Category Archives: The Sittingbourne Kemsley Light

Jim’s eighth visit to SKLR 05.02.14

Thanks to the vagaries of the mainline rail service it’s been a couple of
weeks since my last visit to Kemsley. I’ve made good use of the time editing
the interviews we’ve recorded and also viewing even more train movies. I’ve
re-watched the amazing chase scene in William Friedkin’s French Connection.
Set in New York and using the elevated railway system, cop Popeye Doyle
commandeers a Pontiac to chase after a drug dealer who in turns hijacks the
train at gunpoint. Supposedly, Friedkin edited the scene using a track by
70’s rock band Santana called ‘Black Magic Woman’. I’ve never tried combining them but it’s said that the track makes a perfect fit to the edits. Actual NYC transit employees played the conductor and driver in the film.

If anyone ever decides on a remake they might like to consider that the
Sittingbourne part of the SKLR runs over a sort of elevated railway ­ the
concrete viaduct.

Two of the Coach and Wagon staff generously donate their time to give us
with interviews. Ernie, who used to work on Concorde (the most beautiful if
slightly noisy flying object ever devised) and Norman the carpenter who has
the most infectious laugh imaginable. In addition to diesel loco driving
tips, we discover much about the techniques and skills involved in restoring
a narrow gauge railway carriage or even building one from the ground up.

post by sound artist Jim Whelton

Jim’s seventh visit to SKLR 22.01.14

I once registered for an Apple Computer Expo (back in the days when they
still held such events) using the pseudonym Howard Nentibus. I gave my
profession as Roving Collector and company name as The Lung People.
I registered with that ludicrous name because I was curious to know if
they’d even bother to reply to someone using such a non de plume but sure
enough, a week after I’d applied, a badge arrived granting me entrance to
the exhibition. There it was. Printed out in thick black type on the yuckily
garish green of the badge:
Howard Nentibus
Roving Collector
The Lung People

Some of the people I met said, ‘If your name is Howard I’m the Eiffel Tower’
or employed a similar national monument to indicate that they’d seen through
my guise. When people pull that trick on me I usually don’t miss a beat and
shoot straight back with : ‘Hello, Eiffel Tower. Pleased to meet you’,
simultaneously thrusting out my hand in greeting like an Masonic policeman.
After looking round the sad stalls dotting the really exceptionally dull
exhibition, I queued at the oversubscribed Real Ale bar. Punters were ten
deep, twisting and toe-stepping in an effort to get served. It was a
nightmare. The guy pressed against my right hand side turned to me, looked
cockeyed at my badge and asked me in an American accent if I was one of the
‘Creatives’.  As he said this he gave me a knowing wink. I told him he was
close, really close but just wide of the mark. I was actually one of the

Shortly before I left, a very smartly dressed woman walked right up to me
and, addressing me as if she was an old friend (a warm knowing smile
lighting up her face) said, ‘This is for you, Howard Nentibus’. She handed
me a magazine, turned sharply on her very smart heels and walked off to
rejoin her elegantly attired friends. I understood instinctively that she
wanted to show how much she’d been tickled by someone showing up at the
Apple Expo claiming to be called Howard Nentibus earning a living as a
Roving Collector and employed by the mysterious corporation of The Lung

There are so many departments at the SKLR ­ Coach & Wagon, Gardening,
Locomotive Engineering, Signal & Telegraph, Permanent Way etc ­ that I can’t
help but wondering if there’s room for a few more but of a mildly unusual
nature. It would be hair-raising to discover dedicated SKLR departments such
Dogs & Whistles
Earth Hammer
Mirrors & Investigation
Unsightly Density Reversal

On the tube home from Olympia I opened the publication I’d been handed. It
was a very glossy large format magazine dedicated to the Star Trek
The cover was dominated by the face of the actor William Shatner in the role
of Captain James T. Kirk.
I slowly became aware that a number of passengers were staring at me.
Although I’ll never know for sure (such is the nature of casual paranoia), I
assumed they were thinking that I must be one of the obsessives, a
card-carrying member of the Star trek cognoscenti.
You have to admit, if they’d named the Kirk character Captain Howard T.
Nentibus, things might have played out less successfully for the franchise.

post by sound artist Jim Whelton

Jim’s sixth visit to SKLR 22.01.14

There’s a typically gung ho sixties war film called Where Eagles Dare.
The storyline has the protagonists breaking into a maximum security Nazi
chateau to carry out their mission of derring do and save the world in 120
minutes ­ the latter a key feature of all Hollywood financed cinematic
adventures. I’m not sure I could save much of anything beyond a few useless
Nectar points in 120 minutes but who knows, perhaps my moment will yet come.
In the film, there’s only one way in or out of the chateau and that’s via a
precarious slow-moving cable car. Try to imagine how ticked off you’d be
when you got home from work after a ride across the ravine only to find
you’d forgotten to pick up the teabags.

I mention the old movie because it obliquely reminds me of the process of
getting into the SKLR Kemsley Down HQ. Apart from the line up from
Sittingbourne Viaduct that requires the running of a steam or diesel train,
the only access is through the vast DS Smith paper mill. The Kemsley Down
site is strategically bordered on three sides by the grounds of the mill
which has fencing, guards and security apparatus in abundance. As visitors
and guest of honour, Daniel, Simon the photographer and myself have to be
driven through the security gates and past a fleet of probing cameras by
Bob, the SKLR CEO,  every time we visit. The side of the SKLR compound not
surrounded by the mill edges onto the mercurial waters of Milton Creek, a
short distance from where it cuts in from The Swale. The creek is fiercely
tidal and quickly exposes and then fills to cover the muddy grey banks
beloved by all manner of long beaked waders. These gather in gangs to
studiously probe in the thick mud for worms and other take-a-way snacks.

From the point of view of easy public access it might seem somewhat
inconvenient that the SKLR is situated in the middle of a commercial paper
mill but this actually goes some way to keeping the SKLR legacy safe and
sound. The mill staff are generously supportive of the railway and keep a
necessary eye on things. Bob points out a section of the fence that abuts
the creek. Another type of gang, more predatory than the waders, has hack
sawed away the base of three lengths of galvanised fencing in an attempt to
gain entry to the site. It truly is astonishing the lengths to which the
unscrupulous will go in order to feed their greedy short-sighted appetite
for scrap metal.

post by sound artist Jim Whelton

Jim’s fifth visit to SKLR 15.01.1

As you might expect, there’s a wealth of specialised terms and expressions
used within railway parlance. The SKLR volunteers must be getting used to my
face going completely blank as they launch into an explanation of some
operational detail about which I haven’t the foggiest notion. One piece of
terminology I did catch up on is known as The Whyte Notation. It sounds like
a tense spy novel, does it not? Well, I hope you won’t be too disappointed
but there’s not going to be any cigarette lighters masquerading as exploding
parachutes or Moldovan supermodels painted tip to toe with gold in this
The Whyte Notation is actually used to designate the number of locomotive
wheels. First, it counts the leading wheels, then the driving wheels
followed by the trailing wheels ­ each separated by dashes.
Thus you might have an engine with a 0-4-0 wheel configuration or, if you
fancied yourself as a character in Dr Zhivago, you might get to travel on a
pre-revolutionary Russian 2-6-2 ­ the train with the pointed nose. Just to
really muddle your train brains, the French and Turkish use a system that
counts the axles rather than the wheels. So a 2-6-2 would become a 1-3-1.
All this specialised language and the potential for deep confusion brings to
mind my local Turkish restaurant. There they serve two similar salads. One
is called the Coban Salad and for your three pounds you get a mix of chopped
tomato, cucumber, red onion, peppers, parsley and an olive oil sauce. The
other is called the Sicak Ezme Special and for your four pounds you are
offered a melange of chopped tomato, onion, pepper, parsley and an olive oil
sauce. Can you spot the difference?
So I said to the guy serving, “Hey, does this mean I have to pay an extra
pound merely to get the cucumber excluded from my salad?”
“Yes”, he said, and nonchalantly asked if I was interested in a
baked sea bass.
I can envisage this ‘negative food economics’ making a fortune for a Jamie
Oliver type. “Yeah guys, that’s fish ‘n’ chips for £13 or we can do you
chips on their own for £18. We call them Chips Solo. So, what’ll it be,
“Wow, we’ll take the solo chips”.

post by sound artist Jim Whelton

Jim’s fourth visit to SKLR 08.01.14

Oh my. It’s a new year already. I keep looking around trying to spot where
the old one went ­ and with such immaculate rapidity.
After hopping on the branch line that runs to Sheerness from Sittingbourne
and hopping out at Kemsley, I amble down avenues and alleyways towards the
vast D.S. Smith paper recycling mill. On the way I’m greeted by the sad
sight of the local pub, The Kemsley Arms, all boarded up and looking ripe
for demolition. Perhaps the humble pub has had it’s day but I wonder if
anything can step in to replace such a social locus. In London, a great many
pubs have been quietly closed and transformed into upmarket private flats
rather than reinvented as social spaces. Simple economics at play I suppose
but once lost, these ‘genies’ can never be put back in the bottle.
Walking to the mill, I’m struck by the huge scale of the operation. As I
approach, a line of steel-clad mausoleums linked by pipes and crowned with
steaming smoke stacks dominate the landscape. I’ve got a few minutes to kill
before meeting up with Daniel from BRFM, Simon, our project photographer,
and SKLR MD Bob Newcombe who is going to whisk us through the mill security
gates and into the steam-beating heart of the SKLR operation ­at Kemsley Down.
In front of the mill is a ragged waterlogged field occupied by some tough
looking horses. I stop for a chat and they check me out nonchalantly as
horses do. As I talk to them, one horse takes centre stage and starts to do
amazing acrobatics with its teeth.
Wednesdays in January are work days at the SKLR. No steam trains running but
plenty of activity. The diesel engine Victor, driven expertly by Ernie, busily shunts wagons and engines into new configurations. After watching for a while, I’m struck by the extreme linearity of the operation. All the rolling stock sits one behind the other on the tracks.  If you want to access the third wagon along, first you have to move the two wagons in front, and shunt them elsewhere. Then you can return for the wagon you wanted to get at in the first place. If there’s a selection of wagons to collect, it can get rather complex as there’s a limit to the track space available and some deep track-based linear  logic is required. I’m reminded of those rebus games I played as a kid. A number of lettered squares sat in a plastic frame with only one empty space. The object was to juggle and
jiggle the letters around until you could arrange them to spell a meaningful
phrase. Such as ‘That train has just rolled over your foot’. Although I must
confess I always found it more fun rearranging the letters to make up
nonsense words. The kind of soothing abstraction you find in a Dadaist poem
or Kurt Schwitter’s Ursonate:
Ziiuu ennze ziiuu rinnzkrrmüü
rakete bee bee? rakete bee zee.

Listen to a chunk here: (Preview)
Kurt would have made a great rapper and MTV would have gone crazy for the
way he pimped his houses:

post by sound artist Jim Whelton

podcast update from Jim Whelton

podcast  update from Jim Whelton a sound artist for Art Transmission he is working  with The Sittingbourne Kemsley Light Railway. on the Daniel Monday night community show at BRFM Bridge radio