Sunday, April 16, 2023

Another philatelic presentation

If you have a spare 50 minutes and want to hear me talking about the 'passports' that are issued at stamp exhibitions, you can watch the recording of the talk I gave to the British Thematic Association in November last year, which is now on YouTube. 

I got my first philatelic passport at Stamp World London in 1990 and have since acquired several others from all over the world. I like the random mix of stamps and postmarks and how no two passports are exactly alike. 

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Snack of the Month - battered chips

This shouldn't really count as a "snack" of the month, but I wanted to blog about it.

While on holiday I went into the chip shop in Cookley, the little village where we were staying. I ordered a bag of chips and for the first time in my life I was asked if I wanted "plain or battered". I must have looked uncertain because then I was asked "Do you want half and half?"

I said yes, because, well... battered chips?!?

It was a very thin batter coating. They were lovely. It's probably a good thing for my waistline that the chippy in Cookley isn't my local chip shop.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Welsh railwayana on the Severn Valley Railway

In my previous post about our visit to the Severn Valley Railway, I mentioned the Barry Railway Company coach that needed a good refurb.

However, in the little museum in Kidderminster there was a room chock-full of other Welsh 'railwayana' - name plates and notices and devices and other odds and ends. I went round taking photos of some items that had been gathered from Wales, mainly from across the South. 

First up, some signs. I don't think there was a railway station on the top of the Sugar Loaf - more likely this was to tell engine drivers they had reached the top of a long climb up the hill. Meanwhile, Pontarddulais is missing a d in the signal box sign underneath, a relic from when Welsh names were anglicised on official signs. 

There was another signal box sign from a long-vanished location below the impressive array of finials that would have been on top of signal posts.

And I was naturally massively excited to see this sign for Grangetown station!

Some signs were more than just names. There is a huge amount of detail in these safety notices from the Barry Railway and the Rhymney Railway.

This no trespassing notice was cast in metal for the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway Company. 

I'm not sure what this key was used for. I'd guess it's something to do with signalling. If you know, feel free to add a comment.

This poster for excursions to Barry Island captures a moment when a seaside trip was a proper outing and people would travel all the way from Cardiff and Newport.

There were also several mementoes taken off steam engines that were sent for scrap long ago. I imagine Nora worked around the mines in Blaenavon.

All the little railway companies in South Wales were absorbed into the Great Western Railway, which in turn became part of British Railways after nationalisation in 1948. This box on the way into the museum probably dates from the 1950s.

You can see evidence for long-gone railways across South Wales, with bridge-walls and even some extant viaducts visible on almost any car journey. But many railway sites have disappeared without leaving much of a trace, just occasional relics like these that were salvaged and put on display.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Birthday boobies

Since 2012 I have published Christmas card audits. I don't usually write about birthday cards, but this year a card from my Mum prompted me to think about a bird that has recently become popular for some reason...

In case you've never heard of a booby (or boobie) before, it's a class of dorky looking seabird that lives in the Pacific Ocean. There are six types, although the best known ones are the blue-footed booby. There is also a red-footed booby, a brown booby and a masked booby. The name 'booby' probably derives from the Spanish word 'bobo' meaning stupid not from anything else known by the same name!

Recently, boobies have started to become quite popular in children's books. A blue footed booby appears on the cover of You're Called What?! by Kes Gray (illustrated by Nikki Dyson) and author and illustrator Rob Biddulph has written a book about red footed boobies trying to track down a blue footed booby they suspect of stealing baked goods. 

The Galapagos Conservation Trust uses lovely drawings of several species of booby on merchandise to raise funds for their vital conservation work. For my birthday my Mum (assisted by Cathy and my brother) also gave me a hoody featuring a blue-footed booby, a red-footed booby and a nazca booby. It tied in very nicely with the card. "I know you like boobies," she said, before adding "I have to be careful how I tell people that you like boobies."

These sea birds have become popular because of their funny name. As a fully growed man I find the thought of walking round with boobies on my jumper quite funny. In my experience kids find books and other references to boobies hilarious too. I hope the work of the organisations like the Galapagos Conservation Trust means these funny looking birds survive to amuse us all for a good time to come. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

A week in Worcestershire

After spending my birthday at the Severn Valley Railway (see previous blog post) we then spent the following week on holiday in Worcestershire in a little village called Cookley. Here's a run down of our week.

Monday mini-golf

We had a lovely sunny day and went to Wolverley to play mini pro golf. This was great fun, with little fairways, greens and sand traps!

Plus, of course, the fun obstacles that are found on minigolf courses, like windmills...

...and lighthouses...

...and bears, oh my!

It was a close run round, with Cathy edging the 18 holes by three shots. If only I hadn't hit so many mini bunkers!

Or gators!

Tuesday train travelling

We parked at Stourbridge Junction (winner of the World Cup of Stations in 2021) and got the train into the centre of Birmingham. We met up with Connor for lunch in a great independent cafe restaurant called Weyland's Yard. He was very polite as I did the old person thing of fumbling with my phone trying to take a selfie.

Wednesday wetness

We went to Kidderminster for a look around. It was raining. There isn't much positive to be said about Kidderminster town centre. It really seemed to be struggling. 

Thursday thrills 

Going a bit further south, we visited Worcester. I hadn't really been into the centre before. There were three toy shops - an impressive number for a fairly small place. I also found a bookshop with a suitable section considering I had just turned 47.

We also went to the cinema and watched the new Shazam! movie, which carried on the fun antics from the first movie. In the evening we went to a pub and decided not to join in the pub quiz... although we ended up helping the team next to us with several answers. (I find it hard not to respond to trivia questions!)

Friday football

On the final day of the holiday we went up to Shrewsbury. I went with my mum, brother and all four nieces and nephews to watch Shrewsbury Town v Peterborough. It was the first football match for my youngest niece and nephew and they got certificates to prove it.

And met Lenny!

They also got given chocolate Easter eggs. "Sharing" them was probably the highlight of the occasion for me as well, considering Shrewsbury slumped to a dismal 3-0 defeat.

Saturday sayonara

And on Saturday we drove home... 

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Birthday number 47 - at the Severn Valley Railway

Following our very busy March, we felt we needed a break and booked a cottage in North Worcestershire, not far from Kidderminster. I thought about going to the Severn Valley Railway on my birthday and when I looked it up I discovered it was the "Open House" weekend which meant various areas that were normally off limits were open for people to have a wander around. And by people, I mean us!

I have already blogged about a funny juxtaposition I saw on our visit. But here is a big write up of our day.

The Open House ticket also gave us unlimited trips on the railway. We arranged our travels up and down the line on the service pulled by a steam train. Here's a photo of the loco taking a break at the Bridgnorth end of the line. 

As we left Kidderminster we passed the West Midland Safari Park and the rhino house. It was the first time in my life I had seen rhinos from a steam train. An excellent way to start our train adventure. 

Our first stop of the day was at Highley where we visited the big engine shed exhibition and museum.

Along with several locos, there was also a travelling post office (TPO) carriage.

Letters and parcels were literally sorted in transit as the train was moving along. The TPO service ran as late as 2004 although in a greatly reduced fashion from its heyday in the early and mid twentieth century. The Great Train Robbery was of a TPO car back in the sixties. 

They had several locos as well, including 'Gordon', a giant blue engine that was formally on the Longmoor Military Railway where army personnel were taught to drive steam trains. 

A fun aspect of being at the railway on an open house weekend was knowing that you could have a close up look of the various bits and bobs that have accumulated off to one side. Like workmen's trolleys.

Like every heritage railway there is a variety or random rolling stock sitting in sidings. Cathy pointed out this handy place to store improvised gunpowder if you found yourself accidentally making some.

There was the instantly recognisable profile of a Class 37 diesel loco under a heavy tarpaulin awaiting restoration.

We caught the train back a few stops and got off at Bewdley where there was the opportunity to have a brake van ride behind a trusty Class 09 diesel shunter. These are very similar to the Class 08 (known as Gronks) but are fewer in number than the 08s. 

We took a ride in the GWR 'Toad' style brake van.

More random rolling stock - a banana fan poses with a banana van.

And a relic from South Wales, a Barry Railway coach that was partly restored.

Another short trip later and we were in Bridgnorth, the other terminus of the Severn Valley Railway. Here the machine shops and repair shed was open. They had lots of engines in various stages of repair. Some of them were just down to their frames. Others were missing cabs. 

Everywhere we went there were vintage posters. Here's a photo of Cathy pointing at one for Wales, which seems a suitable place to finish this write up. 

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Recap of the month - March 2023

March was very busy, with a lot of travelling and several things happening to make a stressful time even more stressful. 

I started the month by driving up to Llandudno Junction on St David's Day because our programme was running an all-day event at the Conwy Business Centre on March 2nd. It was a rare time for our disparate team to get together. The event ran really well and people seemed reluctant to leave at the end. As my colleague Lucy said, that's the mark of a good party.

Photo op with my colleague Gethin

I had booked the next few days off. As I was in North Wales I planned to stay with my mum for a few days. On the Saturday I went with my brother and eldest nephew to Derby to watch Derby County versus Shrewsbury Town. Due to various off-field problems, Derby are a big club slumming it at Shrewsbury's level. Town earned a creditable point, coming back from 2-0 down at half time to draw 2-2. 

Zac ready for the game

The trip to Derby was the first of three Shrewsbury away games during the month. On the Sunday I drove back to Cardiff. After one night at home, Cathy and I headed off to Cambridge for an appointment with the specialist team at Addenbrookes Hospital. 

The appointment was on Tuesday morning and in the evening, Shrewsbury were playing just up the road at Peterborough so we stayed an extra night in the Eastern flatlands and I went to the game. Sadly, Shrewsbury succumbed to a late goal and lost 2-1, but I did meet Peter Burrow the Peterborough mascot before the game!


However, when we returned to Cardiff I felt a bit poorly. My Mum had been unwell when I stayed with her and although she took a covid test that was negative while I was with her, when I took a covid test I saw the two lines that showed I was covidified. A couple of days later, Cathy felt unwell and also tested positive. 

I was well enough to work from home for a week. I missed a planned trip to watch Barry Town play at Briton Ferry so my next football match was a seventeen hour round trip to Ipswich to see Shrewsbury play again. Another exiled Salop fan, Paul, drove us there and back. It was a long way. And Shrewsbury lost. 

Photo with Sir Bobby

After visiting three new football league ground in a row, my next game was a new ground in Wales at Goytre United. They play very near to Port Talbot, and I had arranged a visit to the National Botanic Garden of Wales to check it out as a potential venue for one of my future work events in the afternoon, meaning I could stop for the game on the way back. 

It was a very muddy pitch and the Barry players had to work really hard to pick up all three points. The next game for Barry was at home to Pontardawe Town, and if Barry won they would be divisional champions meaning they would bounce back to the Cymru Premier League at the first attempt. The team played very well and put five goals past Pontardawe to win the title in style. I was joined at the game by my friends Tom, Jude and Seb who hadn't been to a football  match before. Quite a good first game!

They said they enjoyed it!

The champions applaud the fans

In the middle of all this football we had some problems in the house, including needing to get a new boiler. Our old one was 18 years old and had corroded badly. We also had some problems with doors on our kitchen units delaminating, so we claimed some replacements on the warranty. But before we could get them fitted, the washing machine stopped working safely. The repair guy recommended a replacement but to fit a replacement we have to remove the old one, and it's been built in. So, not a simple job! 

We have yet to resolve the kitchen and appliance issues because at the end of March we were back off travelling again. On the very last day of March we attended a day organised by the charity Lipodystrophy UK for people with various forms of lipodystrophy, the rare condition that Cathy has. The day was near Cambridge at the Hinxton Hall Conference Centre and accommodation was included thanks to some funding the charity had received.

Because lipodystrophy is such a rare diseases (4 or 5 cases per million people), it's rare for people with it to know other people with the condition. A day like this is hugely important for people to meet and talk about their experiences - which are usually incredibly similar - and share their coping strategies and things that they have found helpful. My personal highlight was hearing paralympian and one-in-637-million, Tom Staniford, talk about life with his incredibly rare form of lipodystrophy. 

The inspirational Tom Staniford

While it was a long way to travel, especially as it was our second trip to Cambridge in a month, it was well worth it.

From Cambridge we embarked on a mini-holiday, but that will have to wait for another blog post!