Personal

I also have interests and experiences outside work! Whereas my Publications page contains some of my directly work-related articles, speeches and publications, this page contains, and/or will contain, a few of my other writings over the years, and other materials, only some of which will be railway-related!

In April 2016 I completed - slowly as usual - my 14th Reading Half Marathon, where the finish is now at Reading FC's Madejski Stadium (the MadStad). I previously did the London Marathon in 2002 - never again! - and a number of Goring and other 10ks after discovering running rather late in life.

 

As an instance of misguided vanity, the PDF opposite contains an alarmingly large photograph of me close to the finish.

In September 2015 I embarked on a two-year postgraduate Diploma in Railway Studies, by distance learning at the University of York, which I can recommend for both its content and organisation. As another vanity - this is the Personal page! - I attach the first essay I submitted, in October 2015, on the question of whether the 19th century rail network was unnecessarily large. I completed the Diploma in 2017, and my other essays are all contained in a special section at the foot of this page.

In 1996 'It's Jolly Good Being a Fellow' was a short piece I wrote about my time in Oxford when seconded half-time to the University's Probation Studies Unit as a Visiting Probation Fellow. The research paper I wrote is reproduced in my Publications webpage, but this more whimsical piece is not really work-related, so it belongs on this Personal page.

In 1986 what was I doing, giving a speech in French, in Chauny (near Amiens, Picardy) in 1986? At the time I was President of a Rotary Club in Newport, South Wales, and we were returning an exchange visit. The full story - a special memory for me personally but of no long term significance to anyone else - is outlined, together with the speech I gave, in this attachment.

Back to the subject of railways, and I have recently been able to scan my 1984 dissertation for my MA in Historical Studies at the then Bristol Polytechnic, all completed in my own time. I had chosen the Business History option, and my title was The Management of Great Western Railway Investment between the Wars.

That MA in Bristol had started with two terms of Theory of History, a subject that had increasingly interested me after studying with Professor Gordon Leff at York, and had widened into theories of the nature of knowledge in general while at Leicester. The second of the two assessed essays I had to do at Bristol was about causation in history, and because of the quotation that we were being invited to discuss I always thought of this afterwards as "my cosmic glue essay". Written in 1981, this came as close as I ever got to articulating my own belief about the nature of knowledge and of human understanding.

Diploma in Railway Studies 2015-17

University of York

No reader will be expecting false modesty from me now on this page. In 2015 I embarked on this Diploma, using the medium of Distance Learning, partly out of prior interest in the subject, partly to discover about Distance Learning, and partly to find out if I was still capable of academic study, given that I have been very conscious of a decline in some mental powers in my later years.

I found that I had a lot to learn about how academic expectations had continued to change in the years since my first degree, and especially since the 21st century technological changes that enabled this kind of Distance course to be conducted. Almost all reading, and certainly all writing work, was to be done via the internet. The scope of academic literature that could be readily accessed online through one's student identity was a revelation and a pleasure, and of course most recently published books could also be bought or 'borrowed' online. Writing was required to be far more disciplined in terms of citing references in a specified manner, now readily feasible with modern document-writing software. Other software - "Turnitin" - made it possible for staff to check if a student was simply copying from another source. Word limits were strictly enforced, again possible with the new medium. Although I had to rein in some - not all - of my instinctive propensity to explore lateral links, I was mainly very impressed with how academic standards had progressed.

Most books published before c2000 I had to access by other means; I chose either to borrow them in person from the University Library at Reading - as easily arranged - rather than attempt postal access from York, or to buy them via Google Books and/or Amazon, with many of them being no more than a nominal charge plus postage and packing. More obscure texts, plus newspaper archives for certain assignments, I accessed by ordering from, and then attending, the British Library at St Pancras. I found this a satisfying pleasure.

There was also an optional two-day session of seminars in York in each of the two years, held at the National Railway Museum. I missed the second one as I was on a world cruise that term, and it was a testimony to the power of Distance Learning that with a certain amount of careful advance planning I was able to complete the whole term's work (Module 5) while on a ship going around the world.

As for the content of the course itself, we explored six aspects of British railway history over the period from the arrival of the earliest railways until c2002. For each of these six Modules we had to submit a full essay of 3,000 words (+/-10%), plus a short essay that required some analysis of source material, usually primary source material. Keener and sufficiently able students would find this a useful step towards starting a full research degree if they wished - I chose not to take it further. Below I give a brief outline, plus my two essays, for each of the six Modules. It will be seen that for the first three Modules I have provided a 'marked' version of my essays, which illustrate clearly what the examiners considered were both my 'strengths' and my 'weaknesses' - I've provided the cleaner unmarked versions for my later essays. Overall, I was impressed with the thoroughness of the academic leadership, supervision and examining.

Module 1 was 'The Coming of the Railways'. For the short essay, we had to give an initial sketch of the impact of the arrival of the railways on a specific local community - I chose Reading of course. For the full essay, I chose the title that embraced the whole wider subject of how the railways came about in the first place. So many different technical and organisational innovations had to come together, and be 'fitted' together, to enable this to happen for the first time!

Module 2 was 'The Decline' in the late nineteenth century, and how the companies etc tried to manage this. For my study of one individual 'leader' of this time, I chose Ammon Beasley, General Manager of the Taff Vale company at the time of the famous 1900 strike, a man who tried to hold back the tide of growing trade union power and influence. My full essay, I sought to show the strategic drift affecting most railways at this time, and how some people sought to deal with it.

Module 3 looked at nineteenth century railway workers. We were given 'ledger' entries for a number of different workers around the country, as recorded by their employers, and we had to focus on one of them, and describe in what ways their experience did or did not reflect wider themes. My full essay looked at the pay of rail workers; to me it became an interesting example of me starting the essay with one 'thesis' in my head of what I was going to conclude, and then finding half way through that the evidence was leading me to come up with a different 'thesis' altogether, and so some rapid and extensive re-editing was then required!

Module 4 centred on the inter-war period, and I chose Herbert Morrison for my study of an influential policymaker. For the full essay I was exploring the policy problem at the time of whether to treat the railway companies as potential monopolists that needed regulating or instead to allow them less regulation so that they could compete more fairly with the rapid growth of 'free enterprise' road haulage.

Module 5 focused on the early years of British Railways, notably the growing trend of closing uneconomic rail lines, and the Modernisation Plan of 1955 onwards, that rather petered out. I wrote about the closure of the railway services to Marlborough, Wilts, which like many other closures came before the famed Beeching cuts, and then wrote about how and why the Modernisation Plan failed.

Module 6 was about the arrival of privatisation in the 1990s. For my case study I wrote about South West Trains, the first new company to go operational. My essay looked at the political decision-making that led to privatisation becoming a reality. The Conservative ideology was as much about the value of 'competition' as it was about the perceived value of private ownership.

 

Throughout the two years of the course, my brother Paul, a Professor recently retired after well over 40 years with the institution that had grown into becoming the University of Derby, gave me keen encouragement for my return to academic study. For myself, I had in part just wanted to know if my brain was still up to this, but as my marks each term continued to improve after a mild setback with Module 2, the prospect of gaining a Distinction started to become possible. The provisional mark for my last Module suggested that this might even now be likely. Poignantly, I only learned that I had gained a Distinction the day after Paul had suffered a severe brain haemorrhage, dying another two days after that. He was such a generous brother and would have been very pleased for me.

The final document in this series of 13 is the official record of my marks for the whole course - I admit it pleases me. Similarly, on this occasion I arranged to attend the graduation ceremony, the whole experience of which entertained me greatly, in contrast to my BA from the same University in 1972, when I airily decided that I didn't need to go to the ceremony as I saw no point to it at the time. It seems that sometimes we change our minds about some things as we grow older - who knew?

Link to my CV

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