I loitered in the bus bay at Coventry railway station for an extended period of time. I had been promised a heritage bus service to the Electric Railway Museum, but the scheduled departure time came and went, and none was forthcoming. Eventually a clapped out minibus showed up, with an apologetic driver informing me and the other waiting trainspotters that the proper bus had broken down. With gearbox grinding, we set off down country lanes to the museum site, in a field next to Coventry Airport.
Electric trains are the bastard stepchild of the railway preservation world. You need electricity to run them, and since no heritage lines have a convenient third rail or overhead line available, that means the best you can hope for is for is a static display in a museum, or some awkward Frankenstein’s monster arrangement where the train gets lashed-up to a diesel locomotive and dragged around. All this means that preserved lines are reluctant to use up their valuable space with vehicles that can’t earn their keep. That’s a crying shame, because electric trains have played a vital role on the railway network for well over a century, and their history is not properly documented.
It’s time to write on the fascinating subject of buses – specifically, the local route that takes me into town.
No, wait! Come back! This is not a parochial moan, of interest to no-one outside south Liverpool, but hopefully an interesting story which shines some light on the state of bus services, and the problems bus users encounter.
Route 82 is one of Liverpool’s trunk routes, linking Speke, Garston, Aigburth and Dingle with the city centre. I’m not entirely sure how long it has existed for, but a 1960s Liverpool Corporation bus map shows it, so that’s at least half a century. It has survived the upheavals of deregulation and privatisation largely intact. Until last month, the main changes were a series of minor reroutings in the city centre as pedestrianisation and one-way systems were implemented.
Today, the route is shared between Stagecoach and Arriva, who operate a Quality Partnership agreement, with a co-ordinated timetable and acceptance of the other operator’s prepaid tickets. The introduction of the quality agreement has been beneficial to passengers, no longer subject to arbitrary changes at the whim of the operators. Or at least, that’s what we thought.
I had a nice day in Stratford-upon-Avon on Saturday with my friends Andrew and David. I was there for a total of 6 hours (with a three hour train journey at the beginning and end of the day) but I squeezed quite a bit in.
We arrived to find the town centre ridiculously busy thanks to the Stratford Food Festival taking place that weekend. Delicious smells of cooking food wafted over us as we made our way along the streets. Not good for someone who is trying to diet.
I had visited before, in 2012, but that time I had only visited the viewing deck. This time, I ventured up to dine at the Sphere Restaurant (advance booking recommended).
I felt a certain amount of smugness as my friend Boris arrived late following flight delays (my train was right on time) but was slightly worried that we would lose our dinner reservation. No worries, as it turns out having a native German speaker with you helps smooth things over, and we were shown to our table 20 minutes late.
As mentioned in my previous post, I stopped off in Cologne for a couple of days en route to Berlin. So was my visit a success, or was it a North-Rhine-WestFailure? If that appalling pun hasn’t put you off, read on to find out…
THE ENGLISH SHOP – after eating at the Hard Rock Café (shut up, I was tired and it was open and convenient), I headed back to the hotel. En route, I passed The English Shop, whose TfL lawyer-baiting logo had a poignant improvised addition: “Britain might have left the EU,” it said, “but we’re still here. So a little part of Britain survives in the EU!”
For someone who was (and still is) grieving the tragedy that is Brexit, this was a bit too much, and I returned to my hotel feeling gloomy.
It’s another travel catch-up, from September 2016!
Back in 2014, I used the (now sadly withdrawn) DB night train from Berlin to Paris, an experience so exquisite that I managed to get a blog postand a YouTube video out of it.
Two years on, September 2016, and I felt Berlin calling to me again. It was time to repeat the experience in the other direction. The sleeper is no more, but there are still plenty of high speed trains zooming across the Continent. It was time to sample some of that action.
European train travel offers a myriad of high speed train options, each with their own fare structure. Sorting out your ICEs from your Thalyses can be a tricky business. Fortunately I was armed with knowledge from the Man in Seat 61, a one-man treasure trove of information about such things. His website should be the first stop for anyone planning a similar voyage.
For travel to Germany, however, booking is quite simple. Just go to DB’s website, Bahn.com, and enter your journey details. The 10.58 Eurostar gives a convenient connection at Brussels, and is also a good departure time for people like me, who need to travel from the provinces.
I remember vaguely promising, at the end of the old blog, that I would continue writing my travel blogs. For various reasons, that didn’t actually happen. So this is another catch up post, from April 2016.
It started, as so many things do, in a Wetherspoons.
September, 2015. I was in the Metropolitan Bar in Baker Street, London, in the company of my friends Mark and Peter. As I scoffed a greasy burger, the conversation turned to holidays. Mark mentioned that they were heading to Gran Canaria in April next year, that it was a fun place to visit, and I should come with them.
I made a vague statement of agreement, then came home and promptly forgot about it, until a few weeks later when I. Next thing I knew, the hotel was booked and I had bought train tickets to Gatwick Airport.
As Henry Kelly might say, if I were a contestant on Going for Gold in 1990: “Robert, you’re playing catch-up.” So, what has been going on in the 20 months or so since I last blogged?
Back in August 2015, I had taken the plunge and rented a flat. Finally, a place to call my own, except it’s not really my own, it belongs to a landlord who didn’t allow any redecorating or hanging pictures on the wall.
I’ll be honest, I was scared. The life experiences of my first 32 years on Earth had conditioned me to believe that I couldn’t cope with being an adult, and all the boring things adults have to do for themselves: pay council tax, read electricity meters, cook, clean, maintain basic personal hygiene standards. It was a big adjustment, and it took some time for things to settle down.
It was 20 years ago today that I made my first foray into the world of web publishing.
I was 14, and had taught myself HTML from a series of articles that appeared in Acorn User magazine. AU had also given away a CD-ROM packed with internet software for Acorn computers, including an early web browser called ArcWeb. With that, and the Zap text editor, my journey into the wonderful world of web design began.
A minor detail like not having an internet connection didn’t stop me from putting together a basic website. I was perfectly happy browsing files on my 210 megabyte hard disc. I couldn’t put anything online, however, until the end of August 1997, when I got a 33k6 modem and a dial-up account with ArgoNet. On 31st August 1997, while the rest of the world was mourning Princess Diana, I was busy uploading my first website.
FABland (there’s a long story behind that name, and don’t ask me to tell it) was mainly a repository for some little freeware programs I had written and wanted to share, together with some terrible jokes I had stolen from the Internet. However, I also had a “my viewpoint” page, which I updated occasionally. Yes, I still have those writings archived, and no, you can’t see them because they are mostly embarrassing sub-Adrian Mole teenage angst and some really bad opinions. That was the first time I exposed myself online (not that anyone was reading).
Two decades have passed. Acorn has disappeared into the annals of computing history and I have swapped my RiscPC 600 for an Apple iMac. I’m an anxious adult instead of an anxious teenager. So why am I talking about my first website now? Because I want to explain why I have chosen this seemingly random date to trumpet my return to the blogosphere.
I ended my old blog in December 2015 because I had limited time to devote to writing. When I did have a moment to write something, it felt like a chore. The former condition still applies for the moment, but the latter doesn’t. I can’t say I’m terribly sorry to have missed 2016, the year when all hope died, but more recently there have been times when I’ve been itching to write something long-form – threading fifty tweets simply won’t do.
I thought about picking up on my old blog as if nothing had happened. However, I’ve decided to go for a completely fresh start and a slightly different focus. The old site will remain online as an archive, but all new stuff will go here, the third incarnation of my online presence.
Over the previous 20 months, an awful lot has happened (emphasis on awful), so I’m looking forward to catching up with you all. Follow me on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you’re old school, subscribe to my RSS feed. I am also on Instagram and Tumblr.