The Heights of Abraham



Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes...

In order to make me feel better about the world and everything that’s in it - specially after the Mysterious Case of the Flying Fridge - Kathy decided that, on the following day, she would indulge one of my greatest and most shameless weaknesses. Trams.

Not far from her flat in Chesterfield lies the large and charming Derbyshire village of Crich. (The name, incidentally, is one of those not uncommon place-names that seem to have been designed to slip up the unwary outsider. Locally, think of Ulgham, Ponteland or Boulmer, none of which is all that it seems to be. In this case, the ‘i’ of Crich makes the same sound as the ‘y’ in by. So if you didn’t know that before, you know it now.)

Where was I? Oh, yes...Crich. Pretty though it is, its prettiness would not be nearly enough to draw the tourists. After all, Derbyshire overflows with picture-postcard towns and villages. What makes Crich so special - so VERY special - is the National Tramway Museum. Why it’s located in deepest rural Derbyshire is anyone’s guess and I’m afraid I wasn’t able to ask anyone for an explanation. Because, upon arriving at the suspiciously empty car park, we discovered that the National Tramway Museum was closed.

Those who know and love me - damned few - will confirm that I never, ever EVER over-react to ANYTHING. AT ALL. EVER. So it was unfathomably uncharacteristic of me to burst the bonds of mere disappointment that morning and transform the rostered closure of a museum into an incident of catastrophic proportions. Loss of self-control is always an ugly phenomenon, but in someone as normally sanguine, measured and temperate as me... All I can say is that it’s a good job Kathy had the presence of mind to remember that Cromford was nearby.

Having lived in Sheffield for 10 years, I’m ashamed to say that I had never been to Cromford (or to Crich, for that matter). It was a real eye-opener. We tend to think, rather smugly, that we in the north-east can take the credit for the birth of the Industrial Revolution, what with all our railways and coal and suchlike. To a Cromfordian, though, such claims are stuff and nonsense. The gaunt - but by no means ugly - buildings that cluster in the gorge of the River Derwent are a World Heritage Site; the place where Richard Arkwright invented his Water Frame for the spinning of cotton into yarn and cloth in the 18th century.

It very fiercely reminded me that industrial heritage and importance differs depending on whereabouts in this crowded and fascinating country you find yourself. Coal, steel, railways and engineering - yes. But also the spinning and weaving of cotton and wool; glass, pottery and porcelain; quarrying; shipping and transport; services and finance; and many, many others.

The buildings at Cromford Mill are as awe-inspiring - and historically at least as important - as the Causey Arch, Bamburgh Castle or the Tyne Bridge. And even better - just across the road, in the old wharf buildings of the defunct Cromford Canal they serve a mean cream tea.

As a matter of fact, a couple of miles up the road, and still very much deep in the gorge of the River Derwent, lies the unlikely town of Matlock Bath. The gorge sides are very steep but somehow houses manage to cling to their sides and carry the wondrous eye to the Heights of Abraham, as the gorge rim is called at this point. It is possible to struggle up the gorge side to the top on foot but it’s much more fun to take the cable car.

So you see, one way or another Kathy managed to extract the precious seed of enjoyment from what appeared at first to be the unbreakable nut of disappointment.

I wish to nominate that last sentence for the 2009 Ugliest Metaphor Award.

...that the next AGM (all other things being equal) will be at 1100 at the Tanfield Railway on Sunday 24 May.

AND...’s just occurred to me that I still haven’t told you about my weird trip to Glasgow and Edinburgh or about my latest abortive adventures as a culture vulture; I think I’ve been to see the dullest ballet and the dreariest play ever performed. Must tell you all about them...

I’m in London with Brian for a few days now but I’ll keep checking in to read your vibrant and pithy comments.

So behave.

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We happy few...


Yes I know...two blogpostings in one day. How lucky are YOU?
I was looking through my truckshunting email just now (address below) and thought that these items were far too good to keep to myself.

So first up, thanks to Vivienne for the attached pictures of the unforgettable Birkheads AGM on Wednesday.

Secondly, thanks to ex-Nightshift listener Dave for sending me this bagatelle about ‘chocolate maths’. Try it. It works...
It takes less than a minute.
Work this out as you read.
Be sure you don't read the bottom until you've worked it out!
1. First of all, pick the number of times a week that you would like to have chocolate (more than once but fewer than 10)
2. Multiply this number by 2 (just to be bold)
3. Add 5
4. Multiply it by 50 -- I'll wait while you get the calculator
5. If you have already had your birthday this year add 1759 ...
If you haven't, add 1758.
6. Now subtract the four digit year that you were born.
You should have a three digit number
The first digit of this was your original number
(i.e. how many times you want to have chocolate each week).
The next two numbers are
YOUR AGE! (Oh YES, it is!!!!!)

...for this poetic offering (with apologies to Edgar Allan Poe)...

Once upon a midnight dreary, fingers cramped and vision bleary
System manuals piled high and wasted paper on the floor,
Longing for the warmth of bed sheets, Still I sat there, doing spreadsheets:
Having reached the bottom line, I took a floppy from the drawer.
Typing with a steady hand, I then invoked the SAVE command
But got instead a reprimand: It read, "Abort, Retry, Ignore."

Was this some occult illusion? Some maniacal intrusion?
These were choices Solomon himself had never faced before.
Carefully, I weighed my options. These three seemed to be the top ones.
Clearly, I must now adopt one - Choose: "Abort, Retry, Ignore."

With my fingers pale and trembling, slowly toward the keyboard bending,
Longing for a happy ending, hoping all would be restored,
Praying for some guarantee Finally I pressed a key -
But on the screen what did I see? Again: "Abort, Retry, Ignore."

I tried to catch the chips off-guard - I pressed again, but twice as hard.
Luck was just not in the cards, I saw what I had seen before.
Now I typed in desperation, Trying random combinations.
Still there came the incantation - Choose: "Abort, Retry, Ignore."

There I sat, distraught, exhausted, by my own machine accosted;
Getting up, I turned away and paced across the office floor.
And then I saw an awful sight, A bold and blinding flash of light,
A lightning bolt that cut the night and shook me to my very core.
The PC screen collapsed and died, "Oh no - my database!" I cried.
I thought I heard a voice reply, "You'll see your data - nevermore!"

To this day I do not know the place to which our data goes.
Perhaps it goes to Heaven where the angels have it stored.
But as for productivity - Well, I fear that it goes straight to Hell.
And that's the tale I have to tell - Your choice: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

Please remember that blogposting 138 below is also new today.

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Vivienne and Maureen
Hildie and Vivienne
Maureen and Sid


Yes indeed, I agree with everyone’s comments so far. It was a truly memorable get-together in the April sunshine on Wednesday. A perfect venue - a little ivy-bestrewn suntrap tucked away in the corner of a secret garden hideaway concealed in the undulating folds of the north-west Durham hills. (That was a purple patch if ever there was one - long and florid, like so many things in life.)

But it wasn’t just the venue, was it? Our hosts were truly accommodating and the victuals were a great deal more than merely acceptable; plenteous supplies of coffee and - er - cakes and toasties and - er - more cakes...

Naturally - and as you would expect - the quality of the crack was well up to truckshunter standards, if a little too raucously funny at times. In truth, we were almost barred from the premises within five minutes of our arrival for disturbing the peace and tranquillity of the verdant and sylvan surroundings of the secret garden.

So a BIG truckshunters Thankyou from me to Christine and her husband for their good humour and forbearance under very trying circumstances and, of course, to Hildie, Vivienne, Maureen and Sid for being such splendid company. I think we were all a bit surprised to realise that the AGM lasted four whole hours.

So - as we keep saying - don’t be shy. Pop along to an AGM; the more the merrier. Speaking of which...

... will be on Sunday 24 May at the Tanfield Railway, just over the meadows from Birkheads. At least, that’s my proposal. Your comments, as ever, would be welcome. And remember that, as I said in the last posting, if there are any other outings you have in mind, we could convert them into ‘shunts’. I say - what fun!!! What jolly larks!!!

CONTACT ME... PLEASE posting comments on this blog (rather than just reading it - not that there's anything wrong with just reading it, mind you) or email me:

So now we know what Maureen and Sid look like. Who'll be next to put their head (or any other part of their anatomy) above the proverbial parapet?


This posting was drafted before the latest AGM, which took place today, Wednesday 22 April. Of which, more later. In the meantime, back to Chesterfield...

To take my mind off my narrow escape from the grizzled jaws of death, Kathy wisely decided to take me on an evening jaunt to Millthorpe, a tiny Derbyshire village not far from her home. This wasn’t just to calm me down, however. It was also by way of being a kind of pilgrimage. For it was in a house on the edge of the village that Edward Carpenter lived for 40 years, almost until his death in 1929.

Go to the top of the class if you know who Edward Carpenter was. I am genuinely ashamed to say that, until very recently, I had never heard of him. A few weeks ago, my friend Sue (whose voice was heard several times on The Nightshift) was given a new biography of him and has talked about nothing else since. I promised her that, at the next available opportunity, I would visit Millthorpe on her behalf to pay homage to him.

If you google him, you will quickly realise why I am so ashamed of my ignorance. Here is some information about him gleaned from Wikipedia...

Edward Carpenter (29 August 1844 – 28 June 1929) was an English socialist poet,
anthologist, early gay activist and socialist philosopher.

A leading figure in late 19th- and early 20th-century Britain, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party. A poet and writer, he was a close friend of Walt Whitman and Rabindranath Tagore, corresponding with many famous figures such as Annie Besant, Isadora Duncan, Havelock Ellis, Roger Fry, Mahatma Gandhi, James Keir Hardie, J K Kinney, Jack London, E D Morel, William Morris, E R Pease, John Ruskin, and Olive Schreiner.

(The ‘E R Pease’ mentioned in the above list was a crusading socialist who lived for a time in Newcastle).

A strong advocate of sexual freedom, Edward Carpenter had a profound influence on both D H Lawrence and E M Forster. Amongst many other things, he became fascinated with Hindu mysticism and travelled to India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). As a kind of ‘by-product’ of these visits, he took to wearing sandals, eventually introducing them to England!

He lived at Millthorpe with his Sheffield-born partner George Merrill for 30 years - an unbelievably courageous thing to do at the time. During this time they played host to the greatest contemporary figures in international literature, progressive socialist politics, philosophy and the arts. I’m delighted to say that a small plaque at the crossroads in Millthorpe sings Edward Carpenter’s praises fulsomely.

I’m even more delighted to say that, when I knocked at the front door of his house, a lovely lady called Jo opened it and welcomed us in as Carpenter pilgrims. She showed us photographs of The Great Man and expressed dismay - as well she might - that his life and achievements are so utterly neglected these days. It was genuinely thrilling to walk around the garden he planned - and also very sobering to realise that, despite all his ground-breaking intellectual and artistic achievements, being a radical gay activist - especially at that time - has consigned him to the dustbin of historical neglect.

The photograph above was taken when he was in his 30s. Lucky George Merrill.

And we’ve only got to Monday...

The Birkheads AGM today was a huge success. I think all 5 of us enjoyed it immensely. Good weather, good surroundings and good company. That’s what shunting trucks is all about! Photos will be posted in due course.

It’s been suggested that the next AGM should take place nearby at the Tanfield Railway. Wow yesssss. How about on Sunday 24 May?

And, in the meantime, if you've got any interesting outings planned and won't mind if I tag along, get in touch in any one of the usual ways.

I agree with the ‘regular’ truckshunters on this blog; if you’re reading this and haven’t made yourself known for a long time - or at all - post a comment. It’ll be good to hear from you.

As far as I’m concerned, Spring has well and truly sprung when the central reservations of our dual carriageways are carpeted - as they are right now - with a healthy covering of Danish scurvy grass. Gardeners probably regard this recent invader of our shores as an unremitting weed - it arrived, apparently, on the wheels of Scandinavian lorries. To me, though, the snowy effect of the flowers means that Summer can’t be that far away and I'll always be grateful to Alan Savage (of the Cramlington Millennium Arboretum) for telling me about it.

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Kathy in the Alcazar Palace, Seville


Since I last had the good sense to put fingers to keyboard, I’ve limped and hobbled my way through what has truly been one of the oddest weeks of my entire life. I’ve been into the deepest, most hidden parts of the Peak District in search of a needlessly neglected Victorian hero; I’ve taken tea at one of our most important World Heritage Sites; I’ve gaped at the Heights of Abraham; I’ve immersed myself in the breathtaking creations of yet another neglected hero - this time, from the Edwardian era; I’ve heard the One O’Clock Gun and watched a new tramway being built in the Athens of the North; and I’ve almost been killed by a bouncing ice-cream refrigerator.

Yes, one of the oddest weeks of my life. So far.

The last time we spoke, I was about to set off for Chesterfield in Derbyshire to visit my old friend Kathy. Let me tell you a little about Kathy.

We met in - we think - 1976 or 1977 when we both worked in Hackney Employment Office (as they were rather archly called in those days). We got along really well and have remained good friends ever since. I went on my first narrowboat holiday with Kathy in 1979; it was on the Llangollen Canal and we both became addicted ‘canalcoholics’ instantly. We went on a couple of log-cabin holidays, too - courtesy of the Forestry Commission, who still operate these delightful and remote estates of holiday cabins deep in some of the UK’s most beautiful woodlands. You should try them.

Our lives drifted apart geographically for many years after that, but we kept in touch and see each other regularly, though infrequently. One of our last spells together was our wonderful week in Seville last autumn. The picture above was taken in the Alcazar, which she loved so much, she visited it twice.

Kathy, who’s a little younger than me, is a truly remarkable woman. She has overcome the kinds of trauma that would floor anyone with less clarity of vision, less grim determination and less life-affirming common sense than Kathy’s got. I take her shamelessly for granted.

At least, I did until Monday 30 March 2009. Because of Monday 30 March, I seriously believe that I will never take anyone for granted again. Ever.

I had driven down the M1 and was waiting at the exit roundabout at Junction 29 for a gap in the traffic when...a refrigerator was suddenly bouncing along the road towards me. It was one of those ice-cream chest-fridges with glass tops you find in shops and had fallen off the back of a passing truck - a small drop-side pick-up truck which had taken the roundabout curve a little too fast. The fridge bounced powerfully for its weight and it was all I could do to watch it coming at me very fast indeed.

I thank Providence that this was the only time in my life so far that I have genuinely thought I was going to die. And what many people have said in describing situations like this is absolutely true. The mind-numbing split seconds slow down dramatically, perhaps to give your mind time to say Goodbye to your body. I know perfectly well that this sounds manifestly foolish and utterly unlike the sensible and anchored person you know me to be (don't argue or smirk) least a dozen thoughts had plenty of time to rush through my head as I sat there mesmerised by the most unlikely instrument of death I could possibly imagine.

Ex-BBC local radio presenter killed by bouncing ice-cream fridge.

But - as you can see - he wasn’t. The fridge hit my car head-on, as I had anticipated, but the bounce off the bonnet deflected its trajectory to my left, where it hit the roadway and came to rest almost under the wheels of a pantechnicon in the inside lane of the sliproad. What a lovely word: pantechnicon.

Because of my apparent state of shock - to be truthful, I can’t remember too much about the first 5 minutes or so - the cops called an ambulance. They calmed me down and talked to me and took my blood pressure and stuff, just like on Casualty. After about half an hour I was back to being the usual grumpy, miserable, self-centred old Ian Robinson - in a now bashed-up and barely drivable Kia Shuma.

Kathy, who lives only 5 or 6 miles from the M1, was priceless. When I finally arrived at her flat, I got hugs and kisses and lots of chat and talk and hot sweet tea.

When you first say Hello to someone, you really don’t know what’s going to happen 32 years or so down the line, do you?

I’m not saying that my near-miss accident was anywhere near as threatening or as dangerous as the scrapes many, many other people have found themselves in. In fact, it almost certainly counts only as a minor collision with no injuries. As far as I’m concerned, though, it pointed me toward The Light in a way I’d rather not experience again for some considerable time - unless Providence judges that I need to be taught yet another lesson the hard way.

I’d be very interested indeed to hear of any experiences of this kind you might wish to share with us....

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Unless requested not to do so, I'll be telling you even more about how weird my week was next time...

...that as many truckshunters as possible should gather for the next AGM on Wednesday 22 April at 1100 onwards at Birkheads Nursery and Secret Garden, near Sunniside / Tanfield Railway / Beamish.