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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Cymru’

The only perfect railway is the one you invent yourself

Or, some completely fictional history

The other week, I wrote about how there are just too many interesting railways to pick one to build a model of, which is one reason that none of my modelling projects ever approach completion; indeed, most of them never approach being started. Some, though, have developed further than others. In particular, I mentioned a plan for a fictitious narrow-gauge railway in the Rhinogydd, and said I’ve started slowly aquiring suitable stock for it. What I didn’t mention is that I’ve also put together the start of a history of this entirely invented railway. I first wrote it down a few years ago, and although it is a very high-level sketch, has a fairly high level of implausibility to it, and probably needs a lot of tweaks to its details, I think it’s a fair enough basis for a railway that is fictional but interesting.

Narrow-gauge modelling general does seem to have something of a history of the planning and creation of entire fictional systems; rather, I think it’s something that has disappeared from British standard gauge railway modelling, partly due to the history of the British railway network. This, then, is my attempt at an entry into this genre. If you don’t know the Rhinogydd: they are the mountain range that forms the core of Ardudwy, the mountains behind Harlech that form a compact block between the Afon Mawddach and the Vale of Ffestiniog. The main change I have made to real-world geography is to replace Harlech itself with a similar town more usable as a port; all the other villages, hamlets and wild mountain passes are essentially in the same place as in the real world, and if you sit down with this fictional history and the Outdoor Leisure map that covers the district, you should be able to trace the route of these various railways without too much trouble.

The primary idea behind the railway is that profitable industry was discovered in the heart of the Rhinogydd. Not slate as in Ffestiniog; the geology is all wrong for that. The industry here would be mining for metal ores, and it isn’t really too far from the truth. There genuinely were a whole host of mines, largely digging up manganese ore, in the middle of what was and is a very inhospitable area; all of them were very small and ultimately unsuccessful. The fiction is that an intelligent landowner realised that a railway would enable the mines to develop; so, using part of an earlier horse-drawn tramway, a rather circuituous route was built from the middle of the mountains down to a port at the mouth of the Afon Dwyryd. The earlier tramway, also fictional, would have run in a very different direction, from the Afon Artro up to the small farms in the hills overlooking Maentwrog. Why you would want to build a horse tramway over such a route I’m still not entirely sure, but it means that my Porthdwyryd & Dolwreiddiog Railway can be a network, a busy well-trafficked main line in one direction, and a half-abandoned branch line in the other. This is of course not too dissimilar to the Welsh Highland Railway, with its Croesor and Bryngwyn branches, originally both main lines but both later superseded.

I did, a few years ago, draft a whole outline history for the railway, trying to explain quite why such a thing would and could exist, and how it might have at least partially survived through to the present day. It was an interesting exercise, although I’m not sure it would be a very interesting piece of writing to post here. I do like the thought, though, of writing it up as a full history, complete with some unanswered questions; and then, when I do build models of the line, I can claim that it is at least an approximately accurate model of something that actually did run on the railway. I quite like the idea of steadfastly maintaining that it is actually a real place—what do you mean, you’ve never heard of it before?—and that I am trying to model, however imperfectly, trains that really did exist. I can always be very apologetic when my model “isn’t as accurate as I’d like”, or when I “haven’t been able to find out” exactly what colour a given train was painted in a given year. I wonder how persuasive I will manage to be.

Readers' Letters

Or, some of your questions answered

Time to answer some of the questions that have been sent in over the month or so since I revived this site.

Occasional reader Harold from Winchester read yesterday’s post about the Battle of Hastings and wrote:

Didn’t you write about that before?

Well, yes, it turns out that exactly ten years ago today I also wrote a “what might have happened if the outcome of the Battle of Hastings was different” post, including the same story of how the outcome was nearly different, and the side comments on how the battle has always been treated in English historiography. I suppose, if anything, it’s interesting to read the two side by side and see if my opinions have changed much over the past ten years, or if my writing style has evolved in the meantime too. Let me know if you think it’s better or worse than it used to be.

Regular reader Sarah from Ipswich writes:

Can I come with you on one of your trips to Wales?

Frankly, I wish I was going to Wales in the near future. All the nearby bits of Wales are closed to visitors at the moment, though. At some point I need to get myself back up to North-West Wales and visit the trains again, of course. Hopefully that will happen, even if it doesn’t now happen this year. As for the nearer bits of Wales: well, we’ll have to see how things progress I suppose.

And finally, long time reader E Shrdlu of Clacton writes:

Now you’ve brought this website back from the dead, are you still going to keep up the same running jokes and bring back all those series of posts you used to do years and years ago, like reviewing books you hadn’t finished?

Back in the mists of time I did indeed write reviews of books I hadn’t finished reading. I suppose you could call it a deconstruction of sorts, or an exercise in honesty, because they were at least all (I think) books I had tried to read, and failed to finish. Investigating why I failed to finish a particular book is interesting in itself, and admitting I didn’t finish it is more honest than just writing a review and saying “this is a bad book”. Moreover, if you read through those posts, you’ll see there were a broad range of different reasons for not finishing each book. One of them ended up being found by its author, who I had carefully not accused of plagiarism because I knew he was a former top barrister with lots more money than me.

I have to admit, I’m in the middle of drafting the next Books I Haven’t Read article. It’s probably going to be quite a long article, because it’s about quite a long book. I’ve also made sure it’s by a safely-dead author, so I can freely express my opinions about their poor understanding of archaeology or their failed attempt at polyamory. Feel free to guess who, and what, it’s going to be about; it’s a complex book, a complex topic, and it’s probably going to take me a while to finish it.

Photo post of the week

In which we hunt for fossils

They do say that if you want to go looking for fossils on a beach, you should go in winter when storms disturb things or bring clifftops tumbling down. So just after Christmas, we went to Dunraven Bay, just near the mouth of the Afon Ogwr, because frankly if you want to be able to pick fossils up randomly off the sand on a beach, the coast of South Wales between Porthcawl and Cardiff is one of the best places in the world. Dunraven doesn’t just have fossils, though, it has a haunted garden. It did have a castle, but the castle was demolished in the 1960s, leaving behind the walled garden and the ghost that lives there.

Mossy trees

The walled garden

I'm not sure this is accurate

The cliffs of Dunraven Bay

Looking out to sea

Huge ammonite, over two feet across

Smaller ammonite with coin for scale

Running about on the beach

Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of the ghost.

Photo post of the week

Dw i wedi mynd i weld Sion Corn

Up to North Wales for the weekend, to help out with the trenau Sion Corn. My Welsh isn’t good enough yet to actually speak it, but good enough to understand when I hear one of the drivers trying to persuade a small boy that the loco is actually powered by a dragon inside the firebox, a la Ivor The Engine. The boy wasn’t having any of it.

The weather was grey, steely and windy. At times you could see across the Traeth; at times visibility was down to a hundred yards or so. Naturally, the time it decided to rain sideways was about five minutes after we’d decided we’d have time to walk over to Harbour Station before the rain started.

Cleaning out the ashpit

In the middle of The Cob

Overnight the storm grew worse, and in my bunk I could hear the wind outside and the rain hammering on the window. The next morning I was up early, so we could do a short-notice early-morning shunt to get a loco out of the Old Shed; as we shunted, it was pitch-black and cold but at least the wind had died down a little. As the locos started to warm up and come to life the dawn broke to show that there seemed to be just as much water, or more, on the landward side of the embankment as on the open-sea side. The salt marshes between the Cob and the Cambrian line’s embankment were a choppy, whitecapped sea, and inland the flooding went up the Traeth almost as far as if the Cob had never been built.

Flooded fields at Pont Croesor

Feet

In more ways than one

Tonight, we watched Simon Armitage’s documentary on Gawain And The Green Knight, and it gave me the irrational urge to go trekking up into the Marches until I find a cottage in a small valley with thick woods. It reminded me that, a while ago, I was sorely tempted to walk the Severn Way, the long-distance path that starts in the centre of Bristol, running through the back of dodgy estates, past the chemical plants of Hallen and the nuclear power station at Oldbury, and follows the river north and west right up to its source on the flanks of Plynlimon. It’s 224 miles long with a net climb of about 600 metres, just under 2000 feet, which sounds like a relatively gentle 1:600 slope on average. Somehow though I doubt it would be a sensible idea for me to just set off walking until I get up into the mountains; I would barely get past Lawrence Weston before I started complaining of blisters or something.

Local news: today, incidentally, was the day that somebody found a severed human foot in a park in Bath. We are waiting on tenterhooks to find out where it came from.

Dinosaurs

In which we explore past times

As soon as we got up on Sunday morning, The Child Who Likes Fairies made it very clear what she wanted to do. “Museum! Museum!”

So, we headed into Cardiff, amazed at how quiet the city was. No more than five or six cars parked in the park-and-ride by mid-morning. The museum was, indeed, a hit, particularly the “Evolution of Wales” gallery starting with geology and the Big Bang then running through dinosaurs before ending the a fake cave of Paleolithic animals. “Dinos!” shouted The Child Who Likes Fairies and “Daaaaaa!” shouted The Child Who Likes Animals, running back and forth from the dinosaurs to the prehistoric marine animals and through to the mammoth and bison, then back again backwards in time.

There are always so many little things I spot during the day and think: “I must put that into a diary blogpost,” but when it comes to the time for writing things down, I can’t recall what any of them are. What else? We left the museum and walked around the city for a while, popping in the art supplies shop and various phone shops, looking to replace the one that turned into a brick the other day. I notice the site of the Ian Allan transport bookshop in the arcades, closed down nearly a year ago because of a rent increase, is still empty and untenanted even though the landlords have split it into two shop units. After we got home, at bedtime, The Child Who Likes Fairies could still remember what we had done: “Museum! Walk! Dinos!”

Today, back at work, was one of those days full of meetings. The longest meeting, however, was in The Tower, a board room way up above the rest of the building on a little floor all of its own, with panoramic windows looking out over suburbs and fields towards the mountains. As the afternoon dragged on the sun came out, its angle highlighting all the slight ridge-and-furrow remnants of ancient agriculture in the fields of pasture alongside the motorway, and just as the skies all turned blue the tower rocked, slowly but firmly, in the wind.

When I got home, I asked The Child Who Likes Fairies what she’d done today. “Go museum see dinos!” was still the answer.

Fourth Series

In which FP rants about Being Human’s writers not being able to coherently plot from series to series

This blog still gets quite a lot of hits from people searching for the locations used in the BBC supernatural drama series Being Human, particularly the house used in the first couple of series. Now, I wrote quite a bit about those two series on here, partly because at the time we lived in South Bristol, the series was filmed largely in South Bristol, and it was quite an enjoyable thing to watch. The last time I wrote about it, though, was to (successfully) predict one of the plot-lines of Series Three; however, when that series made it onto the screen ,I hardly wrote about it at all. I hardly wrote about it because, to be honest, I didn’t think it was very good.

Now, with at least two major characters killed off* at the end of Series Three, you might have wondered whether it was coming back. Google says that Series Four was announced back in March, but I have to say I didn’t notice. I did notice, however, more of those little pink filming location signs which used to pop up all over Bristol. Not by the Black Castle this time, so no more “Box Tunnel” plotline. Instead, this year, filming is going on in (drum roll) Newport, South Wales. Newport, the town city so good they called it Newport! Newport, on the beautiful River Usk, where you can get shot while having your hair done before getting your head stuck in a disused train. It’s that good.

Newport might be pretty depressing and run down in some parts, but Cardiff has plenty of areas like that too. So, my prediction is that the next series of Being Human is going to feature: some sort of dramatic, thrilling climax based around the Newport Transporter Bridge. It’s essentially the only unique thing Newport has; and if you’re going to feature it, you may as well be dramatic about it. Well, either that, or the Manic Street Preachers are going to pop up in the background, which is less likely.

Noticing that Being Human is coming back, and writing this post, has made me think about exactly why I don’t think it is any good any more; why I think it shouldn’t come back. The biggest problem I have with it, I think, is that its writers don’t really have any sense of how to expand on their fictional world but still retain believability. Each series might make sense on its own, but the three series that have been produced so far, put back to back, make no sense at all as a single work: each new series has introduced new elements which completely break the world already established.

If you’ve watched it, you might be wondering what I’m talking about here. So, I’ll elaborate. Stop reading now if you have never seen the programme but might want to watch it in the future.

Series one: we have Emotionally-Tortured Pre-Raphaelite Vampire, trying hard to give up on the whole “killing people” thing; and Evil Villain Vampire, who is going to take over the world and doesn’t see any place for brooding emotional types who think they can live alongside humans in his worldview. Evil Villain Vampire is working in the police, so he can keep vampires under-cover and make sure their crimes don’t get exposed. E-T P-R V learns to rely on his friends, who defeat Mr. Evil Villain — in the workplace, note — and forestall the great vampire takeover. Sorted.

Series two: E-T P-R V and friends are fighting against some religious “scientists” who are trying to cure evil, and exterminate it if curing it doesn’t work. Our vampire protagonist is still being broody because he’s having trouble with the whole not-killing-people thing again. So, introduce Morally-Uplifted Mentor Vampire, who gave up blood-quaffing as a dead loss some centuries back, and who, way back before the start of Series One, taught Mr E-T P-R Vampire how to not kill people to begin with.

Now, this plotline might all make sense if M-U M Vampire (ooh, an apt acronym) lived somewhere exotic, somewhere difficult for a Totterdown resident to get to.** Or, alternatively, if he’d*** been off on holiday somewhere, out of contact, for the whole of Series One. Touring the Amazon, perhaps, or spending three years trainspotting in Iceland. The only sensible explanation, indeed, is that that was indeed the case and it just isn’t mentioned: because it turns out that M-U M Vampire lives in a very nice house, literally a stone’s throw from E-T P-R Vampire’s workplace — where, remember, the Final Denoument took place in the previous series. Literally a stone’s throw. Not only did Evil Villain Vampire not notice, in the previous series, that an active let’s-not-kill-people mentor character was living two minute’s walk away, but E-T P-R Vampire could have popped round for some advice and a cup of tea in his afternoon break, and still got back to work before anybody noticed.

Series Three: the religious chaps have been defeated, the Core Team have moved to Wales, and the Evil Villain Vampire might not have been defeated quite so thoroughly as we all thought. But, what’s this? There are some other vampires! Who may or may not exist, of course. They might be somewhere in the depths of the Amazon, or they might be deeply under-cover in a second police team devoted to making sure vampire killings don’t get exposed. However, all the vampires are well-aware that these Old Vampires may exist, or may be just a myth that vampires pass down from generation to generation. All the vampires are well aware of the myth, even though it was never previously mentioned. In Series One, Evil Villain Vampire was planning to take over the world, was planning to become Vampire King Of The World, indeed, and nobody seemed concerned that there may, just may, be some possibly-mythical Old Vampires who might still be around and might disagree. In Series Three, it turns out, they were working in the same business as Evil Villain Vampire all along! But didn’t think it worth doing a thing about him, didn’t bother stepping in — although we’re presumably meant to assume that they would have stopped things going too far.

Basically, my point is that: Being Human hasn’t been thought through. It’s been planned one series at a time, and each time a series is made, the previous one isn’t even thought of. No doubt Series Four will introduce some other new characters: maybe a Great Pack of werewolves convinced that werewolves are going to take over the world, which everyone has heard of before and cunningly forgotten to mention. Or maybe the Old Vampires are going to turn out to include the team’s landlord from Series One, who hasn’t been seen for a while. Either way, something new will no doubt come in, and if the previous series are anything to go by, it will be something which would have made a vital difference to everything that has gone before, if we had actually known about it.

I will stop ranting, now. There are ways to do this sort of thing properly, but Being Human is probably beyond recovery. The annoying thing is, it would have been much better if someone had sat down, right at the start, and said: if we do get more than one series, what way will we go? And what do we have to do now, to make sure we can?

* Given that several characters are either dead or undead, and one has been “killed off for good” once before only to return when the writers ran short of plot, this is possibly not a useful measure of whether or not it will return.

** Kingswood, maybe.

*** There’s an essay in the implicit and deep-rooted sexism that shows itself in the writing of the female vampires in Being Human, but this is probably not the place for it, and I am not the person to write it. It is, however, no doubt closely related to the vampire-as-sexual-predator archetype. Here, at least, note that only the male vampires are given any chance of redemption other than death; and that the mentor who demonstrates this the most is gay.

Holiday Weather

In which we remember how cold it was in Wales

All of a sudden, this week, summer seems to be on the way. It can’t just be that we’re doing everything an hour later than we were a week ago. There’s something particular about a cool summer morning, or a drowsy summer evening, that this week has in spades.

By comparison: here’s some photos from Wales, not even a fortnight ago now, but another season entirely.

Caernarfon in grey

Rain on the carriage window

Why was it called Snowdonia again?

Ruined building with waterwheel, Blaenau Ffestiniog

Typical

In which we’re weatherbeaten

Yes, typical. I write something about how unreliable the long-range weather forecast is, and what happens? It’s right for once. And the short term forecast – no snow in Wales – was wrong, too. We had a weekend of rain, sleet, snow, hail, wind. When I started to put the tent up, and was engulfed in a cloud of hail, I should have known it was a bad sign.

Still, the tent didn’t leak very much; and, by wearing all the clothes we’d brought at once, we kept warm. Roll on the next camping trip!

Predicting the future

In which we worry about the weather

It’s a hard thing to do.

The other week, as there’s a long weekend coming up, I booked a camping holiday, in Wales. Only a day or two later, the news outlets started running stories about how awful the Easter weekend weather was going to be; wind, rain, sleet and snow. Oh dear.

There’s still snow on the forecast for Northumbria; but the forecast for the Welsh weather, though, has got noticeably better over the past few days. It’s gone from sleet, to showers, to sunny periods. And I’ve noticed this happening before. There seems to be a tendency now for the forecasts to be more extreme further off, before calming down as the date approaches.

Which is statistically what you’d expect, of course. Extreme weather is, by definition, unlikely, and shorter-range forecasts are always more accurate, so any extreme weather in a long-range forecast is likely to mellow as the forecast gets closer. That doesn’t stop the news jumping on any forecasts of horrible blizzards, though. I’m still worried that the snow forecast for the north Pennines is going to creep southwards over the weekend.