Summer Review Part2

Blakeney Seals

A summer catch up (part 2)


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.

Blakeney Seals
Seals at Blakeney Point, Norfolk (Taken from afloat). 6 Sep 2017 (C) John New.


A season of contrasting weather

33207 photo
On a day of torrential rain – 33 207 at Weymouth. 2 Aug 2017 (C) John New.

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.

On the day the tar was melting unit 158 883 crosses the Harbour at Lymington, Hants. 5 July 2017 (C) John New

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!

Downs railway in rain
A day of rain and gales. Downs School Rly Gala 1 May 2017. (C) John New

The 50th Anniversary celebration of Southern steam

Image = The Belle
35028 Clan Line at Bournemouth with the return 50th Anniversary Bournemouth Belle excursion. 5 July 2017 (C) John New

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.

Does an exhibition have to inspire directly?

Art exhibition observations

At last week’s Writers Group Meeting the day’s writing challenge was to look at the adjacent art exhibition and write about one of the pictures. However, faced with a selection of paintings that didn’t particularly inspire me to write based on their subject content, I pondered on the work by the first artist who’s name was displayed, thinking; who is she, who is it behind the name? The work displayed, two views of what looked like images of the Lake District and one of a walled garden in sunlight, form a character shape in the mind: a liker of the pastoral, a creative person, a holiday traveler, or is it deeper?

For obvious reasons I have left out the name here. It doesn’t really matter of course, her work as presented is what should count, but on some days the creative in me wanders. the abstract and obtuse taking off in a direction of its own and often on a tangential flight of fancy. Is the name a cover, a pseudonym? At a local charity art exhibition probably not, but then, is the artist actually proud of her work or somehow feeling the displayed pieces could be better, that hiding behind the anonymity of a name change, protects her, or even his, true identity.

Is there a deeper meaning?

Martyrs memorial, Tolpuddle, Dorset. Image: John New

What do the chosen works say about their inner character? Was the juxtaposition for this exhibition of the three images deliberately chosen to create the contrast? The first a bright summer day in the cosseted world of the grand household, the land of the gardener and servants placed as a contrast alongside a gently pastoral version of the rugged upland world of the isolated hill shepherd and harsh mountain winters, is the choice making a statement about society or was it merely accidental? Her soft portrayal of bleak northern fells, the home of massive estates and the life of the privileged built on the backs of working men and women toiling in poverty in mill and mine, was it picked to contrast or compliment the garden scene? The garden may be Athelhampton House and if it is Athelhampton was it chosen because of its’ siting adjacent to Tolpuddle, another representation of grandeur built on the exploitation of humble farm labourers thus another subliminal dimension based on the Georgian struggle for workers rights?


Alternatively, is the selection mere coincidence, the observation of a casual tourist artist, the pick of the perceived best from the artists portfolio and,  if it wasn’t the day after the feverishly politically charged atmosphere of a general election, would I have even taken this line of thought?  Regarding the choice I suspect the latter, the portrayal of societal angst through art, too much part of the semi-closed London set; the Hampstead inner circle, the chattering classes beloved of Radio Four. This is local, unpretentious, random sampling. The evening class and art group not the coffee house bespoke studio, nor even the local Art Week offerings so often given titling and write ups pretentiously adding little to the selected works.

Who ever you are you’ve put your work out there for all to see, and hopefully, purchase for a good cause and for that we can only offer thanks.

Legacy – battlefield tranquility

The view into 'Bloody Meadow' Towton, Yorks.

Legacy of war

Warfare, and the sites of major battles, appear to leave a legacy behind at their site; perhaps this is merely through coincidence of their preservation as memorials, but I believe there is more to it than that.  The synchronicity with the recent blog post covering the Delville Woods site (Happy New Year Jan 2017) is accidental, my most recent visit to Towton battlefield in early-February was a short-term decision, however, there are too many similarities with other battlefields observed over many years for the visit to pass unremarked upon.

Towton field

The battle of 1461 is fully described by the Towton Battlefield Society on their website with an excellent 3D graphic of the site and the disposition of the armies. One of the bloodiest days of war in British history; 75,000 men at arms fighting hand to hand in appalling winter weather conditions on Yorkshire terrain that contributed to the appalling casualties. Although the numbers are disputed it is likely around 28, 000 died that day either on the field itself or in the rout that followed.

The view into 'Bloody Meadow' Towton, Yorks.
The view into ‘Bloody Meadow’ Towton, Yorks.

In numbers of dead the battle at Towton outstrips the figures for the first day of the battle of the Somme (19,280) by nearly half as many again (circa +45%) but for many reasons it is the Somme that is embedded within the British psyche as the battle which epitomises slaughter in war. In other ways too the Towton field has some similarities with the Somme, the battle was fought on rising ground and one army had begun with their backs to a river. For the fallen on the Somme, however, the river was not the nemesis the River Cock was to  become for the Lancastrian forces at Towton, many fleeing the field either drowned or were slaughtered as they attempted to cross.

Each battle site has its memorial, that at Towton small and low-key, that for the fallen on the Somme at Theipval major and significant. The Lutyens memorial and the modern museum are excellent examples of their type. The museum on the site is a recent construction and an apt legacy for those who fell. It brings knowledge to a modern audience and also separates the inevitable commercialism of souvenir retailing, and the necessary functionality of parking and toilets etc., from the solemnity of the memorial itself.

The horrors and bloodshed of fighting on days like Towton and the first assault in the battle of the Somme can only be imagined by those, like myself, lucky enough to have avoided direct experience of warfare. For the combatants the horrors were too real, is it coincidence that J R R Tolkien, who was at the Somme, wrote so darkly in his descriptions of the battles fought in Middle Earth. At Towton the forces on both sides were representing English combatants, just one battle in the conflict which has subsequently  been labelled as the Wars of the Roses. The saddest aspect of Towton is a more modern one; over the years the site became known for the Towton Roses growing on the battlefield; a rare, and possibly unique variety, with white and red petals  credited by legends to the blood of the battlefield. Almost 500 years after the original conflict, another conflict was to destroy them; after ploughing of the site in the second world war no traces remain.

A first civil war on English soil, the lessons not learned sufficiently to either prevent the second or the bloodshed to follow in Ireland. These words may appear to be random, topics not truly linked, but they are linked by observations on these sites over many years.

Battlefield tranquillity

However, visiting Towton recently reminded me of how often such sites retain an aura of tranquillity after the battle has passed into memory. Animals seem to sense it even more than humans, I first came across this as a teenager, a friend of my father had horses that wouldn’t be ridden, only led, on the bridleway across a local battlefield (Cheriton, Hampshire).

Towton: The day in question, sunny but cold, the skylark singing adding to the sense of calm despite the presence of heavily trafficked main roads visible not far off. Obviously some of that ambience was down to the site’s general location; a rural field is often quiet, therefore, whether or not it is a battle site that ambience will prevail. However, this aura is the “something” over and above that which is difficult to describe but can be felt. My seven year old granddaughter clearly felt it, after talking about the battle and reading the explanatory signage she was sufficiently moved on the way back to the car to want to place a tribute on the simple memorial. In the absence of flowers a bunch of grass had to suffice; the act simple but moving.


Sadly as this post was being finalised mainland terror in the UK was once again running as the major lead in the news alongside other ghastly occurrences elsewhere. The first the death of Martin McGuinness leading the media to rehash the IRA’s activities alongside his later life, the second the appalling atrocities in London, all unfolding as I was loading the vehicle to head to the capital. Having only the previous week been to a public lecture about the life of Eric Lomax, who despite his appalling treatment by the Japanese during WWII, managed to meet and forgive his torturer, it all seems so pointless. Whether major battles, or smaller scale terrorist activity, when will we ever learn that bloodshed just begets more bloodshed and violence? Many, I am sure, will disagree, but surely we have to learn from Eric Lomax, and not the terrorist, to quote the last line of his book – ‘Sometime the hating has to stop.’

Image Copyright John New 2017.

Happy New Year / Delville Woods

Detail from the commemorative frieze in the museum.

2017 – Happy New Year

This first blog post of 2017 was to have begun, as it does in the heading, by wishing readers a Happy New Year for 2017 and then continuing solely with this content about my writing. However, as you will see later, computing issues continue to aggravate hence the additional material below.

Delville Woods, Longueval, Somme, France.

View of the woods on 8 July 2003.
Delville Woods. The white cairns on the horizon marked the front line positions. The worst fighting here was between 14 & 20 July 1916. John New 2003.

Spring morning – Delville Woods

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
No smoke, no guns, no flame

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
No blood, no gore, no pain

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
Where white stones mark the slain

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
Just tranquil thoughts remain

It’s quiet now in Delville Woods
No smoke, no guns, no flame.

John New 2003 (as revised 2004)

The above is a poem first drafted in the adjacent coach park immediately after visiting the the Delville Woods battlefield and South African First World War memorial museum (Link 1) (Link 2) at Longueval, Somme, France on a still and quiet day in 2003. At the time one of the many Iraq wars was in progress, the whole idea that as a society we have learnt nothing since the fighting here in 1916 struck a chord, hence the poem’s first draft. It was recently adapted as a song by my eldest daughter, Eleanor. (See Ellie’s Facebook for original of the video).

This, much shortened, final, version of the poem came from what was originally a considerably longer piece, which was I quickly felt was so unsatisfactory that I doubt it will ever surface. It greatly benefited from one of the heaviest edits I have ever done on a piece of my own writing and if there is a tip to pass on from that it is don’t simply throw a work away, the kernel of the idea may have been sound. The red pencil can at times also be your friend and not just your enemy.

The museum
View of the museum.


Detail from the commemorative frieze in the museum.
Detail from the commemorative frieze in the museum.
Detail from main entrance arch. (NB Has had digital adjustment)
Detail from main entrance arch. (NB Has had digital adjustment)
Photograph. The cemetery, adjacent Delville Woods.
The cemetery, adjacent Delville Woods. John New 2003.

Computing issues

Microsoft continue to aggravate with their continued way of making unnecessary changes to parts of their software that worked better before the upgrade!  Not that Apple are free from criticism either, looking at the new phones for a potential upgrade and the iPhone7 (the logical choice) I noted as being sized too big to fit in a man’s shirt front pocket. Oh well I can live with the existing one for the time being.  On the positive side, however, my mother is at last trying to use her first computer, a donated laptop.

Microsoft Word – letter templates

Screen grab - Word template editing options
Screen grab – Word template editing options

The first time waster to be reported is the way Word deals with document templates. Nothing actually wrong with the process except that there is no mention that for setting headers there is an Option A and Option B. The fact that if you want a different page one header in multiple page documents the tick box to set that function is not too difficult to find; unfortunately the back-up description of what it does when ticked/unticked is not! (I think in fact it is missing completely) I am sure the help file writers very carefully proofread the help file, but whilst the spelling and grammar may be OK they failed to notice the glaring omission that what Word actually does varies according to when you FIRST save the document in relation to that tick box being ticked or unticked. This tutorial supplies the answers (see 4th entry from shereens dated 29 November 2015 for full text) and I wasted several hours during December before finding this out.

Microsoft – two steps forward – three steps backwards!

Whilst writing about Microsoft regrettably also more time wasting as a result of the Windows 10 upgrade. The move function when reorganising files used to a simple one, highlight the necessary file(s) right click, drag and drop. Although that principle is broadly the same in Explorer (Win 10 version) it seems to result in a lot more clicks, swearing at the machine and accidental programme opening than previously. Definitely a case of two steps forward and three backwards for me.


All images and text on this page are by, and remain in copyright to, John New. Video and music remains copyright Eleanor Grady. They are not released under Creative Commons.

General status update

The Kelpie statues, at Falkirk.

General status update

The Kelpie statues, at Falkirk.
The Kelpie statues, at Falkirk.

A general status update as it has been a while since I posted anything here so time to get back onto the blogging trail. It has been busy summer including helping both my daughters make family house moves, two brief holiday breaks, one in the Lake District and a second in Scotland together with presenting and writing a conference paper. In Scotland we saw the amazing, award winning, Kelpie statues at Falkirk.

Early Railways Conference 6
A wooden waggon at the Causey Arch. Typical of the early railway period.
A wooden waggon at the Causey Arch. Typical of the early railway period.

The conference was an excellent event held in Newcastle, with the cradle of early railways being Tyneside and adjacent areas a most appropriate venue. My own paper was on Why Replace the Horse? The subsequent write up stretching over the summer; now awaiting the peer review, and hopefully, acceptance for the ultimately published proceedings book.

Current status

Working full-time at home this week on web updates and management committee reports in my role as PRO for the Stephenson Locomotive Society (SLS) but definitely missing the anticipation of a further year at Uni. After several short courses on IT and Graphics at Kingston Maurward College, and then three years at Bournemouth University, it seems very strange not to be getting new books etc., and anticipating the new modules. I have plenty of on-going research in hand, to say nothing of the website rebuilding and writing to be done, plus attacking the Autumn tasks of the garden, so I won’t be short of tasks, that is for sure.

Corrupted software issues

As for today a fight with the blog software; this would have been posted yesterday if the part of the package needed for adding new posts hadn’t been corrupted.  I still have to fix the Instagram links and plug ins as isolating that has fixed the editing and updating processes.  Why can’t IT stuff just work?!