Washington DC was probably one of the two most interesting places visited on this trip. Unlike other US cities it has a clean and well maintained public transport system and a size that is both manageable to explore but also large enough to warrant exploring. The impressive building make for obvious landmarks, while the night life seemed more vivid and available.
Its not New York City – but Washington DC is definitely worth a visit and had more than enough to keep a tourist engaged for a good few days.
Quite why breakfast is a meal that needs to be consumed from disposable plates and bowels with the limited aid offered by bending plastic utensils, was a question that bewildered me last time i was in the USA and it was no clearer now.
There was a certain symmetry to it. A yogurt like pot whose content were quite the brightest pinkest colour. It appear as the newest inadvertent thing to emerge from the basement of Sizewell B and could be had alongside thin wafers of cinnamon sprinkled plastic, the local take on cereal. Im not a breakfast person but this whole approach to the morning seemed a little unnecessary, causing as it did such existential questions to arise about what it meant that we had come to this, how had we gotten here and was there anything that could yet be done… its all very early for that kind of thing.
To a friendly shout of – you be safe out there – from the reception desk we headed out on our toll road avoiding drive on to Pittsburgh.
I was on some sort of rogue hair left in hotel toilets role .. only this probably wasn’t it was so fibrous and ample in its thickness, it probably shouldn’t be hair. It was more front and centre and dryer than the offering in Bangkok, looking back at me as i opened the door, primary it was a matter of relief that is hadn’t sought to scuttle off as i pushed the toilet door open. That would have freaked me out, it was too big to be the sort of thing you’d want to have scuttling around unchecked in either your room or your toilet space.
The hotel was no tin the right part of town to readily get access to the city centre. It was across the water and behind something of substantial hill. Thankfully the hotel operated a complimentary shuttle service. The next one was due to leave about 20 minutes after we arrived, so we headed upstairs to dump of the bags and collect up what might be needed to go an explore Pittsburgh.
The driver was a very friendly chap, with the sort of sense of humour i was more accustomed to associating with our fellow Europeans. A sort of deadpan sarcasm which did not get in the way of his effusive welcome and introduction to his home city. He beckoned me with my Camera wielding to the front of the mini-bus. The part of the city we stayed in headed toward the city via a tunnel which would open up directly onto the river bridges that were to then carry us across to the city centre. He was clear this was quite the good and unusual view. He was not wrong, though it was quite fleeting and my photography skills failed to do it any kind of real justice. As you emerge from the tunnel you are directly on a large suspension bridge looking across at Pittsburgh sky line.
We were dropped in a central square and told we could summon a collection whether we were ready – which was all very handy.
Pittsburgh had not been on our original plan – a fact id had to explain to our driver when he’d thanked us for visiting and explained how often it was over looked by foreign travellers. It had though only made its way onto the itinerary because it served as a reasonably logical pause point on our way to Washington, the first of the properly planned stops. That said this was a city well worth the stopping. We would only be there for that half day and some small part of the following morning, but it was a relatively small city and as such we’d found ourselves quite able to explore much of the central part by walking around it.
Pittsburgh – Well Worth The Visit, Probably Best To Take In The Ice Hockey While Here, They Seem To Be Going Through A Recant Spate Of Success & Are Probably It Seems Quite Good At It. Solid Place For Some Views, Some Ice Hockey and A Brief Stop Off.. Probably Too Small For Much More Than A Weekend Visit However.
In 2017 – about nine months in advance of the infamous new timetable unravelling of 2018 the life challenged people of Govia Thameslink picked up and walked off with their ticket machines in one swift and orchestrated manoeuvre. In their place they deposited a range of newer far more shinny machines whose function was to provide a small square illumination from their display screens. Sometime partly dimmed by the words out of service but equally frequently completely unhindered by any such purposeful demands being placed upon them. They were poor torches, the illuminated screens were too high to shed light upon the floor and had no where near the power necessary for the light to beam out through the darkness. Sometimes, on the rarest of occasions the revealed their true purpose, offering the names of station and purporting to sell tickets – such outlandish claims could be swiftly dealt with simply by selecting one of these stations.. At which point the ineffective torch would quickly revert back to its true form, the not entirely glorious beam of the blank screen.
Travel then was ticket free into London – which isnt the bonus it might seem to be, given a ticket would still be needed for the London to Gatwick bit.. In London there would be barriers to contend with. The ticket machines at St.Pancras had not gone with the blank screen, they were among those upgraded few that actually mustered an out of service message.
In one little corner of St Pancras a surviving cluster of the big old square ticket machines of before had survived. They were in many ways less fetching than their replacement, big, imposing, brightest blue with an air of the rescued east German functional but with the layers of domestically formed grime that came with their years of service. They did however have one thing over their replacements and it was a fairly key thing … So with tickets now in hand baggage could flow with us through the barriers and onto the platform.
With the excess time available at Gatwick i happened to do some research on our airline – Air Transat – which turned out to be fortunate. What i learned was that their flights from London to Toronto dont come with entertainment systems on each seat. Instead they have an on board entertainment system which can be accessed via apps on the passengers own devices. A prerequisites for this being that you have an appropriate device to hand and have taken it upon yourself to take the somewhat unusual step of downloading this app. Hasty efforts to get this in place were worth while, the connection on the flight didnt allow for adding the app, only for using it.. So i was fortunate and pleased to have taken these steps. It wasn’t a vast array of movie options but it was something, there were municipal screens on board but sight of them was something that was limited to around 2 seats in every 9.. I was not to find myself the occupant of one of those 2.
The route to the hire car was a more complicated one than envisaged. There was the terminal train, the car hire telephone to arrange collection and then the waiting for the collection in a the thin but marijuana soaked air.
This though was not to be the challenge, that came at the point of collection. It was our second road trip of the year having migrated our way along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts in the early spring. It was now November but the knowledge of that past trip was not entirely lost. The car had been hired with unlimited mileage and with no warning about limitations on crossing boarders.
An array of additional charges that resided in the small print but that had no part of the booking process. It was looking like it was going to be a battle over charges until we clarified the nature of the mileage of the trip (some rough estimates using google maps). The “unlimited mileage” couldn’t even be extended to cover those kilometres, were we so willing, by the purchasing of those add-ons.. This while generating some immediate stresses in the form of last minute re-planning, did mean that the debating and haggling aspect was not going to be a thing.
A bus was leaving for Buffalo from Toronto later that evening, once in Buffalo a car could be collected.. that was an option.. what would we have done were there no internet? .. The guy behind the counter advised us that he thought AVIS would provide cars with cross border coverage along with unlimited mileage.. For budgetary reasons it would mean downsizing the vehicle, no plush north american comfort and still spending more.. but compared to being stranded at point 1 of our trip, this seemed like the best option.
A compact vehicle of some description would be waiting for us – back into the transfer mini-bus, through the scented marijuana cloud onto the terminal train … hunt down AVIS counter.. it was there somewhere, there were signs. Signs that were there until they weren’t.. we walked back, yep the signs were there and … no .. then no .. the signs were gone and no sign of a counter. Starbucks people, would have to be approached for some local knowledge..
It was a VW Golf estate – AVIS and the other car hire companies were not in the terminal, which explained our not having found them in there. It was all secreted on the ground floor of the multistory that stood opposite the terminal.
After some mis-steps leaving the airport, some stopping, a discussion with pointing, some more stopping and a then rotating of the navigational duties, directionally we’d found our way onto the route. With things now going reasonably smoothly, hunger and lethargy sneaking in, we stopped off at some bright lights. An assortment of signs that spelt out a small range of unfamiliar establishments. Boston Pizza has the brightest lights what more it had bright TV lights shining out on the inside, it won this display of the Bowerbirds.
A rational of selection that won out through knowing nothing about any of the options that were around us. The weakness of this selection criteria revealed itself in that which emerged from the kitchen. The Pizza that i had wasn’t too bad, it was the sort of standard that you could expect from a superior standard home bake oven pizza, the pasta ought to see the Italians take action for abuse against of their nations proudest offerings. If we can protect our cheeses and pies and the french can protect the name of their particular form of fizzy white wine then the Italians ought to be able to do something to prevent that which was getting banded about here inheriting the good name of pasta dishes. There was an oddly fatty white sauce involved, something akin to mayonnaise or salad cream, only not … so heavy .. and not warm, even a standard house bulb can summon up more heat than had been absorbed by this offering, a cold, stodgy, bland gluepe of a thing .. so if your going to Boston pizza, be sure to order no pasta there, yes if your going to Boston pizza – dont be Italian, it will hurt you in your heart places (beyond the fatty deposits those odd choices of sauce will be offering up)
Having been up for quite some time fatigue had me, i was glad to not be driving and without such duties i was free to have a pint, a nice cold pint as the shroud of post tired tiredness sunk over me,
The following passage sets out what I considered to be the socialist approach to the economic problem.
“Why was it that in the war we were able to find employment for everyone? It was simply that the Government controlled the purchasing power of the nation. They said what things should be produced; they said ‘We must have munitions of war. We must have rifles; we must have machine guns; we must have shells; we must have ammunition; we must have uniforms; we must have saddles.’ They took by means of taxation and by methods of loan, control of purchasing power of this nation, and directed that purchasing power into making those things that are necessary for winning the war.
Today the distribution of purchasing power in the nation is enormously unequal. I recall a speech by the present Prime Minister, in which he said that one of the greatest reforms in our national life would be a better distribution of wealth among the individuals composing this nation. I entirely agree with him.”
“That is what we are demanding shall be done in time of peace. It is possible for the Government, by methods of taxation and by other methods, to take hold of that purchasing power, and to say that, exactly as they told manufacturers and workers that they must turn out shells and munitions of all sorts to support the fighting man, so they must turn out houses and necessities for those who are making the country a country of peace.”
State: Economics & Social Policy
As It Happened – C R Attlee
It may not be without interest to recall that twenty-seven years afterwards in my General Election broadcast I struck the same note when I said:
‘… The Labour Party believes that if you want certain results you must plan to ensure them; that in peace as in war the public interest must come first, and that if in war, despite the diversion, and despite the shortage of supply imposed by war conditions, we were able to provide food, clothing and employment for all our people, it is not impossible to do the same in peace, provided the Government has the will and the power to act….’
Instead of deciding on a policy and standing or falling by it, MacDonald and Snowden persuaded the Cabinet to agree to the appointment of an Economy Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir George May of the Prudential Insurance Company, with a majority of opponents of Labour on it. The result might have been anticipated. The proposals were directed to cutting the social services and particularly unemployment benefit. Their remedy for an economic crisis, one of the chief features of which was excess of commodities over effective demand, was to cut down the purchasing power of the masses.
“Our powers to deal with the housing situation were limited and there was not much space for buildings, but we did what we could. It was, however, possible for us to get existing houses repaired. We appointed a number of extra sanitary inspectors, made a complete survey of the borough, served over 40,000 legal notices on house-owners to repair their property and we saw that they were enforced.
In another field great progress was made. Infant mortality had long been high. We instituted health visitors, ante-natal clinics, etc. and brought the death rate down to be one of the lowest in London.
“But the fighting core of the party was the I.L.P whose leader, Keir Hardie, was now reinforced in the house of Commons by MacDonald, Snowden, Clynes and others.
Without the I.L.P it would have been possible for this attempt to form a new Party to have failed, as had happened before. The I.L.P was a remarkable organisation which enlisted the devotion of thousands of men and women. It was not rigidly dogmatic. It was inclusive rather than exclusive and preached a socialism which owed more to the bible than to Karl Marx. It was indeed a characteristically British interpretation of socialism.”
“As a contrast, the Social Democratic Federation was completely Marxist and preached the class war. Its outlook was more materialist than the I.L.P”
The Labour Party – Formation & Nature
As It Happened – C R Attlee
“The various strains in the Movement found their echo in our branch meetings and we used to discuss vehemently such topics as the advantages of revolutionary and reformist tactics and the question of industrial, as opposed to political, action. I am sure that a substantial apprenticeship in the ordinary work of a local branch is of great value to anyone who is destined to play any part in political life, especially if he is to become prominent in a national sphere.”
The Labour Party – representation & local involvement
“It was astonishing how wide were the interests of the boys in all kinds of subjects. Sometimes they produced very good aphorisms. For instance, we were discussing friendship one evening. One boy summed it up by saying. ‘A pal is a bloke wot knows all about yer and yet loves yer.’ Another time we were discussing the qualities of a gentleman. One said, ‘A bloke what does no work.‘ Another said, ‘A rich bloke.’ Young Dicky, a bright lad said, ‘I reckon a gentleman is a bloke wot’s the same to everybody’
As It Happened – C R Attlee
In the local association of Care Committees we used to have great fights against the adherents of the Charity Organisation Society who believed in the Poor Law principle of deterrence. I recall a parson who advocated giving children only burnt porridge served at the most inconvenient place and time.
Government Benefits / Support Systems
As It Happened – C R Attlee
Poverty and the Law:
The problem of poverty caused growing public concern during the early 19th century. The existing system for looking after those unable to care for themselves – the old, sick, disabled, orphans and unemployed – was based on a series of Acts of Parliament passed during the later Tudor period. These laws imposed an obligation on every parish to take care of its poor, though this had much less to do with compassion than with the need to preserve order and stability.
‘Poor relief’ was not the responsibility of central government, but of the local parish, the main part of local government. A ‘poor rate’ or local tax paid by parish householders was used to help the poor in two main ways. In the 18th century those who were too ill, old, destitute, or who were orphaned children were put into a local ‘workhouse’ or ‘poorhouse’. Those able to work, but whose wages were too low to support their families, received ‘relief in aid of wages’ in the form of money, food and clothes.
Need for reform
New legislation attempted to improve aspects of the Poor Law, but left everything to local initiative. By the end of the 1790s there were clear signs that the system was under severe strain. Increasing numbers of parish poor were seeking assistance and the cost to ratepayers of maintaining the system was rising alarmingly, especially as payments were linked to the rising costs of bread and the size of families. There was also evidence that poor law payments were being used by employers to ‘top up’ wages.
In the early 1830s outbreaks of rural violence in southern England and complaints from hard-pressed ratepayers made it clear that urgent reform was essential. But opinion in Parliament and in the corridors of power was divided over how the Poor Law system could be made to work more effectively and less expensively. The main question preoccupying many MPs was whether it was right for the state to take some responsibility in such matters.
Appendix – for the above
In 1832, the government appointed a royal commission to investigate the workings of the Poor Law and make recommendations for improvement. The commissioners sent out questionnaires and visited over 3,000 parishes (out of a total of 15,000) collecting information.
One of the leading commissioners, Edwin Chadwick, was already convinced that the system needed to be brought under rigorous central control in London. It also needed to be reformed in such a way as to deter people from making unnecessary demands on public funds.
The commission’s report and recommendations were published in 1834 and received wide support in Parliament. The commissioners had come up with a way of providing an efficient government cure for the problem, yet one which ensured a minimum of state interference and cost.
The Poor Law Amendment Act was quickly passed by Parliament in 1834, with separate legislation for Scotland and Ireland. It implemented a major overhaul of the old Poor Law by adopting all the commission’s main recommendations. A ‘Poor Law Commission’ (a new government department, in effect) was set up in London employing inspectors to supervise the work of local officials. Instead of an administrative system based around parishes about 600 locally elected ‘boards of guardians’ were set up, each board having its own workhouse.
Outdoor relief – the financial support formerly given to the able-bodied – was no longer to be available to them so as to compel them to work. Outside assistance was widely available to the sick and elderly. But in many areas assistance was only given within the confines of the workhouse where the regime was deliberately harsh and often cruel.
The new Act was pioneering in introducing a role for central government in the care of the poor, and remained in force throughout the Victorian age. But, as social commentators remarked, the treatment of genuine hardship caused by economic circumstances beyond the control of the individual had been ignored. By the 1880s, greater understanding of poverty and its complex links with economic conditions (such as low pay and unemployment) slowly began to change opinion in Parliament.
I returned to Beijing for the last few days in China. Having initially taken to Shanghai my second visit to Beijing swayed my attentions. Clearly it did not diminish Shanghai, which remained more compact, clean and still had that intangible sense off somehow being friendly. What it did do was point out how much more Beijing had to offer among its sprawl.
Different areas with changing characteristics, the large parks and their substantial lakes (entrance fees applied but they are hardly prohibitively expensive nor are they inflated for foreign tourists.
The forbidden city is not so easy to access, attempts were made but they were attempts that were not supported by research and in this instance there are regular demand issues, excessive demand for gaining access entrance vs the permitted number of people to wonder about there in. So you need to get in early and get yourself a ticket if you want to be making your entrance. Personally, not a morning person and learnt this issues about getting hold of tickets a good hour or more after the last of the tickets had been sold… Aim to be early if you really want to to get in – i went and saw some parks instead and enjoyed my days more than well enough.. It was warm, travelling with water and replenishing that water from some of the street side stores a good and necessary idea.