Well, it has been a while since I last blogged, hasn’t it? I’m not quite sure what explanation I can offer. Maybe nothing interesting has happened in my life; maybe I’ve been too lazy to write anything. I suspect it is some combination of the two.
Now, however, it’s time for me to account for my whereabouts since Friday. If you’ve been following my Tweets, you will have noticed that I was in London over the weekend. A trip to the Smoke was something I’ve been pondering for a while, I decided to go to celebrate my birthday (which was yesterday, in fact). It proved to be a great weekend, offering the chance to catch up with friends old and new.
On 11th September 2001 that was literally true for me.
My unemployed 19-year-old self had been meandering uselessly around Liverpool city centre for most of the morning. I arrived home just in time to hear the 2pm news on the radio and listened incredulously as the newsreader announced that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.
I flicked on the TV just in time to see the second plane strike the towers, live on BBC News 24.
Searching for light relief later that evening, I found none. On the web forums and Usenet groups I frequented, the only topic of conversation was New York. I found a Frasier repeat on Paramount Comedy, but even that was tinged with the sad knowledge that one of the show’s creators had died aboard a hijacked plane that morning.
Of all the television moments from that day and its immediate aftermath, three stick in my mind:-
BBC reporter Stephen Evans reporting live on News 24 by phone from the scene, when suddenly the accompanying pictures showed one of the towers collapsing. The presenter in the studio asked Stephen for clarification, but the line was dead. For a horrifying few moments, the thought crossed my mind that Evans could have been buried live on TV.
This heartbreaking interview with the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, a company which lost hundreds of people in the disaster.
David Letterman, normally so irreverent and flippant, seemingly on the verge of tears during his show the following Monday.
Like many people I struggled to make sense of what had happened, I found myself “translating” the events and places into meaningful equivalents for me. How would I react if St John’s Beacon, or the Liver Building, had been destroyed? What if Liverpool Central station, rather than Cortlandt Street, had been crushed by the weight of a collapsing building? With that I was able to begin to comprehend the grief and anger that the American people felt.
There is much to debate about 9/11 and its aftermath, but just for today, leave that to one side, and take time instead to remember those who died.
It’s hard not to be a fan of the Oyster Card. As I wandered around London during my recent visit, it was great not to have to worry about fishing for cash or accidentally travelling out of an arbitrarily-defined zone. Simply tap your card on the yellow pad and let the computers do the rest.
I think it’s safe to say that the introduction of Oyster was nothing less than a revolution in ticketing. With online and automatic topup options available, the days of queueing at ticket offices to pay public transport fares are a distant memory for most Londoners.
I have, therefore, been eagerly awaiting the long-threatened launch of Merseytravel’s equivalent technology. I was excited this summer by the sight of smartcard readers appearing on the ticket barriers at Merseyrail’s major stations for the use of bewildered pensioners travelling on free passes.
Until now though, it was not known when non-coffin dodgers would be able to get their hands on one. Well, the wait is over and the next phase of the rollout has begun. From today, commuters renewing their all-zone Trio ticket will not get the date-stamp-on-a-sticker which has been the standard issue for years. Instead, they will be issued with their ticket on a new Merseytravel-branded smartcard: Walrus.
I’m not quite sure what the thinking is: I think it’s an attempt to continue the sea-based theme (after Hong Kong’s Octopus and Oyster), as well as enabling a slew of “I am the Walrus” puns. Yes, it’s Liverpool, so it has to be the fucking Beatles again. At least the marketing people came up with something slightly more imaginative than Ticket to Ride.
Merseytravel have a nice little web site about the card complete with a video which tries really hard to sell the branding. It nearly won me over with “Walrus in your wallet”, but by that point I was already annoyed by the narrator talking about topping up the card, “or feeding the Walrus as I like to call it.” (aargh!)
I have plenty of time to get used to the name: if the rollout plan is adhered to, I (as a monthly season ticket holder) won’t get my hands on a Walrus until Autumn 2012. The final phase – Oyster-style pay-as-you-go – will not be completed until 2013.
I will grudgingly admit to liking the design of the card, with the Walrus “tusks” which also bring to mind the livery design on the outer ends of Merseyrail trains.
It’s surely going to be a great boon to the travelling public. But oh, the name!