Monday 31 October 2016

Heyford station and village

As well as the canal at Heyford i also took some photos at the railway station (of course) and the village of Lower Heyford. I didn't take quite as many photos at the station as i planned as the train came only a few minutes after i got there after walking through the village. As the service is only every 2 hours i didn't want to wait in the murk and mist. Maybe in the Summer i'll return and spend longer here. You can see my photos here.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Heyford, Oxford Canal

Today i went to Heyford in Oxfordshire, like Bournville the station there is adjacent to a canal and you can literally walk off the platform and onto the towpath. I had a nice walk along the towpath in both directions from Heyford Wharf though the towpath quickly deteriorates so i'll come back next Summer when its a bit less muddy. I like to visit new bits of canal (to me obviously - the canal has been around for a long time), you can see my photos here.

Thursday 27 October 2016

Steam departure

Amid masses of noise and smoke a steam locomotive departure from Stafford.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

A Personal Computer History (2) : Mighty Micros

So we've been playing some games (mostly Pong derivatives), its time for a real computer. Time to begin coding and harness the raw power of the microprocessor.

So in 1980 my Dad bought a Sinclair ZX-80. Compared to computers nowadays it's specifications seem rather primitive: a Z80 CPU running at 3.5 MHz, 1 KB of RAM and programs had to be loaded and saved to cassette tape. (In comparison i'm writing this blogpost on an ageing Macbook with a 2.5 GHz CPU and 4 GB of RAM so things have moved on a bit in the last few years.)

The ZX-80 was fun, though typing in programs could be a bit of a chore with the membrane keyboard and the somewhat unwieldy way to edit text. I did type in all of the Cheese Nibbler program however which was in the book shown below. Quite a basic little game, just a load of PRINT statements really but enjoyable.

Little did i know back then (i was still at primary school of course) that i would spent my university and working career working with computers, writing programs in Pascal, Visual BASIC and finally Perl and later web sites and e-learning hacking CSS and Javascript to extend Captivate.

Anyway after the ZX-80 we progressed to a Commodore VIC-20 which had colour output and cartridges for loading games and other software. To be honest i mostly used it to play games. After that a BBC Micro Model B which we eventually obtained a printer and a floppy disc drive (5.25" of course) for. This was a more serious computer and i did write some basic BASIC programs on it... and play some games. But it all started with the little ZX-80, which i still have and in theory it still works...

Monday 24 October 2016

Meanwhile in the CCCP

Yesterday I found some more of the photos i took whilst on a school trip to the Soviet Union in 1988. Its interesting to note that my obsession with transport has never changed as one of the photos is of a trolleybus! Now i can't remember if these photos were taken in Leningrad or Moscow. Any help gratefully received.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Stafford steam

I went to Stafford yesterday to do some railway photography. Although the light wasn't too good i did manage to get some reasonable photos. A good bonus was the arrival of a steam hauled charter. Although i prefer "modern image" it was nice to see a good old steam loco for a change, and very loud it was too! You can see my photos here.

Thursday 20 October 2016


Yesterday i attended the World of Learning exhibition and conference at the NEC. As a course designer this was a chance to attend some seminars on design and e-learning and get some tips on best practice (though interestingly we already seem to be doing it). The best part about these events though is the chance to get out of the office, break out of the bubble a bit and have a look around the wider world of the industry.

And also meet up with some former colleagues of course. My previous workplace sounds like it hasn't changed, i've never regretted leaving the company - the people i worked with yes but unfortunately i couldn't bring them with me.

There was also a Routemaster bus at the conference/exhibition. Which is always welcome!

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Count Dracula

I'm a big fan of early cinema and when i saw that the Electric Cinema in Birmingham was showing the original 1931 Dracula movie i just had to go along and see it. This was the first official film adaptation of Dracula and is great fun with Bela Lugosi's performance as the lead tough to beat (only Christopher Lee is on a par in my opinion).

Not a perfect film, it was an early talkie and sometimes the sound is a big harsh. The film also ends quite abruptly. But its so atmospheric, indeed there is a lot of fog in this film. And large floppy bats.

Monday 17 October 2016

A Personal Computer History (1) : Introduction to the 8-bit world

In this new series i will talk and reminisce about my adventures with computers. Mostly in the olden days but we will briefly touch upon the present day. Lets start in the late 1970s when the world was getting turned onto the microcomputer world.

Like many people my introduction to computers was via video games. I was bought a pong system in the late 1970s by my parents and delighted in hitting little blocks on the screen with slightly bigger blocks. My system was a Grandstand 3600 and had a number of games including squash and hockey though they were all slight variations of the classic pong set-up. There were also a couple of target shooting games which used a light sensor in a pistol to tell if you were firing at the block moving across the screen or not. It did work pretty well and indeed the system itself was fine.

I still have it safely stored away in the loft hough have not used it properly for many years. The gun has long gone (i found playing with it as a "normal" toy gun more fun to be honest and eventually it was destroyed) but both paddle controllers still exist.
Genesis of my videogame history

In the box

I've never been that much of a gamer to be honest though still enjoy some bit bashing now and then. The Grandstand did work the last time i tried it though the video signal was a bit fragile.

A bit later i also had a couple of hand-held video game toys including an Astro Wars which i have also still got and a tiny LCD game my cousin bought me in Hong Kong. I don't have that anymore but it involved flipping pancakes. One console i didn't have but i always wished i did was an Atari 2600. I finally bought one on eBay in the late 1990s. Its lying unused in the loft too though!

However fun as they were the time for games was over, it was time to get an actual microcomputer... and play games on one of those instead! To be continued...

Sunday 16 October 2016

Cromford Canal & Ambergate

I had a day off work on Friday and headed up to Derbyshire to Ambergate and walk along the Cromford Canal. This is a new canal to me and to be honest the first "new" canal i have walked for quite some time. The Cromford Canal is unnavigable at present (apart from at the extremities) and certainly not through the lovely village of Ambergate but the canal is watered and maybe one day it can be restored. You can see my photos here.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

The trolleybuses of Walsall and elsewhere

Nowadays light rail tramway systems are all the rage but no one talks about bringing back the trolleybuses.

Of course in hindsight losing such a network (and the tram networks) was a mistake the latter though is slowly being rectified via various costly new tram schemes. You have to wonder sometimes why trolleybuses are not given a go, they can use the existing roads so the start-up costs must be much less though they would suffer from the same road congestion problems as motorbuses of course and more importantly arn't as sexy as light rail...

I haven't seen a working trolleybus in the UK (i have seen one as a boy abroad but i can't remember where!) but i have seen a number of preserved examples including one of the Walsall trolleybuses which used to be in the AMRTM collection (is it still there?)
A Walsall trolleybus with 2 motorbuses at the AMRTM

A London trolleybus at the LT Museum Depot, Acton

Trolleypoles seen here were used to collect the current from overhead wires

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Aylesbury arrival

A video taken from my trip to Buckinghamshire a couple of Saturdays ago. A Chiltern DMU arrives at Aylesbury.

Monday 10 October 2016

Kings Sutton station

My main reason to go to King's Sutton was to visit the station of course (the station does not seem to have an apostrophe for some reason, maybe it broke an old BR rule). The station reminds me a bit of Lapworth and indeed is on the same line though further along. The wooden shelter is very nice, much better than the more modern bus shelter type elsewhere. You can see my photos here.

Saturday 8 October 2016

King's Sutton

Last week returning from Aylesbury i passed through King's Sutton on the train. Its only a few minutes away from Banbury and not somewhere i have been before... until now that is. I went this morning, mostly to take photographs at the railway station (which will be the subject of another post) but i also headed into the village, which is in South Northamptonshire, to take some photographs of the church of Saints Peter and Paul parts of which date from Norman times.

Its a lovely village, you'd imagine ITV could make a Sunday evening drama here about a detective who investigates the rather alarmingly high homicide rate of local residents. Anyway you can see my photos here.

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Churches (2) : St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate

St Martin-cum-Gregory is a former parish church in Micklegate, York (a city of many churches of course). The church was first built in the 11th century dedicated to St Martin with further building in the 13th and 14th centuries. It merged with St Gregory's Church in 1585 which gave it its current name. Over the centuries it saw further additions and restorations especially in the 19th century.

However nowadays it is no longer used as a church by the Church of England and is currently a stained glass centre.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Edge of the map

It was interesting to go to Amersham on Saturday, the station right on the top left corner of the tube map. In this video a Metropolitan Line train arrives at the end of a long journey from the centre of London.

Monday 3 October 2016

Buses I Have Known (6) : Routemaster

Lets end this short series about buses with one which never ran in Birmingham in normal revenue earning service... the classic London bus the Routemaster. Although as a kid i never had the chance to ride on one of course i knew what the Routemaster was, as its probably the most famous bus in the world after all! Finally on a trip to London towards the end of its time in service in 2005 i took a Routemaster bus from Oxford St to Golders Green and a very interesting experience it was too.

Ironically the very next week i travelled on a Routemaster again, this time around Birmingham on a preserved example. You can still see a few Routemasters around London on special services, they also pop up elsewhere too. Over the last few years i've seen them in Crewe, at the NEC, (a few years ago) in Stratford-upon-Avon being used for a wedding, and one passed my house a few months ago!
Taking tourists around London

RM1397 seen at the former North Birmingham Busways garage in Erdington

At London Transport Museum

At a LT Museum Depot open day

Saturday 1 October 2016

Bucks Rails

I had planned all week to go to Aylesbury and walk the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal, however the weather forecast which had looked promising turned as Saturday finally arrived and it was a bit wet to be walking along a muddy towpath.

However i still went to Aylesbury and decided to just take photos of trains instead. I took photos at Princes Risborough as well and visited Amersham for the first time, one of the stations on the very edge of the tube map (though only the second furthest station from the centre of London, Charing Cross!) So three stations in Buckinghamshire, and you can see my photos here.

Princes Risborough