Friday, April 27, 2007

Another one of those boring posts about trains

Okay, if you're still reading and weren't put off the title, you must either be as much an anorak as me or just curious...but I did warn you!
Last Saturday I went to the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex. I'd been wanting to go for a couple of years but for one reason or another other things have come up and there just hasn't been the opportunity. What convinced me to go was some photos a railway buff friend of mine sent of their visit last summer. Still it has taken me to April this year to find the time and opportunity to go.

The last time I visited the Bluebell was at least 20 years ago, if not longer. I remember little about it to be honest, other than it was a warm sunny day and bits of the station at Horsted Keynes. Don't remember anything of actually going on the train!

The Bluebell, along with the Tallylyn Railway in Wales, were the torch-bearers for the preservation movement. I think I am right in saying that the Bluebell line was first established as a preserved railway in the late 1960s and was the first railway of its kind in the UK. It is currently the only standard gauge heritage line in the country which is entirely steam operated. The line itself represents a typical country branch line of the 1950s/1960s.

I am not certain of this but I understand the Bluebell was part of a through route from East Grinstead to Lewes. The line currently runs for about 8 miles from Sheffield Park via Horsted Keynes to Kingscote, although the line to East Grinstead is currently being relaid and a branch is being built to Ardingly, near Haywards Heath. The link to East Grinstead will presumably provide direct access to the National Rail network. Currently the 'missing link' from East Grinstead to Kingscote is provided by a bus, which runs when the railway is operating.

Kingscote station, like the others on the line, has been lovingly and carefully restored. Posters advertise excursions by 'British Railways' to the coast and period advertising and station furniture add to the feel of stepping back in time. Even the tickets are hand stamped card with a choice between First Class and Third Class. There was no Second or the more politically correct 'Standard' class in those days!

The highlight of any visit to a railway like this is the locomotives and the trains. I am not as knowledgeable about steam locos as I would like to be and unlike modern trains they don't carry class numbers. I can pretty much recognise a Black 5, a 'Terrier', Bullied Pacific, A4 Pacific and a few other types but other than that, I am as lost as the next non-railway person! The two locos in use on my visit were a Class 4 Tank, built at Brighton in 1957 and returned to steam in 2001 and a London Brighton & South Coast Railway Class E4 Radial Tank built in 1898. Btw, I got this info from the Bluebell's excellent web site. Both currently operate in British Railways lined black livery, which I think is rather attractive and would have been a common livery for steam locos in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Bluebell is home to a large collection of ex-Southern Railway locos and there are a number of my favourites on the line - the Bullied Pacifics - both in rebuilt and unrebuilt form. These are attractive looking locos and hauled some of the most prestigious trains of their day like The Pines Express and Bournemouth Belle.

On static display outside the shed at Sheffield Park was this fine looking locomotive, a Maunsell 'U' class loco, 1638. Reading her history on the Bluebell web site reveals that she was for a time based at Fratton depot, Portsmouth until closure in 1959. As you can see the loco has been lovingly restored to full working order and this was completed in 2006, more than 40 years after she was originally withdrawn from service! It took over two decades to restore this loco to full working order and it impresses me that dedicated people like the volunteers at the Bluebell invest such time and money into restoring these magnificent machines. I will be travelling on a train hauled by a similar looking loco to this in June on a steam-hauled excursion to Kent.

I think most people, especially men even if they are not interested in trains generally, have some sort of fascination or are moved by the sight of a steam locomotive. They are probably the most life-like of machines in many ways and I am always excited at the prospect of travelling on a steam-hauled train. There is a certain magic and nostalgia to the experience and an atmosphere too, hearing the loco puffing away, with long trails of smoke billowing into the distance. Wonderful :-)

Next for this year will be visits to both the Mid-Hants & Swanage Railways and hopefully Nene Valley and Severn Valley too. I am hoping that I'll get to do a couple of diesel galas as well as my real passion along with steam is in heritage diesel locomotives, particularly of the 1970s & 80s.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Maybe honesty is the best policy

I had what would probably be a full and frank discussion with my manager today about where I am with my job and where I would like to be. I made it clear that the coming months, were from my point of view at least, a make or break time. There is a restructure (yet again) ongoing at the moment, the outcome of which I may know tomorrow or sometime next week. As always with these things, details seep out before the main announcement and generally what I have heard seems positive and I am keeping a focus on that. But I am also being realistic too. If things don't work out as I anticipate then I am not happy carrying on as now. I can't continue as I am, to put it simply. This was the gist of what I said my manager although of course in a more articulate manner. I think we both came away from the meeting with a clearer understanding of each other and whilst my comments were sincere I am not entirely convinced of the same by my manager's words, no matter how many times he made reference to being sincere. I always find it doubtful when people have to hammer home so carefully what they mean - surely if the meaning is not clear in their words then they don't really mean it? I am not usually so direct and honest but it felt refreshing to be so and to approach the subject of my future at work so directly and head-on.

The coming days and weeks should be interesting as the results of the restructure become clear and I learn how I fit within it. There is, as always with these things, some suggestion that redundancies may occur but I feel that is very unlikely. I am not worrying about that anyway. If it happens to me, it does and I'll deal with it then. I waste too much emotional energy already worrying about the things that I cannot change so there is no point adding redundancy to my list!

Hopefully tomorrow things may become a little clearer and I will have a better focus on the future at work.

Friday, April 20, 2007


I returned yesterday from a 3-day break to Newcastle, my first visit to the North East of England and an enjoyable one too. I'd planned this break back in February feeling that I needed some time away to myself, as well as the holiday with the Groovy Gang in May. Newcastle wasn't my first choice; I was thinking of Bournemouth or somewhere down in the South West but as it happened the Newcastle thing came together. I've had an interest in visiting the city for a while and managed to get cheap train tickets and a bargain stay at the Travelodge - the whole thing - travel and accommodation - for under £100 for 3 nights. In my experience, that is cheap for a stay in the UK! Okay, so the Travelodge is not exactly your 4/5-star luxury experience but it suffices as I used it - simply as a place to sleep and treat as a base. It was comfortable, clean and modern, centrally located and with easy access of the city centre. Not bad at all.

Newcastle itself impressed me. Or should I say NewcastleGateshead as the marketing constantly reminded me! I am a little ashamed to admit that I didn't realise just how close the two centres are - Gateshead is just the other side of the Tyne. When I arrived at Newcastle Central I was in my element. I love old stations and the one at Newcastle, over 150 years old, is a magnificent sight. The scale of the place, like the rest of Newcastle's building, is impressive and it retains a grand station hotel, which was such a common feature of the main termini and important stations of the steam age. Clearly, the station has been modernised but sympathetically such that it is still possible to take in the grandeur of this Grade 1 listed building.

I decided to walk to the Travelodge, having ascertained from the map I had it wouldn't take more than about 15 minutes. So, off I trudged, bag in hand confidently marching in the general direction of the quay. I was struck by how tall the buildings are, and nearer the quay the approaches to the Tyne Bridge, carry the road many stories up in the air across buildings, which themselves, loom ominously to 4 or 5 stories. Everything about Newcastle seems to be on a giant scale. Needless to say I got a little lost, although once I got to the quay I got my bearings and the Travelodge, although not its entrance, was fairly easy to find, tucked away behind the Law Courts.
That afternoon, once I settled in, was spent mostly getting to know the area a little better. I took a walk down along the quay taking pictures of the bridges, particularly the Tyne Bridge, which reminds me of the pictures I've seen of the one in Sydney, Australia. Not quite the same climate in Newcastle unfortunately although each day I was blessed with nearly dawn to dusk sunshine and it was pleasantly warm most of the time. After making my way back to Central Station, I realised that there was a regular bus service that would achieve the same and avoid the tiring and steep walk back up the hill to the city centre. I made much use of the same many times over my short stay.
Later I went to the Gateshead Metro Centre, a sprawling 1980s consumer metropolis of shops, bars, restaurants and leisure facilities. Really, Milton Keynes but on a larger scale. The Metro Centre claims to be the largest shopping and leisure facility in Europe. That seems a little doubtful to me but each of these out of town shopping meccas claims to be the largest and I've done a few of them - Trafford Centre, Meadowhall, Bluewater. On site is an Odeon multiplex, where I saw Mr Bean's Holiday. I laughed like a drain and embarrassingly was laughing at the bits which obviously weren't funny, either that or I was the only one who got the joke! I am sure it wouldn't be so funny on a second viewing and no I am going to justify my choice of film any further.

Tuesday was my favourite day and I had been planning this, at least mentally, for some weeks. I arrived early at the station expecting it to be busy and certain that I would have difficulties getting the ticket I wanted. On both counts I was proved wrong and I set off with my Round Robin ticket via the Settle-Carlisle line for an enjoyable day out.

I decided to do the journey the 'wrong' way round as trains to Newcastle from York are more frequent than they are from Carlisle. My first journey was from Newcastle to Carlisle, a pleasant journey across the top of England, flirting with the borders of Scotland. The train stops at Hexham, from where it is possible to get a bus to Hadrian's Wall, for a reasonable add-on fare. Maybe another time I'll do this. About 90 minutes after leaving Newcastle, the train arrived in Carlisle, the second time I have been to this city in just 6 months. I had a brief stop of around an hour before my next train and the highlight of the day, so I took the opportunity to have a leg-stretch and comfort break. Carlisle is an attractive city and on my previous visit I'd done the Castle and Cathedral. Again, its a handy jumping off point for trips to Hadrian's Wall.

Next train from Carlisle was the service to Leeds, a journey of around 3 hours through some of the most beautiful and wonderful countryside. The route via Settle passes through the Eden and Aire valleys and the line features 17 viaducts and 14 tunnels; Blea Moor Tunnel is reputedly haunted! The most impressive of the viaducts is Ribblehead Viaduct, 24 arches carrying the railway 104 feet above the valley below. It is an iconic location for railway photography, with a beautiful backdrop of rolling hills and the valley it crosses.

If I was doing the journey in the opposite direction, I would be on the descent to Carlisle from the infamous 'long drag' from Settle to Ais Gil Summit. Over the course of about 40 miles the line rises from just under 100 feet above sea level at Settle to 1169 feet above sea level at Ais Gil. The Settle-Carlisle line also features the highest mainline station in England at Dent, which sits an impressive 1150 feet above sea level and must be one of the most isolated and bleak stations on the network (its over 4 miles from the village it serves), appearing to sit precariously on the edge of a deep valley.

I alighted from the train at Settle, for a break of two hours until the next train south. There are about six return passenger journeys on the line each day, about three on Sundays. It seems remarkable to me that in the early 1980s the while line was faced with closure. Most of the intermediate stations had been closed and freight was non-existent. Now, the line is going through something of a renaissance with the passenger services doing well and freight - principally coal and gypsum - a regular feature of the line. The line is also an important Anglo-Scottish diversionary route for passenger trains avoiding the West Coast Main Line; most recently it was used for this purpose following the Virgin Trains derailment at Lambrigg.

Settle is in a lovely bucolic setting and has all the charm of a quintessentially English market town. Only the constant thunder of lorries through this otherwise tranquil setting spoils the notion. Tuesdays is Market Day, which seemed to be doing a brisk trade and I was surprised to note that the town still observes early closing on Wednesdays, something that was once common across many English towns and cities.

After leaving Settle I rejoined the train for the run down to Leeds. The scenery is less attractive in this stretch and it passes through stations of faded splendour, notably Hellifield. Once an important junction, it's usefulness is now far diminished and although efforts have been made at restoration, it has the look of decay and disuse. There are some good views of the Leeds & Liverpool canal and some fascinating glimpses of the Five and Three Rise Locks.

Leeds was just a place to change trains; I've been here before and didn't like it much so decided not too linger. As it was rush-hour, Leeds station was buzzing and I got the first train from there to York.

York, as I am sure I've probably mentioned before, is one of my favourite cities. An ideal place to stop for a few hours, get something to eat and go on a walk up through the Shambles to York Minster, where the intrepid tourists were gathering for the nightly Ghost Walk. I did this once when I stayed in York back in '98 or '99 and it is well worth doing, a lot of fun. Then it was back along part of the city walls to the station to catch my train back to Newcastle.
Wednesday was a little less adventurous. Started off early and got the train to Durham, if I'd been coming the other way about an hour earlier I would have been travelling on the most overcrowded train in the UK! Durham station is situated at the top of a hill, meaning a long walk down and more importantly back up! I stopped here for breakfast before making my way to the Cathedral, which seemed to be up another hill over the other side of the city. The Cathedral was not one of the most impressive I've visited and I object to the fact that there seemed to be entry fees for many things such as going up the tower. I know these grand buildings cost a lot of money to keep going but charging fees, which it seems are mainly designed to catch out foreign tourists, just seems wrong.

After returning to Newcastle, I got an all day ticket for the Metro, bus and ferry and got the Metro to Whitley Bay. This was an invigorating stop, as might be seen from the photo! I love being by the sea and this was my fix for the day!
From Whitley Bay it was back on the Metro for the short trip round to North Shields. I got somewhat lost by rather errant road signs trying to find my way to the ferry. Eventually I found the terminal and took the ferry for the short crossing across the Tyne to South Shields. I imagine that the Tyne was much busier than it is now. There was very little in the way of shipping activity although a DFDS cross-channel ferry was moored up perhaps in between sailings to Scandinavia or Holland. South Shields seemed a little more alive than its neighbour across the Tyne although this clearly is an area of social and economic problems. At South Shields I rejoined the Metro back to Gateshead and managed to get the front seat a few stops into the journey. The Metro is a curious amalgam of heavy and light rail. The stations and routes were clearly once served by conventional rail services before giving way to the Metro. As on the DLR, passengers can sit a the front of the train and thus, in my case at least, have a little flight of fantasy at being the driver! Unlike the DLR, the Metro is driven by a driver, who is locked away in a cab to the left-hand side.

At Gateshead, another change of transport, this time onto a bus for the short journey to the Baltic. This was the only disappointment of my time in Newcastle. The Baltic is a converted flour mill on the banks of the Tyne, which is now home to a modern art gallery. Unfortunately it seems that I chose a bad time to visit - three of its five floors were closed for exhibition change-overs and of the other two, one was partially closed for a refurbishment or something. The highlight as it happened was the stunning views from the fifth floor across the Tyne.

I walked back across the Tyne into Newcastle over the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and then another bus to the city centre. After getting something to eat decided that I should see what was on at the cinema. Saw Sunshine, which I thought was a lot like 2001 and certainly owed something to Alien and Event Horizon.
Yesterday was my return to Milton Keynes but before I left Newcastle, I had to do the one bridge that I hadn't done - the Tyne Bridge. From here there are some great views of Newcastle and Gateshead notably the Baltic and the Sage, plus the other bridges. The Tyne Bridge itself is an impressive structure and it felt even bigger and more impressive walking across it than it did seeing it from underneath.

All in all it was a great few days way. There is a lot that I didn't get the chance to see or do and I would love to go back to Newcastle again. The people were friendly, the city is compact and easy to get about, there is much to do and some wonderful countryside and the coast within easy reach. Maybe next year...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Brief Encounter

I caught the last half-hour or so of Brief Encounter on Film 4 earlier. It was during an idle moment of flicking through TV channels, seeing what was on and I guess I struck lucky with catching the end of one of my favourite films. It is also a film that always makes me cry and true to form I blubbed through every last minute of it. Despite its age, Brief Encounter, I feel is perhaps one of the best if not the best romances of cinema. I know I've said this before but it would be inconceivable that film could be made like this today. It is so quintessentially British, with its reserved, uptight characters with frightfully posh accents and impeccable manners. This though, for me, is what gives Brief Encounter its great pathos and enduring quality. It is the fact that Laura's and Alec's affair is chaste and so dignified that lends such enormous power to every moment of their meeting; those 'special' Thursday afternoons. I am particularly struck by Celia Johnson's portrayal of Laura, a woman in a desperate turmoil, torn between loyalty and her true love. Her restraint is as incredible as it is heartbreaking. This is a woman who so desperately wants to break free but her every moment is a study in self-control and crushing reserve.

The moment that really gets me though, is at the end of the film, when she almost looses it completely and rushes onto the platform with every intention of throwing herself in front of the express. She says something like 'I didn't want to feel anything anymore' and those lines just choke me up every time. The film to me also has a rather sad ending although morally its all very decent and proper; Laura realises the error of her ways and comes back to her worthy but monumentally dull husband. It's a crushing moment, the love of her life has gone and she is back to just the normal, the routine and the hum-drum existence of a housewife.


Yesterday was spent down in London, met up with some of the Groovy Gang and had an enjoyable day in the sun walking around London's docklands - the Isle of Dogs, Milwall and Canary Wharf. Later on we went to Excel, mainly to see where the place was and how easy it is to get too as this will be the venue for Star Wars Celebration Europe in July. After watching the Grand National in a cavernous sized pub that would have been almost empty except for us, we made our way to Greenwich, finding another pub and spent an enjoyable part of the evening having a bite to eat, drinks and talking about all manner of things, from Star Wars (thanks to Joe for bringing along a collection of old comics) to the Watergate investigation and the downfall of Nixon's presidency.

The drinks in the pub and the chat is the best thing for me about any meet up we do. I don't often have anyone to unburden my thoughts on or even to share or engage in conversation with others. There are so many things I have buzzing around sometimes, not usually particularly important or striking, that I am glad I have this blog to off-load some of them.

Oh and the other good bit about yesterday was the various journeys made on the DLR, which since I was introduced to it some 6-7 years ago, has always been a favourite railway experience of mine :-)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The story in today's news about the woman who has lost her appeal to the European Courts to use frozen embryo's fertilised by her ex-partner, have left a feeling of distaste. I am frankly disgusted that a case like this should even have got so far down the legal process, not to mention that I am opposed to any form of artificial fertilisation.

To me, life is precious. It is a gift. We do not have the unequivocal right to grant it nor do we have the right to take it away. All too often I feel that people bring babies into this world with little care or regard for the consequences or responsibilities that creating new life brings. It seems to me that amongst some sections of society, having a baby is the latest designer accessory. It is no longer seen as a gift to be cherished, nurtured and loved.

This case highlights these points I feel. I am disgusted by the idea that life can be created in such a seemingly callous and casual way and discarded with equal flippancy. I find the idea that life is little more than a 'thing' repugnant and morally reprehensible. There is the fact that there is now six possible lives that will never exist. I find that a difficult concept to accept. I cannot agree with life being created and taken away so easily. It is not ours to decide and although I feel sympathy for those who cannot have children naturally, for whatever reason, I do not believe in artificial means of fertilisation.

Yes, it is cruel that some people cannot have children. I am sure it must be a terrible sadness if you want children of your own but can't have them. But those are the cards that have been dealt. That might sound harsh or unkind; it is what I believe. We cannot have exactly what we want or sometimes even what we need. Life is cruel, it is painful and sometimes harsh. Life is also beautiful, wonderful, joyous and amazing.

Moreover, life is full of difficult choices and making sacrifices. Sometimes morality, principles, the care and consideration of others or even a nobler act of doing the best for those we love must come before our own personal happiness. If I was in a position where I was unable to have children and I wanted too, I hope that I would have the courage to accept that. Yes, I would be disappointed and maybe it would always remain a gaping emptiness but I have to be realistic. This is not what has been chosen for me, life is not my gift to provide.

I've made choices about my life and some choices have been made for me. I can't change the fact of who I am; I cannot alter what fundamentally defines me.

I am not motivated by religious beliefs in my thinking on this; perhaps there is some spiritual element to it or a belief that there is a greater design to our world than we can comprehend. What I am trying to get too is the point that we can't have all the things that we want. We make choices. We choose a lifestyle, we choose how we live. Then there are the things that we cannot choose, like our sexuality, the fundamentals that define and make choices for us.

I don't think I am being unduly moralistic or advancing an idea that some people should always be unhappy or deprived of what they want. I personally feel that there are certain things in my life that will always be closed to me. That's because of who I am and the choices I make. Some make me deeply unhappy but I try not to dwell on what is missing; I would rather look at what I have and the positive choices I can make.

It is unlikely that I will ever have children. That is both a choice I have and a decision that has, in some ways, already been made for me. Does it make me unhappy? Yes, sometimes. I feel that I have a moral responsibility as well as a social duty that if I were to have children to provide for them a stable and loving home, to nurture, care for and love them. Can I provide all that? If the answer is no, which it is, then it is not my choice to have children.

This is the other point I am making here or trying to. As I said earlier, some people seem to have children because they're a designer accessory or because they were a 'mistake.' How can anyone though seriously be so foolish as to create life with all its attendant responsibilities and call it a 'mistake?' That to me is an abdication of any sense of moral duty.

So, to come back to my original point, life is not ours to unequivocally provide or take away. It is a serious and profound undertaking. It must be thought through and carefully considered. It cannot be made and then thrown away because it is inconvenient or a 'mistake.' It isn't a choice open to everyone, as I have said. Although I have sympathy for people in that position, that is the way it is. Instead move on to something that can be chosen, a difference that can be made.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sci-fi catch-up

It's been something of a sci-fi catch up weekend so far. In the last few days I've watched five episodes of Battlestar Galactica Season Three, finished the last couple of episodes of The Day of the Triffids and watched the four episodes of the Dr Who story Resurrection of the Daleks, not to mention the episode from the new series on BBC 1 last night. Of all those mentioned my least favourite was last night's Dr Who. I was bored, I found myself checking my watch a couple of times, glancing anxiously at the Radio Times - when would this finish? Not good. It is all very clever and slick of course and the effects are far superior to what has been seen before but it seems to lack something of the charm and excitement of the earlier episodes of Dr Who. The Doctor himself no longer seems to be a character, more a caricature. I am not sure it is entirely David Tennant's fault as the script is just as much to blame. And the new assistant, Martha Jones, just Rose by another name it seems. I am not impressed with her at all, she seems to me to be a carbon copy of Billy Piper's character and a rather less interesting one too.

One of my main gripes though is that the action always takes place on Earth or so it seems, either the past, present or future and the whole world seems to revolve around London or Cardiff, which is often disguised as the capital. Where is the imagination and adventure in that? Okay, so the other Dr Who I've been watching - Resurrection of the Daleks - is set in London partly but the story is balanced with encounters in deep space and aboard a space station. The budget back in the early 80s must be far less than what it is now, yet I enjoyed these episodes so much more than the current Dr Who. It seems that the new version has become too cocky, too clever and Dr Who is, or at least shouldn't be, that at all.

The Doctor was more of a character back then. Although Peter Davison is not one of the better actors to portray the Doctor, he nevertheless gives the part a certain dignity and believability, something which I feel is absent from Tennant's portrayal. The scripts were not as sharp but they worked and the story-telling was first rate. All round the characters are more engaging and interesting.

Much the same could be said for The Day of the Triffids. This was a lot better than I expected and it owes a lot to its well chosen cast, a fine script and chilling music. The Triffids do not appear to be much of a threat although considering the budget and technical constraints of the time, they are reasonably effective. Moreover, its the story and the characters, which are particularly strong and make this series work as a sci-fi drama.

Another excellent sci-fi drama is Battlestar Galactica, a show that is always going to dark places and unsettling its audience. It is audacious, bold and gripping, just what good sci-fi should be. I can't sing the praises of this series enough, its just the best thing on TV at the moment. The series is now into its third season and is just hitting its stride. The shift in focus at the beginning of the series and concentration on the cylons has seen a series of stunning revelations, exceptional episodes and first-rate drama. It feels very real, very human and I like the fact that its characters are flawed and vulnerable. So often it has shown how there is more to the fight between humans and cylons than simply good and evil or right and wrong. There are terrible acts perpetrated on both sides and sometimes it is necessary to do evil things to preserve freedom.

I think that sci-fi should be like that. It should challenge our view of the world, our morality and beliefs. It should make us evaluate what being human means and as stated in one of the episodes of Battlestar Galactica it is not enough to survive, we have to earn the right to survive. Indeed, sci-fi for me should have an important message to convey about our contemporary world. Although it maybe set in a time or place far removed from our own, good sci-fi is about holding a mirror to ourselves.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What's my motivation?

That's what I am wondering at the moment. Work is still crap, monumentally boring days of the same dull repetitive processing applications one after another. This is not what I signed up for and its not stretching or challenging me in anyway. In fact I get so bored that I loose interest in what I do. I am sure I've made some silly mistakes but nobody seems to care, nothing gets checked, nobody can be bothered or has any time to be, so why should I? Its bad, I know. I am getting into a negative and corrosive mind-set, which isn't going to shift by me moping about at work all day, moaning about how rubbish it is. I suppose I should be looking for a new job but it all seems like a lot more hassle and I feel tired and fed up with work without thinking about doing something else.

Then there's my OU course, which I am finding just as much a struggle. An essay that should have been finished last week has been barely started. I never find writing essays easy. I struggle with the words, I am always unhappy with the end result even if I get good marks because I focus on what I should have done differently and better rather than what I did well. I find it a drag but know that I must get it finished by this weekend. Most importantly if I don't I miss the extended deadline and will fail the course. Secondly, I don't fancy spending the whole of Easter hammering out an essay that is driving me mad as it is.

As a result of feeling fed up and bored I've been over-eating. I shocked myself when I thought back on what I ate on Monday. In fact by the time I had my dinner I felt so bloated that I thought I was going to be sick. I've not felt completely well since and I am sure it is because of all the junk I am eating at the moment. It is just comfort food, although stuffing myself with food like that is just stupid. It shocks me just what a fine line it is between being perfectly normal and happy and loosing all control and being completely stupid.

Maybe as a result of all this, I've not been sleeping well, having some really bad dreams over the last couple of nights. I hesitate to call them nightmares although there have been occasions when I've woken absolutely terrified convinced that something awful has happened. I don't remember much about them afterwards, just an unpleasant and unnerving feeling.

I am hoping that the Easter break and my few days away the following week will help me to relax and get out of this negative cycle. If nothing else it'll give me some time to reflect and perhaps decide what I want to do going forward.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Looking ahead

There is lots of things I am looking forward to this year, many things and places I want to do or visit. Sometimes, when I am feeling down it helps to keep a focus on the future and the things that are ahead. This year or at least the coming months are particularly busy. Most of all I am looking forward to the holiday with friends in May. We're not going that far (at least not for me) taking a canal boat holiday for a week on the Grand Union Canal. We're starting out from Leighton Buzzard and I believe the plan is to head north, back through Milton Keynes and up through Northamptonshire and into Warwickshire and maybe even as far as Birmingham. The only limit really is time because we have to be back to return the boat early on the following Saturday morning. I am really looking forward to it though, it should be a lot of fun.

This will be the second holiday that I've done the friends, the first in May 2005 saw us staying at a lovely cottage in Derbyshire. The countryside was quite stunning and although the weather didn't quite match that everyday, it was nevertheless a very enjoyable break.

Before the canal holiday in May I am taking a mid-week break in April to Newcastle for a few days. I've long wanted to visit the North East of England. Plans at present are to do a round robin train trip from Newcastle via Hexham to Carlisle and then over the Settle line down to Leeds before heading back to Newcastle via York. I am really excited about this trip because doing the Settle-Carlisle Line has been an ambition of mine since I read about it as a kid. It always seemed such a far away place but of course as an adult nowhere is really that far, its only money and time that limits your ambitions! I am also planning to do a visit to Durham and of course seeing the sights of Newcastle and Gateshead. Whether I'll get to do much else depends on what I can fit in. Whatever, its going to be a busy few days.

Staying with the theme of trains, I am doing a rail tour in June, which much like the Settle-Carlisle trip fills another ambition for me. This tour is from London Victoria to Folkestone Harbour and back via the Kent Coast, stopping off in Canterbury on the return leg for a few hours. The really exciting part about this tour is that it will be steam hauled with recently restored Southern Railway loco 'Lord Nelson' booked to haul the train.

In July there is another rail tour that I would consider if not for the early start and the fact that it runs on a Sunday. Getting to London for the 9.30am start is just not feasible although I do intend to 'chase' the train down to Eastleigh and Bournemouth. This one is also a steam hauled excursion from Waterloo with Merchant Navy Pacific 'Clan Line' providing the power, another ex-Southern Railway loco. I hope to meet the train at Eastleigh where it will call for a water stop and head on down to Bournemouth to get some photographs of the train.

The reason for these two steam hauled excursions is that July 2007 is the fortieth anniversary of the end of steam on British Rail as the last steam locomotives were withdrawn from the Southern Region (as it was then).

Also in July I am going to Star Wars Celebration Europe in London. This should be a memorable weekend and perhaps one of the highlights of the year. It's appropriate that this should be happening this year as of course 2007 also marks the thirtieth anniversary of Star Wars. I have my fingers crossed that I could be really lucky and shake hands or at least come close to Mr Lucas himself, now that would really top everything else this year, no question!

I've got a feeling 2007 could be a really good year!