Driving Day @RHDR

For my 40th birthday, my wife bought me a driving experience at the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, one of my preferred lines.

I was able to go along on Monday 3rd March 2020. I booked some accommodation on site to stay over the night before and so I ventured down on the Sunday.

As I am wont to do, I left far too early and so had time to kill in Romney. I ended up exploring the coast, pretty much following the line.


Once booked in, I met the others in the accommodation: one like me and two railway volunteers. After a lengthy chat about numerous things we went our separate ways for dinner, which was a bit of a shame but I had some work to complete beforehand, so needs must etc.

We were up early and met in the cafe for breakfast and briefing. There were three of us in total and one coming along for the ride. We would take the driving in turns and we would get to drive from Romney to Hythe and then Hythe to Romney. When not driving you were a passenger, and since it was a non-public day we had the entire train to ourselves.

Our steed for the day was Southern Maid. We were shown round the fundamentals of controlling and firing an engine and then let loose. I was given first blood, as the youngest, and so drove from Romney to Hythe first and then Hyth to Romney on the second trip back. Our instructor gave direction as to what and when to do things and it was all very relaxed. One felt in charge of the engine but knew there was someone to take over if the need arose.

In some ways, driving an engine is easy. The principles are much like driving a car, except there is a regulator in place of an accelerator and direction is dealt with by the track. The regulator responds slower than a car’s accelerator, which took a while to get used to, but you can relax more since you can go hands free, unlike in a car.

Starting? You open the regulator, steam goes to the pistons and off we go.

Stopping? You shut the regulator and apply the brakes. Just need to time it right so you brake smoothly and roughly where you want to.

The hardest part was firing – you have to keep the fire going well and ensure a good fire all over. I have experience of running fires at home but it is really just about getting it going, put a pile of coal on and leave it. Here we had to maintain a nice level of coal and ensure fresh coal went where it was needed in the fire. Luckily, the instructor was on hand to supervise.

After two round trips we stopped for lunch – ham, egg and chips and jam pudding and custard – before heading out again. Since I had already had my two turns I was a passenger for the rest of the day.

At the end, we were able to tour the engine sheds and watch some of the work required to steam down the engine.

It was a enjoyable day, I learnt a lot and met some like-minded people. I would say the only real downers were that we were just left to leave at the end – no debrief, final cup of tea etc; breakfast was just toast (but it was limitless toast… and lunch made up for it); and we didn’t get involved in the steaming up process (although I believe that is part of a more extensive experience day).

I would heartily recommend anyone having a go. It’s a great present to get someone.




Where has the time gone?

I’ve been away from this site for a while. Five years, it seems…

No doubt you have all been wondering where I have been.

No real excuses, but I found I didn’t have much to say. In the time I’ve been away, I set up a small business and have blogged regularly there. I spent some time in the COVID-19 lockdown picking up some old interests and thought about blogging about them. Rather than re-invent the wheel I thought I would resurrect this site.

So, I will be making some changes and then more regularly blogging here as well as continuing with the business blog.


General Election 2015

Just some thoughts on this year’s General Election. First off though may I stress I am not a party political man. I did once dabble from time to time but there were aspects of party politics that put me off any of the parties.

When asked I say I am an impartial observer, a “constitutionalist” or, if feeling mischievous, a Whig (annoyingly there has been a recent rebirth of the Whigs so I may have to stop doing that).

I have sometimes considered not voting (in line with Mr Waugh’s quote: “I do not aspire to advise my sovereign in her choice of servants“) but I always feel if I have chosen a candidate I must vote since I would hate it if s/he did not win and it was marginal.

Up to and including Polling Day my gut feeling had been a minority Conservative government which would try to weather the storm but ultimately would fall. This would either have meant a new government led by Labour or ultimately another General Election. So I was astonished when the BBC’s exit poll was published and even more astonished when I woke up at 6am on the Friday to see the adjusted forecast.

From midnight it started to have a feel of 1992: all the polls suggesting a Labour win but Major’s Conservatives came through with a majority of 21. I’m sure the Lib Dems now know what 1997 felt like for the Conservatives!

So, ignoring the party that actually won, the result, I feel, is very good constitutionally – we have a government that can govern, can get its mandated programme through but has a slim majority which could cause it problems. It would need just a small backbench rebellion and suddenly the balance of power looks very different. Therefore, we don’t have a government that can ignore Parliament. Parliament has a chance to perform some proper scrutiny.

This is good for government, Parliament and the country as a whole.

So, the impact of result?

David Cameron may well go down in history as the man that saved the Conservatives in 2015 but he has the chance of being the last PM of the UK.

The Prime Minister will have to sort out the West Lothian Question once and for all. The SNP have practically taken over Scotland and now have a major influence in Westminster. Both the Conservatives and Labour have effectively ignored Scotland one way or another and have now paid the price. If the Union is to survive we’ll need a Royal Commission into the Constitution exploring options such as a fully federated UK.

The Liberal Democrats may very well be finished as the third party, or at least temporarily; however, I don’t see UKIP or Greens necessarily taking their place.

Europe will become a bigger issue and we will have the trials and tribulations of the In/Out Referendum. This could be very divisive and will draw many parallels with the Scottish independence referendum last year. If a In vote is the result that could trigger the end of David Cameron’s Premiership and possibly a change of governmnt as a whole; an Out vote – well who knows? I suppose one result of an Out vote would be UKIP could dissolve itself, but would the existing parties continue? Would they fracture along pro/anti EU lines? Would parts of the UK that had voted In break away (the SNP feel Scotland would vote In) from those that had voted Out?

We’ve been spoilt in some ways that almost all post war Parliaments were not hung. The rise of small parties is interesting and in some ways we are returning to the 19th and early 20th Century “norm”: lots of parties and most Parliaments being, as we call them today, hung.  Whether this will become the standard or whether we’ll return to two party government remains to be seen. I am just not sure which two parties it would be!

I shall finish on share of votes and seats. Has this election strengthened the argument for AV or a form of PR? Certainly our Simple Majority system which has evolved since the 14th Century has some quirks but ultimately it elects representatives from whom a government is chosen and that government is formed from a majority of those representatives.

I did hear arguments for PR because of the expectation of a hung Parliament. PR would increase the chances of hung Parliaments; it would benefit the smaller parties – but would those parties then hold too much sway? The Liberal Democrats effectively chose who was in government in 2010 while being the third party. I think the biggest quirk this election is the comparison of SNP and, say, UKIP.

While it isn’t quite fair to compare them, since one is a regional party and the other national (UKIP was the only party that stood in all four parts of the UK) it does seem odd for one party to receive 5% nationally and get 56 seats and for another to get 13% but only one seat. It demonstrates that concentrated support in certain areas can win you more seats than a general level of support across the nation: something the Lib Dems suffered from in the 1990s (only really winning in the Celtic fringes). I did some maths.

If this election had been carried out under a PR system, assuming no minimum threshold and using the share of the vote across the UK, then the state of the parties would have been thus:


Note, no Northern Ireland parties would have been elected, no seats for Plaid Cymru, both Labour and Conservatives down, the Lib Dems and UKIP way up and the SNP not so much a factor. This would have been a definite hung Parliament with a coalition of Conservatives and UKIP forming a government. So, for some, a nightmare situation! Nigel Farage would not only be an MP but possibly in the running as Deputy PM. (Note if Lab had UKIP support (admittedly unlikely) it would only need the Greens to get a majority.)

Of course, this is slightly unfair due to the special nature of Northern Ireland and so it is quite likely that a PR election would actually be more regionally based. To keep it simple I split the UK into England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland though it is likely England would be split into regions as it is for European Parliament elections. The seats fall as follows:


The SNP not as big in Scotland, with the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems having some proper presence there. Interestingly, Labour won 25 seats in Wales and so would suffer a great deal, compared with the 15 projected above, perhaps demonstrating Labour’s Welsh support is concentrated in certain parts of Wales. Here again a Conservative/UKIP coalition could be formed but with support from the DUP needed.

So, PR wouldn’t have changed the result. I don’t think this election necessarily debunks Simple Majority but does add some weight to considering PR. I will be honest (and those that knew me in Mr Death’s politics classes will know this): I am not a fan of PR. As someone who distrusts political parties I like the fact that MPs are our representatives not the parties’. I feel PR, in particular Party List, makes MPs representatives of the parties and an important constitutional link is lost. But I am pragmatic – it may be time to really consider the electoral system and if PR was to come I would plump for the Additional Member System since it retains that MP constituency link.

While the election is over (the next is pencilled in for 7th May 2020, campaign will be starting 2016…..) there will be some interesting times ahead. Quite what government would appear then is anybody’s guess.

Comment 7th May 2020

This post was written back in 2015. As I reviewed this site, I noted the fact the next general election would be 7th May 2020 due to FTPA. Today is the 7th May 2020 and in that time we have had a roller coaster ride of a few years with a referendum, the end of Cameron’s premiership in 2016, May’s troubled premiership including a mis-judged call for a general election in 2017, Johnson’s rise to No. 10 and subsequent general election in  2019 and Brexit occurring, after a number of extensions, in 2020. That’s not even considering COVID-19…

I’ll Regret this in the Morning

ride 3315

A bit of exploration tonight and trying out some of the functions of the Garmin.

I have a long ride in mind but it involves going beyond Sadler’s Farm and/or Fair Glen. Both of these junctions don’t look cycle friendly so have been researching alternative routes. There is also Bread and Cheese Hill to avoid.

Some cycle route planners suggested using an underpass in the Thundersley area which goes under the A130 between Sadler’s and Fair Glen. So, I transferred the suggested route into a “course” on Garmin and downloaded it.

The Garmin has a SatNav feature in that it will keep you on course – but only in that annoying way of telling you after you have gone off course. The display is simply a black line for you to follow which was hard to see in the night light but  I got to the underpass without getting lost or making any wrong turns.

The route there is slightly up hill the whole way despite me thinking I had plotted a fairly flat course. Turns out Church Road in Thundersley is great a hill in one direction, luckily the way I was going. I had brakes on full but still accelerated down the bendy hill. I then realised I may have to cycle back up this hill later…

Having got to the underpass I then had to cycle home….

ride 3315

For variety I had picked a different route home. I think this was much better but I did had to attempt cycling back up Church Road (I gave up). For a long time I was reliant on the Garmin and was very pleased to see the A13 when I reached it. It felt like I was home. The A13 is not bad for cycling on I have decided. Cars aren’t as fast and most of the junctions are laid out well for cyclists.

So, just over 20 miles in one night – I think that counts as a decent bike ride.

Ride no 8

ride 7

A windy one. It felt like the wind was in my face most of the ride regardless of the direction I was going. There was also a strong cross wind across the front which slowed me down considerably and made me fed up quickly. But in the end a nice trip to Shoeburyness and back taking in the train depots of both c2c and Greater Anglia (it is all rock an roll here).

As the weather warms it is nice to see more people on the front enjoying an evening stroll or jog. It is a shame some other cyclists seem to think they own the cycle lane along the front (nearly collided with one going the wrong way). Fairly sure I got lapped twice by one cyclist who obviously has a much better bike than me…

Beer, beer, beer, beer.


Today my brother and I finally got round to brewing our first batch of beer; something we’ve been meaning to do for about 9 months.

We cheated slightly in buying a kit with a malt extract provided (the gloopy treacle like substance in the photo). The kit was very handy but did assume we’d know  certain things eg know what a hydrometer looks like and how to take a specific gravity reading.

Ultimately we have created some murky water which in just over two weeks should be drinkable ale or something that will be useful in cleaning the patio.

If successful my brother’s new utility room may become a micro-brewery.