Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
I knew that you lot wouldn't let me down. Keen train observer and weblog reader Ian Callender, writes in with the following info about panto isolating cocks. I hope you all find this as interesting as I do.
"As you may surmise from the subject line, this communication was prompted by your most recent Blog entry - in case no-one else has beaten me to it, i think i can enlighten you as to the purpose of said device...
The 'Panto Isolating Cock' is a control to enable the train's guard to disconnect the power-collecting pantograph from the overhead power lines in the event of an emergency. The pantograph (the coat-hanger thingy on top of the train carriage) is held against the power lines by air pressure. In the event of an emergency, the air supply would be cut off and the pantograch would descend, disabling the train. In the event of this not happening, the train's Guard can cut off the air supply by shutting the 'Panto Isolating Cock' in his van, thus causing the pantograph to descend and removing (or at least reducing) the danger of electrocution.
So, if you want to know about Pantos and Cocks - just ask a trainspotter..."
And now a fabulous story which I cut out of the Sunday Express this week. The tale concerns George Brown, Labour Foreigh Secretary under the Wilson government during a diplomatic visit to Peru in 1966.
George was attending a banquet in Peru where he was expected to dance with the president's wife. After drinking heavily, he tapped a lady wearing a red dress, on the shoulder. She declined his invitation to take the floor with this response:
" First, you are drunk. Second, this is not a waltz, it is the Peruvian national anthem. And third, I am not a woman, I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima."
Foreign Secretary George Brown.(Cardinal Archbishop of Lima not depicted)
Here are excerpts from the book I'm writing: Psycle Geography These are edited blocks from my two chapters on trains.
"On the old Eastern Region trains, if I put my bicycle in the guard's van, I'd sometimes see an arrow somewhere up on the wall at the end of the carriage. Above it, usually hand-written, was the phrase: Panto Isolating Cock. I have had endless fun over the years, wondering what it was and concocting jokes to do with what it might have been. I'm not going to rake back over them now, but readers are free to tinker with the phrase themselves. An old train driver did once tell me what a panto isolating cock actually did but I've forgotten again now. I think, however, it was something to do with the braking system on older locomotives. Sadly I have never seen the phrase on any of the new trains.
The stations all the way up to Clacton are still fairly-sleepy places and the line is punctuated by several newly-automated level crossings. The station buildings themselves are pleasing, if run-down Victorian creations which once accommodated station masters and their families. It was a perfectly good notion having stationmasters living in such places. It housed the staff, made sure that the stations were always manned and probably gave the passengers a sense that someone was looking after them.
Was it cost-effective? It must have been at one time, since the system seems to have worked for years. Until somebody, somewhere, decided that perhaps it didn't. The result, tortuous decades later, is that most of the stations now have only a part-time ticket-office or worse, machine-only ticketing. The live-in station masters are long-gone and the level-crossing keepers have recently been dispensed-with too. An electronic voice tells passengers which, if any trains are due in, security cameras scan the platforms and if there are persistent problems during the evening with 'der yoof', the police will perform an occasional purge. These changes are known as 'efficiencies' or 'improvements.' Sometimes, the entire local rail network may be closed for up to three days at a time, in order to carry out the efficiencies and improvements. I get the impression that it all works extremely well – as long as no actual passengers are involved in the procedure.
Great Bentley station is one of the prettiest in the county and for years after the war nearly always won the Best-Kept Station awards. The place was manned by a cheerful Scots railman called Jock who sold tickets, opened and closed the gates and swept the platforms. I also seem to remember flower beds on the Colchester side and even, a small goldfish pond. People these days sometimes think you're a bit peculiar if you start waxing nostalgic about old country stations, but some of them, a few decades ago, were uniquely pleasant places, with coalfires in waiting rooms, as well as serviceable and unlocked loos. A goldfish pond on a station platform? It seems almost unimaginable now. Though, I believe that it's the gradual removal of exactly such eccentrically-civilised touches which has helped to coarsen we English as a people.
At Wivenhoe Station last winter, for instance, a cat took to coming into the ticket-hall and sleeping on one of the seats. Soon enough, a cushion found its way onto the seat and the cat could be seen sleeping on that, or upon waking, being made a fuss-of by various passsengers. It transformed the feel of the room. People mired in the tedium and insecurity of rail travel love such things. Goldfish ponds, flower beds, a station house with a family living in it and a cat on a seat somewhere? It was a great idea. All manner of inefficiencies and delays might be softened by such things if they were to be reinstated today. You could get rid of all of those security cameras, flashing electronic bulletin boards, all those silly automated announcements and no-one would really mind. People just want to feel looked after when they're travelling. This, unfortunately is rarely the case nowadays. Ask a government expert and he or she will tell you that the old railways used to lose money. Though, they did used to work – sort of. And you didn't generally embark on a train journey with a vague sense of trepidation or even dread, wondering: “Now what?” Nor did you accept that for large chunks of the year, at weekends especially, the train which you'd paid for would actually be a bus. Our rail-travel system is actually a type of madness – an infuriating and inglorious madness which we have become complicit in allowing to impede our lives and livelihoods."
In lieu of a newsletter, here's the summing up and future projection, so far as I can predict matters. I've had to look very hard at music, my relationship with it and the people I deal with.
I hear music everyday on the radio and I don't like most of what I hear. Am I jaded, or has music just become overcalculated, over-produced and generally dull? It's probably a mixture of the two. Like a man who's spent too long in a gourmet restaurant, I find I just want a plate of egg and chips. I have therefore embarked on a series of 4 track analogue recordings, where I can litererally, only use 4 tracks and no overdubs. This ascetic course of action seems to have revived me. The results are rough, imperfect and... very inspiring. The first set of songs is already up on the site as a download. The next set is coming soon. I'm writing a third set. The process of getting music from heart, through fingers and wires and to ears is remarkably fast and simple.
The process has a d.i.y immediacy which is very satisfying and I see no reason not to continue with it. Cherry Red and I have been in discussions about the new CD. However, in the small amounts that CDs sell, the drawn-out process of recording them, designing them, doing the sleeves, releasing and distributing them, just doesn't make sense anymore. And for all this fuss and effort it doesn't really make much money. The Online Shop has been a roaring success by comparison. In the past two months more money has come in from that, than I see from a record company cheque in six months...and with a lot less bother too.
I am thinking about this. Can a complete return to DIY, albeit a more hi-tech version of it than when I first began, be the next move forward?
I never originally expected to make any money from music. The type of people who do make money from music, don't always make great music, at least, not for long. The pressures are too great and they become bored and exhausted after a time. The fact that I ever made any money over the years is some sort of miracle. I suppose I'm now thinking that with a small and specialist listenership who mostly know where I am and where to get the music, I may as well deal straight with you all and cut out the middlemen. Why expand? I don't want the money. I don't need the fame. If only 500 of you want me to carry on, then I'll do it for you -- and sod the rest of the world.
In the meantime, I have got myself a job for the autumn...a great job.They're re-designing a local railway station which used to serve Colchester industrial engine room, the Hythe port. As the area is regenerated, the station , previously chiefly a workmen's rail-station is to be revamped. They want to fill the hoardings which will surround it the new station with artwork and poetry which will refer to the rich historical and industrial heritage of the place. I'm charged with doing the poetry parts of it. The job might have been invented for me! A chance to serve my community in what I do best, at a time in my life where I'm absolutely at the top of my game. This project will take over my life until the beginning of November.
Naturally, I'll delay making an album. Something had to go and it was the area most in doubt. However the downloads we've been doing can be put up there fairly easily, so over the course of the coming months, you'll be getting regular tracks. This is provided that I can write the songs, Fiona( who's just round the corner,can record them and Paul can install them on the site.
I've also been working hard to finish my next book Psycle-Geography. It's in first draft, which I just finsihed. It needs proofing, copy-editing and a little bit of a re-write but it should be out in time for Christmas. Along with regular pieces for the Sunday Express and The East Anglian, not to mention several gigs, it's been a busy year.
At 56 years old, I think back thirty years ago to when I was struggling in a rock band, making my first solo demos and washing dishes in a restaurant. I've come back home now. I write for a regional newspaper, I have two publishers, both in the town where I live, and now I'm trying to get my musical activities confined to the local economy too. Only by working within my own area and not decamping to the big greedy city, can I contribute to... and help enrich the region which spawned me. This is, I suppose, is very gently putting anarchism into practice.
Of course, it helps to occasionally do something nationally-geared---a radio show, a TV show or a work in a national publication. It reminds critics and skeptics that I'm not a big fish in a small pond,and that I stay in my own region because it's where I want to be. If all the bleeding-heart Green Doomsday merchants in the media were to do the same, we'd save an awful lot of petrol, jet-fuel, cardboard and paper. If working-from-home really is the new going-on-tour, then I'm the pioneer of it. People in the media are pre-conditioned to think bigger, more, global. I'm trying to change that old battered goal to smaller, enough to make a living and local. It's kind of going alright really. I'm travelling an old road in a new vehicle.