Some examples of members' work
Contributions to the Showcase should be submitted at the regular weekly meeting of the writing group in Newbury. Submitted work can be poetry, prose, stories or articles. Copyright remains with the writer.
The Bookmark : Derek Alford
When you read the words which flow,
Images in your mind from the page.
When time has lapsed, the book must be left,
Then leave a bookmark between its covers,
Not a turned corner should be seen.
Journey through a world which is real
And search out markers that divide,
Leather etched with words, memories
Hidden, secret memoirs for a sharing mind,
With many photos to turn and pass on.
Remember the mountains in their sea mists.
The cable car that swung gently in a breeze.
A distant view of Snowdon from the cafe.
The tram that took us back to Llandudno,
A strip of leather as my keepsake.
Do you remember those faraway days,
A helicopter ride to the remote islands,
The old fort on the grassy headland.
Rocky outcrops a sparkling sea of the Scillies,
Memo of travel on a strip of leather.
A trip across the sea to an isle of dreams,
Where motorcycles raced a while before.
Self governed are the rocks and the mountain,
A tram of old, creeps up its side, into the mists.
The Laxey wheel, edged in gold, printed on leather.
Where white cliff meets the sea,
A castle stands facing the enemy of old,
And yet beneath its grounds lay tunnels
Of an age where modern warfare was staged.
Shaped, a castle on green leather.
There are many places etched in leather
Where we walked and do you remember
Those moments we had together beneath
The golden sunlight on the mountainsides
Silver sea as evening descends into night.
Variations on the Slow Train
THE ROYAL DUCHY STEAM TOUR - 12th SEPTEMBER 2021
Part One - The Journey to Plymouth
I saw this steam tour advertised in the Newbury Weekly News. It was organized by The Railway Touring Company located in Norfolk. The tour was from Slough to Par with the choice of alighting at Plymouth or Par for excursions to Fowey or Charlestown where there is a Heritage museum.
The tour called at Reading, Newbury, Westbury, Taunton, Exeter and Plymouth. There were 3 classes of travel: Premier Dining, First Class and Standard Class at £269, £169 and £119 respectively.
Premier Dining came with a full English breakfast and a 4 course dinner, First class with a full English breakfast and light refreshments and Standard Class with table for four and probably a buffet car.
When I booked only Standard Class was available. A discount of £10 reduced the cost to £109 per person. The tickets were sent along with general information a few days before departure.
On 11th September I packed my bag with what I needed so as to be ready the following day.
On the day of departure, I fortified myself with a cooked breakfast at the Hatchet in the Market Place. On arrival at the Newbury Station I could see the train at platform 1 headed by a diesel locomotive. The carriages were all 1950s Rolling stock with slam doors and the Company name emblazoned on the side, smart and shiny in a burgundy colour-and embellished with names such as Jessica, Victoria and Patricia.
The Standard Class accommodation was at the rear so presumably the Premier Dining and First Class were at the front and middle of the train. In any case the difference between the standard and the others was plain to see: white table clothes and a lamp in the window already laid for table service. The standard had bare wooden tables.
On taking up my reserved seat I studied the layout of the carriage. There were 7/8 tables for each side of a central aisle making a possible capacity of 56/64 persons. The seats were quite comfortable, after all the upholstery in 1950s rolling stock was far more generous than in present day trains.
The carriage was quite full already and shortly after boarding I was given a brochure for the journey. It gave information as to the steam locomotive, the various sections of the route, a pre-Dr-Beeching rail map, the train schedule and gradient profiles for severe gradients in Devon and Cornwall. The train would be diesel hauled as far as Taunton where the steam locomotive would be attached and then proceed to Plymouth where it would be detached and diesel power would take over for the journey to Par.
The steam locomotive for the day was ‘Leander’, a former London Midland and Scottish (LMS) jubilee class 4-6-0 numbered 45690. It was built in 1936 and after work in various locations withdrawn from service in 1964. Briefly stored at Bristol it was transferred to Barry Scrapyard but rescued in 1972. It was restored and preserved and is now in private ownership at Carnforth.
The name ‘Leander’ has its origins in Greek mythology. Leander was a young man connected to Hero, the priestess to Aphrodite, in a tower of Jestos located on the eastern side of Hellespont. Leander was drowned during a storm at Hellespont. Can we call this locomotive a she?
The journey was interesting and entertaining; quite an experience in fact. There was a buffet in the Guards van because a proper buffet was not available.
I found only one person at my table and I introduced myself. His name was Peter and he lived in Guilford and had joined at Reading having driven there. This was easier because there was not a reasonable train service from Reading to Guilford late at night. His interest lay in recording the route because he had never travelled this line before. He had a cine camera which he put either against the window or out of the sliding windows as far as he dared.
Allan came next at Westbury and I learned later that he had driven from Poole, Yes Poole! He spent his time making notes in a note book and consulted his watch at frequent intervals clearly calculating speed and distance, obviously no stranger to the route. At one point he said, ‘we were travelling at 90 mph. I did not know these carriages had been cleared for such a speed.’
Nigel joined at Exeter but he said little immersing himself in an article about the Somerset and Dorset line (S and D), Slow and Dirty if you wish to be derogatory.
Opposite me at a table on the other side of the aisle sat a couple also interested in the route. I noticed underneath the table by the unoccupied seats was a large cool bag but thought no more about it. At Westbury all was to change. These seats were claimed and then began the fun. The cool bag had to be moved. A collapsible mini sack truck appeared and the cool bag was relocated elsewhere. It contained sustenance for the entire tour as it was frequently dipped into for a sandwich or bottle of beer.
The interest of the couple who claimed these were clearly interested in train running too. The brochure was opened to pages of the gradient profiles and to the train schedule. Notes were made in a note book and frequent references to a watch. They appeared to be experts on the route as they seemed to know where the train was at any given moment.
At another table diagonally opposite me sat three older passengers who seemed content to talk amongst themselves and to enjoy the journey. It was not to last. An eager young man with a back pack appeared. From this he produced small pieces of equipment and placed a device close to the window and did not sit at his reserved seat for more than five minutes at a time. What he was doing I do not know. His activities clearly irritated all those sitting near him.
The train schedule contained arrival/departure times at stations, where locomotives were to be attached/detached and the water replenishment points, all essential information for photographic shoots en route. On the journey down the water stop was at Tiverton loop (a running line) from a water bowser so no photographs were possible for this operation.
The brochure broke the journey down into sections: Slough to Reading, Reading to Newbury, Newbury to Westbury, Westbury to Taunton, Taunton to Exeter, Exeter to Plymouth and Plymouth to Par. Places and points of interest were listed for each section such as the famous rail bridge over the Thames at Maidenhead, Kennet and Avon Canal at Newbury, Crofton Beam Engines at Bedwyn, Glastonbury Tor and the Saltash bridge over the River Tamar at Plymouth.
To return to the gradient profiles. Between Taunton and Par there are several severe gradients which still present difficulties despite modern technology. These were graphically illustrated.
Trackside rail layouts where there was or had been a branch line were also of interest
The train arrived at Plymouth at 13.29 where there were options as to where to alight and visit.
The steam locomotive was detached and a diesel attached for the journey to Par.
The Slow Train - Caroline Lockard
No more will I travel from Northampton to Ambleside,
Or run like a madman across the bridge.
No more connections, no more wet platforms,
No more half finished crosswords in the Times.
I’ll travel no more cross-country towards Wales,
No more long bus rides instead of trains,
Our Grandparents gone and we have children of our own,
No longer can we count these places as our homes.
I can map each set of our ancestors
across this spectred Isle
From Tyneside to Burneside
From Liverpool to Carlisle.
No more will the conductor wake me up from sleep,
My head lolling loudly across the aisle,
From Colchester to Norwich
From Kettering to London.
Between the graffiti and the rail track the gravel piles up; at Manningtree, at Market Harborough, and at Diss.
Smutty – Gina Graham
Smutty little engine
Idling on the branch line
Never in a hurry
Never on time
Passengers are waiting
Worried you’ll be late
Watching and hoping
By the crossing gates.
Brief Encounter - A Story of a Train Journey - Jean Kraushaar
Train journeys can change lives, and can cause such happiness but also such sadness. Those who have watched the 1945 film ‘Brief Encounter’ will understand. A classic film of ‘Love at First Sight’ set at a railway station. Actors in the film, Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, are drawn together like magnets. Strangers who, because of a Brief Encounter while waiting for trains at an anonymous station, become changed forever. In that generation, honour takes president over desire and they return to their separate lives.
She boards the train, and they say goodbye as the whistle blows. He is left on the platform. She leans out of the window in tears, and watches him standing there as the train pulls them physically and emotionally apart.
She is back at home, in front of the sitting room fire.
‘Are you alright, darling, did you have a good journey?’ her pipe smoking husband asks.
‘Yes I did’, she replies, her mind and emotions obviously elsewhere. He looks at her, she does seem a little different, he thinks, but he returns to his pipe and paper. Such as things were in those days.
Today the railways are busy and automated. You book and pay, and select your seat on-line and then download your virtual ticket to your own device; few ticket offices remain anymore.
True to convention, the ticket inspector will ask for - ‘tickets please’ as he passes down the train. How much easier it was to produce a green (or was it orange) cardboard ticket from one’s purse. Now, clicking madly on my phone through apps and square bar codes, I am lucky to have the right screen by the time he gets to my end of the carriage. Sometimes I just hand him my phone. After a few digit depressions he is satisfied and hands it back to me.
Having travelled to Manchester a few times to see my grandchildren, I know the routine a bit better now. I alight from the train at Manchester Piccadilly station, (large and extremely busy), and get into the flow of disembarking passengers that stops at the platform exit barrier. If I had remembered, I would have found the square bar-code on my phone to scan at the barrier that lets me through into the main station. Assistance is required again!
I find a bench and wait for my family. Cleaners are everywhere, picking up rubbish dropped by travellers. I’d bought a sandwich and looked around for a bin. None in sight! Then I remembered and dropped the empty sandwich packet beside the bench. A few years ago, someone put a bomb in a litter bin at the station. It exploded causing loss of life and awful damage. Hence the instant litter retrieval by station staff. I forgave the litter bugs instantly.
‘Granny!’ A yell, and a little girl, slightly taller than I remember, ran up to me, arms wide. My daughter wasn’t far behind.
‘Sorry we’re late. The traffic was awful.’ she said, giving me a hug.
The few days go by quickly and I won’t elaborate on going back to Manchester Piccadilly to catch the train home.
Children wave goodbye on the platform and I‘m in the scene of Brief Encounter again, as the train pulls out of the station, my family static, and me bereft.
Slow Train at the Mouth of the Valley – Gareth Alun Roberts
Llanfiangel y Traethau… in Wales
there are many Llanfiangel;
when the railway came
to Llanfiangel Gennau’r Glyn
Too many for the timetable to cope;
too many for confused Edwardians alighting
at the wrong little town with watercolours
to paint the wrong hills
in the wrong drizzle;
so the railway made the town change its name:
Llandre. There. And the town didn’t mind
(it’s name had changed many times before).
Once it was a Norman thing,
now long gone to sheep shit and gorse
on the green gone mound.
Once it was a far twitched tentacle
of the Roman Empire, lured by lead,
left with headaches.
On one horizon of the town
an iron age fort broods in smoothed lumps,
its name dissolved
in the Ceredig-acid of this soil -
this soil is mountain soil:
thin and harsh,
distillations of exotic minerals
that these hills keep for treasures,
for poisons, ambrosiacs;
many names have been taken
into its loam -
Johnny Gough, his broken body
carried through the mist and steam
of a different century – sixteen years old
when he stumbled beneath the wheels
of the slow train
from Machynlleth –
his broken father, stationmaster,
up the steep, wooded ways
where terraced graves peek out
to the mouth of the valley
and the mouth of the valley
speaks poetry from its fern-clambered lips,
its mossed tongue sprung with birdsong
and the soft mutations,
the aspirant, voiced mutations turning names
into other names, different histories
confused, diffused into soil;
and soil into fern and moss,
into beech and yew,
birdsong and poetry
from the mouth of the valley,
Llanfiangel Gennau’r Glyn.
Was it Really Like This? - A Trilogy in Two Parts - Part One - Terence Brick
We look out of the bedroom window to see the world. If we can see the Lord Wantage Monument on the horizon it’s not going to rain. If we can’t see it then it’s probably raining already. Today it is in sharp outline. It is early. We have an early train to catch.
The man seated opposite is covered in tattoos and smells of garlic. It is too early for either or both. We can’t wait to get to Reading.
The first time I went to Worcester I was youth-hosteling by bike; the last time we were in the camper van. This time we are going in style: in Pullman carriages drawn by the Flying Scotsman. You do it just the once.
When my wife was little her Dad used to take her to a railway bridge somewhere near home to see this railway icon. When the bridge was engulfed in smoke you had to make a wish. For me my Granddad used to take me to Surbiton Station to see the Brighton Belle. I don’t think that was quite as exciting as getting covered in soot.
Everyone responds to the Flying Scotsman in their own way. Cattle scamper in lush fields, horses gallop, just pleased to be horses, sheep continue being sheep. Everyone waves at this icon of the railways. A farmer stands atop his midden for a better view, gets over-excited and slips backwards. A couple in a field stop doing what they’re doing and sit up to wave. We all wave back.
At Didcot someone gets on clutching a Bradshaw. Tremendously heraldic with a yellow gold-buttoned blazer over a viridian green shirt and empirically purple trousers (tight but not dangerously so) he poses for photos. His flamboyant seemingly Hispanic qualities are tempered by what could be N E Scottish dourness.
Breakfast is served. My wife chooses a full English breakfast but passes the black pudding to me. It goes well with scrambled egg and salmon.
**** **** **** ****
(An Aside on the Black Pudding)
In 1845 at the commencement of the Potato Famine my gt-gt-gt-gt-grandfather, a cotter with three acres and a cow would, after egg-collection and milking, take a sharp knife to the cow’s leg and draw enough blood to mix with meal and, if the season were right, chopped wild garlic with the smallest egg for binding and fashion a rudimentary black pudding. This was cooked on the grubbiest griddle imaginable. It had been in the family for at least one hundred years. On a May morning, his gt-gt-gt-grandson turned right at the crossroads and made his way to Cricklewood. If he had turned left I might have been American. But were it not for the black puddings I wouldn’t be here anyway.
**** **** **** ****
At Oxford Up and Down Loop we stop for water. There is a sulphur and metallic smell from the whispy white smoke. There is a little soot but not barrel-loads of white. The Clean Air Act has deprived the Flying Scotsman of some of its former charm. Bradshaw Man changes into something a little less drab. He emerges from his own personal Pullman looking like the Royal Coat of Arms. More photos.
Cotswold stone gives way to Midland Red earth as we whoosh through Charlbury, Ascott-under-Wychwood and Moreton-in-Marsh. But no Adelstrop. Yes, I remember the Sapperton Tunnel doesn’t have quite the same ring.
We arrive for a day in Worcester but we have regressed to a boy with his grandfather and a little girl making a wish in the steam of the Flying Scotsman. Whether the wish came true is not known.
The Results of the Photographic Competition Judged by Bradshaw Man
1 : Sunset Over Didcot by Alfred Gudgeon - ‘Breathtaking’
2 : A Farewell to Swindon by T Blennerhassett - ‘Heart Wrenching’
3 : Rain, Steam and Speed by JMW Turner - ‘Shows Promise’
Memories of Farncombe Station – Gina Graham
The sidings at Farncombe station were used for the luggage of pupils boarding at Charterhouse School, a public school on the hill above Godalming. A steam train would shunt wagons into the sidings ready for porters to unload and load the boy’s trunks at the beginning and end of term. Now the sidings are overgrown with weeds and the pupils arrive in cars loaded up with their luggage. The footbridge over the railway line had a roof, otherwise people would be enveloped in steam when the train went under. Now there are no steam trains and the roof was removed when it needed repairing.
As a young child I was frightened of steam trains and the noise they made letting off steam when they stopped at the station. My mother used to hide me in the ladies waiting room until the last minute and then rush to get on the train before it started. In those days there were separate waiting rooms for ladies and gentlemen. On a cold day, a coal fire would be burning in the grate.
Walking to Primary School
Farncombe is the only place I know which has two sets of crossing gates at either end of the station. These hold up traffic for trains at least six times an hour and are controlled by a signalman in the signal box.
My walk to primary school was frequently interrupted by waiting at the crossing gates. There was a side gate for pedestrians which was left open for a few moments after the traffic was stopped and I could walk across the railway line while the train was waiting at the station or seen approaching in the distance on the long straight stretch from Guildford. Twice an hour the trains between Waterloo and Portsmouth sped through the station without stopping. One day as I hung on the gate hearing the fast train approaching, I realised the signalman hadn’t locked it. I opened it and watched the train rush past. I shall never forget the look of horror on the signalman’s face when he realised his mistake.
Going to school in the 50s
Farncombe, meaning Fern valley, is a peripheral settlement of Godalming in Surrey and considered unstylish by people living in the prestigious areas of Charterhouse and Waverley. But people in the big houses from those fashionable neighbourhoods make good use of Farncombe station because it is on the main line from Portsmouth to Waterloo and has easy access and a large car park.
During my teens I caught the 8.25am train from Farncombe station and stood in crowded carriages for a four minute journey to Guildford. Once there I would join a bobbing wave of red hatted girls walking up the hill to school. Every morning girls would gravitate to this seat of learning by electric train, steam train or bus. Many had very long journeys but mine started at 8.10am with a brisk walk to the station. I could run all the way in 5 minutes and often risked leaving home at 8.20am expecting the train to be late. Once I had passed the baker’s shop, I could see the crossing gates and knew the train was arriving when the gates closed to traffic. Then I had to run. By the gates there was another straight road, parallel to the railway line, leading to the station. When the twelve coach train pulled in, the driver pulled ahead of the station to allow the rear eight coaches access to the platform.
‘I’ll wait for you darling,’ he shouted as he leant out of his window.
I waved my hat back, ran as fast as I could clutching my satchel and hurtled onto the platform. The porter knew me and didn't need to look at my season ticket as he slammed the carriage door behind me.
The train was frequently late and I had time to spare waiting on the platform. Every morning I stood in the same place and recognised fellow passengers in their habitual spot. The platform was littered with identical city gents in their pinstripe suits and bowler hats, using umbrellas as walking sticks. I was amused when they arrived in a smart car driven by the wife wearing hair rollers and a dressing gown with pyjamed children bundled in the back seat. City gents would step out into their business world and leave the dishevelled family to return to an elegant house in a more stylish location. (July 2021)
Railways - Robin Read
I started work on British Railways in 1959 and retired from the industry in 1996. In 37years a lot has happened. Here are a few of some unusual memories.
On 8th October 1959 I was aged 17 from a sheltered home life in Hampshire and straight from school. I was entering the big wide world of work. It was to be my first day at Swindon Carriage and Wagon Works and I had been given instructions to whom I should report at 9am. I walked down the lengthy entrance tunnel to the door of the General Offices which was an enormous Victorian building and, as I was to discover, a rabbit warren with high ceilings, wide corridors and huge stairs. Once inside I promptly got lost.
Move on a few months to 1960 but I can’t recall the month. The last steam locomotive to be built by British Railways was being outshopped (railway term for launching). It was the Evening Star a British Railways Standard class 2- 10-0 number 92220. The ceremony was performed by Sir Keith Grand the General Manager of British Railways Western Region. The workshop was full of senior rail managers, local dignitaries, workshop staff, clerks from workshops and the General Offices which included me. It was a great historical moment for me and the Railway industry.
One other task concerned discounted domestic coal for retired works staff. Their requests were presented on the designated date and time and in return they received a document relating to coal requested and when it would be delivered. The delivery would be done by a horse and cart.
I left the Swindon Works in 1961 for another temporary job between March and September 1961 but returned to and started in the Telegraph office at Swindon Junction. This was one of many acting as the regional communication offices. Messages-routine and urgent as well as dealing with train running information.
One non-railway related task Swindon had was General Post Office (GPO) telegrams. Members of the public could send a telegram: 5 shillings for 12 words including address as far as I can recall. At one point lots of Maltese were coming to Swindon arriving at the station. They would descend en masse to send telegrams home. This was quite a task taking a long time to process and send to the GPO.
I was reported once by an irate traveler on a heavily delayed rail service. He wanted to pass a message on his behalf. As I was fearful that the train would leave without him I said that I didn’t think there was sufficient time to do so. The Station Master spoke to me and I explained the circumstances and heard no more about it.
In1970 I started with Freightliners, a container carrying freight company, with depots nationwide. My job was in the South Eastern area office. In that organization they had an antiquated telephone switchboard. It was known as a ‘DOLLY BOARD.’ It had the usual pair of leads, one for the telephone extensions and one for the incoming/outgoing lines. The telephone numbers were 2 digits. They showed up on the switchboard and you connected one lead then you could connect them to the line they wanted. To obtain the operator’s attention you had to lift the telephone receiver. Incoming calls were connected with one lead and you dialed the internal number. There was no such thing as direct dialing then. I got involved because THE MANAGEMENT had got wind that I had previous experience. It really was a museum piece.
The last item concerns rabbits, your little furry friends running about the fields. In 1990 I transferred from Freightliners to the British Railways Board Claims Office which dealt with claims from members of the public and rail staff. The matters dealt with included damage/loss to/of personal effects while travelling to death and injury as a consequence of a derailment. One of these concerned farmer’s claims for compensation because rabbits living in the banks besides railway lines were coming onto their land and eating the crops. The farmers considered the rabbits to be railway owned and the Railway should stop them. The railway adopted the view that rabbits were wild animals over which they had no control. After all how do you stop rabbits burrowing? How deep do you put fencing into the ground? Their claims were persistently declined.