Sunday night at the London Palladium

I'd bought a £30 ticket for John Shuttleworth and Friends in aid of MS charities at the London Palladium, so I thought I'd make a day of it by seeing the Eric Ravilious exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery too. It was going to be a complicated day. I'd bought a ticket to London in advance, thinking I'd get to Dulwich on my bus pass and avoid that walk, but in the event got the Orpington train from Victoria, paid for with my Oyster card.

First though, I rode my electric bike to Brighton station because I'd be getting a late train home and didn't want to walk. I was pleasantly surprised when the new bike hub opened its doors for me (with my Key card) so I could leave it safe along with lights and helmet, something I wouldn't do outside.

At West Dulwich, it's a bit of a schlep to the gallery and it was a hot day so I was all sweaty when I got there and the air conditioning was a welcome relief. My new National Art Pass got me in half price (£7) and I headed for the Ravilious exhibition.

I love Ravilious and it was great seeing so many works here, also appreciating how many there were yet to see, probably tucked up in the vaults of the Towner, Eastbourne. It started with a room of quirky objects plus a few wood engravings and his designs for the alphabet mug and numbers handkerchief. After that the rooms were themed: interiors, landscapes, and finally his war paintings for aircraft and dazzle ships. Lots of local (to me) scenes too - the Long Man of Wilmington, Beachy Head, Newhaven harbour, etc. They're all big for landscapes and you can see the detail in the pencil overlaid with looser watercolour in his dry brush cross-hatching style.

After a look round the gift shop (where I bought a £25 catalogue) and a coffee plus almond slice at the 'artesan bakery' in the grounds (the cafe was too posh for the likes of me), I went in for a second look and to find the ones on sale as postcards that I'd missed. It was poignant that so many were painted in 1941, the year before he died! No photography allowed!

So, I caught a P4 from right outside, to Brixton, where all the shops were shutting, and a 159 (?) to Oxford Circus where I had a look for a decent pub before settling on the Argyll Arms opposite the Palladium. I managed to find a seat outside when who should come along but John Otway, who gave me a crib sheet for 'House of the rising sun' (which I got signed). I had a pint of Robinson's  Iron Maiden Trooper (at London prices) then a pint of Everard's Tiger, which I preferred.

So, to seat N33 on the left aisle. First up was guitar virtuoso Gordon Giltrap doing some holiday theme tunes, then Jon McClure (Reverend and the Makers) and Martyn Ware of Heaven 17 on a hi-tech organ, Sooty and Sweep (with Sweep in the Royal Box squirting the audience with a hose pipe - Ken Worthington was spotted up there later!) and Toyah (I went to the Gents while she was doing 'Serial cereal eater'). Or did Bill Bailey finish the first half? The running order is a bit hazy now. John broke Bill's guitar by tripping over a lead, but he was hilarious!

At the interval a bloke behind me had collapsed so was stretchered out as everyone tried to get to the bar. Badly Drawn Boy opened the second half (or was it Chas Hodges of Chas and Dave? who did 'Shopkeepers of the North') and was telling a long story about his train journey (that was leading up to 'Can't go back to savoury now') when someone heckled him to get off, so he called him some rude names, sang about the 'Man who lives on the M62' and another, then kicked over his glass of water and threw his guitar down so hard it smashed!

Jon Otway followed, then Jilted John! Lorraine Bowen sang 'Crumble'. Then Leee John (of Imagination) sang a slow version of 'Disaffected youth' and 'Body talk' in a rather show-bizzy set and John finished with a medley of hits ('Y-reg', 'Save the whale' and 'Here comes Midweek' but no 'Pigeons in Flight'!) It finished around 11pm, I made a dash for the gents again, then a 73 bus to Victoria and the 12.32 train home, stopping at every stop. I was so glad to have my trusty bike to take me home! In bed by 1.30am.


Poland: the Wolsztyn Experience part 4


The last full day Monday 4 May was also an early start and a 2.5 hour coach trip to Znin, to ride a charter on the narrow gauge railway. Two engines in steam greeted us (Px38-805 and a green tank), and a diesel  was on the scheduled runs. The train stopped at various strategic points to allow a bit of line siding of the run pasts. Half way along we stopped at the open-air museum for 600mm locos. There were loads of them, in landscaped areas. Across the rails was a castle and various pieces of siege apparatus.

Znin 600mm railway museum

We skirted a lake and passed an archaeological museum, then it was back on the coach to the Europa again, where I had sautéed cod and veg (best so far). Back at the Motel, the bar was shut so I never got to have a vodka.

Wuppertal lift

We also found out that the German railways were on strike, so we would be travelling to Wuppertal by coach! So, no concrete works and an 8am start to the border, where we picked up a German coach. After several comfort stops (70c for a pee, but a 20c voucher to spend in the shop!) we eventually arrived at the Inter-city Hotel where a stroppy waiter reluctantly gave me a salad! After little sleep in my single room with single thin pillow, the next morning, after breakfast I had a quick ride of the dingle dangle train - the Wuppertal suspension railway (Schwebebahn) - from Kruse station to the next one along and back. Thank goodness for lifts!

Wuppertal Schwebebahn
Then it was through the narrow one-way streets and on to Brussels where we caught the Eurostar home, and Curt's PV / birthday bash!

More photos on Flickr.

Wuppertal suspension railway (Schwebebahn) from Alan Fred Pipes on Vimeo.

Poland: the Wolsztyn Experience part 3

Wolsztyn steam parade 2 May 2015 from Alan Fred Pipes on Vimeo.

Saturday 2 May was the day of the Steam Parade. After making some secret cheese and tomato sandwiches at the Montana, we set off to the station where we were to go on a short excursion pulled by a big tank engine 2-10-2 OKz32-2.


Back at Wolsztyn, the road from the station to the shed was lined with stalls selling souvenirs, beer and sausages. People were climbing all over the static locos to get good views, despite signs telling them not to. The Poles are very happy for people to cross the lines willy nilly, but today barriers were up.


We were ushered into a VIP area at the shed, viz an area with some wooden benches but opaque barriers, guarded by security. No VIP bar! We had cheer leaders and a band then the parade proper, which this year comprised just three locos - Ol49-69, OKz32-2 and an 0-6-0 tank TKh49-1 - with TKt48-18 on its way. So they steamed up and down, individually and coupled up until the finale when all three raced up the tracks whistles blowing. Then it was a beer and a walk to the Europa where I had Alaskan white salmon and some 9.5% porter.

Buffet bar

On Sunday 3 May, it was another early start and back to loco Ol49-69, but this time with newer rolling stock with comfy seats, and a buffet bar! It was along the line to Zbaszynek and on to Miedzychod, then Gorzow Wlkp. and Bogdaniec and back with stops along the way to take on water from fire-brigade bowsers. Near Skwierzyna we spotted a scrapyard full of tanks and guided missiles! Some of the party were line siding, jumping out of cars and vans to take passing shots and videos of the train.


Then it was to the Europa again, where I had a rather leathery piece of hake and spuds.

More photos on Flickr.

Poland: the Wolsztyn Experience part 2

0149-69 near Wolsztyn from Alan Fred Pipes on Vimeo.

First day proper was Thursday 30 April, with three short trips planned. Our loco was Ol49-69. Now, Polish locos have a strange numbering system. The first letter O denotes mixed/stopping train traffic (Polish: osobowa - passenger), the second letter l (lower case L) means it has a 2-6-2 wheel arrangement and a number between 20 and 99 means a Polish-ordered steam engine, the number standing for the last two digits of the year in which the type was approved for production. The final number is the the engine's number in the class, in this case 69. Tank locos have an extra K, thus TKt48-18 is a freight locomotive (Polish: towarowa) with wheel arrangement 2-8-2 designed in 1948, number 18.


On the way back from the final outing, to Stefanowo, I had the opportunity of riding on the footplate. It cost a tenner and was well worth it; driving cost £70! Back at Wolsztyn, we walked to Howard's guest house where we had a free beer. That evening we had dinner at Locomotiva, by the lake. I had salmon.

Salmon at Locomotiva

Friday 1 May was a very early start - 5am to catch the train to Zagan. It was the same loco and the same ancient carriages with wooden seats. We stopped at Zielona Gora and went to find a plighted loco in a park. It was all very quiet, as it was still early and a bank holiday.


At Zagan,  we took a coach to the Stalag Luft 3 museum (another tenner), where the Great Escape happened. Line bashers went on to Lubsko on a freight only line. After a video in the visitor centre, we checked out the exhibits and models, and bought postcards in the gift shop. The coach then took us to see the site of the tunnel Harry, 1km down a lane (and 1k back again). There were many bits of the old camp still visible amongst the trees, including the concede bases of the huts, a reservoir and the hospital. We then went to see a memorial to the chaps who were caught and executed.

Stalag Luft 3 Harry tunnel

Back in Zagan we were treated to a womens' bike race around the streets. We got back to Wolsztym about 8.15 then it was the coach to the Montana for a buffet supper (same as last time) but with big squidgy dumplings, and beer.

Fish, spuds and dumpling at the Montana

More photos on Flickr.

Poland: the Wolsztyn Experience part 1

Berlin station

Based on my last couple of trips and memories of previous years, I can state categorically that coach travel is the most boring - slow traffic jams, nothing to look at on the motorways, comfort stops etc - and train travel the best, with high speeds and stations we pass through or change at in interesting towns and cities. Just saying…  From the train, Poland is tall churches and thin trees, fields of yellow rape and green barley, the odd deer or stork making an appearance, and elaborate allotments. You might even see a 'plinthed' (dead) steam loco or two along the way. Or lots, in the case of Wolsztyn. I'd seen a video on YouTube of the 'parade' - up to 17 locos hitched together passing at high speed, all whistles blowing, and a quick google led me to Railtrail's Poland Steam Explorer.

Driving the Gniezno diesel!

We were to set off on Tuesday 28 April and meet at 10am outside the Eurostar. I was nervous about delays so went up the night before and stayed over at Rob's in Mile End. I met a couple of the other tourists (spotted the luggage labels) and we set off for Brussels at 10.58, where we changed for the Koln train. In the shadow of the cathedral we changed again, for Hanover, and spent the night at the fabulous Andor Hotel Plaza, where I had my first vegetarian meal (pasta) and German beer. After an early start and a splendid breakfast of absolutely everything you could think of, including five types of honey, we set off for Berlin, where we changed for Poznan in Poland, throwing our cases off at Zbaszynek.

Gniezno diesel

The reason for that was that we went on to Gniezno, to ride the narrow gauge line there. Unfortunately the steam loco wasn't available, so we had a diesel… but, I was allowed to drive it for a while, with the driver standing behind shouting instructions! Meanwhile in the first-carriage buffet, a woman was cooking up sausages and cabbage stuff for everyone. We veggies had to wait, but when it came we had fried fish and a stir fry of vegetables, all cooked from scratch in pots and pans. After the half trip, we travelled back to Poznan thence to Wolsztyn, to be greeted by dead locos on either side, then to the Motel Montana and a buffet supper, including what I discovered was more fried fish amongst the meat. My room was 31, in the end block.

Fish and stir fry on the Gniezno train

More photos on Flickr.


Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park

I hadn't been on a proper coach trip for a while so when Chrissie suggested Bletchley Park - Home of the code-breakers - by Brighton and Hove Coaches, with departure at a reasonable 8.49am I went for it. The coach was about half an hour late arriving at Preston Circus, and we trundled up the M23, M25 and M40 before a stop at Beaconsfield services, which I must say was a very superior service station, with noodle and curry bars, a Patisserie Valerie (where we purchased huge croissants for £1.15 each - would have been better warm) and even a Wetherspoon's! (a bit too early for me)

Enigma machine

At Bletchley Park, we were dropped off just inside the main gate and received our season tickets, valid for a year, then it was into the Visitor Centre and our first Enigma machine. After some films and more exhibits, we grabbed our audio guide and emerged into the sunlight, heading towards the lake. There were lots of huts to explore, but first we ate our sandwiches to accordion music coming from one of many hidden speakers around the place. Every so often we'd hear a train toot from the direction of the mansion… we were near the main line, but a steam train? We found out later it was part of the soundscape installation.

  Back of the bombe

First building to explore was Block B where a replica bombe was being demonstrated… I understood the limitations of the Enigma, such as if you pressed L it would never light up an L, but the rest went over my head!

  Turing's teddy Porgy

The museum houses many more Enigmas, lots of Alan Turing stuff, including his teddy Porgy and rowing trophies, and the formidable Lorenz machine.

 The formidable Lorenz

We visited several other huts, the most notable of which had Alan Turing's office in it and then it was into the magnificent mansion with its ornate carvings and stained glass windows.

Alan Turing's office

What a lovely place to work! It was a hot day and it was nice just to sit on benches, watch the ducks and listen to the sound installations all around.

 The lake, Bletchley Park

The mansion housed The Imitation Game exhibition, including the fake bombe used in the film. We learnt that Colossus, well a replica, was in the National Museum of Computing just a few yards away as the stone is thrown, but separated from us by a fence. To visit it we'd have to go back to the visitor centre and round the periphery road. Ah well, another time. We also discovered that the Post Office exhibit was being chucked out of the compound, and that the only 'outside' volunteer exhibit remaining would be the carrier pigeon hut.

Bletchley Park Post Office

If you like motorbikes and old cars there are plenty dotted around, there are also huts featuring radio communications. The place was full of school kids learning about codes and ciphers - and there's enough to see for two days at least, far more than I was expecting! At 5pm we wandered back to the coach and it was down the M1 home, with a stop at Cobham services, where I bought some mini-spring rolls and spotted a truckers' open-air laundrette. I was knackered! The deal cost £36, including admission, which would have been £14.75 for concessions.

The superior British Typex machine

And if you were wondering what the British used for coding secret messages, the answer is the Typex, which the Germans never cracked.

More photos on Flickr.


Freddy on the telly: Green roofs

Last October, a film crew from my local TV station Latest TV came to film Dora from Organic Roofs doing the autumn maintenance to my green roof. I thought it'd ended up on the cutting room floor, but I now have a link to the YouTube version! I appear about 11 minutes in. Not sure about those aerial shots of my bald pate, but there you go.



Mid-Wales: part 2 Aberystwyth

Barmouth sands

On Tuesday 7 April I packed my case and walked down to Parade Street to catch the T3 bus to Barmouth. I had no idea how much it would cost - my bus pass doesn't work in Wales - but it was a reasonable £5.80. The weather was glorious and we went through Bala (home of the Bala Lake railway) and Dolgellau, where I could have caught a bus to Aber. Approaching Barmouth I glimpsed the impressive railway/foot bridge over the estuary. I bought a ticket to Aber (£8.45) and had an hour to kill so walked down to the beach (the tide was way out, like Southport) then inland for a coffee and slice of bara brith ay Murray's cafe. The train was full but I got a window seat with a sea view.

Barmouth from the train

We passed the Fairbourne miniature railway and I caught a glimpse of a red loco at the Talyllyn. Approching the junction, the guard told us to look out for osprey and I thnk I saw one. There was an hours's wait at Machynlleth with nothing to do except have a cup of tea, then another full train to Aber, where the station is one big Wetherspoons Yr Hen Orsaf.

Aberystwyth station

I checked in at Harry's Hotel, where I was in single room 10, a bit of a come down after Cottage 21 but perfectly adequate, even if I couldn't get the wifi to work. It was a stroll to the from, to see the ugliest pier in Britain, then aback to the station for a couple of pints of Crimson King (Butcombe) using my 50p off Camra tokens (=£1.55 a pint!) and some sweet chilli noodles.

Aberystwyth pier

On Wednesday 8 April, after my splendid vegetarian breakfast (two Linda McCartney sausages etc etc), I trudged to the far end of the bay to the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway where a senior return cost £3.50 to ride on Britain's longest funicular. There was not a lot to do at the top so after taking a few snaps I descended and walked back along the front to catch the 12.15 Vale of Rheidol train (£15.20 with senior and Great Little Trains of Wales discount card).

Aberystwyth Cliff Railway

I'd already seen No 8 the day before when I arrived at Aber - the 2ft gauge steam railway is parallel to the mainline, and here it was again. I sat as near the front as I could on the left hand side of an open carriage. In front of me were a family with a dog that barked at every cow and sheep we passed. Soon we were up on the hill side with a vertical drop down the left-hand side, and a view of reservoirs and misty mountains.
No 8

We passed No 9 Prince of Wales at Aberffrwd, and spotted a pair of red kites. At Devil's Bridge, we had an hour to kill and while the driver polished his engine, i wandered down to look at the waterfalls. I didn't have time to pay £1 for a view of the triple bridge, and all those steps! So wandered back to the station and perused their second-hand books. I bought a nice couple of London, Brighton and South Coast railway books for a fiver apiece.

View below Devil's Bridge

On the way back I sat inside, as it was a bit nippy up there, and back at Aber I patronised The Old Station and ate burritos on their free pint deal (IPA).

Vale of Rheidol Railway.

After a smaller veggie breakfast (just one sausage) i said goodbye to Harry's and after a look in the Oxfam bookshop, headed for the station for the 11.30 to Birmingham. We hitched up with the Barmouth train at Machynlleth (no wait this time) and carried on through fields of baby baa lambs. I spotted Jon Mills' bridge on the cycle network, but saw no trace of the Corris railway or the Welshpool & Llanfair railway. As we got into England, the scenery got grottier, despite some nice looking canals round Wolverhampton way. At Brum it was onto a big long Virgin express to Euston, then the tube and Victoria for home.

No 8

More photos on Flickr.


Mid-Wales: part 1 Llangollen

River Dee, Llangollen

This year's Clarion Cycling Club Easter Meet was in Llangollen, so a great opportunity to explore mid-Wales and the railways there. I got a lift up with Mick and Anne on Good Friday who were taking their bikes (read about Mick's exploits here), and the journey was uneventful with just one comfort stop to buy Waitrose sandwiches: M40, M6 Toll and through Oswestry, where I saw signs for the orthopaedic hospital in which I spent many months of my childhood.

Cottlage 21

In Llangollen we parked outside Cottage 21, owned by Gales of Llangollen, which was pretty near perfect with two double bedrooms, a well equipped kitchen, conservatory, a garden backing on to the River Dee, a Co-op across the road and wifi that worked! We missed seeing the Llangollen Railway steam train on the first day, but it was apparently Prairie Tank 5199, never to be seen again. Then to the Wild Pheasant (Wrexham Lager the only decent beer) to collect our ribbons and the meet and greet. The mayor didn't turn up, so after a slice of bara brith it was back to town for a curry with Bob Harber, David and Terry at the BYO Samira Tandoori and I popped over the road to the Co-op for some beer (and got stung 5p for a carrier bag - good old Wales, I'd forgotten).

Railcar at Carrog

On Saturday 4 April, after the Clarion CC AGM (in which Mick proposed an amendment), I caught the 2pm railcar to Corwen (£13.50 senior), passing the steam train pulled by GWR 2-8-0 3802 at Glyndyfrdwy. I got off at Carrog on the way back to have a pint of John Willie's (JW Lees) at the Grouse Inn and await the steam train, which had pushed the carriages back to Carrog from Corwen, where it could run around to the front.


In the evening it was back to the Wild Pheasant for a ceilidh (the band comprising keyboard and accordion) and buffet supper.

Bombay bomb

On Sunday 5 April it was time to confront my fears and travel over the scary Pontcysyllte Aquaduct. After my second Bombay bomb (£1.80 from Bailey's) in two days, and a pint of Dutch Courage (North Star Porter) at the Corn Mill, I bought a ticket at the wharf (£13.50 again) and was told to wait for a bus down by the river at 2pm. The narrow boat Thomas Telford took us over the aqueduct, which wasn't scary at all as we were sitting down and enclosed, and then on a leisurely cruise back to Llangollen, via Trevor basin, bumping into the odd day boat on the way.

Pontcysyllte aquaduct

After a cappuccino and a quick look round the bookshop in the former Dorothy cinema, it was back to the cottage and thence to the Clarion dinner and prize giving. Our section won nothing, but Mick won a mug in the raffle.

Plas Newydd, Llangollen

On Easter Monday 6 April, it was a climb up Butler's Hill to Plas Newydd, home of the infamous Ladies of Llangollen. My 10% off leaflet was two years out of date but I was offered a free audio guide (£1.50 on top of the £5 admission) which I stupidly declined. However after chatting to the woman on the door I was persuaded to hire one and stumped up. It was well worth the money. I'm no fan of dark gothic wood carvings, but the interior is just bonkers. I had some leek and potato soup in the cafe, where the poor man was rushed off his feet, then wandered back to town for another pint at the Corn Mill, just in time to see the steam train arriving over the water. Popped in to the church yard on the way back to see the memorial to the Ladies and it was a self-catering meal and telly in the evening.

Plas Newydd, Llangollen

 More photos on Flickr.


My 'day trip' to New York on Concorde

From 1982 to 1985 I was Editor of an EMAP trade magazine called CadCam International, based in Clerkenwell. As an important editor I received many invitations to jollies, the best one being a trip to New York on Concorde. (The worst was a day trip to Geneva which involved getting up very early and we never left Geneva airport!) My diary for the time was quite detailed and I've kept many souvenirs, however I was convinced until rereading it that it was actually a day trip: there and back in a day.

Before take off - that's little me in the middle
In fact we stayed overnight, in a hotel called the Vista, next to the World Trade Centre. It was destroyed when the Twin Towers came down in 2001. I was in room 1301 on the 13th floor. The trip was organised by a computer company called Data General, to launch a PC. 100 journalists flew out on G-BOAA (currently in Edinburgh) on 21 July 1983 and it took 3.5 hours to get there, setting off at 1pm our time. I was in seat 2D up front right-hand side next to a Swedish journalist. It was very luxurious and we had plenty to eat and drink. There followed a coach ride through Manhattan to a press do on the 106th floor of the World Trade Centre (which tower, I don't know). Afterwards I went for a walk to look at the gothic Woolworth building, and Battery Park. We had a cocktail party and dinner, I watched a film on the cable tv and went to bed, while others went to Greenwich Village all night. We had to be up 5.30am their time for the flight back, which was on G-BOAF (now at Filton).

We'd just passed Nova Scotia, building up to mach 2 when there was a terrible lurch and champagne glasses and caviar flew everywhere. The mach meter stared spinning and the flight engineer said there'd been a surge on engine 2 and computer failure. They shut down the engine and returned to New York subsonically and it took us twice as long to get back. It was also at a more turbulent height too which added to the panic. In my diary I put: "I lost my appetite, missed the quail, but had a Cointreau though." We were just getting settled when we landed at Kennedy to see fire engines and ambulances running alongside. 100 ashen-faced journos made their way to the Concorde lounge for more free drinks. Some joked about going back on the QE2. It was 5.30pm, we should have been home by now. Reporters from the Times and Guardian filed stories by telex, but it only got the briefest mention next day.

Boarding passes and swizzle sticks
They found G-BOAA, the one we came on, for us, fired it up and we flew back without incident. I had missed the last coach to Woking from Heathrow, but my girlfriend at the time kindly came to pick me up.

What happened to Data General, by the way? Gone the way of all the minicomputer manufacturers. According to Wikipedia, "The old Data General domain (dg.com) ... was sold to the Dollar General discount department store chain in October 2009." We all know what happened to the Twin Towers, and Concorde was grounded after a disastrous crash in Paris in 2000. CadCam International? That's gone too, no trace of it on the internet!

My second scariest plane ride was a few years before this, during my first trip to the USA. I was flying from LaGuardia airport to Minneapolis - St Paul when the pilot announced that they had lost radio contact and had to fly low and slow, presumably so he could follow the roads. On the way back to New Jersey I got a ride in a single-prop, four-seater light aircraft, owned by a contributor to the IPC magazine I was working for at the time, CAD. He worked at Bell Labs and showed me round. His wife was an aerobics teacher, a word I hadn't heard before. Don even took me for a flight around Manhattan, along the rivers and lower than the tops of the skyscrapers. A few years later he, his wife and two kids were all killed when they flew into a storm on their way to their condo in Florida.