Almost as soon as I returned from the Granite Belt, I found myself in Newcastle again. I won’t bore you with all the details of my work trip, but as always, the meals and the locations in which these were consumed were memorable.
Ever a creature of habit, I requested that we have breakfast at our usual place – Goldbergs on Darby Street – where I always have the savoury mince with poached eggs.
For lunch, we had burgers at the Mereweather Surf Club overlooking the water.
I was staying overnight at the Crowne Plaza so it seemed a waste not to have dinner in the restaurant with my colleague, Dominy.
Being the introvert that I am, it is my usual policy not to engage in unnecessary small talk with fellow passengers, but the fellow who was sitting next to me on my return flight was pretty chatty, and with no agenda other than wanted to share in his good news of how much he gets paid working for a Hunter Valley coal mine and what he was doing on his holiday to the Sunshine Coast. Very, very fortunately, because I had developed a rapport with my row-mate, when I absent-mindedly left my iPad in the seat pocket and charged off to the air-train, he actually handed it in and had the hosties me called back to the gate. So it seems that acting like a human being does have its uses.
Two weeks later, on a Thursday, I returned to Newcastle for a little bit of the usual work that I do, but also an Institution of Railway Signal Engineers Technical Meeting on Friday and Saturday.
Once, again, I insisted on Goldbergs for breakfast, convincing at least one of my colleagues to hop on the savoury mince bandwagon.
In the afternoon, I went for a shopping mission along Darby Street to find a birthday present for my Aunt, who I would see on Saturday. Darby Street is certainly full of quirky gift and clothing shops, but one thing that it is lacking is pedestrian crossings. Without a targetted shopping plan, I found that I wanted to cross the street to a new and shiny shop on the other side, quite frequently, but was held up by the impending danger of traffic all the time. I did find a suitable gift – a set of portable Japanese crockery in the shape of a Geisha (or possibly a Maiko, she did look quite young).
For dinner we also returned to the restaurant at the Crown Plaza, where the waitress remembered Dominy and I from the fortnight before.
On Friday, the view of the harbour was magical, like a mix of blue and pink fairy floss. We walked along the foreshore to the conference center, where we could still enjoy the view.
We listened to some papers about signalling optimisations in the Hunter Valley Corridor – one project upgraded electrical train staff sections with some computer-based interlockings. This would be like replacing a telegraph machine with a Nokia 3310 (but not quite as advanced as getting an iPhone 6).
As much as I like to tease the Mexicans (railway term meaning “those that are south of the border”) about their antiquated systems, they seems to be doing some interesting things regarding their integrated coal chain management.
I apologise for the lack of photos but as a rule, if I need to refresh my memory regarding the technical papers, I just look at the USB stick from the show bag. Some of my colleagues, however, do actually take a photograph on their digital SLR cameras of every single slide presented to them. It’s sort of like digital hoarding. I did end up taking one photo from the papers, and that was the IRSE shield with a mentor showing his protégé “the way”, or at least that’s the way it was explained to me…
At lunch, I was given the opportunity to push my cause – that is, establishing an Australasian Younger Members committee for the IRSE. The flyer below had actually originally read “Call for Younger Members” but that sounded too much like we wanted to get rid of the old members, which is not really the aim, at least not right now 😛
My colleague, Kanwar, is the type of fit individual who is mindful of the number of steps he takes in a day. So, after a morning of sitting and listening, Andrew, Kanwar and I walked up the Wharf Tower, which, for those of you playing at home, is 40.3m high, 180 steps and closed in bad weather.
The view from the top was very picturesque, with the weather being as it was in perpetual sunset mode, although it was obscured quite a bit by vandals’ scratches on the glass.
I couldn’t remember it being that bad the last time I was there, so I went back and looked at my photos from about 12 years ago but all you can really tell is that the camera that I have now on my phone is far superior to my dedicated film camera in early 2003.
In the afternoon, we listened to some more papers. The one that stood out in my mind was one presented by a psychologist about the complicated relationship of train drivers with the red aspect.
After an interlude for the committee members to have their meeting, we got scrubbed up to attend dinner overlooking the foreshore.
Dinner was lovely, as it always is at IRSE functions and we carried on into the night. Did you know that you can’t buy shots in Newcastle but you can buy rum on the rocks without rocks? Actually, I’m just going to leave it at that…
Due to a number of people pulling out of the technical visit all of us were able to attend even though we booked a little late. The first stop was the Newcastle Signalling Box, which I would describe as “very vintage”. It’s still manually operated by mini-levers. It’s just incredible!
And a training centre where all of the outside signalling equipment was set up inside.
After we had gotten all the signalling out of the way, we were rewarded with a trip to Bob’s Farm, the home of Murray’s Craft Brewing Company. It took me a little time to warm to the idea of a beer following the previous night but I twisted my own arm, and settled for a stout with my lunch.
This was the first time that I had noticed that Facebook knows my friends by sight now. Creepy or revolutionary? Still not sure…
I flew home in the afternoon and managed not to leave my iPad, or any other devices, on the plane this time. Flight win!