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.

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