Aircew Cycling Society Transport Travel

California Dreamin’ – Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge

California Dreamin’

When The Flowerpot Men were urging us to go to San Francisco back in 1967, I very much doubt that cycling was uppermost in their thoughts.

I expect that the only peddler that many of the Hippie generation were interested in was the one who dropped them their daily fix of psychedelic drugs.

Flower Power and the Hippie dream was all 50 years ago, and a lot can happen in half a century.

Having said that – the 60s ethos appears to be alive and well (if in a slightly diluted form) and living happily in California.

As crew for a major UK airline, I frequently fly to the USA, and decided some time back, that when I was next on a San Francisco layover, I would rent a bicycle, and enjoy some California Dreamin’

I had done a little research into bike rentals before my trip, and had decided that a company called Blazing Saddles ( offered a good range of bicycles at a very reasonable rates, with a well appointed Mountain bike starting at just $9.00 per hour ($36.00 per 24 hours), and a range that includes Hardtail MTBs, Full Suspension MTBs, Comfort Tandems, High Performance Tandems, and High Performance Carbon/Alloy Roadies.

An Electrically assisted Bike is also available at $69.00 per day. Trailers and Tag-alongs are also an option if required.

In the highly unlikely event that they can’t help, then Bay City Bikes also offer a good range of cycles for similar prices. They are also located on Fishermans Wharf and may be contacted at

Included within the rental package are a Helmet, a Handlebar Bag, and a lock. Cycles are all fitted with sturdy rear racks, bells, and bungee cords.

So it was, that on a pleasant June Sunday morning, four of us decided that we would cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then ride into the little town of Sausalito.

The plan was to enjoy a relaxed lunch at a waterfront restaurant, and then ride back on the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf. All in all a total mileage of about 9 miles.

This would ideally suit our party, as some of the riders were quite inexperienced, and there were some quite steep hills to negotiate on the way to the bridge.

We decided that as we were in no hurry, we would catch a cable car from Market Street at 1000, and enjoy a scenic trip through the City on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, where Blazing Saddles are located.

Riding the Cable Cars is a highly recommended part of the trip, especially for movie buffs, as the route crosses California Street made famous by Steve McQueen in the film Bullit . Other films made around the City include Mrs Doubtfire, and of course, the hit 1970s cop drama The Streets of San Francisco.

The Cable Car also passes Crookedest Street. This little street gets its name because the road is a series of very tight hairpin bends compressed into about half a city block, all of which clings precariously to a very steep hill. Walking down it is “interesting”, but I imagine the bin men, and emergency services have a nightmare accessing any of the houses there!

Blazing Saddles have a number of locations spread throughout San Francisco, but we would be renting from their Hyde Street branch, which is located about two blocks from the beginning of the cycle path leading to the Bridge.

The cable car route terminates about 100 yards from the shop, which is immediately identifiable by the selection of cycles outside.

Blazing Saddles is a very efficient operation. We were greeted at the reception desk by a team of friendly and knowledgeable staff, and we were rapidly talked through the options, and the required paperwork.

We opted to take the additional insurance that covered the bikes against all damage, and all decided on “Comfort” Mountain Bikes. These differ from the standard models in that they are fitted with a gel saddle disc brakes and front suspension. A good decision, as the difference in price is only a dollar an hour!

We also decided to take advantage of Blazing Saddle’s offer of ferry tickets, which meant no queuing up to buy them at Sausalito. These tickets are offered on a sale or return basis, so it would have been foolish not to have taken advantage of the offer.

We were also given a voucher for a free appetiser at the Paradise Bay Restaurant in Sausalito, and reduced rate secure bike parking adjacent to the restaurant.

We had to leave a credit card number as a security deposit, and we where then whisked to the cavernous area behind reception where we were swiftly fitted up with bicycles.

The staff in bike despatch give a rapid fire briefing on the cycle controls; it is important to listen to this, as the brakes are set up in a different way from in the United Kingdom. In Britain, the right hand brake lever operates the front brake, and the rear brake is activated by the left brake lever. In the USA that convention is reversed.

Missing this piece of vital information could mean an interesting emergency stop scenario, and a subsequent in depth look at the inside of an American Emergency Room.

Having been given our bikes, and had saddles adjusted, we were instructed to ride towards the exit, and come to a complete stop so as to ensure the brakes were working satisfactorily.

We were then free to depart for the Bridge.
The route heads west past aquatic park on a dedicated cycle path, running adjacent to the waterfront, and is well maintained and free from potholes, and is mainly of tarmac or concrete surface. Within half a mile or so, there is a fairly steep (but luckily short) hill leading into Fort Mason Park. At the top of the hill is a vista point, giving a view over the bay.

Disappointingly, the weather in June is characteristically foggy in the morning, and only the first tower of the bridge could be seen, and the fog horn sounded moodily melancholy.

We decided not to let this dampen our spirits, so we continued on, with a gentle descent through the pleasant grounds of the park, at the bottom of which our sign-posted route took us through a car park, and out again onto a wide, well maintained path. This is shared space, with a pedestrian footpath of about ten feet in width, and two cycle lanes clearly marked for two way bike traffic.

As this was a Sunday morning, every cyclist in the San Francisco area had decided to get their bikes out, and the air was filled with shouts of “On ya left dude” and “Comin’ though” On the whole, other riders were courteous, and polite.

The route remains fairly flat in the main, and passes a tidal marshland nature reserve, and a variety of birds and fowl may be seen here if you bother to stop and look. The route then passes Crissy Field, an old army airfield, but which is now a part of the Golden Gate Nature Reserve Area.

Eventually, the path sweeps left, culminating in a short, steep uphill climb on Long Avenue.
This intersects with Lincoln Boulevard, but this is probably the only stretch of the route which uses roads. Within a hundred yards or so, the route forks right and heads to the base of the bridge.

As the vehicular traffic across the bridge is very busy, there are segregated paths for pedestrians and cyclists, but quite sensibly, the Bridge authority has ensured that cyclists and pedestrians do not conflict with each other. This is done by the simple expedient of splitting the walkers and bikers onto either the east or west side of the bridge.

So, as it was a weekend day, cyclists were obliged to use the West path and walkers the East. This system is excellent, and makes for a good flow in both directions.

So with the last climb of the ride, we wound our way under the bridge, and up onto the bridge itself, where we stopped for the obligatory photo by the Golden Gate Bridge sign.

The ride across the bridge is a little chilly, mainly due to the coastal breeze, and in our case, the mist. However, the road surface is well maintained, and clearly signed.

Once over the bridge, a steeply descending curving path leads down into the town of Sausalito.

The town is obviously a prosperous area, and the houses and streets are beautifully maintained, and spotlessly clean.
The cycle path disappears here, and the ride into town is conducted on public roads, but the car drivers in this idyllic spot are courteous, and generous in their encounters with bicycles – of which there are literally thousands!

We cycled to the western edge of the town, where we found our restaurant, and duly handed our cycles to the valet, who ensured that they were parked and locked in a secure area – and all this for just one dollar per bike.

The restaurant, The Paradise Bay, is in a nice location overlooking the waterfront, and we chose to sit outside to enjoy some top quality fish, and sample some of the local ales – in my case Steam Bitter, which is a refreshing way to end a fabulous ride.

Having eaten and drunk to our capacity, we cycled the half mile to the ferry terminal, and were soon boarded, along with about a hundred and fifty other cycles for our half hour crossing of the bay, back to Fishermans Wharf.

A short ride along the sea front took us back to Blazing saddles, where we returned the bicycles, and settled our bill – which came to just $40.00 each for a whole days use of the bikes, and the ferry tickets which normally retailed at $10.00 each one way.

Lastly, We all purchased a tee shirt proclaiming the we had “Biked the Bridge”

So – if you are looking for a fun day of leisure riding then I would thoroughly recommend Biking the Bridge, and Blazing Saddles are there to help you do it.

Mark Charlwood©




Glider – The First Flight

First Flight It was a crisp cold October morning in 1972, as my Father and I climbed into his Morris Minor Traveller, to head off to Crowborough. I was almost hopping from foot to foot with excitement, yet my stomach was also performing somersaults, probably due to the number of butterflies flying madly around it.

Today was THE day. This was the day that I would experience the utter joy and exhilaration of flight. And the start of a love affair that was to last my entire life.

We set off nice and early, as we had to drive to Crowborough, a small country town, in the middle of the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, Once there, we were to meet up with My Father’s friend, Bernard Kirby, who was the Chief Flying Instructor at RAF West Malling, the home of 618 Volunteer Gliding Squadron.

My Father had met Bernard whilst conducting his daily commute to work. East Grinstead is a terminal station, and my Father, always a creature of habit, chose to sit in the same seat every day.

His regular companion, who always sat opposite Dad, happened to notice one day that my Father was reading yet another book about flying. He asked “are you interested in flying Alan?” My father responded that he was. Bernard then generously offered to take Dad up in a glider.

Knowing that I was aircraft crazy, my Dad asked if his 13 year old son could come as well. The answer was yes.

Having arrived at Crowborough, we all piled into Bernard’s blue VW Beetle, and he drove us to RAF West Malling. This small military airfield was home to my boyhood heroes, the pilots that constituted “The Few”, who so bravely defended my country against the Germans during the Battle of Britain.

Having been active throughout all of the Second World War, the RAF had downgraded its operational status, and it was now a non active base, but it was still home to 618 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, manned by members of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

We arrived at the time of the Ugandan crisis, when President Idi Amin had deported thousands of Ugandan Asians. Many had arrived in Britain, and a lot of the old military quarters were being used to house these poor unfortunate souls. Even as a 13 year old kid, I could still see the desperation and sadness in their listless eyes. It still haunts me now, in those quiet contemplative moments.

Mr Kirby parked his car by the hangar, and we all got into the land rover. Well, my Dad and Mr Kirby got into the Land Rover. I was unceremoniously loaded into the back, and we bounced our way across the grassy tussocks to the launch point, where a number of gliders had been seemingly abandoned.

Getting out of the Landie, I felt a bit disoriented. There was a lot going on, and everyone seemed to know what to do, or where to stand except me. I stood to the back, and watched as my Dad was strapped into a large two seat side by side glider with an open cockpit.

It was fitted with two jaunty little windscreens directly in front of each pilot, reminiscent of a 1930s sports car. Bernard hopped in beside him, and I watched, fascinated, as he zipped through the Pre take off checks. In short order, a cable was attached to the hook on the underside of the fuselage. A few calls later, and the glider suddenly swooped forwards, accelerating at a very brisk rate, and rotating into what seemed to me to be a very steep climb.

I watched as the aircraft got to the apex of its climb, and then saw the cable drop, it’s little drogue chute flapping and gyrating like a wounded bird as it fell to earth.

A lad wearing a blue uniform approached me. He was about my age, but was resplendent in his RAF blues, oddly contrasting with a pair of white training shoes. He shyly asked me which squadron I was with.

I stared at him dumbly. Squadron? “I’m here with my Dad. What do you mean which Squadron.”

He replied that he was with Crowborough Squadron of the ATC


“ATC” he confirmed.

“The Air Training Corps. I’m here to do a gliding day”. “How much does it cost?”, I asked, fearful that it would be well beyond my meagre pocket money.

“20p a week subscription”.

I was stunned. I could join up and get to fly for 20 p a week?????

Throughout the conversation I was tracking my Father in the glider.

It was now curving round, it’s air brakes open, as it sliced its way though the air, I could hear it sighing, and then it was down, rumbling to a stop about 100 yards from the launch point. I saw my Dad get out, and asked him what it was like. He grinned enthusiastically, and said it was fascinating.

I know now with hindsight, that my Dear old Dad was putting a brave face on it. I believe that he was terrified, but didn’t want to influence me.

In later. Years, I would ask my Dad if he would come flying with me. I have instructor ratings, and have amassed hundreds of hours, but he never flew again after that event.

Standing with Dad, I continued to wait patiently for my turn to get airborne. I didn’t have to wait long!

Another Air Cadet, a lad of about 16, briskly marched up, and asked me to “come this way please”

Flinging a dismissive and airy wave at my Dad, I strolled nonchalantly after the other chap, my relaxed stroll disguising my inner turmoil.

Would I be scared – shit myself? Would I be airsick?

“That’s your ‘plane” said my guide, indicating a very elderly glider that looked like it had been designed by Leonardo Da Vinci.

It had an open cockpit, but the seats were arranged one in front of the other. Small curved windshields protected the pilots from the slipstream. The wing was a huge slab, mounted onto a short pylon, so that the rear cockpit sat under it. The front cockpit was therefore totally exposed.

A lanky man wandered up the frail craft, and looked intently at me. “Are you Mark?” He asked. I nodded dumbly back at him, my mouth dry, and my stomach doing backflips. “My names Colin, and I will be taking to up. Have you ever flown before?”

” No Sir” I responded.

“Nothing to worry about – its great fun. Come here, and lets get you in.” I walked up to the side of the beast, and gazed into the cockpit; it was ancient! It only had two dials – I was expecting more. It also had two vertical tubes mounted on the instrument panel.

“Right, stand beside the cockpit, and swing your right leg in. Stand on the seat, then bring your left leg in. Don’t step on the controls or cables, and keep your feet on the small floorboards, or you will damage the hull”

I gingerly climbed in and sat down, and Colin swiftly strapped me in, and pulled the straps tightly. The glider wobbled about a bit, as Colin eased himself into the rear cockpit, and he continued his commentary which, whilst I don’t remember it word for word, its almost the same as the patter that I give to others as I strap in.

“You’ll see in front of you two dials. The one on the left is the Air Speed Indicator, or ASI, the one on the right is the altimeter. In the middle are two tubes. This is called a Cosim Variometer. It has a green bead in one tube, and a red bead in the other. If the red bead goes up, we are sinking. If the green bead goes up, we are climbing.” (I was later to discover that the Mark 3 has a built in rate of sink, and I very rarely saw the green bead float up its tube, except during take off)

Colin continued “On the left side of the panel is a yellow knob. When we get to the top of the launch, you’ll feel the nose lower, as I push the stick forwards to take the load off of the cable. The red lever on the left cockpit wall is the lever to extend the spoilers” “The stick moves the flight controls. Push it forward, and the aircraft will dive, pull it back, and the nose will go up. Moving it to the left will cause the aircraft to roll to the left, and moving it right will start us rolling to the right. The rudder pedals are used to help us in the turns. Have you got that?”

“Yes Sir”

Colin called out to the Cadet loitering near the aircraft “wing up six”. The lad dutifully lifted the wingtip a few inches, and Colin began checking the controls. The stick waggled around between my legs, and the rudder pedals moved. It seemed that Colin was satisfied that the aircraft was functional, as he called to another cadet to bring a cable to our machine.

Kneeling down, the cadet requested “open” and I saw the yellow knob moved, and felt a metallic action under my seat. “Close” the knob retracted back into its recess in the panel. The boy then pulled on the cable to the rear, and I felt the recoil of the mechanism opening. I asked Colin what was happening, and he explained that the back release was being checked to make sure that if the manual release failed, the glider would still disconnect from the cable.

The cadet then reconnected the cable to the glider, and the rest of the controls were checked. I was told to “follow through” on the stick and rudder, and he would explain what was happening.

The wingman now lifted the wing so that the glider was sitting with the wings level. “Take up slack” called Colin. The cadet at the wing started waving his hand slowly, and within a few seconds, I noticed a ripple in the grass, as the winch was pulling the cable taut. The glider moved forwards a foot or so, and then stopped.

“Ready?” Said Colin

“Yes” I squeaked. Looking to the left, I could see my Dad watching, and I gave him a nervous thumbs up, and saw him smile in response. “All out!” Called Colin, and a couple of seconds later, the glider suddenly accelerated, faster than any car I had ever been in.

A few bounces and rumbles, and all of a sudden we were airborne!

Pure, unadulterated, fucking magic!

The aircraft rotated into a steep climbing angle, and the wind howled and whistled around the cockpit. I looked at the altimeter, and saw that we were approaching 1300 feet. Awesome!

At almost 1500 feet, I felt my stomach lurch as the nose dipped, and then I heard and felt a metallic bang, as the cable was released, and the noise dropped to a ruffle. I could hear Colin quite clearly.

I looked out, and spread below me was the Weald of Kent, and the city of London.

“Would you like to fly it” asked Colin? “When I hand control to you, I will say “You Have Control”. You will respond “I have control”. That way we both know who is flying” I took hold of the stick, and I heard those magical words for the first time in my life “you have control”.

“I have control” the stick tremored slightly as Colin relaxed his grip. “Gently pull back on the stick”.

I eased the column backwards, and the nose slowly climbed above the horizon, and the wind noise muted further. “Now gently relax the stick and allow the nose to drop” Following the instruction, I allowed the nose to drop and the altimeter began unwinding. The speed crept up, and then Colin asked me to level her out. I was allowed to do a bank in each direction, and then Colin said ” I have control”, and we commenced our descent back to the airfield. Talking me through continuously, Colin explained the approach, and the use of the spoilers to aid the a curacy of the landing. The aiming point was steady in the windshield, slowly floating up towards me, until, at the last minute, the ground rushed by in a blur, and with a bump and a rumble we were down, coming to rest a few yards from where we took off. I thought my head would fall in half, so wide was my grin. I clambered out, and thanked Colin, and wandered back to Dad. I was euphoric for days, and promptly joined my local Air Cadet squadron, 1343 (East Grinstead). My next exposure to flying was as a student pilot at Royal Air Force Kenley, the home of the mighty 615 Volunteer Gliding Squadron. So, I would like to thank you Mr Bernard Kirby, and Colin, who gave me the everlasting joy of flight.

Civil liberties internet privacy Society

The Internet of Things – Sinister Threat, or Powerful Friend?

Ask most people what they understand by the term “Internet”, and the majority will respond by explaining that the World Wide Web is accessed on their laptop computers, tablets, or smart phones to enable them to shop, communicate, and maybe conduct some research for business or educational purposes.

The expression “internet-enabled” is casually bandied about, referring to maybe a camera that will download photos automatically to a social networking site via the internet.

At the moment people access the internet, using a fixed dedicated interface device such as a desktop PC, Laptop, or smart phone.

However, the exclusive status is about to change, as more and more “inanimate” objects are being Internet enabled, becoming what is known as Ambient Intelligence.

The humble fridge in your kitchen may soon be able to assess stock levels, and reorder supplies when a preset level is detected. The vacuum cleaner may soon be able to communicate with a centralised home computer to decide which rooms require cleaning, and in what priority.

Your shopping basket may soon be enabled, and will monitor what products you are buying, and may look at patterns – maybe you are buying unhealthy food combinations, and may then upload this data to your medical centre, where your Doctor may be able to assess your diet.

Maybe government departments will monitor your spending habits to see if you are buying things that when used in combination may be dangerous.

Checking care labels on articles of clothing before loading the washing machine may soon become a thing of the past, as the item will have a microchip woven into the fabric which will communicate to the washing machine the required cleaning programme.

Already home management systems are on the market that enables a multitude of tasks to be automatically conducted with many of the functions being controlled remotely using a smart phone or a tablet computer, via the Internet.

The development of the Radio Frequency Identity Device (RFID) tag has had a profound and dramatic effect on the way we live our lives.

Initially developed for stock control and security purposes, this small chip may be programmed with a unique code that is associated with a particular product. The chip is passive, and will activate and transmit its code when interrogated by a reader device.

Stock may then be tracked within a warehouse, on board transport, and ultimately into the supermarket. It may be tracked again at checkout, and once paid for may be deleted from the system.

The same technology is used in bank cards, credit cards, Identity Cards, and documents such as passports and official documents.

If this technology is taken a step further, RFIDs may be attached to small inert chips, and placed under the skin of animals, and ultimately even human beings.

Even more chilling is the development of the Internet for security and control purposes. In the past, Governments had fairly limited means at their disposal to monitor its citizens.

Closed Circuit Television Cameras have been in use for decades, but have always relied upon human operators to monitor the captured film. Up until recently, the UK had the greatest number of cameras per capita than anywhere else in the world.

However, that is all about to change, and not necessarily for the better. The new Chinese city of Shenzhen already has a network of over 200,00 cameras monitoring its population of 12.4 million. Over the next few years, this is expected to increase to about two million.

In itself, this may not be so alarming, but when coupled with biometric data and RFID chip technology, this will enable a whole new concept in government control, and state intervention into private lives.

Facial recognition software has now been developed to the extent that it’s possible for computers to not only recognise an individual face, but also to interpret the mood or emotional state of the individual.

The covert monitoring of an individual’s body language and emotional state may be conducted by government agencies, and uploaded to powerful computers. Behavioural algorithms will analyse the data, and appropriate measures may be taken I. The event that adverse behaviour is detected.

This has both positive and negative aspects. A severely depressed individual, contemplating suicide by jumping off a bridge will naturally display strong emotional and physiological signals, which would be detected, enabling trained paramedics to be called to assist.

An individual contemplating criminal activity will also display behavioural markers that will trigger police officers to atend the scene.

However, what of the innocent individual who may be bored, mildly intoxicated, or awaiting a romantic liaison? They too may be targeted for intervention at some level.

In future, it may be possible for your local supermarket to monitor your internet enabled shopping trolley, and capture your facial image at the check out. The image may then be stored in a database containing your shopping profile.

It would then be possible for a network of cameras located in public places to recognise your image as you go about your daily business, and using your stored shopping preferences, display personally targeted advertisements on screens located, for example, on bus shelters, or mounted on the walls of buildings.

Individuals with medical conditions could be monitored effectively without the need for attending clinics at hospitals. Imagine if a pacemaker could monitor the state of a patients heart, and uplink real time data to a medical team. Early detection of a problem could result in the patient being called in for treatment before the condition becomes life threatening.

We have all become quite blasé about the internet, but it is very much a double edged sword. Used intelligently, and in a benign and sensitive way, it can improve the lives of everyone, empowering them to live a better quality of life.

Unscrupulous use of the internet by state governments for controlling the population leads to the undeniably sinister erosion of personal freedom.

Big Brother is out there – just waiting for the right moment to step in and take over our lives completely.

It is up to us, the general public to remain aware of the risks, and not allow ourselves to sleepwalk into computer controlled servitude.

You decide.

Mark Charlwood

Mark Charlwood MSc reserves the intellectual copyright to this work. Re publication of this work is prohibited without seeking permission.

Aircew Flight pilots Poetry war


Todays Target – Schweinfurt


He lies slumped in his chair, a young lad in his teens,
With an accent that comes from the Bronx, or from Queens,
Far away from the town and the Girl he adores,
Stuck on our little island, with its grim war-torn shores

There are many more like him, that Uncle Sam sends,
All scattered round bases in the barren cold fens,
They’re miserable, homesick, and longing for home,
Hundreds together, but each one alone

They play ball, horse around, all acting the fool,
Looking for sure like they all just left school,
Off to the village to a dance, and some fun,
To be stopped in the street, by kids wanting gum

A kiss from a girl, and some warm frothy beer,
Games of darts with the yokels, in the snug, for some cheer,
The wail of the sirens, A torch lit by some moron,
“Put that light out you fool, don’t you know there’s a war on”?

The debaggings and silly pranks done for a lark,
The boozy walk back to the camp in the dark,
The glances at aircraft, all standing forlorn,
By the shelters and bomb dumps, just waiting for dawn

By dawns early light, with their cigarettes lit,
They wander to briefing, fully dressed in their kit,
Their laughter is brittle, their voices too high,
Their stress is the demon that waits in the sky

In the briefing the officers outline the attack,
An innocent ribbon of red on the map,
Just dodge the fighters, ignore all the Flak,
A picnic to Schweinfurt, just out there and back.

So, this is the big one, no ten cent rehearsal,
And in clattering buses, they lurch to dispersal,
Where Miss Sally Jones, is now stealing the scene,
A Lumbering, ponderous B Seventeen

With catcalls and insults, the crews climb aboard,
Each doing his best to look casual and bored,
With banter, and laughter, they face the attack,
Each knowing that some will not make it back
So, into the sky, with its sun dappled light,
A wonderful, frightening, soul-numbing sight,
They form up overhead, two hundred or more,
And rip up the silence with their Wright Cyclone roar

Then as one mass, they head off to the East,
Once more to rain bombs on the head of the beast,
Face up to hells cauldron, a sky of hot lead,
These schoolboys who laugh, and make fun of their dread

At the coast they are joined, by their “little friends”,
Whose sleek Mustang fighters are there to defend,
The terrible cargo they take to the foe,
Who’s fighting for life in the country below,

“Bombs gone” is the cry they’ve been longing to hear,
So they can head back to the base, and to a well deserved beer,
Some trailing smoke, with gear hanging down,
They make like the baddies, and “Get outta town”

Limping back, battling hard against enemy fighters,
They are met by the Spitfires, who take care of the blighters,
Over the hedge – chop the power, plonk it down fast,
And abandon the wreckage, where it stops on the grass

Savouring the thrill of still being alive,
With sad epitaphs for those who didn’t survive,
They wander back to their home on the fen
The cream of the crop, they’re Uncle Sam’s Men


Mark Charlwood
22nd October 2010
















Airport Flight Transport Travel

Getting Social at the Airport

Getting Social at the Airport

Over the past few years, there has been a silent revolution taking place. The humble cellular mobile telephone has developed from an unsophisticated brick just about capable of making telephone calls, into a slender touch-screen smart device able to send video by email, and hook up to the internet from just about anywhere!

In parallel with the advancement of the mobile phone is the explosion into public consciousness of the benefits of social networking websites such as Facebook and Linkedin.

Individually these are both very powerful drivers of social change, but combined they are truly awesome in their ability to change our lives – hopefully for the better.

The Airline industry has been quick to identify the potential to engage with their customers using these new technologies. One of the earliest initiatives, now commonplace, is self service check in, either from a home or office PC, or performed using a smart phone.

Ownership of smart phones has dramatically increased recently. Results from the 2011 SITA/Air Transport World Passenger Self Service Survey shows that the use of such ‘phones by travellers has doubled to 54%. Of those users, 74% are business and first class travellers.

Imaginative high-tech marketing can help tie customers very effectively to an airline.

KLM has been very creative in the way that it has embraced smart phone technology.

According to a report published by Brand eBiz, KLM recently launched an I-Phone application quirkily called “Shake and Travel” The user either inputs the preferred choices, and shakes the phone, and the application cleverly suggests a destination together with the ticket prices and flight information. A simple push of a button will enable the user to book the selected flight on line.

The more adventurous can simply shake the phone and take pot luck on where the phone suggests that they go.

The Dutch Daily News recently reported that KLM have introduced “Social Seating”, whereby passengers visit social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn to select as seat mate who shares a similar disposition and taste as them. This is a truly inspired piece of marketing!

Travolution also reports that KLM provides a Live Flight Tracking application which enables individuals to simply input a flight number and see the position of the aircraft displayed on a world map. Users can also check on flights operated by
Air France and Delta Airlines.

In a further attempt to encourage passengers to bond emotionally with them, KLM have launched their “Passport” application, enabling passengers to convert photographs of their experiences into inspiring films.

United Airlines have cleverly chosen to integrate their loyalty programme, Mileage Plus, with the social sites Facebook and Foursquare, and are offering bonus mileage points to travellers who share their locations at airports throughout the United States. The passenger benefits from information about dining offers locally and gets a further fifty point bonus if check in is completed via the social site being used.

Emirates are also busy developing their Facebook application to enable them to emotionally engage with potential customers.

Oman Air is not slow to see the potential – they have just launched Facebook pages in four different languages to enable customers to leave feedback and remain connected.

The smart phone and online connectivity has had a seismic effect on the way in which airlines and airports conduct their business. Singapore International Airlines has withdrawn is self service check in kiosks at Changi Airport due to low usage – a direct consequence of passengers checking in for flights off-airport.

It’s not just the airlines who are embracing these changes. Passenger Terminal Today reports that East Midlands Airport in Nottingham, England is using an animated holographic image of a virtual Terminal Assistant, who reminds travellers of the security requirements for travelling through the airport. This “friendly face” delivers the security message in a very human fashion, and is probably easier than reading the requirements on a video screen.

In another first for an airport, Moscow Airport is reported as launching the world’s first check in that can be accomplished on a video link from the Skype internet telephone service. (Wall Street Journal).

Airline Loyalty programmes have been here for thirty two years in a virtually unchanged manner. However, they are now metamorphosing and being assimilated into a global marketing machine that will change the way that we travel forever.












Cycling Motoring Transport

Cycling in the UK – We Pay Road Tax!

If you cycle regularly in the United Kingdom, then you will probably have experienced aggressive behaviour from other road users.

Many cyclists have been on the receiving end of such conduct, which varies from mild abuse, through to threats and acts of physical violence, such as deliberately ramming the rider with the vehicle.

A common thread which seems to run through these random acts is the perception that cyclists should not be on the roads, causing delays for other road users, as “they don’t pay road tax”.

Road Tax is not a new concept. It was first enshrined in law in the 1888 budget, in the form of “Locomotive Duty”, and was levied at five pounds per annum. In today’s prices, that equates to about four hundred and twenty pounds.

In 1909, David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that the road system should be self-financing, and so from 1910, Monies raised from road taxes were to be ring-fenced, and dedicated to the development and upkeep of the roads – a process known as Hypothecation.

The Roads Act of 1920 required local councils to create a register of all new vehicles, and to issue them with unique number plates, and by 1921, the obligation for registered vehicles to display a tax disc, confirming that the Road Fund Tax had been paid.

However, subsequent chancellors began to raid the road fund income for other governmental purposes, and Winston Churchill formalised the loss of hypothecation in the Finance Act of 1936, and Road Tax officially “died” in 1937.

In defence of his actions, Winston Churchill was reported as saying “It will be only a step from this for them to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created”. (William Plowden, “The Motor Car and Politics 1896 – 1970) It seems to a great extent that his prediction has come true.

Finally, in 1955, the Road Fund, into which the government made payments from central taxation, was officially abolished. Since then general taxation has been financing the upkeep and building of roads and highways.

The Public has a long memory, and due to familiarity with the expression, there is a widespread belief that Road Tax still exists.

This gives rise to a widespread belief that roads are primarily paid for by the motoring public, and that this somehow confers a right of priority in usage of the road system.

That is akin to saying that as tobacco taxation funds a large percentage of the National Health Service, smokers should take priority on the NHS waiting lists, which is clearly arrant nonsense.

Vehicle taxation is on the use of a vehicle, not on the use of the road. Furthermore, vehicle taxation is based on the levels of emissions that are generated, and as such, vehicles fitted with larger less efficient engines pay a higher rate of Excise Duty.

It could be argued that this tax is designed to discourage the use of such vehicles, and this is amply supported by the fact that low emission vehicles pay very little VED, or in some cases, no VED at all.

There are other road users who do not pay VED. Vehicles operated by the Queen, and other members of the royal family, war pensioners, those who are registered disabled, government minister’s vehicles, and emergency vehicles, such as police cars, ambulances and fire appliances. In reality, these road users are subsidised by the income raised from others who do pay VED.

So, supposing that the vociferous motoring lobby get their way, and insist that cyclists “pay Road Tax” and carry a tax disc just like other road-using vehicles.

As a zero emission vehicle, bicycles would be exempt from any charge, but there would be a cost involved in issuing the disc. Under a Freedom of Information Act request, DVLA have stated that it costs £0.95 to buy a tax disc online, or £1.47 if purchased from a Post Office.

It is estimated that there are about 25 million owned bikes in the UK, and if every one were to be obliged to carry a tax disc, then at best this would cost almost £25M per year, and at worst thirty six and three quarter million pounds – to gain a net revenue of ZERO.

The costs of issuing these discs would have to be borne by the DVLA, and this financial shortfall would have to be recovered. The obvious way to achieve this is for the loss to be recovered by increasing Vehicle Excise Duty on other vehicles.

The same argument may be applied to the often-heard statement from car users, that bicycles should be required to carry a number plate, and be registered on a system for policing and enforcement.

A number of countries have experimented with registering bikes, and charge a nominal “peppercorn” amount. Some states in the US used to require cycles to be registered, which, to be fair, does offer a deterrent against casual theft, but was more expensive to administer that the advantages it offered.

Politicians have suggested that registering bikes, and obliging bicycles to be fitted with a number plate to enable “Red Light” violations to be caught on camera. Whilst this is an understandable statement, it is obvious that the makers of those statements have little understanding of the practicalities of such a scheme.

A cycle number plate that is of a sufficiently minimal size to be fitted to the limited bodywork of a bike must, by necessity be quite small. As such, would an enforcement camera have sufficient definition to make a clear image, and would the radar activation system register the very low signature of a bicycle?

Furthermore, cycles are slower, and assuming that the cyclist was over the white line when the lights changed to amber, and was entitled to cross the junction, would the following red light activation trip the camera, thus indicating that the cyclist had broken the law by “jumping” the red light?

Jumping lights at red is a sure-fire way that a cyclist may anger a motorist. Riding on the pavement also enrages both car drivers and pedestrians alike, and these two habits seem to trigger the “Pay Road Tax” response.

Minor traffic violations are not just within the province of cyclists. Many motor vehicles jump red lights – hence the need for enforcement cameras – they were certainly not put there for catching cyclists. Motor vehicles also park illegally on the pavement, (sometimes in cycle lanes and bus lanes), and casually breach speed limits on a habitual basis.

Pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders use the roads as a Right of Way. Mechanically propelled vehicles use the roads under licence. In order to use the highways under such a licence, the driver of a vehicle must be trained to a minimum level to ensure an acceptable level of competence.

This is partially because of the potentially lethal consequences of poor driving. Additionally, a driver must be judged to be both physically and mentally able to drive the vehicle safely, with due regard to other road users.

In a collision with a pedestrian, a one tonne vehicle travelling at thirty miles an hour is quite capable of killing that person instantly. A bicycle weighing in at 20kg, plus the weight of its rider colliding with a pedestrian is far less likely to kill.

Cyclists don’t hold up traffic. They are traffic, and have equal rights to use the road.

Even if cyclists were to contribute towards road upkeep on a sliding scale on a “user pays” basis, then the amount levied, would by necessity be small. Bicycles do not emit harmful emissions, they do not damage the road surface, they don’t leak dangerous fluids, and they don’t emit noise. On this basis, there is little point in attempting to collect what amounts to pitiful amounts of revenue.

A popular video clip posted on a well known media site highlights the ignorance and boorish behaviour adopted by drivers when in perceived conflicts with cyclists. The clip in question features an altercation in a car park between a cyclist and a car. The female passenger in a car remonstrates with a cyclist repeating the statement, “No Pay, No Say”.

Ironically, cyclists actually pay for infrastructure that they are not legally entitled to use such as the Motorways networks – out of their general taxation.

This sort of bigoted ignorance is rife in the motoring community, perpetuated by the blinkered views of the motor industry. Even Government Ministers don’t appear to have a clue about funding for the roads.

It’s surprising that even respected organisations such as the Royal Automobile Club can’t get it right. They refer on numerous occasions on their website to Road Tax, and even when they do use the correct terminology, (VED) they feel the need to qualify it by referring to it as road tax.

The AA doesn’t do much better either. A quick search on their website shows frequent references to “road tax”, further reinforcing the public’s belief that their annual payment to the government is a direct contribution for use of the road.
When challenged about using such an inaccurate and anachronistic term they responded thus

“The correct term is Vehicle Excise Duty, or Vehicle Tax, but we are conscious that a wide range of terms are used in online searches including “road tax”.

We use a range of terms on our advice pages to try to ensure that they work well in natural search whatever term the user chooses to put into e.g., Google.

Looking at Google search analytics for the past month, there were

823,000 searches using the term Road Tax

1,000,000, searches using the term Car Tax

Only 6,600 included Vehicle Excise Duty.

Kind Regards,

Customer Adviser

So, rather than attempting to educate the public, the AA chooses to condone and encourage the misconceptions!

So – how can a shift in perception be achieved?

For a start, vehicle manufacturers should immediately be required to only refer to VED in adverts, and motoring organisations should be removing all references to road tax in their publications and posted on their websites.

The department for transport should initiate an educational campaign to make the general public more aware of how the road infrastructure is funded.

The alternative is for cyclists to be charged a one off levy upon the purchase of a bicycle, and the cycle electronically registered to them.

Interestingly, after October 2014, motorists will not have to display a tax disc in the window of their cars to prove tax has been paid. The status of tax will be resident in a database hosted by the DVLA, and will be accessible by suitably authorised agencies such as Police, Parking Enforcement Agencies and Insurers.

Logically, it’s not much of a leap to see that cyclists could be charged without the need for tax discs, but this would obviate the advantages to the population in using cycles for transport and fitness.

Mark Charlwood
Copyright June 2014

Airport Flight Humour Poetry Travel

A conversation overheard at Lost Baggage at Heathrow Airport, Terminal 4

You’re bag’s been lost, oh deary me, now that’s an awful shame,
You say that it was with you sir, when you got aboard the ‘plane,
Before we go much further sir, let’s get some details down,
Now, what’s the style and size sir, and was it black or brown,
Was it made of plastic sir, oh, pardon me it’s hide<em<,
And without being rude, sir, what was packed inside,
Er…where did you depart sir, oh, you just came in from Rome,
The chances are, your bag sir, has gone on to Cologne,
You've gone a funny colour sir, I think you're going to choke,
Please don't get excited sir, it's just my little joke,
Please don't be offensive sir, I'm trying to do my best,
And you bellowing and shouting, sir, will only get you stressed,
Go up to the restaurant, sir, and have a cup of tea,
I'm sure I'll work much better, sir, if you leave it all to me,
It's no use complaining to me sir,I'm just working hard,
If you really want to moan sir, then please fill in this card,
I have just one last question, sir, and I know it's rude to pry,
But if you can't take a joke, sir, why the blazes did you fly?

Written 28/09/1989

Flight Humour Poetry

An Ode to the Cessna C-152 Airplane

The Cessna 152 design,
Is not, by any means, sublime,
With clumsy struts, and angled fin,
And fuselage, made out of tin,
A cabin, small, with seats for two,
You really have to know your crew,
For safety’s sake, may God be praised,
The undercarriage can’t be raised,
Full flaps droop down, forty degrees,
Like twin barn doors, into the breeze,
The seats move smoothly, fore and aft,
(If the catch unlocks, this happens fast!)
The cabin vents are curious things,
Like aerosols, stuck in the wings,
They’re firmly fixed, without a doubt,
Until you climb, the they pop out,
These things you’ll recognise, and more,
But what’s the rear view mirror for,
This little ‘plane has given much,
Withstood the student pilot’s touch,
And carried me through miles of sky,
And in her charge I learnt to fly,
She’s no classic, that much is true,
But deep down, she’s great, my 152


The Forgotten Hero

The Forgotten Hero

The old man, stooped and shabby dressed,
With faded ribbons on his chest,
The clipped moustache, still neat, now grey,
A tribute to his yesterday.

He shuffles through the city streets,
Forgotten now, his selfless feats,
“Scramble A Flight!” A memory cries,
And once more, he’s in the skies.

Festooned with kit, and parachutes,
Leather jacket, fur-lined boots,
Sidcot suits and maps and charts,
Cracking jokes, and having larks.

The ops phone rings, and rest is over,
“B flight – Scamble, raid at Dover!”
Swallow tea, the lumbering run,
The Merlin’s running – now where’s the Hun?

Line her up, green light from the tower,
One deep breath, apply full power,
The mighty Merlin’s marvellous sound,
A rumble, bump, then off the ground

Look up sun, then left, then right,
“Close up, red two, and watch your height”
A glint, a flash – they’re just below,
Someone shouts “Tally Ho, Tally Ho!”

Mouth dry with fear, and stomach churning,
A Spit screams down, yellow flames, – Oh God it’s burning!
One in the ring sight, squeeze the tit, feel the shudder,
Hold the deflection, a little more on the rudder

The enemy’s hit, and rolls onto its back,
Spewing out smoke, thick, oily and black,
All of a sudden to the skies empty once more,
And gone in a heartbeat, the engines of war

Back in the mess there’s a binge in full swing,
Young men getting plastered with whiskey and gin,
The CO’s passed out, the adj is unstable,
Two drunken lads dance a waltz on the table

The horrors of war, overlooked for a night,
Tomorrow’s soon enough to get back to the fight
When once again hundreds of nineteen year old boys,
Will exchange a Spitfire for childhood and toys

So, now, old man, who gave your youth,
Must face the cold and ugly truth,
That battles fought in angry skies,
Have earned you but a pack of lies,

This England that you fought to save,
Has turned it’s back on those who gave,
A paltry pension, breadline existence,
Whilst thieves and thugs receive assistance

Old man with ribbons on your chest,
Clipped grey moustache, and shabby dressed
You’re not forgotten, you will not die,
Remembered still by us who fly

Mark Charlwood
06 June 1986