transports of delight

English, Welsh & Scottish Railway logo

The EWS logo on the side of a train the other night caught my eye: it seemed so eminently traditional that I felt it must belong to the era of nationalised railways and navy blue quilted anoraks.

Having looked it up online, though, I find the company is only twenty years old. I also find that what I think of as an anorak probably bears little resemblance to the original Greenlandish garment.

No matter. If nothing else, it has started me thinking about my fondness for trains and railways – though not of anoraks – and has encouraged me to dig out a whole collection of photos from the last couple of years and ponder some of the joys of rail travel.

You can’t have a proper railway station without window boxes and tubs of geraniums and begonias, and you don’t get many blog posts from me without flowers, so that’s a good place to start:


An essential part of the joy of train travel is the station itself, whether it’s a deserted semi-rural station at sun up

Early morning rural station

the oxymoronic appeal of an overground underground station

London overground station

or the chaotic knots of track at the great interchange junctions and termini:

Waverley Station, Edinburgh

There are a very few stations, though, that cannot ever be a delight, and in that category I’d put the horrid cement and chrome monstrosity of New Street Station, Birmingham – or “Grand Central” as it has been renamed.

Grand Central Station. Birmingham

That photo was snapped a couple of years ago when it was being refurbished, but personally I don’t think the lengthy works have improved it at all. There’s certainly no comfort in the so-called lounges:

Yellow lounge. New Street station, Birmingham

Even so, just a couple of minutes away, the city has a far more traditional station, where life moves at a more tranquil pace, the waiting room has overgrown indoor palm trees and the platforms have proper wooden benches and tubs of flowers:

Railway bench

Tub of flowers on station platform

I wasn’t planning to use these photographs as a series, so there are no photos of station pubs or cafés, no vending machines or buffet cars, although one of the highlights of rail travel is surely the chance to picnic on the move.

But then there’s the more problematic and frequently unpleasant subject of railway ‘conveniences’. These are seldom worth a photograph, but I did get my camera out at the ladies at Marylebone Station in London as each cubicle has its own monopoly token figure on the door and a street sign on the back wall:

Bond Street monopoly card. Marylebone Station

When we were children, the family used to go on holiday by train. I wonder now how my parents ever managed to carry enough clothes for a family of five for a week; there may not have been computers and cables to be packed, but we certainly took packs of cards, if not board games, and my mother always managed to find room for reference books of birds and wildflowers so we could identify any new species we saw.

I remember the porter calling “Mind the gap” and my mother hushing us as we chanted the advertising jingle, “Bridge that gap with a Cadbury’s snack”. But I don’t think even Cadbury’s could bridge the gap under this station platform:

Gap beneath train station platform

This sign worries me and I am glad I was on the train not the platform – glad, too, that it was a slow train:

Railway sign: fast trains pass through station

One of my favourite train journeys is the route that goes alongside the Severn Estuary just north of Lydney. Whether it’s high or low tide, and whatever the weather, it’s a marvellous view. Sadly, the photo doesn’t begin to do it justice.

Severn Estuary from train

I don’t really understand how there can be people who don’t enjoy travelling. As long as you don’t need to rush to make connections, it’s a marvellous ‘time between’ that I use to take stock and re-group, to people watch or to write.

I definitely think that train travel is one of the most enjoyable modes of travelling, so I wasn’t surprised to find that even cars travel by rail:

White vans being transported by rail

I’m sure there are plenty of other photos I’ve snapped while travelling over the last few years, but this is probably enough for one day. So that leaves just two more things before I end the post.

First of all, a poem – vaguely relevant, though it’s set on the Madrid Metro rather than the English, Scottish or Welsh railways:

Double take

Yesterday, I saw Clint Eastwood
on the underground. I was surprised
how young he looked – he hadn’t changed
since way back in the sixties when he made
a fistful of spaghetti westerns.
He wasn’t chewing a cheroot, of course –
though people do, you aren’t supposed to smoke
on the Madrid Metro – nor was he wearing
that old green blanket of a poncho, though ponchos
are fashionable again this year; given the weather
we’ve been having this last week, I think
perhaps the trench coat made more sense.
Just before I changed onto the blue line
at Gran Vía, I heard him speak
to a Spanish woman he was travelling with. I expect
he learned the language in a border town
down Mexico way, but he had no noticeable accent,
which surprised me.

And finally, another picture of flowers – from a station window box, of course:


Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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