Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

September 1, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 76-90

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 76-90. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

76. Have you ever tried sushi?

Yes. I eat in on occasion – it tends to be available at those Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet places. And yes, I know sushi is Japanese. I’ve been to Yo Sushi once; enjoyed it, but it was very expensive.

77. Have you ever tried sashimi?

I had to look up the difference between sushi and sashimi. Turns out that, no, I have not tried sashimi. I think I’d like it though.

78. Who is your favourite mythological figure?

Thor, although I’m basing this mostly on his depiction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

79. Have you ever demolished a wall or a building?

No. We’ve had an additional wall built in our house though.

80. What’s the worst incorrect rumour you have heard about yourself?

Probably something at school where I apparently fancied someone, and didn’t.

81. Would you rather have a tongue that could taste impending danger or get a free iPhone?

Free iPhone. I’m not one for getting myself into dangerous situations.

82. Why do we have frozen peas? Why is that the only vegetable that the principle way we use it is in frozen form? I know there are other frozen veg, but only the pea is principally used as a frozen, rather than fresh or tinned commodity. Why?

Ease of storage, I guess? Fresh peas out of pods would be harder to package.

83. Have you ever been in the vicinity of a bigfoot, but not seen it, but sensed it watching you?

Not that I am aware of.

84. If you had to have sex with an item of food – if you had to – which food would you choose? Do you think it would be morally wrong to eat the food after you had made love with it? Or unhygienic at least?

Something like a carrot or a cucumber. I suppose you could put it inside a condom and then wash it up afterwards.

85. Where do you stand on transubstantiation?

I’m not a Christian so it’s pretty meaningless to me.

86. Would you rather have the ability to shoot bees out of your eyes or have a pair of shoes that never needed to be cleaned or repaired?

The pair of shoes. I wear shoes out quite regularly and this would save me so much money. And I would be worried about accidentally releasing bees from my eyes at inappropriate moments.

87. If you could communicate with one animal, which animal would you communicate with and what would you ask them?

My mother-in-law’s cat, to ask her why she runs away so often.

88. If you were given the powers of a King Midas, what would you turn everything you touched into?

I like Richard’s answer to this question, which you’ll have to buy to read. I’d go for a variation, but with chocolate.

89. How many fingers was Richard Herring holding up as he first asked this question?

He was probably holding a notepad, so I’m going to say 3.

90. If you had the powers of a Gary Sparrow and could travel from the 1990s to the 1940s what would you do?

For context, this is the Goodnight Sweetheart question. I think I’d just want to experience what life was like then, and see how places have or haven’t changed.

August 29, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Train travel with mobile tickets

Yesterday Lizzie and I went to Manchester by train, and I travelled on a mobile ticket for the first time. Christine sadly had to work the bank holiday, and when I weighed up the cost of driving and parking, the train seemed like a good option.

Having watched a recent bonus All The Stations video sponsored by Trainline, I decided to give mobile ticketing a try. This is where you store the ticket on your mobile phone, and show your handset instead of having a paper ticket. I already use the Trainline app for checking the times of my train to work on a morning, and so it only took a few extra taps to buy a mobile ticket.

Once purchased, you need to download the ticket to your phone, and activate it. By downloading the ticket, you are saving it to your device, which means that you can still view the ticket even if you don’t have phone reception. This is handy considering that there’s no phone reception at some more remote railway stations, or in tunnels. Activation has to be done on the day of travel.

Once activated, the app shows your origin, destination and any required routing information. For example, your ticket may require you to travel via a certain station. It will also show a barcode; train guards may scan this to verify your ticket’s validity, and you’ll need it to go through ticket barriers. Most barriers do now support barcode scanning – I had no problems at Manchester Victoria.

In a previous guide to buying tickets, I’ve recommended avoiding Trainline as it charges a booking fee. At the time of writing (August 2017), Trainline does not charge booking fees for mobile tickets, meaning that you’ll pay the same as you would do if you bought your ticket from any other web site, or a ticket office. The only exception is a 20p charge for using a credit card, but debit cards are free.

Availability of mobile tickets

Mobile tickets are not yet available with all operators. I travelled with Northern, who (I think) have rolled out mobile tickets for all of their routes. Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, Great Western Railway (GWR), Greater Anglia, TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains offer mobile tickets for some or all of their services.

Other train companies will probably be rolling out mobile ticketing, as there’s a government commitment to offer an alternative to all paper tickets by the end of 2018. However, this may not apply to franchises such as ScotRail, London Overground, TfL Rail, Arriva Trains Wales and Merseyrail where the specifications are set by devolved governments/public bodies.

Advantages

For me, the key advantage was being able to purchase a ticket on my phone, and not have to then pick up a paper ticket from a machine on arrival at the station. Sowerby Bridge station does have a ticket machine, but it’s on the Leeds-bound platform. This saved me a bit of time; I wasn’t in a rush but it would’ve helped had I been.

It’s also harder to lose a ticket that’s on your phone. I’ve lost paper tickets before, including a pair of return tickets to London that went missing when we moved house most recently. Thankfully we found them, but I also lost the return portion of a ticket whilst out in Leeds once. That resulted in me deciding to walk to Kirkstall Forge station where my MCard was valid from. At least I got an extra blog post out of it, I suppose.

Disadvantages

Mobile tickets cost the same as regular paper tickets, so there’s no financial incentive to use them (barring the potential cost of replacing lost tickets). This is a shame; one reason why London’s Oyster smartcard has been so successful is that it’s also cheaper.

You also need to ensure that your phone has enough charge to last a complete journey. An increasing number of trains offer charging points but not all of them do, and not everyone carries a power bank around (although I do). If your phone runs out of power, resulting in you not being able to show a valid ticket, then you may be liable for a penalty fare.

Most ticket gates have been upgraded to read barcodes, but some may not. In which case, you’ll need to find a gateline supervisor to let you through.

Conclusion

My first mobile ticketing experience went well. I had no issues with the ticket barriers at Manchester Victoria, and I didn’t get any confused looks from the staff who inspected my mobile ticket.

The Trainline app is good, but could be better. It’s a little slow to start, and you can’t add the tickets to your Wallet app (formerly Passbook). I couldn’t test whether Apple Pay works as I don’t have a compatible handset.

August 25, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 61-75

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 61-75. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

61. What’s your worst experience with the delivery company Yodel?

I had a package ‘delivered’, but couldn’t see it anywhere – it came when no-one was at home, and I couldn’t see anywhere obvious where it had been hidden outside. I made a complaint and they ‘investigated’ it – the delivery driver stated that he had delivered it to our back door, which was bizarre because we don’t have one.

A couple of days later, our next-door neighbour came around – the package had been delivered to them. I suppose I should give Yodel the benefit of the doubt to some extent but it wasn’t a great experience at the time.

I reckon there should be a law that states that companies must inform consumers who the delivery company will be before the purchase is completed. My heart sinks whenever I buy something online, and then find out it’s being delivered by Yodel or Hermes (with whom we’ve also had issues). I’d rather pay a little more and have it delivered by someone better; the past few deliveries we’ve had from DPD have been great, for example.

62. Would you rather date a woman who was a six foot vulva or a woman who instead of having genitalia had another woman living in a burrow between her legs?

The woman with another woman living in the burrow – extra company!

63. What’s the best museum you’ve ever been to?

The ‘Dead Zoo’ in Dublin, Ireland, better known as the Natural History Museum. There’s some amusing taxidermy going on. Eureka in Halifax is also great.

64. If you could murder one person and have an 87% chance of getting away with it, who would you kill?

I’ll preface this with my view that murder is never. ever acceptable – no matter how evil the victim is.

That being said… if something ‘happened’ to Donald Trump, I think the world would be a better place. I mean, he’s old now…

65. What is the biggest animal that has bitten you?

A hamster. I know, it’s not a very impressive answer, but my allergies make close contact with bigger animals difficult.

66. Have you got what it takes to be a spy?

Hah, no. I’m not the best at keeping secrets, to the extent that a close friend of mine doesn’t tell me anything important until it’s already public knowledge.

67. Is Dutch a genuine language or are the people of Holland just taking the piss out of us all?

Yes, it is – and don’t forget that some parts of Belgium speak a dialect of Dutch.

68. If you could jump into a pool of something, what would it be?

Relaxing massage oil.

69. What age would you like to be when you get to Heaven, presuming there is a Heaven and you get to choose what age you’ll be up there?

101. I’d like to hit triple figures and then call it a day. Considering my great-grandmother lived to 102, my grandad is going strong at almost 97 and my dad is well in his 70s, I stand a good chance of making it too.

70. If you could get a law named after you, what would it be?

‘When dealing with a group of people, you’ll spend 90% of your time dealing with the most awkward 10% of them.’

71. If you could have a part of the human body named after you what would it be?

Probably a leg bone, as I’d like to think I’m a supportive person.

72. What do you consider your median achievement?

My photography skills. I could probably a fantastic photographer if I had the time to learn more about how my DSLR camera’s different modes worked. As it stands, I take lots of reasonable photos, but not many fantastic ones.

73. Do you ever worry that you have already lived your life and are now in a care home with Alzheimer’s Disease and what you perceive as reality is just a distorted memory of the first time this happened?

No.

74. Is there anything purple within 10 feet of you?

Yes – a purple sock bunny that lives on my desk. Christine bought it for me very early on in our relationship.

75. Which five celebrities are on your celebrity shag list?

  1. Jennifer Lawrence
  2. Amy Schumer
  3. Victoria Coren-Mitchell
  4. Neil Patrick Harris
  5. John Barrowman

August 24, 2017
by Neil Turner
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TP-Link Gigabit Powerline Starter Kit review

TP-Link 1000 Mbps Gigabit Powerline Starter Kit

Today I’m reviewing the pair of TP-Link 1000 Mbps Gigabit Powerline Starter Kits that I bought earlier this year to improve our network at home. If you haven’t already, please read yesterday’s post for some context, although I’ll summarise here too.

My aim was to improve the network speeds on some of the devices that I own, thus freeing up Wifi capacity. I went with Powerline (also known as HomePlug) because it would be less disruptive to install than Ethernet cables.

The TP-Link units were well-reviewed on Amazon, averaging 4.5 stars with over 1000 reviews at time of writing. I needed three adaptors; unfortunately I could only find them in packs of two, and so ended up buying four. At the time, this set me back £80, but they’re now down to £36 for a pack (so £72 for two).

Installing the Powerline adaptors

Setup is a doddle. Each starter pack includes two Powerline adaptors, and two standard two metre Ethernet cables. You plug one adaptor into a wall socket near your router and connect it up with an Ethernet cable, and then use the other adaptor and cable to connect to your device in another room. Ensure the adaptors are switched on at the wall, and your device should connect, just like it would if there was a direct Ethernet cable linking it to the router. Repeat this for any additional adaptors – you can use more than two in the same home.

There’s no special software to install, and unlike Wifi routers, there’s no configuration either. It’s literally just ‘plug and play’.

That being said, each adaptor has a ‘Pair’ button, and it’s recommended that you press this on each adaptor in turn. This encrypts the signal between each adaptor, so if there’s any signal leakage with a neighbour, their Powerline adaptors won’t be able to connect to your network and vice versa. It’s a bit like enabling WPA on your Wifi, and it doesn’t seem to have any discernible effect on performance.

Performance

Speaking of performance, the TP-Link adaptors seem to work well. The speeds and latency are certainly better than I was getting over Wifi. Internet-based tests like Ookla’s Speedtest seem to suggest that I’m able to take full advantage of my internet’s connection speed.

As I mentioned yesterday, our household electrical wiring is of variable quality and I was concerned that the older wiring would affect speeds. This doesn’t look to be the case, and the Powerline signal works across our fuse box to serve different electrical rings.

It is worth pointing out that you ‘lose’ an electrical socket when using these adaptors. This isn’t much of a problem for us; when we had the downstairs rewired, we deliberately installed far more sockets than we needed. If you are short of sockets, then you can pay extra for adaptors with a pass-through capability. They work the same but you can still plug another AC device in; however, they cost £50 for a pair, rather than £36.

Compatibility

As I was starting from scratch, I deliberately bought two pairs of adaptors from the same manufacturer. The good news is that HomePlug is an agreed standard (IEEE 1901), and these TP-Link adaptors comply with the HomePlug AV2 specification. This means that if I wanted to expand the network even further, I could theoretically use any HomePlug AV2 compliant hardware to do so – I wouldn’t necessarily need to buy TP-Link equipment again. As it is, I have a spare adaptor since I only needed three.

Conclusion

I’m really impressed with the TP-Link Powerline units. They deliver a good, fast connection, and have worked well in the couple of months that I’ve had them. Whilst it would have been nice to save a bit of money and buy a pack of three adaptors, rather than two pairs, at least I have a spare adaptor for future expansion.

If you have problems with your Wifi speeds or signal strength – especially if your home is around 100 years old and built of stone, like ours – then Powerline adaptors may be a good solution for you.

August 23, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Adventures in home networking

Networking cables

We’ve been living in our house for approaching two years, and in all of that time we’ve been reliant on Wifi for our home networking. Our phone line enters the house in a spare bedroom so that’s where our ADSL modem is (a BT Home Hub 4, although we’re no longer with BT). This isn’t too bad from a Wifi signal perspective, as it’s located close to the middle of the house, but we still have some signal issues in the kitchen which is the furthest room.

For this reason, we have a Netgear Wifi range extender which ensures an adequate signal in those parts of the house. Combined, the whole of the house is covered.

Limitations of Wifi

The problem is that we have quite a lot of devices all using the Wifi connection. There’s my Mac, Chirstine’s laptop, two smartphones, two tablets, a Roku, a Chromecast, a Blu-Ray player, our Nest thermostat and a Kindle, plus any devices that visitors bring. The Roku and Chromecast in particular are used for streaming video which requires a good connection, and I upload photos from my Mac every now and again.

Most of the equipment we have supports the IEEE 802.11n standard and so it’s reasonably quick, but some devices use the older 802.11g standard and not all are compatible with both 2.4 and 5 GHz wireless bands. Wifi also has higher latency than wired solutions. And I have a Raspberry Pi and a Freesat receiver that do not support Wifi at all. The Raspberry Pi currently gets a connection from an ethernet cable linked to the Netgear extender, but the Freesat box has been isolated from the internet.

It would be great if everything supported the new 802.11ac standard. But this would require us to replace all of our devices and so isn’t likely to happen soon.

Laying Ethernet cable

The optimum home networking solution would be to lay Ethernet cable across the house, with ports in each room. That would ensure at least Gigabit connection speeds everywhere, with almost no latency.

We had most of the downstairs rewired before we moved in a couple of years ago and, with hindsight, this would have been an ideal time to install network sockets. Sadly, we didn’t, and trying to install sockets now would be very disruptive. I’d rather not have cables trailing around, or even fixed to walls, seeing as Lizzie will inevitably want to play with them. Whilst I could probably do this myself, I’d rather not have to cut and crimp network cables.

Power line networking

Which leaves power line networking, also known as Homeplug. This uses your household electric circuits to carry a network connection, with adaptors that plug into your existing electrical sockets.

I was a little hesitant to try this, as our wiring is of variable quality. Obviously the downstairs wiring is good, having only been installed two years ago. But upstairs, some of the wiring is much, much older; in some cases, dating back to the 1950s. I was also worried about whether the signal would pass through our fusebox (which is thankfully quite new), as the upstairs and downstairs are on separate electrical rings.

I decided to take a punt, and ordered some well-reviewed Homeplug networking adaptors from Amazon – I’ll review them later on. At £80 for four, I felt this would be cheaper and less disruptive than installing ethernet cable. And, so far, so good. I’m using three of the four adaptors; one of them connects in turn to an old ethernet switch that I had, to provide connection to our Blu-Ray player, Roku and Freesat box.

My worries about the wiring seemed to be unfounded – we’re getting good speeds and much lower latency than on Wifi. In particular, I can upload photos from my Mac much more quickly now than I ever could on just a wireless connection. I’m glad to have a better connection without having to tear the house apart, or replace all of my devices.

August 22, 2017
by Neil Turner
2 Comments

Romoss Sense 6 LED power bank review

Romoss Sense 6 LED power bank

I get regular requests to review power banks, and so I only agree to review those that stand out. The Romoss Sense 6 LED power bank piqued my interest because of its huge capacity – a whopping 20,000 milliamp-hours (mAh).

I use my existing power banks regularly. Christine and I have one in each bag, so that we don’t have the risk of running out of phone battery when out and about. Seeing as we both play Pokémon Go, which uses a lot of battery power, having a power bank available is really important.

Romoss Sense 6 LED power bank showing USB ports

To put into context how big 20,000 mAh is, my iPhone 5S has a 1560 mAh battery. More modern smartphones have bigger batteries, like the Google Pixel XL, which has a 3,450 mAh battery. Still, the Romoss Sense 6 LED can charge even the newest phones several times over. It even claims to be able to charge a 9.7-inch iPad Pro 1.5 times.

This makes the Romoss Sense 6 LED ideal for trips where you will be away from mains electricity for extended periods of time, such as camping holidays or festivals. Though you may still want take a cheaper ‘festival phone’ for the latter.

Romoss Sense 6 LED power bank, in box

Another feature which sets the Romoss Sense 6 LED aside from other power banks is its LED display, showing how much charge remains. This is a three digit display, showing 100 when fully charged, and a flashing ‘c’ whilst charging. Many other power banks have a simple row of LEDs that give an estimation of the charge, but this can be inaccurate by as much as 24%. And some don’t show their status at all. Being able to see exactly how much charge remains is really useful.

The large capacity of the Romoss Sense 6 LED power bank comes with a couple of trade-offs: size and weight. This is a big power bank: 16 x 8 cm (6.2 x 3.15 inches), and it weighs around half a kilo, or a little over one pound in old money. It feels a bit like an older laptop battery. It’ll also take around 13 hours to fully recharge.

That being said, it feels solidly built, with a white tactile plastic finish. Two USB ports are provided, one with a 1 Amp output and the second with a faster 2.1 Amp output. The microprocessor on board should be able to deliver the optimum current for each device, to minimise charging time. In my tests with my iPhone 5S, it charged just as fast as it would do plugged into a wall charger.

In the box with the power bank is a short manual and a USB type-A to micro-USB cable., This can be used for charging the power bank itself, or a device with a micro-USB port. You’ll need to use your existing cables for any other devices like iPhones.

The Romoss Sense 6 LED power bank is currently on sale at Amazon for £22, which is a bargain – you get a huge amount of power for your money. Weight aside, with this power bank you’re unlikely to ever need to scramble to find a AC power outlet when out and about again.

August 18, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 46-60

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 46-60Here’s my next instalment of answers to Richard Herring’s 500 emergency questions.. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

46. Have you ever had the opportunity to assassinate a public figure?

No. I think this question works better when interviewing celebrities, who encounter public figures more often.

47. Does sex with a robot count as cheating on your partner?

Yes, if your partner doesn’t consent. If it’s an open relationship, then that’s fine.

48. Have you ever put your genitals in or near the mouth of a dead animal?

Ah, the ‘David Cameron question’. But no, I have not done so.

49. Which is worse: bestiality or necrophilia?

Bestiality. A corpse is dead and won’t experience anything; an animal would experience something and is unlikely to have consented.

50. What crimes have you got away with?

I may have downloaded some songs from Napster back in the day.

51. Have you ever flown a kite?

Yes. I actually made a kite at secondary school for textiles.

52. What is the worst emergency you’ve ever been involved in?

I had to phone an ambulance when a friend I was walking with got hit by a car. This was back in 2008, I think.

53. What song would you like to replace the national anthem?

‘Gold’ by Spandou Ballet.

54. If you could travel back in time to compare any food of today with an equivalent of the past, what time and which food?

I would compare Party Rings with the 1980s. I’m sure they tasted better when I was younger.

55. If you had to go on a week’s holiday with a Spitting Image puppet, which would you choose?

Michael Palin, because he’s interesting and because his puppet was voiced by Chris Barrie, aka Rimmer from Red Dwarf.

56. Sport is intrinsically stupid. Discuss.

I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as stupid. If you play sport and it makes you happy, then please do so. It just doesn’t interest me – I’m not terribly competitive.

57. Is sex with a ghost cheating?

I think I’d answer the same as I did to question 47 – it’s a matter of consent with your partner.

58. Why do elephants have such low rates of cancer? 5% vs 25% of humans.

There’s a good BBC News article on the subject. Essentially, elephants seem to have evolved better cancer defences, but there are also environmental factors at play. Humans do things that increase our risk of developing cancer.

59. Can you name another animal which is cancer resistant?

The naked mole rat is the most well-known one, although they’re not completely resistant to cancer.

60. Should penis transplants ever be allowed? What are the possible terrifying consequences of such a procedure in your opinion?

Yes. I’m a registered organ donor and am in favour of an opt-out system for organ donations, rather than opt-in. I’m happy for my dead body to be stripped for useful parts and given to people who need them – otherwise, I’ll just be worm food. And yes, I would be okay if someone ended up with my penis.

I think my only concern would be that it wouldn’t be as sensitive once transplanted. I’m not a surgeon and have only a rudimentary understanding of human biology, but it may not be possible to connect up all of the nerves correctly.

August 12, 2017
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Wakefield Kirkgate railway station

Wakefield Kirkgate

Last weekend, I briefly called in at Wakefield Kirkgate railway station, the smaller of Wakefield’s two stations. It’s been a few years since I’ve been there – the last time was in 2011. Back then, it had been given the dubious honour of being named ‘Britain’s worst railway station’ by the former transport minister Lord Adonis. And it was an assessment that I agreed with at the time.

Here’s what I said:

“[…]those buildings that are still standing are boarded up, it’s dirty, there’s no staff around, there’s paint peeling off the walls and just looks generally dilapidated. Not a nice welcome to the city.”

How did Wakefield Kirkgate get so bad?

Kirkgate is the smaller of Wakefield’s two stations – the other is Wakefield Westgate. Westgate is on the East Coast Main Line, and is served by regular inter-city services between London and Leeds, plus cross-country services. Westgate, until a few years ago, was only served by local services. It’s also more distant from the city centre.

Progressive cutbacks saw Kirkgate’s ticket office closed, and eventually there would be no staff permanently based there. The station once had an overall roof over the tracks and platforms; this was dismantled some years ago. Its status as a local station for local people meant that it wasn’t a priority for maintenance.

What changed?

The past ten years have seen an increase in services at Kirkgate, probably because there isn’t much spare capacity at Westgate. Despite being the quieter of the two stations, Kirkgate has three platforms, whereas Kirkgate has just two – and they’re on the busy East Coast Main Line.

Northern introduced a new hourly Leeds-Sheffield-Nottingham service via Kirkgate (one of its ‘intercity’ services), and more recently Grand Central introduced its Bradford-London service. More trains now call at Wakefield Kirkgate, and they serve a greater range of destinations, including London.

There’s also the Hepworth Wakefield – an award-winning art gallery that opened nearby in 2011. Kirkgate is around the corner, and so this is the closest station, increasing the number of people using it.

With more people using Kirkgate, something had to be done.

Six years later

I made a return visit to the Hepworth with Lizzie, and so we popped into Kirkgate to see what had changed. A significant amount of money has been spent to improve the facilities at Kirkgate and it shows.

Firstly, the station is no longer in a state of disrepair – no more boarded up windows. The subway has been refurbished, with art panels and speakers playing a brass bend rendition of Jerusalem. There’s a new glass canopy on platform 1, and electronic displays showing train departure information. This is a particularly welcome improvement; with three platforms, it’s not always obvious which one to use for your train.

The buildings have been brought back into use. There’s now a café, and even a First Class lounge run by Grand Central. The rest of the building is rented out as business units and I noticed that one was being used as a photography studio.

The area outside the station has been improved, with ramps and improved paving. Sadly, The Wakefield Arms, a former pub opposite the station, is still derelict and not a great welcoming sight for those alighting.

Officially, the station is still un-staffed, as there’s no ticket office. Despite the sign above the main entrance asking passengers to buy their tickets from the guard on the train, there is now a ticket machine on platform 1. Alas, it wasn’t working when I visited. Revenue protection staff were there when I visited (Saturday lunchtime) and could sell tickets before travelling, so whilst there isn’t a permanent presence, it’s an improvement.

It’s also worth mentioning that Westgate has also seen improvements. A new entrance was built there recently, tying in with the wider regeneration of the rest of the city.

August 11, 2017
by Neil Turner
0 comments

RHEQs – 31-45

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 31-45. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

31. Which celebrity would you like to stroke your hair as you die?

Jennifer Lawrence. I think she’d be compassionate but would keep my spirits up.

32. Do you have a favourite towel? What is your best story about it?

No, not really. I do prefer to use bath sheets than regular bath towels as they’re bigger.

33. What is your most mundane encounter with a celebrity?

Richard Whiteley walked past me on a train from London to Leeds once, looking a bit confused.

34. How sensitive are your nipples?

Very sensitive.

35. Who would win in a fight, CJ from Eggheads or Jeremy Corbyn?

I don’t watch Eggheads so my opinion on this is entirely based on what I know from listening to Richard Herring. In which case, I’d go for CJ – I wouldn’t expect Jeremy Corbyn to push someone into a canal.

36. What really killed the dinosaurs?

Lee Harvey Oswald.

37. Would you rather date a man who was a six foot tall penis or a man who instead of having a penis had a tiny man?

This is a common question from RHLSTP.

I would probably go for the man who had a tiny man – would be extra company. However, if the tiny man turned out to be horrible then I might re-consider.

38. King Herod never killed any children. Discuss.

My knowledge of that area of history is lacking and so I can’t really comment.

39. Have you ever come up with an idea for conceptual or performance art that you think is better than any of the guff that gets nominated for the Turner Prize?

I once thought that King Edward Street in Leeds should have a massive potato installed on it.

40. Are you ever mistaken for a celebrity?

Haha. No. Never.

41. Do you have any good ideas for terrorist atrocities?

Not really, although I once had a nightmare about watching the building where I worked being blown up by a terrorist bomb – I think because we’d been evacuated.

42. Who would be your Desert Island Dicks? That is, which eight Richards would you take with you to a desert island? You get Richard Herring as your Shakespeare Richard.

Since this can also include people who are deceased:

  • My grandfather, who I never met
  • Richard Bacon
  • Richard Osman
  • Richard Whiteley
  • Rich Hall
  • Richard O’Brien
  • 2 of my friends who are called Richard.

43. If I got turned into a turkey right now, what would you do?

I would be rather concerned, and worried that I would be next.

44. Why can’t everyone be babies?

Babies are very dependent; I don’t think humanity would last long if we were all babies.

45. If Alan Sugar asked you to name his autobiography, what would you call it?

The Amstrad Apprentice.

August 10, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Ponderosa Farm & Rural Therapeutic Centre

Iguana at Ponderosa Farm

Until recently, if someone had told me that there was a zoo in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, I wouldn’t have believed them. But there is, and it’s called Ponderosa Farm & Rural Therapeutic Centre.

It turns out that I’ve walked past it before. Back in 2009, I walked the Spen Valley Greenway, but the section south of Heckmondwike had been closed by Yorkshire Water. They were installing a new sewage pipeline, and had signposted a diversion. It just so turns out that this went straight past Ponderosa without me realising what it was.

I took Lizzie with me to visit on Saturday – Christine was working. It’s not very big, but it’s also quite cheap – £5 for adults.

I’d been a little hesitant to visit having read the reviews on TripAdvisor. I’d probably rate it three out of five, and I agree with some of the points made in the negative reviews. Namely, it’s rather run-down in places, and the animals have smaller enclosures than in some newer zoos. The lemur enclosure in particular was full of nettles, and some of the vivariums holding the lizards didn’t look very sturdy.

Asian small-clawed otter
It’s also not a great zoo for photographers. Most enclosures are behind mesh that obscures the animals, unless you get very close up to the bars. This isn’t so good when taking photos of animals that are right up to the bars themselves, like this Asian small-clawed otter. The Yorkshire Wildlife Park is much better for wildlife photography, but it is also much newer.

Ponderosa is, however, a very good place to bring kids. There are several playgrounds, and when I went (which was a warm August weekend afternoon) there was a bouncy castle. The far end of the site has a huge sandpit as well. Its outdoor nature means that it’s only really suitable for good weather, but we could have probably spent far longer here.

There were some animals there that I haven’t seen before – the tri-coloured squirrel, for example.

Tri-coloured squirrel

Ponderosa clearly needs investment, and underlines why I have issues with local authorities (who often lack the relevant expertise) issuing zoo licenses. In my mind, licenses should be issued by a central government agency, possibly attached to DEFRA, that also carries out inspections. It’s also why I don’t plan to visit South Lakes Zoo any time soon.

That being said, I think we will go back to Ponderosa. Lizzie had a good time, it’s not far from us, and it’s cheap. Plus, Christine hasn’t been yet.