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!