Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of sheep and Sunningdale

29th January 2017

How nice to have a quiet Sunday night at home. The last two Sundays have of course, seen me beetling down the M1 in the dark to some hotel or other having bashed out a few snippets of prose in the hope that it will serve. Tonight it is business as usual.

There's a quote somewhere – I don't remember quite where and I'll probably not get it right anyway - that war comprises long periods of waiting interspersed with moments of abject terror. The film industry appears to work on similar lines. For the last two weeks I have waited many hours while cameras, Special Effects, extras, and so on, are got into the same place at the same time and made ready to rehearse or to film, whereupon the words 'Action Train!' come over the radio and suddenly I realise that it is my turn to do it and get it right. And of course, when I get home Andrew and Steph expect me to have been hob-nobbing with the famous actors. In truth, I have been hoping that one of them might have sufficient interest in ferro-equinology to come and ask after the locos, if only so I could invent a new twist on the taxi drivers anecdote of 'You'll never guess who I had in my cab last week...'. But in truth, the nearest I've been to a star is to be thirty yards or so from Kenneth Branagh's stand-in.

On the other hand, I have had a peculiar experience this week. Fox booked me in to what they called the 'Sunningdale Hotel' but as I drove up and down the road last Sunday night I was perturbed to find no such establishment. Nor did my map show one, though it did reveal a large area marked 'college' which eventually (I blame fatigue for it taking so long, not senility) I realised was to be my temporary domicile, and was called the Sunningdale Park. When I got to see it in something more akin to daylight, it gave me the feeling of a modern Army barracks, with definite 'government specification' overtones. And then I twigged. This was none-other than the former Sunningdale Park Civil Service College, now sold off and operating as a motel. Why would I know (or care)? Because about fifty years ago, when computers were enormous boxes of electrical wires, circuit boards and massive tape drives, and had to be kept in air-conditioned rooms, my father as an aspiring senior civil servant came there to do a course on computing. I remember him telling me all about writing a simple program on to punch cards and the satisfaction of it providing him a result (I did much the same a few years later at Sheffield Poly) whereas one of his colleagues got no answer and an amused instructor pointed out it was because he had not punched a program line telling the computer to print it. It is a measure of how much this country has changed, not so much that computers no longer have a room to themselves, but that the civil service no longer boasts a college to train administrators and that instead I was there in the course of making something as frivolous as a talking picture. Wandering around the grounds on my way to breakfast or dinner, I have had the feeling that my father was looking down on me and tutting.

Anyway, while I have been away, Andrew snaffled up a bargain on e-bay. Having promised Team Frodingham some striplights for their container, and requiring more for ourselves, he proceeded to acquire over a dozen for less than a tenner. Although he was keen to replace all the fluorescent tubes with LEDs, as they will not be in regular use (as opposed to our workbench lights) we persuaded him to use up the existing tubes and only do the conversion then.

But that is actually getting ahead of myself. On Saturday Team Frodingham were due a working party, and as they had arranged with us to have a General Meeting at the Briddon Country Pile afterward, no less than 8 of them were coming over. Conscious of my role as genial task-master, I started my day (after making them all tea) by attempting to fix the heater, which, you may recall, had suddenly stopped functioning. Last time we only re-gapped the spark plug and when that had no effect, left it for later investigation. So this time I delved deeper and came to the conclusion that the transformer, which takes the 230V supply and turns it into some voltage or other that will jump the spark plug gap, had given up the ghost. Worse still, it was a small black box whose innards were entirely encapsulated so completely unrepairable. Subsequent investigation has confirmed that it is no longer available as a spare part, so alas the heater will shortly be consigned to the scrap bin and a new (and probably larger) heater will take its place.

Some weeks ago Andrew returned having recovered a single-line token warning sign from a rail yard scrap bin and for various reasons I decided today was the day to get it fitted. So we slung one of the generators onto James and headed up to the top of the yard, that is Phil G, Andy H and myself.


My idea had been to drill new holes in situ, but somebody (I choose to forget who) pointed out that it might be easier to drill with it held firmly down (and anyway, we could on that basis have taken it back to the workshop and fitted it there) and thus aided, we mounted the sign and re-planted it in its hole. It is I suppose, not strictly-speaking correct, in that if you had the token on the loco you could not have released the ground frame to operate the crossover, but marks the need to have the token and anyway, it adds the correct atmosphere.


Meanwhile most of Team Frodingham were at work on their Yorkshire 1382, largely on painting though I gather bits of conduit are ready to be refitted and wired and they now have a large white board leant against it with all the immediate tasks listed so that everyone knows what needs to be done. There's nothing like a bit of forward planning. They also, I'm told, 'live streamed' their efforts onto something called facebook.


They were getting a bid rowdy towards the end of the afternoon, possibly the fact that the shed had no heating brought on the need to keep moving, and they indulged themselves in a light-sabre battle before relocating up to the Country Pile. Here, while food was prepared, I attempted to educate them with some of the finer facets of life like Fascinating Aida, and was touched when some at least joined in with the chorus of 'Suddenly New Zealand' which goes

'All those sheep and lambs
and Sheep and Lambs
and Sheep and Lambs
and Sheep and Lambs
and Sheep and Lambs
and Sheep and Lambs
and Sheep and Lambs
and Sheep and Lambs
and Sheep and Lambs
and the occasional Goat.'

Anyway, after the repast we conducted a general meeting. Not an Annual General Meeting, mark you, the IDRPG has adopted the AFRPS practice of holding general meetings at about monthly intervals so that any member can have his or her say. And Steph marked the occasion by becoming (I think) the IDRPG's first lady member. But the business of the meeting was pressed through with gusto, so that the highlight of the evening could proceed, to whit another few hands of Cards Against Humanity.

Today was a slow day. Andrew wasn't up until nearly lunchtime, I was busy doing some administration (it's time for a VAT return and a month end looming) so we didn't get down to a cold shed until two in the afternoon and most of our time was taken up with a commercial job. An enthusiast of sorts asked for a look round, then decided he'd had enough when barely half-way up the yard and we were joined late on by a lone volunteer who came in for a cup of warming tea.

So that's about it. Photos this week are all by Phil G,- my thanks to him as I didn't quite seem to get any taken myself. At last January is coming to an end and already the evenings are drawing out, can spring be far away?

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