A literary month

Picture of the new books and SLS Journals

A literary month

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.

Photo from the history talk.
An image used in the presentation. 150 years of progress in one picture. Left – The gas turbine APT – 175 mph in 1975. Centre – Iron Duke (Replica) 60 mph – 1840s. Right – Rocket (Replica) 32 mph in 1830. Image (C) John New

Editing time

Picture of the new books and SLS Journals
The final proofs for the two new SLS books. The final editions are perfect bound NOT wire bound. Images (C) John New.

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.

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?

Coincidence?

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.

Weymouth

Beach scene

Perspectives on our coastal towns.

Beach scene
A packed Weymouth Beach

The English town of Weymouth is currently courting controversy as a result of a local photographer’s twitter post and his remarks of the shabby state of some areas. As a resident of the area I can concur with some of the views but this is a malaise of the British coastal town in general. Several recent news stories highlighted the problems of widespread seaside poverty, and problems with educational standards in seaside towns are even admitted to by central government so there is an issue at a national level for coastal communities.

Long gone the royal visitations that gave Bognor its’ Regis name tag, and locally to the village of Wkye Regis and the Borough of Melcombe Regis, favourite of George III; both subsumed into greater Weymouth.

The mirror of time – Weymouth’s maritime imagery.

You can’t get away from the sea. Some might say that’s a problem if you live at the seaside, others would say it’s a gift. It dominates, drawing like a magnet, inspiring and angering in equal measures. Constraining yet, at the same time, offering the open vistas of hope and opportunity. The big skies, the far off horizon an apparent chance to escape, to flee, but economically a millstone of low wages and part-time, seasonal employment. The history of the British seaside, our great maritime naval traditions, our culinary delight of fried fish and chips, of ship building, scientific exploration, changing with time and, like the tide, subject to its’ never ending ebb and flow.

A glorious past captured by the camera, the bathing beauties, golden sands, charabancs and Mr Punch, mirrored by war and destruction. The bombs that rained down on those same golden sands taking the lives, snuffing out the dreams. The plumes of smoke and flame as The Rex burnt down, the rebuilding of shattered dreams, hope and expectation. Yet, behind it lies the sea, ever present but changeable, shaping our fortunes, forging our destiny, framing our outlook. So moody, blue or grey, cold yet inviting, calm one day angry the next.

The days of the coaster with its’ salt-caked smokestack, the sleek grey of the warship, have been and gone, and the fishing nets lie abandoned. Even the ferry, the twice daily lifeline, gone. But not the sails, they remain, some large, some small, that link with a pre-mechanised past, the time of the engravings, the leather bound volumes, the smell of the salt sea air. Intermingled the Tupperware cruisers, chrome and shiny, whirling radar, and flapping aerials. But the sea, she lies, waiting to pounce, the orange of the lifeboat ever present, another linking thread back through the cameras lens, back to the black and white, the rowing boats and rescues; the breeches buoy, and the rocket apparatus. The ever present sea, at times angry, surrounding, enveloping, shaping, changing inspiring the artist and giving work for the news reporter.

You can’t get away from the sea.

Photo of big waves, Chiswell, Dorset.
Big waves, Chiswell, Dorset.

All images used are by, and remain the copyright of, John New.

NB: The above piece was inspired by an exhibition of Weymouth and South Dorset history in photographs. Weymouth Library, January 2017.

WCRC suspended from running trains

WCRC diesel Upwey

WCRC – Legal constraints update

This legal constraints update is a follow up to my blog entry of 5th January this year regarding the West Coast Railway Company (WCRC).  At that time the company’s operations were under the spotlight due to the pending court case action arising from the Wootton Bassett incident of 7 March 2015.  That case is still proceeding and therefore although some aspects, for example the name of the driver involved, can now be reported many of the the legal constraints still apply.  The ORR report that the next hearing will be at the Swindon Crown Court on 18th March.

WCRC diesel at Weymouth
A WCRC Diesel locomotive at Weymouth 5th Sept 2015. Image: John New
West Coast Railway Company suspended.

In the earlier post an incident at Weymouth on 5th September was mentioned and as that has been an influence in another decision relating to WCRC, now published, further albeit cautious comment is appropriate.  The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) had been conducting a review during December and January of their competence to operate trains on the national network and their findings have led to a suspension notice being issued today.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at ORR said:

“A decision to stop a train operator from running rail services is not taken lightly. However, my concerns about West Coast Railway Company’s lack of appreciation of the seriousness of a collective range of incidents over the last year, coupled with ORR’s concerns on the company’s governance, regrettably make this prohibition necessary. These failings create a significant risk to operations on the mainline network.

We want to encourage successful business operations on our railways and hope WCRC will be able to put in place steps to ensure fit and proper safety management with a view to resuming operations.  Our inspectors stand ready to work with the company to support and advise as it strengthens its approach to safety.”

The ORR website has a full copy of the letter sent to West Coast available for public reading and their website was also the source for the quotes included above.

The issues leading to the suspension

“The safety incidents involving WCRC over the past year include:

  • In June 2015, a WCRC train moved forward while preparing to leave Reading station, due to miscommunication between the guard and driver.
  • In September 2015, a WCRC train collided with the buffers at Weymouth, In September 2015, ORR inspectors found WCRC’s safety risk assessments for operating steam trains were out of date and that, even so, WCRC staff were not aware of their existence.
  • In October 2015, staff on a WCRC train near Doncaster turned off its Train Protection and Warning System isolation equipment, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error.”

The quote above is from the ORR website.

The suspension in context

As West Coast are the leading provider of the crews to operate steam hauled excursions on the mainline network this suspension will leave a serious hole for the short term in the ability of tour companies to run trains. However, this does not only affect steam tours; West Coast are also the supplier of locomotives and crews for a variety of other services too including maintenance services for Network Rail.

This suspension will not totally stop all mainline steam locomotive operations as an alternative Train Operating Company (DB Schenker) also has a licence to operate steam tours. However, DBS do not currently contract to do as many and only time will tell if they have the desire and/or capacity in appropriately qualified staff to fill this (hopefully) short term void.

This suspension will, undoubtedly, have a knock on effect therefore beyond the immediate, and direct, impact on West Coast Railway Company.  We have to hope for the tourist industry’s sake that this company can sort out these ORR identified issues quickly and create the long-term safety culture, which is apparently lacking currently.

The good news to emerge is that it is at least only a repeat suspension, not a complete withdrawal of the ability to operate, there is a light visible at the end of the tunnel if the right steps are taken.

A WCRC run steam hauled rail tour
A WCRC crewed tour. 70013 near Weymouth. Image: John New.

For the sake of all concerned let us hope scenes like the one above will not be absent from the rail tour scene for long.

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Legal constraints on blogging

34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015

Legal constraints on railway bloggers

Legal constraints do not often come to mind when writing about railway matters. I am a transport historian with an interest also in modern railways.  The law rarely impacts on that interest.  Although transport photographers have occasionally had issues over interpretation of photography rights by heavy handed security officers, and there is an obvious need to follow access and trespass guidelines, generally the law is unobtrusive.  This year that has changed.

34067 Tangmere – Wootton Bassett and legal constraints

34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015
34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015 Image John New

It remains possible to talk about this locomotive in general terms and to share photographs like the one above.  It also remains possible to mention that it is operated by the West Coast Railway Company (WCRC).  However during 2013 and 2015 the combination were involved in incidents one of which is now subject to a pending court case.  The debate on the Wootton Bassett incident of 7 March 2015 is therefore now sub judice.  This court case means there are now legal constraints on what can be debated and blogged about regarding WCRC.  As a result of that I am only including the link to the public Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) page with regard to background on the matter.  The incident was heavily debated on national rail forums previously and also covered by BBC News until the related court cases were announced; however, nothing can now be added.

34067 Tangmere – Winchfield and Weymouth

Whether open debate on two other incidents involving the locomotive and WCRC is possible may now also be questionable, hence my mentioning only facts and reports.

The first was in November 2013 when a maintenance issue led to a very serious incident of equipment failure at Winchfield.  The RAIB report has now been published, and no prosecutions have been announced.

The second was at Weymouth when some internet forum reports suggest Tangmere was apparently allowed to hit the buffers on 5th September 2015.  That something did hit the buffers and move them is undeniable, as identified by the scrape mark visible in the photograph below taken four days later. The RAIB website has been checked and this incident is not on the currently under investigation list.  It appears therefore that there are no legal constraints arising due to possible court action on either of these specific incidents. Despite that, there must still be a grey area for bloggers. Can we currently debate the competence of WCRC?  This arises as an assessment of their competence will arguably form a key part of the forthcoming court cases arising from the 7th March incident.  I have chosen not to take the risk, only adding links to previously published facts and showing my own photograph of the publicly visible trace evidence.

Photo of the buffers at Weymouth showing the scrape mark from impact. Image: John New.
The buffers at Weymouth showing the scrape mark from impact. Image: John New.

Reports of disappearing society funds.

As I was preparing this post another grey area case came to light via an internet forum post.  A name was mentioned for an individual leaving a society, together with reports of a police investigation into a substantial shortfall in the funds.  In the absence of information regarding whether any arrests have been made etc., not something to debate further as it would be too easy to accidentally mention issues that have subsequently become sub judice.

As bloggers we know that fraud has happened before, for example in this 2010 case in Wimborne, but we also know that honest individuals do resign when money is found to have gone missing on their watch.  The clear difference between the current and the former scenario is that the Wimborne situation is now closed and can be debated openly, the contemporary one, arguably, should not.

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