Archive for railways

London to Brighton in 4 Minutes

Posted in Television with tags , , on March 7, 2013 by telescoper

Since I’m going to be away from base for a while I thought I’d post this classic film to cover the interruption to normal blogging service. Here’s a description from the Youtube entry.

London to Brighton in Four Minutes, made by the BBC Film Unit in 1952, was a favourite of many viewers during the 1950s. In those days one never knew when it would be screened, but it often popped up when there was an unscheduled gap between programmes. Apparently the journey on the Brighton Belle was filmed at 2 frames per second, thus at the normal projection speed of 24fps a speed of 60 mph becomes 720 mph. The cameraman was sitting in the cab with the train driver and hand cranking the film camera. Each reel of film was only 1000ft and so the camerman had to change the film during the journey. When editing the film these “gaps” were filled with a shot of the train driver.

This film footage is from the Archive Collection held by the Alexandra Palace Television Society.

Modern trains still follow the same route, but there are many new developments either side of the line, including Gatwick Airport…

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Passenger Action

Posted in Biographical with tags , on December 4, 2012 by telescoper

I made it  to Brighton last night, safe and well and in good time. It seems the flooding was finally fixed early yesterday morning and my train was neither delayed nor re-routed. I even got here in time for dinner. Having a look at facebook while I was on the train I saw a friend of mine had posted a story from the Independent about suicides on the railways, which are sadly on the increase, and the cold and unsympathetic response they often receive from the travelling public.

A few years ago when I was external examiner, I was on a train from Nottingham to Cambridge going to an examiners meeting at the University of Cambridge. I had a window seat near the front of the carriage on the right hand side. Just outside Peterborough, the train was on a curved stretch of track so I could see the line in front of us. There was a level crossing with the barriers down and cars waiting either side. I could see quite clearly a female figure standing in the middle of the crossing but as the train got closer to her she vanished from view, obscured by the train. I heard the train’s warning signal and, seconds later, the driver shouted out “Oh No..”.

There was a horrible thump and the train lurched as it travelled over something that had gone underneath. The gruesome sound of a human body being sliced apart by metal wheels is something I’ll never forget. The train came to a halt, and the driver opened the door to his compartment. I could see that blood had sprayed over the front window. The poor driver looked like a ghost. He sat down, shocked. He said that when he sounded the alarm the lady had turned and walked along the track towards the train. She looked directly into his eyes as the train hit her.

Eventually, perhaps an hour later, transport police and an ambulance arrived at the scene and a replacement driver was brought to us; train drivers can never carry on after such an event.  Some even have to quit the job. A police chaplain came too. The police and ambulance people collected the remains, made measurements, interviewed various people who had seen what happened and declared it a suicide. We moved to the next station, March, and got off onto the platform, the front of the train quickly hidden from us by a large piece of white canvas.

There had been time for the transport policemen to talk to the passengers who were all, like me, rattled by the experience. They (the police) had been through this all before, they said. That particular level crossing was  a place people came to specifically for that reason. Nobody could say why there and not somewhere else. Apparently it’s the same on the London Underground. Some stations have many suicides of people jumping in front of trains, others virtually none. Who can say why.

Suicides are not as rare as you might think. In the United Kingdom each year about one person in ten thousand takes their own life; we’re actually quite a long way down the league table for suicide rates. Men are about three times as likely to do it as women. My cousin Gary did it a few years ago. There are several per week just at railway stations or on railway lines across the United Kingdom, adding up to over 200 per year.

When I was told these facts I was completely shocked. It has never crossed my mind to take my own life, especially not in a way that seems designed to cause other people suffering too. And I’m not talking about the inconvenience of being delayed. Meetings can always be rearranged, plans can be altered. I mean the anguish such events cause to people who care about their fellow human beings, even strangers. Nobody really understands another person’s pain, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we don’t then do we really have the right to call ourselves human?

Taken at the flood

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , on December 3, 2012 by telescoper

I find myself in the unusual situation of having lunch at home on a working Monday. This is because I have to travel down to Brighton this evening for some Sussex business tomorrow. Not wanting to carry all my stuff into work and thence to the station I decided to plan on coming home for a bite to eat before setting out on the journey.

Normally the journey from Cardiff to Brighton would be expected to take about four hours via London, but there’s been a lot of disruption to the trains recently owing to flooding that occurred after a period of heavy rain about 10 days ago. In fact the area, between Bristol Parkway and Swindon, that flooded this time seems to do so regularly, each time catching Network Rail Notwork Fail completely by surprise. Why has this localised flooding taken so long to fix? I have no idea. I’m no engineer, but I would have thought it should be possible to do something about a problem so well known. But that never seems to happen, and the system is thrown into chaos nearly every time it rains, with trains having to be re-routed or cancelled in shambolic fashion. We are however getting a bigger station at Reading, which apparently means that more trains can be run into and out of London. Until the line floods again.

Anyway, I’m taking no chances and setting out early. If I am to endure a scenic diversion via Bath at least I’ll have plenty to do: coursework to mark, stuff to read, and papers to revise. Wish me luck. I think I’ll need it.

Shadows of Sylvia

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , , , on April 5, 2009 by telescoper

The other day I decided to visit a few bookshops in Cardiff in order to spend the money I won in the TLS Crossword competition. It seemed only right to use it that way. These days I seem to buying poetry books more often than anything else. I’m not sure what that means.

I treated myself to the collected poems of Derek Walcott, whose work I have never really looked at before. He hails from St Lucia in the West Indies, and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992. His poems are truly wonderful, full of allusions to classical history and mythology, but with a distinctive Caribbean flavour all his own.  Definitely money well spent.

One of the other books I bought was a collection of peoms by Sylvia Plath, called The Colossus. This is one of those smart editions from Faber & Faber that are just the right size to fit into your pocket for a long journey on train or plane. I have had Ariel for some time, and have been meaning to read more of her verse for a long time but somehow never got around to it.

The only two things that most people are likely to know about Sylvia Plath are (1) that she was married to another poet, Ted Hughes , and (2) that she killed herself in 1963 by putting her head in a gas oven. The manner of her death endowed her with a cult status, which was further amplified when the collection called Ariel was eventually published after her death. In fact The Colossus was the only collection of her poems that was published during her life.

Although it’s a very banal way to put it, Sylvia Plath led a troubled life. She had a history of mental illness and nervous breakdown. Her poems are mostly of a confessional nature, unsurprisingly bleak, but often searingly intense and shot through with vivid imagery.  It’s not exactly easy reading, but if it’s catharsis you’re looking for, go no further. She’s even good for a quote or two about astronomy. How’s this, for example, from the poem Years (which didn’t make it into the collection of poems I blogged about a while ago):

O God, I am not like you
In your vacuous black,
Stars stuck all over, bright stupid confetti.
Eternity bores me,
I never wanted it.

One of the things that spurred me on to read a bit more of Sylvia Plath was the news  that her son, Nicholas Hughes, had committed suicide at the age of 46; as a young boy he was asleep in bed when his mother had ended her own life. There was also a very moving story in yesterday’s Guardian by writer Jeremy Gavron, whose mother Hannah Gavron also took her own life, in circumstances very similar to Sylvia Plath, in 1965.

Of course there’s been a lot of rather morbid stuff written about whether Sylvia Plath was somehow responsible for the eventual death of her son, whether the propensity to suicide may be inherited, whether it was all Ted Hughes’ fault, and so on. I think all this tells us is that one person can never really understand another’s pain and the greater the pain, the greater the incomprehension also.

A few years ago when I was external examiner, I was on a train from Nottingham to Cambridge going to an examiners meeting at the University of Cambridge. I had a window seat near the front of the carriage on the right hand side. Just outside Peterborough, the train was on a curved stretch of track so I could see the line in front of us. There was a level crossing with the barriers down and cars waiting either side. I could see quite clearly a female figure standing in the middle of the crossing but as the train got closer to her she vanished from view, obscured by the train. I heard the train’s warning signal and, seconds later, the driver shouted out “Oh No..”.

There was a horrible thump and the train lurched as it travelled over something that had gone underneath. The gruesome sound of a human body being sliced apart by metal wheels is something I’ll never forget. The train came to a halt, and the driver opened the door to his compartment. Icould see that blood had sprayed over the driver’s window. The poor driver looked like a ghost. He said that when he sounded the alarm the lady had turned and walked along the track towards the train. She looked directly into his eyes as the train hit her.

Eventually, perhaps an hour later, transport police and an ambulance arrived at the scene and a replacement driver was brought to us; train drivers can never carry on after such an event.  Some even have to quit the job. A police chaplain came too. The police and ambulance people collected the remains, made measurements, interviewed various people who had seen what happened and declared it a suicide. We moved to the next station, March, and got off onto the platform, the front of the train quickly hidden from us by a large piece of white canvas.

There had been time for the transport policemen to talk to the passengers who were all, like me, rattled by the experience. They (the police) had been through this all before, they said. That particular level crossing was  a place people came to specifically for that reason. Nobody could say why there and not somewhere else. Apparently it’s the same on the London Underground. Some stations have many suicides of people jumping in front of trains, others virtually none. Who can say why.

Suicides are not as rare as you might think. In the United Kingdom each year about one person in ten thousand takes their own life; we’re actually quite a long way down the league table for suicide rates. Men are about three times as likely to do it as women. My cousin Gary did it about five years ago. There are several per week just at railway stations or on railway lines across the United Kingdom.

When I was told these facts I was completely shocked. It has never crossed my mind to take my own life, especially not in a way that seems designed to cause other people suffering too.  The time comes all too soon anyway.

This intriguing video features Sylvia Plath reading probably her most famous poem Lady Lazarus.