mcshibb and the gateway

Sat, Dec 22, 2007

Last week I got the chance to leave my locked office and head for the big city. Edinburgh to be precise, or Auld Reekie to give it its proper Scots name. The reason for my escape from the coding coalface was the second McShibb meeting at Telford College and Andy Swiffin had asked me to talk about something. So I put together a presentation on our experiences with the Shibboleth to Athens Gateway.

As usual at this time of the year the roads from Skye to Inverness were deserted and I managed the full two hours without seeing another car, almost. There were a couple at Garve before hitting the A9 into the newest city in the highlands. However, there the madness started. I had to queue for half an hour in the train station at Inverness. The “Reekie” train was on the platform but they were only letting Aberdeen passengers onto their train, which was about to depart. The only reason I could think for this was Health and Safety (H&S) in case one of the Reekies fell under the wheels of the departing Donside express. Humans come with quite advanced motion sensor and control mechanisms “out of the box” so that would be unlikely. Unless they were inebriated. A more plausible scenario in “sneckie”.

Eventually we were allowed through the barrier. You know, that reconfigurable tape stuff and I overheard the reason for our being treated as cattle. “coz of all that’s happened over the last two years and that”. However, my attempt to board the Reekie express was thwarted once more when another peak-capped official reconfigured the tape to block access to the departing ‘donside puffer and also cut off our shuffle towards our own train. H&S again. While Mr. Jobsworth was taping off access to both stationary and soon to be moving trains, I noticed a passenger, banging on the door of the ‘donside train, eager to be let on. The train was not moving but the doors were closed and the platform taped off. For goodness sake, you’d think it was about to go into orbit or something. The doors the unfortunate was banging on are where the guard normally stands so I could only assume there was another jobsworth behind the smoked glass, pointing at his watch and tutting loudly something about H&S. The train then left and the hapless passenger was abandoned, to wait for the next H&S express to the east. If there was another one to be had that day.

Eventually jobsworth #1 de-taped our access route and there was a mad rush of people eager to grab the best seats, i.e. the ones without the coffee stains and crisp mulch on the seats. I’d (stupidly it turned out) upgraded my ticket to first class (with my own money) as I wanted to do a bit of work and needed a plug point for the laptop. Well, first class was full of mobile phoned chavs, screeching at each other and having the most vocal conversations with who knows what down their Vivaldi toned ringers. I grabbed a vacant, manky seat and pulled out a copy of the Big Issue to read about Michael Aspel’s xmas in Oz, where it was so hot, Santa collapsed and began hyperventilating. For some reason I found that hilarious. As the train pulled out of the now taped-off and as inaccessible as the surface of the moon platform, the chavs vacated their seats with alarming alacrity as the conductor swept through the cabin, bearing the first class price list and asking for credit card numbers and I was left alone in a tiny, walled off portion of the half empty train. Nothing separated first and second class other than the space where the door normally is. All that remained were some hinges. The only other thing separating the two classes was the free coffee in first. No plug points. Nothing. Scottish provincial railway at its worst and the icing on the cake was the underseat heating, which was obviously broken as my arse began to melt.

So with a red raw posterior I crossed the impressive Forth Bridge, paralleling the road bridge and remembered just how many people there are in Scotland. Tons of them! Everywhere. Coming from Skye it was like landing on another planet. You know what they say. A change is as good as a rest.

The meeting went well and I blethered about the Gateway for a while. The general consensus was that Shibboleth was only good for Athens. So I mentioned our previous work shibbing Bodington and Sakai. Being a Weegie, I thought I’d enliven the normally excruciating shibboleth discussions with a bit of humour, to mark my sojourn in the east. To set the scene, Weegies and “Them from Reekie” (what is the collective noun for that lot anyway?) are like chalk and cheese. They say that “sex” in Edinburgh is what the locals get their coal in. The fun loving, “I’ve known you forever even though you’re a stranger type of meet you in the street friendship”, against the grey, gloomy “ye’ll have had yer teeeeee” statement of “sling yer hook” hospitality of the capital. So in the spirit of humour I knocked up a slide to announce my arrival in the capital of cold shoulders. I’m sure I heard a cicada.

A much more pleasurable return trip on a national carrier instead of the Ivor the Engine H&S Express and another deserted roads drive back to the island and I grabbed the latest James Herbert book from the shop, The Secret of Crickley Hall. I really do like Herbert and I couldn’t put the book down. So all in all a complete waste of money for a first class upgrade. I could have found a seat in standard and settled down for the journey with Mr. Herbert.

And a quiet success as the gateway project, which I led, has now become mainstream, with the announcement of the cessation of individual Athens accounts at UHI.

A happy ho ho ho to all readers of this blog, if there are any other than me.

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