OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose of you who have read my novel, A Penny Spitfire, might have noticed, among the repressed desires, the childless fathers and the fatherless children, might have noticed the curving, parallel steel lines of remembered railways, running like cracks in old brickwork between the high walls of the imagined brewery buildings.

I have written of those railways before. They provided the underlying metaphor in the story ‘Last Chorus in Burton-On-Trent’, one of the tales in my 2006 collection, ‘Second Time Around.’

I remember other railways too. In the nineteen sixties, along with school friends, I roamed the recently closed Peak District lines – now mostly cycle paths – walking the high viaduct at Monsal Dale, and passing through the tunnel. The slight curve in the track meant that there were a couple of paces, right in the middle, where the tunnel mouths themselves, tiny mouse-holes of light, could not be seen at either end, nor even the faintest gleam of light on the arched brickwork.

Decades later, when such railways had been preserved, like enormous train sets, I visited the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway – where Jenny Agutter found her daddy and scorched all hearts in the 1970 film version of The Railway Children.

We boarded the train at the Oxenhope end late on a cold grey afternoon. There were no other tourists in sight, and the car park was empty. One stop down the line, having guzzled a pint of beer in the Restaurant Car, we got off and made our way out of the station. At the pub opposite they didn’t serve food, but suggested we brought in Fish & Chips from the chip-shop next door. The publican had serviettes and sauces, salt & vinegar, and cutlery, and a good business head!

 

It’s not the same, of course, as it would have been in the days of real steam railways. Journeys then were taken for a purpose, not just for the ride. Curiously, you might think, I find more pleasure in watching old steam trains, than in riding on them, though I can do staring at the scenery as well as anyone. But watching the world slip by can be done by bus or coach, or car as well as by train; by park bench and window even, if they are placed right!

When I was growing up, people who had cars would go for a ‘spin’ – a ‘blow’ in some parts of the country – just to look at the views. Nowadays that seems a questionable indulgence, but back then, it was cars that were expensive, and fuel that was cheap.

I suppose that when it comes to trains, I remember them fondly more as toys than as a means of transport, something to be watched rather than taken. There is a catch in the throat of this story though, which is that the friend with whom I visited the Keighley & Worth Valley line, is now in the vice of a degenerative and life threatening illness.

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There’s a concept, in talking about Black Holes, of the ‘event horizon’ which I understand to be a sort of layer at which the light trying to escape is in perfect balance with the forces dragging it back towards the centre – like a sort of spherical movie screen, I imagine – like a sort of tense present where the remembered trains of the past are held in perpetual fixity. I hope you, no, let’s make that we, all have a very Happy and Creative 2013! BHDandMe.

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