Friday, 26 September 2008

Blyth Valley Cycle Path

In recent times there have been proposals to revive the narrow gauge Southwold Railway in Suffolk which has been disused since 1929. As a homeowner adjacent to the original route, I have many objections to it. The idea is not without merits but I think it is misguided to attract many more visitors to the area who would use cars to visit what is - despite the claims otherwise - a noisy, diesel powered tourist attraction. Diesel is still oily, sooty, smelly, asthma inducing diesel, regardless of its source being mineral or vegetable. Then the requirements of todays HSE regulations for a huge swath to be set aside along the length of the route is too much of an intrusion into the beauty of the Blyth Valley.

UPDATE: This proposal has been shelved for now, since the Southwold Railway Trust have passed the first hurdle of getting a steam park approved on the site of the scrap yard at Southwold. No doubt they will be devoted to getting this project going for a while but once the track and the engines are running profitably around their park, perhaps there will be renewed efforts (armed with any evidence of viability) to connect the steam park to the rail infrastructure along the old railway line once again. In principle I support the idea of the steam park. Although if successful it would give the SRT some ammunition for their cause, it will also give me some for mine.

I could consider a railway if the trackway was only as wide as the original and the train was powered by wind or solar energy, an idea I think has some merits under the circumstances. If it has been shown that a solar powered taxicab can work in autumnal New York City, given the great motive efficiency of trains, why haven't proposals been made for solar or wind generated electric light rail?

But, given the proposal for yet another tourist attraction in Southwold, I would like to propose an alternative; that the right of way - if it exists - should be developed into a cycle path to link the towns of Halesworth and Southwold and the communities of Holton, Blyford, Wenhaston, Blythburgh and Walberswick in-between with a fast, safe and green transport system separated from the hazards of the B1123 main road. A cycle path east of Blythburgh would also enable access to the natural amenities of the Blyth estuary for recreation with little environmental impact.

The railway supporters said their plans may also include a cycle path and footpath so a win-win, no? I expect those promises will vanish as soon as costs escalate and I'm afraid I can't be bought off with MAY. Also, too many of the cycle paths I ride on at present are not suitable for sustained travel at speed when shared with pedestrians. Most are afterthoughts and have constant interuptions, such as gates and barriers, which render them inefficient except for recreational use. I'm proposing a dedicated cycle only path with 'flyovers' or underpasses at the roads. Now given the plans to abandon flood defences in the Blyth Valley to the forces of nature, it may be the only infrastructure resistant to and remaining viable after flooding ans so be a lifeline to the scattered population living there.

Living in Holton, our family already cycle frequently for local transport such as the school run to Wenhaston and our shopping in Halesworth and I frequently cycle the 15 miles to work at Snape along the terrifying A12 but I am discouraged from riding with my children by the dangers of the twisting and narrow B1123 and even the back roads
can be hazardous and thus it is necessary to ride on the few stretches of pavement and this in turn presents a hazard to pedestrians. The safety of the rider is often cited as the main barrier to the more widespread adoption of cycling so riding on a dedicated path would be a great attraction to a wide range of cyclists.

The former railway line is a more direct route than the B1123 and the distance of nine miles (or eighteen round trip) is manageable and in comparison to the road, it would be a safe, enjoyable and manageable for the recreational user. Several cycling holiday brochures cite 25 miles as a daily itinerary.

Besides the benefits of zero emissions and negligible road congestion, greater use of bicycles would help improve the health of the population, reduce obesity in children and so lower the cost to the National Health Service and so I hope support for such schemes is available from the national Government.

Suffolk¹s popularity for cycling holidays in its quiet country lanes is well established. Building upon that and the national cycle route passing through the area and the bicycle hire facilities at the rail/road interchange at Darsham; the provision of the route to Southwold and cycle hire in Halesworth could establish Halesworth and the Blyth Valley as a leading centre for bicycle tourism. This would add value to the local amenities and provide more custom for accommodation, restaurants and the local shops and services.

Imagine if you would that visitors could come by train to Halesworth and rent bicycles to cycle along the length of the scenic Blyth Valley. There are public houses at Holton, Blyford, Wenhaston, Blythburgh, Walberswick and Southwold to stop at for refreshment, the Wenhaston Doom and the Blythburgh Church and numerous small businesses and artisans to visit, the views of the estuary and its wildlife and the facilities of the major seaside resort of Southwold at the end of the journey. With such a renowned choice of activities and accommodation in the area, a whole variety of routes and itineraries would be possible for cyclists of all ages and interests, ensuring repeat business year after year.

The deliberate attraction of cyclists for holidays in the Blyth Valley would extend the tourist season and would attract more visitors without attracting more cars as, with the support of the railway operating companies, the green-minded tourist can arrive by train. The provision of cycle hire in Halesworth would sustain or provide new employment and position Halesworth as the gateway to the Blyth Valley and a cycle path system integrated with other cycle-tourism facilities in the Suffolk AONB such as those around Dunwich and Minsmere.

But rather than seeing the cycle path for the tourist's benefit, it should be considered - like the railway was - as part of the overall transport infrastructure. A fit cyclist can easily maintain 15 mph so the proposed path could be traversed in 3/4 hour so it would be a viable means for outlying communities to access the facilities of the linked towns without relying on their cars. The route would also serve schoolchildren and commuters linking to the trains and and would be a healthy alternative to using a car that is greener and more convenient than relying on the infrequent rural buses. There is plenty of room for expansion westwards and branches linking other communities using quiet back roads as part of an overall transport strategy.

According to the Southwold Railway Society there are still sections of track visible in various places along the line which is walkable from Blythburgh to Southwold. The conversion of rail tracks to cycle paths is well established and so there is expertise around on the costing and implementation. I would suggest that the feasibility of this proposal is investigated further by those better qualified than I am. Firstly by examining the status of the right of way of the old railway or, lacking that, the adaptation of the existing footpaths. Of course there will be objections from landowners and complaints at the cost from Government but having discussed it informally with many local residents, I have found there is widespread support to the idea in theory and so it is time to make literally concrete proposals.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Goodbye Polaroid

I have been clearing out stuff, trying to make two bedrooms and an office into three bedrooms and an office. So far, thanks to wireless networking, I think it can be done. It's a matter of vertical integration. If you're an interior design magazine editor, I'll show you how.

Meantime, I found these photos which I have put on eBay and if you want a vintage Lewis Leathers jacket, check out my other stuff there (I'm sad to sell it but I'm no longer and will never be as slim as I was when I bought it).

These are four original continuity Polaroid ® photographs of pre-fame actress Teri Hatcher taken by me on the set of the unseen TV movie 'The Brotherhood' which also starred Anthony LaPaglia.

Lots of life story here. This movie was my first big break, getting hired as a department head by the Academy Award ® winning producer Ron Schwary. We shot this film in New York and Los Angeles. The director Bob Butler had directed the pilot of 'Star Trek'. My assistant is now a big shot production designer. The producers treated us very well. It was great to be working with some top professionals instead of the scumbags I had known on poverty row and I learned a lot from them.

In these two scenes early in the film, the story introduces Teri's character Teresa Gennaro, sister to both a mob boss and policeman who aims to smash the Mafia. The purpose of taking photos was to match the props, clothing boxes and the coat and bags etc., from the exterior scene 11 to the following interior scene 12, probably shot weeks apart. I love the little background things, the grip leaning on a reflector. The car for another scene parked in the b.g.

It was a great pity then that the film never aired until recut later because when CBS saw it, they canned it for being too violent. Hmm, we did get a bit carried away with all the guns and the blood in the final scene.

These 'continuity' images are usually returned to the production company and in most instances get thrown away soon afterwards so I wonder how many there are out there from this production or any producution? Probably none. I didn't keep them for sentimental reasons. More likely they fell down behind something in my prop cart and didn't make it with all the other stuff I used to have to turn in during the wrap.

Polaroid ® is, or I should say was, an instant image medium. There are no negatives. These photos are original, one-of-a-kind artefacts relating to one of the world's most popular actresses, after shooting to worldwide fame in the TV series 'Desperate Housewives'. This production however is not widely mentioned in her resume. Apart from these and the movie negative in a vault somewhere, there is hardly any evidence this production ever happened.

With the advent of digital photography and the announcement of the cessation of production of Polaroid ® Spectra and SX-70 film, Hollywood film and TV production will no longer use it for recording the 'continuity' of wardrobe, props and set dressing so production 'roids as a collectible, if there is such a thing, from now on will be a dwindling supply.

It's only now I'd like to keep them for sentimental reason but if I did that, I'd need ten more rooms for all the crap I would want to keep. I've enjoyed looking at them today and sharing them, now someone else can have them and I can hopefully buy a few more tins of custom paint for my daughter's bedroom. Did you know it's £12 a litre? Yikes! And get some curtains.

Is there a market for this kind of collectible? I hope so. There are few others from films in collectible shops. At least with my offer you get the provenance from the source. I'd be cautious of any continuity polaroids from a production shot after the arrival of eBay. Crew people could have been shooting a few extras every time as some kind of pension plan. But no more it seems.

I'm not sure digital technology can replace the ring of 'roids for keeping track of what stuff went where. It took Polaroid Corp about ten years to figure out movies and the insurance industry wanted to be able to write on the face of them with something other than a Sharpie. When I wrote to them (after seeing an early SX-70 a friend who edited a photo magazine got hold of) with that suggestion and a load of others, Polaroid sent me a lenghty form in dense legalese signing my rights away to any kind of royalty so I didn't bother pursuing it. What do wardrobe, script supers, props and set decorators do now? Carry a colour printer around? It doesn't seem like progress when instant film was the perfect solution. So long Polaroid. One of the great brands of all time has passed on.

Instruments of Insanity

My son has taken an interest in the guitar (along with the piano that he has being studying for two years) and so I'd like to buy him a guitar.

Being he's a small chap, I think a 3/4 size guitar would be better than a full size one. I can find one in my local music shop for £35 (or £45 with stand and case) which sounds reasonable to start with. If he shows commitment, we can invest in something better later.

Martin Lewis at Money Saving Expert told me that you can buy instruments VAT free via your local LEA. I just looked into this and sadly I find that the government (in the form of some Civil Service mandarin) has made a hash of it.

Parents can buy instruments without VAT but looking at the Suffolk LEA website it seems pointless doing this. Firstly it takes time, you have to choose the instrument, then ask your LEA to buy it from the shop who deliver it to the LEA up to four weeks later, pay the invoice sent by the LEA and then collect the instrument from the school.

Suffolk County Council charges a fee for this. On a £35 guitar the £5.50 fee is nearly equal to the VAT that would be saved. Maybe worth it with a piano or a bassoon but that's not the intent of the exemption is it?

This is a totally pointless and overly complicated scheme. Why can't schools just give named pupils a voucher or certificate that the music shop can pass to HMRC to certify their sale was exempt from VAT.

There is an Arts Council England scheme which makes interest free loans (0% APR) of up to £2000 for musical instruments.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Where can I get one of these?

I really want to find out who makes something like this (above). I don't know what it's called. A pedal train? A handcar?

I have an idea for a use in the UK. I have been looking for months and I have been sending this image to UK narrow gauge railway suppliers but no one, including the editor of Garden Railway magazine, apparently knows who makes this. 

In the 1950's, well-off children could have a Doepke Yardbird which later evolved into a gasoline powered locomotive. Long gone out of business now, they're worth a fortune today. 

These American pedal trains look promising. They are made for amusement park and hire use but they cost nearly a thousand dollars. I actually want something much simpler. 

They also come with a loco body and are available in the UK from Cromar White.

Another commercial model I have seen (bottom photo) is made by Cromar's sister company Complete Minature Railways but it just seems too heavy duty. This hand-car cost £350 last time I asked.

All I really need is the source of the parts, the crank mechanism for a start, so I can build it myself. The 'carriages' look easy enough to build at home and a decent welding shop could make the track (what I saw was portable and had switches and cross-overs) if I can't find a stock item. Heck, I've built camera dolly tracks more complicated than this myself. 

I saw the one at the top of the page in Basel. It was part of a exhibition promoting rail transport in the Alps instead of the heavy trucks that tranport 90% of the goods moving between Italy and France. I wrote to them first to ask who made it but I didn't hear back. What the photo doesn't show is the inflatable Matterhorn that the track passed through and the queues waiting to play on it. At the time I had a look on the bottom and there was a French phone number but I lost that bit of paper. (I know, I should have taken a picture).

As no one seems to be in the business of making them (it did seem a 'one off') there's likely real potential in these for a quality manufacturer like Berg Toys to get into the garden railway business. One manufacturer said the rig above wouldn't be legal in the UK. I wonder why not? Are Swiss health and safety laws more lax than the EN71?  I doubt it.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Ten Green Bottles

The country bus route 521 I take to work (combined with cycling on my folding Dahon Vitesse) has to make several diversions from the A12 to serve the small villages along the way.

Each morning it winds around Yoxford long enough for me to buy a paper and you could probably alight at Darsham long enough to have a swift half in the Fox Inn while it goes through the village and comes back the way it came.

This morning at Darsham an old lady, a pensioner with a travel card, was waiting at the stop with one of those wheeled shopping baskets that only pensioners use. "Morning Doris" the driver said. "Good morning Hector" said Doris. The driver and passenger were obviously well acquainted. (I didn't actually catch the first names so let's pretend shall we?)

As she slowly dragged the basket up the steps I heard the unmistakable clank of glass bottles. "One to Sax, please" she asked. Saxmudham is about five miles from Darsham where I get off. "Having a party?" Hector jokingly asked her on hearing the sound of glass. "If only, just a trip to the bottle bank" Doris told him. Once she was settled behind me, the bus set off for the church where it can make a U-turn to go back to the main road.

Although admiring her devotion to be green I couldn't help thinking that although the cost to her was nil, it certainly wasn't very green to tranport a few bottles by bus each time. Curious, I turned to Doris and said "Don't you have a bottle bank here?" "Oh no dear" Doris said. "There's no room for one." I thought that unusual and told her I used a very small bottle bank in Wenhaston which also raised money for the village pre-school. Doris replied the parish council had looked into one but there was nowhere to put it. She knew a lot about village affairs and she agreed it wasn't very green to ride the bus to drop off a few bottles but sometimes she didn't have much else to do anyway.

As we passed a long low utilitarian building I said, "what about your village hall, could it not go there?" Doris said "they said they haven't got the room, now that they've sold off the land around it." Then as we approached the Fox Inn I asked, "what about the pub? What do they do with all their bottles?" "I don't know" said Doris "but here's the publican. I'll ask her."

The bus was being hailed by a smartly dressed woman, who must be be in her fifties as she didn't have a bus pass, who was going to Sax and she and the driver exchanged the pleasantries that occur at every stop on this route. When Nell was settled, Doris asked her, "Nell, what do you do with your bottles?" "Why, I put them in our bottle bank of course" Nell replied.

Nell explained to Doris' surprise that one had been in place "for about three months now. Didn't you get the letter?" "No" said Doris, obviously crestfallen at the severeal wasted journeys she must have made since, "I'll have to have a word with Shirley about that."

It appeared to present company that Shirley, the parish clerk, hadn't sent a letter to every household about their new amenity. Nell went on to explain she'd tried to get a 3-unit sorting station but because of overhead wires, their site was only suitable for a 'mixed' collection. "It's under my bedroom window" Nell said, "so I hope people will be considerate about using it."

Then the conversation went onto the pub's recent change in menu; "we've stopped having the full menu on Sundays" said Nell ,"it was too much work. Some days Chef didn't know if he was Arthur or Martha!" Despite all the news about the decline of the pub, the demand for Sunday roasts alone kept their bookings at 75% of capacity.

I went back to my newspaper with some satisfaction that my intervention had solved Doris' problem in the way that only country buses can.

image: bottle bank at Pettistree, Suffolk copyright 2005 Chris Garner

Monday, 1 September 2008

Madonna Was Right (comparing McCain to Hitler)

I love America and the Americans. If I didn't, I would have become one athough I despair for it and its political system.

The impotence of the people these days is not the vision the founding fathers had. Like the anarchist slogan says, "don't vote: the goverment always gets in." There seems little point in debating or discussing politics in a country when most people's response is "hey buddy, America: love it or leave it." This know nothing attitude seems ingrained from birth by the education system which (I am reliably informed) was designed to ensure conformity and stifle dissent. Now that the US education system has failed to educate or inculcate, depending on your point of view, there is a widening chasm between 'class', wealth and ethnicity.

My former neighbour in Los Angeles Lionel Rolfe has taken pains to explain how the Republican candidate does not live up to the ideals the GOP claim to uphold; "Republicans, as hopefully a majority of Americans have finally figured out, are for the most part a collection of hypocrites, thugs and pious thieves.That is why they verge on being not old-fashioned conservatives, but American fascists."

I am going to sit on the fence about sharing his views. In some respects I am politically naive. On some matters, like health insurance, I am an ardent 'socialist'. I support benefits for widows and families with young children but I can't stand freeloaders (and I know of plenty) who live on benefits rather than work. On others, like business, I am rather conservative and can support low taxes and a free market. What matters most to me in political affairs is transparency and integrity.

Lionel Rolfe is that increasingly rare creature in America, a socialist. His polemic gives me an idea for a play (perhaps not a very original one) where in heaven Richard Nixon and the GOP face a class action lawsuit on behalf of the American people by Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin for polluting their vision of America. What are the charges and what is the defence?

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