Thursday, 31 December 2009

The New Year - A time to reflect

Having experienced such joy after the birth of Thomas but such feelings of shock coupled with sadness just a couple of days later I have been left in a very reflective frame of mind.

2009 has been a strange year in many ways. Work wise the start and end of the year it was great - the middle bit was no so good and left me very depressed and wondering what was the point as summer passed me by as I sat with no real purpose trapped in stale air-conditioned offices. But out of the office, on track I felt so much better. I know where, and with what, I want to work!

Personally, we got through our first year of marriage, or rather, somehow Suzi coped with a year of being married to me! Then we found out it would no longer be the two of us! Or three of us if you include George, he may be a cat but at the moment he's at least three times the size of Thomas!

Modelling wise the highlight was undoubtedly Botanic Gardens making its debut at the Hull Show, albeit as a work in progress with the Class P1 covering a silly mileage over the course of the weekend! The positive reaction we got at the show was very encouraging indeed and has certainly spurred us on! I hope 2010 will be a great year for the layout and the team behind it - we have lots to do but the progress made since the show has been amazing and I do hope this will continue. For me knowing where to start with the great, long list of things I want to do may be the hardest part!

Botanic Gardens from above
2010 is going to be a year of huge change; Thomas is due to be home tomorrow and life will then change forever! Hopefully modelling will still be there, somewhere! Though I'm trying to sort out some of my projects in such a way that some can be done on the dining table rather than requiring the workshop! That way they should be able to fit into home life fairly easily - well that's the plan, who knows if it'll work or not!

Though I know exactly where my priorities will be...

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Mick Clark, 1969 - 2009

This isn't something which is pleasant to post yet I feel I need to. I learned yesterday that a friend and colleague had died suddenly, and very much unexpectedly, over the weekend.

I worked with Mick Clark, who was a P-Way Engineer with VolkerRail, during my time on the Hull Docks Branch upgrade. I learnt a lot from him working with him and he was very willing to share knowledge and very generous if you needed help. This was when I decided that P-Way was what I wanted to work with.

It was good fun working with him too! This was partly why I was disappointed to be transferred at short notice away from the Hull project. Though even after this he got me a few weekend shifts on the project - just what I needed to keep me sane! Even though on one Sunday morning he blocked my car in so he wouldn't be the last to leave!

Everybody to whom I have spoken is in shock. A life cut tragically short. Mick was a thoroughly decent and kind man; if he could help anyone he would go out of his way to do so.

RIP mate, it was a pleasure knowing you. You're going to be greatly missed.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Thomas Simonett Wells

We have some news!

The Wells Family
Suzi and I have a new edition to the family; Thomas Simonett Wells born 25th December 2009 at 0822 by Emergency Ceasarean Section at Hull & East Yorkshire Women's and Children's Hospital.

It's been a very long day! The end result of being in and out of hospital everyday over the last week! 2010's going to be a fun year!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Great Model Railroads 2010

The Yorkshire Wolds have been covered in a seamless blanket of snow. This is when you don't want to venture too far despite the snow combining with the Wolds' own beauty to be truly stunning.

So with the weather and this being the first day of our Christmas break (not to mention the first day in ages when I didn't have to be in Scunthorpe for seven!) we didn't want to venture far! Just before lunch in Beverley we popped in to WH Smith's and I picked up Model Railroader's Great Model Railroad 2010. To our eyes many layouts which have appeared in GMR over the years will seem huge; a combination of many US homes having large basements and their liking for operation, as discussed previously here. Model Railroader, especially, seems to focus on the operational side of the hobby and it seems to us that this translates as large layouts requiring a team of operators. This does seem at odds with the reality which many of us who are starved for space over here have.

Many of these larger layouts which are predominantly the work of one person seem to have to take on a more impressionistic approach which will probably more effective to the naked eye than they do in photographs. Maybe this is why they don't always 'do it' for me. As such I found Mike Confalone's Woodsville Terminal RR the real highlight of GMR 2010 which is very close in appearance and levels of detail to UK finescale as you'll find. But it is also built with operation and a real purpose in mind which, I think, has produced an excellent result.

Even if you don't always agree with what you read or see, it is always worthwhile seeing how modellers in other countries approach things in the same hobby. It provides an excellent opportunity to learn and see things from a slightly different point of view.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Last Day in Scunthorpe

Today was my final day at Scunthorpe after four months on P-Way within the works.

I have enjoyed my time immensely! It has been a very satisfying time for me; a time which really re-enthused me after a few months stuck in an office fulfilling no real purpose. I have met some wonderful people at the works and have enjoyed working those who were around me. I think I’ve provided the odd comical moment too – tightening a rail joint, slipping and banging yourself on your helmet with a fish spanner and knocking yourself over and ending up lying, laughing, on your back in the four foot is undoubtedly amusing to all around! Oh, yeah... And I locked my keys in my car too one day!

Industrial systems, as I’ve found, are a world away from the mainline railway…

There's a level crossing under there somewhere!
Recently we have been working in one area to renew a siding through the ‘Slab Bay’ where freshly produced slabs are loaded on to either internal wagons to go for finishing within the works or onto EWS/DBS wagons for delivery to other sites round the UK. The loading process means that the sidings receive a fair bit of hammer as the ground either side is subjected to heavy machinery and this can affect the track too. We have renewed one turnout over the last week or so too. The conditions here are quite unlike the mainline; mud and sludge are right up to the level of the rail heads and even just checking during routine maintenance can be hard work. One of the photos, believe it or not, actually shows a level crossing! The weather affected us too; on Thursday and Friday the mud was frozen solid and as a result one siding couldn’t be used in case the mud caused a derailment.

Renewals projects such as these have been very satisfying; nice self-contained jobs where you can easily see the whole thing through from start to finish. This is quite a contrast to some of the large contracts which VolkerRail have elsewhere. Although this is a small contract, it undoubtedly works very well indeed. Some of the staff with VolkerRail who are based on this contract have been working on permanent way within the works for over thirty years and have a wealth of knowledge and it has been an honour and a real pleasure to be able to tap into this during my time working with them.

John Pike (left) and Wayne Moorhouse at Scunthorpe
I have spent every day for the last few months out side in all weathers – a change from our usual project work which sees a mix of office and site work. It was quite a liberating to not be chained to either a desk or a laptop! It was a real education to learn how to ‘arrange’ track manually without the use of sophisticated machines. I’ll be left with memories of centre cab industrial shunters in Corus’ red, white and yellow livery fighting with their loose coupled rakes of wagons as they make their way around the works. I’ll also be left many wonderful memories of those who work there – they have made it a wonderful experience!

The last months have been incredibly satisfying and rewarding; the time I spent working on the railway within the steelworks will be a period which I will treasure for a very long time.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Humpty Dumpty

We’ve just got back from York; it was a rather weird evening!

We spent the evening at the Theatre Royal having been to see Humpty Dumpty! As those who have read previous posts here may be aware we go to the pantomime at York Theatre Royal every year, we tend to go twice actually! I’m very much a fan of Berwick Kaler’s productions and his approach to what is sometimes called the ‘post modern pantomime’ due to the use of video and puppetry.

Humpty Dumpty is not how you’d imagine it; Snow White and her seven Penguins (yes, Penguins!) make an appearance along with Simple Simon who turns out to be not exactly how you’d expect him (well, her!) to be and the Spartan Army travelling by Routemaster! And the villain, well he appeared as most of the other characters at some point during the production!

The villain is worthy of note; David Leonard is a classically trained actor who, somehow, became an integral part of the York production. He must be one of the few villains who received just as many cheers as boos when he first makes an appearance.

The show is perhaps best appreciated by adults – evening performances are normally 95% over 18; the audiences tend to be intelligent ones and the humour is often pitched at a higher level than one would perhaps realise. Though the musical numbers are ever present and appeal to children though the song performed by Ken (Leonard in one of the villain’s many disguises) and Barbie (Kaler’s Dame desperately seeking to relive her youth) was as comically brilliant as it was creepy and it delighted the audience - though the mouse perhaps upstaged the rest of the cast! See, not how you expect it to be at all!

It’s a magical evening and I still would urge everyone to go!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

15,000 Not Out

Well firstly a thank you to all of you who read my blog! It has had, just before I started typing this, 15,039 views since 6th of April this year. Not a bad achievement for my random ramblings about things! It does genuinely surprise me that people would want to read anything that I write - the main reason I started to write this blog was to force write something which wasn't written in a 'technical' or formal manor. I'm dyslexic (as my posts may have suggested!) and this has helped me be a little more creative with words and given a break from the formalities which work and professional development demand.

As a nice aside from this it has also allowed me to share some of my work and views on subjects which may not have fitted in elsewhere. I'm pleased have shared some aspects of my 'real' work too; comments on here, along with comments made at exhibitions and elsewhere, have made it quite satisfying to share things which most enthusiasts wouldn't normally see or perhaps even think about in the first place!

Next year will bring some huge changes; I hope to to be able to continue sharing my thoughts and ideas about life and railways of all sizes!

Friday, 4 December 2009

MRJ 195 - The Chris Pendlenton Issue

When I was nine I can remember my Dad bringing home a copy of Model Railway Journal; this was the first issue I remember seeing of this magazine as my Dad didn't buy every issue. There was one article in this issue which was to have an enormous effect one me…

The issue was MRJ No. 58, The North Shields issue. This is Chris Pendlenton’s masterpiece, probably one of the best pieces of railway modelling you will ever see! It’s a layout which has inspired me ever since! It's a wonderful piece of modelling which depicts the everyday and mundane to perfection and everything works together as one. In the intervening seventeen years I have managed to wear out two copies of this issue and am now on my third rather dog eared copy!

So, in the current trend which Wild Swann are following with guest editors, I was very pleased to see that Chris Pendlenton was editing issue 195! The highlight of the issue has to be the selection of new photos of North Shields – with some of the most convincing snow and winter effects you will ever see! I was so pleased that these new photos generated exactly the same feelings of wonderment and admiration that those original photos nearly twenty years ago did.

Following this another North Eastern supremo, Dave Bradwell, describes developments on his layout which follows on to push the finescale concept further to encompass operation and further combine the American and British schools of layout design and operation as we've discussed here previously. Both Chris Pendlenton and Dave Bradwell are promoting these ideas.

If you, as a railway modeller, cannot find inspiration from or be impressed by North Shields I do wonder if there is something deeply wrong with your soul! Undoubtedly Chris Pendlenton is one of the top modellers, past and present and remains since first seeing MRJ 58 one of my favourite modellers and someone whose talent I greatly admire.