Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Rolleicords and mouldy rolls

Due to the Southampton Tunnel blockade, 33014 powers a diverted Portsmouth Harbour to Bristol train through Botley on a glorious Summer's day in June 1985. Bigger version here.

It's scary for me this think that this photo was taken over 25 years ago, because it does feel just like last summer. Looking ahead 25 years from now, and if I'm still alive I'll probably be in a bath chair or be one of those doddery rude old gits seen at railway shows that crash into you and push past your well behaved children. Failing that, I'll be that very slow driver in front of you and the 25 other cars on that windy route that you stand no chance of being able to overtake me on. Then later in the evening, my eyesight will be so bad I'll try to eat the floral pattern off the dinner plate, and I'll be always grumbling about the youth of today - actually I do that already! The youth bit, not the dinners plate. Yet.

I remember the day well, it was a comfortable 25 celcius or so, and I'd cycled the 8 or so miles from my parent's house in Hamble. At the time I was a photography student at Salisbury College of Art, and it was around the end of term so I'd probably gone home for the weekend. In those pre-internet days I'm not sure how I knew that the trains were being diverted away the more usual Netley route because of engineering work on the tunnel at Southampton, but there were a few railwaymen at the Southampton Model Railway Society I belonged to at the time who may have given me the nod. More likely though it was simply because I travelled by train quite a bit had seen the notices! It does make me think just how much we rely on the web these days for almost everything!

One thing that sticks on my mind from that sunny day, was the petrol station next to Botley railway station where I bought a cheese filled roll and a can of fizzy pop. When I chomped into it, the flavour was a bit like compost (not that I eat compost rgularly) and upon further investigation found the roll full of mould! I couldn't be bothered to go back to the garage, but I do recall the chap at the till saying that the fridge was up the spout. These days I'd not take such a risk and would certainly not put up with rotten food by taking it straight back.

The camera I used much time was a late 1950's Rolleicord Va, a trusty German built camera that shoots 12 x 6x6cm exposures on a roll of 120 film. The lens had a maximum aperture of only f3.5, so to be able to shoot at the 1/500 sec shutter speed to stop and fast moving train you needed sunlight for the 100 iso Fujichrome the above photo was taken on - this shot probably being 1/500 at f5.6. On overcast days whilst I could have chosen a fast transparency which generally was indifferent in quality and very grainy, so we tended to shoot black and white. For younger readers, black and white must seem odd, but in those days B&W was the norm for publication and home processing. Nearly all magazines and books apart from the posher ones and National Geographic were mostly B&W apart from the cover and maybe a centre spread.

The cameras and trains may have changed, and I'm certainly no longer that mug who bought rotten filled rolls, but interestingly enough this location looks quite similar which is still a stone off loading terminal for trains from the Mendips. Even the signalbox is still there, albeit semi-derelict and looking like it's not been painted since this photo was taken.

Here is the location on Google Maps, and the bridge I stood on - though I have not any idea how I found the footpath to it


  1. Medium format, slowish film, high quality lens - ace! (Plus no doubt some modern tech in there too.) Hope you've got some of this quality to post Chris. I've just finished scanning my slides and negatives including a lot of B&W I took in the 1980s/90s at airshows. B&W contrast can produce great images.

  2. A lovely picture. Judging by the very slight speed blur on the front, a depth of field it maybe it wasn't 1/500, but a smaller aperture? Anyway, none of that matters now! I recall that, also restricted by such constraints, I'd try to get away with something a little slower than 1/500 if I could...

    1. Most defo 1/500 - these old leaf shutters have about the same stopping power as 1/320 on a focal plane shutter. I'd only ever have risked 1/250 on a train travelling at walking pace. The old Rollei was useless for anything like an HST where as these digi-days we'd probably use 1/2000 for a 3/4 view.

      In more recent years I used Mamiya C33 which had even less stopping power so only every got used on preserved lines.

      Time machine - oh yes!

    2. Used a Rolleiflex for years and loved it, only recently found some old film unprocessed lurking in the bottom of the freezer. Progressed to a Bronica ETRS big mistake no where near as rugged and certainly bult like a tank compared to my Canon DSLR


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