My name is Johnathan Randall and this is my website.
I use this place to store a whole manner of things I have researched, written about, thought about or dumped. It is quite handy having a website to be able to do all of those things.
I called my website "Two Chevrons Apart" because that name made me laugh, and back when this was a blog, giving it a silly name seemed to make sense. I continue to write that message across the top of each page even if blogs aren't really a thing any more.
As my work has no real theme or pattern, and as the internet keeps moving on faster than I can keep up with, I no longer have a "home page" that you can browse. What I have instead is this message, and lots of individual projects that I haven't linked to here.
If you need more information from me - whether it's about radio shows I've produced, serious pieces I've researched, or something rather ridiculous that I've done, you can of course contact me. Until then, and unless I launch a new career that needs me to put all my work online, this will be the end of my homepage.
There are billions of websites on the internet. Thank you for clicking on my one.
It has been a tough 12 months for the hospitality industry.
Caterers in every corner of the country have had to make tough decisions and evaluate how they go about their business. I wouldn't want to ridicule that.
I believe I'm right in saying that all three of the major operators have now experimented with having some-sort of relationship with Uber Eats, in addition to stand-alone stores like McDonald's and Costa also putting their motorway stores on there.
As a historian, I'm very aware that I have a natural vendetta against new-fangled food delivery services, but I accept that they fulfill a role and I have no objection in principle to motorway service areas making a bit of money on the side. You could even class it as 'supporting the community'.
I should also say that I'm not suggesting anybody is currently doing anything wrong. What I am saying is that, if the relationship between motorways and Uber Eats is going to grow closer, then I have some concerns.
Many motorway service areas have a secret connection to the local road network. Many of those require special training to be able to use them safely: they are often hidden and difficult to find; they are often littered with potholes and debris; they almost never have street lighting; and they usually have blind bends that unauthorised locals take way too fast.
Recently I sat through the entire sitting of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, so that you wouldn't have to.
I made the sacrifice because I knew councillors would be using the meeting to discuss and decide on the two new motorway service areas which had been proposed for the Solihull area, one of which they had been advised to approve.
One of these, proposed by Applegreen-Welcome Break, was to be built at M42 J4 near Shirley. The other, proposed by Extra, was to be built at M42 J5A near Catherine-de-Barnes, a junction which is itself currently under construction.
There weren't many surprises. For the most part, it was a bingo scorecard of NIMBYism. Residents had to be interrupted during their long, rehearsed speeches about traffic, the green belt and letting children play.
One person pointed out - quite rightly - that if the M42 J5A option was taken, the new service area would make up 65% of the traffic at that new junction. A scary statistic. But once you think about it, a bigger number is a good thing.
The number of people who would stop at a service area is roughly a fixed number, so if you placed it at a busier junction you would get worse traffic, even if it was a smaller percentage.
I hate litter. It makes me furious whenever I see a lazy, selfish prat spread their waste around the country. I really cannot stand it.
On the face of it, I might be a prime candidate to join the UK Volunteer Litterpicking Group. It's a strange choice of hobby, but I'm very grateful that this community of people takes it upon themselves to clear up Britain's filthy countryside.
Sometimes when you live in an area you grow used to it, but the British (and Irish) countryside is filthy. Every country has its unloved industrial landscapes, but Britain seems to have made this its default styling.
Partly that's because councils have no budget to take any pride in how they maintain or decorate our built environment. Mostly though, it's because people choose not to look after it.
Volunteer Litterpickers, then. A great group who do the dirty work that I'm too lazy to help with.
Except I'm really not keen on their strategy.
It's 3 months since the UK confirmed that the sale of petrol and diesel cars would be banned from the year 2030.
Clearly, on the first day of 2030, the UK's petrol and diesel cars aren't going to disappear into the ground. They will be a common sight for some time after.
But equally, many manufacturers are already putting all their resources into electric vehicles, so 2030 would seem to be a good date for us to look forward to.
It would be nice to look forward to a future where every single parking space came with its own electric vehicle charger, but there would be some big hurdles to overcome first: there would be the time and expense of fitting that much infrastructure, and then there's the practicality of these remote locations having enough electricity to send to the car park.
All over the developed world, cities went through a phase where they fell in love - and then usually fell out of love - with the motor car.
This phase was usually an exciting time of optimism and aspiration, and a time where places wanted to change their face beyond all recognition. It rarely worked out well.
Dublin has been shaped by many historic events but one that has had a big impact on the appearance of the city is its failed aspiration to embrace the motoring era.
This is the story of Dublin's three transport plans; how they could have created a very different city; and how you can still see evidence of them today.
1981. That's the earliest record I have of somebody being charged for parking for too long at a service station.
The reason that's an important date is that, fast forward to 2020, and we see more complaints from people who were charged for overstaying than about anything else that they do.
These people are often outraged, and try to call for a boycott, not realising that almost every service station in the country is doing this, and has been for 40 years. You'd need quite a boycott.
It is really quite incredible that the debate over whether a service station should be built on Walford Hall Farm near Solihull goes back to 1969.
Strictly speaking it has only been continuously proposed since 1992, but that's still almost 30 years.
I'm thinking about this because this week it was announced that the decision on the plans has been pushed back another 18 months.
The problem is there are many reasons to argue against it. Green fields are something to treasure. this is a busy road which must be modified with care and there are arguments in favour of other locations.
There is also a big reason to argue in favour of it - it's needed. We're talking about a country with a large gap between existing facilities, and a severe shortage of HGV parking places.
As a historian, I am natrually programmed to argue against new developments. The status quo is what I find interesting. But there are places where the status quo is clearly not working, and this is one of them.
I appreciate it's not fashionable to be positive on the internet, and it's perhaps not something I'm used to, but I genuinely feel that praise is due for the way many transport operators have adapted to COVID-19.
That's not to undermine the challenges that customers have faced - lorry drivers in particular have, at times received an especially raw deal - but its only fair to acknowledge the amount of work that has got us to where we are.
On the motorways, all of the service area providers are used to dealing with uncertain conditions. They put up with accidents, roadworks, snow and Bank Holidays. But none of these begin to compare with the disruption and confusion felt in 2020.
As a consumer, I should probably say it's good how, if people don't like the old Bridgwater, they can visit the new one. That's competition.
There will always be the traditionalist in me - the historian who finds the old ways of doing things more interesting - who says that can't be right. What if every junction turned into a load of service stations fighting over each other for trade?
For 45 years, various governments have been trying to bring motorway fuel prices under control.
The thorny subject goes against government policy, which has always been to avoid regulating the industry (and over time they have become increasingly hands-off). But motorway fuel pricing has always been a cause for complaint, and politicians can't help but get involved when they think some PR is available.
For many years their solution was to require service stations to display a sample fuel price on the motorway signs. The problem was somebody had to update it, and with 1980s technology that meant asking a junior member of staff to walk half a mile down the motorway with a stepladder and some giant numbers.
Today you'd just say the job could be done with an electronic screen, but even as recently as 2005 it was difficult to find a source of power for those. And the operators had wriggled out of the idea by then.