... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Sunday 31 March 2019

Books I read in March

John Le Carre A Delicate Truth (local library)
Took a while to get going, but a disturbing and wrenching story that you know isn't going to end well.

Aline Templeton Dead in the Water (local library)
Not immediately gripping but did grow on me, and towards the end I was being drawn back to it. The police protagonists come across less fully and complexly drawn than the other charachers - but maybe that's because they've developed in other books buit this is the first time I'd met them. I'd read more.

Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison The Class Ceiling: Why it pays to be privileged
This is for work, but I'm including it here because I read it from cover to cover. Very readable, and interesting. I really must read Bourdieu first hand.

Donna Leon The Waters of Eternal Youth (Kindle, on way back from Saltaire)
Maybe not the greatest Brunetti, but a comforting read.

Stephen Booth Fall Down Dead (local library)
His latest, and marginally better than the last couple, but I prefer writers to wear their local knowledge a little more lightly, and to steer a little more adroitly around vacuous cliche. Also, a bit too much subplot, with clues to the main mystery all thrown in too near the end.

Cath Staincliffe The Silence Between Breaths (local library)
Almost a novella; a miniature. Nicely, economically written. The first third was basically ruined for me though by a massive spoiler in the blurb - so don't read the blurb.

Anne Enright The Forgotten Waltz (local library)
Now this *is* writing - at least at first, so sparse it gives the reader room to breathe, to fill the gaps. I loved the first part of this book; the second, perhaps, is a little more mundane. But maybe that was how it was meant to be; it would certainly be fitting to the plot.

John LeCarre A Most Wanted Man (local library)
Don't know if it's me getting used to him, or just this book, but I found it rather boring - everything played out exactly as expected.

Denise Mina The Long Drop (local library)
Based on a real case, turned into a gripping, shifting human story by an excellent crime writer.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Time to pick the next Big Day Out

You may recall they my series of Big Days Out started so well, in Saltaire. Er... two years ago. Shortly afterwards, in the pub, I thought it would be a good idea to let my friend tap the screen to pick the next one... and it was Ladybank, so I never quite got round to going, though I did get as far as looking it up and seeing what I could have visited if I had gone. I think there was a golf course.

But anyway, because I didn't do it myself, I have now decided (after two years) that it didn't count, and therefore I do not have to go to Ladybank before I can pick the next one.

So is all set up, to select a random number between 101 and 186, and I shall now just flick across to the relevant tab and click the button ... and it's ...


Oooh ... a boat I know quite well, and a place I've been, although not for a while - and, what's more, where I have a kind of distant quasi-relative, where there should be lots to see, and a canal and a river. It'll take just over three hours to get there, and I must be careful to avoid Gold Cup day.

So you can either guess, or look it up in your Faulkner, or do as I did, and check it out in the Town Class Sticker Album (which really needs updating).

Extra clue - it shares its name with the pub I was in the other night, although the pub has nothing to do with the place.

Friday 29 March 2019

Mugs game

You know how I like a souvenir mug.

I was particularly on the lookout for a new mug for work. I had a nice work mug. It has written on it 'That sounds like responsibility and I want no part of it', which I thought was quite amusing, but apparently isn't going to help me get promoted.

As I mentioned yesterday, the museum in Swindon had a very large quantity of commemorative 2818 mugs, which the gift shop man was very keen to press on me. Not so keen that it wasn't £5.99, but I bought one anyway, because they didn't have what I really wanted.
So I took my 2818 mug to work and used it for a week or so. It was OK; a bit thick for my liking, but I thought I'd get used to it. But - maybe something to do with the printing process - there was something funny about the glaze on the interior which meant that it stains really badly. I've had tea mugs get stained in London, but never before up here.
And while I've nothing against a bit of good honest tea patination, bear in mind this was never the mug I really wanted.

What I wanted was a replica GWR hotelware one. They had various bits and bobs of it in a glass case at the museum, including a £30 cakestand, but had sold out of £9.99 mugs. So I had a look on ebay, and found the exact same ones, at the exact same price, so I bought one of those to be my new work mug.
With which I am delighted - it has a high quality glaze that doesn't stain at all, and I can proclaim my company loyalty - although the only person likely to care is a colleague from Doncaster who sniffed 'It's not LNER.'

Thursday 28 March 2019

Oh yes, and there were some locos

I know this is probably what most people go to a railway museum for, and they are indeed marvellous - beautiful beasts, astounding feats of engineering and restoration - but maybe just a bit too much for me to take in, so I concentrate on the peripheral paraphernalia.

They are particularly proud of this one, at the Swindon museum. It's the only loco they actually own, and they recently bought it - bought, not given - from the National Railway Museum at York.

They are particularly proud, of course, because it was built at the Swindon works. They had commemorated the acquisition of 2818 by ordering a large quantity of souvenir mugs, which they were clearly having trouble shifting.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Heritage pub 4: at last, the Bath

The only Sheffield pub in my 2013 National Inventory book (although the Sheffield book suggests there are now another two),
the Bath is not at first sight the prettiest, or even the most obviously historic, pub. But, it 'retains, in almost complete form, the 1931 plan and fittings' from Ind Coope's remodelling of the pub they acquired in 1914 (or 1920, depending on whether you consult the local or the national book). You can see this when you come in the side door,
through the passageway that snakes round the bar.
Last night I was sat in the main bar,
but if no one else is in, I'll favour the tiny snug, with its own serving hatch.
It's a Thornbridge pub, which is a mixed blessing, but they always have a few other beers on too. Last night I was drinking one from Heathfield. The tiles on the bar are, I realise, what I have tried to emulate in my dining room.
Near, but not quite there.

I have often said that the Bath is my absolute favourite Sheffield pub, but it does have some competition, especially from the genuine free house the Red Deer, which also does lovely (and not stupidly expensive) food, and the very local Blake, owned by the very local Neepsend Brewery (which does pork pies). But the Bath does have the inestimable advantage of being about one minute's walk from the office, and there's something to be said for a pub that doesn't do food.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

My new life's work

... In her later years, she became obsessed with the numbering of bridges on the Sheffield Canal ...

This is proving to be rather more complex than I had anticipated.

There is definitely something awry, but I need to investigate and catalogue further before reporting my findings.

As a taster, according to the new signage, there are three Bridge 9s, but no Bridge 8 or Bridge 10 (although there is a 10A).

I have made A Table, cross-referenced with Nicholsons and CanalPlan (both of which I took with me on the iPad yesterday, along with a grubby notebook) and the plaques put on the bridges in 1993 or thereabouts, plus any other old BW/CRT signs still in evidence, and will go back again as soon as I can for a third look.

I suspect that this is a canal where the bridges never were officially numbered, and have proliferated over the years first with the railway (there are at least six rail crossings in under four miles), then with various roads, then with the tram and associated regeneration, while at the same time bridges serving collieries and factories have been lost. Nonetheless, there is an accepted, logical way of numbering additional bridges, and it should be possible, and is surely desirable, to have a logical sequence, ideally that matches what's in Nicholsons. I don't know about you, but bridge numbers are the primary way I place my location and progress on the canal in relation to the map, and having three Bridge 9s undermines this somewhat.

I shall soldier on with my grubby notebook and report back.

Monday 25 March 2019

What fresh hell?

So, yesterday I managed to walk ten miles, at least if my phone is to be believed. Most of them were along the Sheffield Canal again. This time I'd arranged to walk it with David Lowe, and airily suggested that I'd leave the car somewhere near the Basin, and then walk up and meet him off the train at Meadowhall. We'd then proceed to the bottom lock before turning round and walking back to the Basin.  In the event, all went smoothly, but only because I'd allowed a ridiculously generous amount of time. Some of this was accounted for by my detailed audit of bridge numbering (of which more tomorrow) but most of it was Getting Lost in Meadowhall. Honestly, if there's a single sign in that place indicating the whereabouts of the Interchange, I certainly didn't see it. It's de rigueur round here to refer to the place as Meadowhell but that doesn't stop people flocking there in their thousands.
You can see it from miles away, glowing and glittering, just, I imagine, as Christminster must have appeared to Jude. It's like a cathedral of consumerism and the Crystal Palace rolled into one. Naturally, getting to the Interchange involved going through Marks and Spencers, and getting thoroughly disorientated in the process. But I didn't buy anything.

I finally arrived at the Interchange just a couple of minutes after David's train got in, and we decided that the simplest thing to do, rather than try to retrace my steps, would be to get the tram back one stop to Tinsley. I suppose I effectively fare-dodged, as the conductor hadn't got to us before we were there, although it was in fact a fair few minutes. David was excited to see the junction where the tram train comes off. From the Meadowhall South/Tinsley tram stop (they do seem to have quite unnecessarily complicated names, some of them - for example, my local one is Langsett/Primrose View - but there's no other Langsett or Primrose View... anyway, I digress) it was a matter of moments to regain the towpath, and we had a very pleasant stroll, the spring sunshine only slightly marred by an occasional biting wind. We talked of many things, one of which was David's memories of boating on the canal in the early 1970s, with his then relatively newly-acquired trip boat Apollo, which he still owns, starting with the IWA rally in 1971 which probably kept the canal open.

Sunday 24 March 2019

Taking notice

I loved the notices.

Phoros should be zoomable.

Saturday 23 March 2019

Scenes from the museum

I spent Friday evening in the Red Deer, drinking Moonshine and scarfing veggie nachos, so here to keep you going are a few scenes that took my fancy from the Great Western Railway Museum.

Not as fascinating as a rogue apostrophe, I grant you, but you can't have everything all the time.

Friday 22 March 2019

At a hundred yards...

I wasn't even looking, I swear. I was just walking past and something caught my eye; I thought 'something's not right there' and I had to turn back and look until I'd worked out what it was.
Proofreader woman. Never off duty. It's a blessing and a curse.

And yes, I am only too well aware that this blog is frequently very poorly proofread.

Thursday 21 March 2019

A thought...

It occurred to me as I was walking to work today that thost three girls who starved to death in 1868 - Elizabeth, Mary, and Alice - were my great-great-aunts.

The same relation to me as Auntie Doreen is to Aurora.

Ninety-nine years separate Aurora and Doreen; 102 me and Alice. That's all.

Wednesday 20 March 2019


William George Hale was born on the 5th March 1860, to Stephen and Bethia Hale. Stephen was an agricultural worker at Worton, near Devizes in Wiltshire, and William was one of nine children.
This extract from the 1871 census shows five of them: Henry, Charlotte, William, Jabez and Arthur. Ezra, who would have been 21, was presumably living elsewhere. Elizabeth, Mary and Alice had all died in 1868 - Elizabeth aged 14 and Mary aged 11 from consumption, and Alice, aged five, from 'marasmus' - severe malnutrition. Malnutrition of course probably contributed to the deaths of the other two girls as well.

The following year, William and one of his brothers - presumably Henry, who up to that point had been an agricultural worker like his father - walked the twenty-two miles to Swindon to get jobs on the railway.

William was indentured, at the age of twelve and three-quarters, as an apprentice boilermaker.

These rather poor photocopies are from the Great Western Railway Loco and Carriage Dept Register of Apprentices' Indentures. Unlike some (who 'absconded' or were transferred elsewhere), William served his full seven year apprenticeship, seeing his daily wage rise from 10d in the first year to a respectable 3 shillings in the seventh - more, no doubt, than his parents could have dreamed of.

Having completed his apprenticeship in Swindon, somehow William ended up living in South London, married at twenty (in 1880) to a woman eight years his senior. Before long, however, he was back in Swindon, as the 1901 census shows:
 - he and/or Annie still lying about their relative ages as they did when they got married - and working as a 'Rivetter (Iron) G.W.R.' Someone - possibly my father - has added 'boiler' above this. Son George (George William, or William George Stephen - take your pick, but he was known as George) was at that point, aged fourteen, working as a grocer's assistant.

But by 1911, he was a 'plateworker' in the Swindon works, while his father, by now aged fifty-one, and with only another eleven years to live, was working as a frame builder in the wagon department. I guess boilermaking is a young man's game.
I don't have a date for this photo, but this is William in his Sunday best.

George, meanwhile, carried on working for GWR and in or around 1915 (family legend has it) was on a works trip to Jersey when he met one Irma LeLuan, a woman of his own not very tender age of thirty. Undeterred by the fact that she spoke no English, but only Jersey French, they married in 1916 and settled in Swindon, where she lived until her death in 1985 at the age of 99. That's my Grandma, and the only one of the characters in this story so far that I met.
Here's George in around 1921, with Auntie Doreen
And in 1947. He died in 1958 so I never met him.

Hence my interest in the boilermaking shop at the museum. Although both William and George may have spent much - even most - of their working lives in other jobs at the GWR Swindon Works, it seems pretty clear that they were both, at one time or another, boilermakers - a dirty, dangerous, high-pressured (no pun intended), highly-skilled and above all, deafening, job - and that's something I'm quite proud of.
It may of course also explain my love of rivets.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Waggons roll

I enjoyed this display of a part-built wooden carriage in the waggon workshop. One of my ancestors was listed in one census as a waggon builder...  what he - and my other GWR forebear did primarily we'll come to tomorrow.

Monday 18 March 2019


For that, sadly, is what the Great Western Railway Museum now feels it has to call itself, which is a bit misleading really, as they don't actually have any real live steam.

It's nine pounds something to get in, which makes it considerably less good value than the National Railway Museum in York, which has a lot more stuff and is free. But that's a national collection, and as such rightfully subsidised by the taxpayer, whereas Swindon's still very significant collection has to pay its way for the local authority. It's moved since I was last there, and now shares a site with an outlet shopping village, or shopping outlet village or whatever the right term is. I should not in fact be sniffy about this, as having arrived a little early for the museum, I killed a happy half hour buying four Monsoon blouses for fifty quid. Not since I worked in Portsmouth has such an opportunity presented itself. The only problem now is that I can't find any skirts I like to go with them - skirts seem to have seriously gone out of fashion - and am reduced to attempting to make one. That, however, is another story.

I do like a recreated room, and I wanted to move into this office.
Then there was the stores...
But no man in a brown coat.
There were plenty of tableaux, big photos, and artfully arranged objets, but not much detail; not much hard history - it's very much a museum in the new mould now and I did feel I would have enjoyed it more if I had been a school party.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Streets of Swindon

The morning after Auntie Doreen's birthday bash, I was determined to visit the GWR museum (now - clearly far more enticingly - called 'STEAM!'), so after Sebastian, Izzi and Rory had departed in the car, I took a slow stroll through a cold by fantastically sunny, quiet Sunday morning in a twon I'd not visited for probably twenty years (at which point I should probably note that cousin Janice doesn't quite live in Swindon, but in nearly Wootton Bassett).

There were some beautiful bits, and some breathtaking ones.

The sheer size of the Works, one building going on forever. Apologies for the stark shadows in the low morning sun.

Somewhere in the works, there is regeneration going on. There was a sign in the window, the usual optimism about craft spaces and cafes. There wasn't much sign of life, but it was a Sunday.
And the streets were deserted.
Still evidence aplenty that this was a company town.

Saturday 16 March 2019

Station to Station

It's a long time since I last visited Swindon, and I look at things differently now. For a town that should be so proud of its railway heritage it has allowed some awful things to befall it.

Auntie Doreen has lived in Swindon all her life. Until she was the age I am now, the sight of the main GWR station would have been recognisable from this rather earlier photo:
Not a flamboyant building, but dignified, and with gravitas.

So of course in 1972 they knocked it down and built this:
Which I'm sure looked nice and shiny for a while, but most assuredly doesn't now.

What I hadn't realised was that until 1961, Swindon had two stations: this one, Swindon Junction, on the Great Western line, and then also Swindon Town, which belonged to the Midland and South Western Junction Railway.