Some Thoughts about Steam

Everyone seems to have a cold at the moment.. and I am no exception.

When it started, well over a week ago it seemed innocent enough. You know the kind, three days with a throat full of barbed wire and another three days with nose full of glue and then it’s over, but not this one.

This one has quietly and slowly developed into a real horror ( I don’t get many colds so am whining) A week on and I still have broken glass in my joints and lead in my limbs.
Sometimes you think a nice little cold will give you an excuse to snuggle up in bed with a good book and comforting hot drinks but mine seem to rob me of all brain activity so reading has also been impossible.
It’s all VERY FRUSTRATING. Add to that an injured shoulder which is, currently, making it very painful to type or draw and I have been thoroughly miserable.
However on Saturday I dragged myself out of bed and wedged my aching arm into the corner of a railway carriage and went to London for a day of Hoverfly Identification at the Natural History Museum. It will take me a while to get my thoughts and discoveries about the wonderful world of hoverflies down on paper, but the journey to London was rather, unexpectedly, lovely.

Huntingdon to London on a Frosty Saturday Morning
At 7.30 am, when we left the house, the morning was very still and very cold with a full red sun on the horizon cut in half by just one single sliver of cloud. All other colours were frosted and pale. The novelty of seeing a frozen countryside after the eternal green of Florida has not yet worn off. Everything seems so fragile and delicate in comparison. Here tiny twiggy birds nests nestle in bushes or are strung hammock like between branches.
There, lines of infinitely varied little naked hedgerow trees are ranked and silhouetted against a rusty sky.
At 8.00am I am on the train travelling South. If I look East everything is back-lit by the sun. If I look West there are long cast shadows. The colours are the palest terre vertes, silvers, lilacs, and oranges. The buildings are black. This early on such a bitterly cold morning very little is moving, except this train and steam.

Steam is everywhere, taking on many different shapes, sizes and directions. In the stations restless, cold, people, huddled and muffed in scarves and gloves exchange puffs of steaming words. As we travel though the countryside thick steam spirals up from clamps and muck heaps, one has ignited and there’s a rush of scarlet flame. In the fields we pass some stocky gypsy ponies. Haloed with light, they are motionless, their long coats bristling with frost.

They blow streams of hot breath from velvety icicle-whiskered noses. They could almost be smoking pipes. Coming to a light industrial area, tall towers of steam rise straight up from tall chimneys.
White cartoon exhaust rings link waiting cars at the crossing gates. Here is a housing estate where the mock Victorian street lights, switched off an hour ago, are fleetingly reignited by a low, now golden, sun and all the identical houses in the identical streets have identical chimneys where all the short bursts of slanting steam are conforming to the will of a slight breeze.

Exuberant bountiful steam from one chimney casts busy shadows onto a nearby wall and light airy-fairy back lit steam drifts up from a square black chimney and evaporates in the morning haze. Higher, much higher up, dead straight vapour trails of planes criss-cross the clear blue sky. Steam is fascinating.

But as we reach London, where once smog and fog would have choked the life out of you, the rows of Victorian chimneys are quiet and unused. And I remember that long ago, I arrived at Kings Cross, not scurrying in on a little four coach electric train but making a much grander entrance, enveloped in clouds of steam, deafened by noise and giddy with excitement about a day in London, little legs climbing down from a magnificent snorting beast that surely must have been the Flying Scotsman.

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he Flying Scotsman steaming out of Kings Cross in 1968 from the Museum of London Collection Exciting hoverfly info to follow!

Leaf of the Day: Florida Orange

Here I am in Florida and only today I realised that orange blossom is the State flower. I could be forgiven because it’s not so easy to find an orange tree locally but there are some obvious clues.
We live in Orange County, Orange Avenue is three blocks away and the notorious OBT, Orange Blossom Trail, parts of which are synonymous with extreme low life, runs north-south through Orlando.

Oranges were brought by the Spanish to “La Florida” and became established in the wild, where the early American naturalist, John Bartram, in his journal entry in 1766, writes of them growing growing on the banks of Salt Springs, their wonderful refreshing fruit and delicate perfume.
However the citrus industry really began to take off in the 19th century and by 1880 oranges, lemons, grapefruit and limes were being shipped and sent by rail to New York and Philadelphia.

However, just as earlier this year, Florida is subject to terrible frosts and in 1894 and 1899, the satsuma orange trees were virtually wiped out. The last great freeze was in 1980s when vast acres of citrus groves were destroyed, many owned by Tropicana. The unreliability of the climate has discouraged any major regeneration and who needs oranges when you have Disney?

Here is a saucy American slightly Disney version of Nell Gwynne.

poster images from

Another reminder of the great old orange days is of course the famous train, (and fiddle tune)”The Orange Blossom Special” bringing city dwellers of New York down to the sun kissed shores of Florida. Inaugurated in 1925 I can only imagine how wonderful it must have been to leave the cold city streets of New York to travel in style to the sun.

Well talk about her ramblin’
She’s the fastest train on the line
Well talk about her travellin’
She’s the fastest train on the line
She’s the Orange Blossom Special
Rollin’ down the seaboard line3.

Well, I’m going down to Florida
Get some sand in my shoes
Or maybe California
Get some sand in my shoes
I’ll ride the Orange Blossom Special
And lose those New York blues

I found this great image and further links to Florida history here

On this day of financial gloom take a second to smile as you watch these kids playing this great blue grass anthem. Check out little Katie giving it her all, “Go Katie”

or a classic bit of Johnny Cash

A footnote on American trains.. don’t you just love them? We live near the railway track and hear and feel the long slow Amtrack train as rumbles and hoots its way along the Winter Park loop. We can hear the constant rise and fall of its plaintive whistle for a good half hour warning people away from the largely unprotected track. To us Brits brought up on old American movies of pioneering rail travel, the particular clanging sound of the crossing gates and the mournful whistle evoke ideas of freedom, of wide open spaces, of hobos flipping the freight cars and great railroad songs with those lonesom’ harmonica solos.
We love the train. Our neighbours think we are strange.

In this drawing I have tried some burnishing where the colour is smoothed down. It’s an interesting technique and blends the colours more but makes the surface very slippery and difficult to work over. The drawing could be more finished but at the moment I don’t want to spend more than one day on a drawing unless its something special. I still consider all this experimental. I persevere.

Orange Blossom