One's Station in Life
It is an observable fact that ,in this country,transport patterns,and facilities,have changed irrevocably over the past forty or so years.The distances people travel to work having increased to the stage where,when I first started this job about twenty eight years ago,included in the contract of employment was a clause stating that employees had to live within fifteen miles of the place.
Before that,however,there existed a thing called "public transport" now a rarity,and the railborne sector of this was served by country stations.Even then,they werent what they had been,but here and there traces still existed. When I first started work,carless,in Nottingham,fifteen miles away,the train was the only practical means of geting there.There were two stations possible,of which one the Midland,was the one that most people used.It should be stated that the term "Midland" referred to the old Midland Railway Company,that hadnt existed since 1921,when the old Companies were "grouped" into the so-called Big Four,LMS,LNER, GWR,and Southern.But Midland it was still called.Gone all modern,this line had,diesel multiple units,fancy signalling, (Coloured lights,no less)and surly staff.The bike was left in a Dutch Barn type of thing,with no sides and railings round, at the princely sum of two quid a week.There was only one problem. The trains always ran late.Rain...late.Snow...even later.And so on. The alternative was the Central station.This title owed nothing to its location,in fact if anything it was further out of town than the Midland.The "Central" referred to the Great Central Railway Company,that built the line at the turn of the century. The Last Main Line,it is called by the history books,and because it *was* built last,and all the easy routes were long gone,it had an awful lot of civil engineering done to get it where it was supposed to go.
The Central station itself is a case in point.The entrance is off a bridge that carries the raod over the line,and you go downstairs to the platforms.But it was like stepping back in time. (Still is,incidentally,it is the HQ of a preserved steam line now). The bike,when I enquired where I could leave it,was acommodated in a room *in* the station itself,at ten shillings a week.Since the station staff knew the punters,you just asked Fred if he'd unlock the bike room whe you wanted the thing.The waiting room always had a roaring coal fire in winter,one of the advantages of the line still running steam.They nicked the stuff off the locos.Good Steam Coal,too, made a *lovely* fire on a cold day.The station is an island station, central platform,with the tracks either side.It hadnt been altered since it was built.Rumour had it that dreadful things lurked in the toilets at the far end of the platform just under the water tower. Most people steered clear,those that didnt were never seen again. On a sunny morning you sat on the platform,dozing,with the pigeons hoooing gently.Pigeons? At ten past eight one of the porters would bellow up the stairs "When does Mr---- want these to go?" "Twelve minutes past". And sure enough,at twelve minutes past on the dot,railway time,the baskets would be opened,one by one,and Mr----- homing pigeons were released,to circle the station once before they set off home. Five minutes later,the local fishmonger would arrive and wait for the train.It was one of the few "mixed" trains I've ever seen in this country,although I beleive they were common elsewhere,and at the back of the usually four coach train was a refrigerated wagon(Four wheeled,of course.Bogies? Never heard of 'em on freight stuff) which had fish caught the previous night and landed in Grimsby. The old Great Central set great store by its fish freight,even to the point of designing and building a special express goods(Not freight in England) locomotive for the task.Alas all long gone, by then.
The line was fortunate,in a way,that Boat Train engines,working up the mileage to a General Reapair,were allocated to Leicester Shed,to complete the mileage.Bashed to death on the top link run,theywere amply powerful enough for this suburban run. One morning the train arrived behind the scruffiest Britannia Class 4-6-2 I'd ever seen.Four coaches and the fish van. Now the BR Class7 (Britannia's) were the pride of the British Railways design team.In truth,by world standards they were nothing special.Their 55 square foot grates were on the limit of hand/stoker firing agreed in the States donkeys years before, and in fact the Pennsylvanias E6s 4-4-2 had just this grate area in 1910.God alone knows what the crews would have made of a Royal Hudson,or a NYC Niagara.Fainted clean away most likely.But the Brits were good engines of their type,rejoicing in names like "John Milton", "William Shakespeare" as well as this one "Iron Duke".
(We still name locos by the way,but it *has* got a bit farcical.The HS125 sets,seven coaches and a power car either end,the power cars named,can produce the effect of "Bolton Wanderers",a football team shoving "Dame Kiri Te Kanawa up the backside at the other end). Now like most things built by hand,the Brits varied in performance. As I stood sneering,young and daft,and *very* arrogant,at the steam leaking out of every gland and stuffing box of this supposedly top link loco,what I *didnt* realise was that "Iron Duke" was the best of a good bunch.They very best.All the tolerances had come out plus when they built him,valve gear,boiler proportions,the lot.The driver crossed the cab and draped himself out of the window and sneered back. Ever noticed how steam drivers adopted the most peculiar postures,the better to lean while avoiding the reversing stand,injector handwheels and the like?This one did.Iron Duke had spent the last two years or so pulling five hundred tons trailing,in all weathers at express speeds, and wasnt about to worry a lot about a potty little fifty tonner commuter train,fish van or no fish van.I got in.That engine was doing thirty before it had reached the end of the platform.The rolling stock was old,very old,but it mattered not,I dont think the wheels were on the rails anyway,I certainly couldnt stand up,it was all I could do to stay in my seat!And it accelerated...faster and faster,the exhaust a dull roar of continuous sound.Braking,when it came,was at the last minute,and violent,the restart a repeat performance.He missed out one country halt altogether.God knows how the poor old four wheel fish van was coping,right at the back,I would imagine that is how Fish Fingers were invented.The journey was a booked time of twenty minutes.We got there in twelve.I got out,literally shaking at the knees.The driver leaned out of the cab,and raised one finger to his cap peak... Bastard!The loco was actually blowing off!The bloody thing had steam to spare and the fireman wasnt even sweating!
That was total humiliation,and taught me a lesson. I should have known.When at school,the path down to the bus stop took us alongside and above,the main London line.Good place for a bit of nooky,this as well,but at dusk in winter,if you waited a while,there came the sound of a lonely,but urgent chime whistle, followed by the same continuous roar.A Brit,on time,and shifting, smoke haze laying flat along its boiler back,safeties sizzling, driver leaning out,followed by a train of Pullmans with white roofs,gleaming in the dusk.Inside,the table lamps had red shades, giving a warm glow to tables laid with immaculate white cloths, silver and china all aglow.Luxury on wheels.
And when you took a train journey,and reached your destination, al the passengers that got off had a word of thanks for the driver if their way out of the station took them past the engine. There's no point these days.The driver's had the most comfortable journey of anyone!