Saturday, 9 September 2017

"The big 3-0"

So today was my thirtieth birthday. It was superb. Full of lovely messages from old and new friends, family and followers.

I'm so grateful for the people in my life. One thing I can say categorically is that my life is about the people in it. Long may it continue.

Here's to the next thirty years!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Charlton Athletic: 25 years


Today I stopped in at the Valley, home of my football love of my life, Charlton Athletic.

Regular readers to these pages and to my twitter feed will know I have not been happy at the Valley for the last few seasons, for a variety of reasons, not least the owner and his cohorts.

For the first time in twenty four years last season, I elected to not buy a season ticket and thus went only very occasionally, mostly when there were protests organised by C.A.R.D. (the group protesting the owners).

I've been encouraged by friends and by family to try and get more information on the overall situation, and I spoke to a few employees off the record today, a few of which were brave enough to venture their views and give an alternative to that printed in outlets such as Voice of the Valley.

For the record, I am trying to look at this with my old ombudsman's hat on. I want to be better informed, and I want to be balanced in my views on this. I accept we're at a stage where some views have hardened on all sides, but that does not in my opinion preclude a change in approach if that is what is required.

Some of the employees pointed out to me, rightly, that they are not normally allowed a voice. They have to remain silent on many issues.

This has not happened during Roland's ownership of the club, and it has meant that many of the long term staff are finally getting some stability in their lives which they did not have before.

Another point of view put to me was on Katrien Miere. Readers here and on Twitter will be well aware of my personal views on Miere. However it was pointed out to me that much of what Miere does do for the club is not published - and in fairness I agree that much of what is written in the press is only the negative side of the Katrien Miere story. 

One long term employee stated to me that Miere spends a lot of time with the youth teams, watching their matches and encouraging them. She ventured that actually, there's a lot of love for the club there and its youth development, and much of the work that goes unseen is in developing this and the training ground. She also cited much of the contracts for the daily running of the club and its merchandise which never gets mentioned as part of her overall work. 

There's a clear disconnect between many parts of the Charlton Athletic family at present. The employees I spoke to felt that the protests (which I have been a part of) were not helping in many ways, particularly one occasion which I was not aware of in the club shop where stink bombs and other items were let off, making life a lot more difficult for those running the shop. 

That's clearly unacceptable if the main aim is peaceful protests, and I hope C.A.R.D. amongst others can take note of this and make sure that anyone protesting under their banner in future will not conduct acts such as this (and I accept, in fairness that I have only one side of this story and that C.A.R.D. members or supporters may not have been involved, but that this was the inference I had).

The atmosphere on Saturday was electric. I know - I was there. The employees I spoke to felt that the protests had had a very detrimental effect on the team last season. One employee was again brave enough to tell me that he had spoken to two players of the main team who were very clearly shaken and affected by the protests last year.

One thing we all agreed on was that everyone across the spectrum wants Charlton Athletic to succeed, otherwise we wouldn't be here. 

I myself have felt the protests have been necessary, and whilst I would disagree with one employee's assertion that they have had no effect on the club (and I would cite manager, player and network influence as several ways the protests have had a positive effect) I can absolutely accept that there has been a lot of collateral damage in the way the protests have gone forward. 

So what is the solution? Is there one?

For me, I feel that I will never be happy with Roland's ownership. However I can learn to live with it and actively support the parts of it that will keep our Charlton above water and push for greater things. 

From my conversations today I think there is a whole other side to this debate. Perhaps we on the protesting side have been very vocal and not been as open to debate and more information as we could have been. I think I have been guilty of that (which is unusual for me given my career choices) and in that respect I feel there are some things I can put my hands up on and say "sorry" for.

On that note, I do need to apologise to Tony Watt. I got hugely frustrated when he didn't chase down a number of balls and - whilst not being abusive - I did call him out loudly on this. 

So Tony - sincerely - my apologies. You were following orders and that's fair. 

(But please do something about your shin pads!)

In conclusion, I think it's fair to say that this could be a positive new era for the club. I am not, I hasten to add, calling on C.A.R.D. to disband or anyone to start condemning protestors of the regime. 

Far from it.

What I am saying, is that on this occasion, given the circumstances, perhaps we need to take a step back, and get back behind the team in the ground once more. We're all here for a common goal - the success and future of Charlton Athletic Football Club. So perhaps C.A.R.D. - and myself included in that - can look at a positive protest. Let's be more balanced, and lets be fairer in our criticism.

We're still here - we're still watching - and we'll still hold the regime to account when they go wrong. But let's bring it back to the stands, to the cheering, to singing Valley Floyd Road, and going mental when the lads score a goal.

Last Saturday was the first time in four years that I felt I was watching my childhood club again. The combination of the passionate manager, some great moves in the transfer window, and the stunning Fosu - he's one for the future - really convinced me that the club is heading in a good direction again.

Let's get behind the boys, and make some noise once more.

After all, in this the club's 25th year back at the Valley - and my 25th season supporting it - we need to be united now more than ever.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

"Of model railways and petrolheads"

Life really does throw some curve balls at you some times. Like leaving a job and finding yourself unemployed...and the opportunity of a lifetime coming along very shortly afterwards.

I said yes to that opportunity and a few thousand miles of air, bus and train travel later, I am now back in Sidcup nursing a few midge bites and about a stone lighter in weight!


This year was about finishing the restoration of the Volvo estate. You'll find the whole journey on DriveTribe, here. The highlights have been the Volvo 90th Birthday Celebrations at Rockingham raceway in April and now being asked to take part in a concours for unexceptional motor vehicles!

Then of course there was going to Iceland and having the absolute time of your life with your best friend and two excellent new friends. A place where the sun truly never sets. It was magical.

Going to Scotland and...well, you'll have to wait until November for that one. But suffice to say, it was as legendary as it was totally bonkers and life affirming! Channel 4, around November. I am very excited by the scope of that film project and it will be a great watch I am sure.

2017 has been a year of incredible change. I am not just referring to my weight (!) but to all kinds of changes, good and bad.

The outside world can seem scary at times, the news hitting people harder thanks to the almost invasive social media and reporting that happens.

The outside world is not as scary as it is portrayed. In every corner of this earth are good people going about their daily business.

I've witnessed this. Hikers in Iceland, willing to share water and tips for photography. The townspeople of Scotland, resting weary plate layers in their barns, houses and fields. The online communities for cars, including but not limited to the good people of DriveTribe.

It's been an incredibly tough year for my family. I have done all I can to support them. I've also done a lot that I needed to do for myself. The job hunt begins in earnest this month after some time away.

It's crazy how things line up sometimes. It doesn't always go your own way. Things can seem bleak. Truth be told, circumstances, situation and environment dictate how you feel. It's up to you to break out from that and find the positivity.

I have just spent two weeks in the company of some amazing people. It was life affirming. It was life changing. I am looking at a new industry to work in, potentially. I realised I had potential to feel things again that I thought were long gone. I was made to feel like a member of a team, someone who brought something positive to the table. I made new life long friends.

2017 isn't over yet. We are over the halfway mark. It's fast becoming the best year of my life. Who knows where it will go next.

I can only apologise for the lack of updates. There's so much I want to tell you, but non disclosure agreements are strictly non elastic. You'll hear much more from me when I am able, I promise.

Thanks for reading, and your patience.

Simon

Sunday, 7 May 2017

"Where has the time gone?"

It's May. How did that happen?"

I apologise for the lack of updates this year. I've been really busy trying to sort a few things out behind the scenes for the upcoming return of BRWS to YouTube. Then there's a few work, TV and wedding (not mine!) related things going on as well.

Incredibly I have done a lot of modelling and I will take some photographs and show you all.

Sorry for the lack of progress - it's been an absolute truth the last few years - life gets busier as you get older.

Friday, 20 January 2017

"The British Railway Stories: Allen comes home"


I've finally been able to do some test footage for an upcoming film, to be made during the course of 2017. I am not putting any release date on it: it could be as far away as 2018.

However I couldn't let the 10th anniversary of The British Railway Stories go by without showing that I am still here, and I still care about our fans.

May I say, to everyone who has messaged me this week on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, by email and elsewhere, welcoming the new footage and giving us all some great feedback, thank you.

It is truly humbling to know we're held in such esteem, and I want to reassure you that we won't let you down.

The original cast will return, with new additions, in due course.

For now, please enjoy the test footage, and let us know what you think of Allen's new look, which will match his form in Tale of the Unnamed Engine.

Best wishes,

Simon A.C. Martin
The Author

Saturday, 7 January 2017

"Hornby's new B12: the wandering 1500 comes home"


My life long love affair with the London & North Eastern Railway's B12/3 started with a trip to the North Norfolk Railway with my father and late grandfather in 1994. The locomotive had just been overhauled and recently repainted into its original apple green livery, and it being a favourite of my late grandfather's, we made the trip to see it on its home railway.

Like the Stirling Single and Flying Scotsman before it, this apple green steam locomotive made quite the impression on me, and after a trip behind it I was captivated. 

8572 is known as "The Wandering 1500", because of a particular rail tour it ran in its final days in steam for British Railways. Always a favourite locomotive of rail enthusiasts, she was saved for preservation and more information can be found on her here.

After university, I joined "The Wandering 1500 Club" which eventually morphed into the organisation which today looks after the sole surviving example of James Holden's 1500, or Edward Thompson's developed B12/3 class under Sir Nigel Gresley's tenure-ship (dependent on whether you count the 1928 Beyer Peacock built 8572 as a Great Eastern or an LNER design). 

Eventually a Hornby B12, albeit not numbered 8572 but 8579, made an appearance on my early model railway layout. Here's a picture of a very similar model, borrowed for the purposes of this review:


This model's origins lay in the Triang B12 of decades ago, the locomotive shortened somewhat to fit the standard Hornby 4-6-0 chassis, with many aspects of it somewhat off in some way. But I didn't know these things then: to me it was just my lovely apple green B12. 


The wonderful thing is that I still have my original 8579: albeit it was completely repainted and then weathered as 61572 to appear as my beloved character, "Stephen" in The British Railway Stories, after appearing originally in apple green. 



An inauthentic express blue model was also bought as a spare for filming, together with one of mixed traffic black liveried 61553, and both were sold several years ago. But I kept "Stephen..."

That original model has changed so much it's unreal. I always felt I improved on the Hornby model of the time when I was at university, but I was never satisfied with it. I had seen kits of the B12/3 built, and they all had various issues with proportion, like the inherited Hornby tooling. 



You may notice in the picture below that I fixed a few issues, including the chimney and the frames to an extent...


Then last year the news came that Hornby were preparing a new model of their B12/3. If it was in the same vein as the beautiful D16/3 and J15 models of Great Eastern heritage that had come before, they'd be onto a winner, I said at the time.


Well, here it is.


The first thing that strikes me is the length. After being so used to the short and odd proportions of the original, the new model has an elegance and presence all its own.

The livery application is just beautiful, and the apple green shade used for this one matches Hornby's Claud Hamilton D16/3 for this too.

This for me is the best rendition Hornby have done for some time and the extremely fine lining to be found everywhere on the model really bring this complicated, but elegant, grouping era livery to life. The printing of the numerals and lettering on cab and tender are perfect, by the way, Hornby's best yet in my view. I just hope I can renumber the cab easily...!

Hornby sensibly reused their already tooled up Great Eastern tender, developed for the Gresley B17 and used behind this and the earlier D16/3 locomotives releases. The intention of the latest round of Hornby tooling  has been clear in terms of reusing research and development. Joined up thinking at its absolute best. The all new tooling for the locomotive and its chassis are something special too.


For example, look at the beautifully moulded driving wheels. Possibly the best rendition of the Great Eastern style we've ever seen. Correctly, I might add, painted without a black centre to the driving wheels. Look at the piping under the cab on each side, and the westinghouse pump, reverser, the whistle, the beautifully separately touches such as these. No all in one moulding as per the old Triang tooling!


Then there's the front end. Guard irons, correct piping, the smokebox diameter (yes, on the original model this was wrong too) and the chimney. The face of the locomotive is spot on. It looks every inch the B12/3. Most of the parts are already fitted.

One thing I lament about Hornby's recent releases is that the beautiful hook and coupling that the Thompson L1 comes with, isn't fitted to these models. I've stockpiled a number of these over the years to modify my LNER models as the part is just an additional nice touch to give the front end of my models more realism.

However I can hardly complain as the model comes with all seen below, plus the usual brake rigging and of course parts for the tender. One thing to note: fitting the black vacuum pipe on the tender rear will severely restrict the NEM pocket from moving with the coupling. I have since looked at this again and have tested it with a kadee coupling and the pipe fitted. No issues whatsoever which is a relief.


The proportions of the boiler, driving wheels and running plate are spot on too. Measured against my copy of an Isinglass 4mm drawing of the B12/3, I can see that the Hornby model is virtually identical in all major areas. One can legitimately argue, however, that the drawing doesn't entirely reflect real life, and it is in the real thing compared to the model that we see such incredible attention to detail.


There are potentially a few compromises. There are no cut outs in the steps, as per the preserved B12/3. This was a wartime addition for many B12s whilst being used on ambulance trains. There's possibly a few more - I don't believe the preserved model has the steam pipe cover on the left hand side that the model has, but I know many of its class members did.

Then you see that there's also space between the frames...


On several of Hornby and Bachmann's newest models, some attempts at modelling the inside cylinder setup has been made. I consider this Hornby's best effort to date, having studied 8572 at length whilst at the Bluebell Railway last November, for their most recent gala. What it does need, however, is some weathering which I will be happy to provide on my own model in the near future.

The front bogie has been cleverly engineered to give the least amount of daylight under the locomotive's running plate, whilst still being able to traverse tight model railway curvature. I tested this at length and you can see how the B12 performed in my video from a running in session at the Erith Model Railway Club.


You then glance into the cab and are greeted with what must be the most detailed cab of all time for a ready to run model. Every detail is there in miniature: and as per the lovely J15 from last year, you wonder how they'll top this with the next model. Something tells me the next LNER release from Hornby will look to top this, and do so quite spectacularly, but that's for another time...


So there you have it. Everything is as it should be and everything is in its place. It's a beautiful model and quite rightly, the old B12/3 tooling should be retired completely, or left in the Railroad range. As you can see above, the proportions of the old model are just all over the place.

The body sits far too high, buffers flying in mid air as all Triang locos and rolling stock seemed to. The difference in the frames and front bogie arrangement are stark, and look at the length of the boiler and the size of the chimney!

One could argue legitimately that the Triang model is in many respects closer to B12/4 with some minor modifications, but that's for another day...


Yet I know there will always be a place in my heart for this model. It came at a time when Triang, and then Hornby, were producing toys. It made its way into the catalogue and minor improvements, most notably to its loco drive chassis, produced a rugged model which captured the minds of many children in the UK.

Flying Scotsman is probably the most produced model steam locomotive, but after being in the Triang and Hornby catalogues for around 30 years, this model must be up there with the best as well. Its last appearance was in a digital train set a couple of years ago.

There was one moment at my local club which made me laugh. On running in the new Hornby B12/3, I was asked by an older member if it still had the chuff-chuff sound box in the tender. As it passed us at speed I replied "no it doesn't". The gentleman shook his head gently and said "that's a shame. I always rather enjoyed it".

So did I. But perhaps one day Hornby will see fit to DCC Sound their B12/3 with the real life sounds of 8572. Now that would be a brilliant addition to the range.

I didn't think that Hornby could top their model of the North Eastern Railway's Q6 locomotive. I was wrong. The B12/3 is the best model they've ever produced. If you don't believe me, go take a trip behind the real thing then look at the model. You can almost hear the sights and sounds of the Wandering 1500 for real as it sits there on the track.


You can watch a video of the new Hornby B12/3 being run in here. 

Video being uploaded.

Many thanks to the Erith Model Railway Club for hosting.

My final thought: I've always wanted a good model of the B12/3. Now I have an excellent model. It sits above my desk in my room, a reminder of the brilliance of Hornby's R&D at its best, and a lovely memory of my late grandfather and I stood together at the North Norfolk Railway in 1994, steam hissing gently from the engine he used to call "Stephen" in the stories he told me. 

You can't buy that kind of happy memory. But you can get a model which prompts it. Thank you Hornby.

Thanks for reading: a belated Merry Christmas, and a happy new year, to you all.