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.
Sorry for the gap in blogging folks but to say it's been a busy year is a bit of an understatement. I'm not really going to have much time between now and my next trip to Asia in November but here's a short burst... I'm in Berlin right now, relaxing after two days at Innotrans - which is a massive (and I DO mean massive (Google it and see the stats) rail trade fair. The weather's been fantastic, both cameras have been busy and I've also worn out a fair bit of shoe leather (the site is huge). The expression 'be there or be square' fits this event to a tee. It's a great opportunity to catch up with what's new in the global rail industry, meet up with colleagues and friends from around the world - and make new contacts. Plus, it's also an excuse to visit Berlin! Not that I need one to be honest. I really like both the city and the people. It's a fascinating place with an incredible history gathered over such a short existence. I could wax lyrical about it at length, but I don't have the time (surprise, surprise, I've a train to catch) I'm currently sat in a bar called the Alkopole which is under Alexanderplatz station in the former East Berlin. A group of us discovered it a few years ago after a previous Innotrans. It's a place where locals and transients meet and enjoy beer (although other poisons are catered for). Germans drink beer like other people drink water - and they're very good at brewing it because of that! Their enjoyment cuts across the sexes. Unlike in the UK, German women seem quite happy to go to a bar for a drink on their own and the atmosphere is better because of it. That said Germans seem better with drink all round. You can get a late night train or U-Bahn in Berlin and see people clearly 'merry' without turning into the aggressive and obnoxious arseholes we Brits seem to specialise in. Sadly, this is a short visit. September is always a busy month but jobs are back to back right now - including weekends, so I've got to go straight from photographing new trains and Saudi Princes to shooting all the winners at the National Rail Awards tomorrow night. It's always a great event but its a long day for me and the RAIL staff. That said - I wouldn't miss it for the world!
Sorry for the gap in blogging folks but the problem has been too many things to talk about rather then not enough. Oh, that and writing words for a living rather than fun.
I’ve much to catch up on, such as the vagaries of the freelance world, Railfest, the new camera and also stuff about recent travels. I’ll try and make a start later this week.
One thing that has caught my attention recently has been the bad publicity and media storm the East Lancashire Railway has been caught up in when Fleet St picked up on stories of people parading in (the worst kind of) Nazi uniforms at a recent war event. Previous comments from an offended Jewish couple to the MEN made things worse. All this has been covered in several national newspapers with a circulation of many millions. To paraphrase the old adage ‘you just can’t buy bad publicity like that’
Meanwhile, there’s a very thoughtful, insightful and intelligent open letter by Rabbi Walter Rothschild on ‘Railway Eye’ that preserved railways would do well to pay attention to. The Rabbi is also a railway enthusiast, well placed to understand both sides of the argument. You can find it here if you cut and paste the link:
What this storm proves is how out of their depth some preserved railways are dealing with such negative publicity. It seems the ELR’s approach is to be reactive rather than proactive, blaming the media and others for the storm that many observers have seen coming for a long time. The truth is that the responsibility lies with the railways for lax supervision of these war groups, not on the media for reporting what happens after they turn up. Engagement, a bit of contrition and showing a willingness to deal with the problem is a far better tactic for pouring oil on troubled waters than finger pointing or ducking responsibility.
Like many others I really can’t understand why preserved railways still allow people in Axis uniforms to parade around their railways. They add nothing to historical accuracy but the potential for it all to go ‘Pete Tong’ is huge – and proven (remember the infamous mock execution elsewhere?). The message should be loud and clear, certain uniforms and behaviour is beyond the pale and if people insist on turning up like that they’ll be ejected forthwith.
Perhaps the wiser heads at the Heritage Railway Association should consider issuing guidance to their members on this issue before the next storm hits - as it inevitably will – unless railways get a grip.
After a busy few days working in the capital as it baked in the sun it was lovely to abandon the hot and humid underground to climb aboard the air-conditioned comfort of Grand Central’s 14:48 service to Bradford.
But it could have all gone horribly wrong. A signal failure at Retford was causing delays of around 50 minutes as trains were queuing to get through the area.
But Grand Central had a cunning plan. The train crew had route knowledge which took in the diversionary route via the ‘Lincoln avoider’ and Gainsborough Lea Rd. This allowed us to bypass the blockage. Train Manager Tony Singh did his utmost to keep everyone informed and we passengers enjoyed a scenic diversion through a landscape rich in rapeseed rather than being stuck on the ECML.
Well done Grand Central for keeping up crews route knowledge on useful diversionary routes.
Here’s a good illustration of the uncertainties of the freelance world. I was just getting ready to come down to London for the night in order to do a job in Barking tomorrow morning. At 14:00 the phone went with an old client saying ‘I know it’s last minute but what are you doing on Wednesday morning – are you anywhere near North London’? A rapid rejig of the diary meant that I could be and there was a quick ‘phew’ from the client. Sorted – and I just had enough time to bring the suit.
Now, here I am sat in a pub in Earls Court (using their wifi) when the phone goes again. And yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s another old client asking ‘you wouldn’t happen to be free tomorrow by any chance, would you?’
Serendipity comes into play as the shoot is in West London in the afternoon – so now I have jobs back to back.
Sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m a photographer or firefighter...
The wifi on this Grand Central service to London is a mite slow so I thought I’d do what I rarely have time to do now and kick-back for a while, enjoy the view and blog. It's the quietest one of their trains I've been on for ages, so I might as well savour it.
It’s been a very busy time recently. Rebuilding the website has taken up an incredible amount of time and energy but I feel I’m beginning to get somewhere. It took a backseat last weekend as I was working over in Berlin on the British Military train> it was a fantastic event. On the Saturday the mighty 03 1010 hauled 15 coaches laden with a large chunk of the BAOR (rtd) plus enough food and drink to have kept the Berlin airlift busy for a day! The whole exercise was repeated (on a slightly smaller scale) on the Sunday. You can see pictures from the event on the website.
Back in the UK my nose was firmly back against the grindstone, updating the site and trying to get more archive material up before Pikfu went offline yesterday. It’s a shame that the replacement for Fotopic never made it beyond the beta stage but I’m really grateful to Joel Rowbottom for saving my old site and keeping it on-line over the past year and a bit. Without it I’d have been up the proverbial excremental creek without a paddle.
This week it’s back to travelling with a vengeance. I’ve a couple of night in London as I’m in Barking tomorrow to view the first train to arrive in the UK carrying P400 trailers on rail. On Wednesday I’ve a short notice job in London for another freight company. After that I get one night back home before heading to Hampshire for a long weekend. On Monday I’m in Swindon to look at a venue for an awards ceremony – then I hot-foot it back up North for a day spent catching up with myself before the NRM dinner and the start of Railfest at York.
Right, now it really is time to kick back and relax....
I’m really behind on the blogging front as I’ve been too busy catching up with pictures. That’s going to change tonight as I’m on my way to Berlin - which seems like a good excuse to blog. I’d loved to have gone by rail but the logistics didn’t stack up because of work. It’s a bit of a nightmare being freelance as very little is planned in advance. People assume that your clients will arrange things weeks/months beforehand but the reality is very different. A few days notice is pretty standard – a month is a luxury.
Anyways, I managed to get a decent priced flight from Manchester with Easyjet after getting over the shock of finding that Air Berlin wanted to charge me £965! I mean, I just want to fly – not buy the damned plane....
Of course, the problem with the ‘cheap’ airlines is they fly at silly hours to get the cheapest slots (07:20 in this case) so I had to factor in a night at Manchester airport – which is where I’m heading now. I arrived at Halifax to catch the 22:44 to Huddersfield. Whilst I was waiting the last Grand Central service from London rolled in, which felt quite odd as that’s normally the one I’m getting off! Instead, my steed was a 2-car Pacer in the shape of 142064. My inner trainspotter kicked in and noticed the First Great Western seat mocquette which betrayed it as one of the returnees from Devon. Despite the low bus seats it was a quiet and comfortable journey to Huddersfield. I had plenty of time to grab food from one of the local Indian takeaways where I was the only customer. As they cooked my veggie samosas the staff were keen to chat. I must’ve entertained them because they presented me with a free can of coke in one of those random acts of generosity that make the world a brighter place. The warm glow generated was quickly extinguished back at the station. I’d plugged my laptop into one of the 6 power points by the seats in the waiting area – only to be threatened by the cleaner ‘don’t let the RO2 catch you using them – you’ll be thrown off the station’. I wonder if TPE know that such a petty attitude exists amongst staff at Huddersfield? I wouldn’t mind, but there are 6 sockets right next to the seats with no notices saying ‘not for public use’ – what are we meant to think when sockets are provided on their trains?
I was glad when the 23:56 rolled in as I knew the welcome would be a bit warmer. In fact it was the quietest TPE service I’ve been on for ages. The mixed bag of 15 punters in the lead car was mercifully quiet, leaving me to type undisturbed. It was a silence that lasted all the way to Manchester where it became stronger as train went into ‘eco-mode’ - shutting down the engine under our car. The only sound left was a gentle ‘tap tap’ as I worked away at the keyboard.
All this silence proved to be good preparation for the airport. Now, I’ve visited far too many across the globe but none prepared me for Manchester. I’d hoped for a comfortable place to sit with at least a coffee shop or something nearby. What I hadn’t anticipated was Terminal 1. Essentially it’s a row of check-in desks smeared along the side of a multi-storey car park – and that’s your lot. No shops, certainly no coffee shops. Bugger-all really, unless you count the cash machine offering you money you can’t spend anywhere. There’s not even anywhere to sit. Frankly, it’s crap. When I compare this to one of the modern railway palaces like St Pancras or Kings Cross it’s easy to see why the railway is in renaissance. As I type this I’m sat on the floor in a deserted building bereft of an amenity that’s about as welcoming as an abattoir. It’s going to be a long night. Now, if you get to read this – at least their offer of 30 mins free wifi was kosher.*
I’ll try and post more from Germany but it’s going to be a busy few days on the British Military Train. So, if I were you I’d look out for the pictures instead. After all, one’s worth a thousand words...
*It wasn’t. The bloody wifi kept throwing me out of my website. You can’t access anything that takes more than the brainpower of an amoeba.
Pt 2 to follow...
Last Monday was a long day which started in Halifax, took in both the East and West coast main lines via London and ended up in a deserted town in the Midlands famous for its public school: Rugby. What Rugby doesn't seem to be famous for is celebrating St George's day. OK, it was a wet Monday night, but honestly - I've seen more life in a tramps vest. I needed wifi access so I ventured into town to find the nearest Wetherspoons - which was deserted as barely a dozen people bothered to darken its doors. In fact, when I left at 22:00 there were just three punters. But then, it had been one of those days... I’d set off on the 0707 Grand Central service from Halifax amidst a sea of reservation labels that soon translated into live punters. Anyone who thinks the West Riding service is struggling should try travelling on it! The crew told me that it's not unusual for this first Southbound service to carry 250 plus punters. I bumped into GC’s Sean English onboard. He reckoned that the first WR service is loading better then the same one off Sunderland. It’s more profitable too as around 80% of sales are ‘GC only’ tickets. This was the easiest bit of the day’s travels. Network Rail’s Twitter postings prepared me for the fact that WCML services had turned to ratshit due to an 'incident' at Berkhampsted. London Midland staff were less coy and tweeted that it was really a fatality - so I knew what to expect at Euston. To be fair the railways did really well. Yes, there were some cancellations but information was plentiful and the vast majority of passengers jammed on the concourse were stoic. I’d no room for complaint. I’d booked online and my single ticket from Euston to Long Buckby was ridiculously cheap at £3.75.
We left London 20 minutes late which wasn’t bad considering the problems. Everything was going well until the driver announced that we’d be terminating at Northampton. I appreciated why they did it as there were other services just behind we could transfer to and the delay, whilst mildly inconvenient didn’t make a huge difference. From Long Buckby I enjoyed a bracing ‘yomp’ across to the M1 to take up position on a bridge where you can get shots of both the railway and motorway. Only the weather didn’t play ball, leaving me trying to capture Pendolino’s (which were going like shit off a shovel) under murky skies between rain showers. The light was so bad that if I hadn’t got a Nikon D3 I’d have just given up. I was also happy I’d decided to take a full set of waterproofs - otherwise the only thing I’d have caught would’ve been pneumonia!
After a few hours the weather changed from showers to a dull, dispiriting deluge which caused me to seek refuge in the canal side pub at Buckby Wharf where I dried out and downloaded all my pictures before walking back for the train to Rugby and a warm hotel room. It was a frustrating day for pictures but at least I got a good walk out of it!
Another early start with breakfast at 07:30 saw me return to Buckby Wharf. The weather had changed from dull, wet and miserable to sunny and rather pleasant – which was great for photography but the power hike out to the M1 caused me to strip down to a T-shirt and jeans to the steam rise. Striding out with a rucsac and a camera bag weighing 13 plus kilos soon burns up the calories!
The sun hung around long enough to allow me a variety of shots and shoot what I’d come to do - as well as play around with different locations as the light changed. For once the waterproofs stayed buried in my rucsac. It was a lovely day as there was no disruption, no fatalities and I didn’t get soaked, so, after a celebratory pint in the New Inn I began the trek home, firmly believing that all’s well with the world.
The world, however, had other ideas...
My cunning plan was to return to Rugby to get a few shots before heading back into London. Only fate in the shape of 37069) decided otherwise.
At Long Buckby a friendly enthusiast tipped me off that the vintage loco was heading our way and sure enough it growled its way past us in the path of my train to Rugby, allowing me to get a shot. What luck I thought! A few minutes later my train turned up and we set off to Rugby with the guard apologising for the late running which was due to the freight being given precedence. Shortly afterwards we ground to a halt within spitting distance of Rugby where we waited, and waited – until the driver announced we be stuck for some time due to a ‘broken down freight train just in front of us’
Hey, hang on a minute..?
Yep. 37069 had conked out across Hillmorton Junction, stopping the job by blocking in all northbound trains on the Northampton loop. Now my cunning plan looked anything but. As the minutes turned into hours I could see my chances of getting home slipping away. I had to be in London for the 19.48 to Halifax and there was only one train left for me to catch from Rugby. Luckily Freightliner came to the rescue and two of their engines dragged the miscreant out of the way, letting me reach Rugby with 10 minutes to spare. I began to breathe easier until I saw that Virgin’s Euston service was late and getting later by the minute. An announcement explained that it was delayed by trespassers at Coventry. Muttering dire imprecations under my breath I began to plan for an enforced night in the capital. Now, a 10 minute dash from Euston to Kings Cross is possible, but not when you’re a middle aged bloke who’s already done 12 miles carrying the sort of load a camel would spit at.
In the end I was saved by the Pendolino’s shit off a shovel performance I’d complained about yesterday. We were still late but we made up enough time to give me 15 minutes to dash to Kings Cross without danger of a rupture or worse.
I needn’t have bothered.
The East Coast route had suffered two fatalities that day with the final one delaying everything, including my train. The last fraught few hours had been unnecessary as the GC service left around 25 minutes late.Heading North (with a well-earned glass of wine in hand) I took time to think about the events of the past two days and the torrid time that the people who run our railways had ‘enjoyed’ due to breakdowns and fatalities. Breakdowns are part of everyday life; it’s the spate of fatalities that concerned me. They’re chaotic, traumatic and deeply unpleasant – and it looks like we’re seeing more of them. I can only imagine what effect they’re having on the people who have to deal with them and the families who lose someone. I just wish I knew what the answer was to prevent them.
Seriously, where the hell has time gone? We’re half way through April already! Admittedly, for me it seems to have been faster as I was out of the country for the first few months and missed what can always feel like a long winter. Even so, I can’t believe how quickly the year is passing. Perhaps the fact that, this year, a lot of my time has been sent looking at the past as I review and edit decade’s worth of old pictures hasn’t helped. When you’re absorbed in editing pictures it’s easy to look up and think ‘bugger, where did the day go?’ – especially when scanning slides as it seems to take an age.
Still, I hope many of you think that all the time I’ve been spending building this website has been worth it. From my perspective it feels a bit like repainting the Forth Bridge. Oh, double bugger – thanks to advances in paint technology that’s an expression that’s redundant. Soon it’ll join the lexicon of expressions that baffle the young and betray your age.
What has been fun are the diverse jobs I’ve had away from staring at computer screens. Shooting a postal TGV in St Pancras was rather surreal and last week’s ‘Fab4’ event was a masterclass in nostalgia. The boys and girls at Barrow Hill put on a fantastic event. Visiting RVEL's Derby engineering facility was an opportunity to get up close to some interesting engineering kit whilst getting pictures at the new Kings Cross has also been fun as the architecture really allows you to play around with shapes and lighting. The huge amount of work going on around the network this year should keep me just as busy.
Something else that has absorbed my time has been Twitter – which I’ve just discovered. I never really understood how useful it could be now I’m a convert. You can find me there as ‘PaulBigland1’
Right, enough of this time wasting, it’s time to get back to work!
Despite some indifferent weather we went for a walk along the local canal today – the Salter and Hebble Navigation. It’s not exactly taxing – which makes a pleasant change from most of our other walks around here! I love the canals and I’m really looking forward to getting a narrowboat which will allow me to spend more time on them.
We resisted the chance to call in at the Barge and Barrel pub in Elland and kept going all the way to Brighouse where we discovered the Old Ship Inn. It was a bit of a find as it had several real ales and a cosmopolitan clientele. Being good we only stayed for one before catching the train back to Halifax. Sadly what should have been a pleasant trip home was ruined by a group of drunken football supporters whose testosterone levels easily exceeded their IQs. We really felt sorry for the traincrew who’ll have to put up with this sort of juvenile and boorish behaviour on a regular basis. It must be a nightmare shift.
Back in Halifax we gave the deserted and desolate town centre a miss and walked back via the wonderful backstreet pub - the ‘Big Six’. It’s a little gem with a great selection of real ales that’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area. It’s also a dog friendly pub so we spent most of our time pampering a very sociable (and persistent) black Labrador!
Hopefully tomorrows walk will be just as much fun...
After a week of brilliant sunshine countrywide and the opportunity to top up the picture banks with images from London, Manchester and Glasgow the British weather has performed a volte face. I’m heading to Derby for an assignment on the sort of cold, gloomy day with listless light and flat colours that even the burgeoning tree blossom struggles to lift.
The newspaper headlines predict that there’s snow on the way tomorrow. To be honest, if we get some of the proper stuff I wouldn’t mind – a few extra snow shots would be useful. Plus, the Pennines look stunning under a layer of clean, crisp snow. One can only hope...
The Northern ‘Dog Box’ that took me to Wakefield resembled a fridge so I was grateful to plonk myself down in a seat on board a warm Cross-Country Voyager at Westgate - which is where I’m typing this. Now it’s time to switch from writing for fun to writing for money, so, I’ll catch you later...