Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All steamed up in the cold.

On the 7th October 1927 a new steam railway engine was born at the Derby Works. Her working number was 4422, but after several years of hard work up and down various tracks, she was promoted to 44422. After many further years of faithful service, she was scrapped in 1965 and languished in rusting and unappreciated despair until being rescued by conservationists and lovingly restored.

On Sunday 27th December 2009, the weather was beautiful as I drove my son to a friend's house. After dropping him off, I thought it was a perfect day to go for a cycle ride with my wife, but after discussion and concerns of icy conditions and possibly getting killed in a hideous peddling accident, we settled for a walk in one of our favourite walking spots - Ferry Meadows in Peterborough.

As we drove nearer Peterborough, the sky suddenly had a sheet of angry battleship grey clouds - and some more - drawn across it. Then rain spots appeared on the windscreen and I began to fear our walk was doomed. However, persevering onwards and keeping a good British stiff upper lip, we arrived at Ferry Meadows with no rain descending. It was just bitterly cold and the ice on the car park was treacherously slippery. "Be careful how you tread or you'll slip arse over head" sagely advised a fellow walker as he returned with his wife to their car. As neither I or my wife take any pleasure in, or had any desire to slip arse over head, we decided to take his advice.

After a while my wife had wrapped her scarf so many times around her face and neck that it was like walking with a half wrapped mummy. She told me she wasn't cold. Of course she wasn't - she was frozen! I, however was not cold at all. I had wrapped up with extra layers and felt warm while the cold air on my face was nothing short of refreshing.

Deciding independently that we should keep it to a short walk rather than an ice-trek lest I end up having to carry an ice-corpse, I guided our steps in a large circuit designed to take us back, eventually, to the car park.

Suddenly, we heard a sound of something I never expected to hear, and that was the "chuffing" and whistle of a steam train as it made its way along the Nene Valley Railway which cuts through the park. Indeed, there are a series of footpaths which allow the walker to follow the route of the steam railway until it arrives at it's terminal station in Peterborough. The railway begins at Wansford Station which is easily accessed from the A1 which runs straight past. I gave up on any hope of getting a photo of the steaming loco as it was too far away and I could only watch in frustration the smoke rising in the distance marking out its progress along the track.

Presently, we came upon a lake with lots of gulls in a commotion over a feeding frenzy. Realizing there was a photo opportunity here, I quickly trudged gingerly and very carefully to the waters' edge and took a series of shots.

A short distance further on we came to the sailing club cafe and restaurant. Deciding to get a coffee we grabbed each other's hand and pigeon toed warily over the ice towards the door, lest we should slip arse over head and have a spoiled day. Now you might think that on such a dark, cold and miserable day there would be very few people walking in the park. Well, you'd be wrong. The cafe was packed and it was only the fact that a family vacated their table just as we got served, that we were able to "bag" it tout-suite. The coffee was hot and very welcome. The cafe was very noisy as everybody seemed to chatting very enthusiastically about goodness only knows what. We didn't stay for long but strode purposely on our way again in our quest to be re-united with the car. I had some photos which I never expected as well as being warmed and refreshed by the coffee, so what else could I expect or want?

As we walked along, we heard again the sound of an approaching steam engine on the Nene Valley track. This time, it was returning in the opposite direction and even better, I had time to get the the hump-back bridge ahead of us from which I could get a photo. However, there was only just time so I had to be quick and try not to slip arse over head on the skating rink slippery ice! I managed to get a good spot, a little to one side of where it was headed under the bridge. And there it was, No. 44422, proudly pulling a whole load of carriages carrying a whole load of steam enthusiasts on a special excursion. I snapped away taking several shots, as I only had the one chance, although I suppose I could have photographed it from the other side of the bridge steaming away from me, but it didn't appeal so I didn't bother. My wife, somewhat wisely had stayed off the bridge as it was extremely slippery with ice, to say the least. Before I knew what was happening, I demonstrated how slippery it was when both feet simultaneously lost their grip and I began an accelerating slide down the bridge shouting "aaahhhgggg" as I went while my wife nearly doubled up in hysterical laughter. Nonetheless, I finally managed to steady myself without crashing to the ground, my main concern being to protect the camera from harm rather than myself.

We made our way the final few hundred yards back to the car. I was really pleased that I had added another steam loco picture to my ever growing collection, but be assured, I'm not an anorak, no....really I'm not. It was good to get home and read up on some more steam railway history............, but not in an anorakish way of course!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

3D TV - a personal view

With all the recent hype about James Cameron’s recent film “Avatar”, together with the recent 3D Week on Channel 4, its easy to get excited about the prospect of 3D TV.

At the beginning of the year, I mentioned to some friends at work that I expected the introduction of 3D TV around the end of the year, in other words, about now. My wisdom at the time was informed by developments at Philips, who were advanced in the development of glasses - free 3D TV. However, it transpires that Philips has now adopted a less proactive approach responding to its perception of when the market will be ready for it’s glasses free technology.

I sat and watched some of the Channel 4 3D programs, squinting through the blue and amber glasses picked up at my local branch of Sainsbury’s. I sat transfixed for a while watching old films of our Queen’s Coronation celebrations which only served to remind me that the ability to watch films or stills in 3D is an old technology. The 3D effect was very striking, but it wasn’t long before the novelty wore off, as staring through the bi-coloured glasses made my head somewhat squiffy.

It seems to me that as long as we have to watch 3D through glasses then we haven’t moved along very far since the 1950s and before. Granted, the quality of what is seen and promised now is far better than before, the encumbrance of having to wear the glasses gets in the way of what should be a more naturalistic experience. I do not think this is such an issue in the cinema, as when you pay to watch a film, that is what you do - you sit and concentrate on the film with no other distractions competing for your attention save a gulp of Coke or another mouthful of popcorn. Also, the technology behind 3D at the cinema is somewhat different to the TV in your lounge. Because the image you see on your TV is self-radiant and not reflected as at the cinema, it holds out the possibility of alternative 3D imaging technology which does not require the use of glasses. In the Avatar film, there are many scenes depicting people working on glasses-free 3D computer monitors, and this, from my point of view really has to be the future for TV before I can get particularly excited about it. Why is this an issue? Well, if I said that as I am typing this in my favourite recliner I am also half-watching and half listening to the TV as well as the fact that my wife has just shown me some animal pictures which appealed to her in the Sunday newspaper. Now, if I had to wear 3D viewing glasses, this would kind of restrict my activities away from the multi-tasking I am engaged in at the moment, and hold me hostage to staring at the TV screen and nothing else, unless I am happy to keep sliding the glasses from my eyes to the forehead and back again at each activity intersection involving the TV!

Now, 3D TV is set to arrive in 2010 and Sky TV and other networks have the technology in place to wow our sensitivities and hopefully, for them, make millions/billions of dollars/pounds/euros of additional profit into the bargain. However, I am a little doubtful as to how successful this first foray into 3D broadcasting is likely to be remains an issue. For me, glasses dependent 3D TV is not the real deal and I am unwilling to spend any more of my hard earned dosh on another TV unless I can see the 3D image naturally, and without the aid of glasses. I would guess that the TV retailers are likely to find themselves with a lot of expensive obsolete stock on the shelves when glasses free real 3D finally arrives, as I am sure it will, and in rather short order behind the glasses dependant variety. The reason for my confidence in this is that Philips are not the only company working on glasses-free technology, but a number of other companies besides, Mitsubishi being one of them. The claims made for the quality of the images and the viewing experience are extremely encouraging. Of course, price will be an issue, but like all consumer electronic appliances, the price will plummet once the sales increase and the desire and acceptance takes off. I believe that once seen, the appeal will be irresistible to the viewing public.

As for me, I will not be buying a glasses dependant 3D TV. I would much rather wait a little longer for the real deal to arrive, as it surely will - its just a question of when.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cameron the Genius

A couple of weeks ago I read a rather disparaging review of Avatar, James Cameron's latest epic film, this time in 3D. The guy seemed to think that Cameron might have wasted his time and money on making an over-hyped film which would be a disaster.

The other day, accompanied by my wife, I saw the film and can happily report that nothing can be further from the truth.

The film was incredible, marvelous, beautiful, visually stimulating, exciting and a whole load of other positive adjectives besides.

Whilst the film is brilliant in 3D, it would also be good in 2D, though I strongly recommend you see it in the former. Doubtless, all Cameron's future films will be in 3D, and as this film has laid down a benchmark for 3D productions, I have no doubt that 3D cinema will be the norm in a very short space of time.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sir Nigel Charges Through

This morning I went to get a new tyre put on my car. I took my camera (or rather, one of my cameras) along with me, not because I have a fetish for photographing car mechanics at work, but rather I had been reminded by my wife that a steam train was passing through at about the same time. So, leaving the car on the ramp, I wandered down the road and looking up the line I spotted a pool of smoke rapidly heading my way.

I quickly walked back to a better viewing position and then it appeared - Sir Nigel Gresley as "The Christmas Tynesider" steaming its way up to Newcastle. The time was 08.15, exactly the time I had been advised it was due.