Branch Line Britain - celebrating Britain's minor railways

Blog 2019

January 2019

No railway journeys made this month.


February 2019

GBRF Class 66 No 66779, Evening Star in unusual khaki green livery at Coleshill Parkway station on 2/2/19

1/2/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street. London Marylebone to Haddenham and Thame Parkway. Haddenham & Thame Parkway to Oxford Parkway. Oxford Parkway to Oxford. Oxford to Banbury. Banbury to Warkwick Parkway. Warwick Parkway to Birmingham Snow Hill.

I went up to Birmingham to see King King in concert and stayed overnight in the city. On the way I was able to visit some Parkway stations to get some photographs for a book I am bringing out later in the year. There was no snow when I left home, but once we were  out of the tunnel north of Marylebone I was quite surprised to see plenty of it in North London for a change. In fact there was plenty of snow all the way as far as Banbury, then it disappeared. Luckily all the trains ran on time and there were no cancellations. the only train that I got that was full was the Cross Country service between Oxford and Banbury.


2/2/2019  Birmingham New Street to Tame Bridge Parkway and return via Witton. Birmingham New Street to Coleshill Parkway and return. Birmingham Moor Street to Dorridge. Dorridge to Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway. Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway to Leamington Spa. Leamington Spa to London Marylebone. London Fencurch Street to Leigh-on-Sea. 

The next day I bought a West Midlands Day Ranger ticket for £18 and travelled round the West Midlands for a few hours before coming back to Essex. At Coleshill Parkway I was intrigued to see a driver change over of a freight train on the station. The two drivers had a chat before the train departed - see photo. Then at Dorridge I was able to sit out on the platform with a coffee and croissant at a table by the cafe in spite of the cold, as the bright sun made it quite pleasant. I then caught one of the through trains to Stratford-upon-Avon, a Class 172, over a small piece of new track for me between Hatton West Junction and Hatton South Junction. Again all the trains ran on time with no delays and there was plenty of seating, apart from when we stopped at wembley Stadium on the way back, where many Spurs fans got on, leading to standing room only. By the way all the snow had melted in London. 


7/2/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street. London Blackfriars to London Bridge. West Ham to Leigh-on-Sea

Went up to London for the evening whilst my wife went to a concert at the 02. Met up with her afterwards.

18/2/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street. Farringdon to Greenwich. West Ham to Leigh-on-Sea

Went with a friend up to London to pay a visit to the Post Offce Mail Rail train. We had a ride on the very small train which was quite cramped for me, though it was an interesting ride with films beamed to the side of the tunnel at different stops and an exhibition of the mail trains form a bygone era. Then took a Thameslink train from Farringdon across the river to Greenwich, where my friend was able to ride on a DLR train for the first time.


March 2019

East Midlands Trains Class 222 DMU 222 at East Midlands Parkway on 23/3/2019

23/3/2019 - Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return vis Grays. London St Pancras to East Midlands Parkway. East Midlands Parkway to Leicester. Leicester to Luton Airport Parkway. Luton Airport Parkway to Farringdon.

Went up the Midland Mainline to visit two more parkway railway stations for a book I am working on. The day went well with clear blus sky which helped with the photographs. East Midlands Parkway station is a bit in the middle of nowhere apart from being right next to a coal fired power station with large cooling towers dominating the skyline. I was there for almost an hour due to the train times and at one point I reckon I was the sole passenger in the whole station. Gradually various passengers did start to arrive mainly on the shuttle bus from East Midlands Airport. 

At Leicester Yard it was like a scene from the 70s with so many diesel locomotives stabled there inlcuding Class 37's, Class 47s, Class 57's and a lone Class 33.

This was the only railway trip I made this month.


April 2019

Peak Class 44 D8 Penyghent at Matlock station on 9/4/2019

4/4/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street. London Paddington to Bodmin Parkway. Bodmin Parkway to Plymouth. Plymouth to Totnes.

Went down to Devon for the funeral of a relative, but went into Cornwall first to visit Bodmin Parkway to take pictures for my upcoming book on Parkway stations. The train was delayed around Taunton so was running about eight minutes late by the time we left Plymouth, so it was touch and go that I would be able to catch my scheduled train back from Bodmin Parkway. In the end the driver managed to catch up some time through Cornwall and I had about eight minutes as opposed to the scheduled fifteen.

Going down there I was on one of the "newish" Class 800s. I think this is the first time that I have ever been on one and to be honest I wasn't that impressed. Although they look all sleek and futuristic on the outside, it is on the inside where the problem lies. Quite frankly the seats suck! There is no padding, or very little, so the result is like sitting on a wooden board! By the time we got to Devon I had a back ache which isn't a good way to sell Great Western Railways to customers. If I was travelling on them everyday I would have to take a cushion or two with me. Coming back from Bodmin Parkway it was a crappy old two car Class 150, yet inside it was so much more comfy. Then from Plymouth to Totnes it was a good old HST. So much better inside. Whoever designed them ought to take a ride in a 800 and feel for themselves how uncomfortable a train ride is in one of them. 


5/4/2019 Paignton to Newton Abbot. Newton Abbot to Tiverton Parkway. Tiverton Parkway to London Paddington. London Fenchurch Street to Leigh-on-Sea.

Coming back it was another 2 car Class 150 from Paignton to Newton Abbot, though I could see a 800 waiting in the sidings to form the next train. So I had a lucky escape. Then it was another HST from Newton Abbot to Tiverton Parkway, so a lovely ride along the sea wall by Dawlish. Not so from Tiverton Parkway to Paddington, where it was a Class 800 once again. I tried sleeping but it was impossible with no bit sticking out to hold your head into the seat. So yet again my back was aching after only half an hour. It was even worse between Reading and Paddington with lots of buffeting and no cushioned seats to protect your body. I love going to the West Country but these new trains are putting me off from future journeys down there.


9/4/2019 Matlock to Rowsley South and return. 

Had a few days away in Matlock for an Easter break and visited the Peak Rail preseved line from Matlock to Rowlsey South. It was a new presreved line for me and although it is only four miles long it was still enjoyable. I got on at the Matlock end and although there is a peak Rail shop at Matlock network railway station you can't actually buy your tickets there. Instead you have to buy them on the train and so they don't accept credit/debit cards. Apart fom this it was nice to be hauled by a proper "Peak" for the first time in my life. Although I had been hauled by Peak Class 45s and 46s from Birminghma to Bristol and York in the past, these Class 44 were mainly used on freight in their hey day.


16/4/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return. London St Pancras to Sheffield. Sheffield to Barnsley. Barnsley to Huddersfield via Penistone. Huddersield to Bradford Interchange via Brighouse. Bradford Interchange to Wakefield Kirkgate. Wakefield Kirkgate to Meadowhall. Meadowhall to Doncaster. Doncaster to Lon don Kings Cross.

Had a very enjoyable day trip to Yorkshire lasting twelve hours. Although I had several tight connections to make, I was pleased that they all worked out OK. So hats off to Northern Rail for a change, for everything running smoothly. From Sheffield I had a South Pennines Day Ranger ticket which allowed me to go all over South and West Yorkshire. The journey between Penistone and Huddersfiled was the first time I had been on that route since 1978. At Bradford I was able to travel on the Grand Central service as far as Wakefiled Kirkgate which I was pleased to see had been greatly improved since I was last there. Still no customer toilets on the station though. At Meadowhall I had just a four minute window in which to catch my train to Doncaster, but that was fine. However, when I got to Doncaster I found out that my train to Kings Cross had been cancelled - something that has only occurred to me on a handful of occasions in the past ten years. I was completely unaware of the fact that most trains on the East Coast Mainline had been affected by problems with the overhead gantries in the Stevenage area earlier in the day. It was a good job I went up to Yorkshire from St Pancras and not Kings Cross as my day would have been ruined. The kind Virgin employee at Doncaster told me to get on the next train to Kings Cross and although I didn't have a seat reservation for it, I still got a seat and was actually back in London twenty minutes earlier than planned. So a very enjoyable day where I was able to travel on all the lines I wanted to.


24/4/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Liverpool Street and return.

Went to see Mott The Hoople 74 at the Shepherd's Bush Empire.




May 2019

Class 71 electric locomotive at Locomotion Museum, Shildon

11/5/2019 - Leigh-on-Sea to London Liverpool Street and return. London Kings Cross to Shildon. Shildon to Bishop Auckland. Bishop Auckland to Darlington. Darlington to London Kings Cross. 

Went on a UK Railtorus trip to Locomotion at Shildon and the Weardale Railway. As it was schewduled to leave Kings Cross soon after 8.00am, I had to be up at 5.30 am in order to get there on time. This was made worse by their being very few tube trains running from Liverpool Street that day. My friend and I had decided to leave the trip early at Shildon and make our way seperately onto the Weardale Railway, before coming back into London a few hours earlier than the trip was scheduled to. The only problem was that the train got slower and slower the further north it went, meaning that we were an hour and a half behind schedule by the time we arrived at Shildon! We still went round Locomotion but left out the Weardale railway part and went round the town of Bishop Auckland instead. This meant we were able to catch our scheduled train at Darlington back to Kings Cross, arriving at half seven as aopposed to half ten. So I walked in through the door at 9 o'clock rather than midnight.


18/5/2019 - Leigh-on-Sea to London Liverpool Street and return. London Liverpool Street to Whittlesford Parkway. Wittlesford Parkway to Cambridge. Cambridge to Stansted Airport. Stansted Airport to Harlow Town. Harlow Town to London Liverpool Street.

Went To Cambridge for the day but split my journey up so that I could visit Whittlesford Parkway, Stansted Airport and Harlow Town stations to take some photographs.


June 2019

Rocket in all its glory at the Manchester Science and Industry Museum 8/6/2019

8/6/2019 - Leigh-on-Sea to London Loverpool Street. London Euston to Crewe. Crewe to Preston. Preston to Buckshaw Parkway. Buckshaw Parkway to Deansgate. Manchester Piccadilly to London Eustion. London Fenchurch Street to Leigh-on-Sea.

Had an enjoyable if hectic day in the North West. The main reason for the day out was to visit Crewe Diesel Depot Open Day, a place I hadn't been to since the early 70s in my trainspotting days. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily most of the day and it was very crodwed so it was hard to get photos of all the various locomotives there without someone getting in the way. After an hour or so there, we went over to the Crewe Heritage Centre with many others and enjoyed going on the APT. Unfortunately there wasn't that much else to see and it seems so much smaller than it should be for such an iconic railway town. It was then onto Preston on another Virgin train, the cost being a mere £2,30 with a senior railcard. Then down to Buckshaw Parkway for more photographs for a future book on Parkway Stations. Then it was on into Manchester for a visit to the Science and Industry Museum where Rocket is on dispaly, the first time I had seen the fanlous locomotive. Then back down south and into the sunshine.

14/6/2019 - Leigh-on-Sea to West Ham and return. London Bridge to Tonbridge. Tonbridge to Charing Cross.

Went into London with my wife who went to a concert at the 02. Whilst she went to the concert I had a pleasant trip into Kent before meeting her after the concert.

24/6/2019 - Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return.

Went up to London for the evening to see the Beach Boys at the Royal Albert Hall. 


July 2019

The 13.29 departure to Manchester Piccadilly about to leave Hereford on 13/7/19

13/7/2019 - Oxford Parkway to Oxford and return. Oxford to Worcester Shrub Hill. Worcester Foregate Street to Hereford. Hereford to Newport. Newport to Reading. Reading to Oxford.


Had a weekend away staying in Oxford whilst my wife visited the British Grand Prix and I travelled around the Cotswolds and South Wales regions by train. It was much cheaper for us to park at Oxford Parkway station for just £2 all day as opposed to parking in Oxford itself with most car parks cahrging around £30 for the privilege. My first journey was to Worcester Shrub Hill on the Cotswold line passing over the site of the new Worcestershire Parkway station which looks almost finished apart from the sattion signs. Though I can't help thinking that "Worcester Parkway" would be a much better name, seeing as the station is just outside Worcester. After a half hour break I caught a West Midlands Train from Worcester Foregate Street to Hereford. I'm still not sure about their mustard colured livery, though not half as bad a GWR dark green which looks so drab!
On arriving at Hereford I discovered that my Transport For Wales service to Newport had been delayed by almost 50 minutes due to "congestion", whatever that meant! So I decided to take a taxi into the town and take a walk down by the river, which was a pleasant break. It did mean that my planned visit to Bristol Parkway station had to be postponed until tomorrow, seeing as I had just a ten minute connection time at Newport . As with a similar journey I made from Crewe to Newport on the same route a few years ago, the train was bursting at the seams and I was so lucky to get a seat. Why put just two cariages on a Summer Saturday service! In the end I had to wait only fifteeen minutes at Newport before I was able to get the train i should have got on at Bristol Parkway. Due to it not stopping at Didcot I had to go out of my way to Reading and then catch a Cross Country serive back to Oxford, arriving back as planned. In the end I travelled on five different train company services and eight different trains.


14/7/2019 - Didcot Parkway to Cardiff Central. Cardiff Central to Ebbw Town and return. Cardiff Central to Port Talbot Parkway.  Port Talbot Parkway to Bristol Parkway. Bristol Parkway to Didcot Parkway.


On the Sunday morning there were no trains  between Oxford and Didcot, so I ended up driving to Didcot Parkway and starting my day there. I then caught a GWR train to Cardiff, before going up one of the valleys to Newport Ebbw Town. It was a journey I had made in 2011, but then the line only went as far as Ebbw Vale Parkway. So I made the journey again to cover new track to Ebbw Vale Town, where there was a turnaround of just two minutes. I still got off the train to take some photos though. I am pleased to see that there is now a service (of sorts) direct to Newport on this line which makes sense,
Back in Cardiff I then caught another GWR train to Port Talbot to take more pictures, though due to the delays of yesterday I only stayed a mere eight minutes before getting another GWR train back to Cardiff and onto Bristol Parkway. Here I was able to stay an hour getting plenty of pictures and a nice cup of tea from the buffet. Then it was back to Didcot Parkway and a short drive back into Oxford where I met up with my wife. 
One thing I did notice on all the various GWR Class 800 trains I travelled on was that the carpet in each carriage looked very tatty and stained from spilt drinks as well as the grooves made by the drinks trolley. Not a good sign after all that money has been spent on them. At least the old HSTs had a lot more life in their carpets!


28/7/2019 - Llangollen to Carog and return.

On hoilday in North Wales so decided to include a trip on this railway in our itinery. It must rank as one of my favourite preserved lines with some of the best scenery I have ever encountered. The only disppointment was that the train didn't go all the way to the newly extended Corwen station, as it won't be open to trains until the autumn. So I may well come back again here one day to do that piece of track. 


30/72019 - LLanberis to Summit Station and return. 

I have always wanted to go to the top of Mount Snowdon and booked the tickets for this trip back in March. In doing so yuo have no idea what the weather will be like and disappointingly it was thick fog for most of the journey. My wife and I still enjoyed it and had enough time to climb the final few steps at the top to the Trig Point and have our photo taken. We also had time to have a coffee in the newly rebuilt cafe near the summit.     


August 2019

Carnforth station 12/8/19


3/8/2019 - Kingsley & Froghall to Leek Brook and return.

Coming back from our hoilday in North Wales, my wife and I called in on the Churnet Valley Railway for a return trip. Owing to poor signage on the way we took the wrong turn twice (!) and ended up making the 11 o'clock train with just two minutes to spare! It was a pleasant enough journey with nice carriages that had toilets that you were allowed to use , which was a bonus, though most of the journey was through woodland, so there wasn't that much to see.

12/8/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street. London Euston to Preston. Preston to Blackpool North and return. Preston to Lancaster. Lancaster to Carnforth. Carnforth to Skipton. Skipton to Shipley. Shipley to Bradford Forster Square. Bradford Forster Square to Leeds.

Went up to Lancashire and Yorkshire primarily to finish off visiting some lines up there, but also to take photographs of some road tunnels and railway stations for future books. I got a single to Wigan North Western and then used a Lancashire Day Ranger for most of the day, making it easier to go into and out of stations. After changing at Preston, I made a brief detour to Blackpool North to take some photos. No problems with the staff there as some railway photographers have had problems in the past there. As I didn't stay as long as originally planned in Blackpool, I was able to stop off in Lancaster for more photos, before making a longer stop at Carnforth to visit the Brief Encounter cafe. I had a cup of tea and a slics of cake there and also visited the award winning museum there as the Scottish Expresses thundered past just feet from me! Then it was onot the  Bentham Line, or "Dales Line" as it used to be known - a much better name in my opinion. Whilst it has some great scenery, it must be one of the most neglected lines, with unwelded track and a cramped Pacer for my journey to Skipton. This is one of the best railway stations on the whole network with colourful flower displays and and lond canopy to boot. Then it was onto Shipley, where I changed trains and stations almost! This is becasue Shipley is one of three triangular stations on the railway network, (the other two being Dinting and Earlstown). I had to change platforms to catch my train to Bradford Forster Square, but in doing so had to leave that part of the station and walk across the cvar park, past the main station entrance and onto the "Bradford platforms". Quite weird in a way. After more photos at Bradford FS it was onot Leeds, where I stayed for the night. 


13/8/2019 Leeds to Sowerby Bridge. Sowerby Bridge to Todmorden. Todmorden to Blackburn. Blackburn to Bolton. Bolton to Horwich Parkway and return. Bolton to Wigan North Western. Wigan Wallgate to Manchester Victoria via Swindon. Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston. London Fenchurch Street to Leigh-on-Sea.


The next day was just as busy with an early start to get a train out to Sowerby Bridge in the rush hour. Luckily most passengers were going in the other direction into Leeds and my train wasn't too crowded. After more photos I then went onto Todmorden to change trains and start using anotehr Lnacashire Day Ranger ticket. I travelled over the reopened curve from Todmorden to the Burnley line and got off at Blackburn. Rather then spending less then ten minutes at Blackburn I went out of the station and into the Cathedral just across the road from the station where I had a lovely coffee and anotehr piece of cake. I then went south via Darwen to Bolton and changed trains. After a brief return journey to Horwich Parkway to take some photos I stopped off at Bolton for more photos. It was nice to see that after the station revamp at Boltonb they had kept the original glass in the waiting rooms which said things like "Ladies Waiting Room" and "Stationmaster's Office".
Then it was over to Wigan North Western covering a tiny piwence of new track into the station. On the way I was impressed with Hindley station, which  must be the best station in the North West for flowers and other displays. I noted that it has a very active "Friends of Hindley Station" group who diligently look after the station. Then it was ober the road to Wigan Wallgate and a final trip over to Manchster via Swinton. One unusual sight on Nortehrn trains was the number of guards wearing shorts, a first for me and a good idea for when the weather gets hot. I wonder if they're allowed to wear them in the winter months though? In Manchster I caught a tram from Victoria over to Piccadilly before getting the 14.35 back to Euston and then onto home. Funnilly enough I'll be back again in Manchster this coming Saturday, going to the Salford City vs Port Vale football match. All in all I visited 20 different stations in under two days. 

17/8/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Liverpool Street and return. London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly and return. (Outward via Crewe. Return via Stoke).

Went up to Manchester with a friend to see the Salford City vs Port Vale Football match.



September 2019

Sittingbourne & Kemsley steam loco 0-4-2 ST "Melior" at Kemsley Down station

28/9/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to West Ham. Stratford International to Dover Priory. Dover Priory to Sittingbourne. Sittingbourne to Sheerness-on-Sea and return. Sittingbourne to Kemsley Down and return.  Sittingbourne to Rainham. Rochester to Stratford International. Stratford to Leigh-on-Sea.

My only train journey this month after the business of August. The main purpose was to visit the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway on their 50th Anniversary of Handover from Bowaters celebration End of Season weekend. My friend and I had a few other train journeys to do first. After having changed at West Ham, we took a DLR train to Straford International DLR station and then crossed over to the Network Rail Sttatford International mainline station. Perhaps it's time to change its name to "Stratford Westfield" or "Stratford HS1"? Anything apart from "Stratford International" which is so out of date as there are no international trains to be boarded at this station; nor were there anyway. So rather a big misnomer as far as I am concerned. 

Anyway, our train to Dover was on time as expected though it was packed and we had to stand for part of the journey although there were five carriages in our train. It's a pity it doens't have a buffet as it would do good business? So many people bought teas and coffees from the coffee shop on the concourse and then took them on the train with them. At Dover I took some photos of the Art Deco station building before getting the considerably slower train via Canterbury East to Sittingbourne. We had a choice of going to Sheerness on the branch line train before or after we had visoited the S & K Light railway; we chose to go first. It is quite a short journey though some quite heavy industrial landscapes. Although there are two sets of docks on the island, it seems that the freight lines going off to them are no longer in use. Then back in Sittingbourne we had a return ride on thr S & K Light Railway which is about a ten minute walk from the station. Sadly the Sittingbourne end of the line has been vandalised in recent years with the ticket office being burnt down for example. So it is just a container being used as the ticket office now. For a very reasonable £6 we had a return journey along the line which goes over a very rickety old viaduct and then out into very wild countryside before arriving at the headquarters in Kemsley Down, next to the paper mill.  We visited the museum, shop and immaculate toilets there before having a cup of tea in the cafe. We then went back to Sittingbourne being pulled by a smelly diesel loco! I do wonder how long the railway can keep going seeing as it goes over other people's land and the viaduct looks like it might need a lot of money spent on it.

So then it was on another train back towards London, but only as far as Rainham, due to engineering works on the line. I hadn't been on a bus replacement service for many years, so it was an interesting experience. It took 50 minutes to do the six miles between Rainham and Rochester with two stops at Gillingham and Chatham. We made our train with ten minutes to spare, but it was such a slow bus journey! Then it was back onto a Javelin train to Stratford, this time with plenty of seats on it.


October 2019

68014 waits in platform 3 of Birmingham Moor Street on 15/10/19

15/10/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return. London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street. Birmingham New Street to Five Ways and return. Birmingham Moor Street to Birmingham Snow Hill and return. Birmingham Moor Street to Warwick Parkway. Warwick Parkway to London Marylebone.

Went up to Birmingham for  the day to take some photos of the tunnels there for a book I am writing on Britain's Road Tunnels. Chose to go with Chiltern as opposed to Virgin as much cheaper - only £8.25 each way from Leigh-on-Sea, as opposed to £25+. Also a much more relaxing journey, not rushing along at 125 mph. On the way back I stopped off at Warwick Parkway station to take some photos for a different book l am doing on Parkway railway stations, as when I was last here in February it was all being done up. This time it was finished with an open ticket office, meaning no windows or barriers. Plus there was a nice cafe where I had a coffee and a piece of cake, whilst I waited for my train south. Sadly I was not hauled by a loco either way as my timings meant I passed the loco hauled service both ways.


31/10/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street. London Canon Street to London Bridge. West Ham to Leigh-on-Sea.

Went up to London for a course in the morning and to tale more photos for the book on Road Tunnels that I am currently writing.


November 2019

Virgin Pendolino at Euston

3/11/2019 - Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return. London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly and return. Salford Central to Salford Crescent. Salford Crescent to Manchester Victoria.

Went up to Manchester for the day to take some more pictures for my book on Britain's Road Tunnels. All the journeys went fine, though going up took nearly 2 and 3/4 hours as opposed to the normal 2 hours and 5-10 minutes. Sunday engineering work somewhere. Little did I know that this would be the last time that I would be travelling with Virgin Trains as their period of running trains on the West Cosst Mainline would be coming to an end just a month later. 


Leigh on Sea to London Fenchurch Street. London Liverpool Street to Leigh on Sea. 

 Sent up to London to see Ana in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. 


21/11/2019 Leigh on Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return. 


Went up to London for a conference. 


22 /11/2019 Rayleigh to London Liverpool Street and return. 


Went up to London to see the Lighthouse Family in concert. Went from Rayleigh as the C2c line had major problems between Fenchurch Street and Barking. Made a nice change. 




December 2019

12/12/2019 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return

 Went up to London fir the evening to attend the book launch of a friend of mine.