Smoking and Brexit

Leaving the EU without a deal may mean that we have to allow tobacco advertising again in the UK.

Now I’m not a Brexit expert, nor am I an expert on World trade organisation rules and I am a remainer. But this is what I read today.

The 1974 Trade Act in the United States of America contained the provision for the US President to slap retaliatory tariffs on foreign products if the country that produces them discriminates against American companies.  This is called section 301.

The U.S. Trade representative threatened South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and other countries on the Pacific Rim with a section 301 action unless they allowed Marlboro and others to advertise cigarettes. This was despite the fact that no one else was allowed to advertise tobacco in those countries.

Faced with U.S. pressure they buckled. Smoking by male teenagers in the first year of advertising in South Korea rose from 18% to 30%. For female teenagers it rose from 2% to 9%. The trend was the same in the other countries.

If we leave Europe without a deal, as I understand it, we then operate under World Trade Organisation rules.  So, unless the rules have changed, we could be forced to allow tobacco advertising here, if the U.S. president decided to make us. Would Trump do that?

And what other products could this apply to? It could mean a whole new “special relationship” between the UK and US.

Do tell me if I’m wrong.

Rail tickets are too cheap!

Let me begin by saying that enjoy Industrial Archeology as much as the next man. Indeed I’ve got shares in the West Somerset Railway and a very worthy institution it is. Every so often I go down there for a wallow in nostalgia, but I haven’t been on a modern train for years and years.

The fact is I can’t afford to go by train. Last time I needed to go to London  a return ticket cost £147.50* and parking £6.90.  Megabus cost £21.46**  and National Express £24.60**. The coach guarantees a seat but I understand you are permitted to stand all the way on the train.

The response of the railway enthusiasts amazes me. “You can get a much cheaper fare if you shop around” they say or “you need to book a month ahead”. A new one on me was “Have you tried a split fare?”

This means you buy a ticket to Didcot, say, and then another to complete the journey to Paddington! Even Ryanair don’t sell you a ticket half way to New York and then ask if you’d like to buy another to complete the journey! “No thanks Mr. O’Leary, I think I’ll get off here in the middle of the Atlantic!”

But what really gets my goat is that the £147.50 isn’t the full cost of the train ride. No, in the last financial year running our railways was subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £4,199 million. GWR received 6.4p per kilometre. For a return trip to Paddington that works out at £23.89 – more than Megabus charge for the whole trip.

Why should I, who cannot afford train fares, pay taxes to subsidise the rail fares of people rich enough to travel by train? The whole point of privatisation was to bring the efficiency of the private sector to the nationalised industries. Yet British Rail only received £1,000 million a year in subsidy.

I say that rail fares should go up to cover the true cost of running them. Let those who think the damn things are so wonderful pay for them.

*Parkway to Paddington return 13th Nov 2018,  includes £1.50 booking fee.

**Bristol to London Victoria return, includes £1 booking fee.

Recycling Box Cover

A friend asked if I could make a cover for her recycling box as she has no front garden and it lives on the pavement. I was wondering how to make it when I spotted an old water tank in a skip.

It looked just the right size to cover a recycling box. So I fished it out and then borrowed a green box from someone’s garden and sure enough it covered it nicely. I don’t think anyone saw me doing this but I can’t help wondering what they thought if they did. It’s the ideal material because it won’t rust or rot and it can be painted if you wish.  All I had to do was cut a hole in the front so the green box could slide in and out.

So I put them together and marked out where I needed to cut. It was at this point I made the obligatory mistake. I always get something wrong. You’ll notice that the tank is open end up. It needs to be the other way round to cover the green box! So when I tried to slide the recycling box in I found I had to cut two semicircles to accommodate the ridge round the top. Tip: With a little forethought you can avoid this step if you try to make one of these.

So I made a cover without spending any money; reduce, reuse, recycle! Here it is in place providing a home for potted plant.

What a Journey!

After a journey of 4,000,000,000 miles the New Horizon space probe has rendezvoused with Ultima Thule.  It has travelled at an average 35,100 miles an hour for 13 years  to an object 21 miles by 9 miles in size.

On the same day my daughter came home to Bishopston having spent new years eve at a friend’s house in Avonmouth. She used the bus “service”. A journey of 4.25 miles as the crow flies took two hours. An average speed of just over 2 miles and hour. She could have walked it quicker.

Why can we send a probe so efficiently to the far reaches of the solar system but can’t provide an efficient way to get around a major city?

Now I know what you’re thinking –  “It’s easy to mock but what would you do about it?”

Well, this is the statement I made to  the meeting of Bristol City Council on 11th December 2018:

The problem with our Transport System is that those in charge never consider anything invented after 1900. As my proposal for the Portishead Railway line shows newer can be better and cheaper.

In Bristol itself our elected Mayors look consistently to the past. The first one wanted to build trams. In Edinburgh eight and a half miles of tram cost £1004 m. Even Captain Red-pants himself admitted that wasn’t affordable.

Mayor Rees looks even further into history with a proposal from the 1860s – an underground railway. £5 billion would provide just 4 routes across the City. That amount of money, £5,000 million, would be enough to build 490 miles of Skytran. I’ll spell that in case you wish to look it up: S,K,Y,T,R,A,N. Other systems are available.

Imagine it! 490 miles would cover every major and minor route in Bristol with on-demand transport 24/7 at up to 60 mph!

Councillors. Stop looking backwards and saying what a great engineer Brunel was. Turn around and face the future. It’s coming whether you like it or not!