Due to the increasing pressures of my SLS workload since taking on the role of Journal Editor, plus other work related to the new GDPR system there was no time to write and publish an April blog post for which I apologise.
I had content to write, just not the time to write it, therefore it became the first missing month in over two years.
Another really classic example of outright stupidity from the last few days. On checking my Nectar account I discovered I had not updated it when my last email address was deleted. After updating the link to the current one I discovered the change could only be stored by entering a validation code. Fair enough, except it gets sent to the obsolete email with no option offered for an alternative. Duh. What numpty did the systems check on that as a process.
Hopefully April will see two updates
I have content to write, so hopefully April will see two updates.
I ended last month’s blog expressing hopefully “What would have been the January content will therefore appear during February when I get back home and resume normality.” Well that hoped for return to normality during February went well, or not! What it ended up as was a month of solid editing to get my second SLS Journal and Newsletter out on time. My problem; not the page layout et al, but all the catch up reading of back submissions to find the content ready to drop in. It is easing, the third edition will be a bit easier again from the experience gained from editing the first two. I am already planning content for the issues through to December.
Is there a lesson to be learnt by other Societies – yes – succession planning. That said, we did try, but no other suitably experienced member volunteered. My lesson learnt, if you know at the back of your mind that reality is you are going to get roped in regardless, give in early and take the longest lead in period you can get.
The earlier editing job
As mentioned in the November blog post I was also Production Editor for the SLS in producing the first two volumes of material from The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives.(Cover images above)
Narrow Gauge & Miniature (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 1)
Eclectic Electrics (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 2)
Sales went live on the Society stand at the NEC and copies will also be available from us at the London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace and over the following Easter weekend at York Model Railway. They can also be ordered from me direct by post. The SLS Board has approved electronic selling but I have yet to get the system into place on the Society website.
PayPal and other computer gremlins
The most recent editing nightmare, a fault with the way the Google app on i-phones and i-pads interacts with the code we got from PayPal to sell tickets on the York Model Railway Show website. (I am Website Manager) The culprit is not Google Chrome, that is fine, but their search app. The app ignores the shopping cart it is supposed to open and tries to log directly into the customer’s PayPal account. This system has worked properly for eighteen months, why does the mighty Google feel the need to make changes that then b*****s up other systems that were working properly. Not good customer care by them, although I like to think our own response was better than the other customer care issue discovered recently – Apple repair fault logging and repair protocols (See next item).
Apple’s appalling customer care protocol
This final item is a bit of a rant and gives me another Victor Meldrew feeling about the sanity of some modern ways of doing things. Have organisations learnt nothing about customer care?
Scenario – I drop my Apple laptop it needs a fix as the display becomes intermittent. Oh yes I think to myself there is an Apple dealer in Bournemouth, I’m in Bournemouth tomorrow, I will drop it off for repair. Off I duly tootle to the said Apple shop (Solutions inc) who I have used before. To paraphrase –
“I’d like to drop this off for repair please.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No I just want to drop it off for repair.”
You can’t without an appointment.” (Duh thinks I – a shop that doesn’t want you to buy the service!!!)
“So I have to waste time and money driving home today, ring you, and then come back again? That’s madness and unacceptable!”
“But it is Apple’s policy Sir, no appointment, no drop off, no fix! (Shades of Jobsworth, or worse, me thinks)
At this point I got very firm and eventually a techie deigned to appear from the bowels of the shop, discuss my issue and take the lap-top in.
Dear Apple – Either the staff at your dealership are a complete bunch of numpties or your accredited repair logging system, they claim they have to use it, is the most ridiculous state of BAD customer care I have ever come across. How about this – It’s a shop and authorised repair dealer, you walk in with a repair job, they take the order and any due examination/inspection fee money and then a techie looks at the job later in the queue (customers are not stupid – we understand queues and waiting lists), it then gets fixed/can’t be fixed and the customer is rung and advised either it is ready or is bust beyond economic repair. How difficult is that?
Finally – Dippy the dinosaur in Dorchester
Despite the horrendous monsoon like half-term weather on the day over half term we had booked, and the car failing to start, we visited Dippy with the family. The outcome was two awed grand-children and four very impressed adults.
PS A final note
It’s not that February was a hectic month or anything but this update for the month got posted almost at the deadline of midnight on the 28th. Final editing took place today, Thursday 1st March!
This Blog post with the January update is very brief owing to circumstances outside my control. A strange month; the first edition of the SLS Journal with me as Editor went out roughly as planned despite the Royal Mail managing to chew up the printer’s proof and then deliver it about three weeks late. 17 days for a packet to travel from Walsall to Dorset (and then arrive damaged) is hardly First Class service! A family crisis then arose requiring me to be away from home for a few days
Left: The image was downloaded from the internet several years ago and the attribution details have been lost. If the image is yours I will happily credit it if you supply the details.
My grandson developed appendicitis so a decant to Yorkshire to be on hand to provide lifts, do the school run with his brother etc., etc.
Update: A thank you to the NHS in York and at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) for the work they are doing to make him better.
Delayed January content
What would have been the January content will therefore appear during February when I get back home and resume normality.
When I started to write this blog post about changes and progress, I felt a bit like a real life incarnation of Victor Meldrew whilst at the same time trying desperately not to fall into grumpy old man syndrome.
There have, undoubtedly, been many changes that are progress. As just one of those positives I could have written, produced, and distributed this article by analogue means at any time since Caxton brought the printing revolution to Britain. My father taught printing and I grew up around printing presses. Those originally used individual type, the industry later introduced hot metal casting systems before later moving forwards again to more modern offset litho’ press; I now work with IT based word-processors and publishing systems and have not touched a typewriter in years.
Old style, when properly done, may have produced a slightly better impress output but it was hard, demanding, physical work; working digitally is so much easier, quicker and cost effective. There are downsides, however, as the following examples from the last couple of months show: the latest upgrade by Apple has made my iPad, on which I started writing this piece, obsolete for software upgrades and that from Adobe significantly slows up my old tower PC. Do I care?
At present the answer is no, there is currently nothing I want to do with the i-pad I can’t still do without this latest system update but you can bet that behind the scenes Apple will have some tricks up their sleeves to render more of the systems unworkable. Like all technology companies they make their money selling new stuff, trying to persuade us the new is better. The tower will get updated in due course, I’ve had it a fair while, but it is an example of creeping obsolescence, it still works, it is other things that have passed it by.
A sad parallel observation though is the fact that after you’ve bought the latest thing you find that often it is less robustly made in order to keep the prices down and operationally isn’t either better, or a progression on what went before. This fact of life is apparently beside the point, the suppliers want us to believe that it is better. I already have two suites of software applications where, although I have the latest versions, for some tasks I am forced into loading the older version as the new iteration has had useful functionality withdrawn. Yes the new versions do new things, some of which I need (e.g. e-book publishing tools), but the suppliers ignore the fact that some of their old tools are (a) still necessary and (b) made the workflow for doing some tasks quicker and easier to achieve.
Another annoying issue is suppliers making changes for change’s sake. Again from experience working as a user side rep’ in software development teams; a minority of clients yell loudly for changes so the provider makes the changes in order to keep them sweet/sell more copies. The other 75% (the silent majority) i.e. all the clients who were happily using it because it worked for them get brassed off at changes they neither wanted nor needed! Those changes, which were unwanted by the majority, never get reversed.
Obsolescence is planned, even getting a replacement protective cover for my existing i-pad rendered more difficult by subtle changes in the design of the devices by Apple. Covers for the latest issue don’t fit the older kit; it looks the same but isn’t quite the same size! We do notice, but are powerless to stop the changes. The final piece of design stupidity to mention, the recent i-phones that are sized too big to fit into a standard size shirt pocket. What’s that all about? No matter now good the technology, too big to use!
To paraphrase a famous quote from the economist J K Galbraith, under capitalist economic models man exploits man, under other economic systems it is reversed!
It was this Act, or rather being caught in the outcome of the ignoring of some its’ key principles, that sparked several Victor Meldrew moments recently. Back in the 1980s I was part of the Association of District Councils national development team working on this. The various strands of industry and government agencies came together and the new Act improved many things. Yes back in the day government was still about trying to improve quality not maximise the profits. Sadly recent observations whilst travelling show that with all the cut-backs in highways inspection teams and a cavalier attitude to strategic planning have led to many key aspects being ignored at both the macro and micro level. For example:-
Reinstatements – poorly done and with materials that are not the same as the originals. It is a reinstatement; the key is in the word. All done to cut costs, the public and compliance don’t matter if that corner cutting exercise can be got away with as there are no inspectors to enforce it. Councillors don’t bother, there are no votes on it, only hard work to get the jobs redone.
Signing – non-compliance with the set standards and just badly done to cut costs. An example recently was a Road Closed Ahead sign placed at the roadworks, not the 200 yards away at the entrance to the street where it would actually have been of some use to motorists!
Conflicting works – the worst and most annoying aspect from Highways England (or whatever it is badged as this week!) and their motorway/trunk road schemes down to local levels. Coordination processes to avoid this were a key aspect introduced with the Act. Nowadays, it seems, the idea of having HAUJC meetings to do this coordination is totally ignored; again doing it properly in compliance with the Act to benefit the public costs money. All to often you these days long term roadworks and overnight closures are happening with the obvious diversionary alternatives being worked on at the same time. That is true on both motorways and local roads; no one in authority seems to care any more.
There is more I can add but when you find yourself diverted from one long-running major scheme into the chaos of another the thoughts of “why did we waste our time and effort” come to mind. The biggest indictment is that I’m just glad I’ve retired from that career and am no longer part of it.
Music release formats
I note the latest trend in music is rereleasing tracks on vinyl. After being originally on vinyl, then probably on cassettes, CDs, as mp3 and now once again on vinyl as a supposed vinyl revival. Just my cynical view but is this the latest cunning plan by the technology providers to get us to buy yet another version of a music track we’ve already bought in several previous iterations and formats? If they are really lucky they will also sell some people a new record deck too.
Change is always change, it is not always progress.
Images and text above remain copyright John New and are not released into the public domain.
Two connected, but disparate, sections to this blog post describing my literary month. The first a completed task and introduction to a new role as Editor of The Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal; the second related to local theatre productions.
Stella, my wife, stage managed Me and My Girl so a lot of work in the household went into that both in the months leading up to the show and in show week itself. To add to that drama connection the local Royal Manor Theatre here on Portland recently ran a production of Old actors never Die and as a consequence we got that title at Weymouth Writing Matters as one of our a prompts. Given it will soon be time to assist as a volunteer with the Weymouth Pavilion Panto prep’ time it seemed appropriate to also add my own small tribute to the thespian’s craft below.
A teaching day
The other generator of workload was an invitation to give a talk on the history of railways to a group of Polish exchange students staying over at Clevedon in Somerset. The students had come over to the UK to get experience of a range of topics and issues prior to selecting a career: one of those careers being the option of working on the railway back in Poland, hence this talk. Initially envisioning the usual hour to an hour and half of talking (as for a local club/society evening) it eventually turned out to be a four hour, full day. My recent BACOM experience and training at Bournemouth in presentation skills certainly came to the fore; it went well. A day’s teaching, a first for me, and an experience I found surprisingly satisfying.
Since coming back from summer holiday life has been hectic with book editing for The Stephenson Locomotive Society. A deep end start to the role I’ve also just taken on of Editor for the bi-monthly Journal; first edition will be January/February. But back to the books – launching at the Warley Model Railway Show at the NEC on 25/26 November the first two volumes of material from the SLS Archives.
Narrow Gauge & Miniature (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 1)
Eclectic Electrics (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 2)
On launch weekend they will be available on our stand (Hall 5, Stand D44) at £9.50 each (£7.50 to Society members). Postal sales will be available post-Show once the P&P situation is finalised. (When available generally it will be announced on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, the SLS Twitter feed and the SLS Publications page)
Old actors never die
They say old actors never die; like the ancient pagan gods they remain alive as long as they are adored, worshiped, remembered. Their old posters and fading photographs line the walls of musty corridors and theatre bars, slowly fading as the plays they starred in pass from living memory.
The ephemera of a craft, the passing of time, each show a snapshot, unlike cinema, where time remains frozen. The youthful face of the craggy old star shambling from Hollywood café to occasional TV studio appearance, their old movies endlessly repeating on obscure channels; a cruel reminder of past glories. The long legs dancing the kick line, the piercing smile of the male lead, forever captured, reality the decline, the baton passed to the new replacement.
Times change, tastes change, the star of yesterday’s western unnoticed in Wallmart, the silent queens of the silver screen, glorious in mono, passed over in colour. No more repeats of the Keystone Cops to entertain the kids at the Saturday flicks: 633 Squadron flies to face the deadly Hun no longer, the Eagles Dared but the Empire Struck back.
The house lights dim, the curtain rises, the new crop take the stage; from the wings the old look on, coaching, training, remembering. The words they spoke last the ages; for some their memory will be immortal, names spoken in reverent tones, their routines rehashed and recast, even perhaps immortalised as a new sweet desert, fruity, tangy, was Dame Nellie like that in life?
As they say in showbiz, another opening of another show. As the door closes for one for another it opens. For some, the very best, it will stay revolving, but sadly, for most, like a child’s spinning top the hum and buzz will gently fade away.
Copyright on all the above remains with the author – not released into the public domain.
Across the world this week mental health will be featured on radio and television programmes and in our daily newspapers. The reason the World Health Organisation (WHO) have designated 10th October as World Mental Health Day. It is the hidden illness, the one nobody ever talks about, the one with all the stigmas attached. “Men don’t cry”; “Buck up, you’re not ill”, “What have you got to be worried about?” you hear it all the time; but not from sufferers. There are too few safety valves, all too often the sufferer bottles up the feelings, then breaks catastrophically.
I link my quad heart-bypass op 10 years ago to accumulated issues; a primary cause being workplace stress. I hope my two written pieces included below can put over the alternative; it is out there and needs to be shared.
When you’re standing on top of the world and you start looking down it begins; a mix of fear and exhilaration, waltzing in on the wind in the air, a maelstrom possessing your thoughts. They react, taking over your brain, turning, spinning, one moment laughter, the next like someone has grabbed your neck, garrotting, you feel for a moment that you can’t breathe. Then the panic attack disperses, you look, take in the view, the far distant horizon, blue and hazy. Not touchable but definitely visible.
You know how sometimes you smell something and it’s the same effect. Grabbing you, taking you out from where you are, to the place you remember; often fondly, but sometimes with fear, leading down into a dark abyss. On a good day you’re abseiling, the tethering rope holding fast, the drop manageable, the climb back a quick hop onto the escalator.
When you ride the wind, taking the chances, the horizon is in reach, an achievable goal growing ever closer. When the wind takes you, it gusts and buffets, twists, turns, the horizon spinning and turning. Only you will notice, inside all is in turmoil, but outside all is looking normal with the world turning as it always does, always will.
An October morning like any other
but that’s not actually true
alarm gone off as usual
tea and coffee made
dressing for work
today though the bus
probably off to the pub later.
What will it be like?
Will it be stressful?
Is this how a prisoner feels?
Normality for a while longer
who am I kidding.
Get through it, keep going
No tears, relief,
yes feeling that
Don’t plant the boss whatever you feel
Management may be callous
Thumping them though
not really the answer
The sort of B’ word you want to say
welling in you, but stifled.
It’s over, twenty six years gone
You can walk away
The big door opens
You are free!
Free to begin again
Do what you’ve always wanted to do
Stress free at last,
a last look at the door over your shoulder
Then back to your mates
Off to the pub, a celebration
No regrets, just relief
So glad, unlike them I can get a bus
No walk back to the shackles
of a hell hole office
Yes, I do feel like a released prisoner
The scars may be easier to work off
but they’re there going deep
Management bullying no more
Release, freedom, retirement,
Thank god I’ve survived
and, unlike my father
I’m still healthy enough to enjoy it.
– – – – – – – – – – –
Hoping that in some small way this post today can at least help someone realise they are not alone.
Updates – Support networks
Since writing the above I have added the sections below.
For my wife and I the spring and summer has been an eclectic mix that seems to have involved much traveling for us to and from Yorkshire, our knowledge of motorway snarl-ups increased several times. The trips have been for both business and pleasure/family reasons, and to this we also fitted in a brief visit to London and a holiday in Norfolk! Stella even managed a trip with the Quangle Wangle choir to Brittany. Although railways, large and small, have been the subject of several visits our summer has included many other activities; a veritable smorgasbord of activities.
A season of contrasting weather
One of the drawbacks to event photography, in my case photographing rail tours, is that the event happens when it does; you get no choice in what the weather on the day brings. Rain or shine the event happens and you take what you get. This outdoor season has brought with it both extreme rains and days of sunshine so hot the tarmac was melting.
Add into that mix a day when the wind gusts at the Downs School Railway 90th anniversary gala were so strong and sudden we had to decamp the stand for safety reasons as the marquee in which our Stephenson Locomotive Society promotions stand was located took off and it has clearly been a memorable season weather wise . At least that was on the last day of the event creating the bonus of getting home about an hour and a half earlier than expected as we had to decamp the marquee for safety reasons!
The 50th Anniversary celebration of Southern steam
Back in July 1967 the Southern Region of British Railways, as it then was, finally called the day on steam traction in its’ operational area. The newly completed electrification of the Waterloo to Bournemouth route took over with diesel traction elsewhere. Although steam traction lasted elsewhere in pockets until 1968; the last fully steam worked mainline in Britain went cold. Back then I lived near Shawford and watching the Bournemouth Belle had been part of my childhood. The growth of the modern steam hauled rail tour industry was unforeseeable back then, watching the reincarnation of the Bournemouth Belle run to mark that 50th anniversary run had to be done by traveling back to Shawford. That was the day the tar melted, very glad I wasn’t the fireman on Clan Line!
More to come next month
This month’s post is a shorter than usual for several workload reasons. Hopefully I will soon have time to make further posts.
Images – Copyright
These images remain copyright the author and ARE NOT released into the public domain.
The summer to date has seen me getting back into active railway modelling. This was initially courtesy of sprucing up the train set I originally made for my daughters circa 1990 so that my grandsons could use it. As a piece of modelling it is nothing spectacular, just a fun to operate circle and sidings, which will hopefully keep the boys interested in trains and modelling as they grow out of Brio.
A layout scrapped
Sadly however the summer also marked the end of my former Classic Train Set layout. The storage area used for it needs to go and without any, current, replacement area being available sadly it required dismantling. It had gone into storage originally not due to any lack of enthusiasm but because it was proving too cumbersome to move to/from exhibitions and once there, too bulky for easy assembly.
As the picture above shows the final reason for its demise was the lack of anywhere at home, other than outside on the drive, as a place where it could be assembled for testing and operation. All track and other components have been saved and eventually a replacement will be built, as to timing – if/when by de-cluttering other stuff storage space for a new build can be found.
A new layout started
As described above working on refurbishing what over time had become Ellie’s layout for her two boys to use (my grandsons Ted and Matthew) has also rekindled my own interest in railway modelling. Finding the time to progress the new layout Plum Hollow (see last blog post) is, however, not proving as easy as making up my mind to start.
A layout – work in progress
The Pebbles End project will also get some more attention over the autumn and winter. Like Plum Hollow it is small enough to bring indoors to be worked on using our fold-up camping table and then put away again. Both layouts can also sit on the spare room bed in the periods between visitors coming to stay provided we keep a space free for them to go either out in to the garage or up in to the loft on a temporary basis when the beds are needed for sleeping!
With Pebbles End I learnt a valued lesson, even with something you enjoy as a hobby if you put too intense an effort into it you can become burnt out for that activity. Back in 2010 I had committed Pebbles End to the MOMING event to be held the following year and then, as consequence of unsuccessfully using too many experimental construction techniques, the build took much longer to complete than expected. The display was not of the standard I had hoped for and I became disillusioned with railway modelling as a constructor. This disappointment did not kill my interest in railways overall, only for railway modelling, but after completing the MOMING show visit the 85% completed project went into storage, and was not touched again for some time. My modelling mojo had been killed. When I eventually got over that and felt interested again in modelling I was surprised to discover that mental block on undertaking active model making had lasted five and half years!
An existing layout rediscovered
In a de-cluttering and tidying of the garage exercise recently undertaken I rediscovered the baseboards I built back in the 1990s for a layout that would have run completely around the inside of the garage. The proposed layout was to have been based on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) incline and Goathland station. The boards had actually been neatly stacked behind some other items and forgotten, not scrapped after all. Nothing has yet been done with them, nor is anything likely to be done with them in the immediate future (due to the space constraints mentioned above) but at least the baseboard build is one job saved on a future project. As for that NYMR proposal; I realised the track plan would have worked in the space available but only with use of train set curves – if I was going to put the time and effort into finishing it that a project of that size deserved those minimum curves were a compromise too far. With the benefit of hindsight the abandonment was a blessing in disguise, if I had progressed further I doubt it would have been completed.
Railways – a summer catch up (Part 2?)
The above concludes Part 1 of this summer catch up post but there will almost certainly be a second, and possibly even a third, instalment. On the research front it has been, and continues to be, a busy year and with visits to railway related venues too, there is undoubtedly more to come.
The first query I suppose is do I still call them baseboards? The construction uses standard fruit boxes obtained from local supermarkets and topped off with a single large cardboard sheet. The latter came from our local cycle retailer, the chain store Halfords, and again free after asking as traders have to pay have their trade waste removed.
The boards are not complete, I intend to add a polystyrene slab above the base using 60mm sheets from a local DIY store so as to add some extra depth. The depth is so that I can add a river crossing, most American scenic railways appear to have such a crossing, and also so that under track level electric points can be added. I had thought of using a push rod, wire in tube method, but that would restrict positions where the layout can be operated from. At this stage it is likely that I will use a control panel separated from the layout via an umbilical connection allowing flexibility in operating position.
The completed three box structure is 1180 x 590 mm in the surface length and breadth or 46 1/2″ x 23 1/4″ in imperial measurement.
Modelling decisions – still TBC
The main issue outstanding currently is deciding on which coupling type to use. Some of the stock has damaged couplings so a decision is not academic. In N Gauge the Rapido type is standard but it is not easy to decouple for switching. Also some of my older stock I have discovered pre-dates the NEM coupling pocket system so swapping couplers requires a new fitting to be added. There are several automatic systems available, but they are do not appear to be universally compatible.
For the short-term my plan is to get the track loosely pinned down and powered up so that operational practicality can be assessed using the stock that has the working Rapido couplings. Once that is finalised, and the scenic treatment also determined and mocked up, the couplings issue will be determined and if magnets are required get them installed.
I also need to refine my scenic sketches so that I can add a screened off area to facilitate stock exchanges off set and exactly where I need to cut the polystyrene layer for the river valley.
Apologies for the heavy edit after the working page draft was accidentally published earlier as a post! (July 2017)
Reading this through I noted the dimensions were not given. Now added in above and on the Plum Hollow main page. (Nov 2018)