Arrg kxrrt!

Blog : Posts tagged with 'travel' : Page 1

*

Summer railway

In which we have a trip out by train


Never mind “Spring Bank Holiday”: it’s June, and it feels like it’s summer already: last weekend, we had a day at the beach, and both ended up horribly sunburned. As shorts aren’t an option for work, I winced every time I moved my legs. Yesterday: a bank holiday weekend, and beautiful sunshine again, so we went off for a cream tea and a steam train ride.

The footplate of a steam locomotive on a summer’s day is a horribly hot and airless place to be. Nevertheless, riding behind a steam engine seems like such a naturally summery thing to do. So we travelled down to the South Devon Railway,* for a day’s relaxation sitting in railway carriages and watching trains go past.

The South Devon Railway is, as steam railways go, an unusually scenic one. Being in Devon it’s surrounded by lush, verdant countryside; it follows the River Dart down from Buckfastleigh, past rough, rocky rapids; weirs and once-busy mill-races; finally alongside the more placid deeper, lower stretches of the river, down to its tidal weir just by Totnes station. It doesn’t take much effort for a train to trundle downriver; as we sat in the front carriage with the windows open, we could hear the locomotive clanking its way down the valley with barely any steam on, the vacuum pump making a light chiff noise for each revolution of the wheels. Every so often, a gentle touch of speed was needed, and we heard the deeper huffhuffhuffhuff of the cylinders, four huffs to each vacuum pump chiff. We passed sleepy red cattle, wading fishermen, and groups of wading photographers standing on mid-river rocks to take photos of the passing train.

Country trains often ramble a little, and pause unexpectedly. Midway along the line, we halted in a loop, and waited quietly for another train to pass. Other passengers, not used to this sort of thing, looked around and wondered what the problem was. We were too far away from the signalbox to hear the block bells chiming; but we could hear the rattle of the signal wires as the signals for the down train were pulled off, then we watched it slowly chuff past us before we started on our way again.

This is not Photo Post Of The Week, incidentally. That’s because the photos below aren’t ones I took yesterday; as usual, my photo uploads are far too backlogged for that. These, though, are from the last time I visited the South Devon Railway, about three years ago. The fixed stop signal has been repainted since, but not much else has changed.

Buckfastleigh station, South Devon Railway, down end Watering an engine whilst rounding the train, Buckfastleigh, South Devon Railway GWR tablet catcher, Buckfastleigh, South Devon Railway

* Things it is important not to confuse pt. 373: the South Devon Railway, the line from Exeter to Plymouth designed by Brunel, opened in the 1840s, and bought out by the Great Western Railway in the 1870s; with the South Devon Railway, the heritage railway formed in the early 1990s to take over the Dart Valley Railway’s tourist line from Totnes to Buckfastleigh and turn it from a business-oriented tourist attraction into a more charitably-run steam railway. You may spot a problem of similarity with the names there.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Photo Post Of The Weekend

In which we remember Latvia


All that snowy weather we’ve been having – almost all gone now, apart from the enormous pile of snow cleared from the office car park – reminded me of the holiday we took a couple of years back, to Rīga, Latvia. “Make sure you wrap up warmly,” said The Mother. “Get proper thermals. Lots and lots of layers.” “You’ll need to take sunglasses, too,” said Dad, “or you’ll get snow-blindness.”

All of which we ignored, fortunately, because we’d have looked bloody silly. Rīga in February was not too dissimilar from Britain in February, being grey, damp, and largely snow-free; it shouldn’t really have been surprising, because it’s on about the same latitude as Dundee. We took plenty of photos; but for some reason they never appeared on here.*

Baltic Revolution Memorial, 11. novembra krastmela, Rīga

View of Rīga

Museum Of The Occupation, Rīga

Latvijas Zin?tņu akadēmija (Latvian Academy of Sciences), Turgeņeva iela, Rīga

Daugava river and railway bridge, Rīga

* Unlike the above anecdote about the snow-blindness, etc, which definitely has.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Synopsis

In which things are described, briefly


Underground; wandering; the Ministry of Truth; Trafalgar Square; bridges and cabmen’s shelters; a model home; inspirational food and drink; black and white photos; tourist crowds; Soviet badges; gay icons; the wrong pizza; a missed film; gin and vodka; a walk in the park; strange inflatables; shopping streets; more photography; a nice cup of tea; long queues; very big pancakes; even bigger plaster casts; and another cup of tea.

And then, home again. I should write some of it all down, before I forget it.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , ,

*

Local Transport

In which we consider the Wensleydale Railway


Sometimes, when we’re idly sitting on the sofa after work, we put the telly on and can’t even summon the energy to change the channel. Instead, we leave it showing things we’d never normally bother watching; but sometimes that throws up an interesting gem.* Like tonight’s One Show for example. We wouldn’t normally watch The One Show, but occasionally it does have some interesting inserts. Tonight: an item on the Wensleydale Railway.

Coming from Oop North, I’ve been on the Wensleydale Railway a couple of times. It’s pretty long, for a private railway, pushing the length of busy, popular private railways such as the West Somerset, the Ffestiniog or the North Yorks Moors.** Unlike those railways, though, it’s something of a quiet backwater, slightly ramshackle, with a sparse service operated mostly by 1950s diesel trains which main-line companies retired in the 90s. Being a bit of a backwater, appearing on the telly will hopefully be a big boost for it: not many people tend to know it’s there. It may be in the Yorkshire Dales but it stops just short of the National Park; it may be on the A1, but it’s damn hard to notice from the road. If you want to see what it looks like, I run a small Flickr group for Wensleydale Railway pictures, largely because I had some Wensleydale Railway pictures on there and there wasn’t a group for it already.

One of the Wensleydale’s directors appeared on The One Show, and told the world what a unique railway it is; and how it performs a vital link in the community, and in Wensleydale’s regeneration, providing services to commuters and enabling them to get to major regional centres. Neither of those claims, really, are true. The director carefully skirted around the issue of whether the Wensleydale provides those services right now. Certainly, they’re hoping that it will do: that the company will be able to connect to the main line at Northallerton, and thence provide a connection to Newcastle, York, Teesside and Manchester. Right now, though, it stops short, and completing the connection seems to be on a distant horizon. When it does, the company will need a fuller timetable to be a reliable link: at present it operates three trains a day, on about 185 days of the year. The first one starts moving just after 9 o’clock; the last has stopped by 5.

Running a community rail service is hardly a unique aspiration to have, too. In fact, almost every private, preserved, or steam railway in the country has aspired to run a commuter and/or community service at some point. Very few have even got as far as trying it; the Worth Valley Railway did, in the late 1960s, and rapidly found it to be unviable. One private railway has done it successfully: the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch, operating services for schoolchildren. They do not, unlike most private railways, rely on volunteer workers to operate. The Ffestiniog also provides a genuine service for local residents; but it is strongly subsidised by their tourist revenues, which the Wensleydale doesn’t have.

There are two big problems with trying to operate a community service; well, make that three big problems. Firstly, there are two connected problems: price, and workforce. Railways are workforce-intensive, and private railways have to either pay staff, or get volunteers to turn out every day. Moreover, if they want to run a commuter service, they have to persuade those volunteers to start very early in the morning. Paying the staff, and the running costs, is very expensive; when you’re operating a railway which was considered too expensive to run at a profit, you end up charging fares which are too expensive for commuters. A return ticket on the Wensleydale already costs over £10, for the full line.*** Moreover, there’s a third problem: speed. Nearly all private railways have to operate with a blanket speed limit of 20 or 25mph. Over the sort of distance the Wensleydale operates, that means a long journey. Fine for a summer jaunt; not good for serious travel. It’s the speed, more than anything else, that makes the Wensleydale’s long-term aims rather impractical.

There’s nothing wrong with the Wensleydale aspiring to their aims, of being a community railway operating a non-tourist service. I would be very surprised, though, if they do manage to complete them, purely because so many have gone before and so many have failed. If the Wensleydale think they are unique, and if they don’t realise that they are treading down a well-trodden path once more, they are very unlikely to reach that path’s end.

* such as a local news item about the wildlife of the BS3 district which made me laugh, for entirely the wrong reason – but that’s a story for another day.

** Incidentally, the local news has been annoying me recently, by proclaiming loudly that the West Somerset Railway is the longest steam railway in the country. It’s one of the longest, certainly, at just under 20 miles operational and 3 more miles not regularly used; but the Welsh Highland Railway, owned by the Ffestiniog, is longer and not yet fully open. By the end of the year, the Ffestiniog Railway Company will be operating a network pushing 40 miles in length. Longest steam railway in England, maybe.

*** The Ffestiniog gets around the price issue by having local residents’ discount cards.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Photo Post Of The Week

In which we visit a small corner of London


Regular readers might recall that recently, we visited the London Zine Symposium, and I mentioned it on here. That post, after lots of rambling about the aristocratic “anarchists” of the zine world, ended with us leaving the zine symposium and heading off into the big city, with no hint of what we might do next.

Well: we explored. I took K on a walk something like one I’d done before, from Bankside up past St Pauls, through a deserted Smithfield, past Farringdon and up into Clerkenwell. And on the way, we passed somewhere I wasn’t aware of three years ago when I last passed it. So, we went in.

Postman's Park, London

This is: Postman’s Park, right in the centre of the City, on King Edward St; a 19th-century park made from former graveyards and churchyards which abutted each other. A small patch of green. I’d heard about it from Nothing To See Here, which has featured Postman’s Park and its most distinctive feature. The Watts Memorial, to commemorate the bravery of ordinary people.

Memorial, Postman's Park, London

It consists of 47 tile plaques, under a lean-to shelter, commemorating ordinary people who died saving the lives of others, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The painter G F Watts created it, from the late 1880s onwards; he delved into the archives for some of the plaques, commemorating deaths from 25 years earlier.

The rest of the park has its own air of strangeness, being lined with headstones dating from its days as a group of churchyards. Especially on a summer Sunday evening, it is a quietly mysterious place, the art-nouveau plaques of the memorial lending it a subtle neogothic touch.

Memorial, Postman's Park, London

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , ,

*

Symposium

In which DIY is the only way


It had been a while since I’d been to London. We stumbled out of bed early to get to the Zine Symposium, to give us time to get to the station and get the first London train of a Bank Holiday Sunday. The guard didn’t bother to unlock the whole train; he unlocked one door and stood by it, so he could manage the queuing passengers and let us wander along the inside to find our seats.

It didn’t take long to get there; none of the “Bank Holiday Travel Chaos!” that the media loves. We nipped across to the Underground platforms,* before trundling across town to Spitalfields, where the symposium was being held. Beforehand, we explored a bit of the area, from the fashionable and gentrified Old Spitalfields Market to the more traditional junk stalls at the north end of Brick Lane. We squeezed through the Sunday market crowds, as a couple of construction workers looked down on us from atop the bare concrete of the new railway bridge there.

The Zine Symposium was, when we found it, even more crowded than the market had been, a crowd of independent-minded people squeezing between stalls and studying what was on offer. We rather liked the sound of one of the symposium talks, on the problems of running zine libraries; unfortunately, it seemed to be the weekend for promising-but-disappointing discussions. There was little on the distinctive and problematic aspects of zine libraries, like archival, conservation or cataloguing; and it was dominated by a chap called Chris from the 56a Infoshop, who had originally been planning to talk about a different topic, and largely did just that. He started with an extremely narrow-minded and prescriptive view of “zine culture” and worked from there: zines must be radical, political and ephemeral, and therefore “institutions” such as public or university libraries** should be discouraged from collecting them. This is a slightly tricky position for the curator of a zine library to hold; I was left with the impression that he only approved of libraries that he could be in charge of.

On reflection, though, there was a strong link with the class hegemony of the previous day – a stronger link than “disappointment”, I mean. Chris Of 56A disapproves strongly of anybody making money from zines, of zine-writers becoming publishers, or trying to do anything resembling a career with it. Which, essentially, is an extremely aristocratic position.*** Writing is only socially acceptable, in radical/anarchist society, if you have enough time and money to be an amateur writer, because any other approach would be a betrayal of your assumed values. It’s an interesting complement to Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie‘s “who can afford to be an art worker?” approach.

More importantly, though, Chris’s view was completely contradicted by the rest of the symposium itself, a broad range of stalls from all corners of self-publishing. Serious tracts on politics and anarchy rubbed shoulders with silly cartoons; touching memoirs next to artists’ books and prints. Much, indeed, was not too dissimilar to things we’d seen at the Bristol Artists’ Book Event a month before. I avoided the Serious Political Zines but did go for the Serious Political Vegan Cake (Lemon & Ginger Variety), which was very tasty indeed, but did in one aspect leave me slightly worried. I’m not entirely sure what the Serious Political Vegans are going to think of us submitting a dairy-heavy cake recipe to the Symposium Zine.

Full of cake, and with rather less cash on us, we escaped from the throng of zine-fans. It was a very enjoyable event, despite the politicising; and hopefully next time we go back we’ll have things to sell ourselves. We disappeared away down Brick Lane, and went off to explore some more of London.

* of the former Bishop’s Road station, Underground fact lovers

** even somewhere like The Women’s Library, which I would have thought sufficiently radical, but which Chris specifically mentioned as being tainted by institutionality. I wondered if he had a specific gripe.

*** Compare with pre-revolutionary France, where it was perfectly acceptable for aristocrats to have craftsman-like hobbies. Louis XVI’s favourite hobby apart from hunting, for example, was locksmithing. If any aristocrats actually needed to make money from crafts or trade, though, they might suffer the penalty of dérogeance, or, being stripped of their title and status.

6 comments so far. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Road trips

In which we discuss similarities between books and blogging


Last week, in the last Book I Haven’t Read post, I mentioned By Hook Or By Crook by David Crystal, and predicted that – in contrast to the book I was actually writing about – I’d have BHOBC rattled through and quickly finished off.

Well, indeed, I have: it’s read, finished, and back on the bookshelf now. Prediction correct. And, as I said before, I think it was easy to read precisely because it mirrors the way I think. To recap: it’s written as a road trip, during which the writer muses on anything, really, that he finds of interest as he passes. A nearby manor house reminds him of a railway engine named after it, which prompts him to muse on railway engine names in general. The journey from Anglesey to the mainland prompts him to recount the history of the Menai bridges,* and a trip to Hay-on-Wye leads to the history of inn signs, coats-of-arms, and many other things besides.

It’s a book of associations, and a celebration of associative thought. I’m sure that it didn’t actually take place as a single trip, and that when Crystal sat down to write the book he didn’t just muse on whatever came to mind; it’s too carefully structured and crafted for that. But it does read as if that’s what he’s doing. It made me think, moreover, of the way I write this blog, which isn’t at all carefully structured and crafted. But, as I move through the world, I see things which spark my brain alight and give me something to think about; and this blog is the result. It’s full of rambling and digression, but, rambling and digression with a common thread behind it, the thread being the things I encounter.**

I was thinking about this as I got towards the end of BHOBC. So, I was quite amused when I reached Crystal’s thoughts on blogging.

[Blogging] is writing which is totally spontaneous, put up on a screen without the intervention of an editor or proof-reader, so it is much more like ‘speaking in print’ than anything before. And it shows many of the properties of spoken language, such as loosely constructed sentences and unexpected changes of direction. Bit like this book, really…

David Crystal has a blog.*** He started writing it at the end of 2006; he said, as a sort of FAQ page. Given that BHOBC was published in ’07, though, I’d assume that he started blogging either a few months after the book had been written or when it was in the final stages of completion. I’m wondering if writing that book was one of the other things, though, that prompted him to start writing a blog. Because, really, they’re often exercises in a similar sort of vein. Spotting something that interests you, and telling other people about it.

* from building up to burning down, you could say

** Which is all a bit of a longwinded and pretentious way of saying: I write about whatever’s on my mind.

*** Which I linked to above, so you may well already realise this.

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Memories of the year (part one)

In which I remember arriving in Riga


In past years, I’ve usually posted my stand-out memories of the year so far, around this time. Last year there were four; the year before five.

There aren’t so many big, stand-out memories on my mind this year. That’s not because the year’s been dull or empty. Rather, the opposite: there have been so many happy memories that I can’t single many out from the crowd.

This one, though, is from my birthday. It’s getting dark, and I’m looking out of a plane window, at lamplit streets and tower blocks, watching the ground get closer and closer and trying to make out landmarks I recognise from the map. If you know me, you’ll know I don’t fly very often; in fact, at this point, I’ve been up since about 4am, I’m on the second plane ride of my birthday, and also the fourth of my life. I’m scared, not because of the flight or the impending landing, but because I’ve never been to a foreign country quite so foreign before, but I’m also rather excited. We might still be in the EU, but this is definitely more exotic than France or Germany. Latvia at night, as I turn 30.

One comment. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , ,

*

Notes on Riga (part 2)

In which we’re warm on holiday


“Ooh, how are you going to cope with the weather,” everyone said, when I told them I was going to Riga. “You’d better get some warm clothes.”

So I went out, shopping. I bought an all-enveloping thick wooly jumper (in the sale, Burtons in Middlesbrough) and a rather nice brown wool coat (in the sale, Debenhams at the Metro Centre), and, well, that was it. “That’s no good,” said The Mother. “You should have been going to sports shops. You should have got some skiing clothes, lots of layers, something waterproof, make sure you’re properly insulated.”

“Have you packed any sunglasses?” said Dad. “You’ll need sunglasses if you’re going somewhere like that in winter, otherwise you’ll get snow-blindness.”

“That’s a nice coat,” said someone at work. And then she laughed. “You’re going to freeze if you’re wearing that to Riga.”

Take a moment to spot the common theme here. Lots and lots of advice, on what to wear, from people who have never ever been east of Margate.* We do have a Resident Pole in the office, though, who has travelled up that way, and she thought I’d be fine. “I always think it feels colder here,” she said, “than on the Baltic. It’s something about the dampness here.”

And, it turns out, she was almost right. It was certainly damp and grey in Riga, with overcast skies most days, and sometimes a fine misty rain; but it didn’t feel any colder than Britain in winter. No frost, no snow. Chunks of ice floating on the river and the City Canal, but otherwise just like home. If I’d taken skiing clothes, I’d have melted.** As for needing sunglasses – the thought still makes K giggle.

* Well, The Mother went to the Dalmatian coast in 1972, but that doesn’t exactly count.

** One thing we found: every building in Riga, every shop, museum and restaurant, keeps the heating turned up on full blast. On the other hand, when you come inside wrapped up for winter, you’re expected to take your clothes off. All the museums we visited had free cloakrooms at the door, and restaurants and cafes all have communal coat-racks that everyone happily uses.

Keyword noise: ,

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

*

Notes from Riga

In which we enjoy ourselves on the Baltic


Don’t drink the water.

I only poured one glass of water from the tap in the hotel. It was a murky shade of brown. After I let it run for a while. One of the notes in the hotel room said, I think, “don’t drink the water,” in Latvian. I’m not entirely sure, but the bathroom and the water were definitely mentioned. As a bottle of water cost about 30p from a shop,* we weren’t overly bothered.

The hotel, though, was sumptuous. A big room, an enormous bed, and lots of dark wood, carved with lions and cherubs. The combination reminded me of Western European Iron Age art; some Iron Age cults apparently worshipped fierce tigers and severed heads, as far as we can tell. Every morning we woke up to lions baring their teeth at us from the wardrobe.

* or over £1 from the hotel minibar

No comments yet. »

Keyword noise: , , , , , , , , ,

*

Search this site

*

Contact

E: feedback [at] symbolicforest [dot] com

IM: Ask me if you'd like to know

*

Post Categories

Artistic (118)
Dear Diary (349)
Feeling Meh (48)
Geekery (109)
In With The Old (34)
Linkery (37)
Media Addict (164)
Meta (79)
Photobloggery (94)
Political (113)
Polling (7)
Sub category (19)
The Family (31)
The Office (70)
Unbelievable (53)