This seems like an opportunity to reflect on what I've learnt from this experience. Firstly, I had expected the audience to be fairly small and to consist largely of members of the GWSR in general and the steam loco dept in particular. Far more people check the blog each day than could possibly be accounted for by the members of the steam loco dept, in fact a fair proportion of the readers are not even in the UK (approximately 15% of you are reading this abroad). Although the obvious English speaking countries (USA, Canada & Australia) feature in the top 10, you may be surprised to learn that Germany, France, Spain, Russia, Latvia & China are in there too. Less frequent visitors, but no less welcome arrive from all corners of the globe. I noticed a few hits from Moldova during the week. I have no idea where Moldova is, in fact if you'd asked me before hand, I'd have guessed that it was a fictitious country used as the lair of a James Bond villain. I presume that these are mostly visits by ex-pats, but it would be nice to think that our railway has a following amongst the native inhabitants of some of these far flung places. My apologies to the good people of Moldova for my ignorance, apparently it is a country of just under 4 million inhabitants sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. It's also interesting to note that many of the people who visit this blog have come from one of the other GWSR blogs, so the interest in the railway is more general than just that of the steam loco dept. 35006 and 4270 are popular strings entered into search engines that lead people here, so it's nice to know that our active restoration projects are creating such an interest. Now that the 2013 operating season is drawing to a close, I will try to post more updates on those. I have quite a collection of photos of the restoration of 4270 courtesy of Ian Carpenter that I have been saving for a rainy day. Several of the members of the steam loco dept have been recognised by complete strangers whilst on the railway which I find quite gratifying. We market ourselves as being the 'friendly attraction in the Cotswolds' and if this blog helps our visitors feel they have a more personal connection with the crews of our trains and encourages them to strike up conversations then that has to be a good thing. Don't be afraid to come up and say hello to the crew of your train next time you visit the GWSR, very few of us bite.
I've never been entirely convinced that maintaining this blog and learning to become a fireman aren't mutually incompatible and I find myself switching out of 'blog mode' when I have a shovel in my hand and switching back into 'blog mode' at other times. It probably makes for less interesting reading and certainly makes for fewer photos, but I like to think that I'm managing to keep all the plates spinning. If you hear a tinkling sound in the distance, you'll know that I've dropped one.
Saturday was another official firing lesson day for me, so once again checking my camera for photos later revealed that there were embarrassingly few. The day started well, not only was Foremarke Hall my allotted loco, but I had not one but three cleaners on hand. The fireman is supposed to manage the cleaners, but Jonathan, Paul and Laurence all know the ropes so I left them to it and seeing as it was a cold grey and slightly drizzly morning, once I had got the fire lit I decided to take full advantage of the situation and warmed myself in front of the fire whilst giving the copper pipes on the back head some therapy with the Brasso. Not only did they make an excellent job of cleaning Foremarke Hall, but they even went off and fetched breakfast:
|Jonathan and Paul having just fetched breakfast|
|The three B's, Black Pudding, Beans and Bacon|
|He'd have used the rake in the bottom left hand corner of the photo, but the handle is broken|
|Paul at work|
|Paul and Cliff|
|Ade makes the most of the free hand washing facilities|
|The loneliness of the long distance runner|
Once we'd done the round trip, and got back to Toddington, it was time for our relief crew to take over. Cliff had delegated the task of wielding the shovel to Jonathan:
|Jonathan practices leaning on his shovel|
|Foremarke Hall... absconding with my fish and chips|
|Chris and Ade strike nonchalant poses by the water column, Jonathan on the tender|
|Let the train cause the strain|
|It still makes no sense to me, but the expressions are amusing|