Monday, 27 May 2013

Steam, Pasties and Anoraks

I really do love trains.  Admittedly they can be awful when they are late, when it is cold and wet and the heating is either not working or it’s too damned hot, and no woman alive enjoys being thrust up to some sweaty guy when the train has become impossibly full at rush hour.  But if you are lucky enough to be like me and use them occasionally and can plan your journey so that you get a seat they can be a real joy.

I hate driving in London, I have the worst sense of direction and get confused and stressed, and I find traffic jams sapping.  I would much rather be carried straight through, sitting comfortably, writing, reading or knitting and I love the way everyone stays so respectfully quiet, especially in the mornings.  Some people find this quiet disconcerting and unfriendly, but who wants to talk before the day has properly warmed up?

I need to come clean here; I come from a family of mad train enthusiasts.  My Dad and his two brothers have all been train-spotters at one time or another and still talk avidly about them every time they meet, much to the affectionate amusement of everyone else in the family.  My uncle Martin gave up a successful teaching career to start an even more successful top-end model train business which he still runs.  His kits are absolutely beautiful and are created with a meticulous eye for detail and accuracy to the original.  My Dad has also designed, built and exhibited a working model of a locomotive out of Meccano (another boy-to-manhood obsession) as well as taking lots of train based trips around the world.

Of course I have memories of being dragged unwillingly onto countless steam trains in my youth.  There was also a particularly fraught trip to the York Railway museum where Dad’s failed attempts at describing the inner beauty and wonders of the internal combustion engine ended in tantrums and tears.  But trains do have an odd way of burrowing into your heart and I do find myself getting strangely excited about taking a trip on a steam train I haven’t been on before.  Whenever we go on holiday, if there is one nearby we always take it, we even found one in Sweden a couple of years back.

But it’s not just the old scenic ones I Iike.  I feel a great sense of affection for our modern system which on the whole, considering the sheer volume it has to carry, works pretty well.  It is way too expensive and still under-invested in, and sadly I’m not sure this will change.  I’m really not sure about the new high speed link from London to Birmingham.  Part of me is thrilled by the innovation and modernisation it will bring; a beacon of hope that we still love our railways.  But the investment is so huge for such a small gain in speed, and the money could possibly be spent resurrecting much needed connections to outlying towns, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I loved scribbling this blog down in my notebook, being rocked gently, listening to the crescendos and diminuendos of the train as it accelerates and slows, the wonderful ta-tums as the wheels move over the joins in the tracks.  I think of long, tiring, joy-filled trips with Mum, Dad, David and the children, eating Mum’s glorious legendary pasties and leaning as far out of a window as possible to see the front of the train as it turns a corner, waiting for the smoke to pass to catch a glimpse of the locomotive, before it straightens and disappears out of view.

Thanks Dad for this great photo

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