The dream goes on
Much has happened since the last blog.
I’m now back in the old routine, roughly. I signed on as unemployed for about a month; then I got a request for interview from a job I actually found at the JobCentre. A firm of international freight auditors based locally wanted someone with German language skills to work on an up-coming contract, and after we had a conversation and talked about the work, they took me on. This firm audits freight shipments and international freight invoicing, and it employs people of all nationalities for their language skills (foreign tongues being something the English do not do well). But German is a surprisingly uncommon language in these parts: my German, especially my business German, isn’t all that good, but I do know my way around the language somewhat, as well as having some local knowledge, especially about Austria where one of the potential clients does a lot of business. The company anticipates needing three full-time German speakers when their new work comes on-stream during March; so far, they’ve got me and a woman who is a native speaker, but she can only commit to two days a week.
There are still a few issues over this job, but nothing that can’t be worked out, one way or another.
I did manage a couple of Northern excursions during February. The first was a trip on the “Cumbrian Mountain Express”, a steam charter service from London to Carlisle, running out over the Settle & Carlisle line, and back over Shap. This turned into something of an adventure, as the weather on the day I chose to travel, 4th February, was forecast to deteriorate with heavy snow. There was a fairly civilised pick-up (0838) at Nuneaton, and the train then continued up to Preston behind a 1960s era electric locomotive, finished in (reasonably) authentic period Electric Blue livery. At Preston, a Black Five was attached to take us via Blackburn, Clitheroe and Hellifield over the S&C to Carlisle.
For those who don’t know it, the Settle & Carlisle line was built in the 1860s to give the Midland Railway independent access to Scotland. It is a spectacular piece of railway engineering, crossing the Westmoreland fells via a series of spectacular viaducts and tunnels, none of which can be appreciated from the train… Of course, we were treated to snow on the wildest section of the line.
We were to time at Petterill Bridge Junction, just outside Carlisle, but got held there for 30 minutes awaiting access to Carlisle Citadel station. It was throwing it down with rain in Carlisle, and the late arrival meant that there was little time to do much else than find a chip shop for sustenance. Then it was back to Citadel station for a return run over Shap.
Departure from Carlisle was delayed by about 20 – 25 minutes due to the engine not getting a good path to get back from the turning/servicing point to Citadel. Then it made a great ascent of Shap in rain which was turning to snow, without the booked class 47 diesel assisting in the rear. The line over Shap Fell was the earlier one built, by the London & North Western Railway. It is the easier route, having been built at a time when locomotives were less powerful, but it is still a stiff climb even in good conditions. The engine we had, and its crew, performed magnificently; but we were put into the passing loop at Grayrigg to allow two Virgin Pendolinos, a local train and a light engine past. Then we got held at the engine change at Carnforth for another half-hour or so despite a very slick swap back to the electric locomotive. We made up a little bit of time on the journey back south but we were still some 75 minutes down when I bailed out at Nuneaton.
As if that wasn’t enough adventure, then I had to get home. By this time, there was about six inches of wet snow everywhere, and it was still falling. In Britain, that means that everything grinds to a halt. The six miles back from Nuneaton at 9:30pm took about an hour, mainly avoiding idiots with no idea how to drive in snow (second or third gear, let the engine do the braking wherever possible). Just on the way out of Nuneaton, where the road goes over the canal by what used to be the Nuneaton Town FC stadium, some lads stopped me, saying “That’s my sister’s boyfriend up there,” (pointing to a car sideways across the road) “He said ‘My sports car can get up that easy.'” “What a pillock” I agreed. They gave me a push and I purred past on the wrong side of the road. Halfway back, in the surprisingly remoter and high countryside between Astley and Fillongley, I saw one shiny new 4×4 pickup in the ditch with a bent front end. Ha!
In retrospect, having got home safely, I quite enjoyed it! (But I wouldn’t want to do it again in a hurry.)
As is so often the case, the heavy fall of snow disappeared within a couple of days, and by the time the next weekend came around, there was almost none left. This was the weekend that we would go to Showzam, Blackpool’s annual festival of fairgrounds, circus and new variety. This year, there appeared to be fewer events on, but the main exhibition area, Showzam Central (in the Winter Gardens) was offering an expanded show with a new sideshow attraction and a daily performance by The Insect Circus – all good, clean fun (mostly). Audiences gasped with especial amazement at the spectacle of the Man Eating Fish and The Giant Bat…
Blackpool itself is suddenly showing some signs of the regeneration that Showzam has been a part of. The modernised tram system is due to open at Easter, and an area of the promenade immediately outside the Tower has been completely refurbished as well. The Tower has changed hands and is now in the hands of the council, who have appointed the same management company to run it as runs Alton Towers and the London Eye. They have spent quite a lot on renovation works, with more to follow. And the Winter Gardens themselves are getting something of a makeover, with the main foyer having been spruced up and a new, upmarket restaurant opening there. And one of the more run-down, semi-derelict hotels along the seafront was showing signs that someone was taking an interest in its renovation and restoration. It will be interesting to see what changes another year brings.
We attended the Carnival Ball in the Tower Ballroom, a lavish event with entertainment and dancing until the wee small hours; and went to see a show of early film presented by Professor Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield. She presented archive film of early fairground and circus performers (including the earliest surviving movie film made in Britain), interspersed with live acts from the performers attending Showzam. Our one criticism was that there were events that we wanted to see but which were being held either in the week or on the following weekend, and the idea of spending a week in Blackpool in February was just a bit much to countenance (though with a bit of thought, perhaps something might be done).
And then it was back to the daily grind; except that during the course of the week, I had some good news on the photographic front. Just before Christmas, I entered a competition in the USA organised by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art. Their competition (or “Creative Awards Program”) always takes a theme; this year, it was “Railroad photography inspired by [Richard] Steinheimer”, an American photographer who died in May 2011. I had never heard of him – British railway enthusiasts are pretty insular, as is the publishing industry that supports them, so this was no surprise – but when I looked at some of his work online, I was struck by how much his approach to railway photography was like the style that I’m evolving – an emphasis on night photography, on trains in the landscape (or cityscape) and a focus on the people of the railway. This struck a chord with me, so I contemplated my recent output and selected three photographs to enter the competition with.
And one of them won first prize.
The picture shows Howard Jones of the Wolsztyn Experience, discussing the burning matters of the day with railwaymen on the platform at Wolsztyn, just before the PKP Pt47 2-8-2 that is generating the atmosphere for this picture takes an early afternoon train to Poznan. The picture is actually a crop from a larger image; it was one of those situations where if I stopped to swap lenses, the moment might disappear (especially as I was supposed to be on that train!). I’m rather pleased with both the picture and the result; I’ve spent the past few days sending press notices about this to anyone I can think of who might be interested, in my search for a rich benefactor who might want to pay me to take photographs! Hence the title of this posting. Well, you never know…