Category Archives: cars planes and trains

Stuff about anything vehicular

If only the designers of Heathrow T2 had taken a look at Tampa

Last week I was one of around 3000 people who spent a day helping  to test the systems at Heathrow’s new Terminal 2. It was an interesting day and as someone who generally likes airports I had a good time even if I did not get to go anywhere. It is all nice and new, but Continue reading

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eastbound

This piece is being written at 37000 feet over Russia which seems a little risky for a child of the cold war era with vivid memories of what befell Gary Powers when he tried it. I half expect a couple of MiGs to slide into position alongside us and fire warning shots. Continue reading

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watching the ‘planes go by

I’m sitting in terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow just by gates A13/14. It’s a grey day outside, but the promised rain is holding off and the wind is from the west. Runway 27 left is the active take off runway this afternoon so the aircraft are coming towards me as they get airborne. Continue reading

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Musings on MH370

News that the flight almost certainly crashed into the ocean is not really a surprise, for had it landed, or crashed, on terra firma anywhere there would have been some news of it long since. Continue reading

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don’t jump on the tracks mate

With apologies to Cy Coben, whose words I have adapted, the following came to me on the 2115 from Paddington last night, partly with regard to my own plight, this have been my second jumper in 8 days and the third in a few months, Continue reading

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going back to green commuting

It’s a quarter to seven in the morning. It’s cold, misty and dark where the street lights have been turned off to save money. I walk through to the main road and the oasis of light that is my local ‘bus stop. I’m early, but have erred on the safe side as I don’t do this often. I’m no stranger to this time of the morning; I’m often well on my way somewhere by now, but that is mostly in my car whereas today I am green commuting, heading off to start a new contract and making a journey that is going to become a regular one for me; the local bus to the town centre, walk to the railway station, catch a train and walk to the office. Continue reading

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peripheral vision

As a boy I would often go for walks with my parents and sisters. Like many families in the 1950s we didn’t have a car, so the ‘bus or Shanks’s Pony were the way we got about.

We lived in the country and so much of our walking was along country lanes, across fields and through woods. My earliest memories of these walks would be, I suppose, from the times between when I was about 5 and 8, and all four of the homes we had in that time were just to the West of the developing Heathrow airport. The majority of the aeroplanes that I would see quite low overhead were propeller driven to give you an idea of how long ago all of this was.

As we walked we would talk and look. Strolling along gives you time for that sort of thing and we would watch how the hedgerows and trees changed over the seasons, what was going on in the fields and beyond. It made the walk pass in style and we learned as we went.

That tendency to look around me has stayed with me over the years. There is so often something in a cloud formation or any view that can influence your senses. It may lift your spirits or it might moisten your eyes, but look around you and let these things touch you. Smell the roses as they say.

At the moment I am driving to work leaving home while it is still dark. It is a transient time, but I get to the place I am working at just as dawn breaks. Every morning produces a different sky and that changes as I walk from the car park to the building, every time a thing of beauty to start the day with.

The media make stupid remarks about nature being out of control whenever there is another earthquake or similar occurrence. Nature has never been nor will ever be under our control. We have to live with nature and take whatever it gives us. sometimes that will be tragic for our fellow creatures, but far more often it will give us something to enjoy if we only look for it.

So open your eyes, use your peripheral vision and see what is going on all around you and take a moment to be fascinated by it. You’re not here for long in the general scheme of things; enjoy it while you can.

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The romance of the rails

Back in the 80 s I used to travel by train a lot on business. At that time it was frowned upon to take your own car and, at our firm, the company car was unheard of other than for a few right at the top.

As I got to travel so much I even had my own book of rail warrants so that I could just write one out when I needed to. And so I would head off, sometimes on a day trip, other times for up to a week, and let the rhythm of the rails waft me from place to place as I earned my crust.

When I was a small boy most of our travel involved the local ‘bus service, and so my early experience of the romance of travel was the bus station in maybe Maidenhead or Reading. There I might see a long distance coach service, and the sight of people going somewhere excited the curiosity of my youthful mind. Railway stations and airport terminals still have the same fascination.

Train travel came a little later into my world after yet another move of house. We lived beside the Tattenham Corner branch line, where I could see the Royal Train take the Queen and her Mum to see The Derby at Epsom, but our station was a one mile walk away. From there we would catch a Southern green electric train up to Croydon to shop, or now and again to the terminus at Victoria on an outing to London.

At Victoria I could see one of the most romantic of trains; the Golden Arrow (Flèche d’Or) with its wonderful chocolate and cream Pullman cars taking people to or from the Continent. But my first solo train journeys were less glamorous; daily commuting into the City via Fenchurch and Liverpool Streets for example.

In the 1980s my job started to take me around the UK by train, and I rode the East and West coast main lines and got deep into Wales amongst other places. I met many fascinating people both in those places and en-route. Then I became entitled to first class where the peace and quiet could be double edged sword: On the one hand it was nicer to work on the train but, when you didn’t need to work there were less people to strike up a conversation with.

There was one great joy to the posh end though, and that was the dining car. A colleague and I used to book, at our own expense, a pair of seats on the up Red Dragon and spend the hour between Swindon and Paddington having breakfast. What a civilised start to the day!

Over the years I have also travelled by train in Denmark, Germany, France and the USA, each of which has brought new pleasures and, at times, a reality check. Once, travelling from Hamburg to Hannover our train slowed, presumably for a section of track maintenance. Some disused and overgrown sidings slid by with what appeared to be an old military camp away beyond the trees. Then we passed a small sign that said Celle. It took the mental Rolodex a few seconds to click round and Belsen came up. Travel does broaden the mind; there I was sat in first class luxury with my cup of coffee observing the site of such horrors that were perpetrated 50 years since, and trying to reconcile that with the German people of today that I worked with, respected and liked.

After a time I gained a company car and that put an end to travelling by train to a large degree. It was frowned on to incur the expense when you had company wheels at your disposal. But by then the trains were being refurbished to, in my mind, a lower standard than they had been built to with old comforts being replaced by small, hard seats and less leg room. And corporate vandalism didn’t stop there; the Network Southeast livery has to be the greatest travesty ever inflicted on a railway in their history.

No, I’m very glad that I was able to enjoy rail travel at a time when it was a pleasure to travel by train.

 

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Boeing’s 747 is still the queen of the skies for me

It is very nice to be back on a Boeing 747, still very much the Queen of the Skies. It seems incredible that it is just over 40 years since I first saw one; I was at Crystal Palace watching the motor racing and, used as we were to the endless procession of Boeing 707s and Douglas DC8s, with the occasional VC10 or something else turning in for the run into Heathrow when I looked up to see my first 747 (I’ve never liked the term Jumbo) as one of Pan-Am’s finest swung in. It looked huge compared to all of the others, even if it was barely visible on the photo that I took.

At that time I had yet to fly and, if you ignore a 30 or so feet zoom over an hedge and into a cabbage field when I was knocked off my motor bike, it would be 16 years before a BA 757 whisked me to Aberdeen one evening with one of her sisters bringing me back from Edinburgh a few days later. Whilst a long haul trip and the chance to fly on a 747 was conspicuous by its absence the following years saw me become a Shuttle Warrior as I nipped back and forth to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast so often that I got onto first name terms with some of the cabin crew.

That friendship and my love of the 747 were to be savagely disrupted in the space of less than three weeks starting late 1988 when firstly we saw that memorable image of the nose section of Pan-Am’s Clipper Maid of the Seas in a border’s field. The night she went down I had seen a Pan-Am 747 pass me when it took off from Heathrow as I loaded my bag into my car in the long stay car park. Whether it was flight 103 or one of her sisters I don’t know, but the majesty of the one I saw roar past me bore sharp contrast to the one that lay broken a few hundred miles north.

Around that time I had flown home from Edinburgh on G-OBME, one of British Midland’s new 737-400’s. Amongst the crew Ali and Barbara and their colleagues looked after us well on the short hop down to London and, once again, I made my way out to the long stay car park and headed down the M4 for home. Then came the news of an aircraft having come down on the M1 motorway trying to get into East Midlands airport after engine problems. That aircraft was G-OBME, and Ali and Barbara were amongst the crew. It was a black month.

My first flight on a 747 came in 1994, Gatwick to Newark with Continental and then came something of a flurry, mostly with Virgin Atlantic to California and Florida and the initial impression of them as the Queen of the Skies has been affirmed by experience. Over the years I flown down the back (in the last row you can actually see the fuselage warp during turbulence), right at the very front where you are further forward than the pilots and on the upstairs deck. They are a great aircraft, and about the fastest thing that you can fly on these days after the demise of Concorde, the erstwhile Goddess of the Skies.

So here I am again on one of Seattle’s finest, this one being one of Sir Richard’s fleet of 400 series models for another Atlantic crossing and, as someone of my generation who marvelled at Thunderbirds, there is a pleasure at riding once more aboard an aeroplane named Lady Penelope, the third or fourth time she has swept me over the pond.

You can keep your A380s, so ugly and bloated; the 747 has a much more graceful line and will always be one I carry torch for.

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hats off to Sir Frank Whittle: celebrating the 70th anniversary of Britain’s first jet powered flight

Seventy years ago today history was made when a British jet powered aeroplane first flew as the W1 turbo fan powered Gloster E28/39 took off from Cranwell and made a successful first flight.

Thanks to George Carter who designed the aeroplane, to Gloster chief test pilot Flight Lieutenant Gerry Sayer who made that first 17 minute flight, and to the perseverance and genius of Sir Frank Whittle, Britain entered the jet age.

Notwithstanding that the Germans had already flown their first jet aircraft, the He 178 in 1939 and would actually be the first to get a jet powered aeroplane into operational service in the shark like Me 262, this having first flown jet with power around 14 months after the Gloster. But Frank Whittle got the idea first, and today marks a landmark in our aviation history. It punctuates a remarkable 66 year period between the Wright brothers staggering into the air for the first powered and controlled flight and Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon.

So let’s celebrate the achievement on this, its 70th anniversary.

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