Monthly Archives: December 2008

Railway Walks Coming On DVD

The popular BBC TV series that has attracted a lot of interest from walkers, railway enthusiasts and fans of its presenter, Julia Bradbury, will be released on DVD on 12th January 2009.

Full details and an opportunity to pre-order the DVD from Amazon.  It will cost you £10.98 (as I write this)

However, if you can’t wait until  12th January, Striding Edge has it available now for £16.99

Ride Safe

York – A Weekend Away – Part 1

I’d love to be able to tell you that this is a ride report as well as a brief report of a very enjoyable weekend away, but the bike stayed firmly in the garage while Sue and I travelled to York by car.

Over the past few years we have traditionally had a few days away in North Wales between Christmas and New Year, but this year we both fancied a change and after some research on the interweb, Sue found a good deal at the Marriott Hotel in York and booked it through Superbreak.

The hotel deservedly has 4 stars, and offers newly refurbished leisure facilities overlooking York racecourse, and is a mere 5 minutes drive from the city walls. We took our swimming things, although it turned out that we didn’t use them, but the pool looked inviting each time we passed it o the way to somewhere else.

Our weekend  started with a laid-back drive on Saturday morning to York that included a stop over at Ferrybridge Motorway Services. The coffee there was OK, if a little expensive, but this merely set the tone for the weekend. Our first stop in York itself was the National Railway Museum.

I have not been to the NRM for very many years and I was blown away with the place. We spent four hours there and only saw about half of it. I would have stayed longer, but Sue was justifiably tired and after I had a bit of a grump, I agreed that we had to go back again sometime soon – so maybe there will be a ride report about this during 2009?

Quite a lot of our time there was spent in the Great Hall where most of the exhibits are British steam era locomotives, although I also enjoyed seeing the gigantic steam locomotive that had been built in the UK for Chinese railways and had been repatriated after a lifetime’s service. I also loved the Japanese Shinkansen Bullet train.  That’s not to say that I didn’t hover for a while around Lode Star, the last remaining member of the Great Western Class. We also spent some time with Ellerman Line, the Southern Bullied pacific locomotive that has been cut away to show how a steam engine worked. I must admit to feeling sad at this act of butchery, for if any locomotive there is effectively lost to any future restoration, it has to be this one.

I also remember reading a very thoughtful article in one of railway magazines a while ago that explored the dilemma between preservation of the history and originality of these historic engines against the desire of enthusiasts and the public to see, hear and smell steam locomotives in operation. The museum and its staff have a difficult task in finding that balance and I believe that they have done this very well in deciding that some of its charges are too valuable to be restored and used, while others, such City of Truro and Leander should be seen in action.

However, the undisputed highlight of our visit to the NRM for both Sue and I was the area of the museum known as the Warehouse.

This area is being used to show a large number of items in the museum’s collection that would otherwise be stored somewhere inaccessible to the public. There were racks, pallets and piles of small to medium sized objects that ranged from stained glass window panels to wheelchairs, from models of locos and ships to station signs. It is an Aladdin’s cave of goodies with discoveries and memories at every turn. I remember seeing some of those model ships and locos in station booking halls and waiting rooms as a child.

We were also able to watch a demonstration of traditional block signalling on a model that used to be used to teach signalmen that is now in the Warehouse area.

I also enjoyed the exhibition about the Flying Scotsman. This famous brand name is actually three different things, the route, the train and locomotive . We saw the real loco, or at least its frames, in the museum’s workshop undergoing major restoration. However, the exhibition was also about the LNER and Eastern Region’s named train as well.

We also spent some time watching the museum’s other O-gauge model railway layout in action before we decided to head for the hotel and check in.

At the hotel, we were allocated Room 164, a first floor room at the end of a very long corridor. This was not really a problem, though, and when I realised that our room was very quiet, the walk became much more worth while. Indeed, an encounter with a young family along that corridor gave Sue and I a big smile that lasted for most of the weekend when a young girl, who could only have been four or five years old danced past us singing “I’m a mulberry bush”.

OK, it doesn’t look much in print on the screen, but it tickled us.

After walking round the museum, we were both tired, so decided to sleep for an hour or so on the massive, and very comfortable bed in our room. This became something of a theme of our weekend and there is no doubt that we used our time away to catch up on some of the sleep that we had been lacking during the very busy month that has just passed.

Dinner in the hotel was also included in our Superbreak package deal for our first night there and we had booked our table for 7pm. After a pre-dinner drink (Magers Cider), we arrived at the restaurant  at the appointed hour and were shown to a lovely table in a corner, next to the window overlooking the hotel’s expansive gardens. We splashed out on a bottle of wine to accompany our three course meal. Both Sue and I agreed that our meals were outstanding, both from the quality of the food itself to the friendly and professional service. I commented at one point to Sue that I would be very good at being seriously rich!

During our meal we watched five rabbits enjoying their own evening meal on the floodlit lawn.

After dinner, we retired to our room where I started to read a book, “The Appeal” by John Grisham. I am a real fan of John Grisham’s writing and read two thirds of the book in one go before finally settling down to sleep in the early hours.

Sunday saw a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel of fruit and yoghurt followed by egg, bacon, sausage, hash brown, beans and mushrooms. This set us up for the day and we set out toward Pickering and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

In Part 2, I’ll write about our visit to the railway, mention another food highlight of our trip and introduce you to a fantastic Italian restaurant in York.

Ride Safe

Christmas Day On the Road

It’s been a while since my last Ride Report on here. That’s not because I haven’t been reporting, more that we havn’t done a great deal of riding.  I have used the bike as transport on a couple of occasions and I did a quick trip over to Robin Hood Harley-Davidson to complete some paperwork for my insurance. However, until today, it has been months since Sue and I went out for a ride.

With our Christmas celebrations taking place on Christmas Eve and the disco season taking a break, we were able to have some time for ourslves today.

After a relaxing morning, we decided to go out after an early lunch. So well before 1pm we were on the road, heading northwqrds out of Nottingham around the Hucknall by-pass and on towards Annesley and to the M1 northbound. 

Even as the ride started, the lack of traffic on the roads made riding an unusual pleasure.

We left the M1 and headed into Chesterfield before climbing up into the hills towards Baslow and across towards Buxton. The weather was overcast, but it stayed dry all day, although the temperature dropped as we headed northwards and as we climbed ever higher into the Peak Distict.

The ride into Buxton was, again, on almost deserted roads and after a little over over an hour aboard the Heritage Softail, we arrived in the Derbyshire spa town of Buxton. 

I had been there for a conference just over a month ago at the Palace Hotel and I stopped the bike just opposite Buxton railway station to point out the hotel to Sue who came up with the insired idea of stopping there to ask if we could have a coffee.  I was resigned to the fact that there would be nowhere open on Christmas day and that our refreshment stop would be back at home.

We rode up to the hotel, parked and went inside where we were welcomed and directed to the lounge bar area where we thoroughly enjoyed two lattes and two Christmas puddings.

Suitable refreshed and warmed through, we set out again to follow the A515 to Ashbourne and then the A52 to Derby. Although I know these roads well, it was a real pleasure to be the only vehicle in sight for most of the way, although we did come up behind a short queue of cars for the last few miles into Derby.

Normally, I would have taken the ring road around Derby , but today, I deided to ride through the middle. After a brief pause in a bus layby, Sue agreed that we should continue southwards to Swadlincote, where I start my new job on 5th January.

The ride out through Alvaston, Shelton Lock and Chellaston soon took us nto South Derbyshire district, which will be my “patch” in another week or so. Once across the A50, Swarkestone Bridge was soon negotiated and the road towards Swadlincote forked to the right off the Melbourne road.

It dodn’t take much longer to reach Swad (as the town is apparently known by its locals) and I took the now familiar route around the centre to South Derbyshire CVS on Grove Road. Of course, the building was closed and the twon centre itself deserted, but I was able to show Sue where I will be based.

After a few minutes there, we remounted the bike and set off back up the hill to where Sue had spotted what could have been the only petrol station that was open for very many miles. By now we had done well over 95 miles and as the Heritage has a tank range of around 120, it would have been touch and go whether we would have made it home. As we arrived at the petrol station there was a row of cones across the entrance and a man was busy padlocking the pumps – it was clear that they were closing. 

I rode round the cones and approached the man who generously unlocked the pump again so that I could fill up the bike (and it was only 85 point something pence a lite as well!).  He admired the bike and we chatted briefly while the tank filled and we thanked him again for delaying the end of his own working day for us.

It’s amazing how a motorbike can be such a great conversation opener. While we were in the Palace Hotel in Buxton, I started chatting to one of the staff who also rode a bike. We seem to have these kinds of conversation wherever we go.

By the time we left the filling station, it was getting late and the sun was very low in the sky as we rode around Ashby-de-Zouch, onto the A42 and headed back towards Nottingham. As night fell, so did the temperature and we were both quite cold by the time we had run up the M1 back to Nottingham and arrived back at home.

We had covered 130 miles and been out for over four hours of great riding.

It was good to be out on a day when most other people don’t go far and when all the people who drive for a living are off the road. We have ridden on Christmas Day before and I lok forward to doing so again in the future. However, before that, I hope to get more rides and more reports on the blog during next summer.

The first job for tomorrow morning, though, is cleaning the bike.

Ride Safe

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

This post on the blog is really not be suitable for young children. It’s not that it contains lurid tales of sex or violence, but could destroy a little of the magic of Christmas if it fell into the wrong hands. After all, there are now quite a lot of children who KNOW that they have met the REAL Santa Claus – me!

In a recent post here, I wrote about my first experience (this year) of being Santa when I went along to the party for older people at Snapewood Community Centre in Nottingham.

However taking the role of Father Christmas was hardly a spur of the moment thing – I had been growing my beard since the autumn in readiness for this opportunity. I had also promised that I would volunteer on a couple of Peak Rail’s Santa Special trains during December and I fully expected to be asked to dress up for the Christmas party at work.

Also, Sue had made me a fabulous Santa costume, based on the same pattern as she had used for our legendary Halloween cloaks.

My experience at Snapewood had whetted my appetite for getting more into the role, but I did feel a little apprehensive about Santa’s real target audience of young children. I really shouldn’t have worried, because my first session at Peak Rail was great fun. I was only able to spend half a day on the train for my first shift, but I was able to do two trips on the train, so spent a very exciting couple of hours chatting to children, helping to construct and maintain the special mystique that Christmas holds for them and having a wonderful time myself.

Peak Rail’s Santa Specials are superbly well organised by the indefatigable office and shop team at the railway, led, as ever, by Jackie Statham. The bookings are well planned, the presents carefully selected for the children’s age and gender and the mulled wine and mince pies for the adults are all ordered and ready to go. On each of the trains, two “train managers” look after the volunteer teams who serve the wine, mince pies, sweets for the children and who organise the sack handlers who look after the huge pies of presents. Runners collect the children’s colour-coded tickets from each table or compartment and fetch the appropriate presents from the sack handlers. The train manager then passes the presents to Santa as he moves along the train spending a few minutes talking with each child or group of children.

The really clever part of the organisation is in having not one, but two Santas on the train, one in each half. This is why there are two train managers and two sets of sack handlers. It may well require a lot of volunteers to run, but it makes it possible for Santa to spend a reasonable amount of time with each child because he has to have all his visits complete before the train completes its round trip.

Managing two Santas is one of the most important part of the whole exercise, however. Only one can ever be seen at a time by the passengers, and one goes out onto the platform to greet arriving and departing families while the train is stopped at Rowsley South station for the change over.

After that first half-day, I was looking forward to yesterday’s full day on duty and once again, I had a great time, although it proved quite difficult to find time to grab a drink because I was either on duty or in hiding for almost all the time I was there. Fortunately, Sue had made me sandwiches, so I was able to grab some lunch while I was in hiding for half an hour or so.

It is a real shame that I don’t have any photos of myself in action on the railway, although lots of photos were taken by parents and grandparents . If you were at Peak Rail on 23rd December 2008 and have a picture of Santa in action, please would you email me a copy to put up here?

As well as the comments about the suit itself, one of the things that I brought to the role was my real beard. On more than one occasion, I am sure that a child or two went away convinced that they had met the real Santa Claus, rather than just some bloke dressed up.

Steam railways are notoriously dirty places, and the white fur of my Santa suit suffered a little. However, Sue came to the rescue by proving that the whole suit is washable. Thanks to her hard work, each of my public appearances was in a pristine costume.

I made two other appearances in character this year. One of these was at the Christmas Party at Nottingham CVS.  This appearance was my second annual one to distribute the Secret Santa presents that most of us had been part of. However, this year, I was also pictured by the Nottingham Evening Post because, as part of the pary, the staff of NCVS has given and wrapped presents for some of the homeless people who will be visiting Emmauel House

My final fling for Christmas 2008 was just this afternoon when I dressed up while my three sons, my mother and Sue’s mum shared and opened our presents. Over a number of years, it has become a tradition that we get together on Christmas Eve, Sue cooks a sumptuous and very traditional meal and we have our main family celebration.  This is because the boys want to spend Christmas day with their mother and with girlfriends’ and partners’ and families, so Christmas Eve has become established as “our” day.  Of course, the suit came out again and pictures were taken. I’ll just put one of them on here.

Christmas Eve 2008 - Santa makes another house call

Christmas Eve 2008 - Santa makes another house call

 Have a great Christmas and a wonderful 2009.

Ride Safe

Why I Resigned From Sherwood Chapter Committee – The Sequel

Update: 3rd June 2009

I have removed the password protection from the original post.


On the 9th December, I wrote a post for this blog that set out my side of the reasons why I had resigned from the committee of the Sherwood Chapter of the Harley Owners Group.

It took almost two weeks for confirmation to come through to me that it was seen by, and had made an impression on, the people concerned. Indeed, the blog stats over the past few days have been amazing as the word has spread.  This confirmation came when I was contacted by phone by the chapter director, and as a direct result I removed this post from public view by password protecting it.

On 8th February 2009 I had an email from the chapter director asking me to clarify his request to me and to edit this post. I believe that I can best do this by posting an extract from his email to me.

Ref: Blog, Why I Resigned from Sherwood Chapter—

You have actually worded my request very wrong indeed.
I actually requested that you remove your Blog, I also said that I cannot make you remove it.
I did not say or ask that you protected it via a password, so would you be so kind to change the wording as of the directors request. 
However, I will not delete this, or any other post from this blog. This is a personal blog and I have had a page online since April 2008 that includes this sentence. 
This is a personal weblog that contains personal opinions about various people, organisations, situations and things. The views and opinions expressed are all my own.
I stand by every word that I wrote about my reasons for resigning from Sherwood Chapter.  I password protected this post so that it is no longer readily visible to anyone who looks at it because I was satisfied that the message had reached the people that I wanted to reach. It seems that, two months on, it is still getting to those people.  However, I am not even slightly ashamed of what I wrote and I am quite willing to continue give the password to anyone who asks me for it, as I have already done.
As I am no longer an officer or a member of Sherwood Chapter, and as they cancelled their booking for me to provide the disco for their recent post-Christmas party (and I doubt that they will ever book me again in the future), I have no incentive, other than the respect I have for the present director of the chapter and for the vast majority of its members to comply with any of these requests.
However, my grievance has never been with the chapter itself, but with a few individuals who now know how I feel.

Ride Safe

Festive Fun

Last time, I promised to continue the tale of my volunteering in Bulwell and how I became another success story for Sue’s Neighbourhood Volunteering Activist job at Bulwell Vision.
Sue, not covered in paint and looking happy that another target has been met.

Sue, not covered in paint and looking happy that another target has been met.

I was asked to be Santa at a party for “older people” at Snapewood Community Centre at which Sue was helping out. I was very up for this and had been preparing for the role for some months by growing my beard and saying “Ho Ho Ho” a lot.  Sue also made me a fabulous Santa suit replete with silver braid and very soft fur.

I already had a Santa suit that we bought from Ebay last year, but Sue’s creation along with a real beard makes me look far more like the real thing than a cotton wool beard will ever manage.

Chuffinghog as Santa at Snapewood

Chuffinghog as Santa at Snapewood

In my Volunteering Development  work, I always stress the importance of identifying the benefits to the volunteer of his or her role. No-one told me that one of the key benefits would be to collect a kiss from every woman in the place as I distributed the presents.  In this picture, one of party goers posed with me for a hug,  just as she was leaving to go home.

Anyway, back to the tale. I was heading for Snapewood Community Centre aboard my trusty Yamaha YBR125, in plenty of time for my appearance at the party, when the clutch cable snapped and I was left at the side of the road with no transport. After a couple of increasingly desperate phone calls and the help of the indefatigable folks at 118 118, I finally got through to Sue at the centre and like Scott Tracey from Thunderbirds, she appeared a few minutes later to whisk me to Snapewood, leaving the bike chained to a lamp post in Basford.

I arrived just in time to get changed and with my bell in full cry, made my grand entrance to much applause. One of the party organisers helped me to distribute chocolates to the ladies and wine to the gentlemen. I had quite a lot of photos taken of me in action, but I am sufficiently modest to post just two here.

Santa with Michelle, one of the party organising team

Santa with Michelle, one of the party organising team

After doing my bit, the party wound down as the guests headed for home, leaving the helper team to sit down for their own Christmas dinner. I was delighted to be invited to join them and after a quick change back to “civvies”, sat down to a delicious turkey dinner. To cap it all, I was even given a bottle of wine as well, which at the time of writing is the only present underneath our Christmas tree.

As this was my third volunteering stint within the neighbourhood covered by Sue’s job, I also became a success for her project.

I think this means that I can’t be counted again, but that won’t stop me. No-one volunteers simply to meet their wife or partners’ work targets, I did it because it was great fun. If they’ll have me back, I’ll be very happy to volunteer there again next year.

But wasn’t, by any means, my only public appearance as Santa, as I hope to reveal here soon.

As for the bike, don’t worry, it’ s not still chained to that lamp post. After the party, Sue dropped me off in Basford and I pushed the bike home. It only took about 45 minutes.

Up hill.

A long way. Thank heaven that it was the (comparatively light) YBR125 and not the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail.

It was collected from our house next morning by CMC bikes and mended, along with an overdue service and is once again back to it’s normal reliable self.

Ride Safe

Messy Volunteering

My previous post  on this blog put my own volunteering experience in something of a negative light, so this time, and next, I want to redress this with a tale of some fun volunteering.

My own domestic authority, better known as my wife, Sue, has two part-time jobs. One of these is at Bulwell Vision, a neighbourhood partnership in an area of Nottingham close to where we live. She is a Neighbourhood Volunteering Activist, although I would have called her job something that would need a bit less explanation, such as Volunteering Development Worker. Anyway, a rose by any other name…

Her job is to encourage local people to volunteer. As I am a local person, I was persuaded to help out with a project that she was organising to paint a local play centre over a recent weekend.

Sue In Full Flow

Sue In Full Flow

I am probably the world’s least enthusiastic and least capable handyman, and decorating fits nicely into my lack of aptitude.  So for this, and several other reasons, this became quite a messy job. However, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this activity, although it soon became clear that the staff of the Playcentre were less than keen on the amount of paint that was landing on the floor and on me (and, to be fair, on most of us). 
Yours truly having fun with blue paint

Yours truly having fun with blue paint

We spent Friday afternoon and all day Saturday painting the walls in various bright colours, as befits a room used by small children. We even tackled one section of the vast ceiling, but our team and resources was overwhelmed by the rest of ceiling and we concentrated on finishing the walls.

Sue’s job, like most jobs, has targets to deliver and my own two days spent at the Red Lion Play Centre counted towards one output for her project. This is to engage volunteers three times. I guess the theory is that if they do three times and enjoy, they’ll be back for more. A few weeks later, I was able to become a proper output when I returned to Bulwell for my third and completely different volunteering stint which will be the subject of my next outing here.

Ride Safe