Monthly Archives: November 2008

It’s Been A While, Hasn’t It?

I’m sorry that I’ve been rather lax about posting here. It’s not for want of ideas, but a terrible shortage of time.

In fact, in the last few weeks, my life has undergone its biggest upheaval in very many years. I have got a new job. More details are on my work blog, with the specific detail on a post here.

I will be back here soon with Part 2 of the BBC’s Bombay railway programme, the story of my departure from the committee of the Sherwood Chapter and some more tales of life with the couple of born-again hippies that Sue and I are fast becoming.

Meanwhile, please bear with me, job applications are very time and energy consuming. Maybe that’s another story for a post on here sometime.

Ride Safe
Dave

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Railway Walks – The Gateway To The Highlands

The final programme in Julia Bradbury’s Railway Walks series saw a return to Scotland for her longest walk yet. 23 miles between the town of Callendar and the shore of Loch Tay took in some stunning scenery, yet seemed to have very little to say about the railway.

 

Indeed, the route of the railway had been fairly thoroughly obliterated since closure with at least one missing bridge and no trace of the old station buildings. At Callendar, the station site is now a car park and at the other end of her walk, Julia Bradbury gesticulated towards the site of the old station and a pier, now vanished.

 

Perhaps it was that I have absolutely no connection with this part of the world, or that the former railway was far less important in this programme, but despite the well-established formula of interviews with local people, including a local historian, an access officer and the chief of the McNab clan, the programme left me wanting to know more.

 

I was intrigued by hints at the area’s turbulent and violent past, but still know almost nothing about it. I want to know more about Rob Roy, a character mentioned several times during the programme and I would have loved to see some archive film of the railway in operation as well as a few grainy photographs of disappeared stations.

 

There is no doubt that this would have been a stunning railway journey and the remaining viaduct remains as a marvel of Victorian engineering and the area provides a great, if long walk along a loch or two. However, the enforced deviations from the original route of the line made this less of a railway walk and more of a walk through this part of Scotland.

 

Despite my feeling of the programme not giving quite as much as I had come to expect from the rest of the series, I hope that BBC4 and the programme makers have another series on the way because there are still thousands of route miles more of closed railway lines just waiting for the tread of Julia Bradbury’s boots.

 

Ride Safe
Dave

Railway Walks – Harbouring History

At the start of the latest in BBC Four’s excellent series of Railway Walks, I thought that presenter Julia Bradbury was taking us to another area that I know, although not as well as  some of the earlier walks in the series.  When the programme opened in Weymouth, I thought we were in for a walk along the route of the harbour line that used to run down from Weymouth station to the former station at the ferry terminal for the Channel Islands.  I once travelled in a train on this line on my way to my one and only visit to Jersey and that must be more than thirty years ago. I also have pictures of the line in both steam and diesel days and I remember walking along it some months after the last train had run when it would certainly have still been possible to use it.  As this programme turned out to be a completely different route, I wonder whether that harbour line is still there.

So, despite my initial expectations, the spectacular aerial shots at the start of the programme took us away from Weymouth station and away from the harbour line along an embankment between housing estates and out of the town towards Chesil Beach and onto the Island of Portland.

The route was a little different to the others in this series which have had a definite rural flavour. there was a distinctly suburban feel to the first part of the walk, which included a descent to a busy road at one point where a bridge had been taken out.  However, the town soon fell behind and as Julia’s series of interviews with local historians unfolded, so did a story that changed my perception of what I had considered to be a sleepy tourist area.

The former station platforms are still there with green Southern Region totems in evidence, although a picture of a steam train headed by a very Western pannier tank shown later in the programme suggests that this line’s chequered history continued into British Railways’ days.

Portland Harbour has a long heritage as a naval port with huge importance during the preparations for D-Day. It is also the last resting place of HMS Hood, which was sunk across one of the harbour entrances to protect ships inside the harbour from another local invention, the torpedo. The site of the former torpedo factory is now a housing estate, but the foundation stone of the factory itself is preserved on a roundabout.

There is still quite a lot of evidence of the military past of the area with plenty of gun emplacements and a Victorian citadel that is now a prison. Much of the former Navy base is now luxury flats and the former railway is now on private property and unavailable to Julia for her walk.

However, the former railway that Julia Bradbury was walking was originally built to remove the area’s best known export, Portland Stone. This limestone has been used for a huge number of buildings from St Paul’s cathedral, whose stone was chosen by Christopher Wren himself during a visit to the island, to the Houses of Parliament. Here in Nottingham, the university buildings that were endowed by Jesse Boot of Boots the Chemists fame are built of this same stone. It must have arrived in Nottingham on the railway and started its journey along the same route that this programme followed.

With the “main line” in private ownership, it was fortunate, then, that the island is riddled with old tramways that were used to carry the stone from the quarries high on the hills that the programme makers were able to use to bypass this area. Julia seemed to relish some of the steep climbs up tramway inclines that would have been worked by gravity when they were still operating. I could almost imagine the loaded wagons coming down the steep hill with wire rope and chain pulling the empties back to the top for another load of stone.

I had no idea that Chesil Beach, that classic example beloved of geography teachers everywhere had ever had a railway along part of its length, but the aerial pictures clearly showed its route.  Although this line was described as yet another victim of the Beeching axe, later in the commentary, it was said that the line had closed much earlier in the 1960s than those lines closed in 1968 as a result of the good doctor’s rationalisation plan.

The walk ended at Portland’s only beach, a pebbled cove. This completed a walk that started in the modern tourist town of Weymouth, passed through a century or more of military and industrial history and ended with images of tourists on Portland the 1920s with the quarrying going on a few hundred yards away. The final shots were of Julia Bradbury on the deserted beach.

Ride Safe
Dave

Festival Of Fire

Festival of Fire was a Mind, Body & Spirit event that took place this weekend at the sumptuously appointed Conference Centre at the University of Nottingham. This was a brilliant venue with lots of space for the organisers’ ambitious programme of talks, entertainment and a large exhibition hall for the 50 or so  stalls in attendance.

This was the second of these fairs that Sue and I had attended, so we are still a long way from having any kind of baseline to compare this event to others. However, we did have a very different perspective on the event to our experience of the Mansfield fair a few weeks ago because, on the Sunday, Sue was helping our good friend Kathy on her stall. Kathy, or Katherine when she is at work as a therapist under the Ray of Light banner, had invited Sue to come along to stand in for husband Phil who was on the radio airwaves this morning at Ashbourne Radio.

My own minimal involvement in the event was to wander around the event with and without Sue and to hang around Kathy’s stall a lot chatting, drinking coffee and eating Sue’s sandwiches.

Just like I did at the Mansfield event, I was struck by the calm serenity that so many of the people attending, both stallholders and customers seem to give out. However, as (very) honorary stallholders, we seemed to be treated slightly differently by many of the other, far more knowledgeable and experienced stallholders. As I walked around, many of them seem to start with an assumption that I was some kind of expert. I took pains to make sure that they knew that I was a very green newbie and without exception, people would explain things to me. I only wish I could remember everything I had been told.

However, I am rushing ahead of myself a little. On the Saturday we arrived just before the doors opened and had to wait just a couple of minutes to pay our entrance fee and get into the centre. Our first tour of the stalls showed the variety of therapies, crystals, books, jewellery and other objects that were available. We quickly located the Ray Of Light stall and met Phil and Kathy.

Phil & Kathy on the Ray Of Light stall at the Festival Of Fire

Phil & Kathy on the Ray Of Light stall at the Festival Of Fire

Sue’s first priority was to avail herself of Kathy’s professional services and to have an Indian Head massage.

Once she was suitable relaxed, we went to the massive auditorium to see Black Feather, an amazing man who I can only describe as a musician, poet and storyteller. I can’t find anything about him on the web, so my impressions will have to try to do justice to an amazing hour that we spent in his company. First of all there were no more than a dozen of us in a theatre space that would probably hold several hundred. Black Feather started his performance by saying that he wanted us to consider that we were with him in his home. This immediately made the vast space feel far more intimate. During the hour, he also asked the audience to say words or phrases that they felt. at first, I could not do this, but as I relaxed and the he wove the atmosphere around us, I joined in.

Black Feather then started to play a wooden xylophone, and his vocals were a mixture of English songs and chants that could have been in an African language, or could simply have been non-verbal vocal improvisation. Black Feather is also an accomplished flute player and a magical and engaging storyteller.

I would love to remember the two stories that he told us and write them exactly as he told them to us, but I could never do him justice. What I will say is that if you ever have the opportunity to experience Black Feather yourself, I am sure that it will be as a great experience as I had this weekend.

If this had been the only highlight of the weekend, I consider that it would have been a good one. However, things just got better and better. I am convinced that the power of the universe, or whatever is out there, was at work on me.

On Saturday we also went to a talk by Adele Womersley of Art ‘n’ Sound about Sound Therapy. This was a potentially life-changing experience for me. Adele was clearly quite nervous at giving her first such talk and my own inexperience at this kind of event gave me some kind of connection with her straight away. But when she introduced her subject and then let us play with her singing bowls, chimes, drum and other instruments, I felt that I had discovered a whole new world. I understand sound and how it is made and travels. Adele made the connection for me between the science of sound, my own use of sound in entertainment and communication and its potential for healing and for working on a spiritual plane.

Sue and I were both so taken with Adele and with this whole area that we really want to explore that our Christmas present is sat here at home; two singing bowls. I am also hoping to be able to work with Adele to create a website for her music and artwork.

I am going to write more about these singing bowls in the near future, and I intend to learn as much as I can about Sound Therapy.

Even after this, the weekend had more to offer us.

We were walking round the exhibition hall when I stopped dead at a stall that had a display of the most beautiful angels.  Now I am not one to be attracted to a doll, but I felt that one of these angels actually spoke to me as I passed. I stopped and had the strongest possible feeling that I was supposed to have this angel, named “Cassiel”. Most of the angels were pale colours, many of them white, but Cassiel has more earthy colours and just stood out for me.

Angel Cassiel

Angel Cassiel

 Amazingly, on the Sunday, Sue was called by another Angel from the same stall, Gabriel.

Gabriel, the angel that called Sue

Gabriel, The Angel that called Sue

Both of these angels were made by Sharon Dewick of “Angel Wings” and they, and her other creations can be seen on www.naturesworkshop.co.uk.

Last, but by no means least, a key source of whatever learning I can get with what feels like spiritual overload, is being provided by the incredible range of books provided by Peter from “The Magik Thread”. We have promised to visit both his shop in Stapleford and his website at www.themagikthread.co.uk. We now have two books and a DVD from Peter’s stall to kick-start that learning.
 
Perhaps I’ll let you know more about these when I’ve had chance to read and watch them.
 
I should find it amazing how, as one door closes on a chapter of our life that another one opens. However, I feel that the universe wanted us to find these people and to have the experiences that we are having and that somehow, now is the right time for this.
 
It’s an amazing ride and I’m hanging on to see where the journey takes us.
 
Ride Safe
Dave

Halloween And The Ghost Train

I am quite willling to deplore most of the dreadful customs that we British import from our colonial cousins in the United States of America. That is not to say that I am anti-american for almost all of my favourite music comes from those shores. However, the way that Halloween is celebrated these days has much to do with what I have seen on TV, film and in print as more part of American culture than British.

In particular, i find the growth of “trick or treat” over the past few years to be a very worrying trend. As parents, we tell our children all year about the potential dangers of approaching strangers, yet at the end of October each year far too many parents encourage their offspring to knock on the doors of houses and demand sweets with menaces. This then lasts into the following week as “Penny For The Guy” replaces “Trick or treat” before “Carol Singing” becomes the year’s final excuse to harass the neighbours.

Partly to avoid the irritation of the Halloween door knockers, but mostly because we have a huge amount of fun, Sue and I have spent the past couple of Halloween nights at Peak Rail.

This year, Sue went to town and made us each a brilliant fancy dress cloak in black with gold braid trim. It’s not too clear in this picture, but I also had a staff with skulls on the top and there were spiders and centipedes (plastic ones covered in glitter) on the gold coloured streamers hanging from the staff. I was also wearing a black woolly hat under the hood of my cloak which was rather more visible than I would have liked when this photo was taken.

Halloween 2008 Dave and Sue in Fancy Dress At Peak Rail

Halloween 2008 Dave and Sue in Fancy Dress At Peak Rail

Pretty well as soon as we arrived at Rowsley South station we were christened “The Druids” by one of other Peak Rail volunteers, although the children who came to join us on the train later in the evening immediately started calling me Dumbeldore; the Head Teacher wizard in the Harry Potter series.

After tucking into our tea of bacon cob and chips from Rowsley Buffet, Sue and I went to greet the children as they arrived with their families to join the train. Many of the children and a lot of the adults had made as much effort as Sue and I to dress up and the station platform soon became crowded with witches, zombies and other monsters. The journey to Darley Dale and Matlock was fun because we switched all the lights out in the train, to the great delight of the children and the consternation of some of the parents.

At Darley Dale, Sue and I left the train and joined a couple of professional actors on the platform and we all went up and down the train, peering in a windows and generally scaring the people sat beside them. My skulls had flashing red “eyes” which were particularly effective in the dark. Once we left Darley Dale station, I encouraged the children in the two carriages that Sue and I were travelling in to scream and shout and the atmosphere became even more fun in the darkened train. During our pause at Matlock, we put the carriage lights on while the steam locomotive ran round the train and again ventured onto the platform. I really enjoyed this, especially when one little girl poked her tongue out at me so I opened the carriage door and went inside the train to talk to her face to face; a face that became a real picture as I approached.

It was then that I developed my ultimate Halloween “chat-up” line that worked with children of all ages for the rest of the evening. I told the children that I was looking for a small, but chewy, snack to eat either with chips or chocolate sauce, clearly indicating that the child could well be that snack. I tempered the potential for frightening them by asking such questions as “were they wearing a stripy jumper” because stripes get stuck in my teeth and when I asked their names, I would say things like, “The last Kelly that I ate tasted horrible and I’m not eating another one”.

By the time the train left Matlock, many of the older, more confident children were going up and down the train using their own costumes to add to the overall atmosphere of friendly fun that permeated the whole night.

Once back at Rowsley South station, the first trainload left us, but the fun was not over because the firework display takes place between the two train journeys. This year’s display was as spectacular as ever, with Peak Rail staff member Rob Sanders and his team putting on a great display.

The second train journey was similar in format to the first, although some of the children did get a little over-excited. At one point Sue had to rescue one of the actors who was dressed as a ghost who was in danger of having her white wrappings pulled off. Sue threat’s to get Dumbledore to sort them out seemed to do the trick.

I must mention the decoration of the station and of the train itself. This was really spectacular. Jackie Statham, the railway’s joint Managing Director, and her small team of helpers do a fantastic job of staging all the railway’s special events, but Halloween night was a real triumph. The ramp to the platform is turned into a tunnel with spiders webs, skeletons, ghosts and an amaing avenue of pumpkins. It’s a great welcome and a fantastic scene setter for a wonderful evening.

Beautifully carved and illuminated pumpkins welcome visitors to Peak Rail's Halloween night
Beautifully carved and illuminated pumpkins welcome visitors to Peak Rail

I lost count of the number of compliments and thanks we received from families as they left the platform at Rowsley. I was also delighted that many of them said that they will be back for the Santa Specials in a few week’s time.

 
To my mind, there is no doubt that the children who came on the Halloween Special Trains at Peak Rail will have had a far more enjoyable and a far more memorable evening than they ever would had they been traipsing around the streets demanding “trick or treat”.
 
Ride Safe
Dave