Stapleford Park and Miniature Railway: September 1974

In 1974, Stapleford Hall near Melton Mowbray was home to the 2nd Lord Gretton and his family. The park was at its peak as a tourist attraction, with the grounds containing a lion reserve, miniature railway and two scale model cruise liners.

The Derbyshire Caravan Club centre held a rally there that September. I’ve recently digitised a short sequence of cine film that shows the railway and ships in operation during that weekend.

White Heron LocomotiveThe White Heron arriving into the station, delivering its passengers to the model cruise liners.

LighthouseThe lake had a working lighthouse.

Northern StarThe Northern Star setting sail for a cruise of the lake.

Victoria LocomotiveThis would appear to be ‘Victoria’, a model of a LMS Jubilee class locomotive. However, the FSMR website suggests that it didn’t enter service at Stapleford Park until 1975 … and this film was definitely shot in September 1974. Commissioning tests, perhaps?

Automatic barrierThe train-operated automatic level crossing.

Stapleford Park Plaque - September 1974The caravan club plaque recording the event.

The complete cine film sequence.

Today, the hall is a hotel, the lion reserve is long gone and the scale model cruise liners are no more. However, the miniature railway is miraculously intact and is open to the public twice a year. In 2017 these events are scheduled for 10th & 11th June and the long bank holiday weekend at the end of August.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016: The good, the bad and the ugly

… or rather, the excellent, good, meh, bad and ugly. I’ve just had a very enjoyable week at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As most of what I saw is on until around the 29th August, it seemed sensible to write a few words about the experience. Most of the shows we went to were pre-booked and definitely met expectations. Unfortunately a couple of the ones we went to after being handed a flyer in the street were firmly in the bad and ugly category.

The excellent

Samurai Drum IKKI – The Power of Japanese Drums. This was a performance that we booked the day before we went and was definitely one of the highlights of the week. The drummers were incredibly enthusiastic and must have been exhausted by the end – I certainly was. Don’t go if you have a headache however!

Rhapsodes. Improvised Shakespeare and more. Absolutely brilliant from the moment the doors opened, with one of the performers showing us to our seats while talking to us in iambic pentameter about Star Trek (he’d noticed Jane’s com badge).

Edinburgh – A Tale of Two Towns. A walking tour from the Greyfriars Bobby Bar, taking in the old and new towns, ending at Waverley Station. Peter was a great guide with an obvious passion for Edinburgh, past and present.

EdinburghThe good

Much that we did that fell into this category, including three things that are there all the time, namely the Cafe at the Hub (friendly service and good food), Camera Obscura (worth the £14.50 admission charge) and Holyrood Palace (even better value at £12).

Many of the fringe shows we saw were good or very good, especially Showstoppers. We were treated to “Boris Blows his Top” – an improvised musical set in a post-apocalypse London. I don’t fancy drinking frothy bilge to be honest (you had to be there), so let’s hope that Trump doesn’t win in November.

Paul Merton’s Improv Chums, Nicholas Parsons’ Happy Hour, Radio Active, The Improvised James Bond (“From Brexit with Love”) and Katherine Ryan’s stand up comedy were all great value too.

The meh

The Edinburgh weather 🙁

The bad and the ugly

Edinburgh traffic. With thousands of pedestrians and only a half-hearted attempt at temporary pedestrianisation outside St Giles Cathedral you had to have your wits about you constantly. The wait on most of the pedestrian lights also favours buses, taxis, cars and trams over people. Not a particularly good experience. It seems genuinely impossible to recycle glass bottles, at least in the part of Edinburgh we stayed in. A couple of the spur of the moment shows fell into the bad and ugly category. I won’t name either as I’m sure that the performers realise it too.

And while we’re talking ugly, here’s a caricature of me from one of the many fun exhibits at the Camera Obscura.

Caricature of meThis was my first experience of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and I’m looking forward to returning again soon.

Customer service at the US and UK borders

I never thought I’d say that customer service is better at the U.S. border than the UK border. Until now.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica, which required connecting flights through Miami. I can’t say that I was looking forward to experiencing U.S. immigration based on past experiences, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. If you travel on certain types of visas or are on the visa waiver scheme with a valid ESTA, your initial clearance is now carried out using automated passport control (APC) self-service kiosks. Get this process right (which I didn’t the first time I used it as one of my fingers slipped off the biometric reader) and you can pass through immigration in a few minutes. Get it wrong (indicated by an “X” on your receipt) and it means that you have to wait in line, but not for too long as the pressure seems to have been taken off the officials by the kiosks.

On both occasions the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel I met were unfailingly professional and polite, combined with good humour. After I’d failed to use the APC kiosk correctly on my first encounter with it, the CBP officer explained to me what I’d got wrong while sharing a joke with my wife (who’d got through APC at the first time of asking). Second time through, on our way back from Costa Rica after both of us had received a clear automated check, the CBP officer who collected our receipts looked at our passports, grinned and alerted his colleagues that the “British were coming (!)”.

Such a contrast to arriving back on Bank Holiday Monday at the UK Border at Heathrow Terminal 3. All of the automated passport gates were out of use as they were being “upgraded”, with a long line of EU nationals waiting to be checked through just two open desks. I’m glad that we were near the front of the queue. Worse, it looked as if all of the UK Border staff had been sent through the Theresa May school of “how to make your face look as if you’re sucking a wasp”. (I remember watching her present medals at the Paralympic swimming in 2012 and she couldn’t have looked more miserable if she’d tried). No smiles, no pleasantries and no obvious humanity present, making the experience a terrible advertisement for visitors to the UK and an unpleasant one for returning UK nationals. Customer service is important – and first impressions are everything.

Three great places to eat in Cyprus. I’m hungry. When can I go back?

At the beginning of the month, my better half and I managed to get away for a few days in Cyprus. There are a number of places that we always seem to go back to, with Pafos Castle (below) and Kourion (I’ve blogged about it here) high on the list. But if I’m being honest, you can definitely have too much history and culture (especially if it’s hot), but you can never have enough good food …

Pafos Castle October 2015Pafos harbour is a wonderful place to be in the early evening at this time of year. There are lots of restaurants to choose from, but Theo’s Seafood Restaurant, a few metres stroll from the castle, is definitely our first choice. The fish meze (at €22 per person) is excellent, but make sure that you haven’t eaten for several hours beforehand if you really want to do it justice!

In Pafos old town is Let Them Eat Cake. The Cyprus Mail review gives a good flavour of what they offer and while I’m sure their cafe food is excellent, we go there simply for the cake and coffee. This year their American-style cheesecakes and cherry cupcakes were very, very good indeed. An excellent place to relax in, especially if you’ve just been to visit the nearby Ethnographical and Byzantine museums.

Finally, along the old (B6) road heading away from Pafos towards Limassol, just past Aphrodite’s rock, is the village of Pissouri. Although the restaurants in the main square hold a popular weekly ‘Cyprus Night’, the restaurant we like most is slightly away from the crowded centre. The Bunch of Grapes Inn has a covered courtyard and an excellent selection of food, including the local favourite Kleftiko and a delicious mixed grill. Their main courses all come with roast garlic potatoes, which are brilliant in their own right.

I’m hungry. When can I go back?

Real World Research

I’ve been fortunate to have been spending a few days on the other side of the planet – Maui, to be precise. As tempting as it was, my notes and books didn’t stay at home in rainy Derby and have accompanied me on the trip. After all, if you’re going to be a distance learner, then there aren’t too many other places you can travel to that are this far away from the University. Let no-one suggest that I go in for half measures …

One of the books that accompanied me out here was Colin Robson’s “Real World Research”(*). I’m just over a hundred pages in and it’s quite the best book that I’ve read on the topic of social science research. I really wish I’d known about it when I was taking my undergraduate psychology degree – it would have saved me a lot of effort.

The clarity with which he discusses the various different approaches to social research, their histories and how the question that you’re trying to answer influences the best design to use has probably been the most useful aspect of the book so far. However, I can already see that it’s going to be indispensable in helping me through the jungle of obtaining ethical approval, providing encouragement when the research isn’t working out quite as I’d hoped and with the all-important aspect of data analysis. The book gives equal treatment to quantitative and qualitative methods and (speak it softly, particularly if you’re stood next to a committed methodologist of one persuasion or another) suggests that sometimes the right approach is to use both – multi-strategy research.

The book hasn’t helped me to finally decide on a topic for my research of course, but it has given me the confidence that provided I follow its recommendations, whatever I choose will be achievable.

It’s time to get back to my sun-lounger before I have to set off on the 27 hour journey to home later on this evening. It hasn’t been all work (or study!) while I’ve been out here and instead of leaving you with the rather uninspiring book jacket of what is an incredibly well written book, here’s a picture of the sea turtle I met a few days ago. Aloha!

Sea Turtle(*) Robson, C. (2011). Real World Research. Chichester: Wiley.

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 31st May 2014.

Childhood memories – Caravan Club rally plaques

Caravan Club Rally Plaques 1968 - 1976Recently rediscovered at my parent’s house. Finding these plaques brought back memories of listening to Friday Night is Music Night on a battery-powered radio and endless card games. I also remember with some fondness the (sometimes rather strange) competitions the rally organisers ran over these weekends, dodging cow-pats and thistles in the fields where the caravans congregated and the faintly sinister “round the flag” gathering on a Sunday afternoon before everyone hitched up their ‘vans and headed for home.

Update: 8th October 2013

The Caravan Club is still around and has recently refreshed its website, which is definitely worth exploring. It’s also good to see that the Derbyshire Centre is still going strong.

You can never say no to Lord Bonkers

A few days ago I was delighted to receive a communication from Lord Bonkers, formerly the Liberal MP for Rutland South-West between 1906 and 1910 and the only survivor of the 1906 General Election landslide that sent the Liberals storming back into power. His request was quite specific – he asked me to write about two of the books I’ll be (re)reading this summer. So far, with help from his alter-ego Jonathan Calder, three of his excellent summer reading round-ups have been published: here, here and my two choices are included here.

Anyway, this is what I wrote back in response to the noble Lord.

Nick Hornby’s protagonist in “High Fidelity” is asked by a reporter to name his five favourite records of all time and then spends days agonising about his choices. As I appear to have many of the same personality quirks, I’ve found it just as difficult to pick out just two books from my summer reading list. I’ve also been worrying that the ones I’ve chosen might somehow be the wrong ones!
Anyway, neatly straddling my interest in politics and psychology is Steve Reicher and Cliff Stott’s e-book “Mad Mobs and Englishmen?” This examines the 2011 riots and questions many of instant explanations provided by politicians of all parties at the time. Reicher and Stott argue that the only way to prevent future riots is to go beyond the easy consensus of the cause being feral youth out of control. It’s a challenging read and has, unusually for an academic work of this type, been dramatised by the Worklight Theatre Company.
My second choice is J.G. Farrell’s “A Girl in the Head“. The action unfolds around a rather dismal English seaside town over an August Bank Holiday weekend, which sees anti-hero Boris Slattery wondering whether his life has just been “a meaningless detail rapidly receding into a mass of other meaningless details”. It’s a funny, touching and ultimately tragic novel which shows glimpses of the genius Farrell was becoming prior to writing his Booker Prize winning novel “The Siege of Krishnapur”.
Notice how I managed to get an additional two books name-checked in my choices as well as an up and coming theatre company? I hope that Lord Bonkers wasn’t too upset about me bending the rules and will ask me to contribute again at some point in the future!

The Cliff End Hotel, Bournemouth

Some months ago I purchased an Ion PICS 2 SD scanner, with the aim of converting all of my old photographs and negatives into digital format. I’ve not made a huge amount of progress so far, but I did come across a number of photographs taken one October half term in the late 1970s at the Cliff End Hotel in Bournemouth (or Boscombe, to be precise).

The Terrace at the Cliff End Hotel, late 1970s

Me, my father and mother on the terrace at the Cliff End Hotel, late 1970s

I think one of the reasons that I remember that holiday so vividly is for three specific firsts.

Usually, our holidays involved caravanning expeditions (usually to Wales or Scotland) rather than staying in hotels. If this wasn’t the first time I’d stayed in a hotel (I’m fairly sure an October break in Blackpool to see the illuminations pre-dated this occasion), then it was certainly the first time my brother and I had been old enough to have a room separate from our parents. I’m certain that it was the first time (and quite probably the last) that I’d eaten oxtail as a main course rather than as an ingredient in a soup (!) and most importantly for the development of my future career, I’m also certain that it was the first time that I ever bought a copy of Practical Electronics magazine.

Other things I remember from the hotel was the games room with its pinball table (and not realising that there were flippers on the side to keep the ball in play), the bar with its strange red PVC chairs and glitter ball as well as the slightly intimidating reception desk and clock. One of the highlights of the holiday was visiting the motor museum at Beaulieu. I remember with great fondness the enthusiasm of my father for all of the exhibits and the realisation now that he’d have probably enjoyed the whole experience a lot more without me and my brother constantly sniping at each other.

Having such fond memories, I decided to have a quick search on the interwebs to see what the place was like today – and perhaps seeing about staying there the next time I ended up working in or around Dorset. I quickly discovered there was a significant problem with that plan …

Legal battle looming over Cliff End Hotel

Future of the Cliff End Hotel in Boscombe remains uncertain

and perhaps most interesting and sad of all, a report and set of photographs on an urban exploration website from 2009.

So in the words of Bill Bryson:

There are things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.


This is the first year in quite a few that I’ve been on holiday in this country – excepting Spring Harvest, which is more like a week away at an OU residential than a holiday! The last time was the best part of 5 years ago, when we spent a great week at October half term in Pittenweem. On that occasion, I interrupted my break to fly down to London for a business meeting, something I’ve been determined to avoid this time around. (Blackberrys don’t seem to work in Somerset :))

It was an unusual break (for us) as we spent it with the extended family – the excuse being my in-laws golden wedding anniversary. With the weather having been pretty indifferent, we sampled a number of the visitor attractions around the county instead of sitting on the beach. In fact, we didn’t sit on a beach once, not wishing to die of exposure. All in all, we had a good time.


The three cottages we rented. These were at Webbington Farm and were lovely, made even better by the warm welcome received from the owners and the homemade lemon drizzle cake, free range eggs and cider (see below) they provided.

Somerset cider – specifically, Thatcher’s single variety Katy (7.4% alcohol by volume) *hic*

Dunster Castle and the National Trust. I’d stupidly left my wallet and NT membership card at the cottage on the day we visited, so was expecting and would have been happy to pay for my admission. However, the lady on the till looked at me, said I had an “honest face” and let me in without paying again! It was a good NT property to visit too, thoughtfully curated and interpreted. They allow you to play snooker on the billiard table (badly, in my case) and play their piano too.

Glastonbury. We went twice – once to go up the Tor and the second time to look around the Abbey. We found two good places to eat – one being the Abbey Tea Rooms and another I sadly can’t remember the name of. (Jessica has just reminded me it was called the Orangerie).

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey

The Lao Thai restaurant in Cheddar, from which we had two very enjoyable takeaways.

Tiffany’s Edwardian Tea Room at the end of the Grand Pier in Weston Super Mare. After fighting through what must be one of the tackiest amusement arcades in the country, this place was truly amazing. Fabulous lunchtime meals and sandwiches, with the best thick cut chips I’ve tasted anywhere. Ever. The view would have been great as well, had it not been raining!

Tropicana, Weston Super Mare

Club Tropicana WSM – no more fun and sunshine 🙁

Spending some time relaxing and unwinding away from work. The swimming pool at the nearby Webbington Hotel (the place you see stuck on the side of the hill visible from the M5 Northbound between junctions 22 and 21) was very useful for this, as was being able to make a start reading Aldert Vrij’s book on detecting lies and deceit.

The golden wedding celebrations, of course!

Somerset cider … oh – I’ve said that already! *hic*

Slight disappointments

The weather. It’s why we stopped going on holiday in this country in the summer some years ago. The best that can be said is that it would probably have been worse two or three weeks ago.

The standard of driving demonstrated by some local drivers. Truly dreadful on many occasions – and I know you’re locals as your number plates give you away. The worst I saw was this evening, when an oncoming tractor driver nearly lost control of his vehicle because he was clasping a mobile ‘phone to his ear. I’ve also lost count this week of the number of drivers who seem to think that following me at a distance of 2-3 feet at 40-50mph is sane. I’ve not noticed such poor driving elsewhere in the country (and I drive a lot) …  so what is it about Somerset?

The Fleet Air Arm Museum – more of a collection of random things than a museum, sadly. They have all of the raw ingredients to make it an excellent attraction – but it is spoilt by having so much stuff on display it feels a bit like walking around a scrap yard. If they removed half of the exhibits or had twice the space it would be a much, much better place to visit.  For example,  you can barely see the Concorde they have as it is hemmed into a corner by lots of other aeroplanes. It really needs a hangar of its own (and good supporting displays) to do it justice.

However, The “Carrier Experience” is the best part of the Museum and is almost worth the admission price by itself.

Concorde 002 and "friends"

Concorde 002 and “friends”

The best is yet to come!

Part 2 of this year’s summer holiday will be a three day visit to the Paralympic Games at the end of the month. I can’t wait to see the Olympic Park, stadium, velodrome and aquatic centre in real life …

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