Tight curves

May 26, 2016

The heritage line The West Somerset Railway is delightful in many ways. It runs neat, tidy trains and uses a good and suitable variety of motive power. It has length – some 23 miles of it between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead, so you get a decent ride through attractive countryside and along the coast. Photo opportunities abound.

As a rail enthusiast I have a taste for travelling in either the first or the last carriage. If you are in the first coach you can really hear the loco and that tells you just how hard it is working as it goes up hill or else taking it easy as it goes down dale.

But the rear coach provides photo opportunities when the line is curving for you can see engine and train up ahead.


It looks as though I am not on the train, but I am and up the front we can see our loco. She’s puffing out plenty of spent steam so she is working hard. I was lucky with this photo. First of all, I have got a mile post in shot so I can locate it precisely as 170 and three quarter miles from Paddington.  It’s near Crowcombe Heathfield. Secondly, I love the serpentine curves of the track as it wends its way towards the Somerset interior. And I love the gangers hut, clearly kept in respectable condition by the volunteers who work on the line. And of course the curve is tight enough for me to see the loco quite clearly.


Those two heads peeping out of the second carriage won’t have got anything like the view I got.

The loco, by the way, is really a freight engine but such locos were used on holiday excursions and are well suited to a hilly line. Small wheels gives them pulling power but also a lower top speed. That low top speed is no problem on the speed restricted light railways of the heritage world.

Cute cats

May 25, 2016

Pictures of cute cats were not invented in the internet age. They have been around for as long as images have been made. These are on cigarette cards collected by my dad’s cousin, Ernie Stevens.





image010These cards were in cigarettes by a company called De Reszke made by J Millhoff and Co Ltd of London.

These date from about 1931. You might think 27 is an odd number (well literally it is, of course) for a set of cards. Maybe the album these are in helps to explain.image012There are nine cards to a page so 27 is precisely three pages. And you can see that the set includes cute other animals too.

The company must have thought them successful. My four photos above include examples from sets 1, 2 and 3. I gather sets 4 and 5 followed in years up to 1935

If you want to know more then take a look at this site – http://blogs.library.duke.edu/rubenstein/2016/04/06/investigation-rubenstein-lolcats/

Yes, cute cats can become a bit of an academic study.


May 24, 2016

I used to love train spotting at Lewes. It was a busy station and there was always something happening. In any ordinary hour you’d see:

  • The fast train from London to Eastbourne and Hastings
  • Two stopping trains from Brighton to Eastbourne and Hastings
  • A stopping train from Brighton to Seaford
  • A stopping train from Horsted Keynes to Seaford
  • A train from Brighton to Tonbridge

Of course, there were the trains in the opposite direction to match so there were certain to be 12 trains an hour. Most of them were electric, but the Tonbridge trains were steam hauled and on top of the routine there’d be a few freight trains, holiday specials and the unlikely train heading off to Birkenhead which all could be steam hauled. Newhaven boat trains usually had one of the electric locos on the front. There was plenty of variety.

My photo is not the best and dates from after my train spotting days.


The train we see is one of the stoppers to Eastbourne. The rear unit, nearest us, is a 2Hal. It has been painted in the awful BR plain blue with an all over yellow end. It made a neat little train look hideous. The leading unit had escaped the blue paint and is in green.

Clearly some kind of work is going on at the platform ends. Perhaps it was to be the end of the lovely array of semaphore signals which, I presume, were operated from the box just beyond the platform.

We can see the now closed Tonbridge line curving off to the left by the train and beyond the train is the Caburn range of the South Downs with the infamous Lewes cliff.

Happy memories for me!


May 23, 2016

Bertha was once known as a dredger – a boat which was designed to keep channels clear for shipping by removing silt. I now understand that correctly she’s a drag boat in that she was like an underwater bulldozer which just shoved silt elsewhere.

I saw her many years ago – in the 1970s I think – at the Exeter Maritime Museum which was a great place.


And there she is – or at least was. She looks a bit unprepossessing but this little vessel has claims to fame.

Let’s start with the motive power. This is a steam powered vessel but without screw or paddle wheel. She had a specific use in a specific location and she hauled herself along a chain which was anchored at some convenient point. Bertha would have been a dead loss in open waters for she had no method of propulsion other than the chain.

And then there is the age. Bertha dates from 1844 and was built to keep Bridgwater Harbour clear of silt. She was still operational when presented to the Exeter Museum in 1968.

And then there is the question of the designer. This boat is attributed to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Nobody is 100% certain but it is very, very similar to one he did design for use at Bristol docks.

She is currently at Eyemouth – the other end of the country and out of the water. Actually, Eyemouth is in Scotland.

All Brunel fans hope she’ll be returned to working order and will be seen in operation.


The bricklayer

May 22, 2016

Not so long ago I featured a Hoffnung book and I could, here, mention a Hoffnung monologue entitled, ‘The bricklayer’. But I’ll gloss over that absolutely hilarious tale of woe and move on to my own attempts at bricklaying.

It was before 1980 that I built a porch on the front of our house. And here I am in the early stages of construction work.


I see I have some mortar mixed on a board. I have hammer, bolster for halving bricks, kevel and rule as I start on the third course of bricks, just above the damp proof course. The porch still stands, well over 35 years on so I can’t have done too badly. But I really lacked speed. You watch the professionals slap on a trowel’s worth of mortar and bang on a brick – all done in seconds. I seemed to take minutes over each brick, trying to make sure it was as perfect as possible.

But what I really love about that picture is the cat flap hole in the front door.


That’s our baby son peering through, trying to see what dad is up to.

Once the porch was built the cat flap in the door was closed. Our cats, if out, can access the porch but not the rest of the house. They have learned to ask if they want to come in and we are spared the remnant of rat that we sometimes found in the house.

21st May

May 21, 2016

A personal item here. It was 50 years ago today that I had my first date with the lady who is now my wife. For a few months my future mother in law helped us celebrate by putting an appropriate number of candles on a bun for us to share. If we still did that we’d need 600 candles now and the bun would have to be one heck of a size.

So how has the day been marked in the past. The honest answer is barely ever. We were both workers and so the day was like any other. But back in 2002 the working day for me involved being at Bristol zoo so here are a few zoo photos from May 21st 2002.


A giant sized bug – I think it is quite pretty.


We all love meerkats


A swimming penguin.

A sea lion.image008

Well I had a nice day, clearly. I wonder what my wife did on that day.

A past scene

May 20, 2016

I was brought up in the prosperous south east corner of Britain and in my memory the horse did not feature in farm work. There were plenty of older tractors about but my childhood was an era in which the little grey Fergie ruled supreme. However, back in the west of Ireland in 1971 old styles and methods hung on and here – a road scene – we have a case in point.


A lovely horse – I have no idea what breed – is hauling a load of hay. Now in my South of England life, hay was baled. Here, clearly, it is loose so it was both horse and hay that attracted attention and made me get out the old little Canon Demi camera and take a photo. I suspect the two wheeled cart would be interesting as well, but that is all but lost under the hay. I rather assume the driver has made himself a seat in the hay from where he can issue instructions to the horse, presumably via a rope we see going back from the bridle.

I feel truly privileged to have witnessed these older ways of farming, albeit when I was adult. These days it gives me an insight into how my Sussex farm labouring ancestors must have lived.

The Maestro

May 19, 2016

Gerard Hoffnung’s book of cartoons, The Maestro, was published in 1953. I first saw it as a child. It was in the waiting room at the dentist I had to go to. Back in those days dentist visiting was a scary business. The low speed drills dug into your nerves – never deadened by injections – it hurt like the blazes. I suppose some light relief in the waiting room was a really good idea. And so I was introduced to The Maestro.


This, of course, is my copy – a 1963 tenth impression.

It seems odd now that I had enough nous of music to even understand it, let alone find it uproariously funny. But I do recall my brother and I laughing out loud as we looked at the Hoffnung cartoons showing a conductor interpreting those strange instructions that music uses.

Here we have Molto Diminuendo.


Of course the cartoon makes it clear. The phrase obviously means get a lot quieter – and quickly.

image006As I remember it this was one that really induced laughter. Hoffnung really captures the spirit of the over the top conductor with his ‘furioso’. I think at the time I’d have translated this as furiously but really it means with great vigour.

The Hoffnung cartoons still bring a smile to me.


May 18, 2016

I have never been to Northern Ireland. The six counties which are somewhat wrongly referred to as Ulster were subjected to troubles from 1968. One always suspected that the troubles were restricted in terms of where they happened, but the publicity was bad and like many another person from the east side of the Irish Sea, I kept away. It didn’t stop us from visiting Eire – the republic comprising the bulk of the island including counties that made up historic Ulster. But the six counties that have remained a part of the United Kingdom have still to be visited by me. That’s my loss, of course.

Back in the 1950s Bangor, in Northern Ireland was seen as a holiday destination and was advertised on the railways.


As ever, a railway poster, depicted here on a 2016 calendar, has made the place look very attractive and worthy of a visit which I am sure it is. This poster first saw the light of day in 1955 and was the work of A J Wilson.

Back in the mid 50s only about one household in every five actually had a car so holidays by train were still very much the norm. It must have been exciting to make a sea crossing and still be on British soil able to speak the same language and use the same currency. It would also have been quite expensive so only the more well to do folks would do it.

For me, a holiday in 1955 was camping in a farmer’s field in really quite primitive (but memorably wonderful) conditions little more than 20 miles from home in Sussex.


We were definitely a carless household. Dad hired a lorry and driver to take and collect us.

Jurassic Skyline

May 17, 2016

That’s what a lift/viewing tower is called in Weymouth. Weymouth is in Dorset and much of the Dorset coast is known as The Jurassic Coast because of dinosaur finds. This visitor attraction is right on the edge of the sea on the harbour wall

We visited at the end of April and decided the weather was OK for aerial views so we took a ride. Essentially you are lifted upwards in a glass doughnut shape, sitting on a seat and looking outwards. This rises 53 metres (174 feet) up a tower and then does two full horizontal rotations so that you get an all-round view twice. We went as a group of four which made it £6.50 per person. We were the only four riders on our trip. It’s a good ride and the views are splendid so here’s a collection.


That’s the tower with the doughnut at the top.

This is the previous trip coming down to earth again


There’s a lot in the next picture. The tall ship, The Pelican is at the dockside. Beyond it is Nothe Fort and then Portland Harbour and the headland of Portland Bill.


Weymouth Harbour heads in some way up river.image008Weymouth sea front and beyond you can see the sea beyond Chesil Beach. It looks, but can’t be, much higher than the local sea.


Fairground fun on the beach.


The Victorian clock tower is near the left end of that photo but I was looking more at the lovely Dorset Hills.

A wider view of Weymouth.


It looks like a model village from up the tower.


There’s a clear view of the Osmington White Horse complete with kingly rider.


Shipping berths – but Weymouth is not, at the moment, a ferry terminal.


And we are round and can see Pelican again.


Nothe Fort and Portland Harbour walls.


The orange item is Weymouth lifeboat. My cousin’s son was a crew member at one time.


Portland Bill.


Miniature people down below.




Our shadow.


And back down to earth we came. We enjoyed it and would have liked longer.




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