Up North again

Doing the NaNoWriMo in November made me a bit behind with my blog, but I did it! 50,000 words in less than 30 days! What I discovered about fiction, as opposed to non-fiction is that you can make things up! According to Julia Crouch I'll have to wait until January before I look at it again.

Just before November I made another trip to Bury for my Brother-in-Law's 60th birthday celebrations, and to take in the East Lancs Railway Autumn Steam Gala. I travelled up on the Saturday, so only had Sunday to enjoy the trains. The big disappointment was that 71000 Duke of Gloucester was stuck somewhere and wouldn't be on (but he'd be back the following weekend, hoorah!).

Yates Duxbury tank

The ELR seems to be running out of locos so it was a pretty humdrum selection, the star of which was 49395 - the so-called Super-D. The only other big loco on was a Mickey, 45231 The Sherwood Forester. The rest were industrial tanks: Peckett and Sons 1370 May in Yates Duxbury paper mill livery, Manchester Ship Canal 32 Gothenburg in the guise of Thomas the Tank Engine, and WD132 Sapper.

Ford Maddox Brown

On the Tuesday I took the tram to Manchester to see the Ford Madox Brown exhibition at the Manchester (City) Art Gallery. As you may know I'm a big fan of the Pre-Raphs and as Brown was a honorary member, and Rossetti's teacher, it was a must. Although I've seen all his major works before : Work, Manfred on the Jungfrau, and The last of England - there were lots of studies and sketches to see, including the drawings for his Manchester Town Hall murals. His faces always worry me though, they look so sinister some of them. If the later ones look a bit unfinished its because he suffered a stroke and had to finish them using his left hand!

On Wednesday my niece took me out to Bolton, where we stopped by at Fred Dibnah's house, now a heritage centre - there are tours but you have to book in advance. After fish and chips at Russells we looked at the magnificent Victorian market hall, now a shopping mall, and other architectural gems.

Bleak Cumbrian coast

On Thursday I chose the day with the worst weather to take the Cumbrian Round Robin rail journey: train from Bolton to Carlisle, then back down the coast through Workington, Whitehaven, Sellafield, Barrow-in-Furness and Carnforth. Unfortunately the train north I was on caught fire (engine under central carriage) near Shap summit and I missed my connection, so it was dark as I reached Morecambe Bay. If I did it again, I'd only go up as far as Barrow, or maybe Sellafield if you like weird places. Whitehaven looked reasonably nice; but Workington was a wasteland. Ulverston, between Barrow and Carnforth, had a very impressive station with clock tower.

Duke of Gloucester

Friday was spent on Bury market buying Northern food, including black peas and black puddings. Saturday I took my Bruv-in-law on the steam trains while my sister's gaff was being decked out ready for the party. We drove to Ramsbottom and did a round trip, pulled by 45231 The Sherwood Forester. At Heywood we observed a party of VIPs, including the Mayor of Rochdale, inspect the train. On Sunday, the Duke was back in action, so I spent the day in a comfy carriage behind that most magnificent loco.


NaNoWriMo and my Hon Degree

In case you've been wondering where I've been, I've had my head down writing a 50,000 word novel for NaNoWriMo and you'll be glad to know that I'm just over half-way through. It's all Julia Crouch's fault - she did it three years ago and the result was her published novel Cuckoo, with another two on the way. I'm not sure there's a publishable novel in me, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, and easier than growing a moustache.

After my trip Up North, the second this year, which I have yet to blog, I travelled up to Guildford, along with thousands of others, to receive an honorary degree. No it wasn't for my outstanding contribution to social media, it was a B Univ given to all and sundry who spent time at Battersea, before the college became an University and moved to Guildford. It would have made more sense if they'd given it to those who just got an external London degree, but I did get a Surrey degree, and now I have two!

I met Chris Chelu (who took the photo), Tina, Groovy Rob Thomasson, and Wal - who missed the boat on a ticket for the ceremony so came as my guest - long with Maurice Valoir, Chris Taper, Phil Garel-Jones, Pete Baylis - and Sir David Varney! Plus many others. I shook hands with HRH the Duke of Kent and we had a slap-up reception with canapes and wine after.


Warhol at Bexhill and a robot invasion!

Meal deal

You heard it here first, my next print will be of the De La Warr (pronounced Delaware) Pavilion in Bexhill. I popped over there last Thursday to take some snaps. It's been done so well before, particuarly by People will always need plates, that I need to find a new angle. Thankfully my friend Dave from Exeter sent me an old book about the DLWP with exactly the view I needed but I had to check out the angles for myself. Unfortunately there was turf laying going on around the east of the building so I couldn't get ideal photos, but they will be good enough.

Now I'm not a big Warhol fan - if you've seen one you've seen them all - but thought I'd take a look seeing as I was there - and it was free. And was pleasantly surprised. Up next to the cafe, where I had a £9 meal deal of soup (parsnip and apple), chips and cappuccino, was a room full of late stuff: small ads for hamburgers, boots and Repent! blown up large in black and white, all on cow wallpaper. Downstairs, were early drawings, then the usual multicoloured screenprints - Mao, electric chair, Marilyn, flowers, Brillo boxes etc etc. Then finally stitched photos and polaroid self portraits. Well worth a visit.

While in Bexhill I cycled along to the museum (formerly the Egerton Park Shelter Hall, built in 1903) to see the original model of the pav. It cost £2 to get in and I had a quick whizz round the fossils and stuffed animals (and the more interesting cars and transport-related items downstairs) before taking some illegal snaps of the model, which includes a circular swimming pool, nude statues and a jetty with diving boards, none of which were ever built.

Me as Robby the Robot

On Friday night I got the bus to Hove Museum for the opening of Robot Invasion! - Chris McEwan's collection of robots, space toys and artwork. (NB Whilst Googling Hove museum I found a website called Fred's Days Out!) The robots are all in boxes, uncaptioned but themed - with all the Robbys in one box; all the K-9s in another. Next door are ray guns and some of Chris's artwork. There are also videos of the robots in action. It's on until 21 February 2012 so go and see it. After they chucked us out I wandered up to the Poet's Corner pub to watch Lucky Jim and enjoy a couple of pints of Harvey's Old.

Four bloggings and a funeral... err website

Many years ago (April 2004 to be precise), I joined the Brighton and Hove Section of the Clarion Cycling Club and rather foolishly suggested they have a website, and guess who foolishly volunteered? So I produced a simple conventional website and updated it every fortnight, when our Captain would sent out the Circular outlining the next ride and including a report of the last ride. As people started buying digital cameras and sending me pictures, I set up a Flickr site so I wouldn't have to choose and process the photos for the website. Every other week I would update the website and manually archive the old ride reports and other sundry items.

The most important items were always the details of the forthcoming ride and the report of the last one. I was kicking myself, therefore, that I hadn't set it up as a blog! So, in January 2011 I bit the bullet and recreated the website as a Wordpress blog. The old website remains in cyberspace, as an archive. To move all the old posts into the blog would have been far too onerous.

Since then, in my semi-retirement, I've been helping various friends and acquaintances to get a web presence, if at all possible using blogs. Blogs can be easier than websites: they're easier to update, and you don't need to worry about hosting, ftp and all that jazz. So many times I've met people who have had a website designed for them by a friend-of-a-friend's daughter's boyfriend, only for them to disappear on a gap year when you need a telephone number changing. You are restricted in how you can customise them however. Just like you can't go to Primark and ask for a frock with different coloured buttons to the one on sale, so you have to put up with what the template offers. If you have exact specifications, you'll need a bespoke website and you'll have to pay someone if and when it needs updating.

The first guineapig was Hilary Ormesher who runs the trendy shop Appendage, in the North Laine. Initially we chose a Wordpress blog, but when the logo she'd had done didn't work as a banner, we switched to Blogger, which allowed any depth of banner. The hardest part of designing blogs, I've found is choosing the right template. Wordpress templates usually require an exact header size, eg 900 x 200 px. When Hilary first came round for a tutorial, she didn't know what a mouse was, but now (with the help of her son) she's happily doing updates and uploading images. I'm hands off now, which suits me - and the client.

I've also set up a blog for glass jewellery designer Annie McCabe. This too is a Wordpress blog but it was only when we'd uploaded a few postings that we discovered that the template we'd chosen (MistyLook) only displayed summaries - with no images - when a catagory or tag was selected, the basis for making the menu work. That was no good at all for something so visual, so we switched to Clean Home. (In case you've come across this problem, here is a list of ones that do and don't.) I also discovered that it is difficult to place images side by side, unless you invoke the complicated 'gallery' option. But there's often a way round these hurdles.

The fourth blog I set up recently was for my singing group, this time in Blogger. I'd sorted out and updated the static website of my singing teacher Udita and used that as the basis for the blog. Here the blog format is not ideal, as chronological postings like videos and audio files will appear scattered about the place. When we have a domain, I may well point it at the About page, and change the Home page (the actual blog part) to News.

Finally, a friend of a friend in London, wanted me to sort out her website, The White Chair. For some mysterious reason I've yet to fathom, she couldn't upload it to the host. She didn't even have the original html files, so I recreated the website, based on an InDesign file. Thankfully it was pretty simple, with few images and it's not the sort of site to need updating very often. It's for a funeral celebrant!

By the way, if you fancy having a go at designing your own blog or website, there's a brilliant book just out called How to design websites. It does exactly what it says on the cover.


It's raining men - Magritte at Tate Liverpool

Tate Liverpool

René Magritte was my first favourite artist (after a brief flirtation with Douanier Rousseau, thanks to my inspirational school art teacher Mr Barker) so I thought I knew everything about him, and I confess I nearly didn't bother to go to the Tate Liverpool exhibition, but I'm so glad I did. Not only did it reacquaint me with an old friend but confirmed that he is still one of my all-time favourites. I suppose the Surrealists (along with M C Escher) would appeal to a lad interested in both art and science, but Magritte's imagery has become so commonplace - on album covers, parodied in cartoons etc - that it's tempting to take him for granted. And although Dali was slicker with the painting technique, when it came to ideas, Magritte was the Daddy.

The exhibition on the 4th floor of the Tate is themed - bowler hats in one room, blue skies and clouds in another - and I really don't mind that, it gives you pause to compare and contrast, and see how an idea developed. There's one room with just two paintings in it - two almost identical versions of 'The flavour of tears' - the bird-leaf one, showing that like William Holman Hunt and other Victorian painters he did often paint the same image over again. What came as a surprise were the paintings from his garish comicbook-inspired 'Vache' period, with which he invented Pop Art - in 1948, his non-surreal commercial work, including some beautiful Art Deco posters, and his very rude erotic drawings for Georges Battaile's Documents, in a darkened room behind black curtains with a notice outside warning punters that they may find these pictures 'challenging'.

It's a big exhibition, and also includes film and photographs, along with sketches, notes and Banksy-like sculptures (a painting of cheese under a cheese dome, nudes on bottles). Once again, the postcards were disappointing - on show is the English version of 'This is not a pipe' but the postcard on sale is the French one, not in the exhibition. The £20 catalogue is good value too, but strangely organised A to Z. It's on until 16 October and cost me £8.50 to get in. You can get a C2 Cumfybus from Lime Street station to the new Museum of Liverpool (not yet fully open) nearby. The rest of the Tate was a pleasure to whizz round with guest-curated rooms full of treasures - and there's a nice friendly cafe overlooking Albert Dock.

Austerity tank at Heywood

I was Up North for my favourite niece's 40th birthday celebrations, but I took time off too to visit the East Lancs Railway for a round trip to Rawtenstall (via Ramsbottom, where Steve Cropper was playing the festival there) and to Heywood and back. The ELR is currently short on steam locos and I was pulled by a Austerity tank (WD 132 Sapper) and 'Thomas' (Manchester Ship Canal 32 Gothenburg) double-header through the rainy Lancashire countryside. A pint of Black Witch in the Trackside bar after was most welcome. Hope they have some bigger locos on for the Autumn Steam event in October.


Another extremity conquered: Portland Bill (and Lulworth Cove)

To the lighthouse!

I wasn't expecting to visit any extremities during my holiday to Dorset, just some interesting rock formations, but when my college friend Rick arrived en route for Devon, a lift to Weymouth and beyond was a welcome possibility.

We were staying in Ivy Cottage, West Lulworth - the same self-catering gang as the Isle of Wight last year and Purbeck the year before that. The nearest station was Wool and the bus service (the Damory 103 and the green community 104) was rather limited, but I could get back from Weymouth ok. When we got to to Weymouth however, we decided to go look at Chesil Beach, and then just kept on to Portland and up and up, and way way south to the two lighthouses at Portland Bill. It was blowing a gale (the remains of Hurricane Katia?), the waves were huge and the foghorn was blowing so we didn't hang about. A brief stop at Chesil Beach to pick up a pebble - and it was far too windy to get over the ridge - then back to Weymouth for fish and chips. The Old Harbour had a big banner proclaiming it was endorsed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight, so I went for the mackerel. Not a good idea - the fillets were really too thin to deep fry and I got mainly batter. What they should have done was offer coley or pollock as an alternative to cod and haddock. Said goodbye to Rick and after a quick walk round the deserted seafront got the train to Wool and the bus back to the cottage.

The steps down the other side

What else did we get up to? Sunday: arrived by cab and had a quick walk down to the Cove. Monday: managed to get the new bus timetable but had to spend 2 hours in Wool (in the Black Bear!) before I could get back. My turn to cook and Rick arrived from Hull. Tuesday: above trip to the extremity. Wednesday: bus to Dorchester, a not very interesting place, but it had supermarkets! Thursday: bus to Durdle Door caravan park, then a walk to the sea to see the arch and back east over a big hill with white cobbled path, apparently one of the busiest footpaths in Britain. After a pint of Badger in the Lulworth Cove Inn to recover, went to look at Stair Hole. Friday: bus to Bovington Tank Museum. It was a long walk to the new museum from where the bus dropped me, had a look at the hundreds of tanks in there, and a bowl of soup in the cafe. Then it was back to Wool and another spell in the pub waiting for the connecting bus. Tip: if you want to see tanks in action, go on a Wednesday.

Saturday cappuccino

Saturday was a relatively quiet day down at Lulworth Cove, where I could have done some sketching had I been bothered. Watched Roundhill Rob ascend the eastern headland, while on the other one people played extreme golf. Then it was a lazy bus ride to the church and a stroll back to the cottage. Sunday we got a lift to the station with Steve and it was a long rail journey home via Clapham Junction. Back at London Road, there was a street party going on...

More photos on Flickr.


Miss Willby's scrapbook

I think it's so sad to find albums of family photos etc at jumble sales and junk shops. Presumably they arrived there from a house clearance where the owner had died and either they were without relatives, or their kin just didn't care enough about family history. I have a few of these albums, collected during the Golden Age of jumble sales, circa 1970-1985 in the Guildford area. One stands out from all the rest, however: the scrapbook of a Miss G R Willby, who retired as a head teacher in 1953 and went on a sea cruise to Canada, keeping all the ephemera relating to that journey - cuttings, menus, postcards, receipts and a few photos - in a black photograph album.

It wasn't a good start. She was meant to sail on the Canadian Pacific liner RMS Empress of Canada, but she had caught fire in Liverpool docks. The replacement was French-owned SS De Grasse, renamed by Canadian Pacific RMS Empress of Australia.

Miss Willby was head teacher at Westborough County Primary School in Guildford. I'm assuming this is her retirement treat, but I could be wrong. The scrapbook spans 21 July to 29 August 1953, and 7000 miles, sailing to Montreal and back.

This is the impressive breakfast menu on board for the morning they docked in Canada.

On 29 July she stayed at the Montreal YWCA. She also visited Toronto, by rail, staying (or just maybe having lunch) in the Sheraton Brock Hotel, Niagara Falls (where she collected some impressive menus),

and the less impressive Angelo's Motel (owned by a sick man who had to leave his kitchen planning business in Montreal).

She also stopped at Prudhomme's Garden Centre Hotel, Vineland, Ontario, where she kept the Coronation themed place mats (the waitress was Scottish, she noted). She hoarded bingo cards, hairdressers' and florists' receipts too, plus all the cards and telegrams (mostly Coronation year themed) sent by well wishers.

Could this be Miss Willby? There is no record anywhere of her first name!


Edinburgh 2011

Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon play posters

So, where's the Edinburgh blog I hear you shouting? Well it was such a packed week, I don't know where to start. Maybe I'll just list the shows I went to?

Thursday 11 August
Arrived, wandered down to George Square (where the Assembly shows are this year) and the Udderbelly Pasture for a few pints.

Friday 12 August
13.15 at the Cow Bar: 'Those magnificent men'. This play by Brighton's Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon is about British flying heroes Alcock and Brown, who flew the Atlantic non-stop. The two actors manage to build the Vickers Vimy on stage, and I had a small walk on part as 'small boy' handing a toy plane to Captain Jack. Highly recommended.

18.05 at Canons' Gait: 'Thirty-seven ways of deceiving you, the audience, into believing I have written a new one-man show for 2011 even though I probably haven't, or something' by Peter Buckley Hill. To get a ticket for Robin Ince's free 7.30 show, we had to be in the bar scrum at 6pm, so decided to see PBH's show downstairs. His jokes may be corny, but the man's a legend, having started the Free Fringe many years ago.

19.15pm at Canons' Gait: 'Star Corpse Apple Child' by Robin Ince. He's always good value! At this point he was doing four shows a day!

21.45 at Pleasance Dome: Tim Key - Masterslut. A great performance, mostly underwater in a bathtub! He had a floor plan indicating what he'd do to audience members in certain seats, luckily we were in a quiet zone.

Also saw the Anish Kapoor 'Flashback'exhibition and Body bags/ Simonides at the Art College and Ingrid Calame at the Fruitmarket, where I met Paul Dutnall and Suzanne for a coffee.

Saturday 13 August
No shows! Just hung about in the Book Festival and Pleasance Courtyard with Sam and his friends.

Life Mounds by Charles Jencks

Sunday 14 August
27 bus ride out to Jupiter Artland to see lots of great sculptures in the woods.

Monday 15 August
Lots of art galleries: Anton Henning at Talbot Rice, newly restored Museum of Scotland, down the Martin Creed Scotsman Steps, Fruitmarket again for lunch, then across the road to the City Art Centre, where David Mach was giving a tour round his biblical collages and coat hanger Christs.

21.10 at Pleasance Beyond: The boy with tape on his face. Basically old-fashioned mime and clowning with lots of audience participation. Very enjoyable, but glad I wasn't picked on. This was the only show I went to handing out free badges!

22.40 at Assembly George Square: Neil Hamburger - old school offensive stand-up, John Shuttleworth meets Lenny Bruce! Apparently he was booed off at Reading Festival cos they thought he was for real.

Tuesday 16 August
12.30 at the Stand: 'Go Mr Tony go' by Tony Law. Dressed as an arctic explorer, the now-bearded manic Canadian comedian went through a totally surreal routine. Very funny.

Lunch at Seadogs. John Byrne at the Open Eye. Then back to the Stand through the pouring rain for

15.30 at the Stand: 'Hats off for the 101ers and other material' by Simon Munnery. A song about the R101 airship, then unfortunately it was mostly 'other material', Munnery no longer does his AGM, once with an extra hour in the pub over the road. Still one of my Edinburgh favourites tho.

18.50 at C venue ECA: 'Naive dance masterclass' by Inconvenient Spoof. Another Brighton show, featuring Matt Rudkin and Silvia Mercuriali. I expect dance afficianados and students will find this hilarious - and I did too. Simon Wilkinson was taking the tickets so next I plucked up the courage to go on his...

20.00 at C Venue ECA: 'And the birds fell from the sky' by Il pixel Rosso. I won't spoil this but it's very immersive, something I normally avoid like the proverbial. It involves video goggles and having to submit control for a long 15 minute rollercoaster (not literally) experience. Take a friend and try it, you won't be disappointed. I'm glad I did!

Wee puppet lass

Wednesday 17 August
More art: Elizabeth Blackadder (but no Baldrick) at the Mound, my top tip 'The Queen: art & image' with paintings (and holograms) by Andy Warhol, Lucien Freud and Gilbert & George, and many others, to Printmakers to see Julian Opie, Scottish National Library to see 'Banned books' (and have a coffee and flapjack), a wander down the Royal Mile to see the street performers, thence to

16.00 at Zoo Southside: 'Steal compass, drive north, disappear' by Brighton's Rachel Blackman. Classified in the Fringe brochure as physical theatre, she plays lots of parts: a selfish man surrounded by strong interesting women, interspersed with dance sequences and other theatrical devices that I didn't fully understand, not being a regular theatregoer. A fine performance tho - and a great soundtrack.

In the evening my son and heir Sam and his girlfriend TJ took me out for the swankiest meal ever at Michelin 'rising star' restaurant Castle Terrace. Then to Bennet's bar to meet up with Bongo Pete and Way-out Wolfie, who'd just arrived to take over audience duties, a bar full of runners, the Hash House Harriers, who run from a pub to a pub following markers made of flour dropped by 'hares'.

Thursday 18 August
Home to sunny Brighton.

So why go all that way to see Brighton shows? Well, where else could you be in a queue with Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee, or get flyered by Stewart Lee (for his wife's show - his was already sold out). I only scratched the surface of what's on, and this year didn't get the Scotsman every day or look inside the telephone directory thick Fringe brochure - I just let it carry me along. I didn't see a dud show - if pressed I'd say Neil Hamburger was my least favourite, but that was on late in the day. It might rain a lot, but in Edinburgh you really do know there's a festival going on.

[More photos on Flickr]

Rail ticket madness

I've written earlier about how the Irish manage to slim down their ticketing arrangements to just one eco-ticket, whereas in the UK you might need eight or more individual tickets - and the various blogs that share my frustration at the waste. The above photo shows (nearly) all the tickets for a journey from London Road Brighton to Manchester and back over a long weekend. I operate on the rule of thumb that you get better deals from the actual train operator you'll be travelling on, so the London the Manchester leg is from Virgin and the Brighton to London bit on Southern. I opted for DIY tickets from Virgin, but I am still expected to carry not only my Senior Railcard, but also the credit card I bought it with. Still, they've managed to put the journey and the seat reservation onto one sheet of A4 paper. For the record, it cost me £11.20 up and £7.60 back.

Now, with Southern, in order to get cheap tickets - £2.45 per single - you have to use a particular train, so for the journey up from my local station London Road Brighton I'll need:
  • a ticket from London Road Brighton to Victoria
  • a seat reservation from London Road to Brighton
  • a seat reservation from Brighton to Victoria
However, you can't reserve seats on these trains, so the seat reservation tickets are redundant!

In addition to these nine tickets (the ninth is the credit card receipt, which includes two other journeys bought at the same time), I will need an Oyster card (or bus pass) to get across London, my Senior Railcard and the aforementioned credit card I bought the tickets with (someone had to pay the full fare recently because her ticket was bought by their son on his credit card - but you shouldn't have to pay penalty charges). Of course I could have bought a ticket from Brighton to Manchester, which would have included travel from Victoria to Euston on the tube, but I reckon that would have worked out more expensive.


Across the sea to Ireland: Part 2 Tralee and Dingle

No, I didn't see Funghi the dolphin (though I sort of might have seen two humpback wales) - you have to buy a boat trip out of Dingle harbour to do that. And no, I didn't get round to rereading Pete McCarthy's Bar before I set off on the train to the most Westerly extremity of Europe. There's a whole chapter on Tralee and Dingle entitled 'Blaming the dolphin' in there, which I did read when I got home. The trouble is, this wonderful book has no index or map.

The reason for my trip was outlined in Part 1; and my thoughts on Ireland's fabulous trains (and eco-tickets) has also been blogged. The journey from Dublin Heuston to Tralee, changing at Mallow, was unremarkable, save for a nifty manouvre around Killarney station. Tralee is the furthest you can go by train. You used to be able to go all the way to Dingle, and enthusiasts are trying to reopen the line, but there's nothing doing yet.

L Quinlan

Tralee is a funny little place - why didn't they build it on the coast, just a short hop away? It has some nice old bars, notably Jess McCarthy's bar on Castle Street (there are a lot of McCarthys in Tralee) and L Quinlan's on Bridge Street (bridge? what bridge?) which has a tea room at the front and a bar, with wild west style swinging doors, at the back - with all the tables in wooden cubicles. I confess to feeling a bit nervous about little Irish Bars - you always think you might be sitting in someone's seat! Also worth seeking out is the Holy Water tap by St John's church.

Holy water on tap

I stayed in two hotels - the big bland brown and beige business Brandon Hotel (hosting a Kerry farmers' convention the night I was there) and the more homely central Tralee Townhouse, above a TexMex restaurant. Both were fine, though at half the price, the Townhouse wins on value for money.

Nancy and Funghi the Dolphin

The 275 from Talee's spanking new EU-funded bus station to Dingle must rate as one of the world's most scenic bus rides, and by the wonders of wifi internet, I was met at Dingle harbour by Ross and Nancy. After a quick look around, we got in their car and headed even further west on the anticlockwise Slea Head drive. Wow, the views of Skellig and Blasket Islands were phenomenal, as we'd been blessed with perfect weather. After passing various prehistoric and famine sites, we stopped right at the tip of Slea Head, where there's a full-size white-painted crucifiction monument, and took photos in the direction of America. There was a woman with a big telescope and I asked her what she was looking at - 'humpback wales', she replied - 'look one's blowing, there's a tail'. I looked through her binoculars, but couldn't see anything except wave-lashed rocks!

Wale watcher

We had lunch round the north side of the peninsular, at Tig Bhric (Brick's pub), a microbrewery that did a dark ale called Cul Dorcha. I had seafood chowder, with crunchy bits of star anise thown in, and dark brown soda bread. Then it was back to Dingle and on the 5.30 luxury bus to Tralee.

Boxty platter

Back in Dublin, I got a 145 bus all the way from Heuston to Buswell's Hotel, right opposite the Grand Masonic Lodge. It's a splendid hotel with a beautiful lobby (though it did blot its copy book in the morning!). Then I walked to Bewley's Oriental Cafe on Grafton Street for tea and a look at the Harry Clarke stained glass windows in the back room, thence to Gallagher's Boxty House on Temple Bar for an early supper of Boxty Platter (pancake, dumplings and potato bread), and back to the Porterhouse on Nassau Street for that pint of Plain. Dublin was getting ready for a hectic Friday night, so I had a quiet Guinness (the cheapest so far) and wifi back at in the hotel lobby.


Saturday morning I had to get up at the crack of dawn to get the 8.45 ferry - so no breakfast, and only cold water in the shower! The taxi to the ferryport cost a staggering €17.20 - so it was €20 with tip - the price of a RyanAir flight to the Emerald Isle! The Jonathan Swift was on time and the weather good, so I took some photos on deck. Back in Blighty I was joined at Rhyl on a packed train (five coaches instead of ten) by Stephen 'Scandal' Randall, thanks to the miracle of mobile phone technology, so the journey back to Brighton didn't seem so long.

[More photos on Flickr]


Across the sea to Ireland: Part 1 Dublin

I'd never been across the sea to Ireland (apart from a flight to Belfast many years ago), so when my American 'cousin' Ross Pipes announced that he and his wife Nancy were to visit Dingle, I had a flash of inspiration and began to plan a trip. Consulting The man in seat 61, I discovered I could get a SailRail ticket from anywhere in Britain for €33 (well, more like €40 with booking fees added) - to Dublin via the Holyhead ferry. As Anglesey was already on my list of 'extremities', that was the way to go - and it'd remind me of those childhood trips to Butlin's Pwllheli - by steam train from Manchester Victoria.

So, on Monday 18 July, I set off. The journey by Virgin to Chester was fine, but here I had to change onto a tiny two-coach Arriva train! Yes, it was standing room only, but the route along the North Wales coast, through Conwy Castle and over the Britannia Bridge was worth it. The day before my sailing the fast Irish Ferries boat Swift had been cancelled due to bad weather, but when I arrived it was only delayed. The passage was fine and I had two pints, beginning my acclimatisation to the nearly €5 pint!

Dublin power station

At Dublin there was no fuss getting through customs etc (in fact I didn't have to show my passport the whole trip!) and I caught a shuttle bus to the centre. I was expecting it to drop us near O'Connell Street - I knew the route to the hotel from there - but it was somewhere called Busaras and I was disorientated. Luckily a chap pointed me to the Luas tram and I got a ride to Smithfield, a stop too far as it turned out, but the route to Jurys Inn Christchurch took me past the Brazen Head - a Peter Chrisp recommended pub - so I popped in for a pee and my first slow-pulled pint of Guinness on Irish soil - and it didn't taste too bad.

Luas trams

After checking in at the hotel, I went for a wander around the Temple Bar area and bought a bag of chips at Leo Burdock's (Dublin's oldest chipper), which I ate in my hotel room. The bag was huge, the chips white and soggy - and I left half of them.

Tuesday morning, I walked over Ha'penny Bridge and bought some stamps at the famous Post Office in O'Connell Street then got a tram to Connelly station to take a Dart to Sandycove. This according to Ian Marchant's book Parallel Lines is the oldest commuter line in the world and is very scenic, providing wonderful views of Dublin Bay as it travels south (in hindsight I should have gone further - to Bray). It's a bit of a schlep from the Dart station to Joyce's Martello Tower, but when you get there you can also have a peep at Forty Foot, the once gentlemen-only bathing place, where now 'Togs must be worn'! Inside the museum you can climb the thin spiral starcase to the windy top of the tower and catch some more views.

Togs must be worn

Back in Dublin I alighted at Pearce station and made my way to the (mostly closed for renovation) National Gallery for a very nice lunch of brocolli soup, passing Sweny the chemists on the way. I was taken by the paintings of Paul Henry, especially his landscapes of Western Ireland with their big cloudy skies, and the watercolours of George Petrie - and a fine Feininger shardy skyscraper in the foreign section.

Prince of Wales's seat

Bongo Pete had recommended the tour of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland. It was 2.15 and according to the notice on the door, the daily tour would start at 2.30 - so in I went. It was well worth the €2 - the tour started in the huge main lodge room with its chess-patterned carpet, but also took in some smaller themed rooms including an Egyptian one (with mystery trapdoor!) and the gothic splendour of the Knights Templar room with its Prince of Wales throne. The guide was very entertaining and this tour is highly recommended.

Harry Clarke stained glass

After a coffee and wifi at Fixx at the end of Molesworth Street, it was off to St Stephen's Green for my date with a Dublin Ambassador. After a quick look around the Little Museum of Dublin (not yet open), my greeter Philip took me off to microbrewery Porterhouse on Nassau Street for my free pint. He didn't drink - so I got two: Oyster Stout and TSB! (I tried the Plain Porter on my return to Dublin some days later.) Then I went off to photograph the 'Why go bald' sign! The perfect end of a tiring yet exhilarating day in Dublin. To be continued...

[More photos on Flickr]


Tea revives the world

If you like the pictorial maps of Neil Gower, you'll love this exhibition of MacDonald (Max) Gill (1884-1947) - his maps and murals - at the University of Brighton gallery. Who? Well, he was naughty Eric's forgotten younger brother (and he married Edward Johnston's daughter). The exhibition is full of fantastic maps, such as Wonderground (1913) for London Underground and Tea revives the world (1940), full of detail and in-jokes. He also did murals for the Queen Mary and the Glasgow Empire Exhibition of 1938. He also designed the lettering for the War Graves Commission. A highlight for me were the locomotive drawings done by Eric (of Goldsmid No. 316) and Max in 1896 at the very start of the exhibition. Don't forget to visit the corridor and cafe areas, where many of his original ink drawings are on show. More details on the Uni's website and you can hear a podcast by Melita Dennett here. The exhibition is on until 31 August.


Euston to Heuston - and beyond...

Luas trams

Because of the Celtic Tiger and the EU, Ireland has a fabulous public transport infrastructure. The trams, trains and buses - and stations - are all spanking new and comfy. What's more, they have a state of the art ticketing and reservation service. To get from Brighton to Holyhead and over to Dublin I needed eight tickets: one there, one back, and a reservation for each leg of the journey. To get from Dublin to Tralee, changing at Mallow, I was surprised to find that I only needed one ticket - it would have been six in England! Genius...

Irish rail ticket

What's more, when I got on the train I discovered that my seat had my name on it (I'd booked the tickets online and picked up the ticket from a machine by keying in a number)! How cool is that!

Named reservation

So, no arguments like you get on English trains. On the way there, the Chester to Holyhead leg was on a tiny two-coach Arriva train... and yes it was crammed - standing room only. On the way back, the Holyhead to London Virgin train was five coaches instead of ten, and the reservation system had broken down! Plus there was hardly any space for luggage - on a route known for holiday makers. They did add five more carriages at Chester, but by then people were very cross.

There have been several blogs lately (here's another one) proposing to redesign UK rail tickets to make them more understandable and concise. Well, look no further than Ireland - they're already doing it.

Tralee to Mallow train, at Tralee


Brighton works and the Leader class

I heard the other day that a friend (Roundhill Rob) had experienced disappointment that 92220 Evening Star wasn't the last loco to be built at Brighton works (it was built in 1960 at Swindon where it still resides). According to Wikipedia, the last steam loco to be built at Brighton was BR standard class 4 tank 80154 in 1957, which was the 1,211th locomotive to be constructed there. 130 of these workhorses were built at Brighton; many are preserved and still doing sterling service on the heritage railways - though apparently not this one.

Checking this out I stumbled across an experimental loco designed by Oliver Bulleid that I'd never heard of before: the Leader class. This was an 0-6-6-0 articulated loco with a cab each end and the boiler, coal and water supplies all encased in a smooth double-ended body, making it look more like a diesel loco! Five were ordered, but only one was built, in 1947 - CC101 (Southern number), 36001 (BR number) - but it was scrapped once Bulleid had gone, in 1951. Steam was on the way out; the diesels and electrics were coming!

After Bulleid left Brighton works in 1951, he went to Ireland and produced a shorter and lighter model for Córas Iompair Éireann: CIÉ No. CC1, a turf/peat-burning locomotive. The design was modified by Bulleid's assistant John Click to have a single-ended boiler with the cab located at the firebox end, water tanks at either end of the loco and a bunker at the cab end. One of a proposed 50 was built in 1957, but it was withdrawn in 1963 to be replaced by diesel locos. Some photos of the ugly beast can be seen here.


Home cookin' American style

If you like recipes, check out my American 'cousin' Ross Pipes's blog www.grandpashomecooking.typepad.com. A bit on the meaty side for me but I expect he'll come up with some good old veggie ones soon. ;)

Over on Blogger, he also reviews books - he used to own a couple of bookshops in the past. I'm heading west to Ireland in July, and then further west to Tralee where I hope to meet up with Ross, who will staying in Dingle. I have already met his cousin Jerry, and his nephew Matt, here on home soil in Brighton.


Worthing Open Houses

St Paul's Centre by fred pipes
St Paul's Centre, a photo by fred pipes on Flickr.
It was a lovely day on Sunday so I decided to head west to Worthing. When I cycled down to the pier, however, it was shrouded in sea mist! So I headed east, past Coast Cafe des Artistes to the first Open House on my list. One of the best things about the Worthing Open Houses is the lovely logo by Teresa Stewart-Goodman (who also designed the Ukelele Festival logo), and you can find her work at 8 New Parade (venue 6), the home of Alison Milner. See the 50s style tables she did for Habitat (and maybe buy one or two in their closing down sale!). Also of note were the amazing botanical cut-out drawings of Sin Mui Chong-Martin and of course my old mate from the Dragonfly House, queen of the scraperboard Vanessa Rattray.

Red phone box gallery

Alison recommended I visit venue 2, 9 Eldon Road and I wasn't disappointed: four 'mature' students from Northbrook exhibiting together, including photographs and engravings of demolished and threatened Art Deco buildings by Laurence Olver and 3D photographic sculptures by Barry Williams. Then it was back to the sea for a coffee at Coast, where I bumped into Brighton artist Nick Orsborn eating cheesy chips! People at the next table said they'd had trouble finding venue 12, the red phone box, but I saw it straight away on the corner of Marine Parade and the Steine, where forces day was going on. I was looking inside, when I was joined by the curator of Phonie Art (Facebook link), Leona Angus. The phone box had been adopted by the council and the exhibition had all been created using mobile phone cameras! Another one is planned for Shoreham.

Frink sculptures from first-floor Alexander Terrace flat

Time was running out so I cycled over to Alexander Terrace, to the first floor apartment at number 5 (venue 13) for a close up view of the Desert Quartet by Elisabeth Frink, and bumped into illustrator and ex-BiG member Nadia Chalk, who was exhibiting her exquisite pen and pencil drawings there. I was going to pop into venue 14 also on Alexander Terrace (which claimed the world's smallest cinema), but I was expected to take my shoes off, so I didn't bother. I spotted something else that Brighton Open Houses didn't have - it's own car!

Open House car!

It was nearly 5pm so on the way back to the station, I had a quick look inside St Paul's centre (venue 17) - an amazing church (mostly a cafe!) with a splendid alter piece... and the mixed display of art there summed up my afternoon (so I did get to see some Sarah Young images after all!). Round the corner I just caught the end of the Secret Back Gardens, and bought a strawberry plant! Great day out, and despite my moby battery being almost gone, managed to check in some Gowalla and Foursquare locations! It's on next weekend too, so give it a go.


Follow up to Daily Moan #18: Southern's sale

Well, finally, after two weeks a reply from Southern about them sending me the wrong tickets. This is most unsatisfactory - how many other organisations, when guilty of supplying the wrong goods, would put the onus on the customer to claim  a refund? The refund (of 70p) is not worth the effort anyway, so I won't waste any more time with them... disgusted of Brighton.

Dear Mr Pipes

Thank you for contacting us on the 07 Jun 2011 regarding the tickets you booked via our website during the 90% off sale. Please accept my apologies for the delay in our response.

We apologise to any customer who experienced problems with booking a ticket online over the weekend. We extended the 24 hour sale to 4 days to allow as many people as possible to find the 90% discounted tickets they were after. Like most online travel sales, the number of fares available at the discounted price were limited.

Unfortunately the customer service advisor you spoke to over the phone gave you the correct information. You must apply for a refund and then re-purchase the tickets you require. I am sorry I cannot assist you further on this occasion.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us directly at: comments@southernrailway.com or www.southernrailway.com/your-journey/contact-us/contact-us-form/ You can also contact our Customer Service team by phone on (08451 27 29 20), fax (08451 27 29 30) or in writing (Southern Customer Services, PO Box 3021, Bristol, BS2 2BS).

Kind regards

Naomi Altass
Southern Customer Services


Silver citizen

Yours truly is featured in the latest newsletter of Brighton and Hove (and Portslade) Age Concern! See a PDF of it here.


The Thames estuary and Leigh Folk Festival

Man in nighty

Despite it being so close, I've never really explored the Thames estuary (except for my trip to Margate last year, and driving through Essex to get the ferry from Harwich) so the Leigh-on-Sea folk festival was a great excuse to visit that part of the coast. I stayed in Southend, which has attractions of its own, at my first ever 'boutique' hotel, Hamilton's, on the recommendation of TripAdvisor. I wasn't disappointed... but first, back to the trip itself.

Seasoned festival goers

I'd very stupidly booked a ticket to Victoria - I should have gone to London Bridge - cos crossing London was a nightmare. First the tube only went as far as Embankment, so I had to detrain and drag my bags up to Trafalgar Square which was in complete gridlock - waste of an Oyster card credit. Eventually it cleared and I pushed my way on to a Routemaster 15 to Tower Hill, along with hundreds of perplexed American tourists. On the way it bucketed down, but eventually I got to Fenchurch Street station where I took the train to Southend via Basildon. After leaving my bags at the hotel, I searched out the funicular, but it was out of order. So I got the new lift down to the pierhead and bought a (return) ticket for the train to the end of the pier. Southend pier is supposed to be the longest pleasure pier in the world - it's long, but there's not much pleasure at the far end, except the thought of getting out of the high winds and back to shore. Then it was on to Leigh-on-Sea. I got the wrong bus (only went to Leigh Elms) but caught another one to the church, where Modeste was singing under a small gazebo. I had a pint of Hobgoblin from the beer tent and watched The London Bulgarian Choir bopping along to the African beat. Then it was down the steps to the Old Town and a fish supper (hake) at the Crooked Billet, along with a pint of Brewdog Alice Porter, and outside it was raining stair rods again! A walk to the station past the cockle sheds and home on the train.

Sunday lunch

On Sunday, after a great veggie breakfast at the hotel, I caught the first bus to Canvey Island, only it went nowhere near the seafront! Hmm, so I caught it back to Leigh and alighted at the station. The High Street was one big street party with Morris men and clog dancers everywhere - and every pub car park had a stage. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly who I saw... but I did enjoy the Punch and Judy at the east end of the Old Town. After a £2 tray of Leigh cockles in the Peterboat car park, I was joined by Nick to see John Otway, who is always good value. Martin Carthy had apparently lost his voice so as Nick headed back to the smoke for a gig at the Barbican, I sat myself down in the Clarendon scout hut to watch Helen Arney. Unfortunately after Matt Boulter (of the Lucky Strikes) finished his set about 2/3 of the audience left! Being top of the bill isn't always what it's cracked up to be! So it was back to Sarfend on the train and some sweet chilli noodles and a pint of Brentford Best at The Last Post, a good old Wetherspoons pub.

Gravesend ferry

Monday I waved goodbye to Southend and got the train to Tilbury. The 99 shuttle bus to the ferry terminal was not well signposted, but after I asked at the station I was told it was outside the dentist's over a footbridge containing many steps to lug my bags up. Now, if you like urban decay, take this trip! I found the actual ferry terminal by following two chaps who seemed to know where they were going, over an ominous iron bridge down to a wooden car park. The ferry Duchess M was about to leave, so I jumped on, paid my £2 and enjoyed the journey from the bow (I love ferries!). Gravesend ferry terminal, near a Victorian looking pier, was no better, with piles of rubbish dotted about and no signage to the station. But I found it and got the train to Rochester, then a new high-speed train to Sittingbourne, then finally a train to Whitstable where I dragged my bags down a straight boring road to the harbour and Maxine's lovely house. We had lunch at the Tudor Tea-rooms, haunt of actor Peter Cushing (I had soup) then it was back to the station (another one with a footbridge!), thence to Victoria and back to Brighton, and finally the short hop to London Road and home. Seven trains and a ferry - the Thames estuary in a day!

Many more photos on Flickr.