Category Archives: Technology

Cumbria Day: Rory Stewart and the let’s work together ethic

A train crossing the Ribblehead Viaduct on the Carlisle to Settle line. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

A train crossing the Ribblehead Viaduct on the Carlisle to Settle line. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

Politicians have a job on their hands to win back the trust of voters after the expenses scandal.

Chris Huhne’s conviction for persuading his wife to claim she was at the wheel when his car was caught speeding on the M11 didn’t help.

Then there are the Lib Dem and police inquiries into allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by Lord Rennard, that are said to have blighted the political careers of some promising female candidates.

And I’ve watched with some horror, but also some understanding of the frustrations of electors, the growing protest vote for Ukip, a party defined like the National Front and BNP by what it hates and fears rather than what it cherishes and supports.

So it was with genuine pleasure that I read on Rory Stewart’s blog about Cumbria Day at Westminster in which all six of the county’s MPs recently put party difference to one side to support a showcase for local businesses.

These ranged from Cranstons, purveyors of fine food and meat since 1914 (that’s the Cumberland sausage and pies sorted) through a trio of small breweries (Ulverston, Hard Knott and Coniston to wash them down) to the Lake District Cheese Company, Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company, New Balance Trainers and Stobart Air. Tourism, a key local industry, was also well represented.

Stewart, who is Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border, said: “It has been a wonderful opportunity for all MPs to work together on a cross-party basis for a county we all love. It has put Cumbria, its products and our beautiful landscape in a much-needed spotlight.”

His belief that there should be more cross-party work was echoed by the other MPs, representing a part of Britain where the Boundary Commission recently defied common sense and geography in its proposal to cut the number of constituencies.

The attention – and even the prime minister popped in – was much needed because one of the first acts of the Coalition was to wind up the North West Development Agency in the public spending cuts and snatch away vital funding for projects such as the £100m Barrow marina village, now being kept on life support by £3.25m of capital spending from the borough council.

The government’s meager replacement appears to be £900,000 from the Big Lottery and Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government under the Coastal Communities Fund grant scheme.

I sense on my visits north that there’s a growing belief that if you want something done, you’d better do it yourself, if only because the siren voice of London mayor Boris Johnson is heard more loudly at Westminster.

Faster, faster broadband

Stewart’s support for trying to make something of the Big Society in the Eden Valley and in particular his campaigning for rural high speed broadband have found echoes in Arkholme, to the south in Lancashire, where residents are laying their own fibre network rather than wait for BT’s engineers.

In Rails in the Fells (Peco, 1973), David Jenkinson writes about the Settle and Carlisle Railway, then under threat of closure after escaping the axe in 1963 under the Beeching Plan. He points to the irony of the entrepreneurial Midland Railway providing a local service as an accident of building a through route to Scotland, while its state-owned successor sought to justify closure despite the hardships it threatened to bring rural communities with little alternative public transport.

Today, Cumbria’s people and MPs share a can-do attitude that puts the government and BT to shame for past failure to invest in today’s equivalent of the Victorian railways. Remember all that talk of the information superhighway and its power to transform the economy.

Now, even the Connecting Cumbria project will justify its success when:

    •  At least 90% of properties in Cumbria have access to a connection of at least 25 megabits per second by 2015;
  • Where a 25mbps connection is not available, access to an internet connection of at least 2Mbps.

Hardly ambitious by, say, South Korean standards, where the average peak connection is a reported 48.8Mbps. You can see why Cumbria’s MPs feel the need to work together to have the county’s voice heard in the corridors of power.

My man cupboard. What’s in yours?

Behold: Paul Nettleton's man cupboard. What's in yours?

Behold: Paul Nettleton’s man cupboard. What’s in yours? Photograph: Louise Nettleton

I might have chosen the garden shed, but it was my youngest daughter who took the photograph and suggested: “Why don’t you blog about your man cupboard?”

Then, she said, I should empty the three shelves and keep only the essentials – creating room for, oh, some of her sprawling adult collection of Lego.

In return, her ironing might make its way from the dining table to her wardrobe.

So, from top left, here’s what sits in one of the two cupboards above the ageing Alienware PC on which I’m tapping out this piece. It betrays my inner geek.


Top shelf


  1. A Playstation with a couple of dual shock controllers nestles behind the stylus from a Wacom graphics tablet (hers) that may be in here somewhere. Favourite games from my two daughters’ childhoods, Wacky Races and Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped. They’re stored in the other cupboard (not pictured, or we’d be here all day). There’s a Brian Lara cricket game too, that I never quite found time to learn. I saved the abandoned console so I could play at being Dick Dastardly.
  2. Rear panel of my first standalone CD deck, a Philips. It still works but was retired when I upgraded to hi-fi separates. Value on eBay? Not worth the postage. It’s sat under metres of phone extension cable removed during decorating and never missed.
  3. What’s in those brown envelopes under the deck? Ah, my degree certificate from LeicesterUniversity. BA (Hons) Combined Studies third class and I took Ripple weekly, thank you. It’s in with a note accepting me for matriculation at the University of Wales so I could attend the Cardiff postgraduate course in journalism. And there’s a black & white photo of the class of 79 pictured in Cathedral Road. I could be sued by some very senior journalists if I published the hairdos.
  4. Another envelope, I’m a  few years older and working at the News & Star in Carlisle, holds my proficiency certificate from the National Council for the Training of Journalists. Brings back memories of bombing around the Cumbrian fells in the office car (with fish’n’chip papers in the back) covering Ireby Fair and such high jinks.
  5.  Ah, there’s the graphics tablet, at the bottom. You’d never do that to an iPad …
  6. One of a pair of amplified loudspeakers, the sort you could plug a Discman into. The Discman, being second-hand, never really worked properly.
  7. Netgear wireless router. Utterly reliable but we now have BT Infinity 2.


On to the middle shelf

  1. In its box, and hardly ever used, a Regulated Multi Voltage AC Adaptor. Still, you never know.
  2. At a slant, a Sony Walkman WM-EX382 Mega-Bass with auto reverse. Didn’t you find that auto reverse stretched the tape after a while? This belonged to a daughter. I needed a record button for use in the House of Lords, where I was a gallery reporter for a year or so. The Commons expected you to rely on shorthand. Hence the huddle of hacks comparing quotes after prime minister’s questions.
  3.  A hidden gem… my wife’s Olympus OM1. Needs a service and a clean. She took some smashing photos. Developed and printed them too, but the darkroom gear is long gone.
  4. Green pot with cable and dock for the OM1’s digital replacement, a Fuji Finepix F601 Zoom. And they were fine pix, but it was so much fiddlier than a camera-shaped camera.
  5. Behind that a stack of ADSL filters to stop the net interfering with phone calls, or vice versa. Behind those, two carry bag containing a Game Boy Color each plus games – Tetris, Pokemon, Rugrats, more Pokemon, Robot Wars, and more Pokemon. Classics.
  6.  Next, on it its side, a BT answerphone. The tiny tape cassette must be somewhere. Overtaken by 1571.
  7. PC cleaning kit and compressed air canister. The tube no longer taped to the side was the wrong one for the nozzle. Who performed that swap? Sat on sheet music from my failed days as a guitar player …
  8. … including The Cream Album, More Cream Album No 2, the Sutherland Brothers (& Quiver era) Songbook. And two guitar and one blues harp tutor books. And Golden Earring’s Radar Love. Plus You’re Moving Out Today which singer Carole Bayer Sager co-wrote with Bette Midler and the prolific Bruce Roberts.
  9. Plus one defunct nVidia graphics card. Replaced that myself I did with a pre-owned upgrade. Told that if I Google the cooking instructions, and bake it in the oven, it might work again. Yes, but if it blows up how much does a Rangemaster cost?


Wow, 774 words and a shelf still to go, Never knew there was so much in it.


Bottom shelf


  1. Other daughter’s Polaroid digital camera (defunct with Vista), sits on top of the charger for my Nikon D80 (satisfying clunk when you take a shot), which sits on top of the charger for a Creative Zen MP3 player with a slightly dodgy on-off switch in use by my wife.
  2. Tamron binoculars bought for walking and sailing and watching the Greek airforce flying to and from Kalamata (from a beach 35km south). Focus is wonky since sand got in the works.
  3. Above are sat on two boxes of assorted cables and mini-discs (does anyone still make a recorder?).
  4. Foreground: various batteries, some not discharged, audio cassettes and a Scart cable (overtaken by HDMI connectors).
  5. Shoebox lid  of CD-Roms including Dorling Kindersley’s: History of the World 2.0, Children’s Dictionary, plus Dinosaurs 3D, My Secret Diary (not), and various imaging and web software never used in anger. Plus leaflets about a NatWest bank account I no longer have.
  6. Anyone want to make a Crawlybot?
  7. If I put the batteries in, the Early Learning Centre Walkie Talkies still work. Press the button to speak.
  8. A brace of Grecian Holidays brochures from the late 80s. We travelled with SunMed but it was Grecian’s snapper who happened by on Koumbaros beach, Ios. You had to walk there in our day. Or hitch a ride in a three-wheel delivery van. I see there’s a bus now.


Memo to self: you don’t need all of this stuff. Do you?

What’s in your man (or woman) cupboard? Replies welcome.