A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

Living Life Bravely

A tribute to the life of Reg Wesson, my father (1928-2012).

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My father, Reg Wesson, died on November 27th of this year. He was 84, and had not been well for the past year. He was admitted to hospital in mid-November, and I flew back to Toronto to be with him and my family. We spent a week together before he passed away.

It is, I will admit, something that I had been both expecting and dreading since I moved to the UK. Moving overseas with an octogenarian parent, I knew at some point I would get that call. As much as you want to pause the hands of time while you are on the road, they keep ticking back home. I most feared a call saying he had died. Every time I spoke to Dad on the phone, I knew that the goodbyes we said before we hung up could have been the last. I was thankful that the call I got allowed me to get back to Canada and say my goodbye in person.

I count myself lucky on two counts, one that I was able to make it home in time to spend some time with my father before he passed, and also that he passed peacefully, without any prolonged suffering.

Me and Dad in 2011 in Florence

Me and Dad in 2011 in Florence

After my father passed, I stayed in Canada for a few more days for the burial and the “Celebration of Life” for Dad.

My dad didn’t want a funeral or a memorial service. “I’ve been to too many god-damn funerals,” he said. “I want a party.” So we planned a celebration, with music and wine and laughter. It was tinged with sadness, of course, but mostly was a great opportunity for people to get together and share memories of my dad.

Despite not wanting a memorial service, we did have a few parts that were memorial-service-like. One such piece was speeches. People wanted to get up and share, either through reciting a poem, singing a song or sharing a favourite anecdote.

I played emcee, and shared a few memories I had of my Dad. I wanted to share some big, life affirming story, but couldn’t really think of anything, so told everyone about the little parts of life I remembered with him. Most of them revolved around trains, actually, which I hope goes some way to explain the recent train nerdiness I have exhibited in the blog. It is (a tribute to / the fault of) my father (pick whichever one you feel best describes your feeling towards the train blog entries).

My sister Jen spoke last, and I was struck by what she said. I paraphrase her here, because (true to my father’s spirit) she spoke without notes and I wasn’t taking a transcript. She said that when she was younger she wouldn’t have described Dad as a brave man. He didn’t especially like heights, and dealt with pain much in the same way I do, by feeling faint and nauseated. He didn’t partake in a lot of physical sports.

Yet as she looked back recently on Dad’s life, she realised her analysis was wrong. As a young man, Dad gave up the safe option of working for his father’s business as he really wanted to work in a bank. Having never been involved in auto racing, he applied on a whim to be part of the Oakville-Trafalgar Light Car Club and took up rallying. Later, he wound up a part of the Canadian Racing Driver’s Association, running Grand Prix and other racing events in Canada. After moving to Burlington, nestled at the edge of Lake Ontario, Dad went out for a walk one day, down to the local yacht club, and though he didn’t have a boat or knew anyone in the club, he joined.

He was a real “give it a go” kind of guy. He was constantly finding new interests, and on finding that interest, he pursued them. He didn’t let the weight of opinion of others influence him, nor the fact he was venturing as an unknown into an area he knew nothing about. He just did it. And in doing so, thrived. For every new club, organisation, interest or career he tried, he became an invaluable part of the group. Often acting as treasurer for groups, or working his way up into the executive. He would immerse himself in his new circle, making new friends, bringing in old friends to his new group, becoming a key part of the social circle.

My dad may not have been physically brave, but he was a brave spirit, willing to put himself out into a new world he didn’t know, and give it a try.

As my sister said this, and I remembered my big, life affirming story about Dad.

It was when I was between high school and university. While in high school I had worked as a waiter at our local Pizza Hut. I was pretty good at it, and saving a good bit of money for university. As summer approached, I decided I was a bit too good for Pizza Hut, and should be working at a more upscale restaurant. So I quit my job without another one lined up. “I’ll quickly find a new job,” I said, confident in my skills.

I didn’t quickly find a new job. I struggled, and even tried to go back to get my old job at Pizza Hut, only to find it was already filled. Desperate, I took a job doing door-to-door sales of … well, anything I could carry – tube socks, books, calculators – this company had the lot.

I hated it. The money was alright, but the job made me miserable. I knew by the end of my first week I wanted to be doing anything else.

My Dad, giving me a ride home from the train station on Friday evening, could see it on my face. “What’s wrong, son?” he asked.

“I hate my job,” I said. “I wish I could quit. It really makes me miserable.”

“You see no way you could be happy at this job, if you changed something,” my Dad asked.

“No,” I said. “I don’t like the sales part of it, and that’s the biggest part. I don’t know what to do.”

“Quit,” Dad said.

“Quit?” I asked. “I can’t quit. What will I do about money? I need money for university.”

“Don’t worry about the money. We’ll figure out a way to make it work,” My dad said. “You can’t keep doing something that you hate. Son, life is too short to spend it being miserable.”

I believe this was the philosophy that drove that braveness my sister had been speaking about. It is about putting aside those things that aren’t contributing to your fulfilment, and taking up those things that you think may contribute.

Obviously that isn’t the only decision point. My father was not selfish in his choices, he took his responsibilities seriously and if he said he would do something, he would try his best to see it through. But his current responsibilities didn’t hold him back from trying something new, and he didn’t feel the need to be chained to something that wasn’t working for him.

Dad always told me how proud he was of me for having taking the step to move abroad. I had never really understood why he used the word “proud,” until I started to look at it in the context of the bravery my sister described. I think he was proud of the move because it was me doing something daring, striking out on my own and taking a new adventure because I was pretty sure it would make me happy, in much the same way he might have done. In my actions are reflected his lessons and example.

So as we enter 2013, I take the next steps in that journey, in becoming a permanent resident of the United Kingdom, and continuing towards becoming a British citizen. More so, I start to think to myself, over and above the paper work, what can I do to become more integrated into my new homeland? To fully immerse myself in this, as my father had done before in the many adventures he undertook. I may not stay in the UK forever, but if I do leave, I want to leave knowing that I threw myself into my life here with all that I could give it.

I will bravely live this life, and in doing so, hopefully reflect some small part of my father, and honour his lessons and example.

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Posted by GregW 08:39 Archived in Canada Tagged travel_philosophy migration_philosophy Comments (0)

The Secret Trainspotter... Riding London's Old and New Rail

Riding from London Victoria to London Bridge on the last day of service (Dec 8), and then the first day of service on the new Clapham Junction to Surrey Quays, Highbury and Islington and right round to Clapham Junction on the first day of service (Dec 9)

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I am going to apologise in advance for this entry, and provide a warning. This is an entry about two train rides from and to places within London, in one case from one point in London right around back to the same place. You might find it dull, but I find riding around on trains endlessly fascinating. It's in my heritage. Anyway, if you find train rides dull, I would suggest you stop reading now.

Still here? All right, you've been warned. You've only yourself to blame now.

I wrote recently about a trip on the parliamentary train from Clapham High Street to Kensington Olympia, and how the opening of a new train service from Clapham Junction to Surrey Quays was allowing this service to close. The new Overground service isn't just closing this (mostly useless) service, but also closing a twice-an-hour service from London Victoria to London Bridge. The Victoria to London Bridge service was closing on December 8th, and the new Overground Clapham Junction to Surrey Quays opens December 9th, so I decided to ride them both.

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London Victoria to London Bridge, December 8th, 2012

The Inner South London Line was a twice hourly service running between London Victoria and London Bridge stations in central London, servicing Wandsworth and Southwark with a horseshoe service to these two main terminal stations in London.

I headed from Clapham Junction to Victoria to catch the 13:11 departure from Victoria. The train was due to call at Battersea Park, Wandsworth Road, Clapham High Street, Denmark Hill, Peckham Rye, Queens Road Peckham, South Bermondsey and finally terminating at London Bridge.

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London Victoria has this great logo on the floor telling you to watch what you are doing with your roller bag. Don't be a trolley wally, it says.
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I boarded the service, which is usually a two car train but Southern Rail had put on 4 car trains for the day. There were a few train spotters taking photos (much as I was), and a few people with placards about the service, but there was also a few people who were just taking the train to get where they wanted to go, looking a little bemused at those of us with cameras and placards.

I inadvertently ended up on the same train as the Southwark Rail Users group (SRUG), who were riding the trip a couple time around. They had signs and were taking pictures, and talking to people on the train. The woman I talked to said they weren't protesting, just communicating, though the information they were handing out was titled "South London's Loss".

They were handing out maps they felt better represented the new layout of the train services than the TFL tube maps, which they said don't show how Southwark is connected to central London. I didn't bother pointing out that the TFL tube map doesn't show any rail service other than the Overground, and that most of the new stops weren't on the old London maps.

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Other than the chat with the SRUG people, the train journey was short and uneventful.

Battersea Power Station from the rail bridge

Battersea Power Station from the rail bridge


Peckham Rye station, last time that this Southern train upholstery could be seen here?

Peckham Rye station, last time that this Southern train upholstery could be seen here?


Between Queens Road and South Bermondsey, A view of the Shard

Between Queens Road and South Bermondsey, A view of the Shard

We arrive at London Bridge, and off I get. The station is undergoing a number of improvements, which is one of the reasons that this South London Line service is being discontinued, as platforms in London Bridge station are being closed until 2018. I wander around lost for a few minutes before I find the way to the Underground, passing in the shadow of The Shard, Europe's tallest building.

Arrival at London Bridge, walking out to see Europe's tallest building - The Shard

Arrival at London Bridge, walking out to see Europe's tallest building - The Shard

Off I went on the Jubilee line to do some Christmas shopping... For myself... I bought a laptop... at Harrod's. That really happened.

Clapham Junction to Highbury & Islington to Clapham Junction, The Orbital Overground, December 9th, 2012

The sun rose on Sunday, and "all change, please," when the old services stop and the new service begins.

The London Overground is a train service run by Transport for London, the local government body responsible for transportation in the Greater London area. In the past few years, TFL has taken on many train services, aiming to create an orbital railway running around central London. The last piece was to put together a link along the southern edge of the city, and a new service from Clapham Junction to Surrey Quays completes the link.

source:Wikipedia

source:Wikipedia

I caught the train from Clapham Junction, catching the 11:52 headed towards Highbury and Islington. There were a few "train enthusiasts" on the train (you could tell by the literature printed off and the cameras), but there was mostly regular rail users, off on whatever commute they were on for the day.

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We left Clapham Junction, and slowly made our way along, eventually passing underneath the main rail track and coming up on the previously unused portion of track heading to Wandsworth Road.

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Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street station, previously serviced by Southern Rail but now only serviced by the Overground, have been rebranded as London Overground stations, with the orange roundel. We pulled into the station, and I noticed a young boy (probably around 12) filming the train as it came in from the north end of the platform. A few minutes later, when we pulled out, the boy had moved down to the south end of the platform to film us pulling out.

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Soon enough the train pulled into Denmark Hill, where I jumped off for a quick rest on my round-London journey.

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I had heard that there was a decent pub in the Denmark Hill rail station building called the Phoenix. I popped in to the pub, and found an absolutely lovely pub with a massive beautiful clock. I got myself a pint of London Pride ale (decent choice for a train spotter).

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Pint done, and reinforced, I headed back to the station to catch the train and continued my round the city journey.

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Boarding the train at Denmark Hill, I found a much busier train than the last, with every seat taken, and people having to stand. Pretty impressive for the first day of service.

We pulled out from Denmark Hill and off to Peckham Rye. As we pulled into Peckham Rye, I noticed the same young lad who had filmed us coming into Wandsworth Road filming our train coming in. Arrival filmed, he jumped on the train and as the train ran from Peckham Rye to Queens Road Peckham, he worked his way through the open train to the front of the train, his mother following behind him.

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At Queens Road, the lad jumped off, positioned himself on the platform, and filmed us leaving the station. His mother accompanying him must be a patient woman.

I was so busy watching the young boy filming, I missed the arrival of the woman who sat across from me. She soon got my attention, though, as she spent the entire time on the train sobbing to herself silently. Like a good Brit, I looked away in embarrassment. I seem to attract this kind of behaviour, first noticing crying on the Heathrow Connect in August 2009 and then recently on a flight in September where the woman beside me was crying.

We turned north, going over the newest bit of the rail network (actually a reconstructed old bit of the rail network) that connects us onto the line to Surrey Quays. We now had stopped being on the new bit, and were travelling now up the east side of London. We travelled down underground, and eventually under the Thames river in the Thames_Tunnel, the first tunnel built under the river. It was built in the mid-1800s as a pedestrian tunnel. In 1865 it was converted to a rail tunnnel, and other than a few years closure here and there, has been serving London by rail since that time.

We pull up out the tunnels and into Shoreditch, where we get some excellent views of the City of London and the area surrounding Liverpool Street station.

The woman left the train, still sobbing, at Shoreditch High Street, along with most of the rest of the train. A much emptier train continued along the east of the city, and then turned to the west to start along the Northern stretch of the circle.

We pulled into Highbury & Islington, and I decide to take another break, popping out of the station and to the nearby Famous Cock pub, where I take a quick break for the toilet, and then to replenish my liquids, another pint. I had a pint of Spitfire ale and watched the first 30 minutes of the Manchester derby between Manchester United and Manchester City.

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After watching Man U's Wayne Rooney score a soft, rolling goal, I headed back to Highbury and Islington station, and down to the Overground platforms. The next train direct to Clapham Junction (heading west) wasn't for 27 minutes, so I hopped onto a train to Willseden Junction.

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The train journey from Highbury & Islington was uneventful, though busy. This section of the line is well established, so not surprising to see it well used.

I snapped this photo during the journey of a TFL advert for the extension to the south. It promises quicker journeys to the clubs in Clapham, Camden and Hoxton. Given that I live in Clapham, and haven't made it out to the clubs there, I doubt that I will be using the train service to get to clubs in North or East London.

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The young Japanese girl who was sitting under the sign looked at me somewhat strangely, but otherwise I was the only strangeness on this part of the journey. Mostly it was young people and families off to wherever they where going for the day.

The train terminated at Willseden Junction, and I wait 8 minutes for the next train to Clapham Junction. The train pulls in, and fills up with people. Other than the bit from Clapham Junction to Denmark Hill, and from Shoreditch High Street to Highbury and Islington, the train has been full on a Sunday afternoon. And not just with train spotters and nerds like me, but with people going about their regular Sunday afternoons.

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It being Christmas time, and this being a train that stops at Shepherd's Bush station for Westfield Shopping centre, the train was busy with shoppers, either on their way to buy, or at Shebu (what us in-people call Shepherd's Bush) boarding the train with tons of bags.

In amongst that crowd, an older man with large, grey mutton chops also boarded the train. He stood at one end, and listened as the train pulled away from Shepherd's Bush.

The automated train announcement came on. "This is the Overground service to Clapham Junction. The next station is Kensington Olympia," the mechanical, female voice said.

"Olymmmm-Pi-Ahhhh!" the man sung out after the announcement had ended. "Overground... Underground..." he sang, and then stopped singing. The music didn't stop, though, he replaced his voice with a harmonica. Mutton chops played his harmonica until the train pulled into West Brompton, when he pulled his hat down on his head, turned his collars up and left the train. I had expected him to walk through the train asking for change, but he didn't. Simply played his music, and left.

A few minutes later, we pulled into platform 1 at Clapham Junction, and I had completed the circle. From Clapham Junction to Clapham Junction, a journey of 0 net miles.

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A final pint of the day to celebrate the circle at Windsor Castle pub in Clapham Junction.

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Home again, home again... Completed the circle and back in Clapham Junction. Celebration pint! A secret train spotter success.

Now, where'd I leave my anorak?

Posted by GregW 09:11 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged trains train_travel Comments (0)

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