Monday 11 August 2014

Steam Engine Marvels and Noble Don’t Knows

This two-part youtube posting came to my attention yesterday: - 

Fascinating in its own right, and exemplary in a number of ways. 

Surprisingly, it is unscripted. Only a few broadcasters have the command and authority to extemporise freely on air: famously, the historian A.J.P. Taylor, and virtually no other. 

In several places, Alex concedes that he might have the facts wrong, and when he doesn’t know something, he says so. How refreshing! How innocent! This, in a culture where politicians and pundits would sooner die than admit that there’s anything they don’t know, or worse, that they might be wrong. It seems that only neurological scientists and steam train buffs (i.e. those with deep and long-held expertise in arcane and specialised areas) have the humility to own to their own ignorance. 

There’s a winning directness and ease about the presentation. Look, and be charmed at the interaction of homemade model animation and stock documentary footage. Listen, and learn something about a subject you didn’t think you cared about. Enthusiasm, wonder and love make for the best entertainment and the most painless instruction. 

Shall I declare an interest? I am the film-maker’s doting uncle, and Alex does for steam trains what I try to do for folk music and jazz: viz. freeze the past by celebrating the overlooked and lost. It might be a family trait, actually. That’s the men-folk of the family (Dad with stamps and coins, me with records, Ant ditto, Mark with cars, Alex with steam trains). The women I think, manage to live in the moment more successfully. 


  1. No reasons for steam to continue being overlooked and lost, since the sea levels increase by 3.5 millimetres annually, and we will be doubtlessly be surprised by flooding somewhere on the globe in the next twelve months. The flip side drought a testimony how well the water companies continue not to manage the resource. The steam aspect of energy conversion should never be a problem; but the coal-burning and the diesel ignition is - if someone found a way of heating boilers in a way that gets more energy value out than you need to put in as investment there could be chuffing and puffing and not a soup dragon harmed in process.Nothing nostalgic about it, but it needs people to keep the "idea" of steam alive whilst another sage re-invents motive power of a safer, cleaner, greener kind and for which resources abound.


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