Words down the line

17 07 2010

I wrote this little piece for a grass root community based arts initiative here in Wivenhoe called ‘Off the rails.’  The writing component of the project is called  ‘Words Down the Line’, and the idea is that commuters and travellers will pick up  leaflets showcasing Wivenhoe writers, on the theme of travelling, trains, Wivenhoe  and all kinds of subjects in that vein, and that they will pass their journey reading poetry and prose; hopefully making it more enjoyable and inspiring!  Have a look at the website www.offtherailswivenhoe.net

Longing for trains.

I grew up in a country where there are no trains. Not a single track and not a single carriage. There are cars, buses, ships and aeroplanes, but no trains.

My childhood introduction to England and English ways was through imported programmes; ‘Brideshead Revisited’, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, and the occasional episode of ‘Benny Hill’ that would make my dad chuckle.  Trains and train stations were rarely at the centre of these programmes, but they were there in the background; for me, an astonishing part of daily life that people seemed to take wholly for granted. Arriving visitors being picked up from Victorian wrought iron stations, ornate black railings, colourful hanging baskets and station masters wearing dark blue shiny buttoned uniforms.  There was waiving from platforms, handkerchiefs and sometimes tears; happy arrivals, hugs and lifting of the ground by delighted husbands of equally delighted wives or children.

I longed to be a  character in one of those episodes;  to  push down a train window, reach down to open the door while the train was still moving which seemed both dangerous and exciting, even more, have that done for me by a dashing, dark suited gentleman. I dreamt of sitting in a smart carriage and for the uniformed steward to ask me “Madame, would you like anything from the refreshment cart?’  Thankfully I didn’t see ‘Brief Encounter’ until much later. I say thankfully because goodness knows what that would have done to my romantic little heart.

Trains and train station came to epitomise everything that was exotic, glamorous, exciting and beyond all; foreign. It was so foreign that it never occurred to me that one day I would live in an English village, a stones throw and a whistle calls distance from one of those Victorian stations.  But here I am, and every time I pass the station and hear the whooshing sound of a train coming into the platform, I glance to see if a beautifully coiffed girl in billowing skirt and pillbox hat is being twirled around by delighted uniformed boyfriend, or if a child in a stiff buttoned coat is rushing into the arms of a tearful mother, dabbing her eyes with a delicately embroidered handkerchief.  The stationmaster whistles and it pleases me that the uniform is still dark blue and shiny buttoned.  There is a distinctive metal clonkclonk as the train departs the station, and I smile to myself, astounded  at having ended up here, and feeling that perhaps finally I am a character in an exciting and foreign serial.

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