Two Firsts and a Second Prize in the Gardener’s Rest Photo Competition! (Yes… I know it’s only a pub…)

I am now the proud owner of six free pints of beer (already consumed), a box of chocolates and two boxes of delicious biscuits!

I almost forgot… and another two inches on the waistline… must be the price of fame.

I’ll include the pictures below; The first one is ‘Blue Shift’ for which I won a 1st.

The following picture is ‘Light Speed’ which won another 1st.

The third picture, which came second and won the chocolate ginger nuts, is ‘Shrimp Net’

‘Blue Shift’ was captured in Poland last September (2009). We had just driven the engine into the yard after a hard shift. It is lit in 3 ways, The yard lights at the rear of the tender as you can see, the lights from the coaling plant and the turntable to the front left hand and, more importantly, side-lit by the lights from the Bar Blizniak across the road.

Light Speed is a picture of a single lighting rig for the castle (Palace?) at Czesly Krumlov in the Czech Republic. This is a completely hand-held shot with a long exposure. I must have been sober that night… I particularly like the moth trails in the light stream. What now intrigues me, is that the moths only seem to congregate around one of the light-heads. Answer that one if you can! What interested me at first was the conflict between the potential for movement in the bike, which the lights initially appear to be fixed to, and the static nature of the two seats. But then… I’m easily pleased…

‘Shrimp Net’ was caught in Loutro on South-West Crete last May (2010) The child was playing quite unconsciously with the net. I was sat outside a bar… how unusual… and just grabbed the camera. And the rest, as they say, is a photograph. Interestingly, the boy and his parents alighted from a small boat, never left the jetty, and powered off again without properly coming ashore. I hesitate to say that that was about me… but you never know.

Talk to me… It’s lonely out here…


Water Desert

Water Desert

Lake Windermere… land of Beatrix Potter, Wordsworth… and now the land of ‘Vacancies’ signs in every window… the land of closing boatyards… suffering businesses and restaurants. Is this what the Water Authority and the Lake Park Authority wanted when they imposed the incredibly ill-thought speed limits on the the Lake? No. I don’t suppose for a minute that it is. I also don’t suppose either that they gave the result of their caving in to the clamouring voices and distorted opinions of the Fell-Walkers and Hikers, retired Colonels and especially the overseas residents that they consulted regarding this matter, a seconds thought.

What we now have is an economic wasteland along the shores of the lake. One that could be mitigated by a review of the imposed limitations, and that is something that the various authorities steadfastly refuse to do. Why? Because they know that their original decision-making was flawed and that they had allowed themselves to be unduly influenced by the vociferous minority interests who infest the area.

Half-empty Cruise Boat

Half-empty Cruise Boat

The government report for the lake usage suggests that the lake is partitioned so that water-skiers can use certain sections away from any housing and general use by swimmers and day-boaters. There would also be a section where speed rules would undergo a general relaxation that was well away from the ferry or other specific habitation. This ineffably sensible suggestion regarding the lake was totally ignored by the powers that be. Like John Ruskin,  harborer of the right to selfishly restrict the use of Coniston Water because he owned a house there, and being also the man of great influence who obstructed the  incursion of the railways into the Lake District by condemning them as “…animated and deliberate earthquakes, destructive of all wise social habits or possible natural beauty, carriages of damned souls on the edges of their own graves…”,  they condemn the right of enjoyment by the majority in the pursuit of similar ‘Holier than thou‘ minority pursuits. In a world so crowded as ours, we must respect the need for commercialism in order for our way of life to exist and to support us when we travel. In a life of ever-narrowing available niches we must look for and find beauty through the visible gaps in our activity, but in order for us to find the gaps, there must be activity. To stifle it is not only unwelcome but most undemocratic. The combined Lakeland Authorities refuse unflinchingly to enter a debate regarding the huge mistake they have made.

I think their silence speaks volumes.

I think we should respond with our feet until they recognise our silence.

Boats, beauty, and commercial activity are not mutually exclusive.

They just need managing.


The loss of the boaters means the following;

Loss of revenue for every activity surrounding the lake

Vacancy signs at most of the B&B establishments, even at busy times

Restaurants and Public Houses suffering a recession due to the social engineering of the Rules of Use for the lake

Shops and Retail Outlets in crisis with ‘Sale’ notices and reductions in most shops

Businesses for sale

Boatyards and shore-side businesses financially poised above a rule-induced precipice

The demolition of certain shore-side properties in Bowness in order to create a new ‘Holiday Inn’ hotel in the vain hope that this will bring ‘Tourism’ to the area. I might suggest that you had ‘Tourism’ in a way that other parts of the country can only yearn for before you thoughtlessly and completely ruined it by adopting a blinkered approach to the public that you are intended to serve.

As an open letter to all the involved authorities, if this is what you truly intended for the lake and its environs, then I wish you all the luck in the world with your social engineering project but I extend my sympathy to the unheeded people and businesses in the nearby towns over whom you wield your Ruskin-like influence. These people’s voices are never heard, or if indeed they are, they are never listened to.

And now… you want to dig up the Golf Course to create a picnic area instead…

What part of Economic Reality do you refuse to subscribe to?

Hi. Some years ago, my partner, Bryony Doran, (‘The China Bird, Bookline & Thinker Press, see link from my site.) sort of coerced me into making contact again with an old school friend, Michael. Now when i say an old school friend, this is a guy I lost contact with 37 years previously but never stopped talking about. When we were between six and 12 years old we used to hang around together getting into all sorts of mischief and also train-spotting.

It turned out that Michael had continued with his love of steam trains, eventually making a good living from Railway Memorabilia and other items of antiquity and had moved to South Wales. I contacted him through Friends Reunited and this is not, I hasten to add, an advert for that site, but it was a useful tool in this regard.

Mick came up to Sheffield on a three monthly basis to attend an auction of railway ‘stuff’ and we had been surprisingly proximate in those visits but never coincided. He now stays with us on a regular basis although the auction has since moved down to Derby. Eighteen months ago Mick suggested that we travelled to Poland to try out ‘The Wolsztyn Experience’. This is a facility where you can be taught to drive, fire and clean out live, working steam engines. We made the arrangement and last September we set of for Wolsztyn, via Wroclaw airport thanks to Ryanair. I for one had little idea of what to expect. What we found was exceptional, wonderful and gratifying.

The first good news was that the Polish people are polite, understanding of foreigners, good-natured and very happy to show/discuss their homeland with you. So many spoke very good English that we came away with having learned little of Polish except thank you. (But don’t ask me to spell it!)

We overnighted in Wroclaw and spent next day there. The centre of the city is ancient, with areas unspoiled by the wars that have ravaged the country in the last centuries. The buildings are gracious and tall and the interiors of the churches are decorative almost beyond belief. Wherever we went the food was good, cheap and plentiful, evidence that the EU has not yet penetrated Polish society fully with its poisonous tentacles of uniformity.

From there the journey to Wolsztyn was a quite bland drive of lorry-dodging on well-surfaced but single lane roads for most of the time. There is only one motorway in Poland and I can assure you, we were not on it. Without mishap we arrived in Wolsztyn to find a hidden jewel of a town. The outskirts appear at first a little functional but as you move into the town proper it becomes a touch more quaint, with buildings of historical significance, famous artists, doctors etc. By the western edge of town, it is bordered by two beautiful and completely unused lakes that were crying out for a host of small sails, the slap of dipped oars or even the putter of engines. Where the town meets the lakes there is a small ‘promontory’. Almost pier-like, with a large circle of seating at the end, this juts out perhaps a hundred metres into the water. Because the entire western half of the town is covered by a free wifi broadband service, it was possible to sit out there surrounded by water, swans and late September breezes, answering emails on my iPhone.

Promontory at Wolsztyn

As part of the Wolsztyn Experience our accommodation was provided in Howard’s(the organizer) house on the outskirts, yet only ten minutes walk from the station. The accommodation was rudimentary but clean and adequate and a catch-as-catch- can breakfast was available or even a cooked one if you ordered it previously. We ate out. We were given shift times. The train from Wolsztyn to Poznan ran twice a day, the journey of approximately 55 miles taking two and a half hours (or longer if we were driving). The train times were 5.25 a.m. and 1.25 p.m. I can tell you that the 5.25 a.m. train came as quite a shock to my system but as it turned out it was the best shift of the two. There are few things as dynamically dramatic as driving a steam loco in the pitch black pre dawn.

Dawn Firing

Dawn Firing

Our first shift was on the 1.25 p.m. train, thankfully. Howard took us down to the station and introduced us to the crew of the afternoon shift. These were extremely genial guys who spoke almost no english and whose expressions left us in doubt as to what they thought about our capabilities. After half an hour I discovered why. Mick and myself are quite small guys, and the controls of a 140 ton, 1953 steam locomotive are meant for someone a touch larger and heavier than ourselves. So much of it depended on throwing your bodyweight at the levers and wheels that I was glad the diet hadn’t worked quite as well as it should. The crews seemed huge in comparison with ourselves. The shovel held about a quarter-hundredweight of coal in one scoop (until you’d learnt not to be greedy with it!) and seeing these guys wielding it around without a thought made you realise how sedentary we have become. The first time you hit the firebox door with an overloaded shovel and spray coal all around the footplate is cause for a display of combined hilarity and despair from the Polish crew, but once they see that you are prepared to clean it up properly and thoroughly, their attitude towards you begins to change…
We ran four shifts over the week with a break, inbetween the second and third, of a day. On that day we took the car further north to see Hitler’s Bunkers, an incomplete complex of finely crafted subterranean tunnels that run for 18 kilometres along the old Russian border with Poland. These tunnels are now home to Europe’s largest roost of bats. The temperature in these tunnels is a constant 56 degrees Fahrenheit (Proper money) and therefore shelters them all winter.  They were beginning to arrive in late September and we found small numbers of them clinging to the roof of the tunnel as we walked. The tunnels were unusual in that the rooms were complete with radio stations, flamethrowers with hugely deep fuel resources, cannon, and machine gun emplacements set amidst 55 miles of solid concrete tank traps on the ground above. The fact that they left a road running through the centre of it down which the Russians drove their tanks beggars belief, considering the lengendary organisational capability of the Germans, but perhaps that was also ‘propaganda’.

As we became used to the engines, the controlling of same became easier, and also the crews became used to us. They knew what we were (and were not) capable of and eventually allowed us to drive through areas where we were supposed to move over to allow them to take charge. Misplaced emotion or not, I felt this to be a great honour.

There are four main things to state about live steam locomotives. They are Noisy, Smelly, Hot, and Damned Hard Work… but there is a fifth… they are also wonderfully alive with a seemingly patient intelligence. Here is the inanimate made animate. Forget Shelley’s Frankenstein and his poor monster. This is what he would have made had he been a man of more pure vision. Even their ailments,  we encountered one or two, and remember, these are 56 year old engines, seemed to be human… sticking valves… misaligned joints… the very same arterioscleroses and arthritic complications we ourselves encounter. There is no doubt left in my mind as to the epithet given of …live steam.

I will write more on the Poland trip later but for now I have posted pictures and downloadable video of the trains on the site under ‘Wolsztyn Experience’. Enjoy.

When he went off to France

By Bill Allerton

The mornings were the best, my pet,
They fell like playing cards
Of different suits, but all the same
In shape and size, and we didn’t notice
How they stole away
The march of time 
Yet tied us to our roots
He liked to walk to work you see,
He didn’t care if it was rain or shine
As long as enough snap
Was tucked in his bag
And he couldn’t feel the pavement
Through his boots,
His little world was fine.
But when he was in France,
Eh? Sorry pet, no nothing much.
I was up each day for half-past four
You know, and rattled out
The Yorkshire range
And took the ashes to the bin 
And fed him up to quart-past five,
Then shoved him out the door.
I lit the copper with a match,
On Mondays, And there was always
Just that half a chance
Your eyebrows might go, in the flash
But you’d drag out the dolly                 
And lean on the posher,
And dream,
Of when he were in France.
You know, when he went off to France,
We were all nowt but lasses
And some of us barely half-grown,
And I’ve just thought of the night
He came home with a mangle,
It was all green enamel
And brown paper and string
And the first thing I’d ever had
New, of my own.
It lived on the cellar head
Six days at a time, and was covered
By fold upon fold
Of old sheets and curtains,
And for a few months
I would polish the rails
And admire the wheels
And the erotic wood handle
That I liked to hold.
I tell you,we were no more
Than soft, bits of girls,
And I can still feel the skirts
As we swished to the door 
To pick up the letters
And find out if we  
Were still war-bride, or widow,
But, looking back, none of it hurts.
So, what were we to do, and with
A young womans fancies and wants,
But I remember the way
That he dozed in that chair
With a fag in his fingers
‘Til it burned right down
And he’d jump and he’d snort
With no depth in his eyes,
And that tumbling shock of white hair.
We took great pride in our menfolk, 
But all of us scared
By the love that we held for each one,
And we prayed they’d return
Before their faces were blurred
Or we’d wake in the night
And know in cold fear,
That we no longer shared the same sun.
We all had the same look of loss, in our eyes,
The winters were lonely,
The nights cold, and dark,
When the King emptied our arms
Then gave them his own,
But we’d have loved them to death
And not sent them out, where the
Cannon shells stutter and bark.
We were just, slips of things,
And you know, he didn’t miss a day
Out of forty-three years,
As I remember him now,
He’d say,`Ta-ra lass’,
Like he said in his youth
When that khaki-clad train
Pulled away through a flood of our tears.
And we wanted them back, because
We were only just kids
And we’d been asked to carry the weight
Of the world, and we’d never had time
To see how it should go
And if we got it wrong,
Then our children would see,
And instead of their love, we’d have hate.
He was too old for the next one, thank God,
And the kids far too young
When deserted new brides lost their shame
And favoured the butcher
And the coal merchants lad
And were scolded by mothers
Who should have bitten their tongues,
‘Cause I knew them
When they were the same.
When he went to France, you see,
We became, more single,
Than most single girls,
For we’d nothing to lose,
Having lost it before,
And the men that were left
Knew we wouldn’t tell tales
So we didn’t need flounces and curls.
And I remember so well
How it felt in the night,
To see the face of your love
Through the tears,
And the ghost of his body,
Pounding tight in your own,
And in your heart build a bridge,
That would span
The next sixty-one years.
He’d always been kind, you know,
But the war took his spark,
So his soul was unable to dance,
But the time blended slowly
While the roof held the rain
As the days became one,
But I’ll always remember
The time
When he went off to France.

Talkin’ to Noah 
By Bill Allerton

Tryin’ hard not to open me Butterkist,
I peeked out through t’ slit of me dad’s poachers pocket,

and listened…….

“ Evenin’ Charlie.”
“ Aye, Ted.”
“ Rain again. ”
“ Aye. ”
“ An’ all last week.”
“ Aye. ”
“ And t’ next, I suppose.”
From under the coat my dad’s voice rumbled
like thunder in his stomach
it were like listening to God….. talking to Noah.

Charlie’d touch the brim of his green felt hat.
Flick the gold bits on his shoulders.
Stand up on t’ step like t’ soldiers on Poppy Day
putting flowers out for t’pigeons in Barkers Pool.

Then he’d look at me mam’s legs.
He were on’y short.
So were me mam
But she wore these tall heels
that did funny things to her legs
It made Charlie smile
every time he looked at ‘em
“ Good picture, Charlie? ” me dad says
“ Never see ’em all ‘t way through, Ted”
“ Never? ”
“ Aye…never.  On’y t’middle bits.”

“ What if tha not workin’ Charlie?”
“ Does tha go to work on thi day off,  Ted? ”

I couldn’t reckon that.
If I were big enough to go to work
I’d want to be there all t’ time
And me Butterkist were stuck together.
So I bashed it on me dad’s knee

“ Good…. crowd. ” he said,
Charlie smiled.
“ Aye!….. But thi wain’t all gerr in.”
He walked up and down t’edge of t’queue.
Tapping ankles with his foot.
Trimmin’ us away from t’cause’y edge.
Then came back.

I were hiding.
Me dad knew t’ Commissionaire.
I didn’t know how to handle that.

We moved forward, and
I could ‘ear him counting
under ‘is breath.
Then ‘is arm ‘d swing down
An’ suddenly everybody’s sayin’
“ Hey! I wor wi ‘er!”
“ Aye..he’s wi me.”
“ I’m not goin’ in wi’out ‘er.”

An’ he’d part ’em like Moses at the red sea.
An’ carry on countin’

Then  he’d let ’em go.
Chunterin’ an’ shufflin’.
Not darin’ to look back.
An’ he’d be countin’
An’ me stood on t’ tops
of me dad’s best shoes
Tryin’ to save some Butterkist
For inside.

An’ ‘is arm ‘d swing down again.
Behind us.
An’ he’d wink at me
Because me dad knew t’ Commissionaire
An’ me mam ‘ad nice legs.