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A sadly forgotten age of innocence




With all the ongoing malarkey about the HS2 railway thingamabob that would get folk from London to Manchester plus any outposts thereafter in supposed super-dooper time (allegedly) and its almost daily spiralling costs (upwards) it does tend to make you wonder if it is really wanted.

If it’s that meeting or whatever is so important why not just set out earlier like most logical people would do? And as the quoted time is in minutes ‘saved’ journey-wise, not hours, so it seems a lot for this vanity project in all but name.

This would save bulldozing the countryside in its plotted path although reading between the lines (pun intended) it’s a sort of prestige thing.

Bearing in mind the quoted cost would it not be better to overhaul the railway system so everybody benefits?

Columnist John Ward (28020365)
Columnist John Ward (28020365)

The construction industry will do well from the deal, in theory, but by the time it’s finally built, the Save The Planet brigade will no doubt have got trains banned as being too nasty to run.

Plans so far to have windmill driven, battery powered, ozone happy choo-choo’s have hit the buffers (pun again – however the next pun is running a few paragraphs late due to words on the screen).

Back in the real world I looked at assorted train times recently after reading about the extortionate price of tickets being charged.

The ‘rail network’ is split up into assorted ‘operators’ as opposed to years ago when it all came under one operator, or rather it seemed that way.

I admit my last train journey was about three years ago from Spalding to Lincoln and the following may hint why – or so far.

The going was OK as I had a seat, but the ordeal coming back from Lincoln left much to be desired.

It was the Friday 4.00pm scheduled train then, but this was the last one, so any ideas for a night out in Lincoln by train were dashed.

It was a two or double carriage service that could have gone for the Guinness Book of Records entry for cramming humans into a confined space. One ‘regular’ combatant said this was ‘quite normal’ so it was quite reassuring!

There were crowds of mere passengers/clients/fee paying stunt artists like me with hordes of students going home, plus assorted folk with folding cycles, rucksacks the size of packing crates, etc, and so I travelled all the way back standing up.

I have as yet to ‘travel’ again via this service until I hear that things have got better – I also believe a man can fly.

I find it rather sad as I used to be a regular commuter when I worked as a cinema projectionist years ago. The service then was reliable, at reasonable cost, plus I basically knew the staff by name at both stations.

I was amazed once when I was running a few minutes late to find the train still waiting for me (!).

On seeing me ‘Stan the station man’ yelled ‘get on quick!’. I always bought my ticket the day before in case of any problems, so this time it paid off.

I am a fan of the Will Hay film ‘Oh Mr Porter’ which could have been a sort of training (the next pun has just arrived) video for possible railway staff in its day as my experiences were not far short as seen in the film.

One member of station staff came from Bombay and he had a wonderful sense of humour.

Most mornings he would greet me by pulling his watch out of his waistcoat pocket to tell me: ‘The next train was not there yet but will soon be arriving soon, if not before’ which was sort of reassuring I suppose as from my point of view it took the guesswork out it.

In the above film, the character Jeremiah Harbottle quotes about train times: ‘The next train’s gone!’.

He would sing his favourite, which while not word perfect, conveyed the spirit of the man as ‘take it away, Mohan’: ‘Pardon my boy, is that the chatty noo-goo choo-choo train..’ which was his ‘piece da resistance’ as they say.

He also did assorted little dance steps around his barrow and to me this summed up the very essence of the man by, as sadly it’s all in a bygone age, as he was indeed a character.

On one occasion I arrived on the platform as normal as a team of dedicated maintenance men were painting the edge of one of the platforms – only the one – in brilliant white paint.

It was because ‘somebody of importance’ would be passing through (not stopping, mind) but this was ‘protocol’. Although not named, Mohan assumed it would be somebody important (?) like ‘maybe the Beatles, Val Doonican, Bruce Forsyth or even the Prime Minster?’.

It turned out to be members of the Royal family. The staff were not told until an hour or so beforehand, but Mohan did have his best company tie and ‘special occasions’ cuff-links in his locker, so on hearing the news, he dashed to get them and saluted as the train went through.

The platform edge painting was done a week or so before the ‘passing through’, but each day railway staff kept it in pristine condition.

With a change of job, I no longer used the daily train journeys to work but one of the station staff I bumped into some years later told me that Mohan had progressed in the job as, when they had a public address system installed, he did the train announcements.

However, while he was in the station office, away from the public’s eyes, he would button up his jacket, straighten his tie, plus put his hat on straight if not already wearing it before, speaking into the microphone to give travel news out.

I would have loved to have heard him state over the system : ‘The next train was not there yet but will soon be arriving if not before’ followed by a quick burst of ‘Pardon my boy, is that the chatty noo-goo choo-choo train.’

Sadly it’s now a forgotten, innocent age that will never return.

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