Archive for April, 2009

Festival Year

19 April 2009 Leave a comment

2009 may be the Homecoming Year for many, and in my defence, I too will have a number of sort of homecomings – In May I’ll be up in Aberdeen for the Word Festival, which last year was an excellent opportunity to escape SQ and take the family on our first ever post-nipper holiday.

This year we’ve decided to double up, and the literary trip to Aberdeen will be immediately followed by our first ever trip to the Orkney Folk Festival. This has been a long standing event in the Orkney calendar, and it is to my shame that I have never before set foot across the threshold of the OFF. The 2009 programme has just been announced, and based on my first scan of the schedule, rest and relaxation will be a far cry for many of the artists: even top billers like Karine Polwart will be performing in multiple venues from the Thursday opening through to the Sunday close.

Orkney has consistently punched above its weight in folk music and performing arts, and event like the folk festival have to be considered as catalysts for the Islands’ free flowing talent pipeline. Be it Kris Drever, with whom I once shared a mast of a sailing boat with, his father Ivan of Wolfstone fame, fiddler Douglas Montgomery or the Wrigley Sisters, the Islands fame carries on.

I’ll also need to have some “rushes” completed by then, as in June I have to send my apologies for absence to the Kirkwall CE Reunion which takes place the following June. I can reveal that a MacPherson-McCallum collaboration may not be too far off the mark, but I would be delighted if I could pull in some other names in my talent pipeline. Anyone with any experience of Kirkwall CE in the 1970’s, 1980”s or even 1990’s (youngsters!) feel free to get in touch.



13 April 2009 Leave a comment
Replica of Stephensons Rocket beside Gresleys A4 Mallard at NRM, York

Replica of Stephenson's "Rocket" beside Gresley's A4 "Mallard" at NRM, York

While the world of railway enthusiasm continues to carry a significant amount of “uncool” baggage, the opportunity to capture a real steam engine in operation on the rail network is for some (myself included) a temptation hard to resist. This vice is aided and abetted nowadays by a gamut of online train related resources – one of the best being UK Steam Info’s website. Not only does the site list tours, but the more elusive movements of loose locomotives are listed faithfully too, allowing an unprecedented amount of information, including crucially, the times a locomotive is scheduled at various points of its itinary.

Let’s just be clear. I’m never to be found at the end of a platform writing down the numbers of the next train for Newcraighall (why on earth would anyone do that), but for me, it’s all about the chance to catch a shot on 35mm film of a highly photogenic subject.

Ask anyone with any connection with the railways what the story of 2009 has been, and the most likely response will be the steaming and touring of new build Peppercorn-esque A1 no 60163 Tornado. After 40 years or so of extinction, the enthusiasts dream has been realists and a type of locomotive that was scrapped in the sixties has been faithfully rebuilt from scratch – a giant working replica, rich in all of the engineering and design values of its class, plus one or two technological advances in safety and engineering for good measure. The end result is a stunningly efficient piece of engineering that has had its drivers extolling its virtues.

Peppercorn A1 60163 Tornado approaches Dalmeny Junction

Peppercorn A1 60163 "Tornado" approaches Dalmeny Junction

I managed to catch Tornado three times this year, twice “live” and once on static display, and admit I am impressed by the characteristics and looks of this locomotive, that makes photography of the subject an easy obligation. Sadly, I see no other visits north of the border for 60163, so she leaves a hard act to follow.

Other “snaps” so far include K4 “The Great Marquess” and A4 “Union of South Africa”. In fact, “number 9” (as the A4 is known as), was probably what reignited my bug, when I took my Canon Digital IXUS down to Dalmeny Station one Sunday morning to snap it. The locomotive opened up as it approached from Dalmeny Junction, sending a giant column of smoke into the air. By the time it rushed through Dalmeny, I was sold.

The Marquess was a more disappointing shot last year. The Ixus simply wasn’t right for the vantage point at Hawes Pier, as a tried to capture it crossing the Bridge. So this year, having moved from a compact digital to a Pentax Film SLR with optional 70mm – 210mm zoom lens, I was more prepared, and three traversals in one day allowed me to create an almost impossible sequence.

Gresley K4 No 61994 The Great Marquess leaving Dalmeny Station

Gresley K4 No 61994 "The Great Marquess" leaving Dalmeny Station

So today, I was faced with another chance to catch number 9 at Waverley. Having struggled to get good shots of Tornado at Waverley last time, I was planning ahead. Two times I had been on a platform with a camera, only for the loco to sit out beyond the platform end, meaning the best I could get was a rear shot. So this time, with the help of Google Street View and Microsoft Maps Birds Eye View, I decided on parking my mini tripod atop Jacob’s Ladder, a set of steps that links Calton Road with Regent Road. This gives the photographer a “classic” panorama of Edinburgh Waverly, North Bridge, the Bank of Scotland, The Castle and the NB and Caley Hotels. The only thing missing was the train and at about 10, the train was pulled backwards into the station, and to my horror, all the way under the roof. A further 10 minute wait ensued, and patience was rewarded with an A4 emerging from Waverley, all smoke and steam, and pounding towards my lens before disappearing under the tunnel below.

If all trains were like that, I may be tempted to hang about stations a bit more.

High Street History

11 April 2009 Leave a comment

For Scots of a certain age, the loss of Woolworth’s from the British High Street earlier this year brings back memories of a similarly significant high street presence that disappeared many years ago. Ask any thirty something where they bought newspapers, magazines, tapes, computer games and of course, stationary and the name “John Menzies” will not be far from their tongue.

A John Menzies High Street Shop

A John Menzies High Street Shop

John Menzies (pronounced  “Ming-us”) had a UK-wide presence in railway station retail outlets, but in the Scottish high street, it was the stationery shop, competing in the same market space as WH Smith did in England & Wales. The distinctive blue, white and orange sign was easily recognisable to any one with an interest in Birthday Cards, Computer Games, Magazines, Books and Music. Founded in 61 Princes Street, Edinburgh in 1833, the chain grew and flourished, the Edinburgh Store even featuring as a victim of crime in the opening chase sequence in the 1996 film of the gritty Irvine Welsh novel, Trainspotting.

But fictitious robbery was not the problem for John Menzies – a more serious problem was the challenging market space it occupied, and in March 1998, the retain arm of the organisation was sold to rival WH Smiths, ending the companies presence on the High Street.

John Menzies plc continues to flourish, but as a distribution and logistics company, still headquartered in Scotland, with worldwide presence. In fact – one third of the newspapers we read are distributed by John Menzies.

But for me, train stations and high streets just ain’t what they used to be, when that old familiar blue sign would promise sweets, magazines, records and games. We miss you John!

(This article is dedicated to the memory of Margaret Johnston: 1910 – 2009; a John Menzies Group employee for all her working life)

Something Good?

10 April 2009 Leave a comment
Christ of St. John of The Cross, by Salvador Dali

Christ of St. John of The Cross, by Salvador Dali

“44It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:44. The New International Version)”

Good Friday, the start of Easter Weekend, has always been slightly enigmatic.

For those not entirely up to speed on their Religious Education, Good Friday marks the day that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified to death, at the end of his period of 3 years of ministry, teaching, and miracle making. It is believed that he was 33 years old at the time of his execution, and suffered what was a common yet horrific demise in New Testament times.

Crucifixion yielded a slow and painful end for anyone unfortunate to suffer this punishment, and the typical victim was nailed to a wooden cross through the wrists and arms, in a hanging position that impeded respiration. To breathe, you had to pull your body weight up onto the same nails that had speared through your wrists and ankles. Every breath was the reward for excruciating agony, usually under the burning Mediterranian sun. Eventually, the combination of dehydration, asphyxiation and blood loss led to death. For those who struggled longer than the Roman executioners preferred, the reward was a broken leg courtesy of the guards, and consequntial inabilty to continue breathing.

Jesus Christ lasted six hours, and died before there was any need for limb fracturing. Accounts of his suffering and death are well documented in the 4 Gospels of the Bible, but for those who distrust religious canon, there are historical accounts of his life and death that back up the biblical accounts: Josephus and Tacitus the most well known.

So, not a good day at the office for the Messiah?

This is the enigma of calling today “Good” Friday. For those present at this disturbing death, there was not much good at first glance. So what’s it all about.

Of course, to the Christian, the ghastly event plays against a background of ritual sacrifice that Jewish practice demanded. Crime needed a punishment, and to make recompense, many a lamb met a gory end courtesy of a priest’s blade. This bloody circle was unending, and the death of the Son of God was an opportunity to break the vicious loop. It was an extreme measure, but Christian belief says it was all about a divine intervention. The ultimate innocent took the ultimate rap, and the Old Testament requirements of sacrifice and blood were rendered null and void, and God was back on speaking terms with mankind.

So, a good day after all?

Happy Easter


9 April 2009 Leave a comment
One of the Concordes relegated to static display at East Fortune

One of the Concorde's relegated to static display at East Fortune

40 years on from the first test flight, Concorde sleeps indefinitely in a small number of museums in Britain, America and France. A true icon of the 20th Century, the aircraft reignited the glamour of travel and was graced by the rich and famous, ranging from broadcaster David Frost to Her Majesty the Queen.

But not even royal passengers could eclipse the stunning lines of the delta-winged, supersonic aircraft, which carried it own fame through the decades it flew. In a coloured career, rich in high points but punctuated by the low of the Paris crash in July 2000, before ultimate withdrawal in 2003.

My own experience of Concorde was seeing the plane visit Edinburgh Turnhouse in the 2003 farewell tour. When we arrived at Edinburgh Airport, she was sitting on the tarmac. preparing to taxi. We found a vantage point near the start of the runway, and as she rolled up, the plane appeared slightly ungainly, rolling along on her extra long wheels towards the runway.

However, once lined up on the runway, any doubts of the plane’s majesty were quickly dispersed courtesy of the 4x Rolls Royce Olympus Engines as they thundered out 152,000 pounds of thrust, silencing the crowd and forcing the arrowed lines of the plane down the runway and into the air.

As the dust settled, I knew the skies were losing something special.

Subsequent encounters were at the highly recommended Museum of Flight in East Fortune, which provides an excellent encounter with Speedbird close up, including an opportunity to step onboard and imagining what it was like.

The decision to ground all examples seems unviable. I expect that in 10 years time, public pressure will demand that Concorde flies again.

No Free Spirit

8 April 2009 Leave a comment

The move today by The National Secular Society to withdraw NHS funding for Chaplains, reveals a worrying mindset growing in prevalence in British 21st Century Society. Arguing that “the money should be spent on Nurses or Cleaners” is a devious ploy that relegates the funding of chaplaincy services to sit comfortably beside “Vets sent on drumming workshops” in the wahoo section of todays BBC News Online.

The argument by the NSS that the money would be better spent is flawed. NHS budgets run into multi-million figures, and amongst the recipient of sections of these budgets are salaries of receptionists, secretaries, IT engineers, accountants, legal professionals and many more roles not directly engaged in medical care or patient intervention. No-one is clamouring to lose the lawyers, but I doubt the legal costs of the NHS are in anyway eclipsed by the price of a pastor? More damning to the NSS is their failure to accept the findings of the 2004 “Agenda for Change” report which assessed all of the functions in Hospitals and failed to find fault with the role of chaplaincy within the NHS.

Equally significantly,  a spokesman for the NSS on BBC Scotland’s “Good Morning Scotland” criticised the role of chaplains, accusing them of attempting to proselytise while on the job. This is alarmist and hypocrital. Secularism itself aims to remove religious affairs from the public arena, the NSS actively campaigning against faith schools, BBC’s religious output, seeking to remove Bishops from the House of Lords, and wishing to strangle debate on moral dilemmae in scientific and medical research. The NSS states that it wishes people to be free to practice their faith, but on their terms, and should that faith try to manifest itself in deeds, they may have an issue with it.

Secularism has an agenda, if you disagree, you may wish to read the “balanced” views on the NSS website, and make up your own mind. I think inflammatory and alarmist language is unhelpful. So I suggest the NSS come clean and take the log out of their own eye.

Categories: Faith

Arbroath Day

6 April 2009 Leave a comment

6th April marks the anniversary of the signing of one of Scotland’s most famous documents in 1320AD – The Declaration of Arbroath.

The story of the document was detailed recently by Neil Oliver on BBC Scotland’s “Scotland’s History”. Cutting to the chase, it was an appeal to the then Pontiff for recognition of Scotland as a nation in its own right, with some twelfth century spin, claiming an almost biblical positioning of The Scots, somewhere between the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Samaritans.

Floral history aside, the document has become a key icon in Scotland’s legacy, and an ancient copy of the now lost original is held in the National Archives in Edinburgh.

Online versions in the original Latin and a more accessible translation in Engiish can be found on the University of Edinburgh Website: here.

The date also sparked the US festivities of Tartan Day.