Thursday, 18 December 2014

Party Time at Coley Park [3]

It's a Gas
First Bus had six experimental gas buses in operation in Northampton in the early 2000s.
Note the really boring livery!

They were not very successful and the experiment fizzled out sooner than the promoters had hoped. But Reading has gone gasbag big time. The fbb's bus to Coley Park Baptish Church was gas powered and branded Bronze Line.
For keen vehicle watchers, the bus is a Scania K270UB with Alexander Dennis B40F body.

Like the promo video at the head of this blog, the bus duly announced itself and the fbb's duly boarded. But, whilst waiting, a check of the shelter revealed the now-usual lack of timetables.
The route is short, so there is an argument that here, maybe, a timetable is less necessary, but there were none displayed anywhere in central Reading. Also lacking were maps. fbb did not spot a network map anywhere and there was no route map on stop FM. But fares were displayed - good!
But once inside the bus, there was a well stocked rack of Bronze Line leaflets. These did contain proper timetables, fares and two maps, one of line of route and one detailing stops in the centre of town.

The bus was clean, warm and very smart. The next stop display was nice and big for a short time before each stop ...
... but most of the time it was cluttered with promtional material with the next stop wording less than legible from seats towards the back. Pity. Fortunately the spoken announcements worked well. The fbb's wanted to alight at a stop called "Roundhead" and peered expectantly out of the window for the pub, just in case they missed it in a pitch of frenzied excitement.
Sadly the pub is no more; its empty sign pictured on the return journey.
It has been demolished and replaced with a block of "bijou" maisonettes. It once looked quite hospitable!
Alas, the Friday Karaoke failed to stem the decline in customers. 

There were niggles but Reading Buses services are (usually) easy to find and easy to use. On-line the company is first class. There was, however, one final disappointment. The council tax payers of Reading have an excellent bus company, cheap fares, frequent and comfortable modern buses, so ...
... why, oh why, make your customers pay a high price to obtain information from a remote call centre? Absolutely daft and potentially counter-productive.

The birthday party was entirely for the children (a bouncy castle, eschewed by fbb, afraid of instant deflation) with limited nibbles ...
... which didn't seem to excite the star of the show. One of the adults had to point out to fbb that the cake(top centre in photo above) was not an erupting volcano, but a beehive. For some reason, bees were the theme of the afternoon.
And so to the return rail journey and another example of why timetables are so necessary and journey planners less than helpful.

This is what National Rail told fbb for a journey after 1730 (approx arrival time of  bus/walk from Coley Park) ...
... undoubtedly the "right" answer. But this is what the fbb's did ...
... and arrived home a whole hour earlier. Of course, the 4 minute connection was risky; of course the fbb's might have spent a whole hour at Basingstoke station with no refreshment room open. But it was worth the risk. On numerous occasions your elderly hero has warned people of the less than ideal connections available from Reading to the Axminster line but in every case the one advised has taken the risk and made the officially unmakeable connection.

An impersonal journey planner cannot communicate that "fuzzy logic". A real local person can. Would the folk answering the phones at National Rail Enquiries (08457 484950) have the local nous to offer a choice of risk or easy? fbb tried.

No they haven't. That's why we need local telephone enquiry offices. To save fbb an hour in the cold!

fbb also tried the recorded service with the same result; although it did offer a later departure via Exeter which would have been unnecessarily more expensive. The female dalek who replied also played an "engineering warning" for the journey via Basingstoke. It told fbb, irrelevantly, there was a 20 minute delay between Reeding (sic!) and Westbury due to engineering works.

That's why we need local telephone enquiry offices.
  from Luke  
A small group of the less savoury members of society, "gentlemen of the road", have been given the nighttime job of guarding a farmer's flock of rare-breed sheep in the face of growing rural crime. In return for a few packets of Woodbines and a bottle or two of IPA they are to ensure the overnight seasonal safety of the ovine rarities.
They are stunned by loud noises and bright lights in the sky which they believe are telling them to go and see a baby, a home birth, in a back room of a low grade boarding house in the nearby village. 

Not only are thy daft enough to respond, leaving their charges and risking substantial opproprium from the farmer, BUT off they go and tell everyone what they have done! Thus reports Luke in his gospel. (Chapter 2 verse 19 is emphasised below)

You couldn't make it up; and if you did do-one would believe you, surely. So, if your motives for writing were serious, you wouldn't make it up.

All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.

Shepherds were about the lowest rung in society back then, banned from the Temple because hey had to deal with dead bodies and about the least like group to have a "religious experience". But over the centuries we have misunderstood their report.

The angelic message was NOT, absolutely NOT:-
Hang on, our readers are saying, we all know that's what they said.

No, actually it was like this:-

Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!”

The peace of God comes from pleasing him; and we start to please God when we accept the forgiveness of Jesus, made possible by his sacrificial and substitutionary** death on the cross.

And it all kicks off with Christmas.
**"Substitutionary - another long word to confuse us. Jesus death on the cross was to take the punishment that we should receive for disobeying God's law.
 Next bus blog : Friday 19th December 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Party Time at Coley Park [2]

Reading Buses : Very Impressive
The Company has transmogrified from municipality with town crest, through an incomprehensible RT for Reading Transport to traditional maroon but with blue line and trendy lettering. The final fleet logo format with "buses" in a blob gave way to multicoloured route branding.

Standing on Friar Street, the parade of pleasing pulchritude was, indeed, impressive. Each route or group thereof now has a distinctive brand colour with route numbers on the front side panels.

Caversham Park is pink with matching destination LED colours.
19s are branded "nineteens"with a rich orange body ...
... and bear in mind this is not some super frequent busy cross city route. The 19A, 19B and 19C are each hourly "mopping-up" routes supplementing more frequent 13s, 14s and 21s. Most operators would use their cascaded tat on such services, but not Reading. The vehicles are brand new "14 plate" Streetlites.
Some brands are mysterious to a visitor. Greenwave seems to be a collection of routes serving different destinations at different times ...
To choose your bus, numbered 50A, 50E, 51, 51A, 52, 52A, 53 and 53A, you need to look at five different timetables.
Maybe a future blog?

What was noticeable, however, was the general condition of the vehicles. Despite the day being damp and drizzly, it looked as if every vehicle had been through a thorough bus wash the previous evening. Very smart indeed.

Compare Reading Buses' richness of colour, cleanliness and quality with one other operator.
Service 90 to Bracknell, a barbie bus. Then, a while later ...
... Green Line liveried 90 to Bracknell. And later on, too dark to photograph ...
... one of these (possibly; it was all over blue), also a service 90, zoomed past on St Mary's Butts. Consistent image, what's that?

Time on Friar Street passed all too quickly, and the fbbs readied themselves to catch the Bronze Line 11 to Coley Park at 1446.
It was, as we said in the 60s, simply a gas!
It is all-too-easy, at this time of year, to dismiss the miracles that surround Christmas as being economical with the truth (virgin birth), drunken stupor (shepherds) or faulty astronomical observations (wise men); newspapers will find "experts" who have all the answers. What these opinions forget is that there were plenty of people in the first century AD who would have loved to denigrate the Divinity of Christ, but, oddly, we have no written record of their "explanations" of the miraculous.

Cicada (Magicicada septendecim) eggs are laid in cracks in the bark of a tree.
After they hatch, the climb down the tree and burrow into the ground. Where they remain, feeding off root juice, for seventeen years. After this lengthy incarcerated life the whole brood waits until the soil temperature reaches 63 degrees (F).
They all emerge together and start singing (screeching?) to the chagrin of those living nearby who might be trying to sleep.

They mate (often several times); the females lay heir eggs then all the adults die.
The 17 year cycle begins again.

No-one know why or how.

17 is a prime number (it can't be reached by counting in, say, twos or fours), so needs a specially programed body cycle. 63 degrees is a very specific temperature that an adult cicada would have to store and match to its year of emergence. And why 17? And why do some strains count to 13? And why do most cicadas emerge annually?

As we think about the "traditional nativity story" we may struggle with the miraculous in many ways; but, without those super-human events, Christmas isn't worth celebrating. There is nothing there.

Tomorrow, the misunderstood message of the shepherds!
 Next bus blog : Thursday 18th December 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Party Time at Coley Park [1]

Today's and the next two blogs are a delayed follow-on from posts about the railway line between Basingstoke and Reading. Read again (here) and (here).
Coley Park was a large private Estate to the west of Reading centre. The big house had several manifestations in the last 500 years. The 17th century mansion ...
... was much nearer the Holy (Holly) Brook with Coley Farm attached. The second House (1790s) on the same site was to a different design.
It is thought that some of the materials from No 2 were used to build the No 3 (and present) pile further north and away from the often-flooding river.
Three early 20th century developments on the estate are worthy of note.
The Great Western Railway built a branch from Southcote Junction (where the line via Newbury leaves the Basingstone branch) to the Reading Goods Station.
Also, to the right centre of the map above (the grey block) was the Co-operative Wholesale Society jam factory.
In the field south of the factory was a small WW1 airstrip whose claim to fame is being where W E Johns, creator of flying ace Biggles, learned to fly. And one more claim to fame for the area. The "recreation ground" (map above) was an early home of Reading Football Club.
But in the late 1950s much of the land was bought by Reading Council to develop the present housing estate with its distinctive three tower blocks ...
... once the tallest buildings in Reading. Oh, yes; and Kate Winslet went to school in Coley Park. 
But it was to Coley Park Baptist Church than the fbbs travelled for the big day. And that meant a ride on a Reading Buses bus.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, out of town buses used a bus station just off Station Hill and underneath Mecca Bingo.
Neither is now in use. Station Hill itself was one of the main terminal points for local buses.
But with the massive redevelopment of the railway station, everything now uses on street stands splattered liberally around the town centre. The excellently situated Station Hill "interchange" is to be an "attractive pedestrian piazza, surrounded my "a major commercial redevelopment". Now there's a surprise. A useful and convenient bus station sold off to make way for office blocks.

The struggling visitor is helped somewhat by a "Where to Catch Your Bus" street map in every stand.
It was easy to find the stand for the bus to Coley Park at stop FM on Friar Street.
The centre map would have been better had it been correct and/or up-to-date. For example services 19A etc were stopping at stop FM not as shown. And what is service 190; or, to put it another way, where would I catch First Bus service 90 to Bracknell? Of course there are confuser-driven screens in most stops, but when fbb wanted to check his bus to Coley Park it was obvious ...
... that summat was up. Or "down". Or "out". Or simply busted!

Time for a quick lunch. But where? Nandos was packed solid, as was almost every other branded noshery in Reading centre. But what is this?
Right next to the Coley Park departure stand a rather seedy back lane led to "The Shed".
Sumptuous sarnies made to order, a potta and a bag of crisps made a delectable repast for the fbbs. And the little caff makes its own cakes!
Excellent and strongly recommended.

But this is a public transport blog, not Giles Coren's foody column in the Saturday Times magazine. So while Mrs fbb explored Poundland, your sated blogger spent a happy few minutes watching the buses go by.

Of which more tomorrow.
  John Ch 3  
Those of us who, in days of our youth, attended Sunday School or Bible class, may well remember an activity called "sword drill". With Bible held fully shut, the leader would announce Book, Chapter and Verse and the first to stand up and read out the correct sentences would win a point, a toffee or the accolade of his peers. We all reckoned that John Chapter 3 verse 16 was likely to be one of the questions.
In his Gospel, John records the arrival, by night (i.e. secretly) of a member of the Jewish ruling council (The Samhedrin). Nicodemus wanted to know what this "new" religion was all about.

Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

A cleaning out of the old (sinful) Nicodemus was the only way, both for this life and for eternity.

"As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man (aka Jesus) must be lifted up (crucified), so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

Moses, pole? About 1200 years previously, as Moses was leading the people across the desert and into the Promised Land, they were beset by poisonous snakes.
The antidote was to "look up" to a snake lifted high on a pole and thus be cured. Even today a version of this is the symbol of the Medical Profession!

Jesus had come to be the ultimate equivalent of the snake. The antidote to the poison of disobedience to God.

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life." (John Chapter 3 verses 16)

Without this message, we will never "get" Christmas.
 Next bus blog : Wednesday 17th December