Apologies for the confusion, and for moving my blog just a year after the last time I moved it. I promise this will be the last time I move.
I hope to see you there.
I decided I needed to move on from doctorvee, so I have closed it down. All of the archives will stay up, but I will no longer maintain this blog.
Today I received an HTML email that is amazingly user-unfriendly. We have all become accustomed to image-laden emails and dodgy table-based layouts in HTML emails (it is, after all, more-or-less the only way to do it).
But this takes it to a whole new level. Horizontal scrolling is enough of a no-no as it is. I was amazed when this one just kept going and going.
I actually had to take two screenshots and join them together. Believe it or not, the bit where the text jumps around is not where I joined them — my join is pixel perfect.
I can’t imagine what made them think this would make me more inclined to do whatever it is they want me to do with my phone. I haven’t read it yet because the sentences can’t fit on my monitor.
I was going to include the screenshot in this blog post at full size, but it is so bad I decided I couldn’t let it on the front page. However, if you click the more link you will find it over the jump, where I have recreated the woeful user experience.
There are lots of great things about the railway, but the industry’s use of language is not one of them.
I have often been amazed by the linguistic tangles conductors often find themselves in when they try to “talk posh” during announcements. Clearly they are not trained about the importance of plain English. This problem was covered excellently by the Guardian’s Mind Your Langauge blog calling for railspeak to be terminated.
Another recent article on the BBC News website looked over some of the dodgy phrasing of railway delay excuses. The cryptic but common explanations include “tanking train toilet” (the loos won’t flush) and “poor railhead adhesion” (the track is slippery).
On the ubiquitous “signalling problems”, the article notes that this is usually caused by cable theft.
I don’t know why they don’t say ‘It’s because some so-and-so has stolen 150 yards of cable.’ That’s going to get people on-side.
This evening my eyebrows were raised by a tweet I spotted from the National Rail Enquiries ScotRail Twitter feed.
This “DISRUPTION CLEARED” is a dead body. It can’t just be me that feels that there could be a more sensitive way of describing this than “DISRUPTION CLEARED”.
The second leg of my trip took me away from nature. I decided to go out of my way to visit Steam — the Museum of the Great Western Railway.
I am not an extreme railway enthusiast, although I do find railways quite interesting. I only knew that Steam existed when I happened to pass it on the train a few weeks earlier on a separate journey.
I decided I wanted to visit, and it was quite convenient that I managed to incorporate it into my holiday. It is very easy to get to by rail, being just a stone’s throw away from Swindon railway station.
The museum is very comprehensive. It is not just a collection of old trains. The very first thing you see when you enter is a mocked-up back office. I wandered into a small room to find myself walking in on a worker being given a row by his boss for turning up late for work! Quite amusing.
From there, you go on to learn about the processes of building a steam locomotive, step by step.
Then, finally, you are presented with the finished product. This is Caerphilly Castle.
This is just one example of the excellent way exhibits are presented at Steam. A staircase allows you to walk straight underneath the locomotive to give a view of the underside.
After that, there are exhibits about the building of the railway itself. You learn about the Box Tunnel, and the Great Western Railway’s original unusual, but superior, broad gauge.
This is perhaps the most fun part of the museum. There is an awesome train driving simulator, and games that demonstrate the difficult job signalmen had.
Then you pay a visit to a mock GWR railway station.
The station contains objects like clocks, benches and vending machines of the steam period. But the highlight for me was the brilliant silver-plated locomotive-shaped coffee pot.
This was used at Swindon railway station, which apparently was notorious for its awful refreshments. Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself complained about it, with audio of his complaint playing out in the mock railway station. The display describes it as a “foul brew”, but you cannot deny that it was gloriously presented.
After you have looked around the railway station, it is time to enter ‘Speed to the West’, which is all about the efforts made to attract tourists to use the Great Western Railway. Among the exhibits are old slot machines, which you can still try out for 20p.
“See your own country first,” one poster implores. “There is a great similarity between Cornwall and Italy in shape, climate and natural features.”
This was another highlight for me. I have a particular fascination with the visual identity and graphic design of railways.
It would have been really great if I could buy some prints of old GWR posters from the souvenir shop, but sadly they didn’t sell anything like this. I made do with a GWR keyring and three bottles of beer that were brewed by the Box Steam Brewery, based near the Box tunnel.
I also pressed a penny to emboss it with the GWR logo. I haven’t done that in years, but it is always quite a nice and inexpensive souvenir of a visit.
All-in-all I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Steam, and would highly recommend that you pay a visit if you happen to be in the Swindon area.
It is hard to believe that the 11 September attacks were ten years ago now, when I was only 15.
I was at school, waiting for my German Writing lesson to begin. It was probably my least favourite subject. As such, I didn’t especially mind the delay in the lesson beginning, thought it was quite odd.
My teacher kept on going between the classroom and the staff room. Eventually he wheeled a television through and told us we should watch this because it would have pretty big implications. If I remember correctly, we saw the second plane hit as it happened.
I thought I was pretty switched-on for my age in terms of knowing about politics and current affairs, but Islamic extremism of this nature was new to me. At the time, I mistakenly thought that the fact that the Pentagon had been hit was the biggest story. In isolation it would be bad enough.
But the resonance of the images of the World Trade Centre was incredible, and the scale of the loss of life was unimaginable. I seem to remember the news reports talking about the potential that tens of thousands of people may have been in the World Trade Centre at the time.
It was difficult to comprehend. There was one person in my class who had to have the concept of a suicide attack explained to him several times. We laughed at the time, but his attitude was right. Why would you do that?
Although I enjoy walking up hills from time to time, I hadn’t done it for a while. But this was a good reminder that I really do enjoy it.
I found Loughrigg Fell to be a particularly rewarding walk. As with the area around Aira Beck, there are lots of different ways you could go about it.
There are a few different summits to explore and for a while I couldn’t work out which one was the one to climb. All the more opportunity to see some of the fantastic views.
Also like Aira Beck, it was very quiet for the most part, but with more people at the main attraction. People who came up to see views like this.
Inevitably, my photographs do not come close to conveying how lovely the views are up there.
I went down in the opposite direction to the way I came up, and saw the people milling around on the beach at Grasmere lake.
Since I had a bit of time on my hands, I decided to go for a wander round part of Grasmere lake as well.
That topped of a brilliant day. It began with an early start in Dundee, setting off for a four hour long journey to Aira Beck. Then from there, via the Struggle, up a 1,000 foot hill and round a lake.
It’s a lot to cram into one day if you haven’t had much sleep. Inevitably it unravelled a bit after this. I kept on getting lost on the way to my accommodation for the evening, and ended up not eating anything in the evening.
I guess I needed a rest, but watching television in a Travelodge for several hours is quite a comedown.
After my visit to Aira Force, I hot-footed it towards Loughrigg Fell to try and fit in as much as possible before the end of the afternoon. Handily, I had printed out some Google Maps before I left Dundee, so I didn’t have to worry too much about how to get there. Or so I thought.
Looking over the route before I set off, the journey seemed simple enough. All I had to do was continue on the road round Ullswater, then keep going until I take a “slight right ontto Kirkstone Pass”, which would take me straight to Ambleside. The instructions could hardly be more benign.
But what the vast off-white expanses of the default view on Google Maps don’t show is just how hilly this area is. I knew I would be driving between hills, so I should have guessed. This was almost too much for my poor wee Panda to cope with. It hadn’t struggled like this since I drove up to the car park at Cairn Gorm last year.
Even more worrying was the road sign that basically instructs you not to drive on Kirkstone Pass during winter. Moreover, the sign called the road “The Struggle”. I was beginning to doubt whether I should take this route, or follow the alternative, longer, but presumably easier road.
Luckily, I was travelling downhill. I can imagine that taking the road in the other direction truly would be a struggle, as the gradient is apparently 25% at some points of this extraordinary road.
My eyes will have been on stalks as I made the descent. There was no risk of me disobeying the signs advising to use a low gear. It’s difficult to imagine how this narrow, twisty, and exceptionally steep road could have been more challenging — especially as I was not expecting it.
It was a bit scary, but also brilliant fun to drive. I very rarely derive pleasure from road driving. For me, driving is a function necessary to get from A to B and not much more; about as fun as washing the dishes. But the Struggle gave me a taste of how it feels to really have fun on the roads.
A couple of weeks ago I went on a mini holiday. I don’t often go on holiday since I usually struggle to find anyone to go with. In the past I have found lonesome trips to be a bit dull. But this time I decided I might as well stop in a few places on the way down to Silverstone for the World Series by Renault event, which I was dead set on attending.
After some thought, the Lake District became the obvious stopping-off point. It is roughly halfway on the journey between Dundee and Bristol, where I would be staying at a friend’s place.
The first port of call was Aira Force waterfall. I had been told that Ullswater was worth visiting, and Aira Force stood out to me as something to see in that area.
I was rather worried when I tried to park my car. The car park was mobbed, and I took what I considered to be the last available space. I was worried that I was blocking the car park exit somewhat. But that it didn’t stop someone else coming along and parking next to me! We agreed to back each other up if anyone told us off for not parking in the bays.
Considering how busy the car park was, I found the walk up to Aira Force and beyond surprisingly peaceful. Of course, with it being a waterfall, the river itself is quite noisy. And there were plenty of people there. But at the same time, it is amazing how much privacy you can find.
There is plenty of potential to deviate from the main path. You are not restricted to just walking alongside the stream. You can escape nature’s white noise, created by the torrents of water, to enjoy views like this.
I could have spent much longer exploring the area around Aira Beck. But I had only paid for two hours of parking so had to make my way back down.
I very nearly missed Aira Force itself! It was almost by chance that I eventually came across it.
I have no idea how I missed this on the way up. I must have been too preoccupied with seeking out other views that I walked straight past the main attraction. I am thankful I saw it in the end as it is pretty spectacular.
It says a lot about this location that I was having a brilliant time, before I had even seen the main draw.
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