Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Railfreight and the Explosion Musuem

Freight! This is rail freight. Each of these inert mines in the magazine at the Explosion museum in Gosport is on a narrow gauge wagon (not those floating sky high in the roof area of course). This was Monday 10th April 2017 during Aunt Anne's funeral wake. It was not my idea to hold this in the Explosion Museum but it was a dammed good idea. The Navy based catering was excellent. The views superb. Whoever has displayed this museum has had a keen sense of the surreal. The internal architecture and subject matter lend themselves to this. In these uncertain times, when we all urged to loyalty, and pulling together (as you do in a harbour), it is difficult to strike the balance between being a good team person, never wanting to disappoint, but somehow deep down in the heart feeling that the nation has taken corporate leave of its senses and not really being totally convinced that we will recover them on June 8th. I hope we do but I suspect my fading years will all be about enjoying Brexit, rediscovering how great it is to pour scorn on the neighbours and their plans. Portsmouth is a wonderful place to get a handle on this. The Mary Rose is a lasting testimony to the practice of Euroscepticism in action. Whilst the Victory shows the extent of the victory possible against wrong headed continental thought. Behind Portsmouth (and I had not seen any of this before) the Portsdown line of forts (and Fort Nelson) which is open to the public are simply breath-taking. Fort Nelson reminded me how the cult of the volunteer and the amateur (the Victorian Militias) underpin so much of British life. The true Brit cannot be confined by rule and process and that was the European mistake! (or so we imagine for the narrative). Anyway providence is remarkable, my short break to the heart of the British Navy is within the week followed up by the unexpected (to everyone but Drew Blane) call to election arms. The lady in Bristol (was'nt it?) sounded a bit put out. I don't know if I am put out or not. I do know, really know, we have to get beyond the last four years somehow, and I know who I blame for the last four years and it is not actually Mr Corbyn!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Abandoning the Hard Shoulder

Abandoning the Hard Shoulder: nowadays we certainly do not travel Britain as we used to. It either tends to be very expensive or else by car moderately to rather terrifying. Throughout my life there has been a Hampshire connection. As it turns out both myself and Fiona come with this. Her mother's only brother married and spent much of his life until death in Gosport. My father's sister married a notable submarine commander (that's Gosport too, although they lived in Bishops Waltham, Petersfield and East Meon). So from our young years Fiona and I travelled across Britain. It looks like we had both been on HMS Victory by the time we were seven.

And then a niece married and moved into West Hampshire. Somewhat bizarrely the Aunt died on 21st March (too many of my relatives have died in March), the day Lisa gave birth to Tallula Kitty. In the recent past the Hampshire connection has brought visits in 1997, 2001 (the weekend foot and mouth hit, we were in Portchester Crematorium), 2011 for a wedding and aunt visit and now last week 2017 for another visit to the Crem. (which is very well maintained and a fine piece of municipal architecture). We were driving three of us and we had to go from Prudhoe to Keswick to find our daughter at a church weekend before returning to the M6.

Four nights therefore in the Holiday Inn Express at Farlington, the end of the M27. I can recommend that. Reasonable, does the job, good breakfast, quiet rooms, LARGE family rooms. Clean but not over fussy. Three very full and very pleasant days, museumed out in Portsmouth, seeing many things I had not seen before like Mary Rose, Jutland Exhibition (a bit depressing), the superb wooden boat section of the Dockyard, Explosion and Fort Nelson (Iraqui super gun and the railway gun). All full on octane experiences with the obligatory harbour tour producing the head photo of HMS Duncan. Evenings got us to the new baby and beautiful pub dinner in Rockbourne and what was more or less a private charter in April sunlight of the Hayling Island railway.

A great time had by all and I think since we left home, only today is it really raining. But back to my heading? You may recollect that Duncan in Thomas the Tank was a troublesome engine, too short a wheelbase. The photo is HMS Duncan under a lot of covers. This class of new destroyers is the Type 45. They have a problem, they don't like hot water, I rather imagine Duncan complained about this too. From Wikipedia "First Sea Lord Admiral Philip Jones clarified that the "WR-21 gas turbines were designed in extreme hot weather conditions to what we call “gracefully degrade” in their performance, until you get to the point where it goes beyond the temperature at which they would operate... we found that the resilience of the diesel generators and the WR-21 in the ship at the moment was not degrading gracefully; it was degrading catastrophically, so that is what we have had to address." So Duncan and sisters are having a lot of modifications.

The Dockyard is also gearing up to receive imminently the new aircraft carriers. These are so large that an enormous dredging operation is going on (finding World War Two ordnance). All fascinating for the ship spotter. Portsmouth Harbour thereby remains very busy. According to the museum for the carriers 40 computer systems are being spiralled into 4. I hope it all works and they have plenty of built in redundancy. Unlike our motorways where for the first time we encountered Smart Motorways. They did not seem any less crowded than the others, but they were much more mentally demanding and worrisome.

In all we drove 978 miles and not much in the three full days in Hampshire. And the queues, the accidents, the terrible driving, the cars weaving back and forth lanes. Each way the Oxford bypass had shunts. We saw very few police but rather more ambulances. Sometimes it was so bad I resorted to my renowned improvisation, so we saw the A50 and the Stoke D road. Coming back we had close acquaintance with Hathern and Long Eaton.

You may tell I don't like Smart motorways. I think they are anything but. But they fit the long term Westminster mentality: don't spend money, fend off the problem. They are in a line with Type 45, and aircraft carriers too big for their harbours and without planes to fly. We have at times been renowned for redundancy. The wooden walls, the Dreadnoughts were designed with it in view. Excess strength, in numbers and design.

But after the war in 1945 we felt we could not keep up. Schemes which we led with like Blue Streak, TSR2, APT were all marked by a failure to persevere. Meantime other areas of public life faced the same mentality. Beeching hatcheted railways we are now having to rebuild. In fact the network carries more passengers than in 1947 but there is no redundancy. There are no spare trains. It cannot be afforded they say. The Health System is the same and people suffer and die because of our unwillingness to embrace redundancy.

Recently the biggest single example of the lack of caution that denying redundancy breeds, has been the referendum. All the checks and balances you would normally expect forgotten about. No safe margin in the vote for the answer, no requirement for a majority across each of the four nations.

Britain is a great country and I am a patriot, brought up by patriots. But it is unwise and my parents would have agreed to run a country without plenty of redundancy and they would never have understood a smart motorway!