Here are my very personal bouquets and brickbats for the last
twenty one (!) years since I first
established my web site in September 1996. If you don't like what you read, why not set up
your own site and spend several hours a week maintaining it? Actually, the most surprising
statistic in a hobby which is renowned for its parochialism and infighting is how
people I have managed to alienate (and vice versa) although as I have got older
and grumpier the number has somewhat increased.
Back in 1996, I had walked out on school teaching in the UK a year earlier
and was extremely bored and frustrated living in Monmouth, which was (and is) in
a lovely part of the world especially when the sun shone and I could walk
in the hills. But at 48, I couldn't afford to retire especially when money was
needed to chase (real) steam in the far corners of the world. At the time,
working on computer software both paid the bills and gave me the freedom to
travel more and more and work as I went. As I ran out of new destinations and my
marriage not surprisingly disintegrated, I bumped into Yuehong on the lineside
in Weihe in 2003. The rest, as they say, is history. Between 2004 and 2010, I
was based in China,
where all around me I had beautiful mountains and constant reminders that
economic development for its own sake brings only an illusion of increased
happiness. 2011 saw me changing
my base, now we have a new home in
Mitcheldean, UK and also a second
home in Penang, Malaysia.
Michael Powell whose China Rail pages (now, alas, long defunct) first inspired me to get
Bruce Evans, Chris West and more lately Louis
Cerny, James Waite and
Thomas Kautzor for their intrepid voyages of
Henry Posner III for putting his money where his mouth was.
L.D. Porta, Dave Wardale, Roger Waller, Phil
Girdlestone, Shaun McMahon, Nigel Day and
others for keeping the dream alive.
The Government of Eritrea for reinstating their (steam) railway in the face of all
so-called expert opinion and without external support.
All those individual travellers (too numerous to mention) who have sent reports, without
which these pages would have sunk without trace.
All those who have contributed to the Images of Rail CD-ROMs thereby giving me a great
deal of pleasure (and virtually no profit).
My advertisers (including those supporting Google Adsense)
for showing that you can make money out of the Internet (but not
very much). Now it barely pays my running costs.
The late Hugh Ballantyne for setting me up to lead
(unpaid) two Java tours, thereby ultimately giving me the freedom to adopt
the lifestyle I wanted.
Those individuals who booked on to my Java tours as a result of what they saw, many of
whom are now good friends of mine.
The sugar mill authorities in Java and their employees who made me welcome as I
researched the greatest concentration of working stationary steam engines in the world today.
Everyone who encouraged me to further my interest in working stationary
steam engines by going again to Burma. And all the wonderful citizens of
that amazing country who made me welcome once again.
Those very few countries in the world who maintained working steam locomotives -
almost none had a democracy worthy of the name, but as one gets older then one's
conscience takes a terrible hammering. These days there's almost nothing
left so it's irrelevant anyway.
Peter Nash, Manfred Schoeler and John Crellin for giving me a little extra web space
when I needed it.
Florian Menius for running an inspirational China news
page and Dave Fielding for taking up the baton late in the day..
My former wife Marion, who used to respond to all the emails sent to me while
I was away and our two cats who still talked to me when I got back. Now,
alas all history.
Finally, Yuehong who has proved that life can start at 55..... An
exceptional partner in every sense.
Note how the 'curse of Rob' has consigned many of these people
and organisations, but not enough, to the 'dustbins of history' - cross my path
at your peril.!
The individuals and tour organisers who first started the pernicious habit of paying
trains crews in Cuba because they didn't have the patience to wait for the real pictures
to happen naturally. Thus consigning many of the rest of us to opt out of what
a circus at many mills and forced other tour organisers and desperate individuals to
Probably the same people who adopted the same practices in China and the
tour organisers who went one better by paying thousands of dollars to real
steam railways thus turning them into a circus and making life difficult for
the independent traveller.
The German visitors (sorry to my good German friends) to Java in 2000 who tried
importing the same tactics and who thank goodness failed in their
ambition although others especially the Japanese (see below) kept on trying.
Steam in Paradise Tours who having agreed to renew their advertising on my
website in late 2004 somehow 'forgot' to make payment guessing correctly no
doubt that I wouldn't take down their presence until their season was
over.... Fortunately now part of history.
Transnico tours who enjoyed the hospitality of Eritrean Railways in 2001
and only paid 20% of the bill. They settled for 60% of the balance in 2006. Globe Steam who visited in October 2004
and took 9 months to pay less than half their bill and another month to pay the
rest - both only then because of behind the scenes pressure by influential
enthusiasts. Both of whom are also history too.
There are some extremely pleasant Japanese travellers out there, but as a
nation they have a lot to learn about interacting positively with the people
in the countries they visit.
As a nation they could do with a collective lesson in smiling, not to
mention a little humility. Japanese gricers in Java (and elsewhere) have all
too often shown complete disregard for local customs with their insensitive
and selfish behaviour. I do not understand why the rest of us should suffer
from their stupid social system that denies them sensible holidays and leads
to them throwing money around with complete disregard for the consequences.
Moreover at Pangka (Central Java) in July 2008 this ugly arsehole charged
straight through my video and his colleagues marched in front of my group
members taking their own pictures. From now on whenever I encounter Japanese
groups (individuals by and large are fine) in Java and elsewhere I shall treat them with
the same contempt that this group showed us.
The Indian Government and Railways who having secured World Heritage Status for the
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, promptly dieselised it.
The JingPeng 'Mafia' and their so-called photo permits and the local
authorities there who also tried to cash in. Hopefully with steam
gone, they are begging on the streets.
Shits Harald Nave and his friend Alfred Luft (sorry to my good Austrian friends)
who gate-crashed my special train at Ambarawa in 2001 and despite my bare-arsed tactics
refused to go away until I let their tyres down. Up to now the only
two, most individual visitors have the manners to ask to join special trains
- they are are never refused if they contribute equally with the group
members. Harald, I am glad to say wiped himself out on an Alpine
mountainside a few years later.
The 'gentleman' (Brad Collins) in New Zealand who failed to ensure that payment for a
book I sent actually reached me. The only let down in hundreds of
transactions which says a lot about the
quality of people who are steam enthusiasts.
The two party members (experienced tour leaders themselves from
the Netherlands and Germany)
whose boorish behaviour at runpasts on my Eritrean visit in 2002, only belittled
themselves and must have created a very poor impression with our gracious hosts.
Chinese guide Mrs. Dung who, while working for Mrs. Sun, provided my first (and
hopefully only) paid-for detention by security guards at Beitai Iron and Steel Works in
Doug Brooks who, like Dietmar, tried
to tell me how to run a tour in Java in 2004 within hours of arriving in the
country. Tour operators, you take this poison dwarf on board at your peril.
Similarly others on my 2004 tours who failed to understand that when
visiting industrial locations in Java we are their guests and must behave
accordingly. We have no absolute right to climb all over their mills and
locomotives even if they charge us a nominal sum of money.....
Dietmar Kramer who spent 9 days trying to take over as tour leader from me on his first
trip ever to Java in 2000 and featured in just about everybody's pictures at Olean.
Later he ran his own tours there, proclaiming himself a Java expert and alas his
punters only discover the 'errors' in his advertising too late when he
cannot deliver what he is promising. Never mind, he has their money safely
in the bank, a tactic I believe he has tried to use in Turkey too......
Further nominations are welcome, but brickbats may well be refused if the object of
attention has already crossed my palm with silver.