November 13th, 2011

Fishy Circumstances

British Free Corps/The Wreck of the Princess Alice

The day after the last local history group meeting was, inconveniently in its way, Rememberance/Armistice Day, which made it inappropriate to post about one of the interesting things I'd learned at it.

The British Free Corps was a unit which fought for the Germans in WWII, against Russia, recruited from the ranks of POWs. One of them was one of the men we heard about, one of only four people convicted of high treason in Britain after WWII. I was fascinated to learn such a Corps existed in the first place; the internet tells me many of you may already know of it thanks to its use in various (fictional) books and movies.

I'd also been unaware of the Princess Alice, whose wreck on the Thames is still, to this day, the largest loss of life in a river accident in Britain. Nearly 700 people died, and that's an estimate. 640 tickets were sold for the day-trip to Kentish pleasure gardens, but no tickets were issued for the many children on board. Not everyone died - but most did. Even strong swimmers were scuppered by the site of the collision, in the outwash of one of Bazelgette's fancy new sewer outlets, by Creekwater/Barking Village, at the mouth of the Roding River.

Several things went obviously wrong, leading to its collision with a large outbound cargo ship. The helmsman got off at Gravesend and entrusted the ship to a Thames novice. The currents are strong and different around the mouth of the Roding, and confused by the sewer outlet.

But really, when it came down to it, the single biggest confusion which caused the accident was the law which, just at the beginning of that year, had switched which side of the Thames upstream and downstream vessels needed to stick to. It's like switching which side of the road traffic should drive on, but in a place where sufficient road signs just aren't possible. The Princess Alice was caught by currents, and the ship approaching her thought she was switching sides of the river, as per regulation changes, to let it by. Collision ensued.

Passing directions on the Thames - port to port - have never been altered since.
Labyrinth - Thirteen o'clock

Booking as a second-class person on Rail Europe

I was booking a rail ticket just now for C and me. I knew, from advice elsewhere, to avoid RailEurope's US website since it charges higher prices for pretty much everything. The UK one was meant to be okay. RailEurope is owned by SNCF and this is an SNCF route, so it seemed appropriate to book that way.

I may never do so again if I can possibly help it. Not because of minor irritants - how few trains it's possible to compare at a time. (I cross-referenced with Deutsche Bahn's site, which was eminently useful when it came to train comparisons.)

But because of this: I was the lead passenger. I was the account holder. I was the card hotel. I was the person booking the trip.

But the confirmation and payment emails arrived to my email address addressed to the male traveler. Dear C.

P.S. I am feeling less wrathful and written a letter of complaint. If they do intend to fix this, if this is just an error in their system, then of course I would consider using the system again.

P.P.S. They wrote back promptly. They think C's name was listed as lead passenger, which is why the emails were addressed to him. Much as I am certain otherwise. But perhaps I misread field names? It's a good excuse anyways, and is, at least, gender-irrelevant, if customer service is correct.