Milestones

Saturday 19th May 2018…

Sharpness Panorama

Early morning at Sharpness

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A splendid day for a cruise… Not a breath of wind, and already pretty warm, even at this early hour.

The Sun peeped over the horizon early. Well, actually, it was bang on time, as always – the passage of the Sun across the sky can be predicted to the very second each day – but it just feels early. And I awoke on my very first morning out here alone on “the cut”, away from the sanctuary of the marina, away from the support of mains water and electricity, no-body, just no-body else around, within either sight or earshot. I’ve long imagined what this experience might be like, and the reality was – is – quite magical.

Saturday 19th May is not over yet as I write, but the magic has continued, a day quite devoid of the usual toxicity of modern living in the big city. The blood pressure is coming down just nicely. Just what the metaphorical doctor has ordered.

Meanwhile, in Windsor, Prince Harry, all round good bloke Royal, heir to the British throne #3 and Meghan, his gorgeous American bride-to-be awoke on their wedding day. Every couple dream of perfect sunshine on their wedding day, and today of all days, the weather is is just that – perfect.

Widewanderer staggered into the galley of Faith and fumbled around for a few moments, gathering together the implements for coffee-making. Soon the caffeine was doing what it says on the tin, and the body was responding to the stimulus – Widewanderer was waking up. Outside, the surface of the canal lay smooth as silk, myriads of flies skittering across its surface, hotly pursued by the fish underneath, occasional plops punctuating the Dawn Chorus as fish jumped to catch a tasty breakfast.

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Purton

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Purton Ship Graveyard

Purton offers much for the early morning photographer: Just down from my mooring, still dominating the canal, are the remains of the former abutments of the Severn Railway Bridge, whilst just over the wall, the Severn river itself. Purton is the final resting place of many Severn river vessels, deliberately beached here at the end of their useful lives rather than being cut up for scrap. Over the decades they have filled with the silt of the estuary, and now serve as a vital defence to the canal, protecting its flank against the relentless erosive power of the river.

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Concrete that once floated…

The Severn is quiet at this time of the year, and the Purton Ship Graveyard is a draw for many visiting tourists, able to wander around the old hulks, each marked with a plaque commemorating its building date and the day it was beached here. Sometimes, it has to be said, an old hulk has attracted subsequent attention, and it is now conspicuous by its absence, pulled off the mud and taken for preservation some place or other. But the plaque still marks the spot.

Meanwhile, in Windsor, the big wedding ceremony is under way. Widewanderer has chosen not just to sit watching on a big TV screen, but instead to listen by way of an internet stream of the radio broadcast. And he is imagining what the scene is like in the Chapel of St George within the bounds of Windsor Castle. A sumptuous new arrangement of Ben E King’s classic Stand By Me, in Gospel style, and a rousing address by American Bishop Michael Curry, delivered in true gospel style as only, really, an American cleric can. Millions of us, listening from canal narrowboats to the very top of the highest high-rises around the globe, are now in no doubt about the Power of Love. Powerful stuff, indeed.

Faith is a sanctuary for me as a person, and Faith – that’s now Big Faith with a BIG F – is the bedrock of humankind. The power of Love. Today was a day of milestones, most certainly; May 19th 2018 is now a day etched forever in the stone of history…

I wish Harry and Meghan a long and happy life together. The two of you make the perfect couple…

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I’ve got Faith

 

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Narrowboat Faith in all her glory.

It IS Sunday morning. This isn’t going to be a sermon – Faith is a 50ft narrowboat, and this week she became all mine. Built in 1979, she is pretty much a classic, and lovingly looked after for the past nine years by her previous owner, Keith and Sonia. And I do mean lovingly looked after – Faith is in superb order, considering her age. I very much sense that Keith, certainly, is quite sorry to see her go, but I think he and Sonia have greater boating plans in mind.

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Sunset over Saul Junction

Faith lives at Saul Junction Marina, some eight miles south of the city of Gloucester. Not long ago, I decided a day out was in order, so I caught the bus and headed northwards out of Bristol towards the little village of Whitminster, the closest point along the bus route to Saul Junction. For a bus, it takes half the morning to get there, then there is a mile-and-three-quarters walk to the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal (big and wide, originally built for sea-going coastal vessels to transit from the tidal river Severn to the docks in Gloucester), not far from Frampton-on-Severn. The walk was worth it; Saul Junction (where the former Stroudwater Navigation once crossed the Sharpness) is an idyllic spot, complete with swing bridges and a smashing cafe for a spot of breakfast, lunch or even afternoon tea…perhaps all three if one’s appetite can cope.

 

I wandered in, just as a tourist on that day, to the marina office, where I met Cheryl and Bob who run the place, and very briefly (since she was on her day off, and rushing hither-and-thither) Nicki, who keeps a tight reign on the boat brokerage. They all looked at me a bit sideways at first – after all I was just a strange face casually wandering around – but after not many minutes, the welcome that has come to epitomise the Saul Junction community for me shone brightly through. The threat to one day spend my retirement years afloat has been there for a while, as you might be aware, dear reader, but on this Friday in question I felt hooked – Saul Junction felt like a perfect spot for me.
The weeks rolled on, and communications with Nicki began in earnest. “I’ve got a real gem of a boat coming onto the market soon,” she beamed. “She’s a mid-engine…would you consider a mid-engine?” Frankly, the answer to that was an immediate “yes” – mid-engine boats typically feature the classic-type diesel power units… dub-dub-dub-dub… associated with boats, perhaps, in the early part of the last century, rather than the modern high-revving engines built today. A visit was duly arranged, and that’s how I came to meet Faith.

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Other suitable candidates? Not at this time – both of these two are already well-loved!

Commentators about canal life will often advise to spend much time looking at many boats, but almost universally they will tell you that you will know which boat is to be “yours” almost the moment you set foot on her for the first time. So it was with Faith. I loved her.

 

Nevertheless, Faith was not cheap, and at the asking price, my budget was going to be severely, perhaps even fatally, stretched. Then came a phone call from Nicki one Saturday afternoon – it was one of those massive moments in life, when one instinctively knows that something just has to be. Nicki’s words, in so many words – Keith was, beyond everything, wanting Faith to go to someone who would continue to love and cherish her; it was almost as if Faith was choosing me. And so it was that that the die was cast, and the deal took shape, a good deal for me, since the stress on the budget was being smoothed away. I will look after Faith, love and cherish her – she will, after all, be my home, probably now until my final days.

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This graceful individual is one of a pair – apparently they’re both quite used to activity around the marina, having grown up on these waters.

Just yesterday, then, came the massive moment as the keys were handed to me, and Faith became mine. I spent my first night on-board, and rising on a lovely, almost spring-like March Sunday morning, on the water for the first time, is something I cannot adequately put into words. So, dear reader, I’ve take a few images, in the hope that the images might do the moment a little more justice.

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Reflections on a calm evening. Calm, indeed, before the storm. Just a few hours later, the air was frigid and it was snowing, as another Siberian blast from the east arrived.

Thank-you, everyone at Saul Junction, Keith & Sonia, especially, Bob & Cheryl, Nicki, and all the Saul Junction boaters who have universally taken the time to stop and say hello as I have passed by. I feel that an extended family has taken me in as one of their own already – and for that I feel immensely humbled and privileged.

Did I do the right thing in buying narrowboat Faith?

HELL, YEAH!

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This is Bella. Always on the lookout for a bit of fuss and adulation around the marina…

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Dusk falls on another marina day, and the pontoon lights take over.

 

 

 

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Portsmouth…The Fish & Ships Move

There is…or was…until the Railway Authorities chose to raise the price by over a quarter, almost overnight…a good value railway touring ticket entitled Freedom of the Severn & Solent, FOSS for short, amongst the railway enthusiast fraternity. Covering an area from Worcester and Malvern in the North, right down to the South Coast of England from Weymouth to the Solent, it is just brilliant for me during the warmer months to do a bit of travelling around with my camera. Take the three day version of the ticket, and travel in that pretty huge area cost an average of about fifteen quid a day, until some bean counter in an unseen office somewhere decided that we were getting far too good a deal. Now is about twenty quid a day, but still not too bad if it’s Bristol to Portsmouth or Southampton that’s on the agenda. One really has to have an appetite for three days in a week of quite intense travelling to make it pay now. But that’s a topic for another day, perhaps…

Last May was rather a while ago now, but rifling through my photo archive recently reminded me that there had been a really decent spring day that month, and armed with my FOSS, I had, indeed, been out for a wander all the way down to Portsmouth.

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Iconic “New” Portsmouth – Gunwharf Quays and the Spinnaker Tower

There is a simple reason to visit Portsmouth as a starting point – the Britannia Fish Bar just outside Portsmouth Harbour Station and the Navy Yard gates serves really excellent fish & chips. But fortune did not favour me as a representative of the brave that day, and I found the Britannia well-and-truly CLOSED…for refurbishments. Bummer! Much gyrating on the pavement in front of the scaffolding ensued, the sudden frustration causing a hiatus in my train of thought. So, off I trotted (or perhaps I should say, marched in a rather grumpy fashion, ‘cos I was right hungry by that point) in search of an alternative supply of the said fish & chips.

Well, dear reader, it is rather fortuitous that the Britannia was closed that day, as I was forced to explore further afield, for the day was just gloriously clear and sunny, perfect for the amateur photographer to practice the art.

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“…Really, I see no ships.”

Southsea is an area of Greater Portsmouth which is very familiar to me from my earlier childhood. My father worked extensively in the building industry as a Quantity Surveyor for Costain Contruction, and for about half a decade, that sent him to the area for work. And he would often take us, the family, to the city for trips out during the summer holidays. I remember well taking the ferry over to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and indeed eating chips, and playing lots of pinball, at Clarence Pier in Southsea. Happy days! So, here I was nearly half a century later, and very much overdue for a retracing of my childhood steps all those decades ago. I’ve no idea if the Portsmouth city fathers have chosen to keep the building my father helped to build – things are always getting torn down and replaced at great cost – but I am certainly pleased that events took my father and me as part of his family to that place, to be a tiny microdot in its long history.

Portsmouth is very much a naval city, and an important base for the British Navy since time immemorial. Henry VIII set sail in his fleet to have yet another little scrap with his dear friends the French in the sixteenth century, only to have his flagship Mary Rose topple over and sink with huge loss of life on the way out. It looked very much as though dear Henry had simply overloaded his flagship with guns…but guns of that age do tend to be, well, bulky, and no-one had considered the basic schoolboy physics of something being a bit top-heavy and wobbly as a result. Ooops!

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A statue of Lord Nelson now stands close to the Royal Garrison Church

Naval history, however, has continued proudly and unabated since. Portsmouth was the last little bit of Good Ol’ Blighty that Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson was ever to see as he departed to join his flagship Victory in October 1805. Yet again, us Brits were off to have another scrap with our favourite friends the French; this time the French had the Spanish out with them, but that was an age when Britannia really did rule the waves, and we won. Poor Horatio, though, had had a french sniper take aim at him, and he died of his wound just before the British victory at Trafalgar was declared. For the 21st Century tourist, though, it is still possible to walk through the tiny gateway thought to be Nelson’s route as he left for his ship. I must say, I find the thought of all that naval scrapping in that day-and-age quite stomach churning – had the press gang arrived to take me out of the Britannia Fish Bar for service in His Majesty’s Navy, they would have had to carry me out feet first, and even once aboard, I think I would have preferred to walk the plank and take my chances with the little fishes. I like boats, but not ones like Victory in the 19th Century. Not at all nice.

 

 

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HMS Victory from the starboard quarter

Victory for its part is now a national monument, and can still be visited in Portsmouth’s Naval Yard, as can the remains of Mary Rose, which were raised from the seabed in the early 1980s.

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The Round Tower

During the 1940s, Portsmouth naturally received a good deal of attention from Hitler’s Luftwaffe: The nave of the Royal Garrison Church remains roofless to this day. But happily, much history has survived to be seen today. On my visit in May 2017, I still roamed happily around the Square and Round Towers, and in the grounds of Portsmouth’s Cathedral. Portsmouth Cathedral’s origins stretch back into medieval times, and, I think I am right in saying, was originally the parish Church of St Thomas of Canterbury. In 1927, the Diocese of Portsmouth split away from neighbouring Winchester, becoming a See in its own right, hence the elevation of the parish church to that of cathedral, the seat of the new bishop. It is a striking Romanesque building, well worth a visit.

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Portsmouth Cathedral from the south-west

 

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The striking Romanesque character of the West Front

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Beep! Beep! ‘Scuse me…!

History, fish & chips aside, there is plenty for the casual Portsmouth visitor to enjoy. Ships, lots of ships, and the famous hovercraft service to Ryde, leaving from right on the beach at Clarence Pier. The local gulls are up to their usual tricks, and sophisticated defences must be employed by the visitor to preserve his or her lunch. I generally employ the word Boo! quite loudly, then chase the gulls around flapping my arms wildly – it seems to work, and the chips remained all mine. One can also procure one’s own fish out of the ocean, of course, but that’s not something I generally do…I like to spend more time talking to the local pigeons…!

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Waiting for supper…

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Coooo! There was a time, as a boy of maybe four or five, that I might have chased this hapless fellow…

 

 

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The Well-Oiled Machine

DOTD_SwanagePicture the scene, quintessentially English, rolling hills, not at all far from the sea, ancient and historic landmarks. It was a lovely spring Saturday morning as I left home, 5am, the sun barely rising, but promising perfect lighting conditions in the fullness of time, probably no rain in the forecast. I must confess to being pretty used to leaving home at Stupid O’Clock for work at the bus garage, but now I find myself in the space beyond driving buses full-time, at least partially-retired. And with that comes the opportunity to get out and about; today I was bound for the Dorset seaside town of Swanage. The town boasts one of Britain’s foremost preserved railways, usually noted for running steam trains, but today offering those of a more internally-combustable persuasion the Swanage Railway Diesel Gala. Indeed, it was not for sea air that I was visiting that neighbourhood, probably more likely to be inhaling lungs full of diesel fumes! Nice.

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Corfe Castle Station. The calm before the storm. Give it another 20 minutes or so, and it would be bedlam here! Beer festival and all that…

Steam disappeared from the British railway network, finally, and for some, with great regret, by 1968, and on the Southern Region of British Railways, the end came in 1967. The diesels were taking over, the march of innovation and progress continuing a-pace. So, for this weekend’s Gala, the Swanage Railway appended the title, “Dawn of the Diesels”. And for good measure, they were throwing in the Dorset Beer Festival, hosted at Corfe Castle station. Oil of a different kind!

I was warned that the event would be popular, especially on the Saturday. Yes, today was Saturday… It wasn’t long after 8.30am, and the line for the ticket office was already pretty much matching the length of the entire permanent way towards Swanage. This was Norden Park & Ride, the first point of entry to the railway for most visitors approaching from the North. It was a good atmosphere, mostly middle-aged men, just a scattering of women folk, and some kids. Most had rucksacks over the shoulder, baseball cap on the head, and a well-worn tea shirt or jacket proclaiming allegiance to the beast that each fellow followed. And by beast, dear reader, understand the meaning of “railway locomotive” – the diesel railway following divides into tribes, much as do football fans, each devoted to their chosen engine – “Peaks”, “47s” (“Duffs or Spoons” to those in rival tribes), “Grids”, “Hoovers” (that would be “Smoking Logs” to rivals in another tribe). Then there were a few others potty about Class 20s (“Choppers”, or even “Chibbles”, probably on account of the noise they made), or Class 73s (or “Horseboxes”, even “Shoe Boxes”, in honour of their very rectangular lines). Mixed in among these die-hard enthusiasts were a few folk with distinctly worried and confused expressions on their faces: These were the “Normals”, non-enthusiasts, generally with a clutch of already-fractious kids in tow, unbelieving at the number of people already waiting for the trains. They were the folk who had had absolutely no idea that a major event was on at the railway; they were just bringing their kids out to see the “choo-choos”!

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Happy Crew.

I met up with some friends travelling from various locations around the south, many belonging to the Tribe known as 83Bonapartes. An interesting twist on the enthusiast tribe theme, this; a veritable mixture of devotions – the is Paul (who is of the “I love Class 50…Not!” brigade), Brian (a young and up-and-coming professional, and talented photographer), Nathan (a consummate railway professional), and Ian (aka “The Earl” – say “Kettle” to him [that’s “Steam Engine” to any of you reading this who are “Normals”], and you’ll see him turn a shade of purple with steam issuing from his ears, somewhat ironic considering how he just loves steam engines). Then there were honourary visitors to the group, Kev (a devotee of the Class 47, never “Duff” or “Spoon” for Kev), and Hotel Barry (who, rumour has it, works in a…hotel). We’ve met them all before, folks – see my posting from a year or two ago (“I’m not Bashing…I’m Photting“). So, the group duly assembled, the bashing and photting began once again. Confused about the terminology? Have a read of that post, and all will become clear, dear reader.

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Class 45 “Peak”, 45041 “Royal Tank Regiment“, enters the “up” loop at Harmans Cross.

Aboard the train, another interesting tribal behaviour could be noted: Each tribe staked out their own spot in the carriages, and there they stayed…for a considerable time. Just riding up and down, pens and calculators in hand, totalling up the mileages travelled behind their favourite engines. Hmmmm….whatever keeps them out of mischief, I suppose. At key moments in the day, any given tribe would actually vacate their space, and head…yes…to the beer tent, located in the lovely country station setting of Corfe Castle, at which point the space would be immediately taken up by another tribe.

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A nightmare for the environmentalists. Pure joy for die-hard diesel bashers! 26043 sends up a plume of “clag” as it restarts from Harmans Cross “down” home signal.

The British rail enthusiast, when not bashing or photting, indulges in the another quintessentially British pastime – Queuing! At the Dorset Beer Festival tent, there was much opportunity to practice queuing, but be in no doubt, dear reader, the wait was well worth it! For a fiver, each participant was allowed three half-pint samples of the beers on offer, some of the finest beers, craft beers no less, I have ever had the privilege of tasting. Two half pint measures (ooops that seems to be a little more than a half in there, but no-one was moaning about it) was enough to be putting me well on the way to well-oiled status. Travelling on a train, in the railway enthusiast vernacular, is known as going for a “wobble” – now just walking was wobbly, too!

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Brush Class 47, D1842, approaches Corfe Castle with a down train.

So, today we had history and reminiscence of a gone-by era of train travel all in one place. The train snaked its way past the ruins of the ancient Corfe Castle, a structure dating back to the 11th century. It’s final resident, one Mary Bankes, loyal to the Crown, held out against Parliamentary forces twice during the English Civil War, only being overrun on the second occasion of siege. The victorious English Parliamentarians – Roundheads – ordered Corfe Castle to be destroyed. The ruins are all that remain today, but are Grade I listed for posterity. I have to confess, the presence of castle ruins adds so much to the mystery of a place like Corfe.

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Don’t upset “The Ref”! The finger is already up in a warning fashion, but no yellow card, as yet. I’ve been trying for a yellow card for YEARS!

Dear reader, the video footage I shot on the day is now edited, and humbly presented here in an attempt to tell something of the story of the Dawn of the Diesels weekend at the Swanage Railway. My thanks to Ian, Paul, Brian, Nathan, Kevin, and the many hundreds of fellow railway enthusiasts for their tolerance of my waving a camera around – and I hope you all enjoy the result as much as I enjoyed making it. Alternatively, leave me a big, fat, raspberry in the comments section!

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“Bashing” to Didcot

It just turned out that St Patrick’s Day coincided with a day off from driving my bus around, dear reader. Many with true green Irish blood flowing through their veins might celebrate wildly on that day. But I’m not the least bit Irish, sadly, so I wandered off with my little video camera for a quiet day, well away from the usual hubbub of daily working life. This time, it was to Didcot, an important railway junction on the Great Western Main Line to Bristol, a place where a traveler might just pause a moment to change trains, en-route to Oxford from the West Country, otherwise they might well miss it completely. A shame, really – there is a very decent (and good value) pub just across the road from the station, well worth a visit.

The result is 20 or so minutes of “train enthusiast” footage, but I make little apology for that…my mission is to record something of the passing railway history that unfolds before us, almost unnoticed, day by day – the skyline at Didcot has changed for ever with the departure of the once-iconic cooling towers of the Didcot (coal-fired) power station, and the arrival of the overhead wires which will supply electricity to the new fleet of (Japanese) trains which are supposed to be arriving later this year. And I particularly wanted to record the sight and more importantly the sound of the venerable High Speed Trains which have served this line for the last four decades. A hugely successful design, British-built; time will tell whether the new Japanese arrivals will ever be as good…

Here’s the video, then, on my channel at YouTube:

 

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All aboard the virtual train

Escape. I suppose we all need to do it from time to time.

For me, the pressure of real-world work doesn’t allow much time for actually escaping, so my indulgence is to escape to the virtual world. It’s no secret that I’m daft about trains – merely read some of my earlier posts on the subject, dear reader. Many an English Gentleman has his little (or not-so little) trains laid out in his loft or shed, and many an English Gentleman spends a vast amount of cash on his innocent hobby of recreating some bygone era of industrial history in miniature. I just do the same, but in virtual. It’s full of bugs and errors and technical limitations, but I’m very much “into” Train Simulator, otherwise known as TS2017 in it’s current iteration. Despite its flaws, it’s a convincing enough rendering of the railway world, and a very calming influence on my otherwise overloaded mind.

The kids out there have probably been able to do this for the past couple of epochs, but a little time ago, I installed some video editing software onto my PC which included a live screen capture tool. I love it! Now I can begin to tell stories through the medium of the moving image, created from within my little virtual world. So far, it’s railways. But just a couple of days ago, I discovered that one can now even build virtual cities, too…

So, dear reader, here is my first attempt at telling a sort of “story” using captured video from my little virtual world. For the train buffs out there, we’re off on a footplate ride on a Class 20 locomotive (even more ancient than me!), hauling Network Rail’s leaf-busting Rail Head Treatment Train, as it tries, valiantly, to keep those pesky leaves from settling on the tops of the metal rails, causing all our (already late) trains to run… ummmm… late. I suppose another solution would be to have all the passengers jump up and down in unison, causing the train to bounce up and down, thereby increasing the available traction. Rumour actually has it that Network Rail are, in fact, genetically modifying the trees along its railways so that the falling leaves curl in a certain way, so as to immediately fall away from the metal surfaces of the tracks on contact. Hmmmmm…

Pure speculation, indeed. In the meantime, here’s my daft little video, a sort of glimpse into the job of the railwayman on the RHTT.

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The Canals Awake…

Spring is a lovely time of awakening. It was pretty warm for late February, an ideal opportunity to get out and about again. I wandered up through the Widcombe Lock Flight in Bath, a favourite stroll, past Sydney Wharf and on to Darlington Wharf on the Kennet & Avon.

Video camera in hand, I shot a few sequences and threw them together on the editor. Behold, the results:

What a simply splendid lifestyle, moving at not much more than two miles an hour. Another year or two of driving buses, then to the waterways with me for my final retirement. Whaddya reckon, dear reader? Sail away, or remain a land-lubber?

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