Tuesday 31 January 2012

Bill Wells

Ceramics class continues to be a source of inspiration.

For example, one lady in the class produces paintings of French towns in exactly the way I was thinking of doing; she gave me her card.

And, I finished my tile.

Despite the fact that everybody is very artistic, the company is excellent - a most pleasant evening.

Bill Wells

Who you may ask is Bill Wells?

Well, last night I went to the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow to see Bridget St John a singer from the late 1960s in the singer-songwriter mould that was popular at that time. John Peel was a great fan.

She was to be accompanied by the National Jazz Trio of Scotland. That name is enough to put anyone off - sounds horribly worthy. In fact, it is an ironic title - there were 7 members on stage last night - and they were fantastic.

Bill Wells is one of these laid back minimalist pianists and he is the mainman behind the National Jazz Trio. His playing reminds me very much of some of these Scandinavian jazz pianists that have become prevalent in the last few years.

He comes from Falkirk and is apparently self-taught. I must seek out his recorded work.

Bridget St John turned out to be a tremendous performer - very strong voice and powerful guitar playing.

But for me the revelation of the evening was Bill Wells.

But as I write this blog, I am listening to Boris Berezovsky playing Chopin Etudes - very scholarly but powerful too.

And here he is playing live.


Monday 30 January 2012


Atmosphere: I suppose the atmosphere I want my layout to have - and this, rather than a love of model trains, is the motivation behind the project - is that of Maigret's Paris.

Here are two pictures from the internet gleaned by Googling "Maigret" and "Gare du Nord". You will see the Gare du Nord in the far right/top of the picture from his Official website. And more prominently in the lower picture.

This atmosphere has captured many people's imaginations over the years. For example, here is an extract from the Daily Mail that I stumbled across by accident on the internet.

"We're not talking haute cuisine here but we are talking authentic. I mean the sort of modest little place where Maigret might have gone for comfort during a particularly difficult case.

The decor isn't retro-chic - it just hasn't been changed for years. The place is small, probably family-run, and the clientele is not particularly fashionable and mostly French.

No one is in a hurry and you can sit around in your shirtsleeves and relax. The food is traditional and honest, and so are the welcome and the prices. It costs about €25 (£17.50) per person, including drinkable house wine.

Anyone who has been to Paris recently will know how vanishingly rare such establishments are, but they do exist. I've lived in the French capital for 16 years, long enough to seek out a handful."


Modus Operandi

Not a huge fan of drum 'n' base. The term sounds moronic. However, I do enjoy listening to this 1998 album from Photek - real name, Rupert Parkes.

Don't know anything about him but copied and pasted this sentence from Wikipedia. I presume they don't mind.

In December 2011 he was nominated for the 54th Grammy Awards in the 'Best Remix' category for his rework of Daft Punk's 'End Of Line' for the Tron Legacy soundtrack.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Points motors etc

Since I was passing my nearest model shop - D & F Models, Bell Street, Glasgow - I decided to purchase the alternative to PECO's points motor, the Gaugemaster. It has the advantage over the PECO of having its polarity switch built in, whereas one requires to add on a polarity switch to the PECO.

In the picture below, left to right, we have the little PECO polarity switch, the PECO motor and the Gaugemaster motor. The long pin that protrudes from each of the motors is what engages with the points. It is threaded through a little hole in the moving mechanism of the points. The pin is long enough to reach there from the motor's location under the baseboard.

But what is deeply depressing is that the chap in D & F, who is clearly knowledgeable about electrical circuitry expressed his doubts about the necessity of all this polarity switching paraphenalia. These doubts were reinforced when I got home and viewed a few youTube videos about wiring electrofrog points - see earlier blog about the meaning of the term electrofrog. The makers of these videos also expressed their doubts about the necessity of all this complex electrical treatment of points AND also cast doubt on the reliability of polarity switches. And, I have eight sets of points to wire up!!

 Steve Reich

Different Trains

This piece for string quartet and recorded voices and sounds is one people either love or hate.

It was played on Radio 3 this morning and excited a massive response in texts and emails. As  many loathed it as loved it.

I really love it BUT I have to say that I find most contemporary classical music leaves me cold and uninterested.

We saw the Kronos Quartet perform Different Trains in Edinburgh a couple of years ago - very good.

My CD is by the Smith Quartet.

But Rob Cowan, presenter on Radio 3, recommended a recording by Quatuor Diotima, a French combo.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Aesthetics of track design

Quite accidentally, I find the layout of the track to be aesthetically pleasing. The various curves and branchings seem to be graceful and for the most part in parallel or at least in sympathy with each other.

The exception to this has been yesterday's insertion of an additional siding. It seemed to introduce an awkward angle as opposed to smooth curve.

The reason for this was that I used a set of points with a straight leg to them as opposed to a curved leg.

Straight points are fine when straight track is running parallel to an edge of the baseboard, but if you introduce a set of points into a curved section of track, the points themselves must also be curved - in my opinion. Not for functional reasons, but for aesthetic ones.

So, this morning I swapped yesterday's straight points for a curved version.

The straight set of points

The curved set of points
The Doors

There has been a lot of live archive footage on TV recently of the Doors. What amazes me about this is the scale of the music. An electric organ, electric guitar, set of drums and Jim Morrison on vocals - no bass guitar or backing vocals.

Obviously, way back in the late 60s and early 70s there was a tendency for rock groups to indulge in unnecessarily long guitar solos - confusing length with grandeur. But in the case of the Doors, this criticism is not applicable.

The way they spun out their hit single Light My Fire to 10 minutes was fully justified. These are the adjectives I would use to describe the performance: virtuosic (Ray Manzarek on organ); epic; drug-fuelled (Jim Morrison - in fact in his case, probably drink-fuelled); genuine and mesmeric.

And here is the video.


Another post-script to praying with icons:

It occurred to me in Church this morning that stain glass windows serve a similar purpose to icons in that one can just stare at them and feel spiritually enriched.

This was my view this morning in St Paul's in Whiteinch, Glasgow.

And here is a similar window from a church on the island of Oleron, France.

Friday 27 January 2012

Finalising the position of the points

There was a spare pair of points so I decided to insert an extra branch of line at the far end of the station. There will be no adjacent platform for this new branch; it will be used to station a little shunting engine that will be used to disengage carriages from locomotives and re-arrange train formations generally.



One of the existing sets of points had to be moved because the plastic rod which controlled the switching of the points from one branch to another was fouling an adjacent line. The end of the rod is circled in the picture below. The original position was at A where the fouling was taking place. A very short section of track was inserted thus moving the points and the end of the rod away from the line it was fouling when extended in its most outward position.

 Charles-Valentin Alkan (1780–1855)

This eccentric French composer wrote a set of 48 very short pieces for the piano: his Esquisses.

Steven Osborne, a much admired Scottish pianist made an excellent recording of all 48 Esquisses.

Thursday 26 January 2012

HO figures

Miniature figures will play an important role in establishing the era and the atmosphere (late 1950s/urban/French) of the layout. I'd like to have commuters making their way to the station early evening, perhaps calling in at a little bar/cafe before boarding their train; the weather perhaps autumnal.

As I said in an earlier blog, I think many model railway layouts are let down by the glossy plasticness of their figures. Hope I don't fall into the same trap.

And how's this for a blast from the past?

Daft Punk

Cold, wet, wintry drive home along the M74 (the city section) but Daft Punk got my circulation going and my spirits up.

Post-script to yesterday's comments on Icons.

You can get very portable icons - they cost just a few pounds/euros.

The three sectioned example came from the Serbian-Orthodox Church in St Andrews, just outside Budapest.

 I can't find our photos of the inside of the church but it did not look too dissimilar from this church interior from somewhere else in Hungary.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

A Ceramics Update

I think the proprietor of this establishment looks better from a distance!

The teacher of the class felt that the Venetian blinds should be a different tone from the other light areas on the tile. To do this she told me to brush a granite coloured underglaze (paint, in other words) into the grooves of the blinds and then sponge off the excess paint - but only partially. This would leave the blinds a shade or two darker than they were and also increase their definement by having the darkened grooves. To prevent the paint going all over the window surround and to produce a nice bright surround to the blinds you will see a pale blue colour. This is masking fluid which one paints on and then peels off like tape when one is finished. It stops paint going where one does not want it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photograph of the tile at that next stage. It has now been glazed and is in the kiln for its final firing. Next week it should emerge all glossy and ready to hang on the wall. It's too big for the railway.

In case anyone didn't see the whole tile in its pre-masked stage...  

You can see how the blinds will benefit from the above described procedure. And, the chappie looks more believable from a distance.

Street life videos:

Here are some pop videos where the cameraman follows the singer walking through city streets - presumably miming. I seem to be very partial to these scenarios. As a general rule, I much prefer city life to life in the countryside.

The Verve: Bitter/sweet Symphony


Ian Brown: F E A R


Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy



Praying when you're tired:

Many years ago, attending a lecture on the nature of prayer, a member of a religious order which was not enclosed but devoted itself to social work, said that sometimes after a hard day's graft helping all sorts of people in need, she found her mind paralysed and unable to formulate meaningful prayers. At such times, she found gazing at religious icons or other sacred works of art to be an effective substitute.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Major Change of Plan

My wife has made a very good suggestion. Instead of the backgound to the layout being made from a chain of ceramic tiles, a tapestry could be strung out instead. The 3D buildings around the station precincts could still be ceramic - thus justifying the fee for the evening class in ceramics.

One aesthetic advantage of this would be that the tapestry, being less vivid than the ceramic pieces, would seem to be in the distance. Here are some examples from the internet - mainly in long-stitch.

Gunter Wand

In 1995  at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh there was the most astounding performance by the North German Radio Orchestra of Bruckner's 8th Symphony.

There were many minutes at the beginning when the audience began to suspect that something was very wrong, because the conductor failed to appear when expected.

In the end, this very frail gentleman tottered towards the podium. He looked as if he would never reach the podium let alone mount it.

But, by jove did he master the forces of that orchestra. Hardly moving, he controlled his musicians  using only little movements of his wrist - utterly mesmerising.

He reminded me of an extremely aged Mr Burns in the Simpsons.

At that point he was 83 years old. He died in 2002 at the age of 90. I will never forget that example of force of personality manifesting itself through just skin and bones.

Monday 23 January 2012

HO Scale Buildings

How does one work out how big an HO scale building, its doors, windows, storeys etc should be.

I've scoured the internet for advice on this subject and there are no easy answers.

Fortunately, as I've made plain in previous blogs, this layout will not be hung up on scale. Nevertheless, one cannot have a building with a doorway twenty-five times taller than a little plastic commuter making his way home to catch his HO scale train. Nor vice versa. We don't want things to look like a film-set for Gulliver's Travels.

What is crucial is that the diorama looks consistently to scale to the observer: buildings with people; people with cars; cars with trains and so on.

The rough and ready method I have chosen is to look through the Faller catalogue of ready-made HO scale buildings and adopt their dimensions. Fortunately, these are given beneath each picture of a building. So, this 4-storey building plus roof is part of Faller's French range and is given as 205mm in height.

Therefore, I have concluded that this 4 storey building in La Rochelle should be the same height and I printed off a copy of it adjusted to approx 20cm in height,

I've drawn in guidelines to give me some idea of the relative heights for the individual storeys and their constituent features. I'll take it to my ceramics class tomorrow night and hope to make a facade from it.

Anton Bruckner

One of my favourite symphonists. He composed 9 (or possibly 10) symphonies and critics accuse him of having re-written the same symphony 10 times. There is some truth in this comment, but I prefer to perceive them as 10 different versions of the same gargantuan aural masterpiece.

Bruckner had the weakness, as an artist, of re-writing his works as a result of comments by his friends. Therefore, there is more than one score for many of his works. This tendency has been  seen as a weakness; a lack of conviction.

As I say, they are gargantuan pieces: the Romantic 4th weighs in at 60 minutes.

Indira Gandhi

Many years ago in a radio interview Indira Gandhi explained her atheism by saying that she did not like to depend on anything other than her self. She did not feel the need for a God to appeal to in times of trouble.

I'm not at all like that, but respect and to a certain extent envy those who take the view of the late Prime Minister of India.

Perhaps that is why one of my favourite Collects (prayers) from the Book of Common prayer is this:

"Almighty God,
Who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves,
Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our selves,
That we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body,
And from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."

Sunday 22 January 2012

Sister Veronica Blount

At last, the track has been laid out in what I'm sure will be its final position. In fact, there is an extension to be added eventually, namely, the section which takes the two tracks away from the station and across France.

The necessity for determining the final position of the track is so that one can ascertain where the wires bringing power to the track are to be located. The next step will be to drill holes through the baseboard where these wires will emerge from the spaghetti junction beneath the board. Also, there will be larger, slot-shaped holes to be made beneath the points where the motors will be housed that change the points' setting.

In the following photos you will clearly see drawing pins holding the track in position. This was done because the tracks will have to be uplifted before the holes and slots are  made and any other methods of holding the tracks firmly in position didn't seem to allow that uplifting.

And for those who read yesterday's blog, you will notice that the endpoints of the two tracks are very much more than 7cm apart!

Captain Beefheart:

He composed and performed very sensitive ballads as well as his raucous stuff,  eg

"Her eyes are a blue million miles." from the Spotlight Kid.

Decades ago, Scottish television broadcasts would end for the evening before midnight and conclude with a short 2 minute religious reflection given by a variety of speakers.

One such was Sister Veronica Blount who after pondering the irritation of weeds in her garden and her  desire to remove them concluded by saying that she wondered if she herself  might be a weed in somebody's garden.

And finally, a joke I've just heard on Radio 4 from a post-war English/Austrian comedian called Vic Oliver.

A new book's out, already a best-seller, called "What every woman wants." So, I went to my local bookshop to see if they had any left. I wanted to check if they'd spelled my name right.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Captain Beefheart and Ry Cooder

Take a look at this truncated diagram of the layout - the station section. Each single line in the diagram represents a length of track.

As it is, trains to or from platforms A, B and C are restricted to emerging from or entering the station on line 1.

Likewise, trains at platforms D and E are restricted to using line 2.

To add the flexibility necessary for trains to switch between lines 1 and 2 requires an additional 4 sets of points.

At the moment, the layout will end where 1 and 2 are on the diagram and the crossover involving the 4 sets of points will be added later. Otherwise, I'll never get anything done, because each set of points requires hours of wiring and hole-drilling not to mention the purchase of polarity switches and points motors. Nevertheless, in order to get on and lay the station track, I need to know how far apart the emerging tracks should be at 1 and 2 so that a seamless join to the crossover can be made at the later stage.

Therefore, I laid out the relevant points and a few pieces of straight track to ascertain the gap between 1 and 2.

The distance between the outside rails of  the two tracks emerging at 1 and 2 is near enough 7cm. A bit of an exageration, but for me,  the establishing of this figure is as important as the work they have been doing beneath the Alps at CERN. Though, doubtless they don't use the term "near enough".

Captain Beefheart

I saw Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band play live at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall in the early 1970s. The hall was only half-full and the performance very disappointing.

However, here are two excellent videos of the band performing on the beach at Cannes in 1969. (Not convinced that the soundtrack is live - but I may be wrong.)



That's Ry Cooder on slide guitar.