from Alimentum, another new upmarket Cambridge restaurant, so perhaps this may become the new foodie quarter of the city. It’s a shame the parking isn’t too brilliant (you’d probably be best using the Leisure Park NCP, first left down Cherry Hinton Road).

“Anyway, the food and service is what it’s all about, and there are no complaints from us here. The front-of-house manager (wife of the chef) is a wonderful character, and if you’re the sort of person who (like me) is happy to say: “What would you recommend?”, you’ll be guaranteed a good meal. The menu looks expensive if you’re used to £4.50 takeaway trays, but it’s not. Portions are very generously sized, and our meal of Dim Sum, followed by a main course each with rice, plus three Chinese beers and copious pots of China tea, was £50 for two plus a 10% service charge.

“Now that it’s at a nice, very clean, accessible venue, the Peking is without doubt our favourite Chinese restaurant in Cambridge (and we frequent many of them). You could drop in here for a casual meal, or you could impress guests for a more formal night out – either way I doubt you’d be disappointed.”

Peter Alliss – probably fatter than Pavarotti

peteralliss

I cannot stand Peter Alliss, the golf commentator, who should have retired years ago. Just as Tiger Woods is about to sink a putt to win a tournament, you think he’s going to chip in: “Now, at this point I really should take the opportunity to pay tribute to dear old Mrs Tweed, the ladies’ fixtures secretary at Royal Sandwich, for her sterling work over 50 years” or something similarly eccentric. But tonight he excelled himself. He joined the commentary box, and his colleague rather oddly welcomed him as “the Pavarotti of golf”, to which Alliss replied: “Well that’s very kind of you, although he’s not in too good a shape at the moment, and I’m slightly less avoir du poids than him”.

I assume he was using this phrase to mean “I’m slightly less fat than he is”, which is unlikely, as most those of us inhabiting the planet Earth (unlike Alliss) probably realise that although indeed Pavarotti is “not in too good a shape at the moment” (as he’s very, very dead), the fact that he passed away 18 months ago probably means that Alliss would weigh in slightly heavier than the operatic maestro, should they choose to exhume him for comparison.

Only in golf, which is the last refuge of superannuated Tory bigots, would someone like Alliss continue to be accepted.

The Boat That Rocked

Radio Caroline meant a lot to me as a teenager. Few people seem to remember that just as the radio station brought pop to the masses in the sixties when no legal station was broadcasting it, in the seventies it was the only radio station broadcasting rock music. It might have been the decade of Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis, but apart from Caroline, you wouldn’t have found any of their music on the air outside of two hours a week with Tommy Vance on Friday nights.

Caroline was also stationed offshore just out from our house in Harwich. It was too small to see on the horizon from my bedroom window, but I probably imagined I could. And when one stormy night the local lifeboat had to go out and rescue the crew, it was my Dad who (heroically) drew criticism for not arresting them when they came ashore. I must ask him more about that story. And the connections continued when, in the late eighties, a mate of mine from university (hi Steve!) went out to work there, and I could listen to him while commuting to work across London every day.

So yes, Radio Caroline means a lot to me.

Anyway, this film isn’t about Caroline, it’s about a totally different pirate radio station, called “Radio Rock” (mmm, right). And it’s all set back in the swinging sixties, not in the seventies. But I still felt a bit proprietorial about it. I needn’t have worried: it’s all just such absurdist fantasy that it bears very little relation to what things must have been like, both on the boat (the North Sea looked calmer than the Stour at Dedham) and as a listener (all those clips of groups of people gathered around transistor radios to listen to the Rolling Stones as if a war was being announced!).

So, bearing in mind that the film is just a bit of whimsy, was it any good? Well, the cast and script were great, and you’ll love it if you like films where you spend half the time thinking “Oh it’s him off such-and-such, isn’t it?” Kenneth Branagh was terrific, as was Emma Thompson, although she was criminally underused. Yet the film is a mess narratively – or at least, it wandered around far too much getting to where it ended up going. But it made me laugh several times, which I guess was the point. Just as with Richard Curtis’ last effort, Love Actually, there was a good story hidden in there which could have been expanded out to a great movie, but it was buried with loads of other stuff you just didn’t care about (in this case, the main character’s sexual exploits) or conversely were important but weren’t explored (his relationship with his Dad). It’s certainly not Four Weddings or Notting Hill, and although the sex and language weren’t crude, there was enough there that the film won’t become a Christmas TV staple either. But if it begins to explain the importance of pirate radio to a wider audience, it’ll achieve a lot more than most of the depressingly disposable stuff which tops the movie charts each week at the moment.

ABC at the Royal Albert Hall review

abc-albert-hall
The orchestra arrive on stage before much of the audience!

(Posted from my iPhone on the way home…)
If you’re going to do nostalgia, do it properly. And with this gig, ABC (which is only Martin Fry really) certainly did it properly. The best pop album of the last 30 years – The Lexicon of Love – played straight through, with a complete orchestra …and in the Albert Hall. Could it be any better?

Well yes, actually. Because this turned out to be a real reunion affair. David Palmer (nowadays Rod Stewart’s drummer) back for the first time since the album. Gary Langan on the sound desk. Tessa Niles out of retirement on backing vocals. Anne Dudley conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra. Even a rambling speech from Trevor Horn. And yes, the gold lame suit for the encore.

If the audience was emotional (and it was full of couples who looked like one or other of the tunes was “their song”) then I bet it was an even more lump-in-the-throat night for many of the performers. Sound a bit naff? You weren’t there in that case.

Fry has still got it, no question. The first 45 minutes were spent running through the non-“Lexicon” back catalogue, which contains more hits than you might think. Then after the break, a no-gimmicks run-through of The Album. I’d forgotten how complex some of the songs are, and Fry even looked nervous at times, but he hardly missed a word. And if he had, 4000 fans would have sung the right ones regardless. They loved it. Mrs R said afterwards: “it really makes you realize how second-rate the pop music of the past 20 years has been in comparison, doesn’t it?” and yeah, it might just have been an album which defines a time in our lives, but what a great album to have as our special one. After 27 years, it’s still wonderful to hear “axis” rhyme with “fascist”.

Update: The Lexicon of Love part of the show is on BBC Radio Two on Saturday night (11 April) – don’t miss it.

Other mentions: 1

Thanks to goodgrr for this: