Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Bottom Gear

My ambitious plans for various projects over the Christmas holidays have proved, perhaps inevitably, to have succumbed to the inevitable lethargy that comes with the season – family visits, nights out with friends, over indulgence of food, drink and TV have all prompted a feeling of ‘can’t be bothered,' which is a pity because I just know that I’ll wish I’d made better use of time once back at work. But c’est la vie – it’s another right Royle Christmas holiday for me.

Therefore I present some of the projects that I would have done, if only I could have torn myself away from the box set of the original St Trinians DVD’s that I received as a very welcome gift.

Firstly, the cars to go along with my Iveco car transporter project. At the excellent Wigan Show back in December 2009 BC (before Christmas) I purchased these four lovely specimens that are typical of the trade-in quality-previously-loved rust buckets with flat batteries.  If you watch Top Gear then you'll be used to seeing top end supercars that can powerslide in 5th gear at around 185 mph.  If that's your scene, then stop reading now.  These are cars from the real world. Well, Rochdale.

We have a Mitsubishi Colt (6 owners from new, full of dog hairs, collapsed rear suspension, low miles as it only goes to Lidl and back on Tuesdays). Then we have a burgundy Mk 2 Astra 1.4 with overflowing ashtrays, footwells littered with discarded McBoxes that carbon dating will put circa 1994 onwards, crumpled up copies of The Star and a big hole where the Sonypanasharp dikka dikka boombox used to reside. No spare wheel, because that’s where the 18 additional speakers used to be housed. The sump is missing after being ripped off when taking speedhumps at 46 mph, which is flat out when fully loaded with 12 teenagers smashed out of their skulls on Special Brew and Ecstasy.

Next up we have a BMW Compact. These tend to be lower-end company cars, thrashed for the first 55000 miles before being sold on every six months to people who want a BMW but can’t afford a proper one. Every warning light on the dash flashes away merrily, but fixing the problem will cost three times the cars’ value. So sell it on. It will be bought by a dealer for a snip, who will fix all the problems by simply removing the bulbs of the warning lights, quick polish and there you go.

Finally, the ubiquitous Ford Fiesta. This particular example is a German Company car for Deutsche Post, so that will have to go – probably a respray here. I’ll retain the yellow body colour, thus declaring this to be a 20-something’s girlie-mobile. Lots of cute stickers and teddy bears on swings hanging off the rear windows, glove box full of leftover cosmetics, small change everywhere that will amount to around £2.57, half a dozen biros that don’t work, the original Ford Fiesta manual that’s never been opened and is in mint condition (goes on Ebay), and around a dozen long-expired air freshener trees dangling off the make-up and beauty mirror (formerly known as rear view mirror).  You know the sort of thing I mean:

 Also, on one notable occasion, a pack of photographs clearly taken at some sort of party involving lots of alcopops and scenes of – ahem – an adult nature that brought tears to my eyes. Clearly romance isn’t dead in Humberside. Let’s just say that she was lucky that I collected this car from the dealer, and whilst trawling through the vehicle for my £2.57 tip, came across said pack of pictures. Now I may be a Grumpy Old Git, but still retain old-fashioned moral standards to a degree, so I resisted the temptation to sell them to Hello! or OK! or Celebrity Bollocks!!! magazines and shredded the lot.*   Had they stayed in the car and gone through an auction, no doubt they’d be all over Facebook by now. See, I can do nice. So here’s a warning – when you trade a car in, clean it out first. Because you never know where it will end up.

A Renault Laguna would have joined these four cars, but obviously it wouldn’t start so I left it in Wigan to collect another time when I can be bothered. Clearly I’m starting to let my work influence my hobby a little too much.

Next along is a weathering project that is currently in the concept stage of development.  But all this creative writing has worn me out, so I'm going to watch another DVD first ... back later.

* Okay, they didn't offer me enough.  You know me too well.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Redemption & Atonement

Having created and posted my Thomas The Tank Engine video in a moment of seasonal madness, I realised after sobering up (following the Works’ Christmas Do) that that in order to redeem myself, and the reputation of Grumpy Git Productions (such as it isn’t) a pretty good film would need to be created if there was to be any atonement whatsoever.  Fortunately, a weekend of snow and exceptionally bright and clear days over the weekend had provided me with everything, and more, that I could ask for when making a film.  I was wondering how the weather would affect the running of the Santa Specials, especially given that the shiny and expensive Eurostars were grinding to a halt underneath the English Channel due to – wait for it - snow.  But the 55 year old BR Standard 5 soldiered on, along with the rake of post-war Wagon-Lits coaches.  That’s progress.

My visit to the Nene Valley is documented in the post below, and Sunday proved to be even better in many ways – although the snow was starting to melt in more exposed places as it was, apparently, warmer than Saturday.  Try telling that to the contents of my boxer shorts after standing in a snowy field for over an hour to get a particular shot.

Despite a couple of mistakes, I had sufficient film in the can to create my Winter Wonderland video – something I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to make.  I wanted to make a seasonal, rather than Christmassy, film on this occasion.  Christmas is adequately covered in the light hearted Turkey on the Orient Express; for Winter Wonderland I was after quality shots of the train in the fantastic natural surroundings.  Mostly these succeeded, but in one unmistakable scene, the shadow of the photographer (that would be me) is clearly visible in the foreground.  Yes, I committed the cardinal and unforgivable sin of getting in my own photo, as I misjudged the angle of the sun and the effect that it would have on shadows when setting up the shot.  The low angle of sun made me about 50 feet tall (although on the bright side, you should see what it did for the aforementioned contents of my boxer shorts.  Let’s just say there were no complaints at the Work’s Do, and put a lid on that one).  I have to be honest here, and say that considering I had nigh on an hour to set this scene up, it’s something that should have been avoided.  In future there’ll be less concentration on the benefits of winter shadows, and a bit more on photography.  Although you have to make your own entertainment in the middle of a field covered in snow in temperatures of around zero.  My first thought was to delete the scene, but it’s a great pan of the train at that point, so I kept it in.  Bear with me on that one.

The music was an easy choice; seasonal but not festive was again the remit here.  Sleigh Ride has long been a favourite piece of mine, particularly the instrumental version performed by a full orchestra – although the annoying neighing of the horses had to be edited out, so that the whistle of the iron horse could be heard – infinitely better!  The music perfectly matches the motion of a train to my mind and was a natural choice.  The second half of the film needed to keep the same pace and rhythm in order to maintain continuity, but with a big ending to suit the arrival of the train back at Wansford.  Ironically it would be Sleigh Ride again, but this time the Troika by Prokofiev. 

Perhaps Grumpy Git Productions have now redeemed themselves following Apocalypse Thomas.  Maybe it was all a clever ploy to make viewers appreciate this latest film even more – or proof that consuming entire bottles of Christmas Sherry isn’t clever or funny.  The NVR are running Santa Specials on Christmas Eve, so I hope to get down there for the final fling.  Well, there’s more chance of filming these trains in motion than a Eurostar at present – but mind you, choosing a musical score wouldn’t be difficult - Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence, what else?

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Ice Cold in Ailsworth

Good king Grumpy last looked out
On the feast of Gordon
When the snow lay round about
So this is global warming.

It’s ironic that in the same week that our Gordy flew to Copenhagen to tell the world that everybody (except politicians, presumably) should stop flying in order save polar bears, that I awake to find the ice cap has actually moved into my back garden.  Even more ironically, I’d only just got the Grumpy Git Christmas Special wrapped up (did you see what I did there) when I find out that the most perfect Christmas weather conditions were outside my door ready for the taking.  Not one to miss an opportunity, I decided to jump into the car and once again head down to the Nene Valley Railway for a spot of seasonal photography. 

Unlike previous visits, I didn’t have a plan as such – just grab as much film and photos at favourite spots as possible, as there is no way of knowing how long these conditions will last.  The weather was a dream – clear skies, a low winter sun and in the countryside there was a covering of snow several inches deep.  It was real Christmas card stuff, and the only downside was that it was cold.  Actually, it was bloody freezing and you need to be soft in the head to go hiking off down the Nene Walk for a day, but this was far too good a chance to miss.

Things went awry for the Santa Specials before they even started, as the snow, which was nice to look at, had frozen up several points and the level crossing gates mechanism at Wansford.  Consequently the first train out was 40 minutes late, and this had a knock on effect during the day.

My walk took me through the real countryside of the Nene Walk, which resulted in the thick snow coming over the top of my boots, melting into my trousers and as a result, filling my boots with water.  I hadn’t seen that one coming, but too late now.  Anyway, you’re supposed to suffer for your art, so I squelched onwards.  In the end I got to Ferry Meadows Station, some 5 miles trek away, and gradually worked back through the stunning vista of the winter wonderland.  Although the sun was out, the temperature hovered around zero all day.  Great for my pictures as the scenes weren’t melting before my eyes, but not so good for my feet.  Now I know how Captain Oates felt when he said, “I’m popping out to photograph a Standard Four lads; I may be some time.”

Although five trains ran during the day I only managed to photograph and film four of them, as the very late last run would take place after dark.  As it was also the final of Strictly, I filmed the fourth train and headed back for home.  Some pictures of the day are below, but the rest need to go into an online album.  Iain Robinson suggested I set up a Flickr account a while back – an excellent idea, and one I plan to get to stuck into during the Christmas holidays.  In the meantime:

Class 14 heads the first train out of Wansford - 40 minutes late, but well worth the wait for this shot.

 73050 on the return to Wansford, nice reflections in the river.

 Clear blue skies and crisp snow at Lynch Bridge.

 A nice festive touch at Ferry Meadows Station.

I was most impressed to find that Mill Lane Bridge came with cupholders for my lunch.  Unfortunately, this meant that my coffee was cold after 3 minutes.  You can see from this picture that I really know how to live when I'm out on a photoshoot.

I'm back home and part of me is almost thawed out - who knows, maybe I'll do it all again tomorrow.  I was going to stay in, put my feet up and watch tele.  But with Gordon jetting off to here, there and everywhere, I'd best photograph the snow before it all disappears .....

Thursday, 17 December 2009

What a Christmas Cracker

Yes, Christmas is upon us, and ‘tis the season to be jolly, or so they tell me. Wiith that in mind I’ve been working towards the Grumpy Git Productions Christmas Special lately, as various previous blog posts have related.   I decided to use the Nene Valley Railway Santa Specials as the basis of a film, which has ended up going off in a completely different direction to the original idea.

Having spent a couple of cold and mud encrusted weekends getting lineside shots, I decided to use last Sunday for the close up station area scenes that I was after – the weather was dull and overcast, with promise of heavy rain on and off (mostly on).  Definitely not a day for trudging along the Nene Walk.

I arrived good and early to work out where I would need to be and when, which was when I bumped into one of the NVR volunteers, Barbara, whom I met at the Peterborough Model Railway Exhibition recently.  Barbara is aware of my frequent visits to the line for filming, and invited me aboard the first Santa Special of the day in case I’d like some interior shots to add into the film.  What an excellent idea – this would add a whole new dimension to the film.  Barbara introduced me to Jayne who runs the Wagon-Lits first class coaches, as these vehicles would provide my ideal backdrop to the interior scenes.  Plus I’ve always wanted to travel on the Orient Express, and this was an excellent way of doing so without selling a kidney.

Jayne asked for volunteers who would like to be in the film, as not everyone these days is willing to appear in front of a camera, despite what you may think from audition time at X-Factor.  All the Wagon Lits passengers were more than happy to be filmed and star in the video – as children would be some of the main performers I made sure that everyone concerned was aware that the video would be submitted to the NVR for possible use on their website, as well as on the Grumpy Git YouTube page.  It’s a sad reflection on British society these days that this has to be mentioned, but with the Government and The Daily Mail trying to make everyone believe that there is a paedophile hiding behind every tree, I had to cover some bases.  Remember when you were allowed to just enjoy yourself?  Thanks, Gordon.

Anyway, with groundwork covered and the train loaded up to capacity, off we went with cameras rolling.  On arrival back at Wansford, Jayne asked if I’d undertake a second trip as on the later trains the passengers have a lunch service that would look good on film.  Hmmm, let me see – cold and wet Wansford Station, or another trip in a nice warm first class train with coffee and mince pies coming my way.  I’ll think about it.  Thinking done, I set up for another session.  As well as the catering, I also filmed Santa himself, who meets and greets all the passengers on each train.

First-Class Wagon Lits place setting.

On the return journey, Jayne requested a group photo of her team, which was an excellent idea.  I also had one of my rare flashes of inspiration and, suggested they shout out a ‘Happy Christmas’ message on camera, as this would round off the film nicely.

Jayne's Team, with Jayne, middle row, centre.

With three return trips left to run, I sadly alighted from the lovely warm train onto the very cold and wet Wansford Station for the arrival and departure shots.  I wanted to give the impression that the train is steam hauled throughout, but in reality, the steam loco runs top and tail with a class 14 diesel loco.  Departure from Wansford therefore sees the steam engine dragged along in reverse, so I couldn’t use this at all.  I could use the coaches leaving, however, and the loco departure was filmed at Ferry Meadows instead.  Filming at Peterborough NV was also out of the question – the train overhangs the platform by around 4 coach lengths, so a classic station departure shot would not be possible.  Therefore Ferry Meadows and Wansford stood in here, with a departure of Peterborough taken from inside the train.  It sort of works once it’s all edited together, especially if you watch it with your eyes closed.  I’ve seen far worse continuity on some BBC dramas involving railways, believe me.

73050 arrives at Wansford ... or departs from Peterborough .. 
or passing Ferry Meadows ... depending on the situation at the time!

In between Santa Specials, I filmed Thomas shunting the mail coach that contains the presents for Santa’s Grotto – be warned, a Thomas video is under construction!  It’s Christmas, I can do what I like.

With plenty of footage available to work with, I set about creating a family orientated piece about the Santa Specials, with the idea of submitting it to the NVR for consideration for use on their website.  For this reason, the music had to be royalty free and licensed for commercial use.  This ruled out all my chosen tracks due to copyright reasons – see my bit earlier about the country banning enjoyment these days – and discovered Kevin McLeod who arranges and performs music for unrestricted website use – great!  I set about recreating the train journey, from preparations in the morning through to a return trip along the line and ending back at Wansford with a message from the NVR volunteers.

It’s worth pointing out that each Santa Special requires around 50 volunteers who have a journey of an hour in which to serve drinks, food, clean up, introduce Santa, dispense more drinks and clean up again.  Back at Wansford, the whole train must be serviced in 25 minutes ready for the next set of 300 passengers.  They work extremely hard and create a genuinely warm and welcoming atmosphere on the train; something you don’t appreciate until you’re behind the scenes watching it all.  I was most impressed with the organisation and enjoyment of my time on board the train.  Filming it is a lot easier than doing it, that’s for sure.

Grabbing a quick 5 minute break on the return trip to Wansford.

So loosen your tie, pull a cracker and pour yourself a Scotch - it's time for the Grumpy Git Christmas Special.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Transported to Heaven - or maybe Hexham?

Having had a couple of days off work – use them or lose them – I’ve taken the opportunity to finish off a number of modelling projects.  The Iveco car transporter project had the final touches applied this morning, and I’m rather pleased with the results.  I plan to set up a proper photo session later on, but in the meantime here’s a couple of pictures to get started.  To do the vehicle justice, and to be prototypically accurate, I really need to set up the truckstop diorama and have the lorry parked up as I kill time (observe EU tachograph laws) with a coffee and pack of Custard Creams.

The next stage is to acquire some rather more suitable cars – the sort of junk, sorry, ‘quality, previously cosseted automobiles of distinction’ – that we generally cart around the country, and make up a small diorama to display the truck.  It will need weathering given that it only gets washed a couple of times a year.  We’re a very environmentally aware concern, and don’t wish to waste water on a weekly basis on a vehicle that will promptly go out and get scruffy again.  The fact that we all just want to get off home sharpish on a Friday night is purely coincidental.

For comparison purposes, here is the inspiration that was behind this project; my real life Iveco transporter:

This truck has not had a happy time lately, as I’ve mentioned previously, but following two successive visits to a proper mechanic in Doncaster many of the issues that caused so many problems and breakdowns have been sorted out.  Indeed I took it out on Friday to Loughborough, Mansfield and Wakefield with a final blast back down the A1, and was amazed with its performance.  It still has its limitations, of course – a 180 bhp engine is woeful when you’re picking up 4x4’s and people carriers, but nevertheless, I noticed a considerable improvement in overall performance during the day.

Of course, there’s a sting in the tail, apropos the model.  Because the Iveco is now working well, and I submitted a good report about Friday’s performance, the boss has decided that the truck is worth holding onto for a while – so it has been booked to receive our new company vinyls to match the rest of the fleet!

From trucks to trains, and the lengthy project to respray the Contikits ‘N’ gauge train has finally reached fruition.  Having a loco and 8 coaches to paint up and decorate with company livery and logo decals wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, and became a bit of a chore towards the end.  I still can’t see more than 2 feet in front of my face after squinting at numerous tiny decals, and this post has been submitted in Braille.

Still, bar a couple of minor touch ups, the train is complete and ready for despatch.

Santa Claus is Coming to Orton

Following the mudbath that I received last weekend at Ferry Meadows, I naturally couldn’t wait to get caked up again this weekend. So off I went to Wansford and Nene Park on both Saturday and Sunday in order to give my box of Persil super-dooper ultra techno liquid-tablet in a net bags of powder a proper workout at very low temperatures of boiling and above, because, unlike the TV commercials, I didn’t have a bottle of Ribena handy to accidentally pour all over myself.  Neither do I have a wife who will stand in the kitchen when I return, covered in half a ton of mud, who will just smile and say ‘Never mind, pet - Dazboldariel will take care of that.  You just slip out of those dirty clothes that have trashed my kitchen and I’ll pop them into the washer.”  No, that’s not how it works.  I’m met with a glacial stare and the greeting usually begins with, “What the f ….? But let’s move on.

The weekend was a mixture of bright sunshine and heavy rain, but fortunately the rain would be confined to late Saturday afternoon through to Sunday lunch.  This left plenty of opportunities to get out for some photography and filming for the Grumpy Git Christmas Special at the Nene Valley Railway.  As the footpaths along the Nene Walk and the cycle tracks at Ferry Meadows would be soggy and boggy I would also be able to get covered in a liberal coating of mud once again – who needs Glastonbury when you’ve got Santa Specials to photograph?

Although I came across the odd puddle, conditions were nowhere near as bad as I expected.

I used the new Fuji camera for all stills, and was very pleased with the results as I gain experience with this bit of kit.  Here’s a selection:


Thomas gets into the act, and joins in the festivities by providing a mail coach for use as Santa’s Grotto (I believe) in between service trains.  For once, this is an appropriate use of Thomas at a time when the railway is being used exclusively for a family orientated event, and shows imagination on the part of the organisers.

Some of the photos that I submitted to the NVR Gallery have also been reproduced and may be seen here.

Filming was in the hands of the trusty Samsung once again, as it produces far sharper video than the Fuji.  The train was an interesting project for movie making, as it consists of eight coaches – including four heavy Wagon-Lits – so the extra weight gives the locos something to get stuck into and provide some great sound effects.  The average gradient on the NVR is roughly the same as my kitchen table, so locos rarely have to put much effort in.  Motive power on the Santa Specials is top ‘n tail with class 14 D9520 on one end and City of Peterborough on the other – the steam loco heads westbound, which is perfect for the lighting conditions provided by the dramatic low winter sun.

Both days were thoroughly enjoyable, and true to form I got caked in mud once again.  I’m now off to take the Daz doorstep challenge to wash my clothes.  Always assuming that Daz is in, and lets me use his washing machine.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Transporter of Delight - Update

The Iveco transporter continues to forge along, unlike its real life counterpart that once again is in bits up at Doncaster, much to the dismay of the mechanics who are trying to bolt it back together again. Presumably our accountants are also eagerly awaiting the subsequent bill with much enthusiasm. Still, that’s what happens when you have it ‘serviced’ for three years by an alleged mechanic who struts about his yard in cowboy boots and a Stetson. Yee hah!

The model is coming along nicely with most parts complete, so time for an update on the story:

Chassis Unit

The Actros and Iveco components have been seamlessly joined, if you don’t look too closely. The engine is nice and clean, but to maintain a degree of authenticity, I’m not changing any filters until 2012. The ladder glued to the front bumper is to allow access to the front overhang of the top deck, although it rarely sees any use as you need to be a cross between a contortionist and high wire trapeze act to strap down cars at this point.

Cab Bodyshell

Awaiting decals. That’s it.

Body Decks

This wasn’t the easiest of paint jobs, given the amount of nooks and crannies that managed to avoid each successive coat of paint. As the lorry is a UK model I had to add safety rails to the top deck, because that nice Emma at Health & Safety is worried that I’ll fall off the side – presumably roll off in my sleep when taking forty winks in the summer. We don’t call it the sun deck for nothing, you know.


The original trailer was a double-decker, but we don’t have any of those, and just use single deck trailers like this. Not that I can actually use them, given the enthusiasm of the Nottinghamshire DVLA to find fault with my class one driving skills. Driving too close to parked cars – my arse. Hitting a car is too close. Missing it is a success story is in my book. And given that I was in narrow high street lanes at the time, if I’d strayed over the white line for a bit more space then no doubt I’d have been done for impeding the flow of traffic, which is what happened the previous bloody time! There’s just no pleasing Civil Servant box tickers these days. As my instructor told me after the last attempt, “You have no problem handling or driving the truck. You just can’t pass the test!” Surely one should cancel out the other? But not in the world of pen-pushers, it would seem. Anyway, I’ll leave that there, or it might just come across as sour grapes. Which I’d be happy to deliver to the DVLA for Christmas, but only in a rigid.

Where was I? Oh yes, the trailer - consequently a bit of surgery was required. A nice touch is the separate loading ramps, which can just been seen poking out the rear, painted aluminium. The correct numberplate for the Iveco has been added as well.

Cab Interior

Home from home. It looks a bit messy, but I’m assuming that I’ve just come back to it after a day off, and Carl took it out yesterday. Yes, there’s a prototype for everything. I followed the real thing as closely as possible, hence the tan coloured seats, driver in company colours and various detailing bits, such as my workbag, flask on the dash and the red battery charger for starting cars with flat batteries (most of them). Items such as the road atlas, hi-viz jacket hanging on the rear bulkhead (I don’t wear it as it doesn’t match my outfit), newspapers, clipboard and paperwork come from the excellent Ten Commandments HGV detailing pack. The same pack also provided the tax disc and operators licence that are attached to the windscreen, an incredibly fiddly job, but really makes a difference to the completed model.

All that’s left is applying the decals that I knocked up using Crafty Computer Papers’ waterslide decals – however, I’m waiting for the delivery of varnish before this can be accomplished.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

I’ve been itching to try out my new Fuji camera, and today provided the perfect opportunity – the start of the Nene Valley Railway ‘Santa Special’ season of running days. The weather was appalling when I woke up with a very heavy downpour over Grantham, but the forecast sounded reasonable – and to give the camera a work out, I didn’t want summery conditions anyway.

Rather than hike across muddy fields to my usual haunts, I decided to take the bike out for a run and stick to the many cycle paths around Ferry Meadows. However, the recent sustained rainstorms that hit the south (Peterborough is the south as far as I’m concerned) had drenched the park as well, so in a very short amount of time I was wearing large amounts of Ferry Meadows en route to the railway.

The Nene Valley Railway puts a lot of effort into its Santa Specials. The foreign coaches are used, with four Danish open seconds coupled to the luxury Orient Express Wagon Lits for first class passengers, and make an impressive rake. Presumably Santa does the Wagon Lits, whilst the riff-raff have to make do with an elf or two. To avoid run-rounds and shunting on the tight turnarounds, the train is top and tailed with class 14 D9516 on the Peterborough end, and 73050 City of Peterborough at the Wansford end. Three trains would run today (5 in the run up to Christmas) and I planned to shoot all of them, in both video and still mode to see what the results would be like.

First stop was at the river bridge in Ferry Meadows Park, as this spot allows photography of a long stretch of line. I was trying out continuous shooting here, plus changing exposure settings to account for the weather – at this point the sun was out, but dodging between passing clouds so that one minute it was bright light, then straight into dark shadow. Great stuff. This shot shows the tailing loco as it trundled past:

And from the same location, the full 10X optical zoom of the camera took a great crisp shot as the train crossed the bridge.

For the return trip with 73050 leading, I ventured down to the Golf Course level crossing for a spot of video, in order to catch the train rounding the bend. I have to say that the results were less than impressive, and didn’t match stills quality at all. The video quality was considerably inferior to the Samsung’s effort as well, shot at 640 x 320 resolution, as always:

Back on the bike for the next train; the sky had cleared and there were some fantastic low-sun conditions that would make for some great lighting. There is a lovely spot of line just made for these conditions, but it meant abandoning commonsense and going cross-country on the bike. Fortunately I’m no stranger to making daft decisions, so I headed off regardless. Now here’s a thing: if we can have four-wheel drive for off road cars – well, Tesco’s carpark at least – how about two wheel drive for bikes? I negotiated a bridleway that seemed to be six inches of pure mud, and the back wheel was sliding all over the place, as well as lurching alarmingly from side to side threatening to tip me off. It was a relief to get to get to the end, where a small footbridge connected with the fields I planned to set up in. Except that I’d forgotten all about the stiles – oh goody! Manhandling a muddy bike over two stiles in late November is about as much fun as it sounds.

Of course, after all this dirty and time consuming labour, the clouds returned to obscure the sun, the train was 15 minutes late and the video quality was diabolical. So that was well worth the effort then.

For the last run of the day, I chose Mill Lane overbridge. The sky was by now very dark, and the first rain was beginning fall. This was actually quite useful in a way – the poor light would be a good test of the camera, especially as I’d be pointing it downwards into a cutting in low light. I tweaked the exposure – having stepped up from point-and-shoot, I’m learning on the job – and set to continuous shooting again just to see what would happen. And the results are in:

Not bad at all, the moving train has a little motion blurring evident, but quite acceptable pictures overall. As it would only be half an hour before the train returned on the last run home, I decided to stay for it, and cycled down to the river bridge again. The rain had been umming and erring about starting properly for the last 20 minutes, and now decided that yes!, time for a downpour. Any normal person would have packed up and headed for home, but normality and I rarely see eye-to-eye. I poured myself a coffee, finished the Custard Creams and stayed put.

The last shots would be video; this time not using the zoom in movie mode as the results with it on are pretty dismal. Some rain fell on the lens, but didn’t cause too many issues with the film – this was the best piece of video all day, but picture quality falls far short of the Samsung - although, conversely, the soundtrack is awesome!

Overall conclusions for the day: I’m very impressed with the photographs from the test results, especially the zoom and low light. These are very pleasing quality, and a big step up from the Samsung. I’d like to try some night time shots as well. Video was a disappointment in terms of quality – the Samsung definitely outperforms the Fuji in all areas except sound. There was no wind noise today – possibly because there was no wind to speak of – and the audio of the train is clearly defined. Fortunately I plan to carry both cameras in the Grumpy Git bag – along with the even more important flask and box of biscuits – and I’m looking forward to the next outing. But first, I need to get these trousers into the washing machine …

Now where did I leave the hosepipe?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Cut, Shunt and Vote For Your Favourite Dancer

It’s been a hectic time on the Grumpy workbench.  The buildings that I mentioned below have been painted up and despatched to Warley Exhibition with The Apprentice on Saturday morning for display on the Ten Commandments stand.  I’m no fan of Warley at all; it’s too big, too busy and crowded so that you can’t see anything and it costs around a tenner to leave your car in a carpark somewhere in Somerset – leaving you with the choice of a hike that Sir Ranulph Fiennes would think twice about, or a bus ride with 150 bobble hats, none of whom have ever watched a Lynx commercial and thought, ‘Eh up, deodorant -what a great idea!  Not only will I smell nice, some bird will drop her knickers for me.’  Or have I misinterpreted the ad?  Of course, this could easily backfire at Warley, and Pete Waterman would drop his … no, no, no, let’s not go there.  Anyway, based on bitter and aromatic previous experiences, I decided not to go.  Other duties beckoned over the weekend – a trip to the Nene Valley that I cancelled due to inclement weather conditions (fair weather photographer and proud of it) and Christmas shopping, after Zoë Ball cheerfully woke me up with the news that the great event is a mere 34 days away.  In case you’re wondering, Zoë was on Radio 2.  She didn’t bring me my Weetabix in person and casually drop Christmas into the conversation.  Maybe next year.

Modelling has made good progress lately, and along with the buildings I’ve now got umpteen coats of primer and gloss white onto the Contikits train, ready for application of the livery itself.  I’ve also made progress with the car transporter, seeing as I had the aerosols out.

The chassis of the Actros truck has been cut, and the Iveco artic unit underframe has had similar treatment in order that I can cut-and-shunt the Iveco cab onto the truck itself.  Joining the two bits together was tricky, as there wasn’t much material to work with, but it seems to be holding so far.  I just hope that I measured everything correctly, as there’s no going back now.  I usually measure after I’ve cut and discovered that the parts don’t fit.  The basic body and chassis components have been primed and painted into company colours – fortunately we have a pretty basic livery that is easy to reproduce.  My boss has helped me out here, because he won’t pay to have my Iveco done up in our flash new company vinyls, which would be a bugger to make and fit as they’re the wraparound variety.  Consequently, all I need to create are some straightforward lettering sets.  The boss doesn’t see any return on spending five grand on a truck that breaks down every fortnight.  My argument that if I’m stuck on the A1 causing a 12 mile tailback, then why not get the company name out there as free advertising doesn’t seem to have gone down particularly well.   Especially as I’ve altered the contact telephone number on the cab, so when people ring up to complain or make enquiries, they find that they’ve voted to keep Ali Bastion on Strictly for another week.

I’m not entirely as daft as I look.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Walls Are Closing In

Following the success of the low relief factory buildings that I demonstrated at Peterborough Show, the casting man at Ten Commandments has been busy creating new additions to the range. And Dave has been equally busy posting them down to me so that I can have them painted ready for – er, this weekend. Seeing as they arrived yesterday, I can say that the chances of this being done are as remote as me remembering to water the plants at my friends’ house while their fridge, I mean they themselves, are away on holiday - see my other blog.

The building extensions are all modular add-ons to the existing buildings, allowing many permutations to be modelled. The photo shows the new pieces:

Plain brick wall ‘filler’ pieces.
A half two-storey section.
Full size roller shutter door section.
A single story outhouse or office piece (pictured against an existing factory section)
A single storey window section – to create additional floors on top of existing units
A lean-to section.

I don’t know whether to start painting these, or go and water my friends’ plants. As it’s dark and cold, I’ve decided to go downstairs and watch Waterloo Road. Can’t please everybody all the time!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Chop Suey Express

As winter draws closer, thoughts are turning to various modelling projects that I have lined up. I have the car transporter project I mentioned here, but at Peterborough Exhibition, Dave handed me three biggish boxes with a fiendish grin and said, “Here’s something to keep you busy.” That sounded ominous, and upon opening the boxes, I discovered why.

A while ago, I resprayed and created promotional decals for a four car ‘N’ gauge commuter train set for Geoff and Alison at Contikits. They wanted a livery that would promote their business on a train operating on their layout. This was a bit of challenge as promotional liveries can be hit or miss, plus the design would need to be clearly visible and legible – not so easy in ‘N’ gauge. I'd previously worked on an 'N' Gauge lorry for them, so it made sense to utilise the branding that had been designed for that vehicle and maintain a corporate image:

A passenger train is quite a different proposition to a truck, however, and creating something dynamic and interesting posed a problem. I therefore applied both brain cells to the matter. Contikits, as the name suggests, are Continental model railway specialists and have an attractive logo consisting of a signal arm with a stylised ‘CK’ emblazoned on it. That would need to be worked into the design, and the livery created around it.

The coaches are double deckers, and at one end, each vehicle has a large blank space that could be filled with – something. A smaller blank panel resides at the other end of the coach. Okay. The basic colour of the cars would be white in order to take the decals, and to make them modern and contemporary, I decided on a diagonal upsweep at each end, in different colours. The sets run in fixed formation, so each upsweep would match the upsweep of the adjacent vehicle as shown in the photos.

The slogan I decided on would be ‘All Around The World With Contikits’, which summarises the business quite nicely. To reinforce the idea, each large blank panel would be filled with an iconic view of a different continent. The small blank panel would receive a globe made up of flags of the world. The concept was that the completed train would present a clear corporate image and show the origin of the product range in a visually interesting way.

So far so good – the train was completed and despatched to Perth Exhibition. “Oh, it’s great, can I have another one?” After retrieving the bullet from my foot, I agreed. Which brings us back to Peterborough, and when I opened the boxes, this is what I found:

Oh goody! Two four car rakes and a locomotive! I can’t wait! The coaches are planned to be basically a repeat of the first set; but I’ll need to do something different with the loco. I think. I’ll let you know.

Why the odd title, I hear you murmur? Well, the train is the Kato model of a Hong Kong Kowloon – Canton Railway double-deck through train on the Hong Kong – Guangzhou route. Really. Just take my word for it while I put the car transporter back in its box.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Peterborough Exhibition

What with my work and weekends at The Nene Valley Railway, if there’s one place that I visit frequently, it’s Peterborough. This weekend was no exception, as for the first time since starting this blog, I was finally attending a model railway exhibition. My role was that of demonstrator attached to the Ten Commandments trade stand, so naturally I was primarily utilising products from the range and showing visitors how to get the best out of them. I had prepared a good selection of varied models to build / paint / detail in order to keep myself as well as the public interested. I’m pleased to say that there was a pleasing amount of ‘sensible’ interest and very few nutters about pointing out that the Ford Transit had the incorrect type of hubcaps for that year (Shipley 2007 for that particular gem).

The factory buildings that I have mentioned previously were the stars of this show, and my demo on painting in the windows was particularly well received – just shows how an accidentally found technique can be a winner. The Scenic Rust was popular, along with basic landscaping, road building and detailing road vehicles. There was a lot of interaction on the stand, which made the time pass by more pleasurably and quickly.

Peterborough is a new show that debuted last year, although I wasn’t able to attend as I was sorting out my sock drawer and cross-indexing my Y-fronts. As I couldn’t get out of going; I mean, having volunteered to demonstrate this year, I was looking forward to try out this recent addition to the circuit. Held in the new purpose built exhibition centre at The Showground, the venue is an out-of-town, easy to reach location and the exhibition hall is superb, with plenty of large doors opening onto flat ground making loading and unloading a doddle. A welcome change from the venues chosen by some exhibition managers, who clearly think that operators and traders alike are auditioning for a part in Rapunzel.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, throw down thy Deltic and a Stanier 8F!"

The show is organised by Warners Publications, a professional exhibition and events company who also publish a variety of magazines, including British Railway Modelling. I don’t read this august journal, not even in the reading room at my local library called WH Smiths, so in the interests of fairness I won’t review it here. Obviously if I liked it, found it well written and presented with relevant articles and news that was topical sometime between Noah’s Ark and The Crimean War then I might read it – but make your own minds up. I don’t want to come across as biased.

As professional events organisers, organisation by Warners is generally good. They turn up when they say they will and even let you in, so if they’d like to take over Ashford Show, then that’s fine by me. On the other hand, they don’t know the difference between Evening Star and Evening Primrose Oil, so the show plays it safe and only books layouts that have appeared in the magazine, rather than going out onto the circuit to look for something new and exciting. Can you imagine the Clothes Show Live taking this approach? “Tell that Vivienne Westwood if her stuff hasn’t been in The Littlewoods catalogue, we’re not interested.” Quite.

Something that you might not unreasonably expect from a publishing company is a show guide in English. The A4 glossy full colour guide was included in the £10 entry fee, but each submission had clearly been written by the layout owner / club /trader – some of whom could write in English, and them others what like cuddent even spel simple wurds and who seemed to think that their grammer was the old lady in the lounge watching Corrie innit. Warners proofreaders had presumably been having an off day, and by rights should now be down at the jobsentaPLUS, and let an amazing number of howlers through. I had highlighted several to share with you here, but thanks to Dave giving away my exhibition guide on the Sunday (without telling me) I now have no reference material. Thanks.

The choice of layouts is entirely subjective, but I felt that the quality of this year’s exhibits was probably the best I’ve seen from Warners for a long time, and it was pleasing to view some layouts that I haven’t seen before – the benefit of taking a break from the circuit, I imagine. I was expecting to view Stoke Summit as it attends almost every Warners event with the inevitability of a participant in Strictly Come Dancing being ‘on a journey’, but it wasn’t there – I believe that it is finally undergoing a long overdue overhaul, and will reappear after refurbishment in a post-privatisation guise featuring overhead catenary with GNER class 91’s and EWS class 66’s taking centrestage as it strives to attract a fresh audience. Bring it on.

I was hoping to give a rundown of my favourite layouts, but as I mentioned earlier, Dave gave my exhibition guide away on Sunday afternoon and it had all my notes in, so that isn’t happening. Probably for the best ...

I will therefore throw in my gallery of some favourite bits at the show. These are all from memory, so if there are any factual errors I apologise and will correct them if notified. I must apologise for the rather poor quality of the pictures – it was a busy show and I was kept on the go over on the demo stand, so the photos were something of a rush job on Sunday morning before opening time. I didn’t get round to see every layout due to time constraints, and just snapped a few models that really caught my eye.

The beach scene on Westcliffe, I particularly like the 'shortcut' path running down to the beach - delightfully modelled on this well observed model.

My favourite scene on Runswick Leamside is the realistically modelled roadworks and contraflow on the dual carriageway. Well, I say realistic - more progress has been made with these roadworks than their real life counterparts on the A1 at Blyth. Maybe the Highways Agency should employ Presier workmen? Just a thought.

My personal favourite layout - Harbourne. I always like to see small, beautifully detailed layouts that ooze character and operate impeccably such as this. It's the sort of layout where very little happens and life is at a slower relaxed pace. In between trains, you have time to take in the scenery and savour the craftmanship that went into building it. Charming.

If you like big layouts, they don't come much bigger or grander than Gresley Beat, based on Kings Cross. Wish I'd had more time to watch it, there was so much going on. The buildings are superb, for a more detailed look at them I'd recommend reading this article on Iain Robinson's modelling blog, which also has some much better pictures that do the model justice.

Staying with the 'make it large' theme, this model of Barmouth Viaduct immediately caught the eye. The 'O' gauge layout was themed around the famous viaduct at Barmouth, and running almost at eye level meant that it looked as imposing as the real thing. The backscene was amazing, all handpainted. Operation was staged so that sequences would begin with the GWR and gradually work up to Regional Railways DMU's - a nice idea that added much variety to the scene. A good photo album of this layout may be seen here.

There was much more, but I was just to busy to see it all!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Time To Say Goodbye

The Grumpy Git Productions season ends with this bonus presentation. Deltic D9009 Alycidon has been a guest on the Nene Valley Railway this summer, and ran regularly at special events and odd running days. I’ve amassed quite a bit of footage of this magnificent loco, and as Alycidon departs from the line this week I decided to edit together the highlights, together with some previously unseen footage as they say. The final sequence was shot as the loco hauled the last train out of Wansford at the 1968 Gala – which was also Alycidon’s final working on the line.

As the film is entirely about D9009, I’ve gone for nice long pans to show the loco to full advantage, along with some close ups and quick clips. Scenes show everything from shunting in Wansford Yard to working the Orient Express Wagon Lits coaches, so there’s plenty of variety. Where practical, the original Napier soundtrack has been retained as backdrop.

Choosing the music was a challenge, and I thought I had it all sorted when editing the film on Sunday. There were niggles, however – something just didn’t gel. Then whilst driving to Kings Lynn on Tuesday, Time To Say Goodbye was played on the Steve Wright Show. That was the eureka moment. The track was perfect in every sense – time to say goodbye as the loco leaves the line, so the lyrics were eminently suitable. The regal slow marching beat admirably matched the photography and pace of the film rather well, whilst the gradual crescendo and power of the music are in keeping the ‘King of Diesels’. So, for all Deltic fans – savour the moment!

Alycidon is owned by the Deltic Preservation Society, and more information about their locomotives may be found in their website. D9009 is returning to Barrow Hill this week.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Someone Left The Cake Out In The Train

Grumpy Git Productions presents: 1968 – The Last Days of Steam. This film came about because of the recent 1968 Gala held at The Nene Valley Railway and you can read about the ins and outs of my visit in the post below.

Although much of the filming took place at the event, I’ve been working on this project for a while, ever since it was postponed back in September – truly a blessing in disguise. During visits to other events at the NVR and even different locations, I gathered some useful additional footage to include in the finished film. This includes some scenes featuring the Jinty tank loco (masquerading as Thomas) at the Midland Railway as they offered some rather pleasant variety to the scene.

The song may seem to be an odd choice for a railway film. MacArthur Park is an over-the-top , evocative and haunting melody, beautifully orchestrated and filled with lyrics that mean - absolutely nothing. It’s not often you hear anyone lamenting that ‘Someone left a cake out in the rain’ and even less frequently does that make a good backing track for a railway film - until I hit on the obvious title to this piece of nonsense! The words are supposed to be symbolic rather than descriptive, I have read. They symbolise, to me at any rate, that the composer, Jimmy Webb, was off his head on LSD when he wrote it. But it’s a nice tune for all that.

I chose MacArthur Park because I needed a genuine hit from 1968 to add some period flavour, and most of the other hits from the era are short ditties about You love me and I love you but you bonked the milkman and now I’m so blue school of sixties songwriting. As the song has four distinctive sections, these would be ideal for creating different themes to break the film up visually and avoid it becoming a copy of the Diesel Gala, which was basically just a long procession of trains one after the other. As I’d be filming from many identical locations, avoiding too many repeat scenes was essential and I wanted a more cinematic atmosphere this time round. As it turned out, it was far more complex a song to work with than I anticipated, but I believe the end result is rewarding and is quite unlike my other railway films. Or indeed, cake films.

Editing in colour or black and white was a tricky question. The bright sunshine of the day brought out the trains and scenery to advantage, but also brought out the pale blue of Thomas and the Post Office red of the TPO set. What decided the matter was the opening sequences in Wansford Yard – shot against the sun with clouds of smoke billowing around the 4F simply oozed period atmosphere, and the decision was made.

Audio was again a problem – some clips had excellent quality sound, whilst those shot in more exposed places had intrusive wind noise. In very few cases the locos were working hard, and much audio was simply wheels-on-rails, so I edited all of it out.

Attention to detail by the NVR was good, and very little smacks as being out of place. In black and white the TPO set looks acceptable, whilst other details are minor and don’t detract from the film to my eye. Careful editing in Wansford Yard was required, but lineside scenes were timeless. The closing sequence is fantastic, and I’ve been itching to use it ever since I was truly in the right place at the right time. Mind you, it came at a cost – the loco was not just blowing steam, but large quantities of thick ash as well. I was caught up in the middle of it as you can clearly see – well, not see due to the large amounts of swirling steam and ash – but by ‘eck, was it worth it! The occasion was actually the start of the 1940’s war re-enactment gala, and as I walked down the platform to the toilets to clean up, many visitors thought I’d entered into the spirit of the occasion by coming as a survivor of an air raid. When I made it to the toilets, and a mirror, I could see their point. Chimney sweep, anyone?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Sulzer Beat in the Swinging Sixties

This weekend was the 1968 Gala at the Nene Valley Railway – I might as well move in and live in a Mk1 coach to save on commuting! The gala was originally to have been held on September 12th, but was postponed as the visiting locos were not available. So, was it worth the wait?

The answer is an emphatic YES! It was an excellent event, very well organised and a lot of thought went into making this a grand occasion. The theme behind the gala was to take visitors back to 1968, the final year of British main line steam as the transition from steam to diesel was completed. I personally prefer this type of historically accurate gala to the free for alls of the recent diesel gala, for instance. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing all the locos come together in one place at one time, but the modeller in me prefers the recreation of a specific era, so that you are transported back in time – the war re-enactments and Beamish are excellent examples of this.

The foreign coaches were parked up out of the way, and the NVR used the crimson and cream MK1 set all day on an intensive passenger service. Spicing things up were the running of the former Royal Mail TPO set, complete with lineside mail-bag drop off / collection demonstrations that worked very well – rather better than the current 21st century mail service we’re not getting from Postman Pat and his picketing cat. Now that the season for preserved lines is all but over, might the NVR give some thought to taking on the Christmas mail delivery service? While you ponder over that, back to the actual gala, which in addition to the TPO also promised to run some freight trains to add in to the enticing mix.

Last posting day before Christmas - July 5th, 1978.

The loco line up was promising, and the combination is unlikely to be repeated as various engines are leaving the line. Class 25 D5185 was a last-minute replacement for a visiting something that failed prior to the diesel gala – class 20’s I believe – and has stayed on, which is great, as I love these locos. I think it’s based on the Great Central Railway. Resident class 40 D306 would be performing, along with D9009 Alycidon that has spent the summer on the line, but departs during the week for Barrow Roundhouse. Consequently this would be Alycidon’s final appearance and I wanted to get some good quality filming of it in action.

Steam locos would be resident flagship Standard type 4 73050 City of Peterborough – a loco that Grumpy Git Production’s viewers will be very familiar with by now! Also getting up steam would be Thomas The Tank Engine, thankfully sans face but still otherwise bedecked with the accoutrements of his namesake. He'd be working the Yarwell end of the line, and didn't feature in my plans. Sorry. Top of the bill was visiting Fowler 4F 44422, following extensive repairs at its home of the LNWR Heritage Workshops at Crewe. It was these repairs that prevented the scheduled visit in September, but everything seems fine now, and the loco arrived on site last week.

The Met boys promised that the weekend would be overcast and dull, so on Saturday I departed in glorious clear and sunny skies for Wansford. Those guys really need to look out of the windows a bit more. My borrowed Subaru made it down without incident, and as I was good and early, everything was just being fired up or switched on, enabling some nice early morning shots that look great on film – very atmospheric.

44422 oozes early morning atmosphere. (Screengrab)

A nice touch was the chalk messages written on the steam locos; you may recall or have seen photos of such adornments on BR in the final weeks of steam service. The 4F proudly proclaimed ‘I’m young really’ on the smokebox. A tactic I might try employing myself…

The 4F was rescued from the scrapyard. Wonder if I will be ...?

It would be a day of hiking, as the bike wouldn’t fit in the Subaru, and many of the superb vantage points I discovered during the Diesel Gala are only accessible on foot anyway. For this reason, I’d be moving around the first four miles of the route, almost all of which offer good views of the line, whilst still giving a good cross section of photographic points for variety.

Things went well despite the complex timetable, and most trains ran to time. It wasn’t until late afternoon that the gremlins struck. I was waiting for the 15:20 passenger off Wansford, due to be hauled by the 4F, which was a ‘must-have’ shot. Nothing happened for a while, and I assumed the loco must be having issues. It must have been having pretty serious issues, because the train eventually turned up 35 minutes late with the class 40 hauling it. I decided to head back to Wansford at that point, as only two more trains were diagrammed, and I guessed that due to the late running one would be cancelled to allow the last train of the day to run on time behind the booked Deltic. On the way I planned to shoot the returning class 40 trip, as it would be double heading with the 25 that had worked the freight back to Peterborough. I almost got caught out, however, as to save time the 25 worked back to Wansford light loco with the brakevan in tow. Although I was some distance away from the line at this point, I heard it coming and managed to get set up and film across the field, thus adding a nice bit of variety to the day’s filming. I did, however, capture the 40 on the return leg at the planned location, before walking the last leg into Wansford.

On arrival my suspicions were confirmed. The 25 had been booked to do a short Wansford – Yarwell – Wansford trip with the TPO, but this had been cancelled, along with the 16:30 passenger to Peterborough. To make up for this, the last train of the day to Peterborough would travel first to Yarwell with the class 40 top and tailing Alycidon. On the return, the 40 would be detached and the Deltic would carry on as scheduled. This was good news, as I had a great location planned for Alycidon’s final departure and needed to capture the moment before the light faded too much – it doesn’t seem a week since it was daylight at 9pm! Well, it all worked out perfectly; the light held and the train departed on time.

Alycidon reposes at Wansford before her final working.

This brings me to the end of an extremely busy and entertaining season on the Nene Valley Railway – and to think it all started simply because I drive past the line regularly for work, and one day thought, ‘I wonder what it’s like down there …’ The line doesn’t close completely for the winter; Thomas is running his Spooky Halloween Specials at the end of the month, and in December we have the Thomas hauled Santa Specials. As I’m not equipped with the ho-ho-ho gene, I think I’ll give these a miss.

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