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About fifty of us from work attended an annual technical away-day last week, with a day of presentations, strategy updates and workshops, all based at a hotel near Cirencester. For the last few years, the organisers have tried to lighten the event by including a trip to an engineering-related attraction in the locality. Last year we went to Brooklands, which was slightly more interesting than I had expected. This year was a guided tour around the GWR STEAM train museum in Swindon, which was exactly as interesting as I had feared.

I have spent far too much time on GWR “services” over the past few years, most notably on interminable rail-replacement coach journeys across the Cotswolds, or being turfed out of a train that got cancelled while I was on it, or just failed to turn up at all. The Bristol Service is particularly bad for that; it feels like it gets cancelled more often than it actually runs! So I am not well disposed to GWR as a company, though I recognise that the current incarnation has very little in common with that of the days of steam.

The STEAM museum is housed in a huge railway shed at what was the Swindon railway works, before it was closed down with the death of the UK’s heavy rail industry. It houses several original steam locomotives, and is moderately interesting for about 3/4 hour. Unfortunately, although that was indeed the length of the enthusiastic but somewhat less then fascinating guided tour we were given, we also had the same amount of time again free to wander round and “enjoy” the exhibits, and that was taking it a bit too seriously for me.

Fortunately, the adjacent railway shed has been turned into the Swindon Designer Outlet, with lots of retail outlets all holding their Black Friday sales. I sneaked off there for the other 3/4 hour and managed to get some of my Christmas shopping done! I noticed, when I got on the coach back to the hotel, that I was far from the only person carrying shopping bags!