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!"

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