Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Review : December

The final month and a bit quieter until the last few days. I fitted in 2 trips to Derby and also visited the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley at long last. At the start of the year i wanted to expand my horizons a bit and visit many more places in this great country and i certainly did that but there will be more to come in 2016 and i am already busy planning things.

Many people will reflect on the year of course, to me 2015 is an important year in history as it marked quite clearly that we are headed into darkness in the years and decades to come. The optimism for the future which was common only a few years ago seems to be dissipating as people come to grips with a world and environment we have done our best to abuse and destroy over the last few centuries fighting back.

Personally i feel its too late to stop the rot, which might be why i am so keen to do stuff now. I can see an end to our glorious industrial civilisation. I hope i'm wrong but i feel we will look back on this time as a golden age and regret we didn't heed the warnings before it was too late (and let's face it the warning signs were there back when i was in school and even earlier). That doesn't mean that i think we are all doomed but unfortunately we are going to have to accept things will have to change and not always for the better. But on that happy note i would like to visit my readers a happy new year!

Song of the month was "Who's on the line" by Device.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Derby yet again

I was able to fit one more railway photo shoot in this year and visited Derby yesterday, for the second time in the month. To be honest it was a little disappointing compared to the visit on the 17th though i did see a Class 47 light engine and its always good to see these old stagers which have been around since long before i've been born! You can see the photos here.

2015 Review : November

OK can we start slowing down yet? Well maybe a little. November was still fairly busy including trips to Leamington Spa, Tamworth and a very memorable trip to London where i enjoyed the amazing Clapham Junction again (the busiest station in Europe it is claimed, i can believe it!)

I created a new blog, TOPS Tastic, and also mused on 20 years in the workforce. Unfortunately it doesn't mean retirement is due any time soon but i am nearly half way there.

Song of the month was "Sunflowers" by La Casa Al Mare.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Review : October

At the risk of repeating myself October was another very busy month. It started with the Diesel Gala on the Severn Valley Railway, one of my favourite events from 2014 and this year's edition did not disappoint either especially with some of the more unusual locos on display like the Class 17 Clayton. I also attended Tyseley Loco Works' open day for the first time since i was a small child and visited the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway which is a great preserved line up in Derbyshire i shall be visiting again in 2016 for sure. Oh and i also visited Worcester (railway station and canal) and did some photoshoots at Erdington and Duffield too!

My model railway saw a major change in direction. Frustrated by the lack of availability of HOe stock i decided to change to N gauge.

Song of the month was "Celebrate" by Metric.

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Review : September

September has to go down as one of the busiest months. It started with a long delayed but finally realised and much enjoyed trip to Lapworth and its canals and railway. A week later i went to Crewe and the wonderful Crewe Heritage Centre and of course spent some time in the station too. Finally at the end of the month i made a second trip to the LT Museum Depot and also visited a live railway depot for the first time namely the Heathrow Express Depot including the change to walk underneath a train!

Interestingly after finally getting into the cab of a working locomotive after many years of being an enthusiast only back in July, in September i managed to get into the cabs of a Class 332 and a Class 87 too. Not only buses come in threes it seems.

I also bought myself a Chromebook Pixel a lovely computer which replaced my fading iPad as my "personal" computer. Its a beautiful piece of kit and in some ways more powerful than my Macbook though probably a bit overpriced for what it can do and what i use it for. However it should last me a number of years so should be seen as a long term investment.

Song of the month was "Can you blame me" by Matt & Kim.

The National Museum of Computing

Somewhere i've wanted to go for some time is The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley and today i finally went! Seeing all of the old computers, especially the "old iron" (mainframes and minicomputers), filled me with nostalgia even the stuff i hadn't ever seen before! I've always been fond of computing like this, many years ago i learnt to program on a Prime minicomputer via a dumb terminal after all! There were no Primes on display though i was told they did have one in storage.

They did have rooms full of computers and cabinets full of exhibits, happily quite a few of them i own myself too! You can see my photos here.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Review : August

August might be considered a slightly quieter month but it still saw my first trip proper to Princes Risborough (as opposed to just the station) and Monks Risborough. A return to Banbury and a trip to Hereford too.

I had some trouble with my iPhone which suffered from a swelling battery. This soon rendered it unusable. I therefore got a new phone, a Lumia, but to my surprise Apple replaced the iPhone free of charge anyway even though it was out of warranty so i ended up with 2 phones. I continued to use the Lumia as my main and the iPhone as a backup until yesterday when i finally switched back to the iPhone as a main.

Song of the month was "I don't want to" by La Casa Al Mare.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 Review : July

July was another busy month (to be honest every month has been fairly busy this year!) It saw a fascinating visit to the Severn Valley Railway when they held their behind the scenes open day which included a chance to visit places like the carriage shed and Bridgnorth workshop and also enter the cab of a diesel locomotive for the first time. Earlier in the month i also returned to the great railway spot Derby and to Leamington Spa where i saw a "Thumper" DEMU for the first time as well as walked the Grand Union Canal there.

As well as taking photos of trains i experimented with a cheap wireless camera though it did not reallt work out due to a lack of wi-fi range.

Song of the month was "More than you" by Class Actress.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 Review : June

After the very busy May June was slightly quieter but did include a trip to Aylesbury which is somewhere i've wanted to go for some time. I enjoyed the railways getting to the Buckinghamshire town and a long walk along the Grand Union canal. The following week i returned to Wootton Wawen and had another canal walk.

I also returned to study by beginning a short course on meteorology though i did not complete it, i found it a bit boring to be honest and not really what i was hoping for. I might try a short course again next year but stick to history!

Song of the month was "The shade" by Metric (which is also my song of the year to be honest).

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Review : May

May was a busy month which included 2 trips to London. On the first i travelled around South London taking in the likes of Clapham Junction and Peckham for the first time, as well as going to Chelsea Dock. On the second trip i went to the London Transport Museum Depot in Acton for the first time, its somewhere i've wanted to go to for a long time and i really enjoyed it. So much so i later became a friend of the museum.

I also went to Leamington Spa and the Severn Valley Railway this month. Song of the month was "Let the good times" by The Charlatans.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

2015 Review : April

For Easter i went to Cardiff for a short holiday, a lovely city which i hugely enjoyed and will surely visit again one day. Of course i took a lot of photos especially around the bay and Penarth Marina and of the various railways around the city. Later in the month i also went to Stafford for the first time and that was enjoyable too. Indeed one theme for this year has been quite a lot of trips and visits to places for the first time. Lets hope that can continue in 2016.

Garden wise the herb garden was developed and has remained largely the same since. Actually the garden has done pretty well this year with a lot of the overgrowth finally cut back and got rid of.

Song of the month was "Collect yourself" by Idlewild.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Derby video and more

A day off yesterday gave me the chance to visit Derby on a weekday, my two previous visits had both been on Saturdays and while i had seen plenty of Network Rail RTC research and engineering trains i reckoned that a weekday would yield even more. Oddly enough for the first hour of so it was all rather quiet and i was starting to get a bit disappointed. Then around lunchtime it all kicked off with interesting traction and trains in all directions. You can see my photos here. I also took a video for the first time and it turned out fairly well.

Monday, December 14, 2015

2015 Review : March

Spring approaches and life becomes slightly more busier. March saw my first ever trip to Derby, one of the key spots of the railway network, and also a return to my beloved Banbury. With the weather improving my attention returned to my garden and i began a very successful experiment in growing herbs instead of other vegetables. I'll continue doing this in future as i do tend to use what i grow much more...

The model making season also began. Song of the month was "Stones in the road" by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

2015 Review : February

February is usually a quiet month but improving (yet still a bit nippy) weather saw my first trip to the Severn Valley Railway of the year. A first trip to Tamworth station was also made this month though it was a bit chilly as was my second trip there a few weeks ago - i must go there in the Summer for a change!

Song of the month was "White foxes" by Susanne Sundfor.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

2015 Review : January

Lets begin the traditional review of the year a.k.a. an easy way to fill up the blog in December! January saw my first visit to Leicester and very nice it was too plus a trip to Stratford. Oddly considering how many times i have been to the town in recent years that is still my only trip there this year (so far). I also returned to Nottingham at the very start of the year. Really January set the pattern for the year, a lot of trips around the Midlands and lots of photographs taken. Most of them of the railways of course.

Song of the month was "Eyes be closed" by Washed Out.

Monday, November 30, 2015

London rails again

I went down to London at the weekend, not really to do any shopping (though i did buy a book... on the Underground natch) but to do some rail photography. At Clapham Junction and Waterloo to be exact, the former is the busiest railway junction in Europe it is claimed and i certainly believe it. Its like an early Christmas present to be honest, every time you turn a train is arriving or departing. You can see the photos i took here, i used my iPhone only as i didn't want to take my SLR to the busy city though to be honest some of the photos would have probably turned out quite a bit better if i had. Maybe next year!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A nice surprise in Tamworth

These days, with so much information accessible via the internet, you can go out on a photo shoot and know exactly what you are going to see and hopefully photograph. However its nice sometimes to have a bit of a surprise. I went to Tamworth at the weekend to do some railway photography and knew there was going to be a rail tour going through the station, however what i didn't know or expect was that it was steam hauled! So that was a nice surprise when i first heard the whistle and Mayflower soon came thundering through on its way to Chester. The fact there were a lot more people with cameras on the platform than is usual however did make me suspect something special was coming! You can see my photos here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Stark beauty

There is such a stark beauty about Winter, especially on a clear cloudless day. Trees now shorn of their Summer foliage and beginning their slumber until the next Spring. Its glorious, if only it wasn't quite so cold...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

More Leamington trains

A day off on Tuesday gave me the chance to see some railways on a weekday, there are generally more freight and interesting workings on a week day compared to a weekend. I went to Leamington Spa which always has plenty going on and you can see my photos here. Another good point about that station is the good quality of the station canopy, important when the weather forecast was not very promising!

Monday, November 9, 2015

TOPS Tastic

Introducing the new blog, TOPS Tastic. This is a spin-off from the Railway Photos blog and uses my photos to present a class by class survey of British railways locomotives and units of the modern era (i.e. post-steam). Now the blog is limited to using my own photos and i haven't taken photos of every single class (and some i will never be able to as they don't exist anymore!) But i have plenty more to cover before i run out of photos, at current rate of posting (2 a week) i have enough "in the bag" to keep updating the blog well into next year but of course i will be aiming to photograph more classes i haven't seen before over the coming months...

If you wonder what TOPS means well this is a good introduction.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Twenty years of web design

I do not usually talk about my work but as the 6th of November 2015 marks my 20th anniversary of entering the world of work i shall make an exception and maybe drone on with a few war stories.

Having graduated in the Summer of 1995 with a degree in Software Engineering i naturally was aiming for a career in computing though i had little idea doing what. I was successful in my second interview after graduation and started work at a company called Third Wave. My new boss had recently been to the US and seen the demos of Netscape 2.0 which, it was hoped, would bring the new (and hardly used compared to today) world wide web to the masses. He also heard about the promising new technologies like SSH which would enable secure commerce over the internet, e-commerce in other words. I was hired to produce websites for a new off-shoot company called Tw2, specifically websites that could sell stuff...

Now this was all new to me to be honest, i hadn't even seen a graphic web page at that point. I had been using the internet since 1991 at uni but this was with telnet, ftp and the likes. I had "surfed" in text-mode using lynx and had done some basic html but not actually seen a proper webpage. Still that didn't matter i've never been one to worry about that kind of thing! On my first day in my new job i went online (dial-up natch) and had a look around. These were the early days of the web still, especially in terms of e-commerce. Amazon's website had only started up a few months before. An internet search (what search engine i used i cannot remember, this was years before Google) indicated that i needed to do some CGI programming and Perl. I hadn't heard of either before.

I also needed a web server, though we did not have any web space at the time. I ran OS/2 Warp on my PC at home and knew that could run a web server so i installed OS/2 on my work PC, downloaded a Perl implementation and started work. I was to create an e-commerce website for a large retailer called Software Warehouse. We were aiming to go live in early 1996 but first of all we had to prove the concept to the heads of the major software houses and suppliers at a presentation in a London hotel in December. Yes next month!

I was given a data dump of the stock database, a huge mass of text (text dump from SQL Server i believe) and my first job was to develop a CGI search for that data. This was not a simple process especially as i was having to learn Perl at the same time though luckily as i found out Perl is excellent for handling text files. With few resources online (and limited dial-up access anyway - i had to dual boot the PC into Windows to go online to look for stuff then reboot into OS/2 to implement what i had found!) i once had to resort to going to Waterstones one lunchtime and looking up how to do something in a book on Perl!

However progress was steady and as December approached the website was taking shape (albeit all running on my PC). My boss Ross was a great designer, and a rabid Steve Jobs and Apple fan (the man had a working Lisa in my office - i'm sure my later conversion to Mac-dom is largely thanks to him). His design for the Software Warehouse website was based on NeXT's site though went further. Our site was not just a digital brochure, visitors could search a database, could add things to a basket and then go and purchase them. This seems so common place now but in late 1995 it was genuinely cutting edge.

It was now time for the demonstration, where Ross would demonstrate my website (running on my PC still) to some of the heads of the British computing industry (heads of Adobe UK, Corel et cetera). I was there just in case anything went wrong... but no it all went smoothly and everyone seemed suitably impressed (or at least not too appalled). Now all that was left to do was actually implement the site on a proper server, installing the horror that was Netscape Commerce Server to handle the secure connections, and building a back-end for order management. But that was for 1996. This blog post is about my first few months at work as a web developer.

These days i am an e-learning developer, creating online courses for a distance learning college. I haven't really touched e-commerce (apart from as a user) since my Tw2 days (which lasted until the company went bust in 2001) but that's fine. I was there at the start, the Software Warehouse e-commerce site was one of the first in the UK, and i'm proud to have had to build everything from scratch. But life moves on and the stuff i do these days, especially involving responsive design for mobile learning, makes me proud too.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ecclesbourne Valley Railway

I go to the Severn Valley Railway a lot but thought it was high time i visited another preserved line, there are after all many in the UK. I visited the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway today and enjoyed it immensely. Its a lovely preserved line running from Wirksworth to Duffield in Derbyshire. Its not far away from me, the train journey from Birmingham to Duffield takes about an hour.

Used to the well established SVR the EVR is much more back to basics and seems a bit more fun too (and very friendly). They run DMUs mostly, and it was highly nostalgic to ride in a BR blue & grey DMU again, but with a motley collection of stock in their yard at Wirksworth. I shall definitely be visiting more often. You can see my photos here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Pigeon House, Monks Risborough

Monks Risborough is a lovely village in Buckinghamshire at the foot of the Chilterns that has been in existence since pre-Norman times. Not quite as old but still very interesting is a building near the church of St Dunstan (originally between the church and a farmhouse) that dates from the 16th century.

This is the Pigeon House which now stands in a recreation ground. Pigeons were bred for food in the house though later it was used by the nearby farm as a cattle shelter. One curiosity is a door on the Northern side of the house which does not match the rest of the architecture and may have been originally part of another building.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tyseley Locomotive Works Open Day

Birmingham has a kind-of railway museum, really a locomotive works that has a few open days a year, and on Saturday i finally got around to going to one of them. Well i say "finally" but i have been to one of the open days before back in the mid-1980s, i was a child back then and everything at the adjacent Tyseley MPD was in BR blue and grey...
Nowadays i am a lot bigger and the trains at the MPD are in London Midland and Cross Country livery. The open day was great fun and included plenty of iconic motive power including City of Truro (the first locomotive to exceed 100mph of course) which was great to see. Personally though i enjoyed seeing the "modern image" locomotives more such as the Class 86 though these are coming up to 50 years old now so can hardly be considered that modern surely? Anyway you can see my photos here.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Erdington rails

Usually i go out of Birmingham to do some train photography, i certainly have never done a proper photo shoot at my nearest station Erdington before mostly because it is usually a commuter station with a parade of 323 EMUs and little else. However this morning i saw on RTT that there were a few different workings going through the station so went along to take some photos. I've never seen a HST go through Erdington before and also never seen a Rail Head Treatment Train in operation until now. You can see the photos i took here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Class 487 (Waterloo & City)

The Class 487 Electric Multiple Units were unique on the British Railways / British Rail network in that their revenue service was spent entirely underground. They ran the Waterloo & City Line which nowadays is part of London Underground but originally the 1 and a half mile long line between Waterloo and the City of London was separate and operated by a succession of mainline railway companies until the advent of nationalisation and British Rail. In 1994 the line was transferred to LU to become a "tube" proper.

The O.V.S. Bulleid designed Class 487s were built for the Southern Railway during WW2 and entered service from 1940. The units consisted of driving motor cars (with cabs at both ends - and hence could operate singly) and trailers. In off-peak periods the Waterloo & City Line trains often ran with just a pair of motor cars while in peak times 3 trailers were usually marshalled between 2 motor cars.

They remained in service until being replaced by the Class 482 in 1993 seeing out their final days in Network South East livery no less. The Class 487s operated on 660v DC third rail and spent all of their working lives on their short underground line though they did see sunlight now and then when they needed heavy maintenance and had to be bought up to the surface. For test purposes one driving car operated above ground in the late 1970s for a short period.

One DMBSO driving car has been saved from the scrap man and is being restored at the London Transport Museum. It will be restored to Network South East livery.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Back to Worcester

Last year i worked in Worcester for 6 months and have come to really love this beautiful and historic city so it was nice to visit again yesterday, for rail and canal photography natch.

One thing i never did do when i worked there was take a train to Worcester Shrub Hill which is a lovely grand old station though somewhat out of the way compared to Foregate Street which was the station i used when i worked in Worcester. I also walked along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal up to Diglis Basin. Many photos of course, of Shrub Hill here and of the canal and basin here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Project #066 is a Focke-Wulf Fw190A-8 and has now reached completion. The last few model kits have been a bit slow going but we got there in the end! I've decided it makes more sense to move posts about model kits to my railway modelling blog so thats where any future posts on kit building will be from now on.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal

The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal is not one i have walked along (yet) but it is one i regularly travel over when i visit the Severn Valley Railway as the line crosses the canal via the Falling Sands viaduct in Kidderminster. The canal is 46 miles long and was opened in the early 1770s. The canal links up with the river Severn at Stourport and the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood.

The canal's strength was that it linked up the Severn to the Trent and was a major North-South link through the West Midlands, much of the trade being coal. Traffic from Birmingham and the Black Country used the canal as part of the route up to the Mersey. Later canal openings such as the Worcester & Birmingham Canal did take away much of its trade however it remained profitable until the end of the 19th century which is more than could have been said for a lot of canals. It remained independent until canal nationalisation in 1948 with commercial coal traffic continuing up until then.

The Southern terminus of the canal is at Stourport which was built as an inland port to serve the new transport link to the Severn. Stourport was the only town in Britain built because of the canals.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Diesel Gala

The highlight of my year in 2014 was probably going to the Diesel Gala at the Severn Valley Railway so of course i couldn't wait for the 2015 edition. It was fantastic too with a great line-up of guest locomotives most notably the only Class 17 still in existence and a working Class 35 (there is already one on the SVR in the process of restoration but i've never seen one actually running before).

So i enjoyed some thrash a.k.a. a number of trips along the line (travelling behind a Class 08, 11, 14, 17 and 52). Of course i took a lot of photos too. Now to wait for the 2016 gala.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Heathrow Express

I've done many things such the relaunch of my interest in railways that i never achieved in my youth when i was just another spotty train spotter including seeing engineering trains and entering a few cabs, but i haven't been to a working depot... until yesterday. The Siemens Heathrow Express Depot at Old Oak Common held an open day in conjunction with the London Transport Museum (of whom i am a friend) and very interesting it was too.

Highlights included another cab visit (and a mainline working train for once, not a preserved one) and also walking along the inspection pit under a raised train. You can see my photos from the depot visit here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Crewe Heritage Centre

I went to Crewe Heritage Centre yesterday, a superb railway engineering attraction in the old railway town of Crewe. Highlight for me was being able to sit in the cab of a class 87, a rather simple "office" considering these trains can go up to 110mph and haul hundreds of tons whilst doing so! But then again as long as you have the controls to go and stop you have most bases covered. You can see my photos here along some some photos taken at Crewe station too.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Model railway videos

Something i do like to do now and then is to record short videos of operation on my model railway. I only use my iPhone and it is usually a bit shakey (its not that easy to control a locomotive and hold a phone at the same time!) You can see the videos on my Youtube channel. One of the latest is below:

Monday, September 7, 2015


I've been meaning to go to Lapworth for some time, having travelled through it a lot on the train. Well finally i stopped off at this North Warwickshire village at the weekend and what a lovely place it is too.

I went mainly for a canal walk, its where the Stratford and Grand Union Canals meet so there are plenty of locks, junctions and other waterway items of interest. You can see my canal photos here, plus some photos taken at the railway station too.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


For the last few years the pattern has been for me to do all of my serious stuff like Photoshop on my Macbook and use an iPad as a truly personal computer for surfing and the like. However as my iPad has aged i have found fewer and fewer of the websites i use regularly such as the Guardian worked satisfactorily on it. I was also finding an onscreen keyboard a bit of a pain to use for major text entry. So i switched instead to using my older Macbook, however this was only a temporary solution.

Ever since my Mum book a Chromebook i have thought about getting one for myself and i have finally made the plunge. Because i wanted something that would be relevant for a few years at least i plumped for the high end Pixel from Google, which in some ways has a superior spec to my main Macbook...

And very nice Katie the Chromebook is too. I am still getting used to the different way in working but i think it will be a pleasing adventure.

Monday, August 31, 2015


At the weekend i paid a visit to Hereford, a lovely medieval town and home to one of the great cathedrals of England of course. This time i did venture inside the cathedral (i didn't on my first visit to Hereford last year) and it is an impressive sight. I didn't take that many photos (or not as many as usual) but you can see the ones i did take here.