Rules Of Thumb

November 18, 2012

If you’ve ever tried to work out a freight transport cost but have no idea where to start, this is for you! Its amazingly easy to get bogged down in spreadsheets and cost tables, and come up with silly answers that you don’t know are wrong. Its useful to have a rule of thumb.

How Much Does It Cost To Move A Truck?

When I became a freight salesman in the 1980s I was told that one of my responsibilities was to set prices for rail transport. These were to be based on the “market price” – in other words, aimed at beating the road competition. The problem was: how do I know how much a truck company would charge? Older and more experienced hands gave me this rule of thumb:

HGVs charge £70 plus 70 p per mile.

That wasn’t bad, but a little on the low side even then. However, as a first stab it held true for many years, because the cost of goods vehicle haulage barely increased during the 1980s. What it does introduce is the valuable cocept of a “fixed plus a variable” – the standing charges of the truck and the cost of moving it.

A more recent project suggested over £150 per day and over £1 per mile.

But that approach doesn’t work for short distances. For short journeys the mileage is almost irrelevant, as the truck spends most of its time loading or unloading (or sitting in traffic!). Another rule of thumb someone once gave me was:

A haulier will look to earn £300 in a day to cover his costs.

Again, probably on the low side.

Rail Freight Interchanges: What Next?

September 6, 2010

In July and August two Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) proposals have been refused planning permission following on from major planning inquiries: Radlett and Kent International Gateway (KIG). To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one rail freight interchange may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness!

Where does this leave plans to develop a network of SRFIs as a foundation for significant rail freight growth?

The Context

Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges are large facilities which include both rail connected warehousing and an intermodal terminal. A good example is DIRFT, near Rugby.

It is recognised that developing more distribution centres with rail access could unlock huge modal shift from road to rail.  For distribution companies and retailers locating at an SRFI gives them the best possible choice between road and rail.  This is why SRFIs and rail freight terminals are strongly supported by government transport and planning policy.

The Recent Planning Decisions

Both proposals were in areas with significant impacts on the countryside and local communities: Radlett on the Green Belt, KIG impacting a nearby Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and heritage areas.

Clearly there are very few locations in England where you can build a huge development of warehouses and rail facilities without having a major impact on the local environment and communities. This is recognised in the planning process, and SRFIs can still gain planning permission provided they can demonstrate the need for the facility and that there are no suitable but less harmful alternative sites available.

Kent International Gateway

KIG’s “needs case” was partly based on an assumption that the facility would be used to intercept goods from Europe and consolidate them in warehouses for onward distribution by road and rail. However, the planning inspector reported that he was not satisfied that the proposal would function as an SRFI in this way.

The KIG argument is related to a strategy known as “port centric distribution” where National Distribution Centres would be located at ports rather than, as today, being concentrated in the Midlands. The inspector did not accept that this would be applicable to KIG. His key concerns appear to be the location of the terminal (not at a port), and the lack of precedent for distribution by rail from port centric facilities.

Nor did the inspector agree that KIG would be well placed to function as an SRFI serving London and the South East. In particular, he cited the Strategic Rail Authority’s (SRA) SRFI policy which suggested that such facilities should be near to the M25. More on the SRA policy later!

As a result the inspector turned down the appeal and the Secretary of State agreed, and so planning permission has been refused.

Radlett Freight Interchange

This proposal can be regarded as being particularly unfortunate, as it has been the subject of two major planning inquiries. Following the second inquiry the planning inspector recommended that the appeal be upheld and the SRFI be given planning permission, but the Secretary of State disagreed and denied the appeal.

There was general agreement that the facility was needed and would function as a true rail freight interchange, but one of the key issues at both inquiries was whether a less harmful suitable alternative site could be developed as an SRFI.

The developer was required to undertake a major assessment of potential alternative sites. Any location near to a railway was examined over a huge area of south East England.

Again, a key influence was the SRA SRFI policy which suggested that 3-4 SRFIs would be required to serve London and the South East. Given the location of Radlett, the search area for alternative sites covered the North West quadrant of the region around London.

While the inspector agreed that there were no suitable alternative sites which would potentially have less impact, the Secretary of State (SofS) disagreed. He found that a potential SRFI at Colnbrook, near Heathrow, could have less impact.

Colnbrook was the location of a much earlier SRFI proposal known as LIFE, which was refused following an inquiry. The Radlett team rejected Colnbrook as an alternative site largely because it would be counter to local planning policy, particularly concerning the “strategic gap” between Slough and London. The inspector agreed.

However, the SofS disagreed because other local plans mention the potential for an SRFI at Colnbrook:

“The Secretary of State considers that if an application were to be made for a SRFI at Colnbrook of about the size indicated in evidence to the Radlett inquiry, then harm to the Green Belt might, subject to testing in an alternative sites assessment, be found to be significantly less than the harm caused by the Radlett proposal. ”

While there is no planning application for an SRFI at Colnbrook, a developer is working up plans for the site.

The Good News

The good news is that the Secretary of State has made it clear that support for the development of SRFIs is undiminished.

There are several major SRFIs currently being planned, some of which serve the areas of the refused application.

Significantly, SRFI developments of over 60 Hectares will be considered as “nationally important infrastructure projects” and dealt with through the new processes introduced by the last government (and currently being amended by the present government). This may provide more clarity on the needs issue in particular.

Our View

The two decisions cannot be seen as a shift of Government support away from SRFIs. Rather, they reflect the difficulty of allowing SRFIs to develop in Green Belt or other sensitive areas.

However, the decisions should be seen as an opportunity to reassess the way in which need and alternative sites are assessed.

The decision regarding Radlett is particularly unfortunate. In distribution terms, Colnbrook would serve a very different market to Radlett. Radlett would have been well placed to serve businesses and communities in Hertfordshire and North London. This is already an important area for the distribution industry, attracted by access to the A1(M) and M1 as well as the M25 and London. But the scheme proposers could not make this case as the SRA policy would suggest that there is not demand for both Colnbrook and Radlett.

The other reason for concern at the Radlett decision is the idea that a viable site can be turned down on the basis that an alternative sight might be developed which might have less impact. If the remaining alternative site fails to be developed, where does that leave the strategy for rail freight? The result may be ad hoc development of individual or small clusters of warehouses served 100% by road.

KIG is perhaps different. A visit to the site illustrates that, notwithstanding the M20, A20 and HS1, the area is predominantly rural and, to be subjective, pretty. The needs case is not helped by the absence of major distribution developments in the area and a feeling that the location is neither near a port nor well suited for access to London. There will be many in the distribution industry as well as local communities who feel that the right decision has been made in this case.

Time For A New Approach?

Our key concern is that major planning decisions continue to be influenced by a policy published by the SRA six years ago – the SRA SRFI Policy. This policy was based on theoretical research into distribution flows and patterns. At the time it was not clear exactly how the theoretical approach had been applied, and there was little consultation with the distribution industry. Arguably the very basis of the SRA research should now be questioned, given the rapid growth of rail use by retailers and potential moves towards port centric distribution.

The SRA policy provides an impression that there is an intrinsic and limited demand for rail freight terminals. An alternative view is that the demand for change in distribution  is lead by retailers and logistics companies who are constantly refining their operations. This is currently leading to demand for well located bigger distribution buildings. If these buildings are developed with good access to rail freight services, rail freight market share will grow. If not, then we will be locked in to road based distribution for another generation.

Looking at demand this way, the argument is turned on its head: if the distribution industry needs new buildings, such buildings should be located at or near rail terminals. Rather than limiting such developments to a certain number in each region, that number being determined by top down state planning processes, the alternative view would allow for more SRFIs to be developed provided that demand for distribution space could be demonstrated.

Demand forecasts for SRFIs tend to be based on models which assume that past trends continue, and are not necessarily well suited to forecasting future changes such as portcentric distribution. Any new approach should be rooted in the changing needs of the distribution sector.

Obviously there are more issues than this, but our clear view is that it is time to move on from the SRA’s SRFI strategy and to bring the planning process closer to emerging distribution strategies.

Ian Brooker – Peter Brett Associates

Chris Geldard – Geldard Consulting

Andrew Spence-Wolrich – The Spence-Wolrich Partnership

Intermodal Terminal Solutions

Places I Have Lived

August 2, 2010

The Wells, Epsom (bottom of hill)

The Wells, Epsom (top of hill)

So my entire childhood was spent living on The Wells a housing estate near Epsom surrounded by open countryside. Very nice.

Norfolk Terrace, UEA, Norwich

Mannington Hall, Saxthorpe, Norfolk (16th century cottage)

Central Norwich

Three years in Norfolk while I was at UEA. Norwich is a wonderful place to live and the middle year out in the sticks was unique – our front door had no lock and my bedroom window looked onto Mannington Hall.

Willesden Green, London

Ladywell, London

Swiss Cottage, London

Kingsbury, London

My flat rent years, moving on every 6 months. Some of those places were dull, dull dull! Swiss Cottage was good, though.

Great Holm, Milton keynes

Great Holm, Milton Keynes

I lived in two houses in MK, a city I love and enjoyed living in so watch what you say! While owning my first home there I also lived overseas for a couple of years as follows.

Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok

Lardphrao, Bankok

Lardphrao was 13km away from my office, which took 1-3 hours by car! Bagkok is my second home and I love the place.

Reigate, Surrey

Nice big house. Moved there for work and then changed job!

The Wells, Epsom

Back with my parents post divorce. Its a long story . . .

Station Approach, Epsom

Brand new shared ownership flat. Nice, but noisy and no parking.

Commonwealth Drive, Crawley

Unusually I rented my (brand new) house for 6 months and then bought it at a knock down price. I’m very happy here, so hope to stay a long time.

Summary: I’m a a suburban person at heart. I don’t see that as a negative. I love London and big cities, but I need to get out into the countryside regularly. Another feature is that three of my homes have been brand new and one was only five years old. I’m not a DIY enthusiast.  I think you should be able to move into a house and live in it – not spend all your life doing it up and then moving on!

Regrets: apart from Norwich I have never lived within walking distance of a decent pub!

10 Things I Love About Crawley

June 29, 2010

Three years ago I moved to Crawley rather reluctantly and for personal reasons. Well I have to say I really like the place. Here are some reasons why.

1: Crawley Parks

Crawley has some genuinely lovely parks. My favourite is the Memorial Gardens, right in the middle of our shopping centre. The planting and landscaping is really good, and it is a popular place to hang out in the sunshine. Special mention also of  Tilgate Park – a vast area which includes a lake, a mini zoo, wonderulf gardens, and the beginning of a forest.

Crawley Memorial Gardens

2: Metrobus

Unusually for a town of its size in SE England, Crawley has an excellent bus service. We even have an extensive network of guided busways – which are fairly pointless but are used by some very comfortable and frequent buses. Because a key function of the buses is to take workers to and from Gatwick Airport, the good service levels continue to late at night, with some buses running 24 hours per day. Fares are reasonable and there is a good range of season tickets.

3: Good Train Services

There are four stations in Crawley. Three Bridges and Gatwick Airport have excellent train services to lots of destinations. I don’t really need a timetable to pick up a train at any time to London or Brighton, and trains run through the night. I can get to London in around 40 minutes in an air conditioned train. And the trains are very reliable.

4: Close To Brighton

Its a good reason to live here: I can get to Brighton easily in less than half an hour. We spend a lot of our time there, just hanging around and enjoying the atmosphere of England’s coolest city.

6: Crawley Shops

If you want chain stores, Crawley is a good compact shopping centre with all of the usuals. County Mall is a decent sized modern shopping mall. There are virtually no independents in the town centre, but every community in Crawley has a local shopping centre, built from the 1950s to 1970s. Many of these include wonderful independent shops including specialist Asian food stores, music shops, and even a specialist model ship shop.

7: Multiculturalism

Crawley has a much higher percentage of people from minority communities than most towns in the South East. We have a very large Asian community, including Muslims and Hindus. We also have some more unusual communities such as the Brazilians and Portuguese, Mauritians, Irish, and even the UK’s main concentration of people from Diego Garcia. They all make a unique contribution to Crawley, of which the Brazillian cafes and new Hindu temple are good examples. My hairdresser is Mauritian. She says “There is no racism in Crawley. We all get on very well and its a fantastic place to live.”. I wouldn’t say there is no racism, but one thing any visitor will notice is that the groups of people you see around town are often multi racial.

7: Egalitarianism

I’ve seen surveys that suggest that Crawley is the 4th most equal town in the UK. I puzzled about this for a while. It means that the gap between rich and poor is smaller than in most places. I think this is for two reasons: we have very low unemployment; but we also have very few very well off people – there are no big houses for them, so they mainly live in the Sussex countryside around us. It means we have a distinct lack of high calss clothing stores, posh restaurants, and 4 wheel drive cars. If that’s not a good reason to live here, I don’t know what is!

8: The Hawth

The Hawth is one of the better regional theatres, but we rarely go to the theatre there. But I love the various festivals and free events such as the Beer and Folk Festival, and the Mela. Its a great facility set in a wood with open air and indoor stages. The Hawth is 300m from my front door (although to be fair that would involve walking across a railway line).

9: The Library

Shortly after I moved in a new library opened. Modern, airy, and busy, it holds regular events and has made big efforts to attract young people. Best of all there;s a great coffee shop there too. This year the library won an RIBA award.

10: The Countryside

Around Crawley there are hundreds of hectares of open space. Nearby we have St. Leonards Forest and various parks and gardens such as Nymans. Further afield is the south Downs and Ashdown forest (one of my favourite wild places).

In general Crawley has a friendly non-snobbish atmosphere and is a good example of how a new town can be developed succesfully. Its not to everyone’s taste but take a closer look before you knock it.

Prius Update

June 10, 2010

I am getting to grips with its complexities! Squeezing extra miles per gallon needs a bit of skill. There is an Eco Power setting which helps. It also helps to put the car in Park even at traffic lights, and to release the throttle when you reach your desired speed before then easing back to keep the speed up. All of these save fuel.

I have done a few long drives over the last fews days: Crawley – Altrincham – Immingham – Crawley. I monitored fuel consumption per journey and per tank of petrol. The two long motorway trips produced indicated consumption of 64mpg to Altrincham and 61mpg from Immingham.

Fuel consumption for my first tank full of petrol was an indicated 58.8mpg. However, I double checked this manually when I refilled the tank and I made it 55.8mpg. So the rumour that this model over estimates mpg seems to me to be correct. However, if I can achieve at least 55.8mpg on a regular basis, I will be very happy!

Epsom and The Derby

June 4, 2010

Its that time of year again when Epsom goes a bit weird as the entire world descends on the town. I was born in Epsom and lived most of my life there, so The Derby has always been a big thing for me.

When I was young we used to get a half day off school  on Derby Day, which was a Wednesday in those days. The excuse given was traffic, but the real reason was probably that only half the school would have turned up anyway – the rest would be up on the Downs watching the big race. In the sixties Epsom used to get a bit wild on Derby Day as drunken race goers swept through the town after the race and turned all of the pubs into riots. I think in the seventies all the pubs in town would close on Derby Day afternoon.

We didn’t always go up to see the big race. The other big Epsom thing to do was to go down to Hook Road and wait respectfully on the roadside for a glimpse of The Queen as she swept through on her way home. (She would always arrive by train at Tattenham Corner and depart by car.) Only once, in her Jubilee Year did she stop in Epsom High Street to meet various dignitaries. Yes, I was there.

The Derby is unique. It is the one horse race YOU must see before you die. To start with the course is unique, with its notorious tight left hand bend at Tattenham Corner and its steep ascent and then descent, it is still one of the fastest flat courses in the world. Significantly, the race is held on publicly accessible land – Epsom Downs. This means that the centre of the track (“The Hill”) has open access and is free. As a result the crowds at Epsom are huge, up to 300,000 in the past but now still well over 100,000 people. The striking thing is that everyone is there. The entire town of Epsom. The hoi polloi on The Hill. The gypsies, for who The Derby is a major annual meeting. The city folk in their corporate open top double decker buses which line the final straight. The tic tac men in the stands and the bookies from all over the country competing for your pound each way. And the toffs from her majesty downwards in the Grandstand. Also, of course, The Derby is one of the oldest races in the world.

Derby Day at Epsom Downs - 6th June 2009

The best way up to the Downs from Epsom is to walk. Its about a mile up hill from Epsom Station but you join a growing throng as you wend your way past the stationary traffic on Ashley Road. Bus operators draft in every sort of bus imaginable to take people on the trip up from the station. Bizarrely many of the buses are Red Arrows from London, especially now the race is on a Saturday.

Your next problem is to get on to The Hill. There is a foot tunnel under the track which you reach at the left hand end of the Grandstand (or at least you used to, it might have changed). The tunnel gets really crowded and you just have to follow the crowd.

Sitting on The Hill with a bottle of beer and a picnic on Derby Day is a memorable experience. The Hill has become a vast market with stalls selling tat and beer tents, plus the buses and the gypsies. When each race is about to start the Downs falls quiet until the off when there is an excited gasp from the 100,000 people present. This changes to a quiet roar as the horses quickly reach Tattenham Corner and then a huge cacophony of noise as they charge down the final straight. You will hear the hear the thunder of the hooves as they pass by, but probably all you will see of the race is the caps of the riders over the heads of the people in front of you. Then the place erupts as winners cheer and losers shout.

Add to all of this a busy heliport, buskers, pick pockets, drunkards, ladies in magnificent dresses, Roll Royces in the car park, burger stalls, live music in the evening, and stunning views of London and you can see why I try to go at least every second year.

But before I finish, there is some sad news this year. A huge part of Derby Week for Epsom people was the gigantic funfair on the Downs. This year it is not being held because the organisers decided that the site would be better used as a car park. Thats a travesty, and a break with tradition.

Welcome To The World Of Prius

May 31, 2010

Picked up my new Toyota Prius on Friday. First surprise was that, contrary to rumour, it does not come with a window sticker at the back saying “Smug Git”!

Second surprise was not so welcome. It has that terrible combination of  (a) being complicated and (b) having a really badly worded and useless manual. I sat in the car with the delivery guy and learnt how to switch it on. I even moved it to a spare parking space in front of CBH – our head office. Once I was alone with my car though, I found it hard to lock the doors. And how do you even know if the doors are locked when the keys you are carrying automatically unlock the car when you are close to it?I tried using the remote. I tried reading the manual (“Press the sensor on the door handle.” What sensor? Where?). I even tried leaving the keys 100m away and sneaking up on the car to see if the doors were locked. They weren’t.  Foolishly I decided to leave the car on the basis that the doors might lock when it decided I was no longer anywhere near. Big mistake.

30 minutes later reception called me. Someone had reported that my car was alive and was making noises. I rushed down to find the engine running. It would seem that the car found that the batteries were low and decided to keep them charged up. Well how was I to know that as well as putting on the foot brake, putting the car in “park”, pressing the invisible sensor on the doors, and even using the remote door lock, you have to press the power button to switch the bloody thing off? Especially as when you switch the car on the power button has a green light, but that soon goes out, even though the power is on, and its also out when the power is off.

Later on, back at home, I gave myself a headache reading the two very thick manuals. One for the car, one for the navigation system. Example advice on how to save fuel when driving at high speed: “Drive at moderate speed.”.

The car looks lovely. A metallic blue and even Ben says its pretty. Its very comfortable inside. Its very quiet except on motorways. And after four 30 to 50 mile journeys its averaging 53mpg which is good. I should say “an indicated 53mpg” because drivers in the USA report that this model routinely over estimates mpg by about 3 mpg. But even 50mpg is 25% better than my diesel Skoda. There are numerous systems to tell you how much fuel you are using and why, which I think will help me to drive more frugally.

When you reverse there is a video camera in the back so you can see what you will hit. I was hoping it had a replay button to do an action replay if I ran anyone over, but it doesn’t.

I will write a lot more about this car in the future. But for now there is one really really cool toy. Its got parking assist. This means that it will steer the car backwards into parallel or perpendicular parking spaces. This is explained in about 60 pages of the manual – and there are several different ways of doing it. But we tried it and it works. A real boon because I am really rubbish at parking.  Now, not only do I park perfectly, I hold my arms in the air while doing it to alarm passengers and passers by.

So. Farewell Then Skoda Superb

May 27, 2010

Four happy years.

I loved your vast interior

But your undulating ride

Made long bends a challenge

Shirts: Red and Yellow and Pink. My Take On The Thai Crisis

May 24, 2010

This is my personal take on recent events in Thailand.

What is happening in Thailand is completely unprecedented. Yes, there have been 18 coups since the war, but every coup has been the result of either struggles within the military or struggles between the military and elements of the Thai elite. Yes, there have been mass demonstrations and massacres before, notably in 1976 and 1992, but these were led by largely middle class groups such as students, mainly based in Bangkok.

The Red Shirts

In contrast the Red Shirt movement is a true mass movement with support across the country, and with relatively weak links to any faction within the military. Within the red shirts there are, inevitably, many factions including trade unions, anti-poverty activists, and supporters of the deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

I am convinced that the vast majority of Red Shirts are peaceful people. I spent some time wandering around their main protest sites in April. People were uniformly friendly, the atmosphere was fun and relaxed. Speakers all emphasised the need for peace and restraint.

Party atmosphere among the Red Shirts in April

Thaksin Shinawatra

Thaksin was a billionaire before he was elected as prime minister. He is the only civilian prime minister ever to complete a term, and the only elected prime minister ever to be re-elected. When in power he passed some simple reforms which made a huge difference to poor people across Thailand, including many members of my extended family. These included small pensions for the elderly, free or cheap health care, and improved education. He is the first politician ever to deliver on promises to look after the rural poor.

The problem is, certainly in my view, he is not a very nice man. He dominated the media through ownership and government control (echoes of Berlusconi), he ordered the extra judicial executions of thousands of alleged drug dealers, he dealt with the Islamic troubles in the South in an insensitive way, and he passed a law which allowed his main business to be sold overseas with no tax penalty.

I wouldn’t vote for him, but that is a choice for the Thai electorate and nobody else.

The Yellow Shirts

The reds are opposed by the government and most of the military. The government is supported by another mass movement who took to wearing yellow shirts. Generally these people are a coalition of monarchists and members of the traditional ruling elite, with support from the middle classes. The yellow shirt represents support for the king of Thailand (pink is another royal colour). The yellow shirts, you may remember, took over Bangkok airport a couple of years ago to protest against the elected government. Some of them used violence in that protest but, again, most were peaceful. They effectively succeeded in bringing down the government aided by a military coup. The present government is the non-elected result.

The yellow shirts have openly said that they do not feel that democracy is suitable for Thailand in its current state. The justify this by pointing to the corruption of previous elected governments, and to the lack of education of the majority of people in the rural parts of Thailand.

The Role of The King

It is impossible to overstate the love and respect that Thais hold for their king. I have never met a Thai person who does not feel like that. In the past the king has been marginally involved in various political crises. In 1992 he intervened to bring the two sides of an escalating dispute together. (I will not use this blog to criticise the king of Thailand, not lease in deference to the strong Lese Majeste laws in Thailand!)

However, at the moment the king is ill. Presumably very ill as he lives in a hospital. This has limited his ability to intervene, if he wanted to. To complicate things further, the crown prince, potentially his heir, is deeply unpopular and is perceived by many to have none of the king’s qualities of wisdom and care.

Some people involved in the dispute have taken advantage of this situation. It has been alleged that Thaksin would like to replace the king and that the red shirts want to harm the king. There is no evidence whatsoever for either of these allegations. All red shirts I know still support the monarchy and the king.

Before the recent troubles the lese majeste laws were used by government supporters as an instrument of repression: if you criticise the government you are criticising the king.

The Impact on Thai Society

Thai people pride themselves on their generosity and kindness. Thai people go to great lengths to avoid disagreements, and in particular to avoid open displays of anger. Thai society is essentially paternalistic – the rich are expected to care for the poor, and the poor are expected to respect the rich. This has worked well over centuries, not only making Thailand prosperous, but also making it one of the most pleasant and safest countries in the world.

Freedom and democratic standards are higher in Thailand than in most comparable countries. For example, the press is generally free, and  women have a very high level of equality. Demonstrations are not uncommon. Often these take the form of an individual or group going to parliament to plead their case – an ancient tradition. Some demonstrations have turned violent in the past, but over a very short period of time. After such outbursts there have been long periods of recriminations, with some of the leading perpetrators being exiled or prosecuted even if they were on the government side.

What is happening now is very different. People in Thailand are completely polarised. People are openly angry, and many talk openly of wanting violent retribution for their opposing side. The pro government people feel that the reds are either terrorists or are pawns of Thaksin. Their is masses of propaganda with lurid stories of reds wanting to kill the king, stockpiling heavy weapons, planning terrorist attacks, etc.  This has had the impact of making people more angry and scared. It also means that the deaths of dozens of unarmed reds is acceptable to many Thai people.

There is no evidence to back up any of these rumours against the reds, but it is certainly true that a small number of reds are armed and prepared to fight – these are the Black Shirts. They have been disowned by many of the red leaders.

A friend of mine is an example of a red supporter. Mali is in her forties and has had a tough life, coming from a poor farming family. In recent years she has run a successful bar and would have made a lot of money if she didn’t gamble quite so much! I have known her for 22 years and never heard her talk about politics. She has joined the reds three times and has a very good understanding of the issues.  She says that all the reds she met were peaceful people and she felt completely at home among them, not least as many are from her region, Isaan.  In particular, she felt that drugs were controlled under Thaksin, and she views the present government as being corrupt and losing control of drugs.

In contrast Jit, my ex and Mali’s best friend, tends to support the yellows because she is strongly monarchist and believes that the reds are being disrespectful to the king. Her partner spends his days soaking in the blood curdling propaganda in some of the newspapers against the reds.

What Will Happen Next?

I have no idea! I don’t think anyone does. Thailand has a fantastic ability to compromise and avoid dangerous disputes. The entire period since the war has been a cycle of democracy, coup, democracy, coup. That might suggest that out of this dispute will come some faltering steps back to democracy.

But some things about this dispute are unique: the role of the ailing king; the fact that Thaksin, through his limited reforms, opened a Pandora’s box of expectations among the poor; and the really deep levels of hatred and distrust between the two groups.

Thailand remains one of the safest, most friendly, and most exciting places to visit in the world. All Thais are conscious of this and no Thais want to change it. Personally I cannot imagine civil war there, and my gut feeling is that compromise will win. But it is impossible for anyone to be sure.


Thailand as we know and love it

I Have Been Away

May 20, 2010

Sorry I have not posted for such a long time. As many of you will know, my holiday in Thailand got extended by 8 days because of the volcanic ash. I got back at the ens of April and ever since then I’ve been working flat out. Normal service will be resumed from now onwards!

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