podcast http://youtu.be/1vTYEALwdMQ Simon Martin the Documentary Photographer for Art Transmission at The Sittingbourne Kemsley Light on the Daniel Monday night community show at BRFM Bridge radio
Louise, Laura, Kate , Daniel & Simon visited The Sheppey Horticultural Society this weekend. It was sound artist Kate Chapman first visit to make introductions and understand how the The Sheppey Horticultural Society operates.
post by Daniel
I’m staying down in West Devon with my brother and his wife for Christmas.
We pay a morning visit to the rather attractive but heaving town of
Sidmouth. While Alison fishes among frocks in the Sea Salt shop and Mike
peruses German trousers of various textures, I seize the chance to duck into
the numerous charity shops that dot the streets. I’m after some steam-themed
reading and in minutes I emerge with two prizes. Who needs Amazon?!!
The first book is The Penguin Guide to the Railways of Britain by Edgar
Jones and published in 1981. Inside are some high contrast black and white
pics of trains and a map of the Birmingham rail network that looks like
Spiderman’s mask. There¹s also a piece of paper inside with weights and
words scribbled on it in a keen hand. Here¹s an example:
7kg plastic shaped bag
3 kg Mack¹s toy boy
9 kg blue grip
I can’t help wondering who Mack’s toy boy was and how come he weighed so
little. Also, isn’t nine kilograms heavy for a blue grip even if I knew
what a blue grip was? I’ve heard of a hair grip and a French lady singing
about La Grippe aka the flu.
I reach the conclusion that the book must have been previously in the
custody of a spy and this was a coded message to their superiors. They must
have travelled on trains an awful lot because we all know that spies prefer
to travel on trains to planes. Planes may be fast but if you want to mount a
decent fight scene with your antagonist you need the decent space offered by
a train carriage. Preferably a sleeper car because then you get to have a
life and death struggle over the sink and protect yourself by squirting
toothpaste in your adversary’s eyes. If you’ve ever inadvertently gotten
toothpaste in your eye you’ll know that it stings like a cobra.
My second book is much larger than the first. It’s by Colin Garratt and is
titled ‘Veterans in Steam’. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a companion
book called ‘Veterinarians in Steam’ but I suppose that’s unlikely. Mind
you, if you could round up enough vets and herd them into a Turkish Baths
you’d be onto a winner.
The book has many colour plates and I suppose my favourite has to be of a
charming perfectly formed loco festooned with black paint, rust and rivets.
This is Kamig AG’s 0-6-0 and it’s pictured standing in repose at the
Schwertberg exchange sidings in Upper Austria. The book also has a photo of
the author. As it’s from 1979, he is sporting very long hair and reminds me
of the absent father in the popular W.F. Yearns painting ‘When Last Did You
See Your Father?’. The painting depicts a young boy from a Royalist family
being interrogated by a crack team of Parlimentarians. They made a mistake.
They should have asked the family dog.
The brief but engaging biography of Mr Garratt tells us that he lives in the
same small Leicestershire village overlooking the bridge from where he
watched his first steam train in 1949. He also regularly lectured on lenses
and cameras for the Pentacon Praktica company. Prakticas were manufactured
in the former East Germany before reunification. Their SLR cameras had a
distinctively boxy body. A school friend’s dad had one and took a picture of
us dressed up as a pair of marauding Vikings, since lost.
post by sound artist Jim Whelton
Sittingbourne. As the song goes – still rainin’, still dreamin’. Indeed,
this estuarine corner of Kent is hosting another wet and wind-warped day.
Alan of the SKLR is there to lift everyone’s spirits and dole out Quality
Street. He furnishes me with a ticket to ride the busy Santa Special.
I’ve met up with Simon, the project photographer commissioned by Arts
Transmission to document the project. Armed with our respective kit, we
board the ‘Superb’ bound for Kemsley Down. As the whistle blows and the
stationmaster’s flag signals our departure, we both look upward to the grim
overcast sky and reflect on the steady rainfall. The latter is threatening
to turn our respective arts of photography and sound recording into rather
While Simon snaps away, I point my microphone this way and that, searching
for the ‘sweet spot’ where the manifold railway sounds rattling through our
carriage achieve a representative balance. The kids on board chirrup away
with excitement as we traverse the viaduct and head out into the open
countryside. Swatches of industry rows of concrete pipes, dumper trucks,
steel-clad warehouses – nuzzle up against the hedgerows and marshland. It’s
as if those two adversaries industrial architecture and stark nature
have decided to stand eyeball to eyeball, and face each other down in a
stalemate of incomprehension. To me, it’s a reminder that our perfectly
paved towns and cities once stood on land that was home to grass, trees and
wildflowers and perhaps the odd giant fern if you roll back to Jurassic
times. But do beware of the dinosaur and keep your hands out of the cage!
In the Kemsley Down café I chat with John who is a long-standing member of
the railway. He is a mine of information and tells me about the origins of
the railway in 1969, back when Bowaters passed on key parts of the railway,
infrastructure and rolling stock to the Locomotive Club of Great Britain.
What a generous bunch. Please can I have a steam engine too!
I ask John if there’s a possibility of me wandering down the line a ways to
get a recording of Superb passing. I’m keen to ‘capture’ that unique sound
of a steam train approaching from down the line, roaring past and then
hurrying away, the steam gasps and puffs melting into the distance. I should
add – ‘Capture’ – that’s the fancy word us sound recordists use. Probably
because it makes it sounds more romantic and risk-defying as we’re out
recording a passing moth.
John kits me out with bright yellow Hi-Vis jacket, instructs me on the
railway protocol of waving at the driver as the train goes by. Looking like
a giant banana with legs, I thank John as he helps me out through the mill
gates in the direction of Sittingbourne.
I set off up the track in the heavy rain trying as best I can to protect my
sound equipment. Rain bounces off my head and rolls in an icy smear down my
back. I’m thinking, what with all my moaning about the weather I’m starting
to sound like a cracked record. Or like the CD player in my local Turkish
restaurant which keeps sticking and gurgles forth digital nonsense until one
of the staff give it a slap.
Simon has arranged to take a few photos as he passes on his way back to
Sittingbourne. Hanging from a carriage in dare-devil fashion, he rushes past
in a steamy blur, snapping furiously. I can’t imagine it’s much of a photo
opportunity. The light is occluded by heavy cloud and I must look like a
half drowned rat.
post by sound artist Jim Whelton
On Wednesday Laura, Louise Daniel and Simon met with Jane Pitt at The Golden Gloves Boxing Club in Blue Town. It was really good to meet up with Jane in the new year and for Jane to see the boxing club for the first time. It was also good for her to be able to meet Simon our documentary photographer. I certainly look forward to working with Jane on this part of the project.
post by Daniel
Daniel, Jim & Simon have visited the railway over the last two Wednesdays. It’s been really good to spend some time there and get to know the members on a more informal basis. I feel the members are beginning to get more comfortable with us being there and I think the fact that all three of us have been able to visit and spend time plays a big part in that. The members could not have been more friendly and helpful which has made it a really enjoyable time. On Wednesday it was great to start interviewing some of the members and hearing all about the history; how the railway works. I am looking forward to further visits.
post by Daniel
I had my second meeting with Jim on Wednesday and thankfully the weather was kinder to us. It was good to meet some more of the members as they performed some maintenance work on the site and we had a chance to speak to them about the history of the railway. Wow, there is a lot that has gone on here and the original family owners of the paper mill and railway contributed a lot to Sittingbourne and the surrounding areas.
I’m really looking forward to our next meeting at the railway and can’t wait to hear more stories!
post by photographer Simon Martin