Thursday, 19 January 2012

Time Bandits, The Royal Yacht and the Ugly Face of 'Tory Bashing'

How the Great Western Stole Somerset Standard Time

On the 15th of September 1830 the inaugural service of the Liverpool and Manchester railway was opened by the then Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington. As he sat in his carriage at some point mid way between those two great cities, he was espied by the local Liverpool Tory MP Mr William Huskisson. The two men had recently fallen out over a bill on parliamentary reform and Huskisson clearly thought this a good moment to make his peace with the Iron Duke.

Checking his watch and judging that the West bound train was not due for another five minutes, he gingerly stepped over the lines, but before he reached the carriage, Stephenson's 'Rocket' appeared out of nowhere, hurtling towards him at a speed upwards of 23 miles per hour. Clearly incapable of even rudimentary common sense, Huskisson shrieked loudly and clung onto the carriage door, which in turn swung open, leaving him staring down a full seven tonnes of cast iron and steel. Which then crushed him.

Huskisson died some hours later and his demise has gone down in the history of the railways as the first 'train fatality'. In fact he was really the victim of his own rank stupidity and a simple misunderstanding. Huskisson's watch was no doubt accurate, but he was the MP for Liverpool and the train driver was a 'Manchester man'. In 1830 these two cities inhabited different time zones, that were five minutes apart.

Indeed, until the mid 1850's Britain basked in the light of several time zones. Manchester ran some five minutes behind London, while Liverpool, Bristol and Bath were between ten and fifteen minutes behind that. Further west, the great city of Exeter was a full twenty minutes behind. However, as rail lines spread across the country like a vast spider's web this very sensible practice, reflecting local daylight needs, was increasingly deemed 'inconvenient' by the people of London, who frequently forgot to change their watches and subsequently missed their trains. But more than this, the 'ghost' of Huskisson loomed large and omnipresent and the nascent 'Health and Safety Industry' demanded that something be done.

The Great Western Railway exerted considerable influence on the governments of the day to standardise time and by 1881, even the great clock on the Tom Tower at Oxford had fallen into line.

Huskisson was an oaf. A man of few achievements beyond an unhealthy fascination with horticulture and an impressive collection of carved gate-posts. His chief legacy is his death and the subsequent modern obsession with 'safe working practices' that led to the standardisation of time. It does seem dreadfully unfair that the West Country should be forced to suffer upwards of twenty dark minutes more than the South East on winter morns, simply because a pompous fool failed to employ a little bit of common sense.

My amendment to the Daylight Savings Bill, aims to turn the clocks back to 1830 and I have every faith that common sense shall prevail.

The Royal Yacht

The loss of the HMY Britannia was a spiteful and malicious kick in the face of our monarchy instigated by Tony Blair after his victory in 1997 in a petulant display of 'republicanism'. I am in absolutely no doubt that the current unpopularity of the former PM is largely down to this one ill judged act and it is only right that the pledge by Sir John Major in 1996 that the yacht would be replaced is met by the current administration. Bearded, hemp wearing crusties across the land have been heard muttering darkly that the richest woman in the world should perhaps 'fork out for her own yacht'. As usual, these ill educated, pop music loving, layabouts have entirely missed the point. The wider British people have long risen to the occasion on such matters and the sight of Her Majesty boarding her splendid new publicly funded vessel shall surely give a hearty boost to this nation in these dark and unsettling times.

Cambridge and 'Tory bashing'

I am off to the Cambridge Union this very night to debate whether 'Tory Bashing' is the last acceptable public prejudice. I intend to argue very strongly that it is and allow me too share with you but one example.

Last week one of our bathrooms suffered a 'significant leak' necessitating a call to a local plumber. The chap who turned up had the gall to ring the front door bell and when re-directed to the 'tradesman's entrance' objected saying (limply) that if he couldn't come through the front door he would leave us to ' bloody well drown'. Happily I was on hand to resolve the crisis and despite the fact that he was wearing neither  tie nor jacket, gave instruction that he might proceed.

The pipe was fixed and I paid the gentleman the princely sum of two hundred pounds, with a handsome tip of an additional three. The plumber stared down at the gold coins shining brightly in his hands and promptly demanded: "Is that an 'effing' joke?" When I told him it was not he snorted "Effing Tories" before hightailing it to his car.

Replace the word 'Tories' in that exchange with any other ethnic minority and then ask yourself: Is that acceptable? I think not and I hope very much that you share that opinion.

I must up and away. A very good day to you all.


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