The Hypnogogic effect of railways: Part 1: Train music

One of the few benefits of video hosting websites such as Youtube is that very niche forms of entertainment can be indulged. In this little series of two posts I look at the mesmerising effect of virtual rail travel. The hypnogogic effect referred to in the title means a sense of half consciousness, being lulled into a trance by the sights and sounds of the railway. This first of two posts deals with train travel set to music. Continue reading

Making Black butter – the modular way

With a parent living in Jersey, Channel Islands, I am familiar with a concoction they make there called Black Butter. This is a dark coloured spread made from apples.

As I am not in Jersey I am not able to make it the time honoured way: in a large cauldron over a fire. You need a large community gathering with lots of trestle tables on which the dozens of volunteers (in the olden days, this was the womenfolk) peel and core the apples before they get put in the cauldron. Continue reading

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Railway Track Gauges: A Book Review and some Own Thoughts

I have just read the excellent “Tracks Across Continents – Paths Through History” by Douglas J Puffert (2009 University of Chicago Press). This book explains why the rail gauge of 4 feet 8.5 inches has become dominant for mainline railways throughout the world. Track gauge is the distance between the inside faces of the two rails of a railway and, obviously, the rails have to be the same distance as the wheels of the train that runs on it. Traffic between any two point on a rail network will clearly be inconvenienced if different track gauges are needed for part of the journey as the cargo must be moved between two trains or somebody needs to perform a cunning “hack”to deal with this break of gauge.

Engineers have differing opinions as to what the ideal track gauge would have been, but many think a little more than the Stephenson Gauge (as Puffert calls it) would have been better.

Puffert, Tracks across Continents - Paths through History

Puffert, Tracks across Continents – Paths through History

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Railway biographies: Head to head

I have a neat collection or railway books on my bookshelves. Some of the most interesting are those where the author has direct experience of working in the railways. Sometimes the author is from the upper echelons of the railway management and the author is blessed with an insight into the compromise and pragmatism required to make a large organisation like the railway work.

Here are two railway books on my shelves: “I tried to run a railway” and “Indian Railways – The future ahead”. They could hardly be more different – different era’s direct cultures and certainly very different

Railway managers memoirs: British and Indian

Railway managers memoirs: British and Indian

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2015 PTLCC Conference – Powys REconomics

On Saturday just gone, I was fortunate to attend a conference and set of workshops to make Powys into a zero carbon community. This is an annual event organised by the cumbersomely titles Powys Transition and Low Carbon Communities, a sort of umbrella organisation for the transition towns and other organisations generally recognised as good eggs in this area. For this year it had the catchy name of REconomics, dreamt up by the Transition Movement to brand their local economy campaign. The general thrust of the day was a broad talk about REconomics in the morning, and that then in the afternoon we would all get spun off into several sessions. The event was managed with ruthless efficiency by the firm hand of Mike Memberry from the PTLCC.

PTLCC 2014: This is last years event at CAT, Machynlleth, most of the faces remain the same.

PTLCC 2014: This is last years event at CAT, Machynlleth, most of the faces remain the same.

The morning session

So at the start we had the proprietor of the hotel in which the conference was being held give his address. It turns out that Justin was fairly supportive of the localism and low carbon agenda, which as a hotel proprietor might not necessarily expected to be the case. It was fortunate that the large Porsche club party had already gone their way, otherwise the address to Powys low carbon communities would have been to the incongruous soundtrack of a bunch of supercars revving up for their race round the highways of Mid Wales.

Next up was Fiona and Anna. The conference was lucky to have them up from Totnes, which is where it all began. I recall my own visit to this transition Mecca in August this year, although a trip to the real Mecca would have been a lot warmer as we wandered round in our raincoats and found a nice cafe for late lunch. The town itself could not be more different from Llandrindod in terms of the socio-economic situation, even on a wet Thursday, Devon was chock full of tourists, and most of the residents probably live in London. The talk delivered by Fiona who went in to the whole idea behind REconomics – basically that we can’t continually stop and stand about with our hands in our pockets while we wait for the traditional financial economy to catch up and we would be better off ditching it, with our own more nimble local economy, preferably underpinned by our own currency.

Workshops

Allowing myself an opportunity to write more in depth about Calon Cymru at a later date, the gist of this is a linear “forest garden”, or what might be called a Garden City along the length of the railway. Martin, the presenter, and his gang could not be faulted for ambition. We saw slides showing proposals for new settlements around the line, turning Llandrindod into the centre of the whole venture, pictures of Andean hillside terraces (many of these new residents would be engaging in horticulture, agriculture and forestry). All these new arrivals would help ensure the viability of local services, as well as the beloved railway line, which would presumably need to increase service frequency, and utility, to keep pace with demand. Whilst easy to dismiss as pie-in-the key, and, as they themselves identify, the sustainable settlement concert seems to conflict with the neoliberal environment in which still endures, it produces a compelling vision I feel the community needs to support, if it wants any services left in a generation or two. The whole thing was terribly exciting and I glazed over thinking of the role that ambitious rail projects had in the past to open up new land for settlement: the US Transcontinental, the Trans siberian, even the development of Metroland by the Metropolitan Railway (yes, the tube line) in London. A very stimulating talk.

The next workshop I attended was on Community Renewable Energy Co-operatives, talk delivered by Andrew Fryer of Llangattock Green Valleys. It was perhaps inevitable that, having been at the sharp end for a number of years, this talk was less uplifting than the shining vision put forward by Calon Cymru. In fact fatigue is identified as a factor in their game. The Green Valleys initiative was focussed on “micro-hydro” hydro-electric power. This apparently requires consent from 8 government bodies to block a river, take the water out, run it through a turbine, then admit it back into the river. The take-home message from this talk seemed to be that you can rely on government to mess everything up. Even when you get the necessary permits the government might change the policy in a way that affects the markets and makes your scheme unviable, as had just happened with regard to the Feed In Tariffs. Which does not come as a surprise from a businessman like myself but many of those in the green community remain believers in state involvement, even after all the evidence to the contrary. Andrew did leave us with a useful statistic, which is that despite much wailing and gnashing of teeth following the discontinuation of the feed in tariff, the proportion of this money that went to householders was a drop in the ocean compared to that funelled into various firms and enterprises established specifically to take advantage of this windfall. I would later discuss this with Jeremy Thorpe from a community energy promoter in Shrewsbury who agreed that the various wheezes that sprung up around the various renewable energy payments have done a lot to discredit what was quite an idealist industry at the start. (Maybe a future post in that).

Doing workshops. This is last year's event and the format was slightly different, but c'mon, its a photo of some poeple sitting in a room. (photo: PTLCC)

Doing workshops. This is last year’s event and the format was slightly different, but c’mon, its a photo of some poeple sitting in a room. (photo: PTLCC)

Affirming our faith

Having enjoyed our workshops it was time for my least favourite part of these events before dismissal. Although I admit that as somebody who likes to write, it might be my guilt at being less actively involved in walking the walk than many of the other delegates that leaves me cold… Yes, I’m talking about the bit where we are expected to do things with flip charts, big marker pens, post-it notes, and – horrors – getting up with the microphone and proclaiming your next step to spontaneous outbursts from the audience amounting to the secular equivalent of “Hallelujah!”. Okay, so I jest. In defence, it often feels in this game like butting your head against a brick wall so affirmation with our peers is important. And there needs to be the connection made between attending an interesting presentation and getting out there to evangelise (more religious metaphor!) the whole concept. Having started on this subject, I can’t help but feel the whole transition thing is, whether knowingly or not, just like secular Anglican church, and I don’t just mean the middle class, middle aged demographic that attends. Don’t believe me? Come to some of our local transition meetings, where you will recognise a regular service format including parish notices, the main sermon, affirming our faith and, yes, even passing the offertory plates. (Yes, this might be another thing to come back to in the future and blog about). Not that today’s PTLCC event was like a service, Mike ran it more like a military operation!

Then it was a chance for a bit of tea and welsh cakes (another staple of Anglican parish events) and a natter with the people who you were not sharing a table with at lunch. Then it was carriages and home to write our blogs.

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Ffestiniog Victorian Weekend – a formula for the Heart of Wales?

We all have certain events that we religiously visit. The Ffestiniog railway Victorian Weekend is one of those. Held on a weekend in the first half of October, The Victorian Weekend is, as far as I can ascertain, the unofficial end of season closing party of the Festy and is Jolly Good Fun. Continue reading

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Packing Heat – The case for District Heating in Llandrindod

In this article we look at the opportunity to implement a district heating system for Llandrindod Wells. Specifically we examine how it might improve the quality of life, reduce carbon emissions whilst it decreases our reliance on energy firms, infrastructure and geopolitical arrangements.

District heating pipes: they come with the insulation already on, ready to go straight into the ground.

District heating pipes: they come with the insulation already on, ready to go straight into the ground (Wikipedia)

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