Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A Dinky Delight

I recently read Iain Robinson’s story about his one surviving Dinky toy from childhood, and this prompted me to dig out my own memory – this 1977 Dinky Leyland Atlantean bus from the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

I had quite a collection of die-cast vehicles at the time, and really wanted this special bus to be part of it.  By collection, I mean that they were played with; used and abused with lots of handling and unsympathetic treatment - hence it’s condition.  It cost £2.10 in Joseph’s Toyshop in Sunderland (a real Mecca, sadly long gone).  I was told that if I really wanted it, I had to save up my weekly 25p pocket money until I reached £2.00, and at that point, my Gran would contribute the remaining 10p, as she was clearly a woman of incredible generosity.  Of course, this was a clever trick used by parents in those days to see if you really wanted it – so different to the ‘give me a Blackberry NOW’ generation.  Anyway, for 2 long months I saved up my 25p each week and went without the Beano and Caramacs.*  I’m sure that these days such treatment would be classed as cruelty and my mother would be up on a charge of deprivation.  But it worked, and at Sunday lunch claimed my 10p from Gran, who reluctantly went to dig up the garden to find her stash of cash.  (I don’t put my money under the bed; first place a burglar will look).  You couldn’t argue with her logic.  She wouldn't put it in the Bank either, being an avid fan of The Sweeney she was convinced some blaggers would shove a sawn off Purdy in her face on pension day at the local sub-Post Office on Ormonde Street.  I think she was disappointed that it never actually happened.  Would have got Auntie Lucy to stop banging on about her fainting from the heat in the January sales at Joplings.  Silk shawls and matching gloves were half price and the whole of the Townswomen's Guild turned out to blag one.   Isn't my family history interesting?

Long after all the other toys had vanished, this Dinky bus has survived numerous house moves and being relegated to a box in the shed.  I don’t know why I’ve kept it – it’s condition means that it has only sentimental rather than financial value.  Perhaps, subconsciously, it’s a reminder of the time I was taught about money and saving up for things you want – a lesson that has stayed with me ever since.  And all this time people just had me down as being as tight as a duckhouse.  No, that’s my MP – but you know what I mean.

Happy New Year!

* For the under 40's, Caramacs were a thin chocolate bar the colour of cow diarrhoea for some obscure reason.   Bit like a Milky Bar, but one that had been on a fortnight's holiday to Benidorm.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Time: Don't Let The Expenses End

The Christmas Bells should certainly be ringing in Lincolnshire this year, given that my local MP, one Quentin Davies, is the same Quentin Davies who took £20,700 of taxpayers money in expenses to refurbish the bell tower in one of his homes (also paid for by us). It would therefore be most charitable of Quentin to let Ding Dong Merrily On High resonate across the county on Christmas morning, when kids are breaking their expensive nano-wii pods and parents are having a slanging match in the kitchen because someone forgot to buy the bread sauce and Granny Ida won’t eat the turkey without it.

How many times did I tell you to write a list?   Did you listen to me?  
Do you ever listen to me?  Yada, yada, yada ...

Of course this is rather unlikely to happen – the bells, I'm taking about here, not the nano-wii and Granny Ida's bread sauce, both of which are as assured as the fact that Councils won't bother to grit the roads as it's too dangerous to send the gritters out in ice because of health and safety reasons.  Quentin won't share his bells with the peasants, unless of course, he has his Dickens eureka moment during Christmas Eve night.

If the ghost of Christmas past should visit him, it would be Maggie Thatcher. This is because up until 2007 Quentin was a true blue Tory MP, as is expected in these parts where fox hunting used to be the Boxing Day  staple until it was discovered that shooting chavs was much more fun and actually got rid of undesirable vermin that did far more damage than a fox ever could.  Ever seen a fox get drunk, steal an Astra or wear a baseball cap back-to-front?  There you are, then - welcome to Quentin's world. But when the future of Labour looked reasonably rosy and the Tories were merely a dot on the political horizon, good old Quentin decided overnight that he wasn’t quite as right wing as he thought he was, and maybe old Stalin had a point. So, he defected to Labour, without having the decency to call a by-election. Quentin was rewarded for his lack of moral standing by being appointed Defence Minister, surely the most inappropriate job for any politician who doesn’t even know what side he’s on? In Italy, yes, okay. But not Ilkeston, or even Islington. For a while everything looked tickety-boo, and then St Tony of the Smile departed and in came the ghost of Christmas Present: our Gordon, who managed to destroy the country and any credibility that Labour still had in record time. Looks like it’s time for Quentin to change sides again, which leaves us with the mystery of who is the ghost of Christmas Future? Nick Clegg, come on down … .

Cartoon by artist Gerald Scarfe

If Quentin does receive visits from Maggie, Gordon and Nick then surely the bells will ring out on Christmas Day. But if he’s up all night filling out expenses forms for the family Christmas presents, then I fear that it will be another Silent Night.

Oh well - Merry Grumpy Christmas everyone!


Monday, 21 December 2009

Thomas - The Movie

Against my better judgement, and probably everybody else’s better judgement, I have now completed and upload my Thomas at Christmas video.  I’d filmed several clips of Thomas in action at Christmas during the Santa Specials, and after several Vodka-Semtex Delights I decided to join them together into a (thankfully) short video.  The deciding factor came about when I was searching for music to accompany Turkey on The Orient Express.  This version of Jingle Bells was performed live at the Sodor Railways Office Party, when the Large But Not Morbidly Obese Controller drank an entire bottle of sherry that had been earmarked for the trifle.  This was followed by snorting a line of coke, which was when he leapt onto the stage and delivered this party piece with style and gusto, shortly before photocopying his arse in the traditional manner.  So, I just had to use it.

Okay, you may think it’s bad now, but come back after the inevitable arguments and rows during the festive period of domestic incarceration and you’ll see it in a whole new light.  It may not light up your Christmas, but if it stops you burying ‘er indoors under the patio, then I’ve done my bit for world peace and marital harmony.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

The last couple of days over the weekend were spent filming and photographing the Santa Specials in the snow on the Nene Valley Railway.  With four trains a day to film, this meant that I had a lot of free time in between services.  As I walked between the various locations used for shooting the trains, I amassed a hefty selection of ‘winter wonderland’ photographs, as this was a golden (white, surely?) opportunity to try out the camera and my abilities.  The pictures will be uploaded online in due course, but in the meantime, some of the interesting scenes created by the snow:

 River Nene near Caistor.

 Picture postcard scene from Mill Lane Bridge

 Entrance to Santa's Grotto?

 First attempt at using the panorama feature on the Fuji - nice result.

 Sunset over the Nene on Saturday

I'm no expert on wildlife identification, but these are birds.

 Sunday sunset from Lynch Bridge

Last shot of the weekend before the sun disappeared altogether.

I'm pleased with these pictures, and the rest of the set, which neatly solves next year's Christmas card list!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Grumpy's Peak

Since I obtained my class 1 licence recently, I’ve been jumping in and out of different vehicles in our fleet like a jack-in-the-box on Ecstasy.  My nominated Actros is up for a service and a couple of minor repairs to the Suzies after a particularly adventurous reverse shunt at Peterborough – let us say no more about that.  I then spent a day in our Scania, which has a four-over-four manual gearbox, and this is now very familiar to me after training and taking the test – well, all five tests, let’s be fair – in a similar vehicle.  For a trip to Rochdale, however, I got one of our pair of Volvo FM trucks.  These are fully automatic (although with the option of a manual over ride if needed, which it wasn’t).  It’s most unusual getting into an auto lorry after always having driven manuals of one variety or another, and for the first few miles I kept going for the non-existent clutch.  Once into the swing of things, the Volvo pretty much drives itself and I was very happy with it.

The main issue to contend with in any of our trucks is the aforementioned peak.  Basically, it’s like a toddler – take your eye off it for a second, and it goes and does something silly.  This picture shows what happens as you go round a bend:

Normally, when rounding a tight bend, the driver will be checking mirrors, ahead, mirrors, ahead etc - to ensure that the trailer is clearing the kerb / pedestrian island / bollards / cyclists cutting up the inside on a suicide mission (for which the driver will get the blame) / impatient cars trying to cut in while muttering, “bloody truck drivers taking up all the road …” and any manner of roadside decorations dumped by the Council for no apparent reason.  The same applies with a transporter, but now you’re also looking out the front and up, to see what the peak is doing.  It’s un-natural, and really takes a bit of getting used to.  All good fun.

I mentioned recently in my modelling blog that my Iveco has been rewarded for some good performances lately by receiving the new company livery.  As I took it up to Harrogate this week, I used the opportunity to take a couple of pictures.  With the roads constantly wet and mucky in winter, it hasn’t taken long for the truck look a bit dishevelled, unfortunately, but I still think that the new vinyls look pretty good.  Just glad that I modelled it in the somewhat easier early style – what a narrow escape!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

AN HGV Ballet in 17 Movements & A Shunt

After the pleasure and relief of ripping up the ‘L’ plates yesterday, I was back in the real world of class 1 driving today, and my first trip in an artic – the training vehicle was a drag-and-draw Scania, which is a very different beast indeed.

Although I’ll still be regularly driving the rigids in our fleet, my role has now been expanded so that I can cover additional duties as and when required.  This will provide more variety and experience, which is a bonus.  My nominated artic for those duties that require a larger truck will be this ’53 plate Actros with a nine-car trailer:

This is an impressive truck, with 440 bhp that means plenty of power on tap when you need it.  The cab interior is positively luxurious after the Iveco, and extras such as electric everything, cruise control and aircon make it a nice piece of kit to spend your day in.  The gearbox takes some getting used to – a semi auto tiptronic computer, which is basically a switch on the end of the driver’s seat armrest, although it must be used in conjunction with the clutch, an odd combination indeed.  Push the switch forwards to go up a gear, and backwards to come down.  It’s easy to get confused and select the wrong gear, because when you’re used to a manual, the motion when going through the gears is forward then backwards then forwards again and so on.  Not in this!  Once you’ve done for a bit, it is quite easy.  But equally easy to get complacent and then forget ..... The other thing to remember is that gear changes are much slower than a manual, as the computer needs to think things through.  If you push it forwards too quickly, it just jumps out of gear and buzzes angrily at you, which is just what you need when pulling out onto a roundabout.  The Iveco I regularly use has to be banged into gear, so a much more delicate approach is needed in the Actros.

For my first run, our senior driver who knows all the tricks about handling these vehicles accompanied me.  It’s not just the obvious length and trailer cut-in factors that the driver needs to be aware of – the most fearsome object is the front of the top deck on the trailer that overhangs the cab (known as ‘the peak’).  At a junction or turning, as the cab goes one way the peak goes in the opposite direction - so lamp-posts, traffic lights and road signs all become potential targets.  Funnily enough, speed cameras are low enough for the peak to pass harmlessly over the top – another sign of Government priorities on the roads.

I found driving and steering straightforward enough, but that overhanging peak is frightening stuff indeed!  On a 90° turn, it hangs out a full car length, so it’s not something to be taken lightly.  Fortunately I’ve not driven an artic before, so by starting from scratch in transporters I’ll be better placed than drivers who are familiar with conventional artics, as I have no preconceived ideas as to road positioning and turning.  The training trips – two runs to Peterborough and back – gave a good taster of what to expect, and I thoroughly enjoyed the outings.  Reversing into the yard at Peterborough was a bit of nightmare, as it took two rather cockeyed reversals plus a shunt on a busy road – I was rather hoping for a graceful single 90° sweep from the road into the yard, but instead of Swan Lake I provided the waiting motorists with the HGV equivalent of Bambi on ice.  All good fun, and you have to learn as you go in this game.  All I’d say to the impatient car drivers who tooted their horns – would you rather wait five minutes while I shunt, or should I rush it and take out your front wing?  Your call.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Simply The Test

Once again I found myself driving through Nottingham in rush hour, and once again I was at the wheel of the Scania that I’ve been taking my driving tests in – rather more than I , and the company accountants, had hoped for as it happens.  Today, however, was different – because I finally passed my class 1 test with an excellent result that I’m pleased with.

If I looked like this, I'd have passed first time.  Allegedly.

 I’m sure it is not a coincidence that my examiner for this test was a very pleasant man in his fifties, who has driven trucks for a living, and understands that manoeuvring artics around modern, overcrowded cities is very different in practise to the written word.  He wasn’t there just to tick boxes on a form; he was looking for a safe, comfortable journey in a vehicle driven with confidence and competence.  Like it used to be in the old days before they started hiring graduates who can say all the right things at interview, but couldn’t reverse a loaded artic into Tesco’s loading bay without ending up in the cereals and condiments aisle.

I’d had a very good trip over to the test centre, which improved my confidence and put me in the right frame of mind.  When I saw that my examiner wasn’t young enough to be my grandson and could see out of the windscreen without a booster seat, things improved no end.  I also liked his manner – he spoke to me like a person, and didn’t just recite the script that seems to have been issued to all the kiddies that the Government are giving these posts to now.  I’ve heard it enough times to know it off by heart – think I’ll set it to music and enter next year’s Britain’s Got Talent with the Driving Test Two-Step.

The exam got off to a good start with a cracking reverse and brake test, and out on the roads followed in the same vein.  As I was feeling calm and in control, I was able to take all the horrors of Nottingham traffic and roadworks in my stride, with plenty of time to assess and plan my way through the minefield of the test route.  Back at the centre, the coupling exercise went well, and that was that – a happy end to a relatively pleasant exam.  The only area I let myself down on was some undue hesitation when entering a section of roadworks; a tricky situation given narrow lanes and parked cars.  I failed the last test due to being too close to parked cars, so today I erred on the side of caution and hung back until there was an established gap and then used all the road I wanted.  So although I did the correct procedure, it turned out that I left thinking about a bit too long before deciding to move off.  Because the examiner could see why I was doing what I was doing, however, this was marked as a minor fault only – and certainly preferable to charging straight down without thinking about it.  That comes after the test is over.

Tomorrow I start my proper driving on a Mercedes Actros with a 9-car trailer.  In the meantime, while I’m not saying that I was a regular visitor to the Test Centre, my personal and private parking bay is now being auctioned off on Ebay.  Happy bidding!

"When I said take a shunt, I was talking to the train driver, you moron!"

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Spirit of Jarrow Lives On

I was more than a tad annoyed a couple of weeks ago to find that YouTube had pulled my Jarrow Song video down, on account of Warners Media Group getting antsy about the copyright issue.  The Jarrow Song was one of the best videos that I created, and clearly, this kind of treatment is just not on.

I’ve stated before that copyright controls are necessary, and it is right and proper that artists (not meeja suits) receive credit and remuneration for their work.  That is why I’m one of the handful of people who actually purchase my music from legitimate sites such as (don’t ever try to use the useless American version) instead of following all the teenies onto the free illegal sites.  Although if the free sites offered anything other than music to inject drugs by, I might be tempted.

Once I’ve got the music, I feel quite justified in using it on Grumpy Git Productions films as these videos are for pleasure; I am not attempting to profit from them, always credit the artists and composer and feel that the videos actually publicise the music in a positive way.  You’ve seen the film – now buy the soundtrack .

Sony has just such an agreement, to everyone’s advantage.  If you upload any of their tracks, they simply place a discreet advert on the start of the video that permits the viewer to purchase the track through itunes.  What a simple and brilliant idea!  Everybody benefits, and nobody’s enjoyment is spoilt.  So why do Sony and Warners take such a different stance?  Simple.  Sony is Japanese, Warners are American.  The Japs are inventive and intelligent, whereas Americans are best summed up by an incident covered in a Top Gear programme.  Whilst attempting to film a sequence on location in America and being forbidden from doing so, a policeman told Jeremy Clarkson that "you don’t need commonsense when you’ve got rules."  This sums the mentality of the alleged Land of the Free perfectly.  In the great US of A, you can’t upload a video, but you can buy very large guns and shoot people.  Glad that they’ve got that the right way round.

I once had the misfortune to fly into Miami (long before 9/11) and was treated like a terrorist even then, in an environment that was clearly a rehearsal location for Guantanamo Bay Holiday Camp, simply because I hadn’t ticked one of the boxes on their incredibly ambiguous immigration form in the correct shade of aquamarine.  I wasn’t informed what was wrong on the form, or how to correct it – just an imbecile with a big gun shouting, “Suh, this form is incorrect.  Do not proceed.  Return and re-submit a correct form.”  I wanted to tell him to bugger off and get a life, but his buddy had a fresh pair of Marigolds hanging off his Smith & Wesson, so I quietly capitulated.  I swore then that I’d never return to America, and never will, unless I get extradited for hacking into the Pentagon’s airtight secure website when all I was trying to do was get into the Penthouse site – and that’s Hobson’s choice when you’re trying to explain it to ‘er indoors after the arrest.  I’ve travelled behind the former Iron Curtain to Belarus and the Ukraine, and received far more respect from customs and immigration in those feared Soviet bastions than I ever had from the Land of The Cheese.  America gave us the litigious society, and the litigious society gave us Health & Safety.  Think about it.

Anyway, back to filmmaking.  The Jarrow Song is a British tune, about a British event in a British town that no American has ever heard of; composed by a British composer (Alan Price) – so there was no way I was going to let any descendent of Dubya tell me I couldn’t use it.  The Jarrow Marchers didn’t roll over and give in, so in the spirit of the original participants it was time for good old British inventiveness.  Off I went into the nether regions of cyberspace to find a live concert recording of Alan Price performing the Jarrow Song at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester (England).

Not surprisingly, the live version differs considerably from the studio recording, so it wasn’t going to be a case of simply swapping over the tracks.  Although both versions work out to be about the same running length, the timing is different, and the instrumental break in the middle is much shorter in the live edition.  Conversely, the instrumental end to fade is a lot longer on the live performance, and has a bigger finish.  I started tweaking the film, but soon found out after the first couple of scenes that it would be easier to start from scratch.  So here is the all-British version of Alan Price performing the Jarrow Song at The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester (England), featuring a new video by Grumpy Git Productions (UK Ltd plc) to provide a visual perspective of Tyneside, then and now.

Incidentally, the original Jarrow video may still be seen on my Vzaar page, as they’re not as scared of corporate suits in the way that YouTube are (on a very selective basis).  I trust that viewers find this new film entertaining.  Happy viewing!

Even My Mam's Got Talent!

My holidaying friends, and their fridge, are all now back from vacation mode. Consequently I was round at their house on Saturday, watching the astonishing Poland’s Got Talent (or MAM Talent to use the Polish TV Channel’s name; hence the truly horrendous title to this piece of rambling dribble) - beamed in via Polsat on a satellite dish that looks suspiciously like something that should be residing at Gatwick Airport. Unfortunately, it’s getting close to the final so the truly bizarre acts have long gone, but even so, there was still enough entertainment to pass a couple of hours.

We were offered a pudgy child performing a death rock anthem – imagine Bonnie Langford in her Just William days doing Ozzy’s Paranoid and you’re on the right lines. Two blokes did a strange take on a mime act with sound effects, and another man had managed to graft computerised drums into his shoes, so that he could play percussion by jumping up and down a lot. Er – ok. Then there was a sort of circus trapeze outfit disguised as a Tarzan, Jane and gorillas act that was followed by an inevitable acrobatic rap dance troupe that jumped up and down a lot to a noise that sounded like a plane crashing into my kitchen cupboards. Then we had a young female singer called Anna Teliczn who sang a ballad in perfect English – very nice – and ended with a boy who wants to be a girl, or a girl who wants to be a boy, or maybe a boy who is halfway to becoming a girl. With a name like Madox, the jury is still out, and either way, his / her social worker has their hands full. I thought Madox was a relaxing bubblebath, but I could be wrong. He / she / it sang Stop Before You Break My Heart – too late, the damage was done.

There are three judges – Malgosia is an actress who would be our Amanda Holden; Kuba is our Simon Cowell but looks like a very young Chris Evans so rather loses the edge, and then we have Agnieszka, a middle aged rock chic – sort of Bonnie Tyler or Suzi Audi Quattro. She must be our equivalent of Dannii Minogue / the good looking Geordie from Girls Are Loud or whoever the hell we have – I get confused. Keeping everything ticking over is Ant and Dekski who compere the show. So it’s not as if the producers have copied Britain’s Got Talent, no way.

The judges panned young Anna, presumably because she is young, pretty and could sing. They gave Madox glowing praise and the promise of a great Susan Boyle future. People power won through, though – the public voted Anna through to the final, and the judges then had to choose between Madox and the Mime Nutters. Strangely, after all the hype, they chose the Mr Beanski act, leaving Madox even more confused than he / she / it already is – so Madox left without a place in the final, but with a nice bag of toiletries. For him. Or her. Whatever.

As I like to be open minded and let people chose for themselves, here are the main performers, brought to you by courtesy of the MAM Talent website.

This is Anna singing a song I recognise, but can't remember the name.  Sorry for my less than in-depth research here:

This mime act can't be described, so you'll just have to watch it, -unless you've got something more urgent to do, like ironing your shoelaces.  I'll understand, really.

And here we have Far From the Madoxing Crowd - this must be the Georgina / George that Enid Blyton wrote about all those years ago on Kirren Island.

If you’re still with me, and I don’t blame you if stopped reading this before I broke your heart some time ago, then I’ve already invited myself up to watch the final, so watch this space for more exciting details.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A Fridge Too far

This week I have the pleasure of looking after a friend’s house while they are on holiday. It’s the usual sort of thing; picking up the junk mail, forgetting to water the plants until the last day and then flooding them, putting the appropriate coloured bin out on the appropriate day at the appointed hour and then returning in the evening to replace the unemptied bin back in the garden, because the rules about putting bins out at certain times apply only to householders, and not to the council binmen. Oops, sorry – that’s incorrect. Recycling and environmentally aware personnel, employed by a private company operating on behalf of the Council at the lowest possible price. The reason the tender was so cheap was that the private company figured it could save loads of money by not sending any bin lorries out at all, thus saving fuel and staffing costs – well, it makes sense in a twisted 21st Century accountant’s view, which is the only view that matters to Councils these days.

But I’ve digressed. Yesterday I had a text reminding me to water the plants – as if I’d forget! There was also a curious add-on of ‘Please put the fridge on vacation mode.’ Do what? Just what in hell was that supposed to mean? Do I give it a sombrero and mix a vodka martini (chilled, of course) then play Macarena while it breakdances round the kitchen like R2D2 on Ecstasy to put it into the holiday groove? I’m confused.

"Happy days are here again ..."

So after work I called around to the house and checked the fridge out. Now to me, a fridge is a big white box in the kitchen that keeps beer chilled until such time as I would like to consume it. That’s it.

A proper fridge. Deal with it.

It would appear that I’m missing something, because the fridge at my friends’ house looks like something out of a James Bond film. Apart from the fact that it’s so tall it only just fits into the kitchen, it has an operating console with lots of buttons and coloured lights. How’s this for a quick rundown of its features:

Electronic temperature control
Twin compressors
Water dispenser
High temperature warning system
Salad crisper (what the f… never mind)
Fast chill facility
Vacation mode
Built in anti bacterial protection
Cruise control
Four USB ports
DVD writer …

… and so on. Okay, I got a bit carried away towards the end, but this beast is apparently no ordinary fridge according to the (strategically placed) operating manual that had been not so subtly left out on the worktop adjacent to it.

On the drive home I began thinking – how much of the blurb written by Hotpoint to entice the buyer into choosing this model is true, and how much is essentially total bollocks designed simply to part gullible shoppers from their cash? Here is my interpretation of the so-called features on this model:

Electronic temperature control – A dial with numbers on it. Set it once and leave it forever. Gimmick.
Twin compressors – If you need two, then obviously, they’re not big enough. So put one proper one in. Job done. Gimmick.
Water dispenser – In my experience, all fridges are located within three strides of the kitchen sink, conveniently equipped with water dispensers of their own, called taps. Gimmick.
High temperature warning system. What does this do? Yell upstairs, ‘Oi, I’m boiling down here, turn it down a bit!’
Salad crisper – will someone please tell me what the hell a salad crisper is? On the other hand, I’d rather die in ignorance. Gimmick.
Fast chill facility. Yes, this is called the DOOR. Close it, and the fridge chills down quickly. I mean, you don’t need Einstein for that, now do you?
Vacation mode. This is also the DOOR. If you go on holiday, shut the door and leave all the cold air inside. How hard can it be?
Built in anti bacterial protection. See electronic temperature control. Cold kills bugs – end of.
Airbags, Cruise control, Four USB ports, DVD writer … Okay, okay, I made this up. But the day is not far off when these will become standard. And people will buy them on the strength of this, and not because it can keep your milk chilled.

So what does all this prove – well, to my mind, it means that Hotpoint, and the rest of that crowd, have discovered that by sexing up the traditional fridge into a Chilled Food Environment Facilitator, they can double the price without the inconvenience of doing anything more strenuous than sticking a fancy mission-control ‘console’ onto it, along with some pretty lights and a 600 page manual written by a Civil Servant. And people rush to part with their £399 so that they can then have sleepless nights in Tenerife, worrying that the fridge hasn’t been told and isn’t performing Agadoo in a conga with the tumbledryer and dishwasher.

Is it me? Or do I just need to chill?

Ah, now it all makes sense.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Lights - Camera - Instruction Book

After a month of reading reviews, articles and guides, I finally came to a decision regarding my new camera – a birthday present from back in October, but I didn’t want to just rush out and get one without some research beforehand. For the last couple of years, I’ve been using this Samsung model:

It’s a great little camera, and despite it’s rather insignificant appearance, has produced some fantastic shots, not to mention everything in the Grumpy Git Productions film library. I purchased it initially upon the recommendation of a friend, as I needed a decent, but budget priced camera that I could slip into a pocket and easily take abroad – and small enough to get through Ryanair’s somewhat restrictive baggage allowance of a credit card (to spend on Ryanair add-ons) and a pair of Y-fronts. For a pocket camera priced at £60 or so, it was a great purchase, and really came into its own on holidays in Belarus and Ukraine – not to mention its achievements in the movie world. In Belarus, for example, I was even able to take night-time shots without a tripod, simply by leaning on a lamp post at the corner of a street until a certain little policeman moved me on:

The camera has few drawbacks for what it is, the main one being that the zoom isn’t brilliant and often struggles to focus regardless of lighting, which can be annoying. The second more serious problem came about during a shoot on the Nene Valley Railway, when both the camera and I were enveloped in a thick cloud of steam and ash as the locomotive City of Peterborough came off shed – a fantastic piece of film that was used in the film 1968, but one which had a detrimental effect on the Samsung.

I ended up looking a like chimney sweep on overtime, but at least I could wash it all out later. L’Oreal just doesn’t have the same effect on a camera, regardless of how much you think it’s worth it. I suspect particles of ash made their way inside the lens, as I’ve noticed marks on several films made since then, and also the protective sliding door that protects the lens when not in use frequently jams and has to be jiggled about with a small plasticard tool I’ve made (so as not to scratch the lens) when out filming. This jiggling about has cost me some great shots, so I decided that perhaps a replacement should be purchased.

The new model goes beyond point and shoot, as all this filming has awakened an interest in photography, so I hope to learn some new skills. It’s a Fujifilm S1500, which is still a digital compact, but with some traditional camera looking bits making it look more like a camera of yore (I’m a bit of a dinosaur). There are loads of things that it will do, as the 133-page manual implies, but the main attraction was the 12x optical zoom that will add a new dimension to composing pictures. I also like the fact that it takes four AA size batteries, rather than a flat lithium – easy to get spares, and the battery life of the lithiums doesn’t seem up to much in many reviews I’ve read lately. I like knowing that if I need batteries in a hurry, I can simply get them at Asda if it comes to it – and they’re a lot cheaper as well.

Naturally, as soon as I got home from Argos, I assembled everything and without bothering to print off the instruction book (I detest having complicated books like this in pdf format – a camera manual needs to accompany the camera, especially in the early learning days. I can hardly take the PC with me on a photoshoot, now can I?) I duly set off around nearby Dysart Park to play with it. And the results are in:

Back at home, I did all the usual experiments – I am mightily impressed with the macro function, as shown in this handheld shot a few centimetres from the subject:

It also does continuous shooting – unfortunately in Grantham, thanks to some ludicrous traffic calming projects (traffic lights every 50 yards) nothing actually moves fast enough to justify continuous shooting, so I tried shooting a film that was playing on the computer!

I haven’t tried the movie mode yet, other than a quick pan round the garden, which isn’t very interesting.

And what of the Samsung? Well, there’s always a use for a pocket sized point-and-shoot camera, even if it is now a point-and-fiddle-and-swear-and-jiggle-and-shoot camera, so I’m keeping it ready for active service. In the meantime, I’ve printed off my 133 page manual, which I really should familiarise myself with before going off on a photoshoot. But that’s not how blokes do things, now is it?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

I Can Sing A Rainbow

I had a choice of two nice day trips today, as my boss was feeling generous (nothing to do with me sponsoring his son in a fun-run this weekend). I could do Scarborough and pop in to York on the return trip, or do Scunthorpe. Hmmm. That was an easy decision – the seaside won hands down. As this was work, I eschewed the usual popular tourist haunts in favour of collecting some second hand cars to bring back to base. The weather was extraordinarily bright almost all day, until a very heavy downpour just south of Markham Moor. This ended as quickly as it began, leaving behind a crisply defined rainbow that seemed to start right alongside the A1.

It’s not often you get the chance to photograph a rainbow close up, or one so clearly defined, so I dodged into the next available layby (I’m very good at that) and managed to get two shots on the spare camera that I carry in my work bag. Even as I was taking the pictures, the rainbow began to dissolve in front of my eyes and vanished moments later. As I was now in the layby I did the decent thing and grabbed a coffee with some Custard Creams while I read a couple of chapters of my new Jeremy Clarkson book. There’s only so much stress I can take in a single day.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Mirror - Signal - Panic!

It’s not often that I find myself at the wheel of a truck on a Saturday, as the company I work for has a very enlightened policy towards weekend working – the gates shut on Friday night and re-open Monday morning (except when a fly lands on the perimeter fence and sets off the whole alarm system, but I live too far away for that to concern me).

Today, however, was different – I was taking my HGV Class 1 driving test in Nottingham, using a drag-and-drawbar Scania D94. I actually took the test back on Monday, but nerves kicked in, and I drove so badly that I fitted in with everyone else in Nottingham perfectly. That, apparently, is not what they’re looking for. Things began reasonably with a passable if not perfect reverse manoeuvre, followed by a good brake test (formerly known as the emergency stop) that I wouldn’t dare attempt in the Iveco - I usually regard this procedure as 'the optional stop' in everyday life. Then out into Nottingham, where my normally competent driving skills deserted me, and without going into too much detail because it’s plain embarrassing, I proceeded to fail the test. Oh well, learn from it and move on.

So, back again today for another go. The reverse was absolutely textbook and the braking exercise spot on. Out once again into Nottingham; this time I was driving well and knew it; consequently I relaxed and that helps a great deal when approaching a tricky manoeuvre as your brain starts to think and plan, instead of shutting down and turning into blancmange. As a result, I threaded my way through the obstacles that Councils insist on dumping onto all urban roads, and had plenty of time to react to oncoming traffic. Back to the yard, and the uncouple / re-couple manoeuvre. I’ve never had an issue with this before, even on my last test I was offered the opportunity to try it despite having already failed – naturally I took it, as it’s all good practise. Today the uncoupling went fine, but when I recoupled, I didn’t hit the trailer hard enough to lock the pin in. No problem, a second attempt is permitted. But, although I re-did all my checks, I forgot the most important one – don’t forget to re-set the locking pin! So just as I prepared to reverse back down again, the examiner had to call a halt - otherwise a lot of damage would be caused to the drawbar, and probably my head when my instructor found out what I'd done to his truck.

Well, I felt like a right proper Charlie, now that I’ve had time to think up some suitable words for publication. It just goes to show how the silliest little thing, right at the end of the test, can bring you crashing down. So what’s that they say about the third time …? Watch this space.

The lads at work reckon I need a bit more practise, and have sourced me a training vehicle for next week:

First one to the Truckstop buys breakfast!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Back on the Road

This past week has been rather hectic at work, hence the lack of writing. However, two vehicles close to my heart, and in one case wallet, have been returned to service. Firstly my car, which went down with a failed gearbox. A quick quote from a garage confirmed that it might be possible, but would cost much the same as launching a space shuttle mission, but not as much as putting a wheelie bin out on a Thursday at 06:59 hours. Time to take matters into my own hands. I put the bin out at 07:01, and went online. After looking around for a bit, I didn’t find a gearbox but did come across Series 4 of Secret Army on DVD that I’ve been after for a while. So I narrowed down the search criteria slightly, and after a couple of camera reviews found what I was looking for – a useful ‘search for strange bits of cars’ facility, that scours the lists of breaker’s yards and car bits specialists to give some quotes. To avoid any misunderstandings, you type in the registration number of your car, and this allows an exact search for your particular model so that any ordered parts have a reasonable chance of actually fitting your vehicle. This is essential, as car manufacturers deem it necessary to ensure that everytime a new model is introduced, every single component on it will be entirely unique. With new models introduced every other week or so, getting spares can be a tad tricky. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that all these manufacturers that spout their green credentials would prefer you to discard a perfectly good vehicle and buy a new one! But that would be hypocritical, and they wouldn’t do that, now would they?

Anyway, I got a gearbox after some searching around, and using the Old Boys network at work, got it fitted along with a new clutch at the same time. The car is now back on the road, but as MOT time is looming, I’m certain that it will be gracing these pages again shortly.

"In your own time, dear."
It's at moments like this that I'm a proud supporter of equality.

The second vehicle to be brought back to life is my Iveco car transporter. Having smoked itself half to death a few weeks ago, it went up to Doncaster for some open gasket surgery. The mechanics found a litany of faults with it, all of which had been blamed on my imagination by our regular so called mechanic. It now has new pistons, new injectors, air pipes and received new filters for the first time in three years – and this lorry is used for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week – so no wonder it was under performing.

"Oh it's you again; always moaning about something. I've told you before, a puff of smoke is nothing to worry about. It's all in your head, go away and let me count my money in peace."

Today was it’s first outing with a load to Peterborough. The changes are mind blowing; no more red-lining to get up hills, simply drop one or two cogs and it was running smoothly and purposefully ahead. On the return run, when empty, it even overtook one of our Actros artics, which didn’t manage to catch up for the remainder of the trip. Just goes to show the difference that a real mechanic can make – so no, I didn’t get him to do the work on my car!

Friday, 9 October 2009

More Motoring Musings

Following on from yesterday’s car trouble, all has not been so well on the lorry front at work either. While I was away for my recent week off work, the not-so-trusty Iveco Cargo was sent off to a specialist to see why it has become more and more sluggish in recent months and chucks out more smoke than a steam locomotive. Our nominated service provider, who put a new (allegedly) engine in it back in March has always claimed that there is nothing wrong with it. Hmmm. None of our drivers agree with that – crawling up to the Little House on the Prairie on the M62 at 22mph with the temperature dial off the gauge and red warning lights appearing on the dash does not indicate that everything is tickety-boo to me, although I’m no mechanic.

So, as I went off on holiday, the Iveco went off to see a real mechanic, who, two weeks later, is still at the head shaking stage and probably on valium as well. The engine needs a complete rebuild and God-knows-what else. So for the moment, the truck is parked up in a yard doing nothing, a task for which it is admirably suited.

The benefit for me is that I’ve been out all week in the Atego 1823, which is a great vehicle to spend your day in. With features such as electric windows, cruise control with various useful settings and even a functioning exhaust brake, I’m in danger of getting accustomed to a life of luxury. It handles beautifully, more like driving a van than a truck – and with 230 bhp, power when you need it – when empty, it rockets all the way up to limiter setting of 54. As this is the week for mechanical contrivances to let me down, however, even the Atego managed to cock up. I flashed a truck that was overtaking me to allow it to pull in. And the headlights jammed on full beam. Fantastic. Luckily it was broad daylight so I wasn’t in any immediate danger of dazzling anyone, and only half an hour away from base. Nevertheless, it rather draws attention to yourself (and VOSA) so I’d sooner it didn’t happen. We’ve had this issue before; two of the Actros units developed this problem and on my old Volvo FL6 when the indicator stalk was pulled to signal left or right, the headlights would flash instead due to a short circuit! That was an interesting trip I can tell you.

The answer was to disconnect the relay until a new stalk was purchased; normally a fairly quick layby job although, of course, all my tools are tucked up having a decent kip in the Iveco! So back to base with the headlights on full beam all the way and everyone thinking I was an Audi A8 driver who’d got out of the wrong side of the drive.

Highlight of the week was the chance to drive a Scania D94. What a lovely piece of kit. I want one, and I want one now. The gears took a bit of getting used to – mind you, after the saga with my car, actually having gears was a novelty. The Scania is an eight speed four-over-four arrangement; whereas all my previous trucks have been straight six (or the Iveco a straight nine, which is more of a hindrance than a help). The gearstick is lightly sprung, and changing up or down is more like a car than a lorry. Mastering the four-over-four is interesting, and inevitably I ended up in the wrong gear at crucial moments like roundabouts, but once you’re au-fait with the arrangement it really does work well. I could get used to this vehicle, but unfortunately I had to hand it back. How cruel is that? I felt like Elton John at a Ukrainian orphange. Go on, give me a Scania and I'll look after it as if it were my own. If you don't, I'll start singing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road while going down the A1.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Motoring Mayhem

This has not been a good year for my car, as regular readers will know. Today, however, in a bid to draw further attention to itself, behaviour went beyond the pale. Even as I left Grantham for work this morning, there were some ominous whirring and scraping noises coming from the front end. I usually fix this by turning up the radio, but today that wasn’t happening. I also noticed that gear changes through Grantham’s stop-start traffic (mostly stop-stop thanks to Grantham Council’s inept highways policies) were stiff and clunky. Out on the A1 things improved, until I turned off and headed for Winthorpe. The car kept jumping out of gear, and it wasn’t a case of putting it back into gear – bang the stick around until it went somewhere; anywhere!

I lurched onto Winthorpe roundabout with the grace and elegance of a tortoise that had trodden in Superglue and now had hiccups. Fortunately all the other commuters waiting to enter the roundabout sat back in a calm and patient manner, whilst sympathising with my predicament by tooting horns, sticking up two fingers and shouting obscene messages out of their windows. As I was crawling round at the speed it takes Gordon Brown to make a decision, I was able to thank them all individually for their kindness and tolerance - whilst reminding them that I’d be coming the other way in around half an hour with an 18 ton truck that wasn’t mine…..

The car – I won’t name and shame it as being a 51-plate Toyota Avensis – dragged itself off the roundabout, and I finally found something that resembled a gear and got moving a bit. Hang a right into work – is anybody going to give way and flash me in? Of course not. Great. Stop car; wait for gap. Gap appears, crunch through where the gears used to be – aha! Forward motion. Oh. Not quite. With a shuddering grind, the car stopped on the opposing carriageway. Oh dear. Merc 350 SEL coming the other way doesn’t see me, because it’s broad daylight, I’d put my lights on as a warning and the car is bright red. Surprise, he’s on his mobile phone, of course. It’s a bit of blur, but he found time to drop the phone, hit the horn and flash his headlights before it finally occurred to him to take evasive action and go sliding past me in a move worthy of Top Gear – Rich Prick in an Over Priced Car. Why waste time with all that tooting and flashing? Isn’t it painfully obvious, even to a Merc driver, that I haven’t straddled the wrong lane of a busy road so that I can have a spot of breakfast? Did he think I’d parked up to do the crossword? Idiot.

Using the Gordon Ramsey school of driving techniques, I swore, cursed and banged the gear lever through every conceivable position, finally ending up with something where 5th used to be. Like a kangeroo that’s spent the previous night on gin and paintstripper, I got the car off the road and into work, where it was pronounced dead at the scene.

Once stopped, the gearbox froze completely, and it’s game over. Whether or not it can be fixed for anything less than a banker’s bonus is debateable. It won’t be quick either; as always, I need a special part that has lots of numbers and initials after the name and is in short supply. These VVTI Toyotas are apparently well known for this problem (why are problems always well known after they’ve happened to you?) and so replacements are scarce and incur a premium price tag. Oh, goody. I can hardly wait. It might end up being more cost-effective to scrap and replace it; fortunately I work in a place where purchasing another vehicle shouldn’t present too many problems!

At least I still have wheels; the company keeps an old runabout or two for trips to the shops and emergencies, and the boss has let me borrow the old M-reg Subaru Impreza for the time being, which is a huge relief.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Had a Bad Day at Work?

Here's something to help you out for when you're having one of those 'I Hate My Job day.'

Try this out:

On your way home from work, stop at your pharmacy and go to the thermometer section and purchase a rectal thermometer made by Johnson & Johnson

Be very sure you get this brand. When you get home, lock your doors, draw the curtains and disconnect the phone so you will not be disturbed.

Change into very comfortable clothing and sit in your favourite chair. Open the package and remove the thermometer. Now, carefully place it on a table or a surface so that it will not become chipped or broken.

Now the fun part begins.

Take out the literature from the box and read it carefully. You will notice that in small print there is a statement:

'Every Rectal Thermometer made by Johnson & Johnson is personally tested and then sanitized. '

Now, close your eyes and repeat out loud five times, "I am so glad I do not work in the thermometer quality control department at Johnson & Johnson."

So, remember - there is always somebody else with a job that's more of a pain in the arse than yours!

I wondered about how to tastefully illustrate a pain in the arse without getting overly graphic...

Have a nice day!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

A Bridge Too Far

When I’ve been making films in the past, I’ve always had a vision about how the story would work, and accordingly I set out with a clear idea as to the sort of scenes I need to capture. With this war film, things were very different. I had no idea as to what to expect, or what would work … or not. I simply went to the Nene Valley to enjoy the day, and film as many activities as possible, then sort the footage out later on. So what did I end up with?

Well, the day itself was great with plenty to see and do. The battle re-enactments were superb to watch and a great visual spectacle. But, of course, what the eye sees and the camera sees are two very different things indeed. The eye takes in the costumes, the posters, signage and vehicles - and in the battle scenes, the fast moving action during combat. The camera, however, goes beyond that – and finds a man in a tracksuit pushing a baby buggy past a group of soldiers, diesel locomotives at one end of the yard during the battle and a crowd of spectators at the other end!

The footage was sorted out, and the worst clips were discarded. This left me with quite a bit of material to work with, but no real idea as to how to create some sort of story. However, the one theme running throughout the day was the railway, so eventually I came up with a short four-part storyboard:

Introduction – a clip from a Winston Churchill speech, followed by opening scene setting with various clips depicting the atmosphere of the 1940’s at home. Quite upbeat, using the well-known Dad’s Army theme to set the tone.

Off to War – Rousing marching music from A Bridge Too Far accompanies the idea of the soldiers leaving home as the train arrives to take them off to battle.

The Battles – The sombre theme from Where Eagles Dare was used for the fighting scenes, overlaid onto the original audio sequence of the battles. Very little Wansford Yard footage was suitable for use here, but there are some nice close ups of the action. The fight on the bridge is more effective; this was filmed as a long continuous segment some 20 minutes long and I used the opening sequences of the train arriving and the attack.

Conclusion – The film is rounded off with Fiona Harrison performing an ENSA concert, while troops and civilians mingle on the station prior to the final cut of the train steaming away. The song needs no introduction, and Vera Lynn sings it here. I’d have liked to use the audio track from the day as performed by Fiona Harrison, but the quality of the audio was poor due to all the background noise being included. I don’t mind bombs, bullets and hissing boilers, but mobile phones just don’t cut it.

From a technical point of view, this film doesn’t match Big River or The Jarrow Song. I was filming from a fly-on-the-wall perspective, and shooting scenes as they happened. If things went wrong, no chance of a several re-takes to get it right. I edited in black and white, partly for atmosphere and partly to hide some 21st Century distractions that couldn’t be edited out! However, it’s a nice memory of an interesting day, and if any of the participants view it, I hope they feel that they have been done justice. The film certainly shows the effort put into the costumes and props by those who attended, and who helped, albeit unknowingly for the most part, create this project.

Here are some of the more quaint outtakes from the day:

This image might not actually be incorrect – there’s every chance that a letter
posted in 1943 was delivered in 2003 by the Royal Mail TPO set in the background.

Fiona Harrison performing ‘There’ll Always be a Deltic in England’.

Dancing the Large Logo Lindy Hop in ’37. Did you see what I did there? This was a great bit of spontaneous dancing, and no matter where I filmed from, something went wrong. In the end, I used the best bit of footage I had, but the 37 still crept in.

Battle of Wansford, German end. The assembled crowd
rather detract from the overall effect of a fierce gun battle.

My favourite outtake: Aside from the parked up diesel locos, the highlight
is the happy smiling brakevan watching proceedings – I swear it winked at me.

More information about the 39-45 Living History Society and Fiona Harrison may be gleaned from their respective websites.

Some nicely filmed footage of the Battle of Wansford Yard may be seen here, which has some excellent close-ups from the combat scenes.

The Battle of The Bridge may also be seen from a different perspective here, as this good quality film was shot from the signalbox. It is interesting to watch this piece, as the whole story can now be seen from both sides. If you look closely at (1 min 07 ) on this film, you can see Grumpy Git in person! I’m to the right of the bridge, in the field next to the trees – always a good place to be when bullets start flying.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

C'mon, Follow The Geordie Boys!

Grumpy Git Productions presents The Jarrow Crusade. First things first - a short history lesson is required as background to the song. So pay attention, as there will be a short test afterwards.

This is but a brief synopsis to explain the lyrics of the song and various elements placed into the film, but it is well worth reading about in more detail elsewhere.Jarrow is located on the River Tyne, six miles east of Newcastle. At one point it was one of the main parts of the U.K for shipbuilding, and with the likes of Palmers and the mercantile docks, there was plenty of work to go around.

After many years of prosperity, work in the town started to decline, and by 1936 three out of every four men were unemployed, with the consequent social effects on their families and the communities. The town had the second highest infant mortality rate in the country. The town folk eventually decided that enough was enough, so on the morning of 13th October 1936, two hundred men set off from the town hall on a march to London to deliver a petition in protest of the situation. They were led by the then M.P of Jarrow, Miss Ellen Wilkinson. That certainly wouldn’t happen now ....

In 1936 the benefit rules were very different from the handout culture of today. Should a man be unavailable for work the Government stopped any benefits to the family - so when the men went off on the march, the women left behind had nothing to feed themselves or their children with. Nonetheless, those involved felt that the sacrifice had to be made, as it was the only way to try and build hope for the future. During the march, if word of a job reached one of the marchers he would have to leave the march and go to wherever the job was. The marchers covered 280 miles in 22 stages on their way to London.

A life-sized bronze statue to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the march was unveiled in 2001. It shows two marchers, two children, a woman carrying a baby and a dog, which was the mascot. They are all walking out of the ribs of a ship, carrying a banner. Local residents named the statue The Spirit of Jarrow, and unlike most modern sculptures commissioned these days, it is a dignified and fitting tribute to the Crusade.

So here I present Alan Price performing The Jarrow Song, with new film footage created by GG Productions. Enjoy!

Creating The Film

In my previous post, I mentioned how the idea of a follow up to Big River came about. I wanted to produce a video that revolved around a similar idea of past and present in the North East, but it would need to be presented in a different way so as to not to appear to be just a copy. The Jarrow Song was ideal to work with – whereas in Big River the melody picks you up and rolls along at a steady pace, Jarrow has more changes of gear than Stig on the Top Gear track. It was an interesting concept, and I set to work.

Musical Arrangement

The song is quite complex and features a number of different sections. The introduction and first two verses are traditional brass band marching style, known technically in music circles as oompah-oompah. This set the tone for the narrative about the cry for men to join the march, and the support from their wives and families.

After the second chorus the song changes dramatically, as the tempo increases to a rock beat (known as twangin’) and the lyrics compare the past with the present:

Well I can hear them,
an' I can feel them

An' it's as just as if they were here today
I can see them
I can feel them

An' I'm thinking nothing's changed much today
Not all came here to stay their way and die
But they would come and hit you in the eye

Now's the time to realize that time goes on
Nothin' changes, changes, changes

There then follows a long instrumental section led by violins, which is played fast and light – from the diddly-diddly-dee school of music. The diddly-diddly-dee then fades into some more oompah-oompah for the last verse and chorus, before another passage of instrumental diddly-diddly-dee that morphs into some final rock twangin’ and the final fade. I hope you don’t feel overwhelmed by all technical musical jargon used here.

Into The Editing Suite

The changes of pace and tempo provided plenty of opportunities to try out different effects to complement the track and emphasise the overall atmosphere of the song. I began with a lovely scene from Beamish created with the help of the friendly tram conductor. In the background you can hear a little girl saying ‘Bye!’ as the conductor rings the bell and the tram departs – a nice touch. The first verse is made up of scene setting images from the 1930’s; watch the little girl in the park scene as she falls over and picks herself up – delightful mannerisms! This park scene was used in Big River, although it was cut down for timing and aged. It is such a pleasant scene that I broke my rule about using footage twice and placed it here where it shows up more clearly and for a longer period – there’s plenty to view here.

In the second verse I used the industries of the day – coalmines, shipyards, engines and railways – to illustrate the traditional, but declining, employment of the time. Each time the chorus begins – ‘C’mon, follow the Geordie boys…’ I used the Jarrow statue as it defines the spirit of the march.

As the song moves from the past to the present, the tempo increases and I needed a changeover point that would be visually effective to clearly show the changes between then and now. A coalmine represented the past, whilst the striking university with it’s imposing height and sharp edges points the way forward into the future. Well, it does if you can afford the tuition fees.

The song is now moving rapidly through the twangin’ section, and the lyrics are all about the changes on Tyneside. This was the place to get creative, as I needed constantly moving film to keep up with the beat. When you’re filming inanimate objects, such as buildings or politicians, creating movement can be tricky. For that reason I went for big, imposing structures that define the area and shot them at dramatic angles, before cutting them into short clips so that there would be no lingering looks at anything. Even then I wasn’t happy with the section, because it lacked sufficient impact and movement. The answer came with pop video transitional effects between the clips – these really emphasise the directional changes and add enough motion to give the whole piece a feeling of momentum. It also leaves you feeling giddy and seasick, but you must suffer for my art.

During the planning of the video, I had an idea of roughly what sort of footage I was after for most sections. But the violins’ diddly-diddly-dee bit had me stumped. I just couldn’t picture any scenes that would work, especially as they needed to be present day. Fortunately, the boat cruise up the Tyne solved that problem, as I was able to use the footage from Newcastle Quays and the return trip under the Millennium Bridge to create a nice effect and a smooth transition back to the past and oompah-oompah time.

The final verse was shot at Beamish and Ryhope, before the difficult task of working out an ending. I’d hit on the idea of the Metro belting over the bridge and into the tunnel as a perfect end to this scene, hence my obsession with bagging that front seat for filming! Most attempts at this didn’t work – either the window was too dirty and the sun reflected off it, or the train was lurching around so much that I filmed the ceiling, the floor and teenagers texting the teenager sitting next to them. It was frustrating, but eventually I managed it, purely by luck. The views from the side of the train had been filmed back in August, so they could be joined up to create one journey.

This still left me with a missing link – joining the last chorus to the diddly-diddly-dee and twangin’ finale (and merging the past with the present). I decided to extend the Metro section backwards, and shoot a train leaving Jarrow station. A steam train would provide the link between transport around Tyneside, then and now. This was stock footage from my Nene Valley library that now has quite a bit of useful historical footage available!

Overall, this has turned out well – better than expected, to be honest. The last trip to the North East provided some absolute gems of material, and I feel that this is sufficiently different to Big River to release as a film in its own right. Just a pity that I couldn’t work the Byker Wall into the final edit … but hang on, what’s that on the horizon …?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Cruising Back in Tyne

After the nostalgia of Saturday’s 1940’s event, I was heading back to the present day on Sunday for another day of location shooting – but with a very different subject matter. It all began during the editing of Big River, when I realised that quite a lot of rather nice bits of film were ending up on the cutting room floor, as it were. I toyed with the idea of a follow up to Big River, but I’m aware that sequels usually disappoint as anyone who has seen Rocky XVIII (Why Did I Come Up Into The Ring?) can testify. So, if another film were to be made with the same subject matter, then it would need to be approached in a different style. Then there was the small matter of some suitable music. As is so often the case, the answer came quite by chance when I heard the Alan Price Jarrow Song on the radio. Ah ha, the eureka moment! I got a copy and made a CD, which was then played endlessly in the car while I worked on various story outlines.

With ideas in place, I decided to use previously unused museum footage for historical sections, but shoot entirely new present day scenes, as I needed some particular angles and ideas if my plan was to work. And that was why I left Grantham at 03:30 on Sunday morning, in order to be at The Angel of The North for dawn. Everything went well, and I got a fantastic sunrise on film with a beautiful fiery orange sky. I can’t say that I particularly like the Angel as a piece of art – to my eye it looks more like Biggles’ Sopwith Camel got shot down by an ASBO teenager with an air rifle, and crash landed on Gateshead, nose first. But it’s iconic, and would look great in the scene I had planned. When the film is finished, don’t bother looking for the Angel – ironically enough, the scenes were deleted! I could have had some extra hours in bed, but never mind.

As always, it was a jam-packed day, so with the Angel in the can, (there's a phrase you don't hear every day) I set off for the short trip to Sunderland in order to dump the car at my mother’s house, as I’d be using public transport all day. Tyne & Wear have an excellent transport system that has defied successive Government schemes to destroy it, although they came close with bus deregulation a while ago. I was going towards Newcastle by Metro, but I wanted to film the view from the cab going over the Tyne Bridge. Metros have an interesting design feature; the driver’s cab is only half width, which means that there is a front passenger seat giving great views of the route ahead.

The front seat is occupied as usual on an otherwise empty train.

The downside is that this seat is always the first to be occupied and the last to be relinquished, except on Friday and Saturday nights, when just pouring yourself onto the train is considered progress. The chances of getting the front seat at Sunderland were non-existent, even early doors on a Sunday morning. As this narrative features a lot of location names, this Metro map will help place the places, as it were.

Starting point is Sunderland, bottom right on the green line.

For that reason, I took the Metro going in the other direction to South Hylton, the terminus at the southern end of the line. I nabbed the rear seat, which of course became the front seat when the train started back on the trip to Newcastle. I’m not quite as daft as I look. A little insane, maybe, although I prefer to think of this as dedication. I now had the front seat all the way to Newcastle, where I got my film crossing the Tyne – although it didn’t end up getting used in the film either. Alighting at Monument in the city centre, I filmed the actual Grey’s Monument itself, and yes, I have used the footage in the film!

My next planned move was to go out to Wallsend to film some blocks of high-rise flats (long story) and on the way back, alight at Byker for more flats. I really know how to have fun on a Sunday morning. However, the Metro didn’t arrive, which was unusual, but one did turn up going in the other direction, to St James. This station is only one stop away and the terminus of the line; it serves the football ground of the same name. I’d heard that the Metro Station was done out entirely in black and white stripes, but never seen it for myself. As you can tell, I’m not what you might call fanatical about football. So I jumped on this train and travelled to St James, which really is finished in the Toon Army stripes, as you can now see:

It’s very striking (did you see what I did there - oh, never mind), and at the top of the concourse, there’s even a football pitch! Different. I suppose on match days, they use the opposing teams' supporters heads for the ball, but I’m just guessing. I went walkabout, and figured that while I was after some modern Tyneside icons, I might as well film the football ground itself. Once I started exploring the area, I found a veritable cornucopia of material to use. The new university buildings are surrounded by equally new glass and steel office structures, and a short walk away were some high rise blocks even more impressive than the ones I’d chosen at Wallsend. It got better – right next to the university grounds were large sections of the original city walls; hundreds of years of history separated by less than 100 feet. Amazing – perfect for the past-meets-present shot I was seeking. I spent a couple of hours poking around St James, and naturally, ditched Wallsend and Byker from the itinerary.

I had no idea that the old city walls still existed - what a find.

As time was still ticking, I decided to head towards South Shields, with a stop off at Jarrow. Back at St James, an empty Metro was waiting, which meant I could have the coveted front seat! It would be a crime to occupy this for one stop – and that was underground – so I decided to make the most of this opportunity and ride out to Byker after all, across the impressive viaduct that gives superb panoramic views of the Tyne at this point. Now Byker isn’t, shall we say, the most salubrious part of Newcastle. But rather than put ideas into your head, here is a picture of Byker Metro station – draw your own conclusions.

The word 'No' springs to mind.

One of the reasons I’d planned to visit Byker on this trip was to see some more iconic (but bloody awful) architecture. There is a huge council estate, built in the 1970’s, called simply ‘The Wall (or Byker Wall). It has won many urban housing awards, and officially is described as being recognisably post modern in design and is indicative of post modernism as a reaction against modernism. This is architectural bollocks for bloody great eyesore. It’s what happens when architects who drive Porsches, snort coke and live in Greenwich think would be absolutely spiffing - as long as they don’t have to actually live in them. Chuck in unlimited public finances from bribed Council Officials, and before you know it, Legoland meets Baghdad Prison. Words cannot adequately explain the visual horror that greets you as you emerge from the Metro, so I present this short gallery that speaks for itself:

Escape is impossible!

I gather from light reading that this area is not regarded as the Shangri-la that the designers promised, so I decided not to hang about. I took some photos as well as scenes for the film that, rather inevitably, didn’t make it to the finished product. Again. Although if you look carefully at one point, the triangular block gets into a river shot. Still, at least I’ve been.

Back to the Metro, and return to Monument in order to change trains for the Jarrow service. To my amazement, although quite full, the cherished front seat was empty again! Three times in one day – there’s more likelihood of finding someone in Byker who knows which contraceptives are easy to use. I therefore filmed another crossing of the Tyne (yes, you’ve guessed). Because of my deviation from the schedule, I decided to postpone Jarrow until later in the day, as I had a boat to catch. Staying on the Metro until South Shields, I alighted here and went straight to the most important place of my trip – McDonalds. Coffee, food and toilets - just what I needed. Suitably discharged and refilled, I set off for the 5-minute walk to the boat. Regular ferries take passengers over the river to North Shields, but today was special – one of the boats was doing a Tyne Cruise up to Newcastle, and I was definitely up for that. I wanted to see all the areas that were out of bounds during my Big River walkabout, as well as the opportunity to view the river from a different perspective. The cruises run every so often during the summer, and this would be the last one of the year, as the Tyne gets a bit chilly come Autumn. It can get so cold that some locals might even have to put something on top of a tee-shirt. But not often.

The boat for the trip actually featured in this scene
from Big River, a nice link between the projects.

The cruise was great; although it didn’t half get windy. Still, this sent the less hardy souls scurrying down to the warmth of the saloon, which made photography a lot easier. The boat began by cruising down to Tynemouth and the pier heads, before turning round and taking us up to Newcastle Quays, passing the sites of many famous industrial names, almost all of which have vanished. A great many new modern housing developments have replaced the shipyards, staiths and industrial giants that formerly occupied the riverbanks. I have to say that whilst modern rabbit hutches with rooms the size of your average fridge aren’t to my taste, these developments do look as if they belong, and have been designed to blend in with the location. Mind you, after visiting The Wall, a prefab hut would look attractive.

We sailed past the remnants of the once great Neptune Yard of Swan Hunter (mentioned in Big River) before the highlight of the tour – sailing into the Quays area, as the Millennium Bridge was raised to allow our passage. From my vantage point at the front of the boat, this was an incredible spectacle. The bridge is made up entirely of curves and looks impressive from any angle. This photo explains things more clearly:

I took this from the adjacent Baltic centre at Christmas, and the graceful design is evident. To allow shipping to pass, the tall vertical arch tilts forward, bringing the walkway up to a 90° angle. It made a spectacular piece of film, although sadly it was too long to include in the film itself. I didn’t want to cut it down, as that would spoil the slow and graceful movement, so I’m thinking about doing a straightforward Highlights of The Tyne Cruise film to show it to it’s full advantage. Once through the Millennium Bridge, the boat described a full circle so that everyone had a good chance to see the fabulous views on offer – and yes, that is most assuredly included in the film! Then it was back downstream to South Shields – a most enjoyable and interesting 3 hours. I saw sights that I’ve never seen before – old and new – and with so much construction work going on, the face of the river is still changing dramatically.

One of the last two cranes at Neptune Yard.

Back on dry land, I fortified myself with another McCoffee, before boarding yet another Metro for the short hop to Jarrow. I was heading for Morrisons, of all places. Not because I’d suddenly developed an interest in shopping – no way. My ‘more reasons to visit Morrisons’ was reason 159 – The Jarrow Crusade Sculpture that is right outside the main entrance. This has pros and cons; finding it was dead easy, but filming it in the middle of a retail park and trying to make it look as if it were anywhere but a retail park is problematic. This picture reveals the location:

Apparently, Morrisons paid for the sculpture, so they got first choice as to where to place it. Whilst a supermarket carpark is less than ideal, I suppose I should be grateful they didn’t stick on the deli counter. I shot some film, and you can judge for yourself how successful it is. Fortunately, because it was Sunday and well after 5pm, hardly any people were about, which made life a great deal easier.

Well, it was a wrap as they say – I had everything I needed and was pretty tired. Time to go home – except that there was nobody home as my mother was travelling back from France, and I would pick her and her friends up from the station later on. I was in no rush to return to the house as there was nothing on tele, so decided to stay on the Metro system and go all the way out to Newcastle Airport, simply because I’d never done that before. Did I mention how exciting my life was? Oh yes. I used to travel part of the route back in ’84 when I left school, as my first job was in an office at Regent Centre. The rest of the line to the Airport was virgin territory, so I settled down for the ride.

Well, that was interesting.

I got out at Airport, and realised that the rear of the train consisted of the original Metro prototype cars, which have been restored to the 1976 style Tyne & Wear PTE livery. I took some shots, but the camera couldn’t really cope with the gloom at that point.

Consequently, I nipped across the platform and jumped aboard a southbound Metro – this would take me through Newcastle and then all the way to Sunderland without a need to change, which was nice – and I discovered that for the fourth time in one day, I had the front seat. Whey hey! Also, this particular Metro had seen the washing plant within the last six months, so the window was reasonably clean – another stab at the Tyne Bridge beckoned. I’m pleased to say that not only did I get the desired footage; I even used it! So it must have been divine intervention that sent me to the Airport.

I clocked up some miles by Metro during the day, and all for a £3.90 Daysaver ticket – you can’t argue with that. Later in the evening I had to drive to Newcastle Station to collect the OAP's back from France and the apparent horrors of Eurostar. That drive made me glad that I'd chosen Metro as my preferred transport for the day - but that's another story...

The new film is the final stages of editing as I have a few days off work - watch this space.

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