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Misty Monday…

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It’s the beginning of another week and it’s certainly got off to a soggy start! When I opened the bedroom blind this morning I couldn’t see more than a couple of hundred metres, never mind to the opposite side of the valley! The fog’s persisted throughout the day whilst the rain’s been intermittent and annoying, so it’s been a good day to stay at home and scan more old slides, which is what’s kept me occupied for most of the morning.

In between showers I did manage to venture out for my afternoon constitutional and drop off some old railway books at the Jubilee Refreshment rooms on Sowerby Bridge station. On December 5th they’re having a sale of books donated by the estate of the late Theo J Gray, and I’ve added a few of mine to help. All the proceeds will go to the station friends group, so if you’re in the area, pop along! Details are in the link.

Right now I’m back at home, catching up on admin and preparing for a busy week ahead. In the meantime, here’s a few samples of the pictures I’ve been scanning.

In 2003 I went on a Virgin Trains press trip which was a two day event on the UK’s longest train journey. This was aboard the 08.55 from Aberdeen to Penzance, which took fifteen and a half hours and crossed three of the UK’s most famous rail bridges (the Tay, Forth and Royal Albert) on one train. I wrote about the experience for RAIL magazine at the time. The weather was mixed, but by the time we got down to Cornwall we were treated to a classic summer evening. Here’s a shot taken from the HST as we sped through Cornwall to Penzance. The picture was used in both RAIL and Virgin Trains own magazine.
Here’s the view from the cab of HST power car 43154 earlier in the day as we crossed the Forth rail bridge with a coal train hauled by a Class 66 approaching from the South.

You can find the rest of the pictures by following this link to my Zenfolio website. I’ve added nearly 300 old slides from 2000 and 2003 in the past few weeks, meaning there’s plenty to look at! I’ve still a couple of hundred pictures from 2003 to scan which I’m hoping to have done in the next couple of weeks. After that I’ll see which album next to be dug out of storage and added to the queue. There’s still plenty of slides from the 1990s to be done yet, therefore I may step further back in time for the next one…

In the meantime, expect plenty of new pictures to be added in the next few days. I’m working in both London and Birmingham on Wednesday, then returning to the capital at the weekend for quality time with old friends.

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Easy Sunday…

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– well, sort of! I was actually up early as our cat insists that on a weekend it has the right to sleep on the bed. How it knows it’s the weekend we’ve never been able to work out, but the moggy can. This meant I was given an early morning alarm call when Jet decided he needed to be fed. As I’d given in to him and Dawn was happily sleeping I sloped off into the office to scan some more old slides I’d prepped.

With such an early Sunday start we both decided to ‘carpe diem’ and make the most of the day by having an early breakfast and going for a long walk through along the canal into Sowerby Bridge, then up through our local woodland (Scarr woods) which is looking superb at this time of year. What was lovely to see was the way some people place Halloween pumpkins in the woods, which can either delight – or scare the shit out of you!

Back at home we continued our productive time as Dawn got into ‘domestic Goddess’ mode in the kitchen to produce a fiery Thai Green Curry from scratch (no pre-prepared pastes here) plus a gorgeous Lemon Drizzle Cake. I spent my time on household DIY (yes, I know – the bathroom) before ploughing on with the never ending job of mounting and scanning more old slides. I’m currently doing an album from 2003 which contains a lot of stuff from Virgin Trains days. I’m looking forward to having them done now that the franchise is about to come to an end as it will be an appropriate tribute to a company that really did a lot to improve the image of the railways in the publics perception.

In the meantime, here’s one of the other slides I’ve been scanning. This is a view across London Waterloo taken from the London Eye back in 2003. The city’s skyline has changed a bit since then, as have the rail services. In those days the old BR built slam door stock was still in use and Waterloo International would be in use by Eurostar for another 4 years.

Happy Unbrexit day!

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Welcome to yet another month where – despite the utterances and assurances of our liar of a Prime Minister, we haven’t left the EU, and he hasn’t been found dead in a ditch. I’m very happy for one of those tho continue. I’ll let you guess which.

Here in the Calder valley the weather’s not exactly been in a celebratory mood. For most of the day it’s been impossible to see the other side of the valley due to low cloud and rain, so I’ve spent much of it slaving away at my computer in the warm, catching up on paperwork and wading my way through scanning yet more old railway slides. I’ve finally finished another album, which feels like a positive achievement – albeit a small one as there’s still lots more to go. This one’s been from the turn of the century and the summer of 2000. It’s left me feeling rather nostalgic for several reasons. In those days I’d only been back from travelling the world for 6 months and I was just starting to make my way was a freelance photographer. The world was a very different place to the one it is now in so many ways. Anyways, here’s a small selection of the images. I’ll add caption details later. Right now (as it’s Friday) I’m off to the pub for a couple of hours…

Crazy anti Hs2 campaigner of the week. No 22

Yes, it’s back – after a gap of nearly 18 months! To be honest, there’s been no point in doing one of these for two reasons. One is that there’s so few of these people left nowadays the field is pretty thin and two – the ones left are all pretty much crazy. If you don’t believe me, go and have a look at the comments from people posting on the StopHs2 Facebook page!

But I couldn’t resist resurrecting it after seeing this classic tweet from StopHs2 ‘Chair’ Penny Gaines which went out earlier today. It’s an absolute pearler! The levels of egotism and perspective failure are weapons-grade. Let’s take a look…

“I told them my vote will depend on whether they oppose Hs2” tweets Gaines. Well, I’m sure the canvasser who knocked on her door must be absolutely sick to death of hearing that said to them. Wait, where does Gaines live? That absolute hotbed of anti HS2 activity, otherwise known as err, Bournemouth…

Yes, Bournemouth. Now I don’t know which of the two constituencies she lives in (East or West) but I’m willing to bet that HS2 isn’t exactly high up on their list of concerns. Brexit? Absolutely. The NHS? Almost certainly – but not HS2!

So, how many people in the two constituencies signed that last daft and doomed StopHs2 petition? Here’s the results.

Wow! All of 31 eh? I’m sure that’ll really make Tobias Ellwood MP change his mind on HS2. Oh, wait, he’s a strong supporter of the project as he’s written here as recently as August 2019! Meanwhile, in Bournemouth West…

Oh dear, just 17 signatures, all of 0.016%. I’m sure that’s giving sitting MP Conor Burns and his canvassers sleepless nights! He’s been absent for the past couple of votes on HS2, but then he’s now a Government Minister, so the idea that he’ll vote against party policy is moonshine. It’s also worth mentioning he’s got a healthy majority!

This rubbish from Gaines does show one thing – why no-one takes what’s left of the anti HS2 grassroots campaign seriously anymore. They really are so divorced from reality it’s actually funny! Now we’re in the run-up to an election, expect to hear more nonsense like this as the few remaining antis bluster and try to puff out their chests and flex non-existent political muscle.

I’ve no doubt the election is going to be a fascinating night as I don’t think we’ve had one with these levels of political uncertainty for a very long time, but there’s one thing that isn’t going to be a factor in any of this and that’s HS2. Not in the Chilterns, and certainly not in Bournemouth!

The end of another farcical anti HS2 petition.

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At midnight, yet another StopHs2 turned into the inevitable pumpkin. After a frantic last minute ‘surge’ (well what passes for one in their eyes) it staggered over the finish line with 24,075 signatures, having gained less than 80 in the final 24 hours! The 2018 one managed 28,938. To say this is pathetic is an understatement, especially when you consider this is a national figure. The UK’s current population size is reckoned by the UN to be 67.53 million (as there’s been no UK census since 2011), which rather puts this figure into perspective, it’s just 0.03%. So much for HS2 being a ‘national’ issue! I’ll crunch the numbers here as they make interesting reading when you compare them to the results of the last time Joe Rukin tried one of these petitions back in 2017. I’ll analyse them in detail shortly, but first, let’s look at what conclusions we can draw.

StopHs2 really is just a ‘Nimby’ campaign

Yes, I know they’ve spent years denying this, pretending there’s widespread national opposition to HS2, but these petitions provide the statistics to prove that’s simply not the case. It’s why I love it when Rukin starts yet another one as they provide empirical evidence, not just rumour. These petitions log the number of signatures by Parliamentary constituency, giving a running total and percentage. Here’s the map for England. Those constituencies with the most signatures appear in a darker colour. Now, looking at that map, have a wild guess where Phase 1 of HS2 runs?

Sure, there’s signatures from other parts of the UK, after all, various Green groups and the Brexit party have publicised it amongst their supporters, but they’re statistically insignificant. The fact 4 people in Banff & Buchan in Scotland or 2 in West Tyrone in Northern Ireland have signed is neither here nor there, because 49.64% of all the petition signatures have come from just 9.6% of the UK’s 650 constituencies, the 63 that HS2 just happens to pass through…

Their ‘Grassroots’ campaign is dying

Their 2017 petition managed 28,398 signatures, this one’s only managed 24,075. As you’ll see from the numbers from the different phases, whilst the phase 1 signatures have decreased, the ones for phase 2a and the two phase 2b legs have collapsed. In some cases dramatically.

In reality, this petition is a last gasp from the Chilterns and other areas on phase 1 where minds have been focussed by the fact that workers and machinery are already on the ground, preparing for construction.

Another reason for the collapse is that – because this is essentially a ‘Nimby’ campaign, many of its supporters have been bought out and moved away in the past few years. HS2’s no longer an issue for them. This was always going to happen, but it’s accelerated as the number of homes purchased has accelerated. One only has to look around Euston, where the new homes built to house the people displaced by Hs2 works are now occupied and the old ones are being demolished. This is reflected in the number of signatures to the petition.

Once Phase 1 construction is fully underway, the StopHs2 campaign will fracture and what’s left of its national organisation will collapse

In many ways, this has already happened. Of the three ‘national’ groups, two have already collapsed. AGAHST (Action Groups Against HS2) went to the wall in 2015 and the HS2 ‘Action Alliance’ gave up in 2016. Both were Chiltern based. That leaves ‘StopHs2’ which is a bit of a joke to be honest. It’s Campaign Manager (and I use that term loosely) Joe Rukin runs it from his flat in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, whilst its Chair (of what? Ed) Penny Gaines now lives in Bournemouth! It has little relevance away from Phase1 other than to provide a few campaign materials and Joe’s occasional ‘rent a quotes’ to the national media. In the real world, they never has any involvement in the Phase 2a petitioning process, nor will they have in the phase 2b process when that finally gets off the ground. As much of their funding comes from Phase 1 Nimbys, we can expect that to dry up too. Of course, someone might be foolish enough to offer Joe Rukin a proper job, but he’s been looking for years and his CV isn’t exactly scintillating. Meanwhile, many local ‘action’ groups went to the wall years ago, leaving Facebook and Twitter littered with their remains like an old battlefield.

They still have no political support

10 years on, HS2 still commands enormous cross-party political support. In fact, this has grown, as can be seen the way Northern and Midlands leaders have become an increasingly loud voice in campaigns to ensure that HS2 is built in its entirety. Added to their are the powerful voices of business leaders up and down the country.

In contrast, what do StopHs2 have? A handful of MPs, mostly the same old faces like Cheryl Gillan, the Green Party and now The Brexit party, who are likely to emulate the ‘success’ of their leader’s last chariot for his ego – UKIP – who never managed to get a single MP – even by standing in the Chilterns…

Remember, all these people, along with ‘celebrity’ environmentalist Chris Packham all encouraged people to sign this petition. Packham alone has 356,000 Twitter followers, the Green Party 284,000 and the Brexit party 202,000 – yet they were all spectacularly unsuccessful in getting people to sign the petition. This is why, despite all the bluster you’re seeing from some Nimbys in the run up to the general election, HS2 simply isn’t an election issue.

Right, let’s crunch some numbers!

These are comparison of the signatures between yesterday and when the last petition closed after 6 months in March 2018. First up – phase 1. I’ve highlighted the increases on 2018.

The interesting thing here is that many of the increases are from such a low base number they’re insignificant, especially when you consider what percentage of constituents they are! Their ‘best’ result is in Chesham and Amersham, where long-standing opponent of HS2, Dame Cheryl Gillan MP holds sway. Even there they can’t get beyond 1.9% – and these are meant to be their heartlands! Kenilworth & Southam is their next best number where they have 1.6%, but as this is where Joe Rukin is that’s amazingly poor. Buckingham gets 1.5%, after that the numbers really start to drop.

2,570.105 live in the 23 constituencies phase 1 traverses. Just 0.36% of them have signed the petition – and these constituencies are meant to be the hot-bed of the Stophs2 campaign! Meridian’s the only interesting one, where their number have increased by 256%, but that’s still only 250 signatures and the total’s just 0.32% of all constituents!

Now for the phase 2 routes. First up is the leg to Manchester. This contains 18 constituencies and includes phase 2a to Crewe.

Their numbers here have plummeted by over 27%, in one notable case (Tatton) they’ve dropped by half! Tatton is one of the few places on the Manchester leg where there’s ever been an active ‘action’ group (Mid Cheshire) but even here they’re obviously struggling! Their ‘best’ result here is in Tatton, with a miserly 0.3%. It’s the only constituency off phase 1 that’s highlighted on the map in a darker colour.

Out of all 1,811.397 constituents, a measly 0.08% have signed the petition, down from 0.12% in 2018. Just like the other phases of HS2, it’s worth noting that what these figures show is that the StopHS2 ‘campaign’ get the vast majority of it’s tiny support from rural areas and has virtually bugger-all influence in the cities. There’s never been a single ‘action’ group in urban Birmingham, Leeds or Manchester.

Next up, the 18 constituencies on the phase 2 leg to Leeds, which produces some very interesting results…

The numbers signing have collapsed from 4793 in 2018 to just 1246 now. That’s a huge drop of 74%! Not a single constituency has registered a raise. Look at Rother Valley, down from 1650 to just 121, a drop of 92.6%! Hemsworth’s dropped by 73% and Bolsover by 69.1% whilst NW Leics is down 69.89%.

The route to Leeds was always an interesting one as the anti Hs2 campaign on that leg was always fractious and also full of bluster. They spent a lot of time fighting amongst themselves as some wanted Hs2 cancelling whilst others actually wanted Hs2 but fought against the final route selection. It also suffered from a fair few personalities who could best be described with the old expression, “all mouth and no trousers”! How quickly the ‘action’ groups have collapsed on the Leeds leg has surprised even me, but they’d sown the seeds of their own destruction right from the start.

So, what’s next for the stophs2 ‘campign’? Limbo. Now that a general election’s been called the Oakervee review is almost certainly going to be put on ice until afterwards. Of course, they could always resurrect their daft ‘no votes for you with HS2’ Twitter hashtag, but they’re firing blanks. They’re no political threat to anyone and the electorate has rather more pressing matters to vote on than building a new railway!

For reference, you can find a previous blog looking at the long failure of StopHs2 petitions here. There’s also this blog which crunched the numbers in their 2017-18 petition.

Back in the UK, sadly…

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After a wonderful few days in Belgium and the sanity of being in a country that’s not tearing itself apart both politically and economically, I’m back in Brexit Britain where the madhouse continues.

The good news? We’re not leaving the EU on October 31st and Johnson’s not going to end up dead in a ditch (appealing as that idea may be to more than a few people). The bad news? In an act of monumental political stupidity, ‘Magic Grandad’ Jeremy Corbyn has given Johnson exactly what he wanted and has agreed to a December general election, claiming that he’s succeeded in getting a ‘no-deal’ Brexit taken off the table. It’s nonsense of course. Instead, he’s now mixed up Brexit (but no second referendum) with a general election. A general election he cannot win. What the fall-out from this will be is incalculable, as the old political tribal allegiances have completely broken down. All we do know is that there’s going to be a lot more MPs around that won’t be from either the Tory or Labour party. My sincere hope is that Corbyn’s just signed his own political death-warrant, but the problem is the collateral damage to the country his decision to agree to an election could cause.

Make no mistake, this is going to be a very nasty campaign. The Brexiters are going to throw everything at winning this and getting their ultimate aim, a no-deal Brexit, and Corbyn’s just handed them that opportunity. The only thing the rest of us can do now is vote tactically for any anti Brexit candidate who has the best chance of winning. What we also need is for an outbreak of common-sense and willingness to co-operate between the anti Brexit parties so that they don’t split the vote with competing candidates, the way the Brexit party is offering to with the Tories.

Whilst the parties haggle over the exact date of the election (December 9th or 12th) there’s only one thing looking certain, whenever the election is, it’s going to be a rollercoaster night. Many Remainers are sick to the back teeth of Corbyn’s shenanigans and they’ve no trust in the man left at all. At the same time Johnson has made Teresa May actually look competent!

It’s going to be a cold Christmas…

Belgium. Day 4 – the return to England.

The gang’s had a brilliant couple of days in Belgium but now it’s time to make our way home. After a leisurely breakfast at our hotel our merry band piled into a taxi to the railway station and we’re now on the train back to Brussels. Despite the fact it’s a Sunday morning the double-deck push-pull set that’s working our train’s busy, mostly with people dozing! That said, we’ve managed to find some seats up on the top deck today, which is giving us all chance to catch up on news from home and the world via a plethora of portable devices.

We’re not heading back the the UK straightaway. Instead, we’re having a few hours break in Brussels. Today’s my 60th birthday, so we’re going to have a few drinks in the city to celebrate first before catching our Eurostar.

Rolling blog: Belgium day 3. Battlefield tour.

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Today the six of us are off on our own private trip (hosted by Quasimodo tours) to some of the major First World War battlefield sites around Ypres. Despite four years of bloody fighting and all the lives lost, the front line around the town moved back and forth littke more than 4 miles between 1914-18. Here’s the map we’ve been given as a guide.

10:30.

Our first stop. The German war cemetery at Langemark. 44,000 Germans (and two British) soldiers are buried here. 1000s of the Germans are 18 year old volunteers who had less than a months drill training before being sent to the front

19:33.

To be honest, today has been too much to absorb and try and blog about at the same time. We’ve visited a vast array of sights on what was a fantastic and informative tour, but that was also deeply moving. The sheer scale of the slaughter and destruction is hard to take in. I’ll blog about this in detail in the future. Right now I’ll just leave you with a few pictures from the day.

Just some of the names of the German soldiers at Langemark.
The Canadian war memorial.
Row upon row of memorials at the main British cemetery at Tyne Cot.
The excellent and informative museum at Hoodge Crater which is packed with memorabilia from the war.
Just some of the recovered artefacts at Hoodge Crater, which is actually built atop the remains of the crater itself.
Hill 60 has lain untouched since the end of the war and gradually been reclaimed by nature. It still bears all the scars and shell craters left behind.
Hill 60 sums up the futility of the fighting. 10s of 1000s died fighting over the land which swapped hands several sides.

Bruges day 2.

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There’s not much of a blog from me today as we’ve been far too busy exploring Bruge. We went out at 08:00 this morning and didn’t get back to the hotel before 6. After a short break and chance to freshen up we were out again to enjoy a lovely, relaxed Greek meal at the Olive Tree restaurant. I’ll write about our experiences at greater length in the next couple of days, but tonight it’s time for an early night as we’re off on a tour of some of the places with links to World War 1. I’ve never visited places like Ypres, or any of the battlefield sights, but all of our group want to and for me it’s more than a passing interest, as my maternal Grandfather fought in that war as a soldier in the Scottish regiment known as the ‘Black Watch’. I’ll try (if I can) to post a few bits from the day, but if not. It can wait until another time. In the meantime, here’s a couple of pictures from today.

Inside the popular Half-Moon brewery.

Rolling blog: Belgium or bust…

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07:40.

We’re both up, scrubbed, fed, packed and waiting for the taxi to take us to Halifax station to meet up with our friends for the first leg of our trip to Bruges in Belgium….

08:30.

Leg one. Having met up with the others we’re now on Grand Central’s 08:09 from Halifax to Kings Cross, a direct train service from Bradford that started running in 2010. Nowadays their 4 five- car trains are packed, even in First Class. Don’t let this picture fool you, just look at how many seats are reserved which will be occupied in the next few stops…

The six of us are spread throughout the train as tickets were booked separately. It’ll be the same on Eurostar, so the only time we’ll meet up is between trains or in the buffet on the Eurostar!

12:55.

We had a mad scramble in London as some people had breakfast (which was late coming) then confusion at Eurostar check-in as they were overwhelmed by the weight of numbers. With the amount of baggage folk carry nowadays the number of staff and machines available were overwhelmed, leading to stress all round. Passport control was just as swamped. Despite checking in the required 45 mins before we still had to be ‘fast-tracked’ to get to our train on time. This led to confusion as the group got split up. Despite this, we made it and we’re just pulling out now.

Our train is one of the original Alstom built TMST sets, albeit a refurbished one. Our coach (16) only has a handful of empty seats

16:00. (Belgium time).

About to arrive in Brussels. It’s been an interesting trip I’ll blog more about shortly once we change yrains, but suffice to say these old trains are tired, despite the refurbishment.

17:00.

So much for updating the blog on a nice, quiet Belgian train. This is us on a double-deck train from Brussels Midi to Brugges. It’s rammed!

18:12.

– and relax! We’ve arrived at our hotel in Brugges, checked in and freshened up. Now it’s time to explore. First stop is a liytle var kbown to Tony (Allan) that I’ve just heard some very good things about. According to anither friend it’s like walking into “The Leaky Cauldron” from the Harry Potter films. Expect pictures shortly!