Packing it in.

A man looks over Albay, Bicol, Philippines.

Almost one year and four months ago, I made a pledge to myself to keep this blog going for at least a year.  The primary reason for this was to see if I had any talent for writing about my exploits; whether I had a passion for writing as well as for making things for the hell of it.

As it turns out, I have never really been one for self-promotion.  I have little-to-no interest in merely talking about the things I’m doing, as it takes time away from actually doing them and getting ever better at it as a result.  If I were to become a relentless self-promoter, it would probably result in my life becoming as hollow and meaningless as the internet rage machine; two camps spitting forth a constant stream of douchebags who show up at the podium, then make a lot of noise before disappearing back into obscurity, often because the disciples have discovered they ain’t as holy as they seem.  Burn bright, then burn up, in other words.

So what does this mean in terms of my audience?  Well, it simply means that I won’t be posting regular content on a weekly basis anymore.  The last thing I want to do is run this blog into the ground trying in vain to get content up every week.  Since I’ve reverted from a 4-on 3-off night shift to the common 5-day work week I have found my time being squeezed more and more.  I never realized just how useful that extra day was, where I could go to the gym and bash out a blog post, and yet still have time for antics on the other two days.  Still, at least my body clock doesn’t see me falling asleep in broad daylight anymore.

Ongoing projects, such as the N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout, will continue to receive updates as-and-when I work on them, but once those are concluded, so will be this blog.

Will I ever return to blogging?  Never say never, but at the moment I’ll be aiming to enjoy a little more time on the weekends.  The idea I have for future online content is to create specialized blogs focusing on a specific project; if I were to build a steam bicycle, then perhaps a blog dedicated to it’s development would allow me to focus the content and marketing a lot better than a generic “geek-makes-stuph” type blog.

In the meantime, the best place to keep up with my antics would be Flickr.  Probably second place would be Twitter, but I don’t tend to be all that verbal as I have stated before.

Thank you for all your support.

Fun facts about Dogs.

A Cocker Spaniel Puppy.
  1. If a dog is attempting to lick your face, he is signalling that you rank above him in the pack.
  2. Dogs sunbathe for the same reasons humans do – to get Vitamin D – but it’s probably escaped them that a coat of fur does not a cool doggy make.
  3. If your dog is rolling around in something, it’s often because they like the smell and want to carry it with them.
  4. Dogs often take their treats to another room as they see the humans as alphas of the pack, and thus likely to steal their food.
  5. A neat way of curbing separation anxiety is to leave a piece of clothing that smells like you near them; just make sure it’s not something that you can’t do without, as was the tragic case with my mum’s reading glasses!*
  6. Dogs spinning in circles before settling down are a leftover instinct from when they would do this to flatten long grass to nest in.
  7. Dog urine contains acids which can accelerate the corrosion of metal.  In fact this was once blamed for a spate of lamppost collapses in Croatia.
  8. Dogs can dream, and when they do they twitch their bodies and paws and can even woof!
  9. “Raining Cats and Dogs” refers to some morbid happenings in Seventeenth-Century England (1600s), when heavy rainstorms would drown stray animals such as these and they would float down the streets, giving rise to the idiom.
  10. If you were to stand 300 yards away from a dog, remaining still, you would almost disappear off the dog’s visual radar.  Waving your arms, however, will allow the dog to clock it’s owner in spite of the fact that you may be up to 5,280 feet (a mile) away!

Now that you’ve heard some amazing things about dogs, here’s something silly about dogs:

*I should point out that Ruby had climbed up to fetch them off a shelf in order to take them back to bed and chew them, which was quite a feat!  It wasn’t like mum wanted to dispose of them in the most bizarre way possible.

Learning to Drive, 10 years behind schedule

A red Volkswagen Polo.

Well…  It is time…

Time to take care of something 10 years late, at least.  Up until now I have been utterly reliant upon bicycles and public transport, which is fine until you find yourself planning train trips up to the northern Heritage Railways and finding that you need to book a bed & breakfast for a trip that should only take four hours by train!

What I’m probably implying is that the only reason I want to learn to drive is because I’ve run out of Heritage Railways in my local vicinity that are easily accessible by rail.  This isn’t really the case.  In reality my hand is being forced by the demands of work and the desire to rent a flat that won’t break my financial back.  I live in Surrey, after all.

So what have I missed?

  1. Being seen as “awesome” for being able to carry yourself to College in an armoured box.  Let’s just get this out of the way first, as it’s a joke, frankly.  Sure you can be “awesome”…  If you call being a useful idiot awesome.
  2. The chance to take advantage of one’s plastic youthful brain to learn things quicker.  I’m learning Russian, currently, so this one stings me particularly hard as I struggle to get to grips with describing my occupation.
  3. Being capable of moving to your new flat without assistance.

All the kinds of things that matter to a teen:  Reputation, Learning and Independence.  Probably not that middle one to most but that’s probably why I never had the first one.  Still, this is what I get for depriving myself of pussy:

  1. MUCH Cheaper Car Insurance – I’m looking at around £60 a month fully-comp with breakdown, personal injury and legal cover.  Not bad considering that those at 17 often pay as much as £1500 per year, or twice my rate, for less cover.
  2. A distinct dearth of people scrounging lifts.  This one depends on your point of view, but as an INTJ it’s a major bonus.  Plus, you know who your friends are – they’re the ones giving you lifts!
  3. Better maturity/perspective means you’ll be less likely to end up being scooped out of the crumpled remains of your Golf GTi four days after passing your test.
  4. Dependence upon cycling and walking means you gain habits that effectively fend off obesity…  Well, no guarantees that you won’t become a regular at Dominos Pizza like I was at lunchtime in College, but at least them calories will be converted to a greater amount of Carbon Dioxide, which foliage will appreciate.

And now, if I were to channel my inner girl, how about a name?  Well, it’s a small car, and it’s red…

A red Volkswagen Polo.
It’s kind of surreal experiencing the exact same type of car as I would’ve got back in my teens, but through the eyes of someone who is almost thirty.

Back from Berlin! Here’s what I got up to before going.

The main station at Mangapps Railway Museum.

Such is the buggered state of the ticketing of our railway network, that I discovered an interesting fact:  It often costs the same – sometimes cheaper – to get a ticket to visit a town just outside London with a one-month return period as it does to just get a ticket into London with the same conditions.  Before heading into Berlin I had this brainwave when I failed to obtain cheap flights at a sensible time that wouldn’t entail a night in a London Airport, due to the fact that the trains go to bed as well as we do; faced with the prospect of a night on the Red Bull, I opted to take the Eurostar instead (with onward ICE connections to Berlin), but once again I had been thwarted in my attempts to go at a sensible time in the morning that left me enough leeway to take the train into London.

This led me to book a single-night stay beforehand at a Hostel known as Clink 261, virtually right outside London St. Pancras International.  At a cost of £14 booked a little over two months in advance, this wasn’t too bitter a pill to swallow when my train travel to Europe had cost just under £180.  With this in mind, it occurred to me that seeing as I had a full day before I had to head into London anyway, why not make a day out of it?

Let’s conduct an experiment for a moment; as of the 8th of July (the time of writing), a one-month ticket to London Zones 1-6 costs £42.80 should you stick to off-peak times, so both the London Ticket and Town Tickets will be from Monday 9th at around 9am to Friday 13th(!) at around 8pm for the sake of comparison.  With this in mind, let’s examine a few destinations under the same conditions:

  • Burnham-on-Crouch:  £39.50 – This is where I elected to go in order to visit Mangapps Railway Museum, which isn’t the easiest to get to on foot, but still a highly interesting collection of Locomotives, Rolling Stock and Railwayana.
  • Tunbridge Wells:  £33.10 – This Kentish town is home to Tunbridge Wells West, one end of the Spa Valley Railway.
  • East Grinstead:  £30.20 – The highest risk option, given that the only way in-or-out from London is via perpetually strike-stricken Southern trains, but the carrot on this particular stick is the Bluebell Railway, that beautiful pioneer of Railway Preservation.

So we pick three destinations close to London, and we save £3.30£9.70, and £12.60 respectively.  Sure, if you opt to only use Zone 1 of the Underground, you’ll get a price of £38.60, which is cheaper than Burnham-on-Crouch, but it is still above the prices of Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead by a considerable margin.The only issue you are likely to encounter is some of the gates into the London Underground throwing a wobbly, which isn’t exactly helpful in the late evening, but there’s usually at least one worker near the gates who’ll let you through.  Oddly enough, when I got to London Waterloo for the final leg of the journey, the ticket barriers worked without issue!

Come to think of it, many Hostels offer a lift to London Airports, so this is something worth investigating the next time I have to fly to GodKnowsWhere at Silly ‘o’ Clock in the night.

In any case, here is my photo album of the quirky and interesting Mangapps Railway Museum.


My thoughts on Paranormal Phenomena

When it comes to the subject of ghosts, two groups seem to be grabbing all the headlines:  The first group is the believers, a group that contains those who claim to be able to communicate with the dead, the latter often ending up on cheesy reality-style programs where they’re occasionally trolled by their own crew members; the second group mostly consists of sceptical people telling the first group to grow up.

The current state of Paranormal Research

Given that the state of Paranormal Research is at the same stage now as the state of Medicine was in the 1600s, this isn’t exactly a surprise.  All those theories that currently seem quaint and amusing to our modern ears – bad smells, too much sea air, too little work, too much work – that were once used to explain Scurvy were taken with grave seriousness by the believers of the day, often in spite of a lack of concrete results.  There is also the truism that holds to this day that people in positions of prestige like to believe things which serve their interests, or at least make their trials and/or moral quandaries seem a little easier to live with.

Stir in a few attention-starved scammers manipulating photos causing runaway press sensationalism, and ending in a bathetic “it was fake” revelation, and you have a recipe for contempt of the subject.

Thankfully, there are some of those in the sceptic camp who are willing to investigate.  These people seem to date back to the mid 1740s when a theologian by the name of Emanuel Swedenborg began to have visions that shook his blind faith in Christianity.  These included visions of his home in Stockholm being threatened by fire whilst he was at a dinner party 250 miles away.  Needless to say, he had burned his bridges with the church by the time he died in 1772, but he had laid the foundation for others to advance the field, such as those who founded the Society for Psychical Research in 1881.  Today, the same principles of exhausting all possible explanations befitting current theories before announcing a discovery are upheld, albeit with modern tools such as EMF Meters, Motion Detectors and EVP Recorders.  One of the main theories for feelings of unease is Infrasound, low-frequency sounds just below our range of hearing that match the resonant frequency of our internal organs.

Have I encountered any evidence?

I’ve heard it said that before the advent of the internet, people didn’t even talk about their paranormal experiences for fear of being earmarked for Broadmoor.  There have been times which I might term “near-misses”, where I thought I saw something but they have either dissipated before I could observe them or my mind was playing tricks.  So, nothing I can say that has reached “I know what I saw that night” levels.  This in no way prevents me from being deeply fascinated with the concept of life after death, and the implications it has for our understanding of good and evil.

Undeniably, the rise of sites like Reddit, Youtube and other places where people can upload their experiences has done a great deal to shatter the stigma of occupying a haunted property, and numerous Youtube channels read these stories out to great effect:  Lazy Masquerade, Unit #522, Be. Busta and Lets Read! are just a few that I regularly listen to.  With any luck, over time the paranormal will be further ingrained into the mainstream conciousness and paranormal investigators will therefore find it easier to obtain funding.

So, long story short, I keep an open mind

So in summary, my opinions on the paranormal can be summed up in the opening of Extreme Ghost Stories, a tragically-short ITV series from 2006 that is well worth a watch.

Throughout history, ever culture and age has told stories of hauntings, visitations from beyond the grave. Whatever your beliefs, what cannot be denied is that the living are outnumbered by the dead.

The tales you are about to witness are created from first-hand accounts; they portray the experiences of people who had no more reason to believe in ghosts than you. Is it possible that beyond our understanding there exists a darker world?

Therefore mark me down as an open-minded Sceptic:  Given the frequency, accuracy and diversity of accounts, I’m inclined to think that a darker world could indeed exist…

Youtube Channel Recommendation: Strathpeffer Junction

A very recent addition to the ranks of model railway channels to which I am subscribed, this layout is based upon the railways northwest of Inverness in the 1980s and 90s, when BR had been branded Scotrail in the region, and Class 37s (“Tractors” 😉 ) ruled the roost; it is in the very early stages of construction inside the gable roof attic of a house, which for obvious reasons of space is a favourite of modellers.  Pity that there’s less reason than ever that one might have access to an attic in this day and age.

At the time of writing, progress has been limited to the conversion of the loft and the construction of the frame members of the baseboard.  The layout has an interesting concept for it’s fiddle yard, whereby a lower baseboard contains the trains that will climb up inclines to reach the upper scenic baseboard where all the action is, and eventually disappearing down another incline to return to the fiddle yard.  Almost certainly easier to accommodate in a limited space than a helix at either end, whilst still allowing for gentle gradients.

Being a fan of highland based layouts ever since visiting the Strathspey Railway back in 2016, I look forward to seeing what this guy makes of the imposing scenery and the often-beautiful Scottish railway stations.  There will also be an element of physical triumph when the layout is complete, but more on this later.

The real Strathpeffer Station

Interestingly, as the Disused Stations page reveals, Strathpeffer was a terminus in reality, owing to a failure to obtain permission to build a line through the town and having instead to run the line through Achterneed to the north.  The line was refused permission to run through the land of William MacKenzie of Coul House, forcing construction of the line to the Kyle of Lochalsh to run through the nearby Raven Rock, resulting in gradients of 1 in 70.  The landowner’s son later retracted the objection to the line, but by that point the Dingwall and Skye Railway Company had expended huge amounts of capital on it’s diversion, eventually running out of money at Stromeferry.  The Highland Railway had to step in, buying the DSR and completing the line to Kyle of Lochalsh twelve miles onwards.

Its a fascinating story in it’s own right, one that creates an interesting “what might have been” scenario.

An inspirational layout

This is where the story takes a somewhat tragic, yet hopeful turn.  The builder of the layout suffered a spinal injury sustained while white water kayaking, which amongst other outdoor pursuits had supplanted his childhood love of model railways as he grew older.  Given the majestic nature of his surroundings, I can’t say I blame him.

We can expect to see the effects of this dictating many of the features of the layout, which has already been designed to be used while sitting on a chair as standing for any extended period of time is sure to become painful.  As a disabled person myself (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), I know first hand about having to work around your limitations, except in my case it involves utilising my concious mind in order to compensate for what I cannot do unconsciously; socialising therefore means running a gauntlet of examining a group’s reactions in order to know when to join a conversation, when to elaborate and when to stop talking.  If you’ve ever wanted to know why we elect to spend so much time alone, there’s your answer.

It is early days for this layout, and there’s no telling what the river of inspiration will deliver to a man over time – my own layout has proven this surely enough! – but I definitely look forward to seeing how it develops in order to give him the most comfortable and satisfying experience.

Berlin – Just passing through? Not this time…

S-Bahn Train at Berlin Hbf.

If it seems to those who view my Flickr page think I have an affinity for Germany, they’re right.  As a kid in Secondary School I was a little bitter that I had to learn Spanish as opposed to German; after all, what the hell did Spain do during the war, right?

Of course, this was before I learned about Latin America and the many exciting phenomena there; A desert drier than Weetabix, spiders that cure ED, and steam trains left in salt flats to crumble into dust.  If I’m going to go there in the next year, I’ve got anywhere from seven to nineteen months to make up for all the nights spent with Babel Fish instead of doing my god-damn homework.

Anyway, that’s then, and this is now:  In a month’s time I shall turn a stopping point in my Germany trips so far into a destination.

My dalliances with the city so far

Both times I have been through Berlin, I came in via Tegel Airport to the north-west.  A fairly unremarkable place, probably not such a good starting point if you’re allergic to taxis like I am; the buses are only for those who want to know what it feels like to be at crush-depth underwater whilst breathing bottled air from the rainforest.

From there it was straight to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, for onwards passage to Leipzig on the first trip, Züssow on the second.  And that’s really all there is to report, me and my father never really travelled far beyond the station, the Tiergarten being the furthest extent of our wandering.

Sniping deals on accommodation and travel for numpties

This is how much difference two weeks makes.

In the middle of April, around the 14th, I snagged three nights at a hotel literally minutes away from Berlin Hbf, giving me a lot of scope for onward travel throughout the city and possibly beyond.  Three nights for ~£110, or ~£37 a night.  Breakfast is a bit expensive but I’m sure I’ll work around that.

Fast forward to the 25th, 11 days on, and the time has come for me to book my flights.  I plan to come into Schönefeld as it has an S-Bahn right next to it, which immediately sticks two fingers up at that god-awful bus.  Guess what kind of conundrum I had to wrestle with?  The age-old dilemma of getting cheap flights at ridiculous times, or selling your house to obtain reasonable flight times.

As we all know, the railway networks virtually shut down at around 1am – Something I first discovered when planning my route back to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam at the end of a 3-day stint there – and don’t resume service until 6am.  This is a necessary evil, as this allows ballast to be relaid, worn rails replaced, and for the railway network to be healthier and happier as a result.  But that is of scant comfort when you find yourself stuck in an airport terminal at 9pm trying to sleep like an exhausted marching soldier in wait for an ambush  a flight at 6am.

Given the content of this blog, you can probably guess how I responded to this dilemma.  I called upon the gods of the iron horse, of course!  Okay, I was still paying ridiculous money for such a simple trip to a European capital, and the time of the incoming journey still requires me to stay at a hostel the night before, but keep in mind, both endpoints of a rail journey are almost always next to or in the centre of the cities and towns they serve, there’s no need to site the station miles out of town to comply with noise regulations, or even just to find a plot of land big enough for the runways.

Now, I can appreciate that in one instance I am referring to a Hotel, and in another the inbound journey, but the point remains.  I’ve heard that in order to get the best deals on hotels, you should wait until a few weeks before you go to snag the best deals; I’ve never tested this successfully, but I expect that during peak tourist season it’s best to just snap up them tickets early before they evaporate.  Maybe I should’ve booked the travel tickets first…

In short, I wasn’t prepared to board the plane in a semi-lucid state to save a few tenners, and frankly I hate airports, so if I’m gonna pay close to £200 to travel to Berlin, I might as well do it the only way I truly love – scything through the land at ground level.

Targets of Opportunity

Calm down, I haven’t hired Lancaster Bombers to level the city, although I could probably enjoy a Lancaster Bomber Beer to steel my nerves before the epic train trip over (London St. Pancras – Brussels Zuid – Cologne – Berlin).  These are simply sites in the city I have in my sights:

Tempelhofer Feld

Do I really need to explain this?  It’s a massive airport, preserved since it’s closure in 2008 as a public park.  Pity I can’t pretend to be a DC-4 without attracting concerned looks…

Deutsches Technikmuseum

This one kills two birds with one stone, as it features both aviation and railway exhibits.  I never realized how hard it was to find aviation and railway museums abroad until I tried it, and only knowing basic German phrases does not help matters.

Another highlight is that the site resides next to a disused 19th Century Berlin train station known as Dresdener Bahnhof.

Computerspiele Museum

This is a museum about gaming, presumably on both console and PC.  Gaming made up such a big part of my childhood, it is impossible to give this one a miss.

All set?

I am, pretty much:  Travel and Hotel are done, all I really need is insurance.  Nothing to really do now except await the fun.

Until then, there’s always Boris:

Youtube Video Recommendation: 8 Old-School Tips for better Hand Filing

Clickspring is a Youtube Channel dedicated to the intricacies of making clocks, which I can only assume is why they feature this excellent video on hand filing technique.

I hate filing.  Alongside coughing up dust it’s my least favourite workshop activity, so anything which makes the job more painless is akin to an instant cure for a Norovirus infection.