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Day 1 – Kirk Yetholm to Trowes Farm (or Hill, Bog, Flags! Bog, Bus)

The breakfast at Blunty’s Mill was beautifully presented and (most importantly for a walker) prepared as early as you like (7am!) and hearty. I don’t have a picture but the basil leaves on the tomato were a delightful touch that I will not soon forget.

The Walk

The route of the Pennine Way is long and this sign from the Northumberland tourist board seems to recommend doing it in 24 days which would probably be a little ridiculous since even the split they have devised here would require you to be fit enough to do 15 miles in a single stretch.

The day begins with an easy climb up the Schill

Who said this was easy?

The scenery was breath taking but there was a group of cows on the path and I don’t know if it’s some deep dark memory but I am rather wary of cows. Whatever was going to happen it seemed that there was one cow in particular that was rather reluctant to move. In this situation sadly I have still yet to train myself to get the camera out first rather than try to think through the situation calmly and rationally.

Not so big now, are you? Little cow.

No, Little cow is not the name I use for my father though I may keep it in mind in case he ever becomes a vegetarian. It was a difficult climb but once at the top you could really see an long way across beautiful countryside.

I’m the king of the .. Schill?

Is that the Schill masquerading as the view from the Schill?

Sadly even with our amazingly early start we were walking too slow and were not able to take the quick detour to the top of the Cheviot. I think it really would have been only a time suck (rather than requiring too much additional physical exertion) as there is virtually no additional climb and it is only 2.4 miles. However, our instructions were the bus leaves at 5pm and we didn’t desperately want to get stuck in Trowes for the night with only a Survival bag for comfort.

With it being Bank Holiday weekend it seems a lot of people had the alternative plan to ours and we must have seen eight or nine walkers who were completing their treks South-North on that day. The weather stayed in our favour and we safely arrived at Windy Gyle at about half past three in plenty of time to make the two mile journey off route to the pick-up point.

This is a large pile of stones.

It seems I am ever very keen to “bind my future self” and had been very confident as to where our pickup point was located on the map but as we approached the top of Windy Gyle I felt a great need to hurray to the top in the hope that I would meet some of our fellow travellers who were being picked up in the same location to just verify my expectations. The instructions for the pickup location had not included an OS Grid Reference and so I had attempted to translate a narrative description into a grid reference. We did meet such a group (who were much fitter than we were and so beat us down by at least a quarter of an hour). They were willing to share the laminated instruction sheet with us, allowing me to take a picture of it, and it eventually transpired that I had been correct with my Grid reference conversion so we would have been fine.

To the rescue!

We arrived at Trowes farm to find our 6 co-collectees awaiting us but before the amazing mini-bus service provided by Joyce Taylor of the Forest View Inn. The bus arrived on time and whisked us on our way to their inn in Byrness. I should say at this point that if you are contemplating doing the Pennine Way (in either direction) I can not recommend the Forest View strongly enough. The bed, breakfast and evening meals, transport and drying room all this for two nights at just £99 per person. An absolute bargain and well worth the money. Our accommodation was en-suite and I think they said that all their accommodation was so.

Rush Hour Cheviot Style

£135.50 Birmingham To Leeds Return or is it £51.90?

My partner is travelling tomorrow to Leeds for the day. As she will be in court first thing in the morning she needs to leave so early there isn’t a feeder train in to Birmingham New Street from either Birmingham International or Solihull. The journey looks pretty quick only 1 hour 52 minutes which is comparable with the taking the car (though the car would have the advantage that it leaves from her house and will stop at the court rather than needing someone to take her into birmingham at this end and hire a taxi at the other!)

The fee for this service? £135.50.

To my mind that seems a little expensive. The client is paying but when they asked what the fee would be the hearing was scheduled for the afternoon so she told them the off peak ticket price of around £50. Unfortunately now that the meeting is going to be occuring at 10am an off peak ticket is not an option.

As it happens I am a bit of a train anorak. Don’t get me wrong I’ve never stood at a train station writing down the numbers of the trains that have come through but I do find the state of the train network after denationalization to be so complicated as to be fascinating. Particularly since it happened before computers. I’d love to go in depth into the various vagueries of the national routing guide but that can wait for another post. In this post (finally!) I’m going to talk about ticket splitting.

Some people may have heard of ticket splitting. The Moneybags Saving Expert, Martin Lewis, even had an incredibly bad computer program written to try and help people with the process but despite being worth over £100m he seems unable to have hired a moderately competent computer programmer and just written a useless app that doesn’t work and which you can’t order tickets through.

As I stated earlier the walk up fare is £135.50. However, the fast trains from Birmingham to Leeds also stop in the following locations:

  • Tamworth
  • Burton on Trent
  • Derby
  • Chesterfield
  • Sheffield
  • Wakefield Westgate

Therefore using a bit of jiggery pokery we can get the following pay table for travelling between stations on this route:

BHM 7.8 15.8 18 67 82.5 112.5 135.5
TAM 7.6 7.8 19.6 52.5 64 90.5 101
BUT 15.4 7.6 7.2 24.7 26.2 50 63.4
DBY 16.7 14 7.1 17.9 20.9 39.5 44
CHD 33.5 26 22.2 11.1 6.3 11.9 21.1
SHF 41 32 25.8 20.6 5 11.4 13
WKF 49.5 45.5 41.2 33.5 11.4 9.4 5.8
LDS 58 50.5 43.8 40.5 15.7 10.5 3.3 Derby

Now clearly if one buys the following three tickets

Birmingham New Street to Derby £18

Derby to Sheffield £20.90

Sheffield to Leeds £13

Then you’ve saved a fortune.

Can’t be bothered to do this by hand? There is an amazing website also available through rail easy which does it all for you. I love this site and can’t recommend it enough. It is so good that I stopped trying to write my own once I’d found it and I’m vary happy to pay the 10% of saving that they ask for.

A solution to the housing crisis

Some will be surprised to hear this, particularly as I call myself a libertarian, but I am in favour of wealth taxes. I’m generally not much in favour of taxation but I compare Britain to, say, South Africa and I think to myself, “Thank God for our welfare state.” When you are mugged in Britain (which seems to be happening less often) they may take your iPhone but you will at least be allowed to keep your clothes.

The government protects property, if you are fired from your job (with appropriate cause) and thus lose your income you have no right of redress, after all in all but a small number of circumstances it would be impossible to “own” an income anyway. There are some incomes which are protected (annuities for example) and thus it would seem reasonable to tax them.

However, in the pantheon of things the government of the UK does well it does almost nothing better than protect the ownership of real property. Some would argue (perhaps correctly) that this service is paid for by Stamp Duty. Though it seems odd that whether you “own” some land for one year or an hundred the government will provide restitution against anyone who takes it from you for the same cost.

Many people have noticed that there is a drastic restriction in the supply of houses in this country and some, myself included, would like to see the Town and Country planning acts abolished, or at least severely curtailed, and I would be sympathetic to that point. However, one would expect that given that the vast majority of the price of a modern house is in the permission to have built it one can only imagine that this would push enormous numbers of people into negative equity which with the interconnectedness of financial institutions could spell disaster.

My solution is simple. Remove the requirement to get approval to build on land but institute an 8% annual value tax on the last purchase price of land, building, or long lease (over 21 years) modified in a way that would have previously required planning consent. Combined with a requirement that all such property when sold in the future must be sold at auction.

Prostitution – It’s already legal

The liberal democrats have passed a motion to enshrine the right to bodily autonomy, including the right to sell sex, into a statute.

When I was a boy my father explained to me that the reason that Britain was better than america was because while they enshrined “rights” our system of government assumed everything was legal unless it was prohibited by law. Of course this was in the late nineties before New Labour. I am all for prostitution being legal, but you know what? It already is. I suspect that is because it’s a little bit tricky to define in a way that doesn’t include young attractive women marrying octogenarians (though I don’t think it happens that much).

I wouldn’t mind seeing some legislation along the lines of what we used to have for Gambling in Britain. i.e. the contracts are unenforceable at law, at least on the side of the provider of the sexual acts in the sense that it should probably not be legal to bind your self into consenting to a future sexual act as that would get complicated with issues of serious sexual assault and the main reason I’d like to bring prostitution out of the shadows is so that there can be less of that. Whatever your opinion on prostitution is I don’t think many would argue that just because one is a prostitute means one should not be protected by the full force of the law when someone abuses you.

There is of course an issue to do with gangs and the threat of violence being used to push vulnerable women into prostitution. However, the laws we have on brothels are so extreme that if two women share a house for the purposes of mutual protection they are breaking the law, worse if they hire a cleaner or a bouncer (things I’d probably want if there suddenly became a large demand for obese, brown haired notherners and I became a male-prostitute) the police have been known to go after them because they can’t get the prostitute because they aren’t breaking the law!

So liberal democrats, when your being liberal it makes me very proud, but we don’t need to make prostitution legal, it already is (as I believe is the consumption of drugs) its the solicitation which is what people normally get done for and while we live in a world with regulated advertising it might not be unreasonable for that restriction to exist. If you want to make prostitution safer fight to repeal some of the dumb ass rules on brothels and encourage more prostitutes to pay tax.

£8 minimum wage pointless without lowering the 89% marginal tax rate.

I’m always amazed by the idiocy of the left. Recently the greens argued for a £10 per hour minimum wage what I can’t work out is why stop there? Why not go for £20 or even £100. After all then we can all be rich.

The thing I really dislike about the minimum wage is that I don’t understand the logic. If people are earning very low wages either because they don’t have the skills or they aren’t productive enough to demand more then that is a travesty. However, if you don’t like it then the correct thing to do is to transfer money to them via taxation not via forcing their employers to pay more. All that will happen is that jobs for the low skilled will disappear.

Setting aside the job cutting problems with this policy lets look at how much money will actually go into the pockets of a minimum wage worker.

I’ve chosen a single earning household with 3 children in Tower Hamlets (my borough) for this example.

Currently working full time on minimum wage the house hold would receive £11,870 in wages and £11,314.40 in Tax Credits and pays £841.12 in tax and NICs, finally assuming the 3 bedrooms they would be entitled to and a band D home there would be housing benefit of £15,795.74 and Council Tax benefit of £442.36 and child benefit of £2,475.20 for a total after tax income of £41,048.94 the equivalent to a pre tax income of just less that £58,000. Being precise here became too hard due to the child benefit component.

Now lets run this again on £8 per hour. The house hold would receive £14,610 in wages and £11,306.76 in Tax Credits though now paying £1,717.59 per year in Tax and NICs. The housing benefit falls to £14,588.34 and the council tax benefit to £69.83 obviously at this level child benefit is unaffected. This gives a total new income (including benefits) of £41332.54. Effectively giving a marginal tax rate of 89.79%.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I was one of a team of 80 earning minimum wage I wouldn’t be too keen to see as many as 15 of my colleagues (which may include myself) lose our jobs (and thus in work benefits) in order to increase my take home pay by 0.69%.

Douglas Carswell

It’s been a long time since I last wrote a blog post but I feel like I really want to write down some thoughts about Douglas Carswell so if I change my mind later on I will have to admit it rather than pretend my position has always been the same (as so many people, and particularly politicians are prone to do).

Firstly, people, particularly Louise Mench and Michael Crick have been really annoying me. I really don’t see how it is in anyway stabbing anyone in the back or betraying any of your electors to say, “I am changing parties and I am therefore going to resign my seat in parliament”. Douglas Carswell himself pointed out that a much better analogy would be stabbing people in the front and I think with the whole “stabbing people” metaphor its the back bit rather than stabbing people bit that is not OK. On top of that I’m not actually convinced that saying “the Conservative Party no longer represents me” actually deserves any metaphor as drastic as “stabbing”.

Secondly, before the poll that came out in the Mail on Sunday today I was very tempted to back Labour in the Clacton by-election. In fact I actually tweeted PaddyPower about it (because generally they only let me bet a few pence) but they never tweeted me back (thank God). Currently labour are sitting at nearly 50/1 on Betfair which I still think seems ridiculous. However, the problem is likely to be that while David Cameron would love Labour to win, so the “vote UKIP get Milliband” mantra can be really hit home. While Labour would really hope that UKIP win so that they can more easily push the Lib Dems out of the television debates and make it much easier for people to argue “vote UKIP and get UKIP” and thus Labour can hope that more Conservatives will vote UKIP even though they would prefer a Conservative government.

Of course a real Eurosceptic (who actually wants the UK to leave the European Union) would massively prefer that the Conservatives do not win the next election. This may seem a little unexpected but the reality is that any “renegotiation” that Cameron performs will likely lead to a Wilson style set of irrelevant powers returning to the UK. However, David Cameron is nowhere near a smart as Alex Salmond and so when the Better Off Out team loses the referendum, it won’t lead to some sort of “Devo-Max” but will instead lead to more integration. Thus if you want to leave the European Union a Labour government is probably not a bad outcome (if you can’t get a UKIP only or Conservative / UKIP coalition) as it will probably lead to the continued frustration with the EU.

Finally, I suspect that the Conservative party will run scared of Douglas Carswell and essentially not put up much of a fight. I can’t imagine the whole come three times or you won’t be selected plan that they ran in Newark. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Labour didn’t field a candidate (using some sort of we don’t intrude on private grief argument). However, I would be really interested in seeing an under / over market on Douglas Carswell’s vote share because I can’t believe that the Survation poll butting him on 60+% is anything other than some sort of weird sampling bias.

High Speed 2 – Regulate for self driving cars instead.

Dear George Osborne and David Cameron,

You seem to be very keen on a large infrastructure project known as, “High Speed 2”. This is a nineteenth century solution to a twentieth century problem. First of all let me be very clear, I love trains and I frequently use the West Coast Mainline as my fiancée lives and works in Birmingham while I live and work in Poplar and Canary Wharf. The journey from London to Birmingham International takes one hour and ten minutes and costs an astonishing £11.20 return. While the journey from Canary Wharf to Euston takes  one hour and costs £5.60 return. The trains are often feel full, but this is really just that one person is sat on each of the double seats so they are in fact not full at all.

If you were planning to build a twenty-first century train, a magnetically levitating train that travels at up to 400 mph and brings the journey to Birmingham down to twenty minutes and connects London to Glasgow in an hour or so then perhaps I would support your plan, but this is not what you are going to do. Instead you are going to shave fifteen minutes off a journey which is currently just long enough to get some work done on, if you are worried about capacity spend a billion and add some extra signals, this could more than double capacity.

However, I understand what you are trying to achieve. You think that connecting the North with the South would be a good thing and speaking as someone who hails from the conurbation of Manchester I agree with your ambition. However, there is a cheaper and simpler way.

Create the regulatory framework required to enable self driving cars to become a reality in Britain.

  • What will the test look like for a self drive car?
  • What insurance will need to be in place?
  • Who will ultimately be liable when accidents do eventually occur?
  • How will ordinary drivers have to interact with them?

We have a great car industry here in Britain and this is the future. I know it is hard to put yourself in the mind of the ordinary person when you have a chauffeur to drive you to and from the train station, but imagine, chauffeur driven cars for everyone, designed with tables in them so you can get on with your work, or have a well deserved nap after a successful meeting.

By the time the High Speed 2 is completed self driving cars will have been perfected in California and Nevada. Put Britain at the head of the race. Create a new industry here in Britain and rebalance the economy. Don’t steal £50bn of me and my children to build the greatest white elephant in history.

I know that I am shouting in the wind. You really want to feel like you’ve built something and achieved something, which I can understand is difficult as a minister of the crown, but the reality is – a strong regulatory system that allows the free market to produce solutions will always, always out perform some highly detailed plan designed in immense detail inside Whitehall. The Department for Transport is a joke, you’ve promised so many tunnels to your MPs that the journey will ultimately be a dark and dismal experience. Listen to your members, Listen to your party: Don’t build high speed 2, an outdated germo-japenese technology, regulate for self driving cars and create a world leading industry right here in Britain.

Yours sincerely,

James Robinson