Zenfolio have decided to add a blog facility to the site. So, here goes...

All comments and observations are mine and don't represent anyone that I work for. 


March 26, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Well, it’s been a pleasant day make all the better thanks to serendipity. I travelled to London for work only to find that two friends were there at the same time! Greg Ryan from Irish Railways was attending a Railway Benevolent Fund board meeting whilst SWT Driver Steve Upton was passing through and spotted a message that I was in town on Facebook. So, after doing the jobs I had the chance to meet the pair of them for a beer along with another acquaintance and RBF member – Alan Marshall. It was a perfect day for it too – the weather was superb.

I was in London to get some shots of the new First Class waiting room at Kings Cross for RAIL magazine. I won’t say too much about the place as you’ll be able to see them in the magazine, but the choice of colour scheme is perhaps best described as ’brave’....

Before catching my train this evening I had chance to grab a few more shots of the changes at Kings Cross which have been loaded onto this site thanks to Grand Central’s free onboard wifi. If you have a minute, take a look.


Grand Central on the up?

March 26, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I’m on my way to London on Grand Central’s West Riding service (the 1038 from Halifax to be precise). It’s the first time I’ve used this service in 2012 so I was pleasantly surprised to see how busy it was. Grand Central has been operating this route since May 2010 and initially, passenger numbers were slow to take off. This middle train was always the quietest and some days you’d only find around 20 -30 punters aboard. I’ve just walked through this one and done a head count. There are 107 souls in Standard and a dozen in First, so 119 in total. Not bad for a ‘quiet’ train. 

Despite the trains being busier the friendliness of the crew hasn’t changed and they remain as cheerful and helpful as ever. Well done guys!

Spring is here!

March 25, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

It's a beautiful day here in the Pennines. Unlike yesterday when the fog hung around all day the sun has managed to burn through the haze. We can see the far side of the valley for the first time this weekend. So, it's time to dig out the boots, go for a walk up on the hills and enjoy the onset of spring...

Life in a Northern town.

March 20, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve been in Halifax today for the first time since I returned from Asia. It’s a brilliantly sunny day and I needed to do some business so I walked in.  For those who don’t know it the town is a compact little place perched on the side of a hill above the railway station. The industrial revolution and wool trade left it with a wonderful collection of Victorian buildings that it’s managed to hang on to – just. That said,  the town centre is dominated by the modern Halifax building society HQ. I can only assume the architect who designed that had lost his protractor and compass which is why it’s such a brutal collection of straight lines. Still, nearby buildings like the old market, theatre and the Piece Hall more than compensate for it.

 What struck me as I walked around was the contrast in people compared to Asia. I don’t mean ethnicity – I’m talking about size. Young skinny, busy Asians have been replaced with an older, slower group of people, many of whom are palpably overweight. There’s no shortage of people who’ve swapped necks for a multitude of chins and seem perfectly content with the exchange.  Now, I’m no stranger to the image of the formidable Northern granny (I was brought up by one) but this is different. Many of these people have a calendar age far less than their weight; they positively scream ‘onset diabetes’.  When I walked into the main Post Office I took one look at the queue and thought I’d walked into a Doctors surgery by mistake – and that was before I was nearly crippled by a woman on one of those mobility scooters....

It’s not surprising really because that’s the other great contrast to Asia – food. There’s a dearth of anything decent.  Fast food joints abound and fruit and veg shops are as rare as rocking horse shit. The irony is that much of what is described as ‘fast food’ would take far longer to prepare and serve than the fantastic fresh food that you get out in Thailand.

Looking around made me wonder something else. Why do the majority of people whose favourite attire is ‘sportswear’ look like they’d keel over from a heart attack if they ran more than 10 paces?

On the positive side, I don’t have to struggle with an unfamiliar, runish script – all the signs are in English which is why a rather surreal poster advertising the Halifax Courier newspaper caught my eye: ‘Man dies after severing own head’ (no shit Sherlock)!

It’s a funny old world...

Paper chase.

March 19, 2012  •  1 Comment

After the colour and variety of months in Asia it's back to more mundane activities - making time to catch up on the mounds of post and paperwork that accumulated whilst I was away. Not that I'm complaining too much - there were some very nice cheques buried in all the bumpf!

Normal service will be resumed in the next couple of days when I'll be back in London to have a look at progress on various rail schemes - including the redeveloped Kings Cross station which looks fantastic. Well done to all concerned for opening the station a day early.

Next I have the onerous task of sitting down to read a big pile of magazines (RAIL, Modern Railways, Rail Professional and Railways Illustrated) in the name of research...

Hitting the ground running..

March 18, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Flying out of Delhi was straightforward and hassle free – if you don’t mind the several layers of security that sees your hand baggage checked, re-checked and triple checked. By the time I got on the plane my boarding card had almost as many rubber stamps as my passport.  Jet Airways use Boeing 777s on the Heathrow route. They’re pretty good, the legroom in my window seat was fine and my fellow travellers (a gracious elderly English couple) ideal companions.  Now, I’m not a great fan of flying as I’ve done far too much of it over the years. Any vestiges of romance wore off years ago. But, I do really enjoy day flights out of India because of the majesty of the country we fly over.  Not just India with its patchwork of farms or desert, snake-like rivers and sprawling towns, it’s when we headed out over Pakistan’s North-West frontier to fly over Afghanistan that the scenery really become breathtaking.

The tragedy is that Afghanistan is far less peaceful on the ground than it seems from the air but from 35,000 feet the squabbles of humanity are eclipsed by the sheer scale and desolation of the landscape – especially this time of year when vast tracts of this rugged country are blanketed in snow. Then again, it wasn’t just Afghanistan – the snow extended right across the former Soviet Union, creating a monochrome landscape that only petered out at the gates of Moscow. I’d loved to have got some pictures but my window was fogged with too many ice crystals so the only images I have are stored in my mind’s eye. Spectacular as the landscape was I had no desire to be part of it. I was happy to watch such a bleak and freezing world go by from the comfort of a seat at 37,000 feet with a glass of wine in my hand. 

Suitably refreshed I managed to get a few hours sleep before we entered UK airspace and began our approach to Heathrow. I love flying in to Heathrow long-haul from Asia as you often get held in a stack above North-East London which gives you superb views of the capital. The final approach is even better – especially if you have a right hand side window seat like me. That way you get a grandstand view of the historic sights of central London. 

Heathrow was ticking over nicely so it didn’t take me long to get through the airport. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for the Piccadilly line. Luckily for me Christian Wolmar was making the trip out to Heathrow and tweeted warning of a ‘one under’ so I caught the Heathrow Express instead. Within a couple of hours I was sitting in front of a coal fire with friends at their home West Norwood – getting used to the idea that I was finally back in Blighty.  I’d been travelling for 28 hours and my body clock was telling me it was 5am not 10pm but my day wasn’t quite finished yet...

RAIL magazine had commissioned me to get some shots of the Virgin Pendolino that would be visiting Kings Cross in the early hours, so after a couple of hours sleep I found myself waiting for a night bus to Trafalgar Square.  Apart from me, some urban foxes and a few Network Rail vans, the streets of Norwood were deserted. The trip across the city was easy (the night bus system is brilliant) and I soon found myself at the gates of Kings Cross. The station is in the final stages of a makeover that’ll leave the place looking pretty spectacular. Workmen were everywhere, busy testing or adding finishing touches.

The actual job took less than an hour with the safety brief vying for length with the photography! You can see the results in the latest edition of RAIL (out on Wednesday). Afterwards, tired but happy (with a metabolism convinced that it was Midday and asking where the hell Monday night had gone!) I caught the first Victoria line tube back to Norwood for a rendezvous with a well earned breakfast.

Talk about hitting the ground running...

Homeward bound.

March 13, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

A night in Bangkok airport passed pretty quickly. I edited loads of pictures and managed to get a couple of hours sleep.  On check-in the Jet airways staff were pretty efficient. Mind you, they needed to be. There were 10 Indian blokes in the queue who were laden down with goodies in a plethora of bags they were sharing between them or farming out to fellow countryman with allowance to spare. Each of the guys had a 40 inch Sony flat screen TV so some Thai shopkeeper had obviously had a very profitable day. It turned out that they’d bought them for 50,000 rupees apiece, the same TV in India would cost 95,000 rupees.

The flight itself was full but I swapped a mid row seat with an American couple who wanted to sit together and the time, well, it flew by...! Sadly the food was a bit of a disappointment. I tried the Indian veggie option. Now, to make Indian food tasteless really takes some doing but they achieved it. I had a bland version of Idli and dhal, plus something I’ve never had the misfortune to come across before – an Indian fusion mini pizza which was equally forgettable. We were treated to some lifeless and anaemic coffee to wash it down.  I shouldn’t complain too much – at least we got here. I have a link to the Times of India newspaper on my Facebook page and one story caught my eye: Jet Airlines were given an ultimatum by the Government to pay off back taxes by today or its bank accounts would be frozen.  I had nightmare visions of turning up In Delhi only to be marooned as guys brandishing court orders and wheel-clamps went to work on my aircraft...

Getting off the plane in Delhi immediately brings back memories. I don’t know what it is but India has a distinctive smell unlike anywhere else in the world. You know you’re here just by breathing in. Mind you, years ago that would have been the toilets (which really could make your eyes water!) but nowadays Indira Ghandi International Airport is a massive modern airport – albeit with the crumbling edge of quality and attention to detail that’s India’s other distinctive trademark. The lounge I‘m sitting in is liberally supplied with power points for laptops. The problem is – finding any that work!

What stands out to my eyes is that this is just like any other international airport now. You can buy all the usual duty-free trinkets and baubles. None of this was possible when I first came to India. Then, the order of the day was ‘Swadeshi’ - self-sufficiency that decreed everything had to be produced in country. So, you had ‘IMFL’ (Indian Made Foreign Liquor). ‘Old Monk’ rum and ‘Bagpiper’ whisky were two I remember. The closest the Scotch had got to Scotland was Bombay...

(Pt 2 to follow shortly)

Leaving, on a jet plane...

March 11, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

As you read this I should be somewhere over the Bay of Bengal, c/o Jet Airways. The best flight I could get was a silly o’ clock 06:50 departure. I’ll probably blog on the way as I’ll be spending a lot of the night at Bangkok airport then I have a four hour fester in Delhi waiting for my onward flight to Heathrow.  Fingers crossed, I won’t have the same problems as I did flying with Indian Airlines last year. If everything goes to plan I’ll be back in the Sceptered Isle this evening...

Time to go...

March 11, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

It’s my final afternoon in Bangkok and I’m taking it easy after a late morning and a few hours picture editing to continue the massive task of rebuilding my website. I’m sat outside a favourite bar enjoying a last Thai Red curry, a beer, a bit of people watching and a bit of blogging. The weather here is hot, cloudy and humid. The brief shower of rain we had earlier hasn’t helped at all. Still, in less than 24 hours time I’m going to be embracing a very different climate...

 It’s odd to think that I’ll be back in the UK tomorrow after so long here in Asia. I come here that often that it’s easy to settle in as it’s more of a second home than anything.  Mostly, it suits me, although I do find the pace of work frustrating at times. Trying to arrange interviews and get wheels turning takes far longer than it does in Europe so I didn’t get to do all the things I wanted or get to all the places. My extended sojourn in Malaysia meant that I never made it to India this time - although a cancelled conference didn’t help!  Still, I’m not really complaining, I’m happy that I have a job that gives me so much flexibility and allows me to do these things. It’s (literally) a world away from my old occupation of managing council estates in London!

Whilst I was waiting for pictures to upload I read an online article by award winning photojournalist Dan Chung who sees no future in photojournalism. So much so the he’s quit working for the Guardian, embraced video and moved to China. I can see where he’s coming from and it didn’t make comfortable reading. I’m grateful that my work crosses over into advertising and the commercial world as I suspect he’s right. ‘Evolve or die’ was his message. Evolving is something a lot of us Brit’s tend not to be too good – we’re far too much in thrall to the past. Personally, like Dan, I heard this message a while ago. It’s one of the reasons I’ll be getting the new, video capable, Nikon D4 when I get back...

2012 is going to be a very busy year.

International crossroads

March 10, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

For my final few day in Asia I’ve moved from the Hualamphong area to Banglumphu – which is known to most by the name of a single street, the Khao San Road. God, how to describe this place to people who don’t know it?

Love it or hate it, this place is one of the true traveller’s crossroads where you can bump into anyone. It’s a melange of backpackers, tourists and locals, all ages and races, the hip - and the hideous. It’s crammed with hotels, bars, tattoo and massage parlours and all manner of places to eat. Think of the bar out of ‘Star Wars’ – then turn it into a whole street. In truth, if you’ve got any sense you’ll stay off the Khao San itself nowadays. I first came here 20 years ago when it was much less popular. In those days many guest houses locked their doors at Midnight. I well remember collapsing in a heap after climbing over a wrought iron gate to get into my guesthouse. Now, you just walk into the lobby of the hotel that occupies the same site and wave drunkenly to the security guard.

As well as being overpriced it’s become home to far too many people whose only ambition is to come to Bangkok and get absolutely trashed. The next street North is Rambutri which is a much more relaxed place with a better atmosphere and superior food – (unless you’re one of those people who thinks a McDonalds is the pinnacle of world cuisine). One of my favourite eateries is a collection of ramshackle tables on the pavement outside a 7-11. Meals are chosen from a cart which holds some of the best food I’ve eaten. There’s a superb curried pumpkin, succulent pork with beautifully crunchy green beans – as well as all the standards like Green curry or barbecued fish.  Another favourite is a second street cafe that has fish to die for – deep fried and served with a superb chilli sauce and crispy spinach. The kitchen is on the pavement so you can watch the food being prepared.

One of the many things I love about Asia is this life on the street. There’s no hiding away behind doors here. Eateries, shops and bars are mostly part of streetlife which leads to a far greater level of interaction between folk then we see back in the UK. It’s a fascinating place to sit back, relax and people watch.

Life in the UK is going to seem rather flat by comparison.

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