Lockdown Extension Day 74

It’s been good mollusc weather recently, so here is a picture of a grazing snail looking up with mild curiosity at an approaching camera:

I always find animals which carry their house around with them rather endearing, although it can be awkward at times – like for this one trying to examine a crack in my wall:

They’re also moderately intelligent and capable of a reasonable amount of self-preservation (if their hideaways are found and they get ejected from the garden then once they have found their way back to the garden they will identify an alternative hideaway) although they show a tendency to wander around on garden paths late at night, and so get trodden on. They have a spirited curiosity with a liking for exploration, with the irritating consequence that halfway up a wall they will discover a hanging basket full of snail-friendly plants that were put up there out of harm’s way. They have a tendency towards a sort of social interaction – sharing hideaways and food, and leaving trails for other snails to follow if they find something worth eating after wandering off by themselves. And they seem to like climbing trees and wooded shrubs, where they presumably find something of interest to eat – as the shrubs tend not to show signs of having their leaves nibbled by molluscs, presumably they scoff slight coatings of mould off the bark. The one in the upper picture appeared to be tidying up some unwanted moss.

One very human tendency possessed by snails is that if you pick one up and carry it off then it will come out of its shell to see what is going on, and peer around with interest, and wave its eye stalks at you. Once put down, it will examine its new habitat for food and then begin the long walk home.

A scientific study was done a few years ago into how molluscs determine when to search for food, how to identify if they’ve found it and how much energy they want to use in the process (and whether if food is to hand they will just idly munch at it now to save time later, which if I read it correctly has the interesting revelation that if you put a snail in a lettuce patch it will just keep eating until it encounters the snail equivalent of boredom, whether or not it is actually hungry). It can be found at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4895806/

There is the interesting consideration that humans do not necessarily act wholly differently, but the invention of convenience stores – rather like the invention of domestic gardens for snails – has had an impact on the amount of exploratory behaviour required.

Snails are of course much noted in popular culture:

Lockdown Extension Day 73

Maybe two hours after yesterday’s post I took the deckchair outside, sat on it and froze. Today it’s raining steadily. Still, it saves watering the garden myself.

So here is a picture from North Wales.

(Click for larger size.)

We’re up at Bwlch y Groes, about a mile and a half south-east of the village of Dolwyddelan, looking north-west across the Lledr Valley. The view, while handsome, stretches for less than ten miles – the skyline being dominated by the pointed form of Mount Snowdon, which at 1085 metres above sea level is the highest summit in the UK outside Scotland.

The flanks of Snowdon fall rapidly to the valley of the Afon Glaslyn, lying a mere 80m above sea level. Three paths make the ascent from this side, these being the Pyg Track, the Miner’s Track and the Watkin Path – although only the Watkin actually descends all 1000 metres to the Glaslyn proper, with the other two meeting the A4086 at Gorphwysfa, 359m above sea level.

A sheer climb away from the Glaslyn on this side rises to the pass on the left of the picture, crossing the ridge between the sharp profile of Y Cribau and the out-of-picture-to-the-left peak at Moel Meirch. From here an old donkey track scrambles over the watershed and down into the valley at Blaenau Dolwyddelan. This hamlet can just be made out as a cluster of white-painted cottages on the extreme left of the picture below the pass. Nowadays the road then wends across the valley to the railway station at Roman Bridge and joins the A470 Cardiff to Llandudno trunk road.

In older times it slogged back out of the valley and passed over a shoulder of the surrounding plateau to reach Dolwyddelan Castle. This reconstructed tower sits on a prominent lump of rock to guard the upper parts of the valley. It has a satisfyingly dramatic situation and the chap who rebuilt it did a neat job stylistically at getting it to seem at once part of the landscape while holding total dominion over all it surveys. Whether the upper parts bear the slightest relation to what was originally there, and how much they bear to the bits of ruin that were tidied off prior to rebuilding, is open to debate.

The A470 runs along the valley floor below the castle and cuts across the fields to the lower-right corner of the picture as it runs into Dolwyddelan village on its way to Llandudno.

Down to the bottom left is the mouth of Cwm Penamner, a short but dramatic valley used by the Sarn Helen Roman Road. The road goes nowhere near Roman Bridge station, as it passes straight through Dolwyddelan and runs off up the hill on the other side of the Lledr valley, over the flanks of Moel Siabod and down to the Roman fort near Capel Curig in the Llugwy valley.

The picture was taken from the old byway over from the village of Penmachno, which lies on the Afon Machno. It is a varied byway, running through dense Forestry Commission plantations, then over some patches of rocky enclosed heathland, then through some more woods with periodic views, then across a bog and finally down this open hillside into Dolwyddelan. Later in the holiday I met a group of lads in a couple of off-road cars who thought they could get their contraptions over the hill this way. Actually they were thwarted after maybe two-thirds of a mile by a three-foot step in the byway where a section of soft peat meets a patch of higher solid rock. Not that they could have got right across anyway, contrary to their claims on the point, as after another two-thirds of a mile the vehicle-width track ends on the edge of the bog at a barbed-wire fence, a right-angle turn to follow this fence along the edge of the wood and then a pedestrian gate set into the fence. The track does not resume until halfway down the hill into Dolwyddelan.

Meanwhile I have been doing some laundry (should have done it yesterday, but there you go, it’s good for the tumble-dryer to get some exercise and with all this working from home I’ve had time to hang the washing out instead). This means sorting the socks out afterwards, trying to remember what the correct ratio is of sock material to hole and generally sympathising with the Prince Regent.

(Ah, we miss Prime Ministers with proper priorities – though of course Pitt the Younger is the chap who temporarily introduced Income Tax to suppress Napoleon and then died before he could get rid of it, with the inconvenient result that this interim solution to a short-term problem is still consuming vast quantities of money. Never trust interim solutions.)

Lockdown Extension Day 71

While the garden slowly cooks…

Not all plants growing there were planted, and a fair number of the ones that have just appeared have been left to get on with it. (Which can have its benefits. A mass of weeds in a pot discourages the slugs from clambering in to eat the lupins in the middle. The hawkweed has turned out to be brilliant for distracting the aphids from the rose bush. I’m sure there are other benefits.)

Meanwhile it’s time for tonight’s death threat.

Lockdown Extension Day 68

Now back at some point or other it was suggested by some of the scientists that we would need a 13-week lockdown. It is worth remembering this because tonight we reach the 13-week point.

And we’re still in lockdown.

Which does rather raise questions as to whether it’s achieving anything much.

Nowadays, of course, there’s mutterings about the rest of the year as far as useful stuff is concerned (ability to get around the country in a sustainable manner, ability to see multiple people, ability to enjoy culture, ability to discuss work with people in a coherent manner where people can make eye contact and not talk over each other because they both started speaking during a two-second time-lag, etc.), which is inclined to get thoughts about Plato’s shadows in the cave and questions about whether God really put us on this earth to sit indoors and periodically emerge to buy stuff that we don’t want and haven’t room for to stop the economy collapsing. It also gets suggestive of the standard political approach for when you don’t know what’s going to happen next – just let some suggestions float around about what will happen at some time in what seems to be the moderately distant future, and hope that by then everyone has forgotten what you said before.

Such thoughts segue nicely into today’s picture, which is of Hell.

(Click for larger view.)

Hell is a small village in Norway, a few miles east of the city of Trondheim and at the head of the Størdalsfjorden (which is a branch of the vast expanse of water that makes up the Trondheimsfjorden, on the shores of which lies Trondheim). Actually the major bits of Hell are behind the camera and this is the view looking eastwards over the post-glacial plains towards Sweden (which is about 40 miles away). It is obtained from the east end of smaller wooded lump of rock that lies above Hell station and the Fv24/ Fv705 interchange.

A large block of hillside in the centre of the picture, covered in trees, is apparently called Tønsåsen friluftsområde. The green spire belongs to Lånke Kirke. In the distance are some mountains whose names I cannot immediately trace, but someone will know what they are. If it looks like it was about to rain – it did, quite hard.

The valley is now used by the Stjørdalselva river, which rises on the watershed at the Norway/ Sweden border and flows out into the fjord at Hell. The river is just out of view to the left, as are the railway and main road.

The railway junction, where the line from Sweden meets the Nordland line from Bødo, was in the process of being rebuilt at the time of my visit. At the time heading northwards out of Hell involved crossing the river on a rather well-used single-track girder truss bridge approached by a slight but sharp climb on a tight bend; this has now gone, with a more smoothly-approached double-track sleek concrete thing substituting. This has moved the junction proper to the Trondheim end of the station and obliterated the former (rather narrow) island platform, but the station seems to have been sufficiently rebuilt to still be served by Nordland trains. Having stopped at Hell by request only they trundle across the river and promptly stop again at Trondheim Airport – a total journey of almost exactly a kilometre.

Hell is as far up Norway as I have been, whether by rail or any other means. I should really have pushed on further while I was there, particularly as I fancy I came back to the station in one of the hours where there wasn’t a train to Trondheim, but I sat on the platform and read some more of Shirley instead. (Well, I’d spent three days on trains getting to Trondheim and was facing three days getting back. I fancied a break.)

Owing to the wonders of rail deregulation and privatisation, the railways around Trondheim (including Hell) are now operated by the Swedes (and at the time of writing have been for just over two weeks). Which can lead into one of two things. Here is one of them.

Why not go on holiday in Sweden next year? See the wonderful moose…

I did actually see a moose from the train when I was up there. It prompted much excitement from the locals. It was a big thing with legs and antlers, placidly ignoring the passing train and philosophising on the features of the middle distance.

(Disney has tried to update the Chef in more recent years, in a way which is pleasantly surreal but is more conventional slapstick than he used to be. Admittedly the punchline is a trifle more impressive than I expected:

… but I’m not sure that popcorn with shrimps is quite daft in the same way as the chocolate mousse, perhaps just because a chocolate moose is a very old joke and so does not require us to understand what he is saying to grasp what is going on.)

The other thing that Sweden is known for is of course pop groups, especially ABBA. But I did a load of ABBA stuff around this time last year.

Lockdown Extension Day 66

(As it happens I have woken up enough to notice that it should be Day 68, but has got out of sync because I had three posts published on three separate days under the same number. I was evidently having a hard time at that point. Matters have now generally improved, except for the exhaustion brought on by a lack of a proper holiday or general decent downtime outside the house lately, and I may decide that I have other things to write and wrap regular updates of this series up at some point.)

Today’s picture is a hanging basket with some lobelia (I think grown from seed) attempting to hide the moss, weeds and air of a need for a tidy-up.

Bit of variety – Arthur Daley takes steps to stop his ad-hoc heavy getting a full-time job somewhere else:

(Nowadays we’d call what Terry’s on a zero-hours contract, though that might require him to have signed a contract in the first place.)

Lockdown Extension Day 56

Here’s some flowering lavender:

(There are three in the garden – this is the medium-sized one, and is usually the first to bloom.)

Trying to find something for tonight’s silliness has merely resulted in me coming across some positive news.

The Prime Minister has said that single people can now form a “bubble” with another household.

It is left a little vague as to whether both parties in the bubble must live alone, and I think on the whole I would rather it was left that way. Now all I need is an opposite number…

Over the last… errm… eleven? weeks there have been occasional evenings when I have found myself reflecting on the Porridge episode where Fletcher and Godber resolve, after much discussion, not to pop down to Carlisle for an evening out. Instead, they stay in and have a nice quiet spell with a paper, a natter and an early night. I can’t immediately find any of that on Youtube without including a whole episode, so here instead is a short clip posted by the Beeb themselves involving discussions over rilks.

Lockdown Extension Day 49

Today’s picture is prompted by my computer reminding me that a few years ago I was on holiday in Morar, on the western coast of Scotland. Time having to be occupied and all, I spent three days of the holiday taking advantage of Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry service to the Small Isles.

The Small Isles are too small to warrant running a full-size ferry to every one on a daily basis, so the MV Loch Nibheis/ Loch Nevis (which is only a full-size ferry insofar as a canoe isn’t) does a different trip each day. On Tuesdays she went to Muck. So here is a picture of Muck. In the distance is Eigg. The farm nestling against the hills is probably Blar Mor, and the hill (such as it is) being nestled against is Croidhean Araich.

(Click on picture for larger view.)

I think that’s about as far as I can go with that.

Having gone to that, tonight’s silliness is a video of a performance of the Banana Boat Song for people who don’t like the Banana Boat Song. (You might like it if you do like the Banana Boat Song too, though not necessarily for the Banana Boat Song content, which could be said to be lacking.)

Lockdown Extension Day 45

Amongst last week’s pile of faff masquerading as news was something about Greece re-opening to holidaymakers from several countries. It was much noted by those people who like spending time in their houses with their loved ones, doing no work and feeling smug that this is good for something, that this list did not include the obviously-too-dangerous UK and its slowly but steadily easing lockdown.

It should be noted that it is not currently possible for you to get to Greece without breaking lockdown in some way – an aeroplane is public transport so is for essential journeys only (much as the airlines prefer to pretend that they aren’t, because public transport has more negative connotations than the colour brown, and the bus and rail operators prefer to exclude them, because then they can complain about lack of Government funding for public transport despite it being eco-friendly); a trip to the airport to take a flight doesn’t really come under “work”, “exercise” or “essential foodstuffs” (unless your life is liable to be terminated by a shortage of Greek-bought ouzo that cannot be remedied by Amazon); it seems unlikely that you can go to Greece for a holiday when I can’t get on a train and go to Pitlochry; returning from a holiday in Greece is likely to be followed by two weeks in quarantine, possibly in a Government-provided hotel near Heathrow. So all-in-all the cause for observation and complaint would be if the Greeks were proudly proclaiming that all you have to do is get to the aeroplane without being arrested and then you can have two weeks holiday away from lockdown.

Which means that they are instead kindly supporting our lockdown, unlike the top Government ministers who think we’ve been over-enforcing ourselves.

Apropos of this muttering, here is a picture of a certain Greek island called Ithaca:

(No clicking this time. It wasn’t that big a print that I scanned it from.)

It has taken some hunting to work out exactly where this was taken from, as I had a vague idea that it was up the hills east of Vathy (the island’s capital) but it appears it was probably actually the hills to the north-west. The little island in the bay is, according to Google, called Σκαρτσουμπονήσι; unfortunately my Greek is inadequate for explaining that or indeed going beyond pointing out the little Greek P for pi, and wondering if there might be a joke in that somewhere.

The big mountain is the northern part of Ithaca, which I have always felt (well, not always, but since I became familiar with Ithaca) to be rather reminiscent of a scaled-down America – two large bodies of land linked by a little isthmus. Unlike America, the northern part consists almost entirely of one solid mountain rather than being mostly flat and rather dull, and the connecting isthmus consists of a high rocky ridge which the road weaves up and over in a manner liable to cause vertigo. I have an idea that the view should be rather good, but it might have been raining most of the times that we went over it on the island’s bus. The fact that the big mountain is merely being stroked by a cloud, instead of being engulfed by it, was a relatively rare feature of this holiday.

The south island is more rolling (relatively speaking) and is split into east and west sides by the valley which empties into the sea at Vathy.

Obviously I am going to seek to make it sound as horrible and wet as possible as I might like to go there again one day (you never know, the Greeks might re-open some of the railways south of Athens once their economy has improved) and it would be nice for it to still not be crawling with tourists.

On a very different note is this bit of thingy from the 1980s TV series Whoops Apocalypse!. It was recommended to me by a colleague – well, he recommended the film, where Peter Cook satirises Harold Macmillan shortly after Macmillan’s death (aided by Richard Wilson, Herbert Lom and Graeme Garden). Said colleague had not heard of the TV series, which runs over six half-hour episodes of sheer tasteless black comedy starring Peter Jones, John Barron and John Cleese – the sort of thing that children aren’t allowed to watch because of the language and themes involved but adults don’t watch because it’s a bit too on edge. Still, there are dafter moments, and here the Republican President of the United States, Johnny Cyclops, is discussing his re-election campaign with the aid of his chief adviser, the Deacon.

(The fact that the Deacon is played by the man better known to British TV audiences as the Dean is not in the slightest bit a coincidence.)

Lockdown Extension Day 37

The big rose bush is flowering:

The irises are still flowering so one is included for balance.

The big rose wasn’t properly pruned (or pruned at all) last winter because it looked happy. It is now flopping all over the place in a way which makes a mid-season prune feel a bit necessary. (It’s also oppressing one of the smaller roses which was planted about a foot away as a nice rose hedge but failed to grow in the same way.) Pruning will probably get pushed back to November and then done hard, to the plant’s minor surprise. Still, its flowers (of which it has several) are rather handsome.

Today’s sense of achievement is getting an old Hornby Class 155 DMU model to work. It’s a slightly unexceptional replica of a slightly unexceptional real train; the real thing was built by Leyland and behaved accordingly. The handful of survivors are very proud of their heritage and proclaim the Leyland brand to anyone who still recognises it.

Anyway, I bought this model (above) cheap some years ago and it ran around very happily, on a layout not built for scale-length 23-metre vehicles (it was designed around the old Hornby HST coach, which was about an inch shorter than it should have been), until I decided to give it a strip-down and clean a couple of years ago. Then it stopped working.


So last year I borrowed the family soldering iron and mucked around with some connections to the motor, to no obvious effect.

Obviously I’m not totally exhausted at the moment because I decided to have another look at it today. The power bogie was disconnected and stripped down to the motor windings. Everything was carefully wiped clean of all oil. Then it was put back together and put back on the rails. Nothing happened.

Also nothing happened when I put another loco on the track, but that started moving when I removed the 155’s power bogie. Ok – short-circuit.

Strip down again and clean the wheelsets aggressively. Put wheelsets back on rails. They make interesting sparking effects.

The wheelsets, it turned out, consist of two half-axles stuck into a central piece of plastic with a set of pinions round it. These pinions engage with the cog wheels from the motor. The half-axles are push-fit and can be pulled out of the pinion (mostly – one had jammed). So pull them out, clean them and put them back in.

Part-way through, realise that these are one-piece metal wheels on metal axles with nothing in the pinion unit to stop the two half-axles coming into contact. This explains the short-circuit.

I pondered shoving a bit of the cleaning tissue (actually a scrap of toilet paper being gratuitously wasted) into the middle to stop the half-axles making contact, but then decided not to. I have an old Triang Class 31 that can be persuaded to catch fire quite impressively when short-circuiting, and despite the low voltages involved it didn’t seem worth the possible faff.

Anyway, once all back together it worked splendidly, although it now makes quite a bit of noise owing to the lack of lubrication. (And it still doesn’t really fit around the layout.)

To celebrate, here is some Not Only… But Also featuring the ever-enjoyable sight of the House of Commons being blown up. (Not worth it at the moment though – none of them are there.)