Merry Xmas!

In case you're wondering why I haven't been blogging lately, I must point out that I have been blogging elsewhere! My art exploits are documented on my Wordpress Art Blog, where you will also find my Xmas e-card. And I have also been blogging (and Tweeting) for AOH Artists' Open Houses.


Bluebell vintage bus day

Air raids
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
After the storms and gales of Saturday, the weather for the Sunday vintage bus day at the Bluebell Railway was actually quite clement. I boarded a splendid but quite modern Southdown bus at St Peters again, but this time it was quite full. At Sheffield Park the nice ancient Metropolitan Railway set of carriages was about to leave, pulled by SE&CR Wainwright goods, No. 592 with its big brass dome, so I jumped aboard one of the crowded non-corridor compartments, where I took a photo of the Air Raid Warning Instruction card above the lovely art deco upholstery.

We had to wait for the Golden Arrow to pull in so we could use the single track and apparently there had been some electrical fault at Kingscote, so everything was running 20 minutes late. Eventually, in came the posh Pullman carriages full of posh diners, but the train was being pulled by a boring BR black Standard Tank, no. 80151! And I think I'd have been very disappointed had I shelled out for a luxury meal and been on that train - still it could have been worse, it could have been a diesel!

At Horsted Keynes I spotted rebuilt SR Bulleid Battle of Britain class, no. 34059 Sir Archibald Sinclair on the other platform. Now that's what should have been hauling the Golden Arrow, but their loss was my gain, as I changed horses mid-stream to return to Sheffield Park pulled by the pacific. There I had time to look round the sheds, then it was off on a round trip of the entire line. Bought a bottle of BSB (Bluebell Special Bitter) in the Buffet Car, and sat back to watch the agitated bunnies, sheep and pheasants in the field by the side of the line. On the way back it was getting dark, and that's no fun for a train-spotter! I caught the last bus back (a single deck Statford Blue) and cycled home for another beer.

Previous visits to the Bluebell:
Southdown buses


Bury mods

John Dicky and Vanessa
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
When I was up in Bury last week, I was reading the Bury Times when I spotted a letter from Vanessa Major, wondering about the whereabouts of John Dickie, who she knew in 1967. This prompted me to dig out some old photos from that time - I wish I'd taken more of them. I was at college in Battersea 1965-68 but visited my home town of Bury in the vacs with my brand new Exa IIB 35mm SLR camera. Unfortunately I developed the photos myself, so the quality isn't great! These images (more on Flickr) were scanned from the negatives. This is the gang that hung out around Melody Fair record shop on the corner of Market Street and Kay Gardens, frequented Bury Palais de Dance at every opportunity, and travelled to Manchester on the electric train each Saturday night to groove to the latest R&B and soul sounds at the Twisted Wheel, Oasis, Cavern, Jigsaw, Jungfrau etc, etc all-nighters. Further recollections can be read here.


ELR Autumn Steam Event

The trip to recharge my Northern batteries began as usual by putting 'Love will tear us apart' on the iPod as the Virgin Pendolino passed through Macclesfield. Then it was The Smiths and Elbow into Madchester Piccadilly. I got a packed 135 bendy bus to Bury (I found out later Manchester buses were on strike!) and was pleasantly surprised to find that th'Art cinema that was once named Chicago Rocks had been refurbished by J D Wetherspoon and was now called The Art Picture House. That Friday night we went to see my nephew Noel's band Dirty Little Secret play a gig at the Seven Stars at Harwood, and very good they were too, with half a brass band accompanying them. The audience too had made a great effort in dressing up for Halloween and I consumed a few pints of Bolton-brewed Flat Cap at (less than) £2.50 a pint.

Saturday 31 October was the East Lancs Railway Autumn steam event. The 12.00 to Rawtenstall was pulled by 'Mickey' 45407 The Lancashire Fusilier (see video here), so I jumped on and went to the end of the line. On the way back I got off at Ramsbottom for a wander and a cup of black peas at the stall, then jumped on a train pulled by double header 'Jinty' (I still don't know why they are called Jinties!) 47324 and industrial saddletank No. 15 Earl David to Bury and thence to Heywood (see video here). The other engines working were No. 32 Gothenburg doing a shuttle service between Bury and Rammy, 61994 The Great Marquess and an 0-4-0 industrial saddletank in Yates Duxbury livery on a goods train. Disappointingly, 7100 Duke of Gloucester was undergoing repairs in the shed! Back at Bury I had a nice pint of Cairngorm's Witches Cauldron at the Trackside for a reasonable £2.45.

I had meant to go again on the Sunday, but it was a complete washout - gales and thrashing rain all day - so I watched the NY marathon on TV looking out for Erica Smith. Monday I visited the smart new Fusilier Museum in Bury in the old Technical School with a new modern bit tacked on, opposite th'Art gallery. They even moved the Lutyens cenotaph war memorial from Wellington barracks on Bolton Road to its new location outside in Gallipoli Garden (formerly known as Sparrow Park). The soup in the splendid new cafe was Pea and Ham so I had a cappuccino instead and made a bus-pass expedition to Oldham. Did the GMPTE tourist trail (world's first chippy, world's first Yates Wine Lodge, boarded up arcade etc) and ended up at the new Gallery Oldham in Oldham's 'cultural quarter'. Now, I'm not keen on modern museums (see my rant on the Towner at Eastbourne) - they seem to be lots of space with nowt much to show. There must be a huge permanent collection, but all that's on show are a few pieces in a temporary exhibition on Women of Oldham (including Ethel Whitehead, a relative of Steve's?), plus the odd Victorian painting in dark stairwells (Samuel Colman's magnificent Belshazzar's feast, for example was by the lifts). Despite winning the prize for classiest brochure, overall very disappointing - and there was no cafe! I put it down to all that modern glass - not enough walls to hang pictures on! Presumably there will be more on show in the next exhibition, Oldham's Treasures, opening 5 December? The Ashmolean has just been refurbished so they can show more of their collection - why do other galleries hide their treasures away?

On Tuesday I travelled by bus to Manchester's MOSI, to see if there was anything left of the Garrett Gathering I'd missed in August. There was a model Garrett by the big White One, but little else, tho I managed to buy a souvenir programme to see what I'd missed! I noticed that Baby, the world's first computer, had moved too - nearer the front of the museum, where the printing presses used to be. I also discovered a steam engine, part of a generating set, made by Ashworth and Parker of Bury. I got an unusual bus back from Shudehill, through Broughton, Kersley and Besses o' th' Barn, ending up going through the Sunny Bank estate where I was brought up!

Wednesday is market day so I'd saved my amble around Bury town centre for then, starting off at th'Art Gallery. The Turner was on tour again, but there were some nice exhibits by Manchester artists including some animated drawings by Andrew McDonald. The minimal display in the museum downstairs hadn't changed since my last visit so I went up The Rock to see what had happened to the Art Deco Hornby Buildings. They were completely gone, revealing the tiled side of the 1930s Odeon, which was still standing. The new shopping development is massive! I took a detour to check out the site of the old Scala and my grandad's old house on Spring Street (it's for sale!) then dived in to Bury's 'famous' market, full of old ladies on coach trips, to buy some 'tasty' Lancashire cheese and a couple of 'fatty' black puddings for friends and relatives. I had half a veggy toasted ciabatta and cappuccino at Katsouris Deli on The Square, sheltering from the rain, and finally a pint of Black Cat at th'Art Picture House, admiring the opulent gilded interior. I also discovered that the George, probably the first pub I ever drank in (at Bury Folk Club), on Kay Gardens, was now a card shop!

Thursday was my first trip on the tram (it was raining!), a £3.50 ticket to Manchester Picadilly then down to London where the escalators on the tube weren't working and to Brighton where I realised that I'd done a stupid thing and hoped to travel home on the night of the Lewes bonfires. There was a huge queue for the train that should have taken me to London Road, so walked home, down the hill, my Northern cold beginning to take hold.

Previous visits to the ELR:


Bluebell Giants of Steam 2009

Observation car
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
The Bluebell Railway's Giants of Steam event has the added bonus of free vintage bus rides from Brighton on the Sunday, so I cycled along to St Peter's church and soon along came a lovely green and cream Southdown bus (Leyland PD3 Queen Mary BUF 277C, doors at the front). The group of bus enthusiasts upstairs were discusing the previous evening's White Night celebrations (I'd failed to get to see Foster and Gilvan's Penny Arcade cos of the huge queues). Apparently there had been sightseeing bus rides, with entertainment provided by Count Adriano Fettucini on ukulele (I recognised him from the photo taken by one of the bus spotters), but considered inappropriate by the rather conservative crowd - 'literally, toilet humour' said one, I wish I'd been there!

At the Bluebell I jumped onto the first train out, pulled by 80151 (BR 4MT 2-6-4T, built at Brighton in 1957). As we pulled out I saw Dukedog 9017 Earl of Berkeley (GWR 4-4-0 in BR Black) arrive with a set of Metropolitan Railway coaches. The train was quite full, and there was a bit of argy-bargy as the guard came round to clip tickets, when a woman accused a young chap with family across the aisle of unscrewing and stealing a chrome ashtray! The guard said he was powerless to conduct a search, so nothing was done, except black looks for the rest of the journey.

I alighted at Horsted Keynes, where the Bluebell's oldest loco 672 Fenchurch (built in Brighton in 1872) was giving brakevan rides down a very short stretch of the Ardingly branch for an extra £3 (see video here). I had to wait a while for my turn, so looked in at the Brighton Belle Pullman car Doris and the various other exhibits and stalls around the station, including a static 2-10-0 92240 and 2-6-0 75027.

'Giants' were thin on the ground, however - the only one being 34059 Sir Archibald Sinclair (Bulleid Battle of Britain Pacific) - the guest loco 30777 Sir Lamiel unable to make it due to a mechanical fault. Sir Archie pulled in from Kingscote as I was waiting to board the Fenchurch special, so had missed a chance to ride behind it. The other loco on duty was 1638 (SR U-class 2-6-0), a lovely green Maunsell loco with windshields, but no name!

As it was a busy day, the observation car on my original train was free to third-class ticket owners, so when it arrived back from Kingscote, I jumped in to the luxurious coach for a ride back to Sheffield Park and, after watching Sir Archie leaving for Kingscote (see video here), a walk round the sheds to see Stepney, Normandy, Stowe and Blackmoor Vale. By this time 80151 had changed ends and was hitched in front of the observation coach. I couldn't miss that opportunity, so travelled back to Horsted Keynes (see video here). A trip to the end of the line would have taken too long and I might have missed the last bus, so at Horsted Keynes I crossed the platform to get the 1638-hauled train back (see video here). The bus home was an older Southdown bus (Leyland PD2 RUF 186, built in 1955, door at back) beautifully upholstered. As dawn was falling over the Sussex countryside, the bus had to slow down to let a deer cross the road before it drove back into the 21st century. Next vintage bus day is 15 November. Top day out: total cost £11 for members' rover ticket + £3 for the Fenchurch brakevan ride.
Bus Previous visits to the Bluebell:


Dungeness at last

Two locos at Hythe
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Well, I finally made it to Dungeness - one of life's little ambitions realised at last. It was a Gala Weekend at the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and eight steam locos (plus two diesels) would be in service. I set off later than I should have, but after a train to Rye and 100/101 bus (it changes number at Lydd!) to Hythe was greeted by no. 7 Typhoon. At the other end of the train was no. 2 Northern Chief ready to leave for Dungeness, and in the sidings standing by was no. 3 Southern Maid - three locos in steam already! So I jumped on the 2.30 train and from then on it was tantalising glimpses of other engines at stations and double-headers flashing by on the other line. Between stations there were bushes of fat blackberries just out of reach and colourful pheasant families to see - and some grim back gardens at the Dungeness end. Finally, after passing Romney Sands I was in new territory.

Dungeness wasn't exactly as I'd imagined. I thought it'd be an enigmatic landscape comprising lots of shingle, a monolithic power station like Torness, a scattering of Derek Jarman type huts , our little railway - oh, and a lighthouse. It is much busier than that - the power station is a collection of buildings and there are all kinds of regular houses - and two lighthouses. The Light Railway Cafe had stop serving their noted fish and chips so I went for a mug of tea and a bag of pretty ordinary chips (salt and vinegar in plastic sachets). It was cold and windy and I was glad I'd packed that scarf! I then decided to jump on the 16.00 train back to Hythe (the one I came on) - in retrospect I should have waited, done some exploring and caught the double-header I spotted coming in on the other section of the loop once we were underway. On gala days like this it is always difficult to know where to put oneself to cop as many locos as possible.

Back at Hythe I filmed Southern Maid on the turntable, then travelled back to New Romney on the 17.40 to watch the last train of the day come in from Dungeness - which was to be a five-header! I'm no expert on RH&DR locos but looking at my film, I think it was Typhoon, Winston Churchill, Green Goddess, Black Prince and Hurricane. I didn't have time to check them out at the other end of the platform, as I had to leg it to catch my hourly bus to Lydd, thence to Rye and the train home. I didn't get to look round Dungeness and I didn't get to travel in Gladys the bar car, but nevertheless had a thoroughly good day out.

Previous visits to the RH&DR:


North Laine map

North Laine map
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
I do work occassionally you'll be glad to hear, tho I've recently learned that I am no longer needed to maintain the Time Team website - the whole gang is being disbanded after 11 years (my first involvement was on the Time Team Roadshow - later called History Hunters - pilot in Marshfield back in 1998!). That's a good three month's work a year gone - still, it frees up Xmas until Easter. Well, I also do the odd bit of illustration and I drew this pictorial map for the North Laine Traders Association, where the trendiest shops and cafes in Brighton are. It was originally going to be A3 with north at the top but during the course of the job became A4 and with the west at the top! There was more stuff in it too, but it began to get a little cluttered. You can see a detail on my Art Blog - pick one up when you're next in the Offbeat or Capers. Laine by the way is Anglo-Saxon for field. In Brighton there is also The Lanes, nearer the sea, but there is no North Lanes, South Laine or any other variation. The brochure was designed by Deborah Aldridge at Colourfast.


J W Waterhouse

J W Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite. What's that all about? For a start he wasn't a member of the PRB, in fact when William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti founded the Brotherhood in 1848, John William had yet to be born. Ok, his models look decidedly Burne-Jones, but Ned wasn't stricty a Pre-Raph either, merely a follower - albeit Rossetti's pupil. And by the end of Waterhouse's working life, with Impressionism and Modernism all the rage, his paintings were considered old-hat. The slightly misleading subtitle has been picked from an 1895 quote by critic Harry Quilter who said Mr Waterhouse 'shows one of the most brilliant and essentially modern performances of this eclectic age ... [He] has chosen a pre-Raphaelite subject [St Cecilia], and yet has treated it in a way that is not pre-Raphaelite any more than it is impressionist'. In other words, he paints mainly mythological scenes a little more freely than his predecessors. And despite being a lifetime Academician, produced some of the most beautiful paintings in the world.

Anyone who was a student in the 1960s would almost certainly have had a Waterhouse poster on their bedsit wall next to a Beardsley (I had and probably still have 'Hylas and the Nymphs') - there was something about the Waterhouse chicks with their long straight hair, pubescent breasts and distant gazes - plus their association with singing and flowers - that struck a chord with hippy culture. 'The Lady of Shalott' remains a Tate Gallery bestseller.

His earlier works are more reminiscent of Alma-Tadema - hard edged and cold, like blown-up illustrations from an old history book, and lacking Alma-Tadema's style and colour sense. It's only when he started painting (half-naked) women, such as 'Consulting the Oracle' in 1884 and 'St Eulalia' in 1885 that he found his winning formula. After that it was hit after hit with different versions of the Lady of Shallott and Ophelia stories, lots of water, half-seen breasts and plenty of mythic femmes fatales en plein air . From books like The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood and Desperate Romantics, we know lots about the earlier Pre-Raph models, but little about Waterhouse's. Did he use the same model over and over, or like Burne-Jones could only draw women one way?

The exhibition at the Royal Academy was in its last week when I visited, and I had to queue for half an hour. I could have ordered my tickets over the internet, but that would have incurred a nasty booking fee! There were a lot more paintings than I'd expected, plus sketchbooks and drawn-in books of Romantic poems on display. Over the years I've been to solo shows of all the Victorian artists I admire - Holman Hunt last January in Manchester, Rossetti in Liverpool a few years back, plus Millais, Lord Leighton and Alma-Tadema in London - and feel this completes a set. Who else is there left to explore?

As far as I know, he wasn't related to either Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of Manchester Town Hall, or Keith Waterhouse, the writer of Billy Liar.

After the show, I popped down to Trafalgar Square to catch a Fourth Plinther - it was Emily P projecting 212 ping-pong balls into the audience to publicise Activinstinct. I caught a green one, but gave it to her friend - you may be able to spot me in the video.


Edinburgh 2009

Gilvan, White and Foster
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Edinburgh is like this big buffet of delicious and exotic morsels (I was going to say smörgåsbord, but I'm not sure what one of them is) - but do you choose the tried and tested (Simon Munnery, Robin Ince, Stewart Lee?) or sample something new and risk disappointment? Whatever happens, the food on someone else's plate will always look more interesting, confirmed when it's all over by looking at their photos on Facebook! Ah well, we can but try... As I said in the last blog, night 1 found us at the Illicit Still for free fringe comedy. It was two separate sessions, before and after food at son Sam's flat (he lets me sleep on his sofa). They weren't brilliant (for example, one comedian asked everyone at the front what they did for a living - I took his earlier cue and said pilot, some girls said they worked with pipes!) but he didn't have any jokes prepared to cope with the answers. Two of the comedians were so sweatily nervous they looked like they wanted to run - why on earth do they put themselves through it?

Saturday 22 August we went to Holyrood Park for the Foodie festival. Sam had free tickets but even so thought it was like paying to go to a farmers' market. We did have the most delicious Arbroath Smokie each (£3), straight from the barrel - I was surprised to discover they were haddock! We also popped into the Scottish parliament to use the loo and see a photojournalism exhibition - I had my Swiss Army penknife confiscated, but got it back when we left. So, onto the first art of the festival, at the Talbot Rice gallery: video art in the main gallery, with the Georgian bit used for the first time with neon sayings of Darwin and Nietzsche, a pretty obvious visual pun on the theme 'Enlightenment'? Then to the Udderbelly to meet Sam's friends - spotted disgraced Blue Peter presenter John Lesley surrounded by a hen party, thence to the Canon's Gait for Robin Ince versus the Moral Majority - an excellent one-man show. A pint of Stewart's 80/- (and a pint of No. 3) then next door for a mexican meal.

On Sunday I used Sam's Friend card to see the Spain exhibition at the Mound. Not particularly impressed tho I liked the big Zurbarán, and the last couple of rooms, with Bomberg and Dora Carrington. Then it was to a crowded Guildford Arms to see FC Ukulele, who I didn't think were that good at the start but improved no end by the time they attempted 'Sultans of Swing' (listen to it on MySpace). Then it was a late night 1am start at the Pleasance Dome for Karaoke Circus. We met up with Max in the bar and got seats right in front of the judges (one of which was Baron Gilvan!). It was excellent fun, with Robin Ince (again), Richard Herring and other assorted stars singing along to the house band of Martin White, Danielle Ward and Foz? in full clown regalia - wish I'd had my Flip with me. The audience were great too, knowing all the words and joining in. We even got a badge on the way out, approx 3am!

I popped along to the Book Festival on Monday, thence to the Assembly to buy some tickets, and on to the Pleasance Courtyard where lovely Lauren Laverne was recording The Culture Show (you can spot me, Sam and Rob in the background just before the Arthur's Seat item). She interviewed Michael Clark and the live music was by Mikelangelo and the Dead Sea Gentlemen, a sort of kletzmer band fronted by a rockabilly. I'd never ever seen the Tiger Lillies, so we had to go to their show - and good as it was with examplary theramin and saw playing, I'd have prefered to see them collaborating with something a little more visual.

On Tuesday I ambled along to the art school to take a look at the live stonecarving, but was more interested in the exhibition 'Remembering Little Sparta'. And I was more taken by Ian Hamilton Finlay's toys and collection of model boats than Janet Boulton's watercolours, I must confess. I then went to investigate Forest Fringe and reserve some tickets for Sporadical, which promised pirates and sea shanties. Then it was over to the Assembly via the Malt Shovel for Frank Skinner's Credit Crunch Cabaret, with Andrew Lawrence and Daniella Ward - and a couple of George Formby inspired banjolele songs. Singing 'Oh oh Osama Bin Laden' we headed down George Street to meet Peter and Lisa - and the newly arrived Nick - at the Cafe Royal.

It was back to the Book festival (and more free coffee with my Scotsman) to see Marina Lewycka talk about her new novel We Are All Made of Glue. Apparently A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is not very popular in the Ukraine, tho it is available in Russian! She was a wonderful generous speaker and I look forward to reading the new one - the hardback I could have had signed was £18.99 so I think I'll wait for the paperback! Then it was a walk to the Stand for Simon Munnery's AGM (with the mandatory extra hour across the road at Lord Bodo's). On the way to the Cafe Royal again, we popped into Home Sweet Home on swanky Multrees Walk to build wee houses - a great example of using empty shops for Art. It was then a bus ride to a Malaysian restaurant on Nicholson Street, to Forest Fringe for Little Bulb's folk opera Sporadical - a little too much audience participation for my liking, and thence to the Udderbelly for a swift half.

Thursday was my last full day in Auld Reekie. There was a rumour that Foz? would be appearing at Robin Ince's Book Club at Bannerman's. And he was! See a short video here, tho he was uncharacteristically shy. The hot ticket for this year's festival was Mark Watson's The Hotel. Now I usually hate 'immersive' theatre and will run a mile, but had to do this one, and apart from the horrible admin area where we had to take a shoe off, loved it! Sam got a 60th birthday cake in the 'restaurant' and I had a Pony Whine and Sahara Des(s)ert ( plate of sand) from a lovely waitress called Cat. I was lucky enough to be in the IT room when the manager on the verge of a nervous breakdown wandered in. Great fun and wish we'd had more than an hour. To Rose Street for a drink then home on the bus, all cultured out!

Edinburgh always involves lots of late nights, too much drinking and not enough eating, so a big thank you to Real Foods at Tollcross, for their 99p filled rolls and pasties that kept me going. I only wish I had a quarter of the stamina of Peter and Lisa! Overall I thought this year's art was very disappointing - I didn't even bother to venture out to the modern art gallery or the Dean. Should have seen Faust (and we wasted unused comp tickets for Miss Jean Brodie) but thoroughly enjoyed Karaoke Circus and The Hotel - and Robin Ince can do no wrong at the moment!

Previous Edinburghs:


A Highland adventure pt 2

On Thursday 20 August, after a hearty veggie brekky at the Rossmount Guest House, I got a lift to the station as it was raining (again). I was heading south to Aviemore in the the Cairngorms National Park. I had two objectives here: one to ride on the steam Strathspey Railway, the other to ride the Cairngorm Mountain Railway. I arrived in good time for the 12.30 train so popped into a cafe to update Facebook etc. The train to Broomhill and back was pulled by Hunslet 0-6-0ST no. 3777, running in pseudo-BR livery as 68030. Various anonymous tanks were scattered about the railway. At Broomhill, I didn't get a chance to see it change ends as the passing loop is beyond the station, but made a little Flip video back at Aviemore. Some Scottish station names read like Dr Who characters: The Boat of Garten on this railway; Muir of Ord on the Kyle of Lochalsh line!

I still had a good part of the afternoon left so I caught a bus to the Cairngorm base station, where the woman in the ticket office kindly let me leave my case (no left luggage at either Aviemore station). The ride to the top of Britain's sixth highest mountain took 8 minutes. At the top we were not allowed out (walkers who walk up are allowed to ride back down) - just onto a windy observation deck where we could see reindeer but not the railway! I also saw the sun for the first time in Scotland! I had a home-made cheese scone and cuppa tea at the UK's highest restaurant (1097m) and went back down again, this time getting a good view of the rollercoater-type drop. At the bottom I visited the camera obscura (called The Dark Room) and waited for the bus back down to Aviemore. The fast bus ride round the hairpin bends was probably the most scary bit of the day! And so to the Ravenscraig Guest House, which at £40 a night was much more than the Inverness B&B, but had an en-suite bathroom and had won a green tourism award. I popped down the road to the Winking Owl for a pint of Fringe Benefit and a pretty ordinary haddock, chips and peas.

Next morning, the breakfast was pretty amazing: porridge with nuts and fruit compote followed by a huge cooked veggie breakfast I couldn't even finish. I'd accomplished both my Aviemore targets, so headed to the station to get the first train south. I'd been told Aviemore was a bit tacky, but it just wasn't very olde-worlde, and exactly what you'd expect from a place catering for outdoor activities, with shops selling sports equipment and warm clothing. First train was to Glasgow, so I imagined maybe getting a train to Oban, even a ferry to Mull. We passed through Perth and Stirling - I could have visited either of them but knew nothing about either. At Glasgow, I couldn't see any interesting connecting trains, so after a cappuccino at Costa, travelled on towards Edinburgh. I thought about jumping out at Linlithgow and visiting the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway but Sam texted me to say I'd missed the last round trip. So, it was on to Auld Reekie, a pint of 80/- at the Malt Shovel, a slow walk to Tollcross and a pint of Darkmoor at the Cloisters (where it was throwing it down outside) and, when Sam arrived home from work, some not very good (but not really awful) free comedy at the Illicit Still.

68030 at Aviemore

A Highland adventure pt 1

Originally uploaded by fred pipes
I've been spending a week in August during the Edinburgh Festival for 12 or 13 years now, and every so often I try and do some travelling while I'm up there. The last time was many years ago, pre-blog, when I took the sleeper up to Fort William and rode the steam-powered Mallaig line. That was the furthest north I'd ever been (apart from a flight to Gothenburg in Sweden in the 70s). So this year I decided to buy a Freedom of Scotland Rover for £73.25 (with Senior rail card discount) and go exploring. I probably could have got away with the cheaper Highland Rover plus a single to Edinburgh at the end, but hey! who's counting? It would give me 4 days' travel out of 8, which I thought was a bit mean, but also 10% discount on the sleeper. The trouble is, you can only buy a rover a month before you travel, so makes juggling sleeper and B&B bookings etc for an itinerary rather precarious. So, with sleeper to Inverness booked, I headed up to Euston on Monday 17 August for the 21.15. Luckily I had a berth to myself (you sometimes have to bunk up with someone the same sex) and as there's not enough room to swing a small cat in there, spent some time in the spacious lounge drinking Deuchars IPA at £2.50 a can and playing iPod games.

After a night watching orange lights go past my window, and passing through Edinburgh at about 4am, we arrived at Inverness and I searched out left luggage. Unfortunately it didn't open until 9.10, after my train to Kyle of Lochalsh had departed. It's one thing having a rover, it's another having to lug cases about! So, it's onto the train for what Michael Palin described as one of the Great Railway Journeys of the World. It didn't disappoint - straight away we were by the sides of lochs and firths, with misty mountains in the background. We passed the point at which the Caledonian Canal enters the Beauly Firth, but then there was a problem! At Dingwall we had to de-train, as the smell of the loos had become unbearable to some passengers. This unsheduled stop allowed me to explore this lovely station in which 134,864 thirsty men were supplied with tea 1915-1919. Outside was a war memorial made from a thin twisted tree trunk brought from the battlefields of France. Unfortunately the Mallard Bar wasn't open yet, but we got a complimentary cup of tea from the trolly, before we had to lug our cases over the footbridge to the relief train. So, on the move south-west again, the scenery was getting more and more spectacular as we reached the west coast. At the end of the line I even got a certificate.

I had theoretically three hours in Kyle of Lochalsh and the plan was to pop over to the Isle of Skye on the bus. I'd just missed the 12.30 bus so grabbed a bag of chips and hung around for the 1.30, which gave me half an hour to grab a half at the King Haaken bar and a view of the Skye Bridge in Kyleakin. Then is was back to Inverness where Robert from the Rossmount Guest House was waiting to give me a lift. This B&B was booked from the internet for £25 a night, so I had no idea what it'd be like - it was rather lovely. Not en-suite (they supply bath robe to wander about in) and the tiny telly was perched high on top of the wardrobe, but everything you'd want in a B&B. I went for a quick recce of the town to see how long it'd take to get to the bus station (I was booked on the Orkney day trip, setting off at 7.30 the next day) and thence to the Castle Tavern (also found on the internet) for a pint of Three Sisters and a plate of Finnan haddie rarebit.

Train view


Day trip to Orkney

Memento Mori
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Did you think I'd finished with coach trips after my Welsh experience? Well, I'm not against coach trips per se, just ones that start in Brighton and involve long boring bum-numbing periods on congested motorways. I figured that the way to go was to get there by train, and then have the coach trip, and that's what I did here. After travelling to Inverness by sleeper, having a rail trip to Kyle of Lochalsh (and a quick dash to the Isle of Skye and back) and staying the night in a B&B (more in the next blog item), I dragged myself out of bed on 19 August 2009, missed breakfast and headed to the bus station for 7.30 to get a coach north. The day trip was organised by John O'Groats Ferries and cost a hefty £55 but packs a lot into the day. Over the next three hours we crossed bridges over firths and skirted the scenic east coast, passing through Helmsdale and Wick. No motorways here, just roller-coaster roads and stunning views. According to our tour guide this is the best place in the UK to take a driving test - not many roundabouts and few traffic lights (we were also told this about Orkney!).

I'd been warned that John o'Groats was grim, and it was - wet, windy and with no shelter apart from a couple of tiny gift shops and a tea van. It's not even the most northerly point in the UK, just one end of the longest road. The ferry was nowhere to be seen and I was wishing I'd packed more warm clothes, then suddenly out of the mist it was heading for the jetty. The facilities on-board the Pentland Venture were rudimentary, rows of cheap seating below deck and a 'shop' selling water, coke and tickets for Skara Brae (£5.50 for seniors). But it did have a proper porcelain toilet! The 40 minute passage was a bit choppy and soon we arrived at Burwick on the southern tip of the islands to join another coach. We then drove over the 'Churchill Barriers' - concrete causeways to keep German submarines out of Scapa Flow in the war. Apparently we'd sunk old ships to block the passage but in 1939 U-47 had snuck in and torpedoed HMS Royal Oak. Before these four barriers, it must have been difficult to get from island to island.

We had a couple of hours in Kirkwall, so I made for the cathedral of St Magnus, where I took pictiures of the memorial tablets all around the walls, each with a carved skull and crossbones. The cathedral cafe had a huge queue so I had a wander around, spotting the Wireless Museum (but you had to pay to get in so I didn't bother). The cheese and onion sandwiches made by the B&B were a god-send! Back on the coach we headed for Skara Brae, where I made a beeline for the cafe and a cappuccino before trekking down to the coast. The path there contained a timeline of historic events to show how very very old the Neolithic village was. From a distance it looked like a crazy golf course, with neat undulating patches of grass between the excavations. We saw Fred Flintstone's stone bed and stone dresser in the sunken ruins. Then it was onwards to the Ring of Brodgar, a large Neolithic stone circle around a patch of purple heather. After passing the Standing Stones of Stenness and the tomb of Maeshowe, we headed back through Kirkwall and on to the ornate Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm island, built by POWs from two Nissan huts and whatever materials they could lay their hands on. Most of the decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, who remained after the war to finish it off. Apparently there was a narrow-gauge railway in the POW camp.

By now the weather and visibility had improved, but the voyage back to the mainline was so rough I had to go up on deck. The boat was rolling around madly and I had to hang on for dear life, but we saw seals and various interesting birds (don't ask!). Just as we approached Jo'G, the choppy 'white horses' gave way to strange long waves. After the long road journey back to Inverness, I popped in to the Castle Tavern for a pint of Flora MacDonald. An excellent day out- highly recommended!

Top tip: a bloke I was chatting to in the Skara Brae cafe said he'd bought his ticket online through a US travel agent, paying in dollars and thus saving a few bob on the exchange rate!

Inside the Italian Chapel


London: art, music and Devant

Originally uploaded by fred pipes
What would make me endure three of the busiest areas of London on a hot Saturday? A rare David Devant and his Spirit Wife gig of course. I got a cheap rail ticket off the internet so I planned to make a day of it, using my free bus pass as much as possible. So, first off it was a 52 to Ladbroke Grove to see Mick Jones's Rock & Roll Public Library. Except... the bus stops at Victoria had all moved cos of road works! And when I eventually got there, it was Portobello Market day so the side streets were heaving. Anyway, pushed my way to the studios under the Westway and spent some enjoyable minutes looking at and snapping Mick's stuff. The Library (on until 25 August) was much neater than I'd imagined but like the Musgrave Collection, full of all kinds of stuff, from fanzines to a Rorke's Drift tableau. Next it was a 23 bus to Trafalgar Square to catch a plinther. This was not to be, however. I'd foolishly caught a bus going to Trafalgar Square via Oxford Street.

Now, if you've never visited London, take my advice. Don't even think about going to Oxford Street, except maybe at 4am in the morning, especially not on a hot Saturday. The buses were gridlocked and the pavements a slow-moving sea of people clutching Primark bags. I managed to fight through them to the sanctity of upper Regent Street, where I could catch a C2 to Camden and thence to Chalk Farm. The next stop was the Roundhouse, a former engine shed famous for Pink Floyd and Soft Machine concerts back in the 1960s, where David Byrne had installed a harmonium connected to various bits of the structure, entitled 'Playing the Building'. There was a long queue at the box office so I chanced going upstairs for a quick look and the guard kindly let me pop in and take a photo. There was a long queue waiting to play with it so I left. On the way to the next bus stop I sampled a free falafel, which was juicey and tasty so I ordered a small wrap which came heaped with good stuff for £4. I'm ashamed to say I ate it on the top deck of a bus heading for Euston station... where i changed for my final bus of the day to Highbury and Islington where I had a few beers at the White Swan (a Wetherspoons pub, so the guest beers were £2.10 a pint I had Mutley's Revenge). I was joined by other Devant Devottees and at 8.30 popped next door to the Buffalo Bar to see the first band of the night: Keith TOTP & His UK Minor Celebrity Indie All-Stars Orchestra, who played amongst other things a pretty shambolic version of 'One thing after another'. Next up was Dream Themes, who played instrumental tv theme tunes, and finally it was our headliners, with Foz? in a sparkly jacket, who started with secret track 'Lifeline' (video here) and went through the hits, including a Disco 'Ginger' and ending with 'Work, Lovelife, Misc' and 'Pimlico' then an encore of Aunty Mabel and err... another one I forgot (my Flip had run out of memory by then! Help!). Then it was a dash to the tube station and back to Brighton on the 1am train (going via Lewes) and a long but downhill walk home. Zulu


Eastbourne: Towner and Musgrave

Expensive tart
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
The last time I visited the Towner, it was out of town in an old grange, opposite the oldest pub in Sussex. That was in 2004 and it was to see an exhibition of illustrations from Ladybird Books - and of course its extensive collection of Eric Ravilious paintings. Now it's relocated to the town centre, a modernist building tacked onto the Congress Theatre and overlooking Eastbourne's famous grass tennis courts. So, after saying hello to Ed Boxall doing a workshop in the kid's room (the Art Box, actually - there are also rooms called Junction Box, Fuse Box and Light Box - why don't they give rooms sensible names these days?) my neighbour Angie and I plunged into the exhibition on the second floor entitled People's Choice, a miscelleny of works presumably from the permanent collection arranged in themes: landscapes, seascapes, abstract, etc, and with a corner of his own, Eric Ravilious. There were six paintings in all, including Cuckmere Haven and two watercolours with trains. A good start I thought. From the rest, Angie's favourite was Windover in Winter (1945) by Frank Wootton, who apparently would regularly cycle 60 miles to Sussex from London to paint the South Downs. Mine was Charles Knight's oil painting of Ditchling Beacon - deceptively scruffy close up but magically taking form from a distance. There were also a couple of not brilliant Edward Bawdens in the room too.

Then it was up to the top for the cafe before the lunchtime rush. The soup of the day contained chicken so I pointed to a small pie-type thing in a cabinet which was rushed to the kitchen to be warmed up. It turned out to be a caramelised onion and goat's cheese tart, and with a few leaves and a cherry tomato cut in to quarters, came to £7.95!! With a regular cappuccino, I'd spent almost a tenner. Ah well, I'll ask before oredering next time. It was tasty enough but had been microwaved so the pastry was soggy. Angie's smallish £4.95 soup didn't look too special either. Also on the top floor was a darkened room containing three 'chandeliers' made from plaster bones, surrounded by cardboard boxes and piles of newspapers ('In the eyes of others' by Jodie Carey). So, where was the rest of the permanent collection? On the ground floor was a huge couple of spaces, one with contemporary works, including an Ian Hamilton Finlay sculpture and an Anya Gallaccio, containing well rotted flowers - and in the other massive space a couple of film/video installations. And that was it! Apparently you can view the 4000-odd collection in store by appointment and I was told I would soon be able to look at them on the website (but there again, I could buy a book and stay at home!). Very disappointing.

On a tip-off from Peter and Lisa we then went to find the Musgrave Collection, via a walk along the prom. We found it on Seaside Road. It couldn't be more different than the Towner - a low-tech space with tons of stuff crammed into the former shop. George Musgrave is 93 and still painting - he has led a remarkable life, all documented in his many oil paintings (his latest is in the shop window) - he invented yellow lines on roads, designed and made plastic toy soldiers, was a minister in Angola - all documented in his painting 'Speck of Dust'. This is how museums should be (and if you like this one, give Seaford Museum a go). The modern style of curating seems to be to put as few objects into as large a space as possible - this is the old fashioned museum at its best. There is also a Museum of Shops in Eastbourne, but will have to wait for another day. It was scorching hot and after a fairtrade tea and cake in a hairdressers by a roundabout got the train back, changing at Lewes.


Oliver Cromwell at Hove

70013 Oliver Cromwell
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
My latest trainspotting expedition was much closer to home - Hove, Actually. The Cathedrals Express, organised by Steam Dreams was to pass through Preston Park and Hove on its way to Portsmouth on 30 July, so I popped onto the train at London Road, and changed at Brighton for Hove. It was due around 11.30, pulled by 70013 Oliver Cromwell. The Britannias (what we called Brits) and Clans along with the one-off Duke of Gloucester (see my blog account of seeing 71000 Duke of Gloucester here) were the last namers to be built (92220 Evening Star, was named thus as she was the last ever steam loco to be built - in 1960 - and already earmarked for preservation). Oliver Cromwell was built at Crewe in 1951 and when regular BR steam ended, she was one of the locos chosen for the final farewell mainline steam trip, The Fifteen Guinea Special (so named because of the inflated price for tickets) which ran on 11 August 1968 between Liverpool Lime Street and Carlisle, via Manchester. 70013 has recently been overhauled at the Great Central Railway and returned to live steam in May 2008. So, in she steams to Platform 1 at Hove (video here) looking extremely clean and shiny, we all took some photos and off west she went, heading for Worthing and beyond, due to return about 8 o'clock. I was kindly offered a ticket by a bloke on the platform who'd been badly let down, but it was Chrissie's birthday do that afternoon and the BiG meeting later on, so reluctantly I declined.


A wet weekend in Wales

Princess in the bar
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
My third coach trip weekend with Newmarket was to a very wet and windy North Wales. It was a day longer than the previous ones, but that meant that two days of holiday were sandwiched between two whole days of monotonous tedium (or was it tedious monotony - I did warn you in my top tips page) - early mornings, motorways, traffic jams and motorway services. Maybe it's a light and shade thing, you need the tiresome days to make the other days more exciting.

So on Friday 17 July, after a 6.30 start and a taxi to Madeira Drive, a group of us travelled by minibus to Crawley to join the main coach. On board was our Tour Guide Will, with a voice like Richard Wilson's in Tutti Frutti. After pick-ups in Sutton and Croydon, the coach made its way through central London. Three hours later we were in Brixton, caught in road works, and four hours later we were in South Mimms services for our first stop. After stops in Norton Canes (tea £1.95 - but they had free wifi!) and Chester services, we eventually arrived at our hotel, the Westminster, in rainswept Rhyl.

Now the photo on the brochure looks like it's in its own grounds, but it was cunningly shot from a tiny strip of flowers and palm trees on a wall by the bus station. Inside it was faded grandure, with food to match. My single room was tiny, despite paying a single supplement, overlooking the back so I was able to watch a couple of baby seagulls on a flat roof try to stay alive in the wind and rain. I thought one of them only had one leg, but it was probably trying to preserve heat! I know how it felt - I should have packed a scarf and wooly hat.

Day 2 (Saturday 18 July) started with a good hearty breakfast brought by chirpy scouse waitress: porridge, scrambled egg plus beans on toast. Then it was off to Llandudno to drop off those not going on our excursion. It would have been nice to have time there going up the Great Orme on the cable railway, for example, but no time even for a quick dash along the seafront. First stop was Caernarfon and a few minutes to buy a paper, look at the castle (there was some kind of military display going on) and then it was on to the Welsh Highland Railway to catch the 11.35 to Beddgelert (it doesn't yet join up with Porthmadog).

Joy of joys, the train came in pulled by a K1 Garrett, the first ever, built in Manchester to Mr Garratt's patent no. 12079-1909, and shipped out to Tasmania and thence to Wales. Now, I've never really liked narrow-gauge locos much - until now - this was a full-size loco on 2ft-gauge wheels! Half way along the line, at Rhdd Ddu, we saw another Beyer-Garratt coming the other way, this time a much bigger 2-6-2+2-6-2 (built 1937) in 'photographic grey'.

We alighted at Beddgelert and I had time for a half of dark mild in a pub with a Welsh name (the chap at the bar and the barmaid were also talking Welsh, so I hope they weren't being rude!) before we set off over the Llanberis Pass for views and a stop at Snowdon base camp at Llanberis. There was some kind of race going on by very thin lanky people up to the summit and back, but I spotted the Lake Railway train in the station so legged it and got on for a short ride to Penllyn and back pulled by the dinky No. 1 Elidir, a Hunslet 0-4-0ST. The youngish driver put a couple of baked potatoes into the smokebox for his tea. We saw a steam boat in the lake too.

I managed a quick look at the Snowdon Mountain Railway, but although there were two steam locos in the shed, the engine I saw setting off was a diesel No. 11 Peris. Then it was back in the coach to Rhyl and the hotel. They'd booked a lady singing entertainer so I retired to my room and Casualty 1909 (running late cos of the golf) on the tiny telly perched high in the corner of the room.

Portmeirion, north Wales

On Day 3 (Sunday 19 July) we drove straight to Portmeirion, a colourful Italianate village built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975. It's best known as being The Village in cult tv drama The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan (with whom I share a birthday!). It's like Charleston Farmhouse on acid, with statues and wall paintings everywhere. And the houses are not just facades - people actually live in them! It's basically a long road that sweeps downhill to the estuary, with squares large and small off it. I had a cappuccino (a hefty £2.45) in Battery Square, but did get to read the Indy and write a couple of postcards in the drizzle. Of course I visited The Prisoner shop but didn't buy a No. 6 badge.

The coach then took us to nearby Porthmadog and I had a pint of Dark and Delicious (Carvedale Brewery) whilst admiring Princess, the world's first narrow gauge loco (1863), on static display in the bar. Then the train came in pulled by push-me pull-you loco 0-4-0+0-4-0T No. 10 Merddin Emrys, the oldest operating double Fairlie on the Ffestiniog Railway (it was built in 1879). The trip to Blaenau Ffestiniog is quite breathtaking, starting with The Cob, a long causeway, out of Porthmadog, then climbing up into the mountains, including the spiral loop at Dduallt. Spotted Blanche coming the other way at Tan-y-Bwlch.

At Blaenau Ffestiniog we crossed the line to take the Arriva diesel back to Llandudno Junction along the Conwy Valley Line, via Betwys-y-Coed (which looked a riot with all its miniature railways and trams) and Conwy Castle. The wind had dropped so I had a quick walk round the town, which apart from a nice Art Deco cinema (now the Apollo bingo hall) near the station, has little to recommend it, sorry. Back at the hotel, they'd booked a Frank Sinatra tribute act so I retired to my telly and emergency tins of Mackeson and hip flask.

On Day 4 the sun was out for the first time and it was time for the long drive home, revisiting Norton Canes and South Mimms motorway services on the way. This is probably the last coach trip like this I will take - the getting to and from the location are just too tedious to justify coach travel, I'd much rather take the train and join the coach trip when I get there, if that's possible.

Railways visited:

  1. The Welsh Highland Railway: the best locos in my opinion and I will deffo go back when the line is completed.

  2. The Llanberis Lake Railway: very scenic and enjoyable, but one to tick off.

  3. The Snowdon Mountain Railway: only caught a glimpse, but would love to go back and let the train take the strain to the summit of England and Wales's highest peak.

  4. The Ffestiniog Railway: well worth a visit, with very unusual double boiler locos and magnificent scenery.

  5. The Conwy Valley Line: not a heritage railway as such, but reasonably scenic.


Gorgeous books

I have far too many books. If I ever win the lottery I'd like a modernist minimalist flat with warehouse/library attached. Until then I have too many books for my bookshelves - and I keep buying more! But is it me, or are books getting more gorgeous? Is it the improvements in printing technology, nicer paper stock, or sadly just more available cheap labour in the far east? Whatever, books just get more beautiful. I'd like to tell you about three that I've bought recently - I'll save the most expensive one until last. Although they are all illustrated books, none of them is what you might call a children's book. The first is Rice's Architectural Primer (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009). I saw Matthew Rice on BBC Breakfast and liked that he'd brought some of his original artwork in, manhandled I must say in rather a cavalier fashion by presenter Charlie Stayt. The book is a chunky hardback with pictorial covers with lots of colour images of annotated architectural features, with quirky humorous additions, like people smoking fags in doorways. He's a sort of modern-day Osbert Lancaster, and his watercolours are not too perfect! What I like about the book, is that the text is not just in black - key terms are in brown, the sign of truly full-colour printing. The second book is George Sprott: 1894-1975 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009) by the cartoonist Seth. I first came across Seth when he supported Chris Ware at a talk at the ICA in 2004. I'd never heard of him and was kicking myself that while I was in a long queue to get my Chris Ware books signed, Seth was doing beautiful drawings in books people had brought along for him to sign (the ICA shop had already closed!). I spotted his latest book in the window of Dave's Comics in Sydney Street and bought one for Paul Cemmick's birthday, then ordered my own from Amazon. It's a giant book (35.6 x 30.5 x 1.8 cm) with a hardback quarter-bound cover with silver blocking. I love Seth's clean lines, and (unlike Chris Ware's perhaps) his comic books are very easy to read. The last book in this selection was the most expensive and if I tell you it cost £160, you'll think I'm rolling in it or spending the kid's inheritance! Eric Ravilious: The Story of High Street (The Mainstone Press, 2008) by Alan Powers et al is a limited edition (750 copies) facsimile of High Street, a children's book of shops with text by J M Richards and 24 lithographs by Eric Ravilious (1903-1942). Although the original book was not a limited edition, the destruction of the lithographic plates during the Blitz meant that only 2000 copies were ever printed. This edition includes not only the original shop fronts and text of High Street but also two essays and lots of other illustrations, preparatory drawings and sketches, many of them seen for the first time. I fell in love with Ravilious after seeing his originals at the old Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne (I haven't visited the new gallery yet). The book is lavishly printed, cloth bound and comes in a slipcase - I really need a pair of white cotton gloves to read it! Worth every penny.


Manchester Festival

While I've been glued to the live feed of the 4th Plinth, I've been missing the Manchester Festival, which looks like a lot of fun. Sadly, I've only seen bits of it thanks to The Culture Show on telly. Kraftwerk at the Velodrome was a masterstroke, tho the Olympic cyclists apparently nearly didn't have bikes! I really would have loved to have seen Jeremy Deller's Procession on 5 July, re-imagining the Whit Walks and carnivals of my youth with Stockport boy racers, a replica greasy spoon (Valerie's Cafe from Bury Market, which I'm embarrased to say I've never patronised), Peterloo descendants, unrepentant smokers and the Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Pipe Band from Bolton. Music played a big part, with horse-drawn hearses lamenting lost clubs: Hacienda, Wigan Casino (but no Twisted Wheel, as Terry Christian pointed out on the tv), and the parade ending with a steel band playing Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. Wonder what he'd conjure up for a Brighton parade?


Top ten coach trip tips

Coach trips can be great and also exasperating. They have good points and bad points in about equal measure. Here are my thoughts. Five good things about coach trips:
  1. They're cheap. Add up the cost of travel and accommodation (plus any attraction tickets) and you can't beat them on price.
  2. They're convenient. Once you're on-board, you're driven everywhere more or less door-to-door. And you can visit places not usually accessible by public transport, ie out-of-the-way heritage railways.
  3. You're looked after. There's a Tour Guide and driver on hand to fix things and impart information. You're not alone!
  4. They're sociable. Especially if you are single. There's a community spirit on a coach trip with everone sharing the experience, but few 'Guardian readers' seem to go on them - expect Daily Mail type views sometimes from the older participants!
  5. Scenic views. Coaches can go (sometimes with difficulty) where trains can't, and there are often stunning views to be seen.
Five bad things about coach trips:
  1. You have to get up early. The start is usually at the crack of dawn and you have to get to the pick-up point (usually by taxi, which is an extra expense). There will then be an hour or so of pick-up stops before you get going. Each day will start early too.
  2. You'll see a lot of motorways and motorway services. The driver has to take rest breaks and the passengers need 'comfort breaks'. Motorway services are a rip-off, with extortionate prices for drinks and food. Take sandwiches if you can! You'll also inevitably get caught up in road works, so take an iPod!
  3. The hotels are rubbish. They are often in the back of beyond, near a motorway exit. Having said that, they are mostly comfortable and clean. The food is of limited choice and not exactly gourmet style, but there is always a veggy option. Dinner is usually at a set time; there will be a stop for you to find your own lunch.
  4. The itinerary can be unpredictable. You can spend relatively short amounts of time at interesting locations and excessive amounts of time at relatively boring places, but this is obviously subjective. I like steam railways and go on steam railway holidays, but often all you get is a single journey on part of the line (a round trip is always prefereable) and no time to visit the sheds/museum etc.
  5. You have to tip the driver and Tour Guide. And I never know what to give. A couple of quid each seems to work ok, pressed into their hands as you are leaving the coach!
Coach trips are intense experiences and can be tiring, despite mainly sitting down all day. I treat them as a recce opportunity. If I see somewhere I like then I may go back there at some point in the future and spend more time there - though I haven't yet done that. What do you think? Do you have any coach trip top tips? Notes: I have been on two weekend coach trips so far. The first was Rails Peaks and Fells, and this year's was to the North Yorkshire Moors, both with Newmarket, who advertise in local papers. I have also been on several day trips, usually with Worthing Coaches:

Give me 31 Days...

Give me 31 Days and I’ll Give You a Dramatically Better Blog… Guaranteed; just embarking on a 31-day course to improve my blog! First task is to write an elevator pitch to describe my blog. So, here goes: 'A journey into the mysterious world of semi-retirement'.

Time Team America | PBS

Time Team America | PBS: looks like there's a US version of Time Team...

LMS Patriot Project

The LMS-Patriot Project Home Page: no LMS Patriots (or Pats as we used to call them) were saved for restoration, so the idea is to build a new one, like the built-from-scratch A1 Tornado or the Atlantic Beachy Head currently being built at the Bluebell Railway.


North Yorkshire Moors

My latest Coach Trip was to the North Yorkshire Moors, again mainly to spot trains. Like on the cult reality tv show, a coach trip is a temporary, mobile community, that no sooner forms, but is cast adrift. I was greeted 7am on Friday morning down Madeira Drive (having spent a fiver on a taxi) not by a coach, but a swish Mercedes taxi, a 'feeder' to whisk me and a couple of Worthingites off to Reigate to rendezvous with the coach proper (which started off in Kent). With driver Terry and Tour Guide Andrew we did another pick-up in Staines, then it was up the M40 to Oxford services (surprisingly pleasant with water features, bullrushes and coy carp). On coach trips, you see a lot of motorways and their rip-off services!

Lunch stop was at Bakewell, in the Peak District, and it was raining. I sampled a Bakewell Pudding (they don't call them tarts in those parts!). After a very quick wander I settled in The Red Lion for a pint of Black Sheep. Shame Peak Rail wasn't operating on Fridays, but I think I did spot a plume of smoke in that general direction. Then it was off to nearby Matlock Bath, basically a long street full of cafes and amusement arcades by a river. I half fancied the cable car to the Heights of Abraham, but they were miles away (in retrospect I could have gone there using my bus pass!). There can't be many cable cars in the UK, must check! So, on to Days Hotel on the outskirts of Wakefield, by the motorway, and a strange meal of mushroom and stilton pudding - very peculiar taste in a very hard crust - and a selection of overcooked veg.

At 8am on Saturday we headed off to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and Grosmont station, where an East Lancs 'micky' 45407 The Lancashire Fusilier was waiting to take us off to Pickering, via Goathland - a village that features in hit tv programme Heartbeat, and also in Harry Potter films. Passing Grosmont shed, we spotted the star of the NYMR, A4 'streak' 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley. Also copped GWR 0-6-2T 5600 Class no. 6619 and 'micky' no. 45212 in the sheds as we steamed by - shame we didn't have time to explore further. We'd just missed 75029 heading out to Whitby, but spotted S&DJR 7F 2-8-0 no. 53809 at Levisham on the other line. Then it was back on the coach for 4 hours in York. By this time the sun was out and it was back to the heatwave. I got a bus to the NRM and, after a coffee and sandwich, and a glance at Mallard, the 2nd streak of the day, searched around for the re-streamlined Duchess of Hamilton. And there she was. I approached from the back of the tender, and she looked magnificent in crimson and gold. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would ever see a streamlined semi - the most beautiful locomotive ever built. Then it was back to the Minster on the road train and a pint of Liberty at the Lion and Lamb. Popped into the art gallery quickly (nice Lowry of Clifford's Tower), but it was too hot for sightseeing. Dinner that night was a very acceptable leek and potato tart.

On Sunday it was another 8am start, this time to Leeming Bar, for a ride on the Wenslydale Railway. Unfortunately steam doesn't start until 18 July, so we were pulled by a Class 47 diesel no. 47703 Saint Mungo. The ride was very scenic (but not quite as scenic as the NYMR) and we travelled all the way to Redmire and back to Leyburn, where we rejoined the coach to our lunch stop at Harrogate. No cheese! I was disapointed not to get to visit the Wensleydale Cheese Museum (with its Wallace and Gromit exhibit) at Hawes and couldn't find a whiff of cheese anywhere! At Harrogate I thought Bettys (no apostrophe required) was too posh and pricey for the likes of me, but stumbled across an amazing Wetherspoons in the old Winter Gardens, where a pint of Ruddles was £1.29! Then it was the long trudge back, with two motorway services (Grantham and South Mimms) to stop at. Luckily David Devant and His Spirit Wife was on my iPod to keep me company and help pass the time. And the feeder taxi driver very kindly gave me a lift to my door.


Pecha Kucha

Originally uploaded by fred pipes
No, Pecha Kucha isn't an Inca settlement in the Andes, it's a bimonthly networking event, and it's come to Brighton. Pronounced 'pe-chak-cha' it means chit-chat in Japanese, and that's where it originated, as a means of giving young designers and architects a night to meet and show their work. The pace and timing is dictated by a Powerpoint presentation in which 20 images are shown for 20 seconds each, totalling 6 minutes, 40 seconds. The first Brighton one - in April - I missed, but apparently people were queuing round the block, so I was a bit worried I might not get in (you can't buy tickets in advance). From looking at the programme, I was also half expecting most of it to be a load of pretentious bollocks (and a couple of the 11 presentations did fit that bill - and another couple were basically showing their holiday slides!), but there was quite a bit of illustrator content - shame it clashed with the monthly BiG meeting.

BiG's very own Nirm Dhiman was showing his amazing visual diaries, and was joined by Bec Garland, a northern lass hailing from my neck of the woods talking about her exhibitions of mainly bird and animal drawings around Manchester, and Chao Min Tzu - currently on the MA course at the Uni - did something about the symmetry of Taiwanese wedding dresses (I think!). It was at the Red Roaster cafe and beer options were severely restricted (just Budvar), and - amazingly - though it was packed out, I hardly knew a soul in the audience! As a franchise, the format is a double-edged sword - if a presentation is interesting, you want to see more; but if it's awful, it's soon over. And there is no opportunity for questions (except informally if you manage to collar the speaker in the interval/fag break). The Catalyst Club it is not, but it's certainly very popular and seems to have tapped into some missing need amongst 'creatives'. Keep an eye on this website for future events.


Streamlined Duchess at NRM

Coronation class on Flickr: a fab photo (not mine) of the streamlined Duchess on show at the NRM, York.

6229 'Duchess of Hamilton' - streamlined - on Flickr

6229 Duchess of Hamilton - streamlined - on Flickr: a photo (not mine) of the re-streamlined semi.

'Duchess of Hamilton' streamlined

NRM | Collections | Locomotives | Duchess of Hamilton: bloomin' 'ell I never thought I'd ever see a streamlined semi in my lifetime, but the NRM has re-streamlined Duchess of Hamilton! Gotta get to York to see it! With the Beyer-Garratt festival going on in Manchester as well, this'll be a classic year for trainspotters.


Degree show

Bed piece
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
The May Open Houses in Brighton may be the biggest free art festival in town, but for huge quantities of free art, craft and design in one location, the annual Degree Show at Brighton Uni can't be beat. But tirst thing that strikes you arriving at Grand Parade is that Victoria Gardens opposite has become a forest of potted trees (how long before they start appearing for sale at the Sunday Market, I wonder?). It's a project by architecture student Lucy Palmer to find new uses for the Valley Gardens, part of SEEDA's Places from Spaces programme.

The way to get ahead at art school is to confound categorisation. Thus, you'll find installations in Fine Art Printmaking (Shiho Takizawa), sculpture in Fine Art painting (Daisy Jordan and Lily MacClelland), photography in Sculpture (Wix O'Connell) and an Ingrid Plum-style assembly of paper origami birds in Editorial Photography (Harriet Harmer). So, take no notice of which Department you think you're in and just enjoy the work!

As usual I travelled to the top of the building by lift and worked my way down. First stop was Graphic Design and I was impressed by Kyle Bean's disposable cardboard computers and other electronic devices. In Illustration I was encouraged by the amount of pen and ink drawing this year, particularly Emily Maude's illustrations to her journey through Sussex 'From Alfriston to Wilmington'. There was also a lot of paper cutting, Rob Ryan style, in both the Illiustration and Printmaking depts. Critical Fine Art practice is a bit of a weird one and leaves me cold most years, but this we had Esther Springett's 'The Myth of London Road', something I've already participated in, and my favourite of the show, 'Bed Piece' - a tribute to John and Yoko by The Thomas Ferguson Band. Anything involving the Beatles and ukuleles is fine by me. I went through Painting like a dose of salts - nothing much took my fancy, and Sculpture, which often has the most interesting stuff (and best postcards) was a mess. It was difficult to see where one piece ended and another started. Far better presentation is to be found in 3D Materials practice (Wood, metal, ceramics and plastics) full of beautiful soutions to problems you never imagined existed! Ever wanted to grow vegetables in your car? Rebecca Thewlis's 'Car fuel' is the answer. Want a cupboard that expands with your possessions? Marina Ralph has a sycamore and latex cabinet that's just the job.

Photography has the prime spot in the glass fronted downstairs gallery but failed to impress me. I didn't have time to explore Architecture or Fashion. Anyway, give it a go and make up your own mind - I'm rubbish at spotting the stars of the future! The University of Brighton Undergraduate Degree Show is on until Thursday 11 June.

Postscript: not part of the Degree Show but also on is the 1st year sculpture show in the old Music /Local Studies library on Church Road. Far more interesting that the thrird year's show at Grand Parade, and you get to see the inside of this impressive old building that has been empty for so long.



RH & DR, part 2

Northern Chief
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
I have been a little lax on the blogging front lately, tho I've started another one on Wordpress, mainly to learn how to use the thing and put it through its paces. Many of my websites would be better off in the blog format, but the chore of transporting them over is too daunting!

What I didn't blog was my little jaunt on 8 May to the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway on a Worthing Coaches coach trip. My last and only visit there was in January 2006, when I didn't manage to get to Dungerness. I was hoping that this time I would - and maybe have fish and chips there. But alas no. The driver announced that we would travel from New Romney to Hythe and back, then have a ploughman's lunch at New Romney, then head home. The journey was rather tedious. I was picked up at Preston Circus (hoorah), then we headed north and along the M25 to Clackett Lane services for a comfort stop (boo). We then followed the Eurostar line towards Ashford and eventually arrived at New Romney where we boarded a train pulled by Northern Chief. Bluebottle was also in steam at the station, heading the other way for Dungerness. At Hythe, I watched the loco turn round on the turntable and took a couple of videos on my Flip Ultra. Then it was back to where we started for a pretty boring lunch. I had a wander about (spotted a static Black Prince) and popped upstairs to the model railway exhibit, then it was back on the coach. Going back we took the scenic route through the Romney Marshes, past the wind farm, and stopped off for half an hour at Hastings where I looked sadly at the out-of-service East Hill Lift and had a quick shufty at the Fishermen's Museum, the highlight of which was the Winkle King. A reasonably disappointing day, but it's always uplifting to see, smell and hear some steam!
Winkle King