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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bus stop etiquette 

I have fallen into the habit of getting the bus in the morning to the station. I could walk but if I pass the bus stop and see there is a bus within 5 minutes it isn’t really worth walking any further.

Using the bus has turned into a mini-project in behavioural psychology, however, in watching where people stand and why.

For instance, the bus stop I normally use, has a matrix display telling you when the next bus is due. It is mounted about 12” inside the shelter. This means that people naturally stand about halfway along the shelter so they can keep their eye on the time of the bus.

Anyone arriving at the stop after this person who obeys the British instinct to queue (Am. = “stand in line”) will stand behind them but leave a further distance between them than they would normally. This pattern will be repeated for subsequent joiners, even if it is raining.

Incidentally, one time I stood under the shelter behind a woman standing in the middle of the shelter thing while she had her umbrella up. Mad.

It takes a lot of resolve to not stand in sight of the display but once its done people follow the normal queuing pattern.

At shelters without a matrix display there is a tendency to queue normally unless there is some aggravating factor.

The next stop along, for instance, has the shelter some distance from the stop and at an angle. This completely screws up the Great British queuing instinct and people are all over the place.

The stop at the station on the way home has limited space and barriers at the end. [ The station is a sort of bus garage and the barriers are there to stop passengers getting anywhere near an off-duty bus because they bite. ] So there people start to queue until the queue reaches the barrier and then they try to fill in the gaps or stand around at the other end of the bus stop “island”.

I’m sure there’s a PhD in this for someone.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

That sounded ok to me but not to Europe 

The 2010 Eurovision Song Contest has come and gone. It’s probably a bit late for me to write about it now and I wasn’t going to bother posting this but some letters in this week’s RadioTimes have prompted me to post this after all.
Here I attempt to answer the eternal question: what happened to the UK?
What went wrong?
I should say that I did actually like our song but I am a huge fan of Eighties music and our song definitely had the stamp of the Eighties on it. It would not have sounded out of place as a early Kylie, a Sonia or as a Rick Astley number. If we’d entered it in 1987 we would have won hands down. Unfortunately, this is 2010 and the people of Eurovision-land weren’t impressed.
The Great British public had no choice over the song this year but we did have a choice of singer. Last year we had a selection process lasting weeks; this year we had one evening. Last year we had a song from Andrew Lloyd Webber (but again no choice); this year Pete Waterman. Last year we came fifth; this year we were last out of twenty five.
Although we had a choice of singers, I wasn’t impressed with any of the acts that were presented to us to choose from and I really wondered where they had been found. It seemed that the producers had run outside and grabbed random groups of strangers, regardless of personality or talent. I think there was a girl group pulled together especially for the evening. They didn’t know each other and it showed. The singer chosen, Josh, was agreeable enough but he was the best of a bad lot, unfortunately. We could have done a lot better.
Thirdly, and this cannot be stated in a polite way unfortunately, the backing singers on the night were flat.  
What went right?
I enjoyed the songs a lot more on the CD than on television in either of the semi-finals or the final itself. I guess that just goes to show that everything benefits from a bit of a post-production tweak here and there. I should also say that I enjoyed the winning song from Germany – it was one of my favourites before I saw the show and even if some of the singer’s pronunciation was dodgy to say the least, I think it deserved to win. Lena’s performance only enhanced the song and captured the attention of the camera and the audience.
Incidentally, our selection process usually garners criticism from around Europe. It has been said in the past that we never take the contest seriously because we have people chosen by talent contest rather than using established professional performers. That simply does not hold water now – several other countries selected their performers selected their singers this way this year and, indeed, Lena, the German singer, was chosen through a talent show.
The usual excuse for the UK getting nowhere is that the voting system is biased and that countries will vote for their neighbours and friends. I have seen this trotted out again this year but, really, I don’t think that’s the case now. The recent changes to the voting system seem to have made it a lot fairer and less inclined to bias – again, how could Germany have won if everyone was voting for their bestest fwiends? Of course, there will always be Greece and Cyprus but splitting them up will take something more radical than the Eurovision organisers could devise.
Another reason that Germany won was because they got their song noticed. They picked it and then put it in the charts around Europe where it did very well. Did we do anything similar? I didn’t even hear a mention of our song between the night it was picked and when the Eurovision CD came out.
Germany’s song was also cleverly written with elements from the various countries around the Eurovision zone making themselves known without sounding like a slavish copy. How many violins did we see this year? How many copied Turkey the year after they won? Satellite’s dominant beat hinted at the dominant beats of some of the Eastern entries but lacked the other elements that make them sound so similar.
The rest of the song was a rather upbeat number about the madness of love and was sung joyfully by a girl with a lovely smile. No wonder it did well.
Next Year
We should learn from this year. It is possible for us to do better although I can understand us not wanting to win. These things are expensive to host and we’re already paying another huge event, the 2012 Olympics so perhaps we don’t want to win. National pride, however, demands we do better than last.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Men in a bucket 

This morning when I got off the train and left Charing Cross station, I heard raised voices. Looking around I couldn’t see much other than a lot of stationary traffic on the Strand because there was a gridlock at the roundabout in Trafalgar Square.

I thought maybe that some of the drivers were having a bit of a heated argument. Then I realised that the shouting was coming from above and looked up.

There were two guys in a window cleaner’s cradle hanging over the edge shouting “oi!” at people.

I wondered what they were doing and went through the options:

Further up the road I looked again and they seemed to be shouting at me. Odd, I thought, and looked at my reflection in a window. Nope – nothing out of the ordinary – at least nothing that would need shouting at from high up.

I shrugged and carried on walking to work.

It was only when I was a lot further on that it occurred to me that they might have been trying to get people’s attention because they were stuck although I think, if that were the case, they would have done better to have banged on the windows of the building or maybe shouted something other than “oi!”.

“Help!” probably would have been a good idea.

Of course, they could have just been shouting at people for the fun of it. Will we ever know?

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