Posted in Railways on Saturday 4th February 2006 at 11:03pm

The last time for a long time that I'll be able to escape early from Highbridge. From now until April, every weekend will mean a long slog on a rail replacement bus calling all stops as far as Bristol, with later starts and earlier returns necessary. In short, its going to be near impossible to get very far from home for the next couple of months. Once again this week, the works between Derby and Birmingham meant few if any southbound discounted tickets were available. I confess I spent much of the week dithering about what to do, if anything, today. It was a busy enough week with little time to spend hanging on The Trainline waiting for availability. Had a half baked plan of going to Port Sunlight just before bedtime last night, but having slept on it decided that I wanted to save this for a trip with my parents which we had discussed some time back. Whilst groggily wandering about the house a little after 5am, I decided to revisit the parliamentary service from Stockport to Stalybridge instead.

So, once again set off on 2M02 and disembarked at a freezing Weston-super-Mare station. Rebooked for Stalybridge and noticed that 1M42 was running a little late. Wandered around to keep warm and watched it get later and later. It finally limped in on just a couple of engines. Took an opportunistic early breakfast and ascertained from the steward that things hadn't gone to plan on the empty run down to Exeter, and had got steadily worse. A set change was planned at Temple Meads, and sure enough on arriving at platform four we were detrained and sent forward to platform three where another unit was waiting. Plain sailing from here to Birmingham, picking up about twelve minutes of lost time, but much of this was down to generous allowances at the station stops.

Up and over to the Manchester train at New Street, and more unhindered running as far as Stockport. Needed cash here but having never set foot outside the station, wasn't sure I'd find anywhere. Once out of the buildings, I plunged into a strange complex of fitness and entertainment complexes, finally emerging on a miserable looking and rather busy main road. Zig-zagged across, precariously. It seemed to be a fair distance down the hill to the town centre, but across the street between kebab houses, discount stores and derelict shopfronts was a cashpoint. Trod carefully between the vomit and discarded doner meat and withdrew cash. Someone had clearly been sick on the fascia of the ATM, but since I had limited time and no idea of where the next one was, I had to carefully make use of it. Trudged back along the greasy street, vowing never to leave Stockport station again.

Found 150148 waiting in the bay on my return to the station. Quite a crowd developing including Eddie & Mrs Bellass leading a fair number of other cranks of all descriptions on what appeared to be a semi-organised tour. Boarded and once again prepared to enjoy the strange journey on what the guard described as "the 11:23 ghost train to Stalybridge". Started with a lurching crabwalk across Heaton Norris Junction and onto the once busy trans-Pennine route to Guide Bridge via Reddish South and Denton. The stations were deserted and in poor repair despite the track being in relatively good condition, no doubt to accommodate various freight workings which pass this way. Held at Guide Bridge to pass into the station, and again just outside Stalybridge. Just before our arrival the indefatigable Eddie passed through the train, soliciting involvement in a seminar picture with 150148 in the background. Agreed, and joined the happy band of lunatics who'd travelled from far and wide to make the short journey from one side of Manchester to the other! As we detrained the guard announced "that's your lot for this week folks, same time same place next Saturday". The resulting shot is here. Photographs taken, it was naturally time to visit the legendary station buffet, with its excellent range of beer. Sampled Wren's Nest from the Howard Town Brewery at Glossop, and Snow Drop whilst chatting amiably with the assembled collection of beer drinkers, rail enthusiasts, and those who had a foot in both camps. Lots of tall tales told, and bizarrely some dispute about whether a cow's head needs a valid travel ticket on the London Underground?

Back out into the cold and onto the 13:02 to Manchester Victoria via Ashton-under-Lyne. A tiny bit of new track to justify the expense of the trip up here. The train was busy on arrival, and got busier at Ashton. A couple of weeks back I wondered where the crowds of gothic types at Victoria came from? It seems that most arrive by this service. Found myself squished into a standing area at the back of the unit, surrounded by black clad goth girls wearing very little despite the cold. Not entirely an unpleasant journey, if a little funereal in tone. Directly to the tram on arriving at Victoria, and into town. Toyed with the idea of music shopping, but a glance at the crowds on Market Street persuaded me otherwise. Instead, had another browse in the Ian Allen shop, and tried the HMV at Piccadilly Station which didn't have what I wanted.

Decided on the 14:54 Voyager back to Birmingham, which gave me a little extra time to change at New Street for 1V65. Quiet and trouble-free run down through Macclesfield and Stoke. Actually got some work done on the way, which is probably a first. All running to time on 1V65 meaning a leisurely change at New Street. A little confusion when they split the train to provide cover for a failure, but we were away on time. Back to Highbridge on time and in the pub by 19:30. A nice, easy day out - and a grand way to finish a month of rabid mileage accrual!

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Posted in SHOFT on Wednesday 1st February 2006 at 11:59pm

Just like all the best shows, I started out thinking I couldn't be bothered and ended up being blown away. On leaving work tonight, the slog up to Bristol in freezing weather and the inevitable long cold wait for 1C59 on the way home was not inviting. It was very tempting just to stay in the pub at Weston station. But of course I wouldn't have. The last two experiences of seeing Belle and Sebastian in concert have been truly amazing, and I wouldn't miss this - practically a home town show for me at last - for the world!

So, arrived a little late to avoid a wait outside the Colston Hall and found a seat just behind the stalls to relax and enjoy support act Brakes featuring ex-British Sea Power members. Really enjoyed their abrupt punky sound, punctuated by little bursts of pop and country. On occasions they reminded me of Wire with Black Francis on lead vocals, but that could only be a good thing! A nice long set too - early starts and respectable finish times at the Colston Hall always seem to persuade bands to pack lots into their sets, and they finished with an exemplary Comma, Comma, Comma, Full Stop.

Following the strangely anachronistic Colston Hall tradition of ice cream selling girls parading their wares in the interval, the lights went down for the main event. Found myself feeling strangely excitied, despite my reservations earlier. Every time I see Belle & Sebastian I manage to rekindle a little of the feeling of childish expectation and mystery that accompanied the trip to Shepherds Bush almost ten years ago. Need not have worried - the band were on fine form. Lots of new stuff, including Suki in the Graveyard which I've grown to love over the past couple of months, alongside the should-be-hit Funny Little Frog and the could-be-hit White Collar Boy.

Lots of older things thrown in too, including Electronic Renaissance which they stopped short of playing at Somerset House two summers back. The set ended with a stunning Judy and the Dream of Horses. For an encore we got a celebratory If You Find Yourself Caught In Love which turned the ususally reserved Bristol audience into something resembling an evangelical TV preacher's flock! Once again, the band were spot on - strings, brass and all manner of strange instruments swapped around quickly. Stevie Jackson, once again the most relaxed man on stage by a mile, slipping effortlessly from the pristine jangle of the older hits into the seventies-style riffing of the new material. Mention must also be made of a swirling and mesmerising Lonliness of the Middle Distance Runner - first 'officially' heard at the Shepherds Bush show, and still spine-tinglingly fresh today thanks to Beans' hammond playing!

Things always finish at a 'respectable' hour at the Colston Hall, so I hammered across town in an effort to catch to 22:55 home. Missed it by seconds, and predictably waited for a long time for a late 1C59. I didn't mind too much in the circumstances.

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I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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