Sunday, 28 February 2010

All Tickets, Please!

Ever since I discovered the Nene Valley Railway last summer, I’ve kept on being drawn back there like a moth to flame, or a disaster to Gordon Brown. I particularly enjoyed working on board the Christmas Santa Specials with some of the volunteers who run the line, and earlier this year I bit the dust and joined up as a working member myself. Thus it was that I found myself reporting for my first duty today, in a new role as Travelling Ticket Inspector (TTI). Why TTI? Well, my employment as an automotive logistics facilitator (car-transporter driver to the uninitiated) means that I come into contact with few people during the working week, and those I do talk to either sell cars, buy cars, repair cars, race cars, rally cars, scrap cars, tweak cars and generally talk cars until I either fall asleep or hit myself over the head with a spare half-shaft (don’t try this at home: it hurts).

Consequently, I favoured doing something totally different and the role of TTI seems perfect. The NVR caters primarily for tourists and visitors to Ferry Meadows Country Park, so the role involves ticket sales and checks along with answering questions and acting as an informal tourist guide to the line and facilities. As an enthusiastic regular user of Ferry Meadows I’m well qualified in this respect, and being able to offer advice and answer queries makes the trips up and down the line more interesting.

I began the day by meeting David who runs the ticket sales side of things, and after an introduction to the job we joined the first of the three trains that run during the off-peak timetable period. Loco was 73050 City of Peterborough on the 5 car MK1 rake, off at 10:30 for the first trip to Yarwell. The train was lightly loaded because of the appalling weather and time of year, so there was plenty of time to get to grips with the job and have a chat to the mainly family groups who were taking the trip.

A cold and damp Wansford at the end of my first trip as TTI.

After the first return trip was complete David let me get on with it as the trains were very quiet, and I had a fair idea of what to do. We met up at intervals during the day to compare notes; otherwise I walked up and down the train generally chatting with the passengers on board. It was an enjoyable experience, and all that walking helps offset all the sitting I do in a lorry cab for the rest of the week!

As I enjoyed the day, I’ve planned to join the staff roster for more duties in the coming months, starting with next weekend’s Diesel Gala when every train will packed – nothing like a baptism of fire. The Diesel Galas bring in a lot of revenue to the railway, but a great many problems come with them - I've witnessed the antics of these so-called enthusiasts at many places over the years, so can understand the need to have as many staff available as possible to keep an eye on things. Previous military experience is preferred, and a couple of tours of Belfast or Basra are extremely useful. Apparently the class 66 brings out the worst in this crowd as they'll do anything to get a bit of haulage or photograph of one in unfamiliar surroundings ... watch this space!

One or two people turned up when a GBRF 66 was rostered for the diesel gala last year.

I’ll also be getting inducted to the Booking Office at the end of March; this will then enable me to switch roles and cover any position if required, as well as provide more variety to the role.

City of Peterborough runs round at her namesake city.

During some quiet spells throughout the day I was able to try out a spontaneous gift to myself that I purchased yesterday – a new Panasonic TZ6 camera. I got it primarily to replace the Samsung that I use for video shooting, as it offers good quality widescreen WVGA filming capabilities with an impressive smooth and quiet 12x zoom and 25mm wide angle lens – all in a pocket sized compact. I’d been looking for a video camera for some time, and got bogged down in reviews and specs and prices and ever more conflicting information until my overtaxed brain hurt. I spotted the TZ6 quite by chance in e-mailshot that Argos sent out, and after seeing some cracking film on YouTube made with the model I went out and bought it. The photos here were taken on it - well, 2 of the 3 were. Can you guess which is the odd one out? - and my initial handheld test video shots were also impressive; I may load one up as a demo later on. As it fits comfortably into a pocket, it is an ideal camera to take around to most places – so could be very useful in my new weekend job.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

You've Been (Window) Framed

Last weekend was the Doncaster Model Railway Exhibition, or the Festival of Model Railways as the organisers grandly entitle it. For the previous couple of years the show was held at Harrogate while the venue at Doncaster Racecourse, modelled on 1940’s style POW camps, was refurbished. And boy, did it need refurbishing. It was dark, gloomy, freezing cold and access was a nightmare. Conditions were far worse than prison, made worse by the fact that whereas prisoners are allowed out whenever Gordon Brown needs to reduce inmate statistics, at the show you were obliged to stay put for your entire sentence.

Thankfully, during the last two years, Doncaster Racecourse has been rebuilt from the foundations up, and the end result is a spacious, well-lit and welcoming environment (obviously I’m only regarding the venue as welcoming; Doncaster itself is as welcoming as a dose of the clap).

Once again I was demonstrating on the Ten Commandments stand, and building on the success of our debut at Peterborough. I had prepared many new interesting models and techniques to work on, plus tools and products from other manufacturers that could easily be demonstrated to visitors. This time round I introduced an interactive element, so that the public could really get hands-on and involved. This might sound elementary, but I consider that demonstrating at a show should be demonstrating, and not an opportunity to blag your way into a show for free, then sit round chatting to your mates all weekend. Given that the public pay around a tenner to get in, I believe that they should get something in return. If I want to watch people sitting around doing nothing but chat to each other, I’d watch Big Brother. And then I’d disembowel myself with a Stanley knife and some clothes pegs.

Mainstay of the demonstration was the extensive, and growing, range of Ten Commandments factory buildings and various modular extensions. The window glazing sessions attracted big crowds (covered in my previous post here) and to make the job of glazing even easier, I was pleased to find that Dave had got his hands on some fantastic gel pens that allow the modeller to simply ‘draw’ the frames in. Here’s an example:

The outhouse building to the left had all the window frames drawn in by customers at the show – it really is as easy as picking up a pen and writing with it (rules out the under 16’s, then. Somebody will have to invent a mobile phone application to paint window frames innit).

I soon found several other useful applications for the pen that will be extremely useful for anyone modelling almost any era. The pen will write on any surface – wood, plastic, metal, clothes (that was an accident) and on gloss or matt finishes. An obvious use for rolling stock is shown below:

As well as ‘condemned’ – a common sight in the BR blue era – the pen also proved suitable for chalked notices and destinations on parcels vans – remember those? Then of course, we come to:

Graffiti. Up until now, the simple white slogan style graffiti has been next to impossible to reproduce. With this pen, you can vandalise as many walls, items of rolling stock and public toilets as you wish. For an inner city layout set in the 70’s to present day, this is an essential, if unwelcome, scenic finishing touch.

Other uses include pub blackboards and temporary signs often seen while travelling – Pick Your Own Strawberries; Overflow Carpark; Model Railway Exhibition Here Today; Truculent Teenager Daughter For Sale and numerous others. If you model the present day, then you could model some of the apostrophe catastrophe signs that are the visible proof of the Government's successful (?) Education, Education, Education mantra. Let your imagination run wild!

Don't it just!

As well as being available in white, the pen also comes in gold, which is actually a shade of yellow that is ideal for road markings. Other colours are available, but are opaque in finish and don’t work too well on dark surfaces. The white one, however, is unbeatable. Everybody who used one at the show immediately handed over the £2.50 to take one home, and we hope to have some new stock shortly. It will be available as a Show Special, and is also presumably retailed through good office supply stationers.

I was also demonstrating the Modelmates weathering dyes that I mentioned here. They use a spray on / wipe off technique that takes a bit of practise, but I got some quite pleasing results when weathering this JCB:

Overall the demonstrations were received very well by both the public and exhibition organisers – the latter commented that they had received favourable comments from the public about the stand and being able to get involved. For my part, demonstrating something that people are actually interested in made the time pass more pleasantly and quickly, so the only downside was that I didn’t get to see the show!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Round The Quorn

Following on from my previous post, here is the completed film from the Great Central Railway’s Steam Gala last weekend. Essentially, it’s a procession of varied steam workings shot at Kinchley Lane and Woodthorpe, and tries to recapture the feel of the intensive timetable and the fascinating variety of trains that operated over the weekend. It has the advantage of enabling the viewer to watch all the trains without freezing their nadgers off, but if you’d really like to recreate the complete atmosphere of the day then turn off the heating, open all the windows and get 50 photographers into the living room while you play the video.

I’ve managed to edit out almost all of the annoying and intrusive hi-viz orange jackets that some people insist on wearing – I already know what kind of person you are, so you don’t need to advertise the fact! Hopefully what is left is reminiscent of linesiding in the Midland Region in the early 1960’s.

The score for this film is by Gilbert & Sullivan, so viewers will either love it or hate it - I can see the complaints rolling in already. But then again, I feel that the soundtrack is as much a part of a video as the visuals, and to my mind the various clips compliment the resonant brass while adding atmosphere to the end product.

Monday, 1 February 2010

All Steamed Up With Stan & Ollie

Faced with another dull weekend of ‘sitting’, I was idly flicking through various websites on Friday night when I happened upon the Great Central Railway’s pages, and discovered that they were holding a Steam Gala over the weekend. My interest heightened when I read that no fewer than eight locos would be in traffic on a mixture of trains operating to an intensive timetable. This was more like it! The motive power line up was impressive, but the clincher was LMS 5690 Leander – a loco that I’ve not seen before. The theme was LMS / BR Midland orientated, so all the trains would be pretty much running in period, and over an appropriate length of line between Loughborough and Leicester. Although the railway is only about 40 miles away I’d not visited it since 1995 – my interest in railways has been pretty dormant until last summer when I discovered that steam locos make excellent filming subjects, and so now was a good time to get reacquainted.

First job after packing the Grumpy Git camera-and-butty bag was to walk 5 miles to Marston in order to retrieve my car from a layby. Why? Well, good old Gordon Brown is in full ‘save the planet’ mode with the election coming, and has been ordering all of us to drive 5 miles less every week, which, by default, means that you have to abandon your car on the Friday evening homeward bound commute long before you actually finish your journey. Hmmm. This apparently saves a polar bear’s life, but adds an hour and a half to the journey. I really don’t think Gordy thought this through – now there’s a surprise.

Once I was reunited with my vehicle, I braved the early morning frost and set off for the Great Central Railway. I’d Google-Earthed the area online the night before and studied various photo albums to seek out some good vantage points. There appears to be only two good photographic locations, Woodthorpe which lies just outside of Loughborough, and Kinchley Lane near to Swithland Reservoir. Trees and vegetation hem in the vast majority of the line, although driving my car another five miles a week will presumably sort this out.

I set off initially for Kinchley Lane, and soon discovered that it was a favourite spot due to the amount of other photographers already on location, despite the early hour. It felt quite strange being in such vast crowds – when I film on the Nene Valley Railway I have the run of the entire line and only ever meet dog walkers and bird watchers!

Now I should say that I don’t generally follow the herd instinct, and after a few trains had passed by I started walking around to find some alternative photo spots. This was partly because being stood in one spot was boring, and would make the film I was shooting rather bland – plus I was freezing my nadgers off. I soon found several different vantage points within the general area, and was able to shoot from some more interesting perspectives. There was also much more freedom of movement than being in the large crowd up the embankment.

The day’s menu was exciting; starting with local branch line trains with a main course of express passenger services. This was followed by a dessert of freight trains and garnished with a TPO set. In between various courses, there was a medley of light loco movements – no shortage of interest or variety.

After several hours at Kinchley lane, I headed down to Woodthorpe. Another large congregation of photographers proved that I had the right spot. The field at this location offers some good panning shots, and it is also possible to get trackside for some close ups. There are two overbridges in the area offering more potential, and for the suicidal there is also the bridge that carries the A6006 across the line. Most photographers crowd round the signal and get in each other’s faces …..

….. or they do the same thing on the overbridge. That’s not my idea of fun. By moving around the area between shots, it was possible to create some variety in the film clips, so I was quite pleased with the end results. However, I’d like to return on a quieter day and really explore the line, as there must be other locations off the beaten track just waiting to be discovered. I also fancy taking a trip along the railway as well; a fair chunk of it is double-tracked and has the atmosphere of a real mainline.

I enjoyed Saturday so much that I returned on Sunday for some more shots – in particular the overbridges at Woodthorpe that I hadn’t tried the previous day. The weather wasn’t as good as Saturday, but otherwise it was pleasant enough, apart from the cold. I called it a day around lunchtime after exhausting all three sets of batteries in one morning – I’d accidentally purchased alkaline instead of my usual lithium, and they kept giving up. I lost three excellent clips this way – not impressive, given the price of batteries. The lithiums can usually give me a couple of days of intensive filming; the alkalines lasted about as long as a thought in a Cheeky Girl’s head.

The film is now in production at The Grumpy Git Productions Studio (my back bedroom) and I’ll upload the photos in due course. Given the number of photographers who were present at the event, the ‘net and YouTube should be packed full of photos and film from the weekend! There really were hundreds of enthusiasts present, and we all drove out there … so here’s a thought for five-miles-less Gordon: if you politicians hadn’t closed down these railways, then we wouldn’t all be driving hundreds of miles every weekend to photograph them in preservation! Think about it.

Stan and Ollie? Oh yes. Well, Stan is Stanier, and Ollie is Oliver Cromwell (70013 BR Pacific). But you knew that already…

Anyone interested in the Great Central Railway should visit this exceptional photographic website by Paul Biggs

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