3 years ago

Posted in Railways on Saturday 20th February 2016 at 6:02am


In some ways it felt strangely familiar to be heading out at the crack of dawn, on the very first possible train of the day in pursuit of new track, joining the surly nightworkers and early airport crowd. But in many ways it was far from it - deposited at the station via a warm car ride, and knowing I'd be picked up at the end of my day was quite a new experience. So too was doing this directly from home, rather than from a bolt-hole somewhere else in the country - a hotel room in Crewe or Birmingham seemed to be almost home for a good few years of my life. It was though, surprising how quickly the sense of excitement and contentment of a day on the rails returned. I think I'd almost worried I'd lost the thread of this hobby somewhere - but with the sun just rising as I was deposited in Bristol it promised to be an interesting day. I settled into my familiar seat on the Cheltenham-bound 1M21 like I'd never been away.

Arrival at Cheltenham was absurdly early. I'd not quite believed the timings when they were tentatively announced and then withdrawn, so I'd gone for an excellent cheap fare on my old stalwart services. This meant a pleasant linger over coffee and breakfast in the station buffet, watching the world go by. I've missed this a lot I think, and in some ways I replace it with my local coffee shop jaunts or time in London, but there's nothing like watching people going somewhere - some are agitated by running to a schedule other than their own, some are excited - a first trip for a young, wide-eyed youngster on a train perhaps. Some are clearly upset, bewildered or just beaten down - and there are a fair few intriguingly mysterious types too. Perhaps I read too much into the faces of people impatiently waiting for watery lattes in Cheltenham? Perhaps though that's one of the things which has always fascinated me about travel - who are these people, and why are they out here doing this today? As I started to get myself organised for the trip - copied Quail pages, Baker atlas to hand etc. - I realised there was a really excellent independent coffee shop a stones' throw from the station. Next visit, I reassured myself, and headed out to the platform.

It's equally interesting how similar the platform felt as we waited for the tour to arrive. Bewildered normals wondered why all these odd, excitable folks had suddenly appeared, tripods were assembled at the platform end. At the north end, where messages had told me our coach would be, there was a more subdued and discerning crowd. They all seemed to know each other - and I felt out-of-the-loop. Of course this is because I was boarding at a station I used very little. If I'd appeared at Crewe or New Street, I'd probably have ended up in a spirited conversation with someone who didn't realise I'd been away from the rails for three years or more and just assumed it had been a while since we'd crossed paths. But just now I felt a little pang of panic. How would today pan out? Before I could get too deep into that concern, the familiar whisper of anticipation passed around the platform. In the distance, a red speck shimmered on the horizon. 59202 was approaching with the tour almost exactly on time. It's like I'd never been away after all.

59202 arrives at Cheltenham Spa
59202 arrives at Cheltenham Spa

It was great to catch up with the folks on board - people who I'd spent countless hours with over the years in all kinds of places - sometimes interesting, sometimes hilarious, sometimes whiling away boring scoots back to Crewe or Doncaster in the dark after a day out. Things hadn't changed much - and we were soon discussing the day, the railway scene and catching up on events pretty effortlessly. The tour had extremely lazy timings, and aside from some interesting shenanigans switching lines around the curve at Westerleigh, all went smoothly and I was soon back at Temple Meads. A break here to attach 59001 to the front meant a chance to grab coffee, take a picture and to enjoy the atmosphere of the station with a 'proper' train for a change. We were soon back on board, and heading towards Bath in gloomy and damp conditions. Taking the curve to Westbury and negotiating the through line behind the station, we slewed across an unfamiliar connecting line to head for Frome. I was really only a few miles from home at this point, but I felt like I'd travelled more today than for a long while. Our first call was at Whatley Quarry - new track for me - and after a surprisingly swift run up into the Mendips we soon came to a halt outside the sheds. The Pathfinder publicity machine had - as usual - ground to a halt now, and there was no announcement about what was happening at all. A slow trickle of vestibule-huggers passed through the carriage, and soon we were moving slowly back towards the mainline. Apparently at this point we were being propelled by the resident shunter - but we'd never have known! After a brief halt to detach our additional power, we headed back to Frome, reversing again and heading south through the town's rather quaint wooden train shed on route to East Somerset Junction. From here, it was a slow, wet crawl towards Merehead Quarry. I'd been here before - or at least close by, and we set out by following the same curve towards Cranmore before coming to rest in the long siding beside the through line. Again, no announcement but we were soon reversing between rakes of wagons on the northern edge of the triangle. Apparently, this road was obstructed, so we retraced our steps forwards into the siding, then back around the western side of the triangle. Here, back at the entrance to the complex we forked right and crept around the eastern curve a short way towards the A371 bridge which was our destination. But we didn't quite make it. In fact those at the rear of the train would barely be past the junction. As we sat waiting for a water tender to tank the coaches, an announcement was made about what we'd done and what mysterious engines were on the shed we couldn't see! I shouldn't be surprised - it is perhaps always like this on these trips, but it was a little deflating to sit in the rain for forty minutes when we knew there was track we hadn't done.

The return trip to Bristol was a chance to relax and chat with the folks from up north who I don't get to see too often, a chance to share a few bottles of beer and to speculate on when we might all be out on the same trip again. It had been a fine day out despite the challenges and disappointments - which are of course, all part of the hobby I remembered. Leaving the train at Bristol was tough, the urge to plough on into the night and up the Lickey Incline was strong - but for the first time ever I had a reason to be heading home after a trip. Some things have stayed the same these past few years, but some are very, very different!

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 9 years ago

Posted in Railways on Saturday 20th February 2010 at 10:23pm


All over the country people seemed to have been talking about snow this week - however, aside from a lacklustre flurry which barely even touched the ground it's been mercifully free of the white stuff here. However, as thoughts turned to today's trip I wondered how far I'd get. I woke to a light dusting of sparkling frost but nothing to get too concerned about, and made it to the station without incident. It was, however, incredibly cold and I was pleased to see the early train to Bristol crawl in. Settled myself into a warm corner and began my trip feeling oddly placid and relaxed. It had been a very strange week - school holidays are always a bit quiet and uneventful, but spending the week tying up loose ends and preparing for new challenges had left me feeling a bit reflective and troubled. Today however, was all about travelling - putting distance between me and my thoughts and getting some mileage under my belt. Spent as little time as possible in the cold at Bristol, pausing long enough to get breakfast before finding my seat in the pleasantly warm Voyager and settling back for the trip north to Manchester. I've grown to really enjoy this useful train - it connects into a variety of things, and is generally reliable. Good to settle back and sleepily enjoy the amazing sunrise which broke somewhere in Gloucestershire with the snow-covered Malvern Hills just visible in the distance.

Snoozed just a little too comfortably as we headed north, and found myself missing plenty of interesting locations. Not concerned though - I come this way relatively often, and it was good to just be travelling. The sun was bright outside, reflecting back off the snow and warming the carriage pleasantly. Managed to doze off again, missing Birmingham New Street entirely which was quite a surprise - not entirely an unpleasant one in some ways! Having reversed there, we pressed on northward, and despite some slow running around Macclesfield due to an ailing unit, we made fairly good progress arriving only a few minutes late at Piccadilly. With no family members in attendance today, decided to stock up on provisions and make my way to the platform for the next train. A little concerned given the incredibly busy loadings I'd witnessed on Transpennine Express services from here previously. However, once the 170 had deposited the incoming passengers it was a fairly quiet train - especially in the little first class compartment. Again I found a corner and settled in for a quiet, comfortable ride east. The industrial landscape gave way to the bleak, wintry Pennines just before we disappeared underground at Standedge Tunnel. Still snowy when we emerged, but the sun was stronger and we passed Huddersfield and Leeds in glorious weather. I hadn't covered the line from here onwards for some time, and it was good to be visiting again and seeing the signs of increasing passenger numbers, some modernisation and more frequent services. After Selby we sped onward through the flat, empty lands beside the Humber. Somewhere around here I found myself feeling incredibly content - warm, untroubled and watching an impressively wide, open landscape in the winter sun. To cap it all, I was surprised by the remarkable music of Quickbeam in my headphones. A memorable journey indeed.

First Hull Trains liveried 180113 at the impressive Paragon Station
First Hull Trains liveried 180113 at the impressive Paragon Station

And so I arrived in Hull. A lot has been said about my trip this weekend - not least there have been many puns on the city's name and it's similarity to 'hell'. The wiser heads among my colleagues and acquaintances have noted that the 'h' is silent in local parlance and thus the puns don't work at all well. In any case, I arrived at 'Ull and the impressive Paragon Station to find things much changed since my last visit. Firstly, the northernmost spans of the overall roof now covered the city's bus station. The whole concourse was clean and tidy and the passenger information was improved and integrated with the bus services. There was still an incredible amount of space, but now with the building opened up and the area around the bus station filled with retail units, there was a buzz about the place which had always seemed missing. The impressive, tiled booking hall was now home to a community project providing a 'shopmobility' service - but the area was still public, allowing access to this wonderful example of 19th century railway architecture. Wandered around the station, and out onto the broad pavement which skirted the formerly busy and impossible-to-cross Ferensway. A large supermarket had opened up with a bunch of other stores next door, and people were walking by on their way to the shops. It struck me that I'd not really seen people walking along this street at all before! The station front was a little obscured by a modern covered area, but this didn't detract too much from the atmosphere which was, as ever, of an important and busy station. Hull hadn't quite been what I expected - and it's regeneration gave me plenty to think about. I've been hugely critical of similar projects in the past - but here was one working and delivering on promises. Bought a coffee from one of the new outlets and wandered back to the platform in a thoughtful frame of mind. I was feeling something of an object of ridicule among the relatively young, well turned out Hull folk around the station and its environs, which was a bit of a surprise. I wasn't in fact heading back a little earlier than planned for this reason however, but mainly because I couldn't resist a bit of platform-ending at Doncaster - the one place where it's never uncool to be a spotter! I wasn't disappointed either, with well over thirty unashamedly populating the choice spots at the south end of the station on my arrival. Others mingled, chatted and shared notes and photographs over tea, or popped into the waiting room for a warm. Wandered down myself and got the camera out for a happy few minutes just watching trains and enjoying it without fear of abuse or harassment. Given my experience when buying cakes for my team at work in Tesco yesterday, it was good to feel vaguely normal for a change, however briefly!

47828 of the former Cotswold Rail fleet languishes at Doncaster
47828 of the former Cotswold Rail fleet languishes at Doncaster

The Birmingham train arrived a little early and I was glad to get on board where it was warm. Noted the pair of former Cotswold Rail locomotives dumped in the sidings as we left, thinking what a waste it was given that these had put in a fine performance on a jaunt to Glasgow just a couple of years back. The train was again, fairly lightly loaded - but enjoyed people-watching and the pleasant weather as we headed south through Sheffield. Despite the coffee, managed to doze again - and also missed the first passing of Lawley Street in anything like daylight this year! Not a good day for getting numbers, but it's rare I'm ever this relaxed - so I resolved to just enjoy the trip. Out into the cold at Birmingham for a brief wait before boarding the 17:12. I'd booked a first class seat on this as it's often a busy train - and the crowds on the platform indicated this was wise. Found myself seated next to a few CrossCountry employees returning from a trip, who inadvertently provided some entertainment as far as Cheltenham Spa! Here we turned for Gloucester and set off along the banks of the Severn via Lydney to avoid engineering between Swindon and Bristol Parkway. Enjoyed the longer trip home, despite the deepening gloom which had descended into full darkness long before we made the Welsh border at Chepstow. A reversal at Newport, and then onwards to Bristol. No need even to change platforms, but once again a single carriage Class 153 appeared for the 19:53. This is a bit of terrible diagramming on the part of First Great Western and all the more amazing because continued overloading seems to be ignored completely. Squished in, finding a seat after Yatton, and didn't let the relative lack of comfort detract from my calm and quiet day.

Hull surprised and amazed me today, and even made me feel a little guilty for the jokes I'd shared at it's expense. Mostly though, today was an effortless zoom around the country taking in about 580 miles - but which does nothing to make this blog any more exciting of course! Next week, all being well, sees a return to the railtour circuit with a relatively late start to the season. It'll be good to be on the move again...

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 14 years ago

Posted in Reading on Sunday 20th February 2005 at 11:13pm


For a very long dull period I have felt almost unable to read at all. This weekend whilst suffering a degree of mental disquiet, I have finally begun to devour literature once again. The text which restored my faith in the printed word was A Clergyman's Daughter - a strange, severe little novel which most Orwellians seem to recommend against reading in favour of one of his more influential titles, but which I've been meaning to pick up since the Literary London conference last summer.

What struck me most about the novel was how similar it was to a Gissing novel of the early period - a series of 'happenings' connected by long passages of psychological examination of faith and doubt, poverty and duty. Themes not dissimilar to those Born In Exile in a strange way.

Perhaps unsuprising then to find this passage in Chapter 4:

She ate her Christmas dinner - a hard-boiled egg, two cheese sandwiches, and a bottle of lemonade - in the woods near Burnham, against a great gnarled beech tree, over a copy of George Gissing's The Odd Women.
That Orwell admired Gissing is not in doubt, and has been explored thoroughly elsewhere. Perhaps what suprised me most is how in this reportedly inferior novel of the 1930s Orwell achieved the very flat, greyness of tone which he so admired in Gissing to remarkable effect. Along the way he manages to debunk the state-sponsored dominance of the crumbling (both in faith and in fabric) Church of England, in a manner that I can only imagine Gissing would have applauded.

A Clergyman's Daughter doesn't have the universal appeal of some of Orwell's other work, but it succeeds almost as a historical work. A snapshot of how we used to worship, and the cold, dull English fear of not having enough to eat.

 


 14 years ago

Posted in Computers on Sunday 20th February 2005 at 10:40pm


I realised that it was at this stage in the release process for 'Warty Warthog' that I originally installed Ubuntu back in September. The idea then of running a Debian based distribution was alien and scary, and I wondered just what all the fuss was about. Around a month later, I was convinced. Having run the 'Hoary Hedgehog ' development release for some time on another machine, I decided to take the plunge and upgrade my main machine this morning.

All went incredibly smoothly, and I'm really happy with the outcome so far. No doubt the next few weeks will see the remaining rough edges knocked off, and the impending GNOME release introduced. Once again, I'm impressed just how robust and usable this distribution is, whilst remaining up-to-date with recent upstream package releases.

 


Lost::MikeGTN

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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