railway children

My mother often wrote notes to herself, sometimes out of a need to organise her thoughts sometimes sparked by something she read or heard on the radio.  She jotted this down in 1992, the year my 1st son was born, and added the ages of her children at the time. Living alone as she did for most of her life these fragments seem like conversations without reply.  At the time she was musing on the poem, is it Betjeman?, if I remember it right I was a commuter on the ‘Great Northern Electrics’ from  Huntingdon to KGX at the time. Working in the muted art deco splendour of Keysign House (who ever thought of that name? Post would often be re-directed from ‘Keyside’ ‘Quayside’  and ‘Quaysign’..) often the best of my day was being part of the life of the railway, suspended in motion between places;  ‘real’ life was safely out of reach and the world of imaginary connections would race into my head….4’8″& a 1/4 ruled my life then much as it had done since the ’60s when we children rocked gently from Norwich to Ipswich and once to Liverpool St. each of us lost in a mixture of excitement and wonder at our home on wheels which could take us anywhere in the world..all we had to do was get to Thorpe Station and the world would be at our feet.

My father loved the railway. He kept his favourite shots of speeding locos in his pocket with his pay-book on army service, he pulled me by the hand to the parapet of the bridge at Fareham to see the Bulleid monsters hurtle by, he drew me engines as he sat, happy on the toilet and pushed them to me under the door….he died when I was 4 and all can ever remember about him for sure is that…he loved the railway.

Taken with the Kodak Brownie, manual exposure and printed in the bathroom he has captured the whole mass of the speeding Gresley A3 and the EastCoast express. I can’t read the number but it’s a fair guess that this is the hallowed 60103.  I pushed the contrast on scanning the careworn picture and found a small boy hanging onto the galvanised wire fence on the right..that surely is me!

We were so familiar with the routine of Norwich to Felixstowe we were quite happy to make the journey unaccompanied as 10 year olds. A trip to see Granny was a step toward independence. We grew up, the destinations from Norwich Thorpe well known to us by days out on Anglia Ranger tickets, we built up a map of our region in our minds, I saw the fens for the first time from a train; so much sky and only the two steel rails dividing the emptiness to the horizon as we creaked and shuddered our way to Ely, this was truly exploration.

We travelled with live 3 day old chicks cheeping in the guards van, chucked our bikes on anything moving  in our direction. We sat in front when we could, the view on the DMUs of the day being mesmeric. The railway to us was freedom, ours was a family without a car and we took to the railway like we owned it.

So the 4 of us out of Norwich began our journeys through life in different directions, Marian to Art School in Yarmouth ( including excursions to East Runton to see the Pistols) I was bound for Liverpool St. and Richard & Jonathan were frequently on the Ipswich-Felixstowe jaunt. All 5 of us were Norwich to Sheringham regulars through the 70’s and 80’s. It was my mothers oft repeated wish to be brought in her coffin to Norwich by train, but when it came to it we didn’t manage it;  the Norfolk and Norwich Ambulance service did that for us.

Never saw a train without wanting to be on it. Wide horizons and sun bleached moquette rattling windows and roaring Cummins diesel ..take me away!

About billboyheritagesurvey

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2 Responses to railway children

  1. Marian English says:

    I have found the quote on Google
    The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Humourous Poetry of the English Language
    by James Parton

    The Station clock proclaims the close of day;
    The hard-worked clerks drop gladly off to tea;
    The last train starts upon its dangerous way,
    And leaves the place to darkness and to me.

    Now fades the panting engine’s red tail-light,
    And all the platform solemn stillness holds,
    Save where the watchmen, pacing for the night,
    By smothered coughs announce their several colds.

    Behind that door of three-inch planking made, Those frosted panes
    placed too high up to peep,
    All in their iron safes securely laid,
    The cooked account-books of the Railway sleep.

    The Debts to credit side so neatly borne,
    What should be losses, profits proved instead;
    The Dividends those pages that adorn
    No more shall turn the fond Shareholder’s head.

    Oft did the doubtful to their balance yield,
    Their evidence arithmetic could choke:
    How jocund were they that to them appealed!
    How many votes of thanks did they provoke!

    Let not Derision mock KING HUDSON’S toil,
    Who made things pleasant greenhorns to allure;
    Nor prudery give hard names unto the spoil
    ‘Twas glad to share–while it could share secure.

    All know the way that he his fortune made,
    How he bought votes and consciences did hire;
    How hands that Gold and Silver-sticks have swayed
    To grasp his dirty palm would oft aspire,

    Till these accounts at last their doctored page,
    Thanks to mischance and panic, did unroll,
    When virtue suddenly became the rage,
    And wiped George Hudson out of fashion’s scroll.

    Full many a noble Lord who once serene
    The feasts at Albert Gate was glad to share,
    For tricks he blushed not at, or blushed unseen,
    Now cuts the Iron King with vacant stare.

    For those who, mindful of their money fled,
    Rejoice in retribution, sure though late–
    Should they, by ruin to reflection led,
    Ask PUNCH to point the moral of his fate,

    Haply that wooden-headed sage may say,
    “Oft have I seen him, in his fortune’s dawn,
    When at his levees elbowing their way,
    Peer’s ermine might be seen and Bishop’s lawn.

    “There the great man vouchsafed in turn to each
    Advice, what scrip or shares ’twas best to buy,
    There his own arts his favorites he would teach,
    And put them up to good things on the sly.

    “Till to the House by his admirers borne,
    Warmed with Champagne in flustered speech he strove,
    And on through commerce, colonies, and corn,
    Like engine, without break or driver, drove.

    “Till when he ceased to dip in fortune’s till,
    Out came one cooked account–of our M. P.;
    Another came–yet men scarce ventured, still,
    To think their idol such a rogue could be.

    “Until those figures set in sad array
    Proved how his victims he had fleeced and shorn
    Approach and read (if thou canst read) my lay,
    Writ on him more in sadness than in scorn.”

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