Category Archives: tavistock

Русский православный

I’ve spent today in a workshop rehearsing Rachmaninov’s Vespers.  Perhaps the most celebrated major work of Russian orthodox music to enter our conscience – let alone repertoire – in Blighty, and perhaps the West more generally.  We will be performing it in concert on Tuesday evening, at the main church in Tavistock, as part of the Exon singers’ festival.

While the music is of moderate complexity and not unduly challenging[1], what has made the day really hard work is singing in Russian.  That set me thinking.  It’s easy to sing a language I speak, but also a language I don’t speak but with which I have a workable level of familiarity, like Latin or French.  Russian is in a whole different league, not just due to the cyrillic alphabet (we have a broadly-phonetic transcription in the score), but more the near-complete unfamiliarity.  The crux of it is, it takes a lot more of my concentration than a more-familiar language, making it harder to look up at the conductor!

If my time were unlimited, I’d love to learn Russian.

[1] Not even the bass range.  We have a surprising number of low basses, so I’m singing the upper and (where applicable) middle bass lines, not the legendary Russian bottom range.

Railway Consultation

Devon County Council are running a consultation today about proposals for a new branch-line railway connecting Tavistock to Plymouth.  There’s a whole lot more to it than that: it’s tied up with a proposal to build the biggest development of all of new houses which, coming on top of what’s recently been built will see Tavistock’s population rise by 40-50% since the 2001 census.  There are linked proposals for a new cycle route, though that won’t go anywhere very useful and will only really serve any purpose if it persuades more parents to let their kiddies cycle to school.

Anyway, the main topic is the new railway, to be built from Tavistock to Bere Alston where it joins the existing Tamar Valley line.  That scenic line serves areas which are quite cut-off by road due to local geography, a consideration that doesn’t apply to Tavistock where we have a decent road, an excellent bus service to Plymouth, and a selection of buses to other destinations.  Much of this line will follow a section of the old route that was closed in 1968.

I’ve now sent them a detailed response, which for posterity I’ll reproduce here.  I may add footnotes for blog readers who don’t have the local knowledge assumed in my response.

Q2: Proposed Railway Tavistock – Bere Alston – Plymouth:

It is difficult to answer the question as posed, because there is insufficient context. Specifically, what consequences flow from acceptance or rejection of the line. Two questions in particular need to be addressed:

  1. Is it likely that rejection of the railway would imply major road projects, such as widening the A386? If it were a choice between spending similar money on either the one or the other (with no option not to spend it) then I would definitely favour the railway.
  2. Might the railway be extended to provide a through route to Okehampton and Exeter[1]? If so this becomes a project for the entire region, and potentially a long-term national-scale solution to the problems of the existing line where the coastal stretch around Dawlish/Teignmouth[2] is surely not going to be maintainable. I would strongly support that project.

Answering the question in isolation and without the above context:

Firstly, I would use the rail service myself. I would find it particularly useful to be able to use a through ticket when travelling to destinations outside the local area. However, this is a very marginal utility, and could be served in other ways (of which more below).

However, the proposal as it stands is surely a White Elephant. We have an excellent bus service serving many popular destinations in Plymouth that will not be touched by the proposed rail service[3]. It seems inconceivable that a single-track railway will compete with a bus service that runs up to four times an hour, and can get me home after an evening in Plymouth[4].

Congestion on the A386 may be a problem, but that begs the question: if motorists aren’t using the buses now, what are the chances they’ll use a train in future? They are making the choice to sit in traffic jams when an alternative already exists!

It is true the bus service has shortcomings:

  1. The buses have hard seats and are less than comfortable, especially when crowded.
  2. At peak times, the buses can get overcrowded in the Plymouth sections of the route, specifically between Roborough and the city centre. This is not a problem on the out-of-town (Tavistock-Roborough) stretch.
  3. Many of the buses, including frustratingly all evening services, take tortuously long routes “round the houses” into Plymouth. The diversion at Roborough hardly ever picks up or sets down passengers, and the diversion to Marjons and Derriford would surely be quicker to walk from the Tavistock Road for any able-bodied person. Does the hospital really run evening appointments for those patients for whom a short walk would be a problem?
  4. Buses cannot be used as part of integrated transport:
    1. There are no “through” tickets to combine bus travel with trains, city buses or other public transport.
    2. It is not possible to carry a bicycle on the buses. I have even been refused a folding bike that fits very comfortably alongside other things on the luggage rack and is always welcome on trains.

A new railway could address all of these problems. But so could an express bus (or coach) service with fewer stops, particularly in-town in Plymouth. Together with joined-up thinking on the subjects of through tickets, and carriage of bikes (at least folding ones – and drivers need to be aware of such a policy). It would surely make sense at least to trial such a service before spending substantial money on the proposed railway!

[1] This through route existed before 1968.  I’m told that Dr Beeching even recommended keeping it open as the main route between Exeter and Plymouth, but was overruled.
[2] This coastal stretch runs under a crumbling cliff that from time to time loses a chunk (as in this story – the railway is visible in the second and third pictures), and is so exposed to the sea that in high tide and rough weather the waves wash up right over the roof of a train.
[3] The train route will be ideal for commuting to the naval dockyards and for central Plymouth, but that’s about all.  The bus, by contrast, serves a number of Plymouth’s most important modern employment hubs.
[4] Timetable is here.


Today I am, in a very minor way, a refugee.  Sitting in John’s sofa, with the laptop, hoping to get some work done.

Once again, there are building works at home.  Last Wednesday a gang of workmen arrived and erected a lot of scaffolding.  Right next door, on the side of the house where my office is located.

Then a different gang arrived and started working on the roof.  Banging, drilling, sanding, all the usual sounds of building work.  Including, intermittently, the worst of all: the ghetto blaster.  When it arrived on Monday morning I asked them nicely to turn it off, which they did with good grace, and the day was indeed free of that scourge.  But that was too good to last.  And the intensity of works seems to be rising: yesterday afternoon the construction symphony was accompanied by clouds of dust drifting across the window.

It’s not as bad as some works we’ve suffered in the past (three months of wall works, or the worst of the building across the road).  But with John now working from home, I have an escape I can beg.  Let’s see if I get much done from here.

Noise pollution

Tunes like the Londonderry Air or Simon&Garfunkel numbers may be inoffensive enough at first hearing.  Even enjoyable in a sufficiently fine rendition.  But when they’re muzaked to buggery and repeated hour after hour it becomes torture.

The amplified buskers appeared in town yesterday, inflicting exactly that on a wide area.  As a consequence the day was a write-off, and I’m attempting to catch up on my work today instead.  Worse, unlike a predictable nuisance like the yobs club it’s not something I can plan for ahead of time (for yesterday evening I had a ticket to see our local musical society’s production of Oliver, timed for Friday evening precisely because that’s always a good time to be out of the house).

About lunchtime I finally snapped and called Environmental Health.  They told me they’d had a word with this busker last time he was in town, but weren’t going to take any more action.  Also said that they’d had trouble talking to the offensive busker, because he didn’t seem to speak English!

For my part, I’m happy to see an honest busker down in town, but when they use electronic amplification to inflict themselves on a wide area it crosses beyond the boundary of acceptability.  Would it be too much to have and enforce a no-amplification rule?  It would have the side-effect of helping select for those buskers with at least sufficient talent to work without electronic aids: not a high bar, but much better than nothing!

Is there anything I as an individual can do when TPTB say too much work?

What am I drinking?

Yesterday evening our water supply failed.  Turn the tap on and nothing comes out.  Ouch, where’s my cuppa?  I recollect that a little while back the flow had seemed inexplicably weak when I’d used some water to cook my supper.  Quite glad I’d drunk fruit juice and not the glass of wine I’d contemplated with that meal, and that I do have bottled water available for emergencies.

Nothing in the bathroom, either.  Going out into the street, I see no friendly lights in my neighbours’ windows: everyone’s out, or maybe even abed.  It’s a little late to go ‘phoning someone without at least checking the lights are on in their living room rather than bedroom.  So I can’t check with someone whether it’s area-wide or just me.  But visiting South West Water’s website finds a 24-hour phone number, and ringing it gets me a recorded message about a cutoff affecting quite a wide area.  OK, so it’s them, not me.

An hour or so later it’s back, at full pressure and looking fine.  So no great problem.  Enjoy my customary pint of tea at bedtime, and again this morning.

Then it comes back to me.  Yesterday afternoon I had run the washing machine, and when I came to empty it there was a faint but distinct smell as if of burning rubber.  I had wondered about that: cleaned out what gunk I could find without finding anything smelly, checked pockets for anything that shouldn’t be washed – no, they were empty.  Could there have been something unwholesome in that water ahead of the cutoff?

Guess I’d better see what the local paper has to say this week.  Hmmm.

Someone else’s rubbish!

Our kerbside recycling has since last autumn largely replaced trips to the recycling centre.  In some ways it’s an improvement: certainly getting rid of bottles/etc weekly without hassle, and having somewhere to dump the junkmail without first having to bring it upstairs is icing on the cake.  And the food waste recycling is altogether new here!

But not all is well.  The way they collect it leaves a residue of uncollected stuff which seems to differ week by week.  And the killer is that the residue ends up not with whoever dumped it, but with someone more-or-less random.  And we’re not talking someone dumping litter here (though I daresay that happens occasionally too), but the very people who collect the rubbish.

Today I finally got around to complaining.  After last time I expected an ordeal with their web forms and I got it – in spades!  But eventually I coaxed the form into accepting my complaint, which I’ll let speak for itself:

Your collection of green-box recycling is flawed.

It seems to vary week-by-week, but the most usual pattern is that a team come ahead of the collection lorry, and sort the recycling.  At that point, waste of one kind may move from my box to a neighbour’s, and vice versa.

When the collection follows, they seemingly reject some things.  For example, carrier bags which the team doing the sorting use to collect items such as bottles, cans or paper.  Sometimes items that are harder to identify.

The outcome is that I am regularly left with residual items of other people’s rubbish in my green box.  The system has become one not of collection but of somewhat-random exchange!

The first couple of times this happened, I dealt with it.  But I’ve had enough: I’m not taking the green box back into my house until and unless it’s cleared of other people’s rubbish!

A second minor complaint: they sometimes exchange green boxes, lids, etc.  I have in the past (on separate occasions) been left with a non-matching box and lid, and with a box that was sticky to the touch!

Worse, the boxes are sometimes left right in front of the door to trip over when one just steps outside: this is an accident waiting to happen!

RIP spring

Our once-beautiful tree has been looking dead of late, with no sign of blossom or leaf.  But in the case of a tree whose wood looks healthy, I wouldn’t rule out a return of life in future, perhaps when we get another mild (non-)winter.  I’ve heard the experts on the BBC’s Gardeners Question Time tell of circumstances where an apparently-dead tree can revive.

Today all hope is gone as a gang of men, presumably from the council, have sawn it down.  There was the sound of a chainsaw, and when I walked down into town I saw Paddons Row full of big branches being chopped up and taken away, so I had to divert my route.  All that’s left is a sad stump.

Just a couple of years ago, this tree really was our spring, with its sweet scent of blossom bringing the place to life in February and even late January when all else is dark and drear.  RIP beautiful tree, and our little bit of spring. 😦


After a false start in February with about one day of warm, fine weather before it turned first wet and then much colder again, this time it seems to be here for real.  Not quite warm yet, but about a week now of borderline T-shirt weather when out in the sun (of which there is now plenty).

Yesterday just walking over Whitchurch Down to Lidl, the real signs of spring were all around.  A lady of pensionable age sitting out on a park bench to enjoy reading her paper.  The buzz of the bumblebee.  The startling scent of spring blossom after the drab winter months.  Etcetera.

Alas, this reminds me of what we’ve lost.  This year and last we’ve missed our customary early springtime when the once-lovely tree in Paddons Row would blossom gloriously, upwards of a month earlier in the season.  It’s looking very dead, having  borne neither blossom nor leaf as of late.  Could it be the winters?  Or has some human activity cut off its roots, or poisoned them?  Surely a tree that size has seen its fair share of winter, which leaves the perils of its concrete-jungle location as prime suspect.

Barriers to free trade

I have a 19″ monitor that’s surplus to requirement.  It’s a great big CRT, and was last used four years ago.  But it was a top-end monitor in its time, and might still be of interest to a CRT fan.

I’ve just looked at putting it on freecycle (again – been through this loop before).  Happy to donate it to a good home: no charge if you collect!

But it turns out that I can only advertise on freecycle if I sign up to them.  Which in turn means signing up to Yahoo, a procedure that requires an annoyingly extensive form and an eyesight test (with silent “audio” alternative).  I am reminded why I’ve never signed up for bloody freecycle. 😦

If anyone reading this is subscribed to Tavistock/West Devon Freecycle, please post: OFFER: 19″ Monitor, Iiyama Visionmaster Pro 450, with a pointer to this blog entry.  Or if you can use it yourself and collect from here (Tavistock), just let me know.

Planning permission

What are the criteria for consulting local people over planning applications?

When there were major works to build a new apartment block (9 apartments) just across the road, we were not even notified, let alone consulted.  On other occasions they’ve gone through the motions but avoided the risk of getting real feedback from the public.  On other occasions, they’ve just pinned up a little notice.

Today I got a real, physical letter from the council.  I’m being consulted, and there’s nothing in there that smells of evasion!

So what is the subject of this consultation?  It’s an application from next-door-but-one to install a dormer window.  About as trivial a change as anyone could ask for!  Perhaps it’s just the major works they avoid asking us about?

Anyway, if the neighbours want a dormer window, that’s fine by me.  I might put in a polite request that their builders not inflict a ghetto-blaster on the neighbourhood, but I think that’s better done by a friendly word with the neighbour than through a bureaucratic planning process.

I had an idea the current government was talking about relaxing some of the red tape on planning.  I hope this kind of nonsense is what they mean!