Rolling blog: Yorkshire (and Manchester) interlude…

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09:00.

Having spent most of yesterday in the office on what was one of the sunniest (and certainly hottest) days of the year, i’m venturing out today. Sod’s Law being what it is, the weather’s nowhere near as good as we have low cloud instead of wall-to-wall sunshine. Hopefully, if the Met Office have got it right the cloud will disappear later.

That suits me as right now I’m on the 08:50 train from Halifax to Huddersfield. Why? I’m off to Specsavers! Having had my usual eye test deferred by Covid it’s time to get my ‘mince pies’ checked out and choose a new pair of glasses. My preaent ones are four years old now. Photographer’s glasses take a beating due to costantly coming into contact with cameras. The lens coatings get worn away and the glass scratched and scored, so it’s time these ones were retired. Besides, it’ll be a week or so before the new ones are ready…

After the Opticians (and if the weather’s right) I plan to spend a few hours at the lineside getting some pictures. I’m not sure where yet, that depends on the sun – so let’s see what happens.

My service to Huddersfield’s being worked by 150274, a unit that’s worked in Yorkshire all its life. It’s been refurbished and had USB sockets and PIS screens fitted, so it’s in good nick. It’s also empty. The handful of people who got on with me at Halifax detrained at Brighouse, leaving me on my lonesome!

09:30.

As train times and available appointment times were out of sync I’ve time to hang around at the station getting a few shots. Until recently the stabling sidings were always full of surplus Nothern units that weren’t needed due to the Covid downturn. Today the yard’s empty, which augurs well. All there is to admire is the massive, multi-storey bulk of the old goods warehouse in the background.

Watching the procession of Trans-Pennine Express services as they arrive and depart it’s plain passenger numbers are picking up. Some of them are busy and it’s noticable that 1st Class (which suffered the biggest collapse in numbers) is seeing people return as business travel returns.

11:45.

My eye-test revealed that my eyes are perfectly healthy, which is always good news. They didn’t pick up any other underlying health problems either. As an extra precaution I paid to have my Retinas scanned and mapped which provides a health template for the future. As usual, the Specsavers staff were both professional and friendly with no pressure put on me to buy expensive frames or extras. I chose an new lightweight frame to house the thin lenses I’d ordered. They don’t look very different to my old ones really, they’re simply a slightly different shape.

Back at the station I spotted that the famous station cafe on the East end of the island platform had reopened, so I couldn’t resist popping in for one of their delicious, freshly cooked bacon rolls. The lovely couple who run it were both there so we swapped stories as we’ve not seen each other since the start of the pandemic. It’s great to see them back. The cafe was always one of the station’s hubs with a regular throughput of passengers and railstaff passing through. They reopened just 9 weeks ago and are finding it hard to build back the business. Passengers are returning but many have changed their routines, bypassing businesses that relied on them. Getting them back is a challenge. So, if you do pass through Huddersfield remember they’re there and pop in for a drink and a snack and enjoy one of the few remaining traditional family run station cafe’s left on the network.

17:15.

Apologies for the gap in blogging but I’ve been on the move non-stop since leaving Huddersfield. Looking at the weather I decided tp bolt across the border into Lancashire for a few hours and recce the forthcoming Trans-Pennine route upgrade engineering work that will be taking place on the route to Stalybridge, so I caught a train to Manchester Victoria then retraced my steps towards Ashton-Under-Lyne by tram just for the sheer variety! I’ve not spent much time on Metrolink for some time, so it was a good opportunity to update the library with images of street-running trams and their place in the pecking order. Frankly, I could have done with some air-conditioning on the vehicles, most of which were very busy. Unlike the national rail network the number of people who’re still wearing masks is much lower. Despite the weather, I maintained mine. One thing that struck me as we pootled along the streets of Droylesden was how many shops remained closed. There were all sorts, fast-food joints, nail bars, restaurants – small businesses of all kinds. I’m assuming more than a few have been put out of business by the pandemic and will never reopen. It was a very sad sight.

Once out at Ashton I walked over to the nearby Ashton Moss North Junction where a road overbridge offers decent views and a new housing estate right next to the line adds perspective. Sadly, by this time the clouds were rolling in and I lucked out on a few shots. The weather felt like it could thunder any time, so I kept an eye out on the skies to make sure I didn’t get caught out. There’s no signs of electrification mast bases on this section yet, but there’s a large compound next to the railway on Richmond St which contractors have established and stocked with equipment – including mast piles. I expect progress will be made during the blockade when the line will be under a possession with trains diverted. Here’s a Northern Class 150 working from Southport – Stalybridge past Ashton Moss North Junction with the compound seen to the right, next to the trackside access.

Here’s a view looking the other way from the bridge. TPE’s 802206 is passing the new housing estate (barely 4 years old) with a service from Liverpool Lime St to Newcastle. This was the site of Old Ashton and Guide Bridge Junction, where the line to Guide Bridge trailed off to the right towards the camera. The Junction was closed in 1991. The site beyond the Junction (also on the right) was the site of the LNWR Oldham Rd goods depot which closed much earlier in 1966. It’s now the site of a Sainsbury’s and other supermarkets. The new housing makes me crack a wry smile when I think of those opposed to HS2 saying ‘no-one wants to hear the noise of a railway’! No doubt I’ll be popping back here on a regular basis now to document the march of the electrification masts.

Moving on to Ashton itself I caught a train through to Stalybridge where I resisted the temptation to visit the station buffet (believe me – that was a struggle on a hot day like today!). Staying just long enough to get a few pictures I made my way back into Manchester before heading back home. I’m currently on the 16:58 Victoria to Leeds which is very busy indeed.

22:30.

Time to bring the day to a close. I’ve spent part of the evening editing today’s pictures, so here’s a sample. A Manchester Metrolink tram approaches Ashton West with IKEA dominating the skyline beyond. I’ll add a few more pictures and some text to this blog tomorrow. Right now I’m going to try and get some sleep on what’s another hot and humid night…

I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy that would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us freelances need all the help that we can get. Remember, 99% of the pictures used in my blogs can be purchased as prints from my other website –  https://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/

Thank you!

Rolling blog: Wolverton bound…

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06:00.

It’s another silly o’ clock start for me this me this morning as I’m travelling down to Wolverton to a memorial service for a friend, Major John Poyntz, who died last year. Due to Covid those of us who knew John have never had the chance to get together to celebrate his life and swap memories, but today we will.

Of course, today’s also the day the Government have relaxed all the Covid restrictions in England, so it may be an interesting day to be travelling. I’ll be blogging throughout the day, seeing how it pans out…

07:00

Walking to Halifax station was lovely this morning. There was barely a cloud in the sky. It’s obviously going to be a glorious day but there was still enough coolness in the air that I made it to the station without becoming a sweaty mess. I’m now on my first train of the day, the 06:44 to Manchester Victoria, which is made up from a pair of two-car Class 195s. It’s a quiet train with just half a dozen other passengers in the front car besides me so I’d no problem getting a table seat where I could set up the laptop to type this. I like the amenities on the 195, working air-con (great on a day like today), decent-sized tables that don’t trap your legs like the ones on the old Class 158s, plus power sockets and wifi. On the bulkhead in front of me is a Passenger Information Screen that tells me what the next stop is as well as the trains final destination. It even tells me the temperature (16 degrees), which is more than the old Calder Valley Class 155s ever could!

195s pass at Halifax with 195003 on the right working today’s 06:44 to Manchester Victoria.

My train never really filled up – even after calling at Rochdale, making it a very relaxing journey. The vast majority of passengers were still adhering to wearing masks which also helped. As we descended the bank from Miles Platting to Victoria I checked the progress on wiring the line to Stalybridge. After years of delay the work’s finally progressing. I noted several new piles for overhead masts that had been sunk, whilst several pallets of new cable trunking sat in the cess.

As my train was quiet there was no melee at the gateline so I made a speedy departure. The walk from Piccadilly to Victoria was also a breeze. One thing I did notice that really stood out was the absence of rough-sleepers. Normally I’d pass dozens. Today I only saw one on a bench near Piccadilly. Have Manchester finally got hold of the problem?

08:30.

I’m now on a 9-car Avanti Pendolino speeding South. This is the busiest I’ve seen these services for a while. It’s certainly not pre-Covid levels but it’s plain that passengers are returning to the rails. I’ll be interested to see what the loadings are like after Stoke as the next stop then isn’t until we reach Milton Keynes. A welcome change to this set (390043) is it’s the first I’ve been on where the table power socket has been changed to include two USB ports as well as mains – a welcome addition as I can now recharge some of my other gizmos as well as power the laptop!

09:55.

I made it to Milton Keynes without a hitch. The sun’s really cracking the flags here so I’m glad I packed the suntan lotion. My train from Manchester has a lot of slack time here in order to let non-stop services past, this gave me time to nip across the footbridge and get pictures and a cheery wave from the driver!

From Milton Keynes I’m doubling back to Wolverton on a LondonNortwestern service which is worked by a single 4-car Class 350 so it’s busy.

10:50.

What I and many others in the congregation hadn’t known (until the Vicar mentioned it) was that the church we were in was the very first church built by a railway company. Built in 1844, it was paid for by the London and Birmingham railway.

20:50.

Well, that was quite a day! John’s memorial was a great event in so many ways. It was chance for all of us to celebrate his life and achievements. It was also an opportunity for his family to meet some of his railway and military friends, and it was chance for us sll to swap stories – and stories there were aplenty! Lord Snape, who served with John on the Longmoor Military Railway when the “Great St Trinians train robbery” film was being made had some great stories to tell. One of his fellow Railway Inspectors (David Keay) also had a few tales to tell..

After the event we all adjourned to a nearby pub where a buffet had been laid on and we could enjoy a few jars in John’s memory. After all – it’s what he would have wanted!

We spent a glorious few hours reminiscing before breaking up and heading off in different directions. Two of us were heading North so Mervyn Allcock and I couldn’t resist a little ‘pit-stop’ in Derby. Railway aficianados will recognise the background and know exactly where we were.

21:45.

I’m now on the final leg home, having caught a train from Leeds to Halifax before the final walk home – happy that the weather’s cooling down and that I can have the next few days staying local. I might not be going far but there’s going to be plenty to blog about…

I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy that would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us freelances need all the help that we can get. Remember, 99% of the pictures used in my blogs can be purchased as prints from my other website –  https://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/

Thank You!

The curious case of the empty supermarket shelves…

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This is not exactly a two-pipe problem, it’s pretty easy to guess what’s causing this, although some people will do their damndest to pretend otherwise. It’s all about Covid, apparently…

Really? Well, Covid is a global pandemic that’s hit the entire planet, so surely, other countries must be suffering the same problem, no? Here’s a few shots I took at my local Tesco supermarket today. This is a Sunday morning. The shops had all night and until 10:00 to restock and replenish before opening its doors to the public. I took the pictures at 11:50 when the place had been open for less than two hours. One of the things I was shopping for was Strawberries. Here’s where they should be. These shelves have been empty for a couple of days. The surrounding soft fruit shelves aren’t much better.

Here’s where the Tomatoes are normally on display. Spot the gaps…

Salad veg stocks weren’t looking much better either…

Good job I wasn’t after any Satsumas…

It’s not just fruit and veg either. Here’s the meat isle. Notice the gaps and low stocks.

If you wanted to drown your sorrows you’d have to be a lot more selective…

This shot tells another tale. The top self is where reserve stocks are kept that allow the shelves below to be restocked during opening hours, so that the isles can be kept free of shelf-stacking trollies. These shelves would normally be refilled every night.

This isn’t an isolated phenomenon or restricted to any one supermarket chain. I’ve just spent a week down in Surrey where we had to shop between different supermarkets because the large Sainsbury’s in Farnham looked very much like Tesco in Halifax. I’ve seen this in other towns and Cities I’ve visited too.

We’re now in the 17th month since the Covid pandemic triggered the first lockdown. Yet, in that first year during the first lockdown the only empty shelves I remember seeing in supermarkets were due to people panic buying stuff like toilet roll, pasta and hand sanitizer. Everything else was well stocked throughout, with the occasional product gap. Those shortages were soon sorted as panic buying subsided and suppliers stepped up production. This begs the question, if Covid is the culprit here, why now and not then? Why did shops manage to maintain stocks at the height of the pandemic, but not now, when tomorrow we hit the Government’s much trumpeted ‘freedom day’ and many restrictions are binned? Will we suddenly see these problems evaporate? I’ll be keeping an eye out on supermarket selves to bring photographic evidence.

Another thing we’re being told is that part of the reason for the shortage is that the existing lorry driver shortage has been made worse by the fact potential new drivers are struggling to book tests. Really? So why has this become a problem now, after 17 months of restrictions? What else had changed this year that didn’t have an impact last year? This BBC article gives a clue…

“Based on a survey of its members, the Road Haulage Association estimates there is now a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers in the UK, out of a pre-pandemic total of about 600,000.

That number included tens of thousands of drivers from EU member states who were living and working in the UK.

Even before Covid, the estimated shortage was about 60,000 drivers”.

So, even if Covid hadn’t restricted driver training, there’d still be a shortage of HGV drivers because of – Brexit. The Road Haulage Association lists Covid 19 as No 6 on their list of reasons for the driver shortage. Brexit is No 2 after drivers retiring.

Oh, and don’t forget those drivers are now taking far longer to deliver produce from outside the UK because we’ve now declared customs sanctions on ourselves which means drivers spend far longer dealing with forms and other red tape. And I’m not even going to ask how much of the UK fresh produce is unavailable because the EU citizens who used to come to the UK in their 10s of 1000s to pluck and pack it are no longer here…

Now, what was it Brexiters like David Davis once said? Oh, yes…

They lied to you. They’re still lying to you. Remember that next time you go shopping and see empty shelves like this, because you won’t see them in any EU country – despite Covid.

I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy that would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us freelances need all the help that we can get. Remember, 99% of the pictures used in my blogs can be purchased as prints from my other website –  https://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/

Thank you!

An HS2 update…

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been privileged to visit two of the major High Speed 2 railway construction sites. Firstly the one at Calvert, Buckinghamshire on the 23rd June where HS2 will cross the rebuilt East-West Railway, then the site at West Hyde in Hertfordshire on the 13th July where the Chiltern tunnels are being driven North whilst the Colne valley viaduct will be built Southwards. My article on the Calvert site will be appearing in a future edition of RAIL magazine but I’ll be blogging at length about my visit to West Hyde next week. Both visits demonstrate how construction of the new railway is ramping up massively now that contractors have finally been able to mobilise and begin the main civil engineering. This process will really more obvious next year when the Colne valley viaduct starts to span the lakes as you can’t see the tunneling and many cuttings that are being constructed are below peoples line of sight, so out of view – especially as they’re tucked away in the countryside. It’s the bridges and stations that are the most visible signs of progress. I’ve now got most of the pictures I’ve taken during my visits online. You can find them in this gallery on my Zenfolio website.

Over the the next few months I’ll be visiting other HS2 construction site to bring you views and in-depth news of what’s actually going on with the largest construction project in Europe. As well as the engineering I’ll be talking a look at some of the ecological and mitigation work that’s being carried out to make this the greenest project of its kind.

What you’ll be hearing less and less about is the protests against HS2, becuase they’ve collapsed.

Having reached their height last summer they’ve been gradually fizzling out ever since. The Euston Gardens tunnel eviction early this year was their most public failure, but there’s been many since. Now, even their umbrella group – HS2Rebellion – are tacitly admitting that the protests asre on the wane. Yesterday they announced that after 38 issues their weekly (no)newsletter is going from weekly to fortnightly!

Mind you, its appearence has beeb patchy for some months due to a lack of anything to report. Deserted ‘protection’ camps don’t produce anything so they’ve filled space by talking about other political campaigns. Here’s a look at their probel. These are the ‘protection’ camps they list on their website with my annotations to reflect the true picture that HS2Rebellion aren’t admitting.

Hardly what you’d call an active campaign, is it? The handful of people left at the camps are in no position to mount any coherent actions against HS2, most of their time seems to be spent getting splinters in their backsides whilst appealling for funds to keep them in food. Even their social media activity’s dropping away as the mostly young people involved lose interest and find other things to get outraged about. When you consider the summer is meant to be the height of the activist season it’s clear they’re a busted flush now.

Come the autumn when it’s clear they’ve failed to ‘protect’ anything, much less actually stop HS2 I’m expecting the last few camps on Phase 1 to pack up and the people involved either drift off to other campaigns or try to set up new camps on Phase 2a. But they have several problems. Their support up North is nowhere near as strong or well-established as it was in the Chilterns, the weather’s harsher in the winter and they’re going to be waiting until Spring 2024 before the main civils work starts on phase 2a. That’s three winters away. Care to take bets on how many people are willing or able to sit around for that length of time – even if they’re not evicted first? So, as you can see, this is going to be the final year of any organised (and I use that term very loosly) campaign against HS2, which leaves me free to write about other things. No doubt I’ll still keep a watchful eye on the rump of their campaign as it continues to sink but I’m looking forward to writing future blogs on the positive events going on with the HS2 project.

I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy that would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us freelances need all the help that we can get. Remember, 99% of the pictures used in my blogs can be purchased as prints from my other website –  https://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/

Thank you!


Rolling blog: HS2 engineering adventures around the capital…

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06:45.

Ugh! The alarm went off at 05:00 this morning in order for me to have a shower, an injection of caffeine and a sugar rush- thanks to Dawn’s freshly made Bakewell tart. Just to add to the excitement the cat decided to be sick and feel sorry for himself so it wasn’t the most relaxed start to the day as we had to clean Jet up before we left. Dee was up too in order to drive me to the station (thank you babe! X) but on the bright side we both enjoyed a beautiful Surrey morning as the mist caused by last nights torrential rain begain to boil away as the sun rose. By 06:00 the mercury had already hit 14 degrees.

I’m currently sat on the London train, a 12 car set from Alton to Waterloo which is pretty empty. In this neck of the woods a lot of people are still working from home. Oh, there were a few dozen people waiting for the train to arrive and it is early, but you’d expect far more than this on a normal working day. It’s upper and middle-class commuter zones like this in the South-East where the rail recovery is going to be the slowest. I’ll be interested to see what Waterloo looks like when I arrive in under an hour. Still, my train’s clean and well-presented. The interior of this Siemens Class 450 has been refreshed with the new SWRailway seat mocquette and there’s now power sockets throughout . Oh, and wifi – which is how I’m transmitting this blog.

Not exactly crowded, is it?

07:10.

Whilst Surrey may be basking in sunshine the closer I get to London the gloomier it gets. The weather along the old London and Southwestern main line feels more like a dull and dank November day not July. Only the fact that the trees are sporting their summer regalia and gardens are full of blooms gives the game away. Hopefully, by the time I get to the HS2 construction site that I’m visiting today things will have perked up.

08:17.

Hanging around Waterloo just long enough to get a few library shots (including of the new ‘green’ wooden seating -nice!) I caught a Bakerloo line tube over to Marlebone. Initially quiet, the train filled up after Charing Cross.

Aboard the venerable Bakerloo line trains, now the oldest on the Underground network.

Marylebone was equally busy with commuters coming off arrivals. Numbers here are really picking up. There’d be little room for social distancing on these trains so It’s just as well rules will be relaxed next week. The vast majority of folk are still wearing masks and I’d be surprised if that changed overnight.

18:00.

Wow! What a day..

The gloomy weather cleared by the time I got to my final destination, which was the amazing HS2 construction site at South Heath, on the edge of the M25. It’s from here that two of the biggest structures on phase 1 of HS2 are being built from. Right now there are two huge tunnel boring machines (TBMs) drilling a pair of 9.1m diameter bores Northwards. These dwarf the 7.6m bores of the channel tunnel. Meanwhile, preperations are underway to begin costruction of the 3.5km long Colne Valley viaduct which will be built Southwards from the same site. Our small group wrre given a guided tour that got us up close and personal with “Cecilia” the second of the 160 metre long TBMs which was launched last week (a week earlier than planned).

I’ll be blogging at length about our visit another time. Right now I’m downloading the pictures from my camera, but here’s a taster.

Here’s what ‘Cecilia’ looks like without me stood in the way…

This isn’t the full 160 metre length of ‘Cecilia’ either. The cutting head and shield have already disappeared into the tunnel and there’s a good few metres of the tail which I simply couldn’t capture, even with a wide-angle lens! This things are big!

And there’s more…

Up close and personal with ‘Cecilia’ (named after Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, an astronomer), the second TBM which was launched last week. This is the view from the tail of the machine, looking through the centre towards the cutting head where you can see a tunnel lining segment waiting to be put into place.
This is the tunnel dug by the first TBM. It’s only when you get this close you realise just how big they are. The Channel tunnel main bores are 7.6m in diameter.These tunnels are 9.1m. Several hundred metres inside the tunnel are the tail lights of TBM ‘Florence’ which is now outside the M25 motorway and running ahead of schedule.
Inside the on-site factory making the steel and concrete segments that will line both of the Chilterns tunnels. The plant will produce approximately 112,300 of these 7.5 tonne segments which come in seven different shapes.

I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy that would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us freelances need all the help that we can get. Remember, 99% of the pictures used in my blogs can be purchased as prints from my other website –  https://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/

Thank you!

12th July picture(s)of the day…

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Excuse the lack of blogs these past few days but life’s been rather hectic and also unpredictable. We’re currently staying in a chalet outside Tilford in Surrey for a few days break and chance for Dawn and her parents to catch-up with Dee’s brother and his family. Covid had prevented us doing this for quite some time, so as you can imagine, there was a lot of catching up to do. The fact this co-incided with a minor sporting event and (amongst other things) has complicated the picture even more.

The four of us, plus Jet, our ageing moggie drove down here on Friday. Yep, the cat’s with us. When we go away for more than a couple of days we normally leave the old boy with Dawn’s folks. The fact they were coming with us left it a no-brainer – Jet could come too! Having a cantankerous cat with you on a long road trip could be problematic – especially a cat that’s never left Yorkshire in his (nearly) 20 years of life. But in reality he was a star – talk about ‘cool for cats’! He’s always been an inquisitive soul so he spent the much of the trip looking out over the top of his cat-basket, watching the world go by. He’s too old to start leaping around nowadays so we knew we could trust him. That said, Dee did buy a little harness and lead for him – which is the first time he’s ever worn such a contraption. There was no fussing and fighting, just a resigned look on his face as if he was saying ‘do I have to’? The harness was more so that if we had to hoik him out of the way of less relaxed animals (well, dogs really) when we stopped for a break on the motorway, we could do it with ease and didn’t have to worry about him doing a runner. We needn’t have worried. Other pet owners at Watford Gap were quite amused and also very good when they saw a cat on a lead and Jet took it all in his stride – not bad for an old boy!

Jet deciding that he didn’t need the services of his litter tray, despite a four hour drive…

When we arrived at the chalet he took a little time to settle. Not that he seemed stressed, more for the fact that it was all new and he was having a good sniff around. Now he’s settled in and if anything his appetite’s improved, not suffered. He still can’t work out why there’s no stairs to climb tho!

The chalet’s where we’re staying are busy but it’s a relaxed atmosphere. Right now I’m sat outside on the verandah, keeping one eye on the very stormy skies as the weather forecast’s predicted thunderstorms. The heaviness and stillness of the air along with the massive grey clouds makes makes me think one could arrive any moment. Today’s been a pretty relaxed day after the excitement and disappointment of watching last nights Euro2020 football final. the five of us watched it on Darren’s (Dawn’ brother) cinema sized TV screen at home, so we avoided some of the more excessive and effusive mpments you’d get from watching it in a pub. Sadly, the early lead evaporated and the match ended in the worst possible way – a penalty shoot-out in which England lost. Despite that, I feel the young England team have a good future ahead of them and the way so many people rallied around the black players who suffered such vile racist abuse on social media gave me hope – even if the fact they’re still receiving such abuse in 2021 makes me cringe – as did the behaviour of some of the England fans both in the stadium and in central London. Surely, as a country we can be better than this?

Away from football, one lovely thing to see again was cricket. Tilford boasts a village green that’s bounded on one side by the Barley Mow pub and by the Sir Edwin Lutyens designed (grade 2 listed) Tilford Institute on another. It’s so very English. Just be careful where you park or sit as incoming cricket balls have been know to pepper the pub, its drinkers – or their cars!

It’s delightful to be able to sit outside the pub and watch scenes like this again. This was Tilford Vs Hook on Saturday.

We’re here for a few more days yet and hoping that the weather will pick up. Whilst I’ve been writing this the thunderstorm arrived with a vengence, causing me to retreat indoors as laptops and torrential rain really don’t mix. I do enjoy a good thunderstorm so I wasn’t unhappy to see this one arrive.

I’ve had worse temporary offices…
Dawn came the rain – accompanied by a fair few claps of thunder, but no lightning…

I’m also happy it’s turned up today and not on Tuesday as I have a media visit to an HS2 railway construction site tomorrow. I can’t give out details now, but expect a rolling blog from the days events, starting at silly o’ clock in the morning as I have to make my way from Surrey into London first. Travelling on South-Western Railway during what should be the early rush-hour should be instructive. Hopefully, this section of railway won’t be suffering from the flash-floods that have hit the lines out of Euston this evening. Our Victorian infrastructure certainly wasn’t designed to cope with the heavy rains that are a feature of global-warming. Thankfully, HS2 – our new railway spine – is.

I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy that would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us freelances need all the help that we can get. Remember, 99% of the pictures used in my blogs can be purchased as prints from my other website –  https://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/

Thank you!

Rolling (ish) blog: I’m just stepping outside…

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Today the weather’s finally turned good and stopped raining and I have a few hours to spare so I’m popping over to Merseyside in the hope of getting some shots of Merseyrail’s new Stadler-built Class 777 trains on mileage accumulation runs between Liverpool and Southport. There are now many Special Train Plan (SPT) paths in the timetable and I have a window that allows me to be around for a couple of them. Right now I’m on my way from Sowerby Bridge to Liverpool via Manchester, hoping to find the sweet spot of location and weather – and hope the runs aren’t cancelled at the last minute!

14:41.

I’m now on my way from Liverpool Central towards Southport on one of the old Merseyrail trains. What’s the fuss you nay ask? Well, for me it’s a bit of personal nostalgia. You see, I grew up in Southport and remember when these old trains were brand new and just being introduced. I was still a teenager then and I worked in a factory making underground telephone cable for the National Coal Board (NCB) that was right next to the railway. If you ever get the train between Birkdale and Southport and gaze to your right you’ll pass a place with a clocktower. That’s where I worked. In those days it was called ‘Adlec Ltd’. As well as making cables we also made plastic mirrors by their 1000. They were used as vanity mirrors in British cars of the day. You know the ones you’d find in the back of the sunshields above the windscreens? Them. Making the armoured underground telephone cable was fun. It came in various lengths and each length had to be capable of stretching by 15%. The only way we could do that way by hand. A few of us would tie one end to a post, stretch it with a rope until the wires and brass connector head fitted, then clamp it with a metal ring. There was only one problem. The factory aas too short to do this with the longest length the NCB ordered. The solution was to do it outside in the street! We’d tie one end to a nearby lamp post, then it would take half a dozen of us to stretch it. One time I remember us doing it was during a blizzard. That was fun. So, if in 1978 and you went past on the train and thought you saw half a dozen blokes looking like they were trying to pull down a lamp post – you weren’t mad – that was us!

This memory has come back to me because the Class 507s were just being introduced, so I got to watch them from work. They sounded very different to the old LMS built trains from 1938 so it was easy to know they were coming – and now they’re going, after 44 years to be replaced by the third fleet I’ve known in my lifetime. Barring a genetic fluke or miracle advances in medicine I doubt I’ll be around to see the fourth generation!

My affection for old trains is really reserved for the old 1938 stock which was from a completley different era. Whilst the 597s were all yellow Formica the 502s were panelled with exotic hardwoods which used to have little labels telling you what they were. They had deep bouncy horsehair seats too! In contrast the 507s were more utilitarian and a product of their age. The new teains are for yet another age – one where the population’s ageing. They have a rare thing in the UK, step-free level boarding.

16:36.

As usual, the law of Sod came out to play today. There *should* have been two of the new units out, but one was cancelled at short notice, leaving me with only one chance to get pictures. Here’s 777010 heading back to Sandhills from Southport, captured at the lovely little station of Birkdale in Southport’s suburbs.

Still, it was a nice opportunity to get out and enjoy the sunshine whilst remembering old times and a different age. Now I’m en-route to Liverpool to pick up some shopping before heading home. Time’s precious at the moment so I doubt I’ll have time to stop off on the way to get more pictures.

I did spot this earlier when I was walking through Renshaw St. Roadworks have uncovered the old tram tracks that have been buried since the last Liverpool tram ran in 1959..

18:30.

I’m on my way home using a TPE train from Liverpool Lime St to Manchester Victoria and I’ve just heard the most surreal conversation. As we pulled out of Lime St a young lad and his hard-faced girlfriend occupied the table opposite and began to talk. Well, he talked – and boasted of his jail time and the fact he has 392 criminal convictions and he’s not even 30. Oh, and how his solitictor ‘loves him’ as he’s made so much money from him. It was totally bizarre. He was actually boasting about being such a shit criminal he can’t even get away with shoplifting! Some criminal mastermind! They got off the train at Lea Green, leaving me wondering ‘what on earth’? If I hadn’t been sitting here on the laptop with the ability to transcribe his transgressions as he uttered them I might have thought I’d imagined it.

18:45.

I swapped from TPE to Northern at Victoria for the last leg home. It’s certainly been a varied day and the next week will be very much the same. I’m getting home early as tomorrow Dee and I (along with her parents) are relocating to Surrey for a week, so the pair of us need to sort out our stuff and pack. The logistics are fun as we’re taking Jet (our elderly moggie) with us, which will be the first time in his 20 years of life he’s ever set paw outside of Yorkshire! We didn’t feel comfortable leaving him at home with strangers for that length of time so we thought the old boy should have an adventure in his ‘golden years’. At least he’ll be with people he knows.

This means the next few blogs will be coming from a very different corner of England. I’ve a couple of jobs on whilst I’m there, so it’s not going to be all cricket on the green – although I’m hoping we will have time to indulge in that – as well as the football…

22:55.

I’m bringing today’s blog to an end with a couple of final pictures from today that show the difference the new trains will make to passenger accessability. Here’s one of the older trains at Liverpool Central earlier today. Notice the step down from the train.

This is known as the PTI (Platform Train Interface) and is the biggest cause of accidents on the railways nowadays. Here’s one of the new trains on test at Birkdale station this afternoon. Spot the difference.

Yep, no step, no gap and level floors throughout. This is how things should be. Sadly, this is how a minority of new trains are. I’ll look forward to trying these new Stadler trains out in public service soon.

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7th July picture of the day…

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Well, that was a fraught evening! Dawn was so het up about the England – Denmark football match tonight I thought she was going to do herself an injury before it ended! Thankfully, England won, although now I’ll have to go through all this again on Sunday with the final, only this time with the whole of Dawn’s family (three generations in fact). Drink may have to be taken…

Joking aside, it’s great to see the England team doing so well after so many false starts, hype and disappointments. From an outsiders eye all I can say is that finally they look like and play like a team. They’ve done so well to get this far and it would be lovely to see this young group of players get the trophy.

Sports aside, I’ve had a busy day finessing an article before getting my copy and pictures off to RAIL magazine. With that done I managed to get a few more old slides scanned before giving priority to houshold bits and bobs including shopping for tonights food so that Dee could ‘relax’ in front of the TV and watch the footy. Not spending all my day goggle-eyed in front of a computer screen’s been lovely, even if the weather’s been mixed. The most difficult decision right now is what to wear. Either you under-dress and get soaked by heavy showers or you over-dress and end up with the same result in sweat as it ain’t flat around here and carrying shopping a few hundred metres uphill soon opens your pores. Still, first world problems eh? I think back to some of the Nepalese porters I met who’d be carrying 75kg loads in wicker baskets 1000s of metres uphill whilst wearing flip-flops and realise I’ve sweet FA to complain about.

So, today’s picture is one that reflects what you won’t find me doing as I walk back uphill to home from the supermarket – even if it does feel this way sometime! I took this picture in a village in the Gorkha district of Nepal in April 1998. Be grateful that you can always order a taxi…

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6th July picture of the day…

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It’s been a quiet few days here in Bigland towers. The pair of us have been busy working from home which has been fine as the weather’s been spectacularly wet with torrential showers accompanied by claps of thunder and grey, apocalyptic skies. On Monday I didn’t even manage to get out for my daily constitutional because every time there was a window of opportunity the heavens opened so I put it off. There’s not even been time for blogging as I’ve just kept my head down trying to catch up on writing for a living and scanning old slides in order that I’ve another set ‘in the bank’ ready for editing when I have some down-time away from the office.

Mind you, it’s the semi-final of the football tomorrow night, which means I’ll be finishing early to transfer to cooking duty so that Dawn can watch the match!

The latest batch of old slides that I’ve been scanning are from two very different batches. This morning I finished scanning the last of a series of travel pictures taken in Bali, Indonesia way back in 2003. In fact, they were the final batch of travel slides I ever catalogued and had in albums. I did go to the Maldives in early 2004 but those pictures remained in boxes until I finally edited and scanned them last year. Unfortunatley, the albums haven’t been scanned in order, so I’ve still a few from the 1990s and early 2000s to occupy my time with yet. Right now I’m working on something different, an album of personal and social issues pictures taken between 1994 and 1997. Talk about a trip down memory lane! These are from the days when I still worked in London as a Housing Officer and boy, has the world changed a bit since then…

Right now – especially with the weather being what it is – I’ll leave you with something less heavy and more colourful. I took this shot of a procession of the Gods in Ubud, Bali on the 19th September 2003. Here a group of men are carrying an effigy of the God Dewa Bramha down the main street of Ubud, with many other Gods following behind.

These events are incredibly colourful as the statues are part of a huge parade which includes musicians, women carrying offerings on their heads, men dressed as warriors and young men and women dressed up in traditional finery. You can find the rest of these pictures by following this link to my Zenfolio website.

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@hs2rebellion’s ‘travesty of the truth trail’ peters out in Wigan…

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After 8 days of walking from Lichfield to Wigan @hs2rebellion’s ‘Truth Trail’ ended like a damp squib in Wigan this afternoon – as it was always going to. Despite getting some support from local Extinction Rebellion groups it was painfully obvious this was a tiny band of people talking to themselves. Most days the march only had a couple of dozen people on it – and the vast majority of them were the usual suspects.

A smattering of Nimbys from the HS2 Phase 1 route in Buckinghamshire, plus many faces stripped from the deserted ‘protection’ camps in the same area. They were sometimes joined by a few local Nimbys, but therein lies their problem. The old StopHs2 ‘action’ group network has collapsed, not that it was ever very strong on the Lichfield – Manchester leg of HS2 anyway. There were never more than half a dozen (all rural) groups and none in any of the towns and cities on the route like Stafford, Crewe, Wigan or Manchester. Most people gave up years ago and have moved on, metaphorically or literally – especially as the phase 2a Hybrid Bill became law and the early stages of constructing the line as far as Crewe have begun.

There’s also another problem. There’s no political appetite to stop HS2 in the North-West. Exactly the opposite. A few local MPs sometimes make noises about HS2 but no-one pretends they can stop it. Instead, the project enjoys huge support at all levels, from Parliament, the city regions elected Mayors and regional authorities. Why they chose to end up in Wigan rather than Manchester is another mystery. I doubt any of them have ever been near the place before and certainly won’t know anything about the town or its people. Still, I’m sure the posh Southern accents of the Buckinghamshire Nimbys will have carried great weight in ‘Wiggin’!

So this ‘travesty of the truth trail’ was always doomed to failure. Even the media ignored it apart from a couple of local news websites. After all, where’s the news? “A few southern Nimbys, anarchists and hippies march to the North to tell it what’s good for it” is hardly a good story, is it? The well-known Crewe based political blogger Tim Fenton (aka @zelo_street) had this to say on Twitter.

Here’s illustrations of today’s fiasco taken from the HS2rebellion Facebook page.

This is serially failed Green party Candidate for Uxbridge and former resident of Jones’ Hill Woods (where he failed to stop HS2 yet again) Mark Kier addressing the tiny crowd of Extinction Rebellion members and marchers in Wigan. Yep, the only speaker they had actually lives in West London! I’m sure the good folk of Wigan must have been impressed. Well, maybe if any of them had turned out that is…

Here’s a look at the ‘crowd’ he was addressing.

If you want to hear just how deluded and mixed-up the messaging from these people are (and you’re on Facebook) you can hear the speeches on this link. The levels of naivety and denial of political reality is weapons-grade. This is worthy of the Flat-Earth Society!

Not exactly what you’d call a cross-section of the local community either, is it? This is really just a bunch of XR supporters talking to themselves. Despite the big billing they gave this event, the almost non-existant support it gained from ordinary people says everything – as does the lack of money it’s raised. They set up a crowdfunder with the target of £3000. It’s not even managed to get half of that. Clearly, real Northerners are more careful with their brass!

If this was meant to ‘reinvigorate’ the anti HS2 campaign in the North, then someone really didn’t do their homework! Meanwhile, in the Chilterns the second of 10 HS2 tunnel boring machines started drilling this week…

I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy that would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us freelances need all the help that we can get. Remember, 99% of the pictures used in my blogs can be purchased as prints from my other website –  https://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/

Thank you!