I went for a nice little walk on Saturday.
I visited one of my old stamping grounds, where I'd not been back for over ten years.
I walked six and a quarter wet and muddy miles and passed 21 locks, then got the train back to where I started.
When I travelled this canal by boat, it had only been re-opened five years previously.
Apologies to Jim (no, not you) again, this time for encroaching on his territory.
Every year on his birthday, Diamond Geezer takes the London bus corresponding to his age. This year he is 53. This year, I also will be 53. I've long been aware that DG and I are of an age, but until I read his post this morning about yesterday's birthday, it didn't occur to me that I might do likewise, in Sheffield.
For the last couple of years, I've sort of done it, a bit, by accident. Until I moved last summer, I lived bang on the 51 route, and frequently rode a section of it. I lived pretty near the 52 as well, and would often take a 52 to just short of my destination if no 51 was forthcoming. I have never done either of these from end to end. I have been to one terminus of the 51, both walking, and the time the driver forgot to stop, but I have never been to Charnock at the other end. I have walked past the starting point of the 52 (since moving) but I have never been to Woodhouse.
The first birthday I had in Sheffield was my 48th. A 48 and 49 bus seem rather elusive. I find mention of them in passing, but no official record seems to exist - perhaps others can help. The 50 goes to Chesterfield, so perhaps I could start with that one - it's not even a very long journey. Then I could do the entirety of the 51, and even squeeze in the 52 while I'm still 52.
And then what a treat in July - the 53 promises an hour and a half excursion to Mansfield.
As the Big Days Out have somewhat stalled (Saltaire was a great start, but the process has been somewhat held up by the second random pick being Ladybank) perhaps I could manage some bus trips in the meantime.
And, ooh, Jim - I went on a new tram yesterday! In Nottingham. Not as nice as the Sheffield ones. They don't have conductors, but ticket machines and threatening notices, but it was certainly a very efficient way of getting from the station to the University.
Today I am shortly off for a day trip visiting old canal haunts...
Thank you to everyone who added thoughtful, careful and tactful comments to my last post - and that's everyone. I just wanted to say that I will respond, but perhaps when it's all over - or at least this first stage, which should end at the end of next week - when the dust has settled and I can get a bit more perspective. And I will respond because I do care what you - you union men - think; because there are important questions not only about individual conscience but about what trade unions are for, and how they can best achieve their aims. And these are questions that I want to ask, not that I presume to answer. So please bear with me while I write about some other things in the meantime.
You may have noticed something on the news about a 'lecturers'' strike - it's actually not just lecturers, but researchers and all sorts of academic staff, working mainly in pre-1992 universities. They've been on strike from last Thursday to today, and then will be again from next Monday to Thursday, and all of the week after that. The strike is over proposed changes to our pension scheme, shifting it from being a defined benefit scheme, under which, crudely, you know what you're going to get, to a 'defined contribution' scheme, where (even more crudely) the final amount is at the mercy of the stock market. It's also about arguments over the valuation of the scheme, and the significance of its deficit. I don't fully understand it, and I've been trying really hard. But even if we accept, for the sake of argument, that this is a bad thing, I'm still not striking.
Every one of my colleagues who is on strike has an automated email reply with a link to the UCU website to say why they are on strike. They are all over Twitter saying why they are on strike. They have picket lines (9 am - 11 am) at which they will tell you why they are on strike. They have stalls in the Students' Union to say why they are on strike. But I have nowhere to say why I'm not on strike. And I want to say. I want to say it loud and proud. I'm not creeping, cowed, into work. I'm not ashamed of being a 'scab', covering for my striking colleagues. I am working proudly, wholeheartedly, and bloody hard. And I am not doing it because I am a right wing bastard. I'm not doing it because I want to destroy the trade union movement. I'm not doing it for the money or for popularity. I'm doing it because it is the right thing to do.
I am doing it because a defined benefit pension is a middle class, public sector, privilege that is not available to the majority of workers in this country, and I cannot in all conscience strike to defend my and my colleagues' middle class privilege at the expense of my mostly working class students. My students are people from all sorts of backgrounds and histories who are trying to improve their lives and their prospects through getting a degree; because they're not from comfortable middle class backgrounds with the support for education and the cultural capital that brings, because they often didn't get the chance to do A Levels or stay on at school, we provide a Foundation Year so that they can hit the ground running and be the equal of their eighteen-year-old peers when they start their degree. It's something I'm immensely proud to be involved with, but which also carries great responsibility.
These students haven't just invested money in their education. Although older students, from working class backgrounds, are more likely to be put off by the idea of debt than conventional students, despite the fact that they may never have to repay it, for me this isn't even the biggest issue. Much more important is the fact that they have turned their lives upside down to come to university. They have given up jobs and replaced wages with maintenance loans; or they are working all hours at the same time as studying; they're seeing less of their children and putting their relationships under strain and even conflict. They are defying and overcoming the significant mental, emotional and physical health barriers that previously kept them out of education. In many cases they are putting their very sense of identity on the line. They are doing this to grasp the opportunity of the sort of education that most of those on the picket lines took for granted.
The least I can do is to turn up to teach them. The least I can do is to do my very best to ensure that their investment of money and time and effort and self is not dismissed as being of less importance than the size of my pension.
I think this is the highlight and the centrepiece of my new house:
The dining room fireplace...
Fireplace from Newhaven tip (£10), cleaned and restored by Jim - but in excellent condition to start with, under its layers of white gloss paint. Brass skirt thingy from the marquee at Braunston. 'Teapot brown' oblong tiles from the V&A collection (£90 a metre!); Victorian decorative tiles bought on the works outing to Cleethorpes, 2015; oak shelf made by Pete Boyce (designed by me!); brackets by Yesterhome, all beautifully put together by Jim.
One of the things I've got involved with because of my job is the Foundation Year Network (they're working on the website), and because I can't resist a committee, I got myself elected (unopposed, I think) to their executive last year. We meet at various institutions where the network has a presence, and yesterday this provided an opportunity for the boss (who currently chairs the executive) and me to take a trip Up That London, as it is obligatory here to call any journey to the capital. Our hosts were Kings College, and we were to meet in the River Room, which we were assured had a stunning view of the Thames.
Well, it probably did, before they put the scaffold up.
It was a lovely bright, dry (if cold) day in London, a welcome contrast to the slushy Sheffield I'd walked through to the station for the 0729 train. In the afternoon, the FYN held a workshop, in which I participated in the traditional fashion:
A good time was had by all, and I was particularly impressed by the college's monogrammed Wedgewood plates.
The boss being a fell runner, and me as you know a keenish walker, there was no question of us taking the tube for the scant mile and three quarters from St Pancras to the Strand. What with my walk down to the station in the morning, I clocked up over six miles over the course of the day. We left it a bit late getting away though and had to stride out fairly briskly, not helped by starting off in the wrong direction and someone putting a building site whereof Google knew not. Now, here's an interesting thing - we each had Google maps on our identical iPhones, set up for the same destination, and they were giving us different ETAs. Does Google/iPhone take account of your walking speed (as measured in the past) when estimating how long a journey will take?
Anyway, we beat Google's estimate(s) fairly comfortably, and had a most civilised return journey.