Blog Archive

Monday, August 1, 2016

East West Street, Shock and horror at my local BP, Uber Wow!

I have just finished reading a great but unusual book called East West Street by Philippe Sands who is an International Human Rights Lawyer. At the centre of the book is the city of Lviv in Ukraine as it is today, but it has also been called Lemberg, Leopolis, Lwow and Lvov as it has passed from one nation to the next. It was in Poland for centuries before becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1772. In the first world war it fell to the Soviets before being re-taken by the Habsburgs. With the fall of the Habsburgs, it was fought over by the Poles and the Ukrainians, with the Poles finally taking it back for the majority of the inter-war period. It was Poland's third city and arguably its cultural centre. In WW2, it was conquered by the Soviets and life became very tough for its people, with mass murders taking place. But they had seen nothing yet. Following Operation Barbarossa when Hitler reneged on his deal with Stalin, the Nazis took control of the region under Hans Frank. Of the 100,000 Jews in the city (about 30% of the total population), all but a few hundred were exterminated by the Nazis. Frank was one of the 21 war criminals found guilty of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 and received the death sentence. After the war Lviv became part of the Soviet Union again and in 1990, part of independent Ukraine.

Lemberg in 1915

Frank is one the characters examined in the book along with Leon Buchholz, the author's grandfather who was born in Lemberg and was one of the few survivors, and two other men who were to become famous lawyers, both of who were born close to Lemberg and lived there. One was Hersch Lauterpacht who developed the legal term 'Crimes against Humanity' and survived because he moved to the UK. The other was Rafael Lemkin, who developed the legal concept of 'Genocide' and survived because he moved the the USA. The three Lemberg men only survived because they had moved to the west before the war.

Hersch Lauterpacht

The stories of Lemberg and the three men from this city are remarkable. The latter part of the book is about Frank at the Nuremberg trials and the use of, and conflict between, the two legal terms. Both Lauterpacht and Lemkin were involved in the trials, with the former providing content for the British legal team. Sands writes brilliantly and for much of the book it is hard to put it down; unusual to read a historic narrative with the passion of a thriller.

Lviv, Ukraine, today

Shock and horror at my local BP service station. I went to fill up my car exactly as I have done for the last 20 years at the petrol station at the bottom of my road. Except when I put in the pump nozzle into my tank, nothing happened. Then I noticed a sign on the pump which said that due to 'drive-offs' the pump would only be switched on if I deposited my car keys in the kiosk. Which I duly did and then walked back to fill up my car, feeling like a criminal being watched. As I went back in to pay, I realised this is the first time I have left my car unlocked at the pump (I couldn't lock it as I didn't have the keys). So the owners of the petrol station are more concerned about someone driving off with a £50 tank of fuel than about anyone stealing my car. I have always read that you should never leave your car unattended and unlocked, particularly at petrol stations. I very politely told the cashier who has worked there for years that this is the last time I will be going there. It also re-affirms my intention to buy an electric hybrid car which means I will rarely need to buy any petrol in the future. Until then, I will shop elsewhere. I am shocked that we have come to this. Are we really a society where no one can be trusted and where we have to treat each other as criminals? I don't believe so, and I suspect that the management at that BP may come to regret their policy.

[Update January 2018: This service station closed down a few months later. A shame for the loyal staff who worked there].
No more

Uber Wow! 
I had my first experience with Uber earlier this year. I opened the App and requested an UberPool to take us from Cavendish Square to Sloane Square. I didn’t realise that UberPool is a car-share with a 25% discount on the regular price. So when Hetul pulled up in his Peugeot Horizon with two other passengers in the car, we waited for them to get out. But they didn’t. Hetul, wound down the window and asked ‘Adam?’ to which I replied yes and he invited us to jump in. He then explained what UberPool was and introduced us to his other two passengers who got out just down the road at Selfridges. Hetul has been working for Uber for a year and speaks very highly of them. He is paid very rapidly every week (less their 20%) and recently swapped his car following complaints about lack of disabled provision to Uber; the Horizon can accommodate a wheelchair at the back. The journey was £7.13 about £2 more than the tube fare would have been. My second trip with Uber was in a regular UberX – a 20 minute trip from Millbank to Euston for £9.13 in a sparkling new Prius driven by Tahir. The same trip earlier in the day by black cab was £25.00 and as the cabbie would only take cash, I couldn’t pay! I am an Uber convert now. I will normally use the tube but if I need a car for whatever reason, I will launch the Uber App. It is the most extraordinary example of a new technology disruption to an old market (which has scarcely changed since the hackney carriage) bringing considerable benefits to the consumer. The more drivers they have in a city, the lower the prices as they strive to reach a near perfect economic model matching supply and demand closely. I also love the star rating system where both drivers and passengers rate each other after each journey. Drivers who get low average ratings can’t continue and passengers who mis-behave (or are sick in the car for example) won’t be picked up again by Uber drivers. Simple built-in protection for drivers and customers alike!

My youngest son, who also usually takes the tube, was feeling unwell a few weeks back so he hailed a black cab to get home fast. They had to stop at a cashpoint, as the cabbie only took cash and my son did not have any (like father like son as they say) pushing up the fare of course. My son expressed his displeasure politely and the cabbie was rude. On arrival, he slammed the door shut after telling the cabbie it would be Uber from now on. 

“Thank you very much... doooo doooo doo doo... right”
David Cameron's last words outside Downing Street as he said goodbye and walked back into No 10, humming. His policies had just led the UK out of the European Union and he resigned as a result. - July 2016

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