Monthly Archives: April 2009

A Swine of a Bank Holiday Weekend?


In what has to be uniquely British way of doing things, we no sooner get over Easter than we are hit with a bank holiday to celebrate the first Russian Revolution.

With Whitsun, or as it is known in our secular society, Spring Bank Holiday, the concentration of Bank holidays in the spring is great in one way, but leaves us with a long gap in the autumn between August Bank Holiday and Christmas.

So what does this Bank holiday weekend hold for us?

Certainly not a quick trip in the (non-existent) executive jet to Cancun. Mexico really has become off limits because of the impending Armageddon of Swine flu. Well, if you believe the television, radio and newspaper histrionics, we’re in for Armageddon.

Fortunately, among all the sensationalist hype about the pandemic, there are still a few small voices trying to tell us that there a few simple steps that we can take to help to prevent us from experiencing the worst of this variant of flu. They’re not even that complicated. All we need to do is wash our hands regularly, sneeze into a handkerchief and dispose of it properly and avoid infecting other people by saying at home. Certainly, we should also get in touch with  a doctor or NHS Direct if we have the symptoms of flu.

However, common sense isn’t particularly prevalent. The place where I work has has a number of people off sick with the current (very non-swine-ish) bug, although there have been other people in work when they clearly should have stayed at home. Perhaps if they HAD kept away, our workplace would only have had that couple of people affected rather than the larger numbers now off.

But this isn’t anything new; the National Archives website has some great images, including this poster from 1942 by Herbert Mayo Bateman.

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases by Herbert Mayo Bateman, October 1942.

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases by Herbert Mayo Bateman, October 1942.

A World War II classic health message that is just as relevant today

A World War II classic health message that is just as relevant today

But even these great posters are put into the shade by this 1945 film

Ride Safe

An Easter Family Visit – Part 4

So, we’re up to Part 4 of this epic adventure, but if you’re just joining us, it all starts here.

In fact, it’s taking much longer than I expected to finish this story, but tere is a spell of great weather and we’d far rather be out riding the Harley-Davidson than sitting in front of a computer. However, with part 4, we reach a real highlight of our visit by Maria and Cecilie, the Danish branch of our family.  I have also been beaten to this part of the tale by Cecilie, who has already posted a lot of great pictures of her English trip over on Facebook.

Anyway, the first three parts of this adventure have taken us through most of the weekend, and as we have reached Easter Sunday, it was to be their last day with us before returning home. But before we could think of loading up the car and delivering them home, there were two important things to complete. The first was to take Cecilie out for a ride aboard the Harley. In Part 3, I posted a picture of Cecilie sitting on the bike on our drive, but she really wanted to get out on the road. I was only too pleased to show off oblige.

Cecilie and Chuffing Hog Are About To Venture Out Onto The Roads of Nottinghamshire

Cecilie and Chuffing Hog Are About To Venture Out Onto The Roads of Nottinghamshire

 We set out Northwards from Nottingham, around the Hucknall Bypass and out on the dual carriageway towards Annesley. Bearing left at the north end of the dual carriageway, we rode out towards Junction 27 of the M1 and across towards Selston. Following this road down through Moorgreen and Watnall, we then came through Nuthall and via the A610 roundabout, along Lowmoor Road back towards home.

For me, it wasn’t the most exciting ride of all time and didn’t really last very long, but Cecilie had developed the “biker grin” by the time we got back. She was a really good pillion, keeping very good balance and she seemed to relax as the ride went on, even letting go of her grip on my waist for a while. She responded well to the taps that we exchanged to check that everything was OK.

Although the conversation between Cecilie and her mum was in Danish, I feel sure that Cecilie said something like, “I want one” when we got back.

After the ride, we hopped into the car to collect Sue’s mum, Mercy, so that she would be able to say goodbye to  the ladies. Some of this was done over lunch, but we had agreed to pop into Sue’s sister, Lesley’s, as it was only a few yards off our route to Stansted airport, so we spent some enjoyable time there, with yet more home-made cake before leaving Mercy behind with Lesley and family and heading off southwards on the A1.

Sue's sister, Lesley, with Jack, Sophie and Lauren pictured at our house over Easter 2009

Sue's sister, Lesley, with Jack, Sophie and Lauren pictured at our house over Easter 2009

Airport farewells are never easy, but were eased a little with some more shopping, although this didn’t actually go much beyond looking on this occasion.

Once Maria and Cecilie had finally passed out of sight though the security check and off into the departure lounge, Sue and I headed back to the short-stay car-park and made our way back northwards.

However, we had arranged to stay overnight at a Travelodge near Peterborough. This was not the best maintained Travelodge room that we had ever seen, but we were both so tired that we collapsed into bed and stayed there for the next 13 hours. The following morning, Sue decided to “have words” about the poor state of the bathroom, in particular, and as a result, we were refunded the money that we had paid. Even as a freebie, though, the experience was not great.

We had vaguely planned to visit a heritage railway on the Monday, but I managed to leave my jacket, with my wallet, money and Heritage Rail pass at home. We therefore headed for home, but set the Satnav to find the shortest route, rather than the quickest one. This took us across country, leaving the A1 behind and going past Rutland Water and through Oakham and Melton.

We reached Melton Mobray cattle market sometime mid morning and Sue persuaded me to decided to stop and take a look. I have to confess that I wasn’t all that keen, but I am glad we did. We found lots of really good CDs for 50 p each and Sue picked up a pendant set in silver, along with a book or two. We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours there before tucking into ur sandwiches and finishing the journey back to Nottingham.

It was a great way to end a packed, but extremely enjoyable Easter weekend.

It had been two years since we last saw Maria and Cecilie when we went over to Denmark. I really hope we don’t leave it as long before we get to spend some more time together.

Ride Safe

An Easter Family Visit – Part 3

It’s already a week since the events that I am recording in this series of blog posts and, at last we reach Saturday’s adventures of our Danish family’s visit. If you’ve just stumbled across this, you are perfectly welcome to read this post first, but I suggest that the best place to start this adventure is at the beginning.

Saturday morning dawned just as grey and overcast as the previous couple of days had done, but Sue was determined that she was going to Wollaton Park,where there was a Mind, Body and Spirit show over the Easter Weekend. Originally, I had planned to go along with Sue, Maria, Cecilia and Sue’s mum and Sue had arranged to meet a friend and fellow hippie, Maggie. In the end, I decided not to go and to stay at home and sort out the music for that evening’s disco for a wedding at Lakeside.

A good morning’s peace and quiet was just what I needed to get the music sorted out and be ready for the evening’s work. However, I was very pleased when Sue phoned to say that they were on their way to Maggie’s house where tea and cake were waiting for us. I hopped on the Harley and rode across Nottingham to join them.

Sarah, Maggie, Maria and Cecilia at Maggie's house

Sarah, Maggie, Maria and Cecilie at Maggie's house

Maggie’s very talented daughter, Sarah, entertained us with some great guitar playing, including a great version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”.  

 Maggie had made some fantastic homemade cakes and biscuits and I, of course, contrived to sample as many of them as I could without allowing the “hog” part of my on-line identity to cross too far into into real life.

With the cakes consumed and the music appreciated, it was time to head back home where both Maria and Cecilia had their first look at the Heritage Softail. Although it really could have done with a clean (and, a week later, certainly needs one now) they were both impressed with it size and the amount of Harley-Davidson chrome that it carries. Both of the women sat aboard it, although by the time Sue had rushed off to get the camera, Maria had become a little camera shy and only this picture of a grinning biker-babe Cecilie was captured for posterity.

Biker Babe Cecilie aboard the Heritage Softail. (That is Chuffing Hog's arm hanging on the bike!)

Biker Babe Cecilie aboard the Heritage Softail. (That is Chuffing Hog's arm hanging on the bike!)

Wow, she certainly looks the part!

There’s no doubt that Cecilie enjoyed her moment on the Harley, even though it was on its stand on our drive with me fussing over it (and her) safety. But things got better – much better – on the Sunday ( and in Part 4 of this epic)

Ride Safe

An Easter Family Visit – Part 2


So, we’re up to Friday. If you are starting this adventure here, you might like to read Part 1 first.

I’m not sure whether my memory is failing or I just need to block out the thoughts of Sue asleep on the front room floor on top of a pile of cushions, but I can’t remember exactly how we spent Friday morning.

I remember driving over to Arnold to collect Sue’s mum, Mercy, who was an almost permanent fixture in our front room for the whole of Maria and Cecilie’s visit. I also went to Long Eaton to fetch my mum – so that probably accounts for most of the morning.

Sue's Mum, Mercy with Cecilie and Maria

Sue's Mum, Mercy with Cecilie and Maria

By the time we got back, the house was filling up with Sue’s sisters and their families. By the time we were all assembled, sister Beverley, with husband Phil and sons Jamie and Tom were joined by Lesley, daughters Lauren and Sophie and small son Jack. It only need the addition of my mum and our good friend and neighbour, Tony, and the party was complete.

We got this lot into our house - and fed them all. Thank heaven for the dishwasher!

We got this lot into our house - and fed them all. Thank heaven for the dishwasher!

Cecilie, in particular was really excited to meet all her English cousins and aunts and uncles. back home, she doesn’t have a big extended family network, so it was great to be part of this all too rare family reunion.

The afternoon soon passed with great conversation and fair amount of Easter Egg giving and receiving and by the time the last of the family had left, both of our guests were tired out.

However, before we allowed them to go off to bed, I made sure that I  had been into the loft and retrieved the missing stopper for the air bed.

I am delighted to report that Sue and my remaining nights of camping out passed uneventfully, with no more of Sue’s adventures with settee cushions.

In Part 3, I’ll try to cover Saturday’s activities, although I managed to escape from some of them because I had to work on Saturday night, so missed some of the day’s fun.

Ride Safe

An Easter Family Visit – Part 1

I trust that Easter has left you replete with chocolate and suitably refreshed to face the post-holiday period. It has been a time of frenetic activity in the Chuffing Hog household, both in the run-up to the holiday and especially during the holiday period itself.

This is because we have been playing host to some of the Danish branch of our family. Our beautiful niece Cecilia and her equally beautiful mum, Maria came over to spend the weekend with us.

Cecilie, Chuffing Hog, Sue and Maria

Left To Right - Cecilie, Chuffing Hog, Sue and Maria

This entailed a certain amount of planning and a great deal of tidying up before they arrived – tasks that were barely completed with varying degrees of success. Certainly the proliferation of piles of paper and other things around the house have mostly been put away and most of the archaeological layers of junk around my so-called office have been excavated. We even replaced some of our ancient furniture, as I recounted on this blog when I made my medical breakthrough and discovered the condition called Screwdriver Hand.

Maria is a successful designer of what I am informed is Outerwear. I still call them coats and jackets, but hey, I’m a bloke.  Her label is called Mu-Ka and her stunning clothing can be seen at  You will also see from her contacts page that she doesn’t (yet) have UK distribution.

She had spent the past week or so out in the Far East, where her outerwear is manufactured, and had only arrived back the day before she came to stay with us. However, as I will explain, we did little to make her visit relaxing, because we had a great deal of activity to pack into a short time.

The visit really started on Thursday when Maria and Cecilia arrived at Stansted Airport. Sue had told them that she would be meeting them because it was planned that I would be at work. However, I was able to get the time off to go with Sue to meet them. I am really glad that I did as we were able to spend that time together.

Our drive back to Nottingham was uneventful and we arrived home safely and installed our visitors in the one and only fully equipped bedroom. Sue and I had it all worked out. We had a huge fluffy duvet and the inflatable mattress that we use for camping. Predictably enough, Maria and Cecilia both retired fairly early and Sue and I pottered about for a while before deciding to settle down for the night.

This is when we realised that although I had retrieved the mattress and the pump from the loft, I had overlooked the stopper that keeps the air inside the mattress. As our guests were already sound asleep, I decided that I couldn’t start scrabbling about in loft above their bed.

This left us with a problem.

Whilst I don’t mind sleeping on the floor, Sue doesn’t do floors. This was, I had hoped, solved when I took the sun lounger from under the stairs and set it up for Sue to sleep on. With the solution to one problem came another one. We only had one duvet – and Sue was having this.

Fortunately, our corner shop is a large Tesco Extra. So Sue trotted off down the road and returned with another, slightly less fluffy, but perfectly serviceable duvet.

With the sleeping arrangements supposedly sorted out, we retired for the night.

When I woke up – ridiculously early – at about 6 am, Sue was missing. The sunbed was there, but Sue and the big fluffy duvet had, it seems, been abducted by aliens.

Eventually, I wandered downstairs to see whether there were flying saucers on the lawn, to discover Sue asleep in the middle of the front room floor on the settee cushions. It is a matter of considerable regret that I didn’t have the presence of mind and naked courage to capture a photograph of this hilarious sight.

I tiptoed around for quite a while until she eventually woke her up, claiming that I had disturbed her sleep with my snoring. Although I find this hard to believe, it is no more than justice for the many nights that I have been kept awake by stentorian rumbles from Sue’s side of the bed.

Part 2 of this epic will pick up with Good Friday’s family get-together.

Ride Safe

5000th Visitor

Sometime on Easter Sunday, the  5000th visitor arrived here. I apologise that I didn’t have the red carpet out, but I was busy having a great time with our visitors.

When I started writing this blog just a year ago, I couldn’t see that anyone would want to read this. I know that, compared to the great and good of the blogosphere, 5000 visitors is is nothing, but it means a lot to me, so whether you’re a regular, or whether this is your first visit to these shores, thank you.

Ride Safe

Ride To Shackerstone

Sunday afternoon saw Sue and I partaking of two of our favourite pleasures. (Steady on, this is a respectable blog. Anyway, at our age, we don’t do THAT sort of thing.)

We took a trip out on the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail that just happened to take us to a heritage railway that isn’t too far away from us in Leicestershire.

The Shackerstone Railwayis also known as the Battlefield Line because its southern terminus at Shenton is adjacent to the Bosworth Battlefield.

The Battle of Bosworth was fought on August 22nd1485. Henry Tudor had marched with his force from Milford Haven in Wales where he had landed with about 2000 men. The Battle of Bosworth is one of England’s defining battles as it ended the reign of Richard III and led to Henry Tudor becoming Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs, a dynasty that lasted to 1603 and included the reign of two of England’s most famous monarchs – Henry VIII andhis daughter Elizabeth I.


Our route took in some familiar roads as we headed south on the M1 and west on the A42. After a stop at McDonalds at Ashby for a coffee and Deli of the Day, which was bacon & chicken, we continued along the A42 and then dived south into the wilds of darkest Leicestershire. After some winding and narrow lanes, we finally arrived at the very sharp turn onto the old railway trackbed which was very reminiscent of the approach to Peak Rail‘s Rowsley South station.

However, this junction was littered withloose stones that made negotiating the turn on two wheels a somewhat hairy experience. Somehow we got roundwithout ending up on our sides with a bike on top of us and as we went down the roadway, it occurred to me that the surface itself was in much better condition than the deeply potholed track at Rowsley.

Shackerstone station is in a strange location. I couldn’t work out how it could ever have had any access in the days when the railway would have been using the existing access road because the old Station House occupies the area where I would have expected a road to come in and the Ashby Canal is also just a few feet away from the station’s main entrance. Our arrival was perfectly timed to see the tail lamp of the train disappear under the station footbridge and off towards Shenton. This gave us plenty of time to look around before the next departure.

The station building itself has been beautifully preserved and restored by the Shackerstone Railway Society and we recieved a warm welcome from the volunteer in the ticket office who had to go and ask what to do with our Heritage Rail pass.

The beautifully restored building at Shackerstone Station

The beautifully restored building at Shackerstone Station

With this dilemma resolved, we wandered into the museum.

Chuffing Hog in the museum at Shackerstone Station. Sue was amazed that they let the this bit of living history out again.

Chuffing Hog in the museum at Shackerstone Station. Sue was amazed that they let the this bit of living history out again.

This was an experience in itself. Two rooms of the station building contain what must be thousands of railway artifacts that range from signalling equipment to cigarette cards. These have all been collected over many years by John Jacques who used to work at Shackerstone Station in BR days as signalman. The man himself was in attendance at the museum, although I didn’t realise who I was talking to until I returned home and looked at the railway’s website.

The museum alone was almost worth the trip for me, although Sue was keen to capture some photographs of the station itself, and we were both in need of a cup of tea.

The station is also host to the Victorian Tea Room where we obtained proper cup of teas – from a proper tea pot on a tray with china cups. These were accompanied by enormous slices of the most delicious carrot cake.

Eventually, the train returned – on the far platform from where we were all standing. This was an astute move because it forced us to use the footbridge across to platform 2 where the railway has built a new building that is in use as a shop, but is very much in harmony with the whole “feel” of the place.

31101 arriving at Shackerstone Station on Sunday 5th April 2009

31101 arriving at Shackerstone Station on Sunday 5th April 2009

One of the down sides to our visit was that this shop sold whistles. Of course, a couple of children had been bought them and blew them continually for the whole time that the train stood in the platform. Fortunately, this particular family got into a carriage further down the train from us and we didn’t hear them again until the train arrived at Shenton, where the symphony continued. We were also left in (comparative) peace by a family with an excitable young son whose idea of expressing excitement was directly related to his volume. Even he didn’t stop Sue having a few moments shut-eye (if not actual sleep).

Was she pretending, or actually asleep?

Was she pretending, or actually asleep?

The journey itself was behind the immaculately turned out Class 31 Brush diesel loco 31101 in Large Logo rail blue. It was different to have a diesel in use on a weekend that had not been promoted as a diesel weekend, but the lack of steam traction didn’t seem to put any kind of cloud over the enjoyment of the railway’s visitors.

I was a little sad to see Market Bosworth station looking somewhat forlorn and out of use as we ran straight through it. It is obviously getting a periodic coat of paint, but I hope that the railway is working towards bringing this station back into use one day.

As we only had time for one round trip aboard the last service of the day, on our return to Shackerstone, we took our leave and headed home using the back lanes through to Coalville before picking up the main roads to Nottingham .

After some wrestling with a very important Word file for a couple of hours, we popped over (in the car) to see my mum late in the evening because Sunday was also her birthday. It was great to be able to see mum and a pleasant surprise when one of my brothers and his wife turned up as well.

Overall, a good day, with a good ride and a most enjoyable visit to a great railway.

Ride Safe

Testing Chips

This has nothing to do with the cutting edge of microelectronics, but the very low-tech tasting of slices of fried potato.

Sue has somehow got us in touch with a company that carries out consumer tests on various items. She has already turned down the chance to test deodorants (because they were perfumed, apparently.) But when the chance to taste and pass judgement on chips came up, she decided to go for it.

We arrived at the appointed hour at the company’s premises where we signed in and sat in the waiting area with another dozen or so people.

After a brief introduction and request not to discuss the testing with our fellow guinea pigs, we were each allocated a number and taken through to a room with computers in cubicles around the walls. We were asked to sit at a computer that had a paper plate of dry crackers and a plastic cup of water, so I sat down. The computer screen was already set up waiting for me to log in and the software was very simple to use – simply a matter of following the instructions on the screen. My login was the number 69 that I had been given earlier.

After a few moments, the first of our small bowls containing four freshly cooked chips arrived. The computer programme prompted me, step by step to assess the colour, texture and taste of the sample and to score these on the computer.

After the first four chips, I was prompted to cleanse my palate with a cracker and water and very soon the next sample bowl of four chips arrived. I repeated the process for a total of five samples of chips.

Unfortunately, I had a cold on the day that we were tasting these chips and I am convinced that this will have affected my ability to taste. However, I was still very surprised at the wide variation between the different batches of chips that I was given.

Some chips, were quite powdery and dry – with very little real flavour, while others were very much more like something that came from a garden rather than a laboratory. All of them, we were told, are used in the catering industry and I have probably had all of them before in various cafes and pubs.

I was also struck by the differences in length of these chips. Some were perhaps four inches long while others barely made two inches.

Yes, I have heard that size isn’t everything, but never in the context of chips.

At the end of the test, we filed back out to the waiting area where I discovered that this wasn’t volunteering when I was handed a gift voucher to the value of £10.

After 20 chips, in my case without salt, Sue judged that we had eaten about a bag and that I therefore didn’t need any supper. I must have looked pitiful, because later that evening, she relented.

Ride Safe

Darley Dale Station

 On Sunday I did one of my regular volunteering shifts at Peak Rail as the guard on the train. This was my first experience of the 2009 timetable and my first experience of stopping at the down platform at Darley Dale station.

Until the beginning  of March 2009, no passenger trains had stopped at Darley Dale’s down platform since 1968 when British Railways closed the former Midland line through the peak district. In the past, Peak Rail used the same (up) platform for stopping trains in both directions, but a couple of years ago, our two-train running project meant that trains from Matlock to Rowsley South had to run non-stop through Darley Dale on the down platform line.

In fact, Peak Rail  has come in for some criticism from some people on an internet discussion forum because the re-opening of the down platform was a very low-key affair, with no brass band or speeches.

On Sunday, I understood why. The platform is now in in use, but still needs a lot more restoration work. So far, the platform wall, coping stones and platform surface all needed work doing before it was safe to allow any passengers to use the platform.

This is where the Derwent and Wye Valley Railway Trust was able to help. As the platform is part of the heritage of the route, this was completely within their remit and the trustees had no hesitation in putting up the funding for this work.

However, the surface was always going to have to be a temporary one because the platform will have to be dug up again in order to continue the long process of restoration. Members and supporters of Peak Rail will have seen an article in issue 21 of  Peak Express (which is available from the railway at £2.75 plus p&p), setting out one man’s personal quest to collect and bring back lamp posts, seats, signs and other railway fittings that had been lost since closure. Again, the trust has played a part in this by putting up the money for the platform fittings for Darley Dale’s down platform.

Then there is the problem of the building on that platform.

This is a priority for the trust, but is going to cost a king’s ransom to save from falling down, let alone to refurbish it so that it can be used. Yet we are determined to do just this.

We have already attracted some funding towards this project, although there  is a very long way to go. Astute observers may even have spotted the small yellow envelopes on the train.

Darley Dale Down Building Donation Envelope

Darley Dale Down Building Donation Envelope

These invite our passengers and visitors to drop in a donation, much in the same way that the Peak Railway Association did as part of their contribution to the building of the new engine shed.

The great news about the current public appeal is that the majority of these, and other donations to the trust, are being accompanied by a gift aid declaration. This means that for every £1 donated, we get another 25p from HM Customs and Revenue.

Last week, a new discussion started on the internet discussion group. It seems that the present owners of the original footbridge that stood at Darley Dale station want to dispose of it. As a trustee of the Derwent and Wye Valley Railway Trust, I decided that this was worth looking into, although I remain very sceptical following Peak rail’s past experience of a second-hand footbridge.

However, when several posts appeared from people offering money to support a fund to restore a footbridge at Darley Dale, I posted a promise that I would put the issue of a footbridge onto the agenda for the trustees meeting later this month.

We will have to wait and see whether I get shot down in flames, or whether we agree to take on another major heritage project.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s operations went really well. I love the new timetable because it gives us time to catch up on delays, I like the convenience for our passengers of stopping at Darley Dale station in both directions. I also like that the railway has, at last, made the recruitment and training of new station masters a priority and Sunday was the first day that I have ever seen a stationmaster at Darley Dale.

The timetable does make it harder for me to find time to eat my sandwiches, but an interrupted lunch is a small price to pay for the improvement in our service.

Ride Safe