Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The joys of commuting

I guess that for most people commuting to and from work, especially if they work in London, is the least enjoyable experience of their day. I am therefore probably in a minority when I say that I actually enjoy my daily journey to and from London, well most of the time. For me the journey provides a barrier between the working day and my personal time. So if I've had an awful day at work by the time I get home all the stress and anxiety has been chewed over and dealt with so I walk in my front door with a clear head and relaxed. In the mornings travelling to work feels like my time and I like to read on the train into London and I've got through some good books in the last couple of months.

Getting up early in the morning has never bothered me. I've always considered myself more of a morning person and I feel most alert and awake first thing in the morning. Now that the mornings are lighter (for a little while) getting out of bed is just that little bit easier. Although I do miss walking to the station while its still dark and seeing the sun rise, which on many mornings has been a beautiful sight. Plus, there's something I like about being out and about when most people are still in bed. The city has an altogether different rhythm to it at that time of the morning, that sort of netherworld between night and day, before the rush hour starts in earnest. Its peaceful too and most often the only noise apart from the occasional passing car is bird song and the distant rumble of trains hurtling back and forth through Bletchley.

I always walk to the station in the mornings unless the weather is particularly foul; only a couple of occasions so far when I've got the bus instead. I normally leave home with just enough time to get the train so I have to adopt a quick pace to get to the station on time and that wakes me up and allows time to think about the day ahead. I've never been one who understands why some people appear so loathsome of their own company. I enjoy being on my own and thinking things over. I like the time to reflect on things past and the day ahead and to just randomly muse on whatever pops into my head!

On the train into London, I like to read and I've got through about four books so far, which I would never have read if I'd been just reading at home in the evenings. Currently I am into Nimitz Class by Patrick Robinson, a rather trashy thriller but an easy read and despite its clunky dialogue and occasional silliness a believable and frightening story. This is definitely one for the boys though; I can't imagine many women getting excited about the tactics of modern submarine warfare or the details of US Carrier Battle Groups. You can tell its a 'man's' book by the inclusion its judicious inclusion of diagrams and maps.

At the end of my journey, its another fairly brisk walk to the office. One thing which often surprises me when I leave Euston station is just how noisy London is, especially in comparison to Milton Keynes. Not to mention that everyone seems to be in a perpetual hurry to be somewhere else.

The journey home starts either with a brisk walk back to Euston or if I am feeling lazy a short bus ride. The train get home is perfectly timed to get into Bletchley for just the right time to get a bus home, or sometimes I'll walk. The journey home is usually reading the free London papers, which are the only newspapers I read with any regularity. They're not particularly good but serve their purpose as an idle distraction and I've started having a go at the Su Doku puzzles most nights, which I find a great way to switch off from the day at the office.

Then it starts all again the following morning. My evenings maybe shorter than before but I value them that bit more and the travelling has its compensations. Commuting isn't all bad.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A day out on the Bluebell Railway

It is not often that I post pictures to my blog. However, I wanted to share these two photos which I took yesterday while visiting the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex. In all I took about 250 photos over the day!

As I have many times mentioned before I am something of a rail enthusiast and I prefer that term to 'trainspotter' which has all sorts of negative and derogatory meaning. A visit to a 'heritage' railway like the Bluebell is always a great day out and this weekend was their Giants of Steam celebration. What particularly drew my attention was the fact that the railway boasted no less than four Bullied Pacifics in service. This is the first time in more than forty years that four of these locos have been in steam together and perhaps the first time in preservation that three unrebuilt examples have steamed together. In this first photo are a pair of unrebuilt West Country Class Bullied Light Pacifics 34007 Wadebridge and 21C123 Blackmoor Vale, which was disguised on one side as O V S Bullied, designer of these beautiful and magnificent locos.

There were three near identical classes of loco designed by Bullied and built for the Southern Railway. The Merchant Navy class was the heaviest and largest of the three classes, the West Country and Battle of Britain classes were similar in design but less heavy, hence their designation as 'Light' Pacific. The term 'Pacific' refers to the wheel arrangement, which is expressed as 4-6-2; 4 leading wheels, 6 driving wheels and 2 trailing wheels. Oliver Bullied was the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway and these three classes were designed to be the main express locomotives for the company.

Following nationalisation in 1948, British Railways absorbed the locomotives and rolling stock of the Southern Railway along with the LMS, LNER and GWR (collectively known as the 'Big Four'). During the 1950s it was decided to standardise locomotive design and BR introduced its own Standard Classes. The Bullied Pacifics were an unusual design and difficult to maintain due to their streamline casing. All the Merchant Navy and 60 of the West Country and Battle of Britain classes were rebuilt and without their streamlined casing much more closely resembled the BR Standard designs. They are still attractive locos but in my view they look best in their original 'as built' condition.

This second picture shows the two Bullied Pacifics awaiting departure from Kingscote as a Maunsell-designed 'U' class loco, 1638 arrives at the station. The site of these three powerful locos of the Southern Railway is quite a sight. Later in the day the 'U' was double-heading with a Bullied Pacific owing to the earlier failure of another Pacific, 92 Squadron.

The one thing these photos cannot convey entirely is the atmosphere of the moment. One of the great things about steam locomotives is that they are so noisy! Impressively so and dirty, smelly and in some strange way, seeming to breathe with life. I am of course far too young to remember steam in its heyday and it is only on occasions such as this on preserved lines that I can at least begin to imagine what it must have been like back in the 1950s when these engines ruled the rails of the south of England. Wouldn't it be wonderful if trains were still hauled by steam locos?

Okay, one final pic then. So this is what they look like when rebuilt. This photo shows 34028 Eddystone (which I have also seen in action on the Swanage and Mid-Hants Railways), looking glorious in the late afternoon sun as she prepares for departure from Sheffield Park...

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Its been a while since I've been here to update the blog. I could draw out a whole long list of reasons - excuses really - but that would be boring. The last few weeks seem to have flown past in something of a blur, the weeks blending into one long excess of work, work and more work or so it seems on occasion. The weekends, those pleasurable interludes, are just that, fleeting moments of rest and escape when I seem to struggle to find the energy to do anything much, let alone update this blog. So here I am, just before 10pm on a Sunday night, finally summoning some energy to prattle away for a few paragraphs and I am listening just at this moment to one of my favourite pieces of music from The Mission.

I first saw The Mission at school. I am not quite sure why we were watching it but it was part of our Religious Education lessons and all I clearly remember is being completely drawn in by the beautiful and wondrous music. Whenever I am feeling in need of a lift or some inspiration or just a quiet moment of reflection, I can think of nothing better than listening to this soundtrack. As film scores go, it has hardly been bettered in terms of evocative emotions and beauty.

I find often that music will catch me unawares. Like the other evening, I was flicking through channels on the TV and happened to come to a rest on Classic FM TV. The second track I saw was Elegy for Dunkirk from Atonement, which accompanies a breathtaking sweeping shot in the film of the British forces marooned on the beaches of Dunkirk. Again, simply beautiful and moving.

Ironically it is one of my great personal disappointments that although I can be moved to tears by music and find it emotionally exhilarating, I have absolutely no sense of rhythm or timing and can barely string a couple of words together from any song that I like let alone sing it. I wish I could express my love of music in some way more creative rather than passively listening.

I've bought quite a few CD's over the last few weeks, mainly classical and pieces by composers that I've heard over the summer particularly during the Proms. One of my delights was finding a CD of Aaron Copland's Symphony No.3, which I may have mentioned before. I heard this piece at the Proms and it has a rousing final movement, which incorporates Fanfare for the Common Man, an earlier work by Copland that is perhaps one of his most famous compositions. Another composer whose work I heard at the Proms is William Walton and I got a bargain 4-CD set of his work yesterday including some of my favourites - Crown Imperial, Belshazzar's Feast, Symphony No 1 and pieces that I had not heard before like the Cello Concerto and Hindemith Variations.

I started watching Heroes during the catch-up weekend on BBC 2 in September and although I think it is very good, I've found it difficult to keep up with. Mainly because I've been work late quite a few nights a week, I've often missed it or realised the next day that it was on the night before! I made a similar error watching The House of Cards, which was repeated last week on BBC 4. I don't remember watching this when it was first on, maybe I was too young to appreciate it then anyway, but what a great series. A deliciously good performance by Ian Richardson and one which I will always remember him for as the cold, scheming and power-hungry Francis Urquhart. I love the fact that the audience is drawn into his plots and end up rooting for him to succeed.

Anyhows, enough prattling on from me for now. Hopefully I can keep a better check on updating this blog going forward. Just need to be more organised...