Archive for December, 2014

Spring – just around the corner

December 21, 2014

Astronomically speaking today is the first day of winter. The weather people tend to regard winter as the three months of December, January and February but December 21st is, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day – the winter solstice and that means the first day of official winter.

For us in the north, the hours of daylight will start to increase with effect from tomorrow. Spring might not be due to start, officially until March 21st – when the whole, in theory, gets an equal amount of day and night.

But spring signs are already there. Yesterday I took a walk through my village churchyard and noted the first spring flowers in bloom.


Yes, a few celandines had come into bloom. At some point, next year, the churchyard will be carpeted with these little beauties but for now the few hardy blooms were enough to bring a smile to my face.

Shove ha’penny

December 21, 2014

Yesterday I wrote about our bagatelle board and I always associate the two games of bagatelle and shove ha’penny. This is because back in my childhood we had a shove ha’penny board and at some stage my dad made a bagatelle board on the other side of it. Well, as we saw, we have a Bakelite bagatelle board which would be impossible to make into a shove ha’penny game. So quite a few years ago I was bought a shove ha’penny game. The photo shows it in use at Christmas 2001. I am giving my son a game.


I could comment on our dining room which still looks much the same today. To be fair, curtains and carpet have changed and so has wallpaper. I can see half a coal scuttle on the left and back then we had a coal fired heating system. That failed some years ago and we replaced it with an oil boiler. But we still have the same table, chairs and other furniture. We even still have the same television and it still remains the only one we have. I see a Christmas reindeer next to the TV and that still comes out each Christmas. The window sills have my son’s cactus collection in his GCSE project watering trays. They have been consigned to the past!

And I’m sitting at the table about to palm a half penny (old money of course) across the board, hoping to get it to stop precisely between the grooves which go across the board. As we play it (others may have different rules), in each turn you get 5 coins and the idea is that you can use the ones already on the board to help manage the one you are palming. A skilful player will get quite a few of their five coins to be scorers – sitting between the grooves.

It’s still a game I love, but normally one plays it in a standing position.

I must get the board out this Christmas!

Bakelite bagatelle

December 20, 2014

Christmas is nearly upon us. It’s the season for games to appear and in our household we are not short of them. One of them is the game bagatelle – the sort of basic pinball where you push a ball up a slot onto a sloping table which is well equipped with pots to catch the ball (to score points) and nails for it to bounce off. The aim, of course, is to get a high score.

Our bagatelle board would once have been equipped with a spring loaded pusher, but we bought it at a jumble sale and so we just use a stick to push the balls (which are ball bearings. The board is made of a green coloured Bakelite.


Some of the printed score labels have worn away so we have had to use stick on paper labels. This is what a one ball sized pot should look like.


That little cup scores you 60 points.

This board was made by a company called Napro Productions


The best date I can find for these games is mid-20th century. Does anybody know better?


December 19, 2014

Settle and Carlisle (1)

This is a post about a railway line but keep looking for I shall say very little about things technical. Trains will feature only as adjuncts. Above all, the stretch of line I travelled is utterly beautiful.

As a personal opinion, I should say it was a line that should never have been built. It was designed as a third competing route for traffic between England and Scotland. It traversed incredibly difficult areas and served parts of England which, then and now are totally devoid of population.

But let’s be glad it was built and let’s be glad that such locals as there were fought long and hard against plans for closure and in the end, 25 or so years ago, they achieved a wonderful victory and the line was saved. Remote stations were rebuilt and reopened. These days the line seems vibrant and is wonderfully friendly. On one journey on ordinary service trains we got a feel that staff love their line and they have every right to.

Travelling on some of the line was a birthday treat for me. We decided to board the train at Ribblehead.


Ribblehead is famed for its viaduct. Thirty years ago it was said to be crumbling away and beyond hope of repair. The protestors were able to rubbish figures. It was repaired and still carries heavy trains. And it still crumbles. The local limestone it is made of is like that. You’ll forgive me if I think the viaduct complements the scenery rather than violates it

One thing you’ll note is a complete lack of housing although there is a station house, a pub and a cottage or two.


This is the station. There’s a logging siding on the right and I guess this is why, when the station re-opened the down platform was moved a bit up the line. You’ll note, I hope, that the station is spotless. In fact it has the feel of a station on a heritage line, but this is actually a main line with suitably fast trains.

There’s a railway milepost on the wall of the station.


We are 247 and a quarter miles from London.

Lovely scenery – and a complete absence of houses – surrounds the station.


An old station barrow has been converted into a garden.


I love the waiting room windows.


From the station entrance you can see the viaduct, The Station Inn and some three storey cottages.


Our very ordinary train arrives.


We are taking a journey to Appleby.

England’s tallest waterfall

December 18, 2014

Those people who have travelled the world and seen some of the most dramatic falls there are – Niagara, Victoria etc. – may not think much of little Hardraw Force. But I say give it a chance and prepare to enjoy a cascade, dramatic in its own way. Like many falls, it may be better in winter when there has been rain than it would be in a long dry summer. I saw it on 25th November 2014 and there was plenty of water about.

Hardraw Force is privately owned and in the off season the entrance is via the Green Dragon pub in the village of Hardraw.


The sign is entertaining.


So D Mark Thompson is an innkeeper and waterfall provider.

When you step into the pub, you are transported back a couple of generations. It was mid-afternoon but a roaring fire was lit in the small bar area. It’s worth the visit just to experience the pub.

They charge a small fee, but they provide easy footpath access with picnic benches in places. We gather that at times band competitions are held amongst the dramatic scenery.


Having already tumbled the stream – the Hardraw Beck – is in something of a gorge. It is making its way down to the River Ure and Wensleydale. Hardraw is about a mile from Hawes.


And here is the fall.


That single drop of about 90 feet is the longest single drop fall in England. The quantity of water is not huge but even so, the noise it makes as it hits is really quite deafening.

Another photographer wandered into shot and he – an average sort of chap for size – provides scale.


If you can spot him, he’s a tiny blob to the right of the fall.


I thought I ought to get my wife to pose in front of the fall.

She did the same and put me in the spotlight.


You can see and hear a very brief video by clicking here.

Westonbirt in Colour

December 17, 2014

It is scary the way time flits by. I understand that time drags if you are not busy and rushes by if you are. Oh well, I suppose it means I am (or rather we are) busy.

I find it hard to credit that it was 13 years ago that we went to see the trees in Westonbirt arboretum illuminated by weird and wonderful coloured lights.  The event still runs in December (so it is on as this is written) but  the Enchanted Christmas, as it gets called, is different every year so my photos from long ago may not be anything like you’d see now.

In 2001 I was using a 1.3 mega pixel camera. We still have it and it still turns out some good pictures. But it didn’t have anything like night time settings so it was hand held long exposures for me.




Different trees – different colours.

Well, it was quite a fascinating experience. Maybe we should get back there some time.

A safety cutter

December 16, 2014

From about 1985 to about 2005 I used to attend computer and technology shows. Sometimes this was in connection with work. Sometimes it was work for on occasion I helped man technical advice stands and sometimes it was just a leisure and pleasure day out. Sometimes an equally childish friend and I had competitions to see who could scrounge the best freebies out of stand holders. I reckon I had an advantage for I wrote for a couple of computer magazines and plenty of software publishers knew me and were keen to make sure I stayed on side.

But sometimes a company found an interesting way to get a message across. Netnanny would like to make the internet safe for children, protecting them from things it is deemed better they shouldn’t come across. So their message is one of safety and at one show they were promoting that message with a safety paper cutter. Mine is actually well used and shows signs of age. It’s a great little freebie.

This little plastic wallet houses their cutter.


The cutter itself looks just like a piece of plastic, carrying a web address.


Yes, that piece of plastic allows easy cutting of a sheet of paper. More or less under the http of the address there is a miniscule blade. It will go through one piece of paper, but not two.


Drag it across the paper as shown and it will cut it, leaving the piece underneath more or less unmarked.

You can drag it along the edge of a ruler for a straight cut or use it freehand if you wish to do something more artistic.

What a cunning little freebie – and it works as an advert. I think the device is useful and I am bringing it to the attention of the readers. But it is up to you whether you are interested in the product advertised. I neither endorse it nor do whatever the opposite is. It isn’t for me to tell others how to run their lives.

But the little cutter really is safe.


Train Spotting

December 15, 2014

I do take the opportunity to see a steam train when one passes locally. Most recently, that was on December 2nd when a train taking a slightly devious route from London to Bristol passed through. When the train finally appeared it was exciting enough but the wait made me wonder why I did it.

From the information I had I estimated the train should pass through where my local station once was at just about midday. I got there a bit early in case the train was ahead of schedule or in case other nerds got the limited spots available for a photo.

By 12.35 when the train finally arrived I was frozen to the marrow. No other train had passed but I had enjoyed a fly past by ducks and also by a buzzard which was being harried by a crow. The train should have been nearly in Bath by the time it passed me. It was obviously going to be late!

If the sun had been out I had a good enough position, but I got the wind wrong. The passing locos (yes, there were two of them) smothered me in steam. I expect that, as a teenage spotter I’d have made sure I saw the number on the second loco known as the train engine. The front loco in double heading is called the pilot. As it was, the train loco passed by in a haze of steam. Actually, it was very dramatic.

Of course, I made sure I got photos. I got a long shot as the train came into view around the curve.


It may look as though all that lovely steam will blow away from me, but the curve continues. I’m actually standing on the right side of that track as we can see as the train got closer.


Now we can see that the steam from the pilot is drifting down over the side of the train engine and train. And seconds later that steam will engulf me as well. I’d better add that I am safely off railway property and behind a fence.

The train itself was suited to the locos. They are ex London Midland and Scottish Railway engines and the coaches were in the maroon livery used on that line when I was a real train spotter. There was a Pullman car in the train formation.

For the real train spotter the two locos were 44871 and 45407. 45407 carries a name as well – The Lancashire Fusilier. Neither came to my attention when I was a real train spotter!

Slide Rules

December 14, 2014

When I was a student in those heady days of the late 1960s, my subject was physics. It’s a particular pleasure of mine that many people seem to assume I’m a historian Actually,, the Grammar School I was at when I was 14 deemed I wasn’t clever enough to study history so that ended any formal studies I had in that subject. To be honest, it wasn’t just history they deemed me not clever enough for. Physics was deemed far too complex for the likes of me and so was chemistry.

I suppose I found ways to prove that school wrong. OK, I wasn’t in the top five per cent or anything like that, but I always felt very put down by that school who in nearly every respect failed to inspire me – just as much as I failed to inspire them. I can be very pleased that education has moved on and these days teachers seek to find the way to inspire individuals rather than insisting they must be clones of everyone else.

Anyway, with help from another school – a Comprehensive School – I more or less made it and was able to continue my education after the age of 18 and as I said, I studied sciences which the old Grammar School had denied me.

We scientists were probably all a bit geeky. We seemed to be made to work harder than our colleagues studying artistic subjects and had that bit less time for leisure and pleasure (but in truth we had plenty). We also needed our badge of office and for us that was a slide rule – or guessing stick as we called them. Of course, I still have mine although I have to say it is never used.

But back then, in the 60s, before computers and before electronic calculators, the slide rule was a must have item for we science students.


It already looks just a bit fearsome to many people but really they were little more than aids for multiplication or division. They just seem to have a baffling array of scales and numbers.


The truth is that most of us ignored most of the scales and used just the most straight forward A and B ones. You could actually very easily multiply and divide. There was a certain limit to how accurate you could be but you actually used a slide rule as a check of your own calculations. But most of all you made sure it was visible about your person to mark you out as a boffin who actually knew how to use it.

My slide rule is modern enough to be made of plastic. My dad had a much older one which was wood with (sorry) a layer of ivory for the scales to be marked on. Mine has a plastic case to protect it. His had a leather case.

So times moved on even in the long gone world of slide rules.

Aysgarth Station

December 13, 2014

I have done a blog about the Wensleydale Railway in the past. You can click here to see what this heritage line was like back in 2006.

Regular readers may realise that we recently had a holiday in Wensleydale, a little to the west of the railway’s present terminus at Redmire and about a mile from the closed station at Aysgarth. We took a walk from the cottage we rented in Carperby to look at the waterfalls at Aysgarth. The walk took us past the station, recognisably an old station, partly because of a clear railway bridge crossing the road.


The station approach heads off left and has a gate which is clearly labelled PRIVATE. We stood by the gate and I could make out what I thought was an old station sign.


At this point a chap in car and trailer arrived and opened the gate. Did he recognise railway nerds? He promptly invited us to take a look round the station. Seemingly he and two others had taken on the task of making the station look presentable whilst awaiting the arrival of tracks – years down the line yet – from Redmire. He gave us a guided tour.

Still from the gate – a general view of the station yard.


On the right we have the coal depot, roughly in the centre there is the main station building and to the left there is the goods shed.

Now we’ll walk forward and see the coal yard and depot.


Something like this would have been standard at every country station. Coal, now a despised fuel, used to be King Coal, of course.

The station building is big enough to form two dwellings at the moment. One is privately owned and the other is owned by the Wensleydale Railway and in use as a holiday let.


This is the goods shed.


Outside they have an 1880s truck given as a project by the National Railway Museum.


A railway museum is being created inside. They have a variety of signs and items.


Billingham is a station. The sign below comes from a signal box.


They have a photo history of the line as well. And lots more signs.


The weighbridge is an original feature of the shed – still in situ.


Outside the trio of men are laying some track. They hope to be able to offer very short rides.

They have acquired a diesel shunter loco which is stored outside, under wraps.


We were taken to see the waiting room and the signal box.


This has been restored from a rather smashed up wreck.


The person arriving at platform one was the 10am from Carperby for Aysgarth Falls. We apologise for the late running which was due to a fascinating bonus trip around Aysgarth Station. Fortunately, a signal had been found in undergrowth and erected at the platform end. Just near it is a quarter mile post similarly located.

Next stop is the waiting room which has been given over to a model railway showing the station in the 1930s.


That’s lovely – with a camping coach parked at the platform end and all the other features we can still see. The waiting room is the small shelter on the right hand platform.


And so to the signal box.


Beautifully restored and with a signal operator in the doorway.


Yes, it did operate that signal on the down platform. Our chaps had station clutter stored in the box but that sign in the background took the eye.


That’s pre 1923 when the North Eastern Railway got absorbed into the LNER.

Fantastic visit. Thanks chaps!

The project to get the line to Aysgarth is worthy of support. The station is perfectly placed for the waterfalls and so a working railway will help to keep cars away from the narrow lanes. BUT there is a nearby carpark for present day visitors to the falls. If you happen to go there, maybe you, too, could visit the station and enjoy the almost unlimited enthusiasm of the men who volunteered to make it a station in waiting.