I’d rather be on a train

“I knew who I was this morning, but I have changed a few times since then.”

Alice in wonderland!

 

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The question posed for WPC this week is, what would I rather be doing today?

Well, the weather here has turned very chilly again with a covering of yet more snow in my garden. So, without a doubt I’d rather be on a well heated train travelling to an exciting destination through beautiful scenery on a great rail journey.

When I was a child in the late 1940s, our main way of getting about was by steam train from the old Felling station. Like most working-class people in those days we didn’t have a car.  My dad would cycle to work and we walked to school or the local shops.  Visiting grandparents entailed a ride on the big yellow tram, but for a special shopping trip to the city of Newcastle we first had to catch the train.  And, in good weather we would go for a day trip to the golden sands of South Shields, again by train.   That is how my great love for trains started.

I’m sure the city commuters who pay extortionate prices for their daily rail journey to work would have a different view to me. But all of my train journeys, with the exception of one best forgotten, have been great fun-filled experiences.

As an adult I have travelled on many spectacular railways to some far-flung places and I still find them truly exciting.

Many years ago, I flew to Zurich in Switzerland en-route to the Bodensee in Germany and was delighted to find that I could buy a train ticket at airport arrivals then go down several levels by escalator and arrive at the railway station platforms without even leaving the airport. All through the beautiful countryside I felt like a character from my favourite childhood storybook, Heidi.

In Poland, I was amazed to see my first double decker train when I spent a wonderful study tour travelling from Torunn to Gniezno, Malbork and Gdansk.

And just last year I had my first experience of the luxurious Renfe ave high speed trains as I travelled at about 200 mph between Barcelona and Madrid to visit my scattered children.

Renfe Ave High Speed Trains in Madrid

Renfe Ave High Speed Trains in Madrid

I find with long train journeys that you get a much more realistic view of, not only the scenery, but the local way of life and culture. So, it was fascinating to travel on a sleeper train across Russia in the early 1990’s, a time of massive political change, observing the difference between the magnificence in the centre of Moscow and the dilapidation of the countryside.  I was constantly amazed to see beautifully decorated ancient churches alongside bleak housing, decaying factories, and neglected farmland.  Inside the train was a surreal experience as each carriage had a hostess who kept a samovar boiling all day so that travellers could have a cup of tea.  Throughout the 36-hour journey our hostess stayed in her nightie and dressing gown with her rollers firmly fixed in her hair.

Later in the 1990’s I travelled across Kenya from Nairobi to the end of the line at Kisumu. This was a totally different experience as the train passed by the slums of Kibera.  I found the level of poverty there deeply distressing yet after a short time the natural world replaced the horror with exquisite scenery.

Arguably one of the best holidays I have ever taken was a Great Rail Tour through the Fjords across the roof of Norway.  This holiday took in some great cities such as Oslo and Bergen, but the highlight was a trip on what is reputed to be the most beautiful train journey in the world, Flamsbana. Flam is a small picturesque village in southwest Norway, situated in the deepest fjord in the world.  Along the route there are majestic cascading waterfalls that take your breath away with their beauty.

Locally we have a heritage steam railway run by enthusiasts at Toddington. They have just extended the line to Broadway so this makes a lovely day out.

Although I don’t get much opportunity to travel far these days I can still indulge my passion for railway journeys by watching them on TV.

Recently there have been eight series of “Great British Railway Journeys” and five series of European “Continental Rail Journeys”, all presented by Michael Portillo following Bradshaws 1913 edition of the Continental Railway Guide. He has also made two series in the United States for BBC2,  as well as one in India.  I have put a link to one of the programmes here but I’m not sure if it will work.

Michael Portillo (pictured below) used to be a politician but now I think he has the best job in the world. He travels the world by train meeting interesting people, seeing amazing sights, and he gets paid for it!

So, on reflection, I’d rather be Michael Portillo.

Michael Portillo Rail Journeys

 

 

What brought me to Adlestrop?

What brought me to Adlestrop?

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I recently started my second free course with the Open University at futurelearn.com

The first course was “Start Writing Fiction“, which was a hands-on course focused on the central skill of creating characters.   My current course is “Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing.”  The course aims to explore how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with deep emotional strain.

Readers who were used to following my blog weekly will have noticed that I have written nothing since I lost my little Dachsund, Dayna, who was the subject of my last post.  Maybe other pet owners, especially dog owners, will understand the depths of my despair at losing Dayna.

I am blessed to have a husband, adult children (albeit three of them live abroad), supportive friends and adorable grandchildren.  But, although I love them all dearly, after losing Dayna I was inconsolable.   I gradually slipped into a downward spiral of despair and lost interest in going out, seeing friends,  talking to people, cooking or even eating.  All I wanted to do was stay at home and curl up under a blanket wallowing in my misery and solitude.  I felt bereft and ridiculously lonely.  Hence my interest in finding ways to cope with ‘deep emotional strain’.

All of my children are dog lovers and my eldest daughter volunteers at a rescue centre in California.  They recommended that I get another dog – not as a replacement because my precious Dayna is irreplaceable, but as a companion.  So I started to search.   How I found my new dog is a long story which I will save for another day but suffice it to say she is NOT Dayna

My new puppy was 10 weeks old when I got her, and supposedly a Corgi crossed with a Dachsund.  However everyone including the local vet is convinced she is a Beagle cross.  I personally think there is a bit of shark in her too.  She is very cute and slightly crazy most of the time but totally adorable of course.  My grandson, Stanley, christened her Toffee and instantly fell in love with her.  Well who wouldn’t?

 

Anyway, I started the course and I am finding it very  stimulating.  It is brilliantly put together with input from poets, authors, doctors, psychiatrists and research scientists, as well as the wonderful actor Sir Ian McKellen, and the amazing Stephen Fry who defies categorisation!

There are countless opportunities for online discussion with other course participants and it was a discussion about the poet Edward Thomas that led me to drive to Adlestrop today.

Edward Thomas was primarily a nature poet and he wrote his famous poem Adlestrop when the train he was travelling on stopped there unexpectedly on 24 June 1914, just before the outbreak of WW!.  Instead of getting irritated, he used all of his senses to take in his surroundings and wallow in the details.

Edward Thomas joined the Artist’s Rifles in 1915 and sadly was killed in action in France in 1917.  Interestingly, his widow, Helen Thomas wrote two books after his death reportedly to help her recover from her deep depression.

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas 1878 – 1917
Of course Adlestrop Station is no more although the railway line still passes through nearby fields.  Today the fields and the railway line were underwater, flooded after the week of heavy rain we have had in Gloucestershire.  But there is a wonderful bus shelter at the entrance to the village where the old station bench and sign is preserved and a brass copy of the poem displayed.
I went there today as I live just 20 miles away.  It was a cold, cloudy day, and the rain was drizzling down.  But the journey was worth it.  There were swathes of snowdrops by the roadside and in the churchyard.  There is a Yew tree shaped like a cross by the gate to the church.  The writer, Jane Austen was known to worship here when she visited her uncle, the Reverend Thomas Leigh.   There is a beautiful Cotswold stone manor house and a thatched village shop housing the ‘new’ post office. There were young riders in red jackets exercising the racehorses from the beautiful Adlestrop stables.
Here are the photos from Adlestrop

Thomas the Tank Engine ~ Boundaries

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Boundaries

The word Boundaries conjures up all sorts of ideas in my head.  The obvious are fences, hedgerows and walls round private property or land, to define ownership and maintain privacy.  Then there are those railings around parks and public buildings to regulate or restrict access.  Some boundaries are essential for security such as round airports, government or military buildings.  Then there are the barriers around areas of danger, like deep water, rock falls or steep cliffs.  These would all provide super subjects for this week’s photo challenge.

But, having looked through my photos I selected an emotive photo of my little grandson standing by the boundary fence at a recent steam railway event.  He could easily squeeze through the gap provided by the missing paling, but of course he doesn’t, because, at the age of 2, he already setting himself personal boundaries.

The object of his interest is Thomas the tank Engine, which, although it is incredibly old fashioned, seems to appeal to most children, and especially little boys or children on the autistic spectrum.

The stories of Thomas and his friends were actually published 70 years ago in 1945 under the title of The Three Railway Engines, and Thomas wasn’t even in the first book.    It was about Edward, Henry and Gordon.  Thomas didn’t come in until the end of book two.  If you are really interested in  the history of Thomas I recommend this site, pegnsean

I spend a great deal of time with my grandchildren and I have been through the Thomas phase a couple of times.  Personally, as an adult, I prefer Chuggington with its exciting storylines and more contemporary language.  But I can see the appeal of Thomas for very young children.  The island of Sodor, where Thomas lives and works, is an idyllic setting, safe and stable, where nothing much changes.  Whenever problems arise the little engines sort everything out slowly and surely with hard work and co-operation.  This is reassuring for children making them feel safe and comfortable.

There is something about Thomas as a character too that is deeply comfortable.  It could be the chubby cheeks or the big eyes.  He just looks like the archetypical train engine.

Children when asked to draw a house will draw a rather square box with a chimney, windows and a door, whether they live in a semi or a flat.  I read that a recent survey found when children were asked to draw a train, 95 per cent of them drew a steam train!  This is surprising when trains these days are so different.  Virgin Trains are running a competition at the moment to design a Christmas Train.  I do wonder how many of the entries will feature a steam chimney or funnel!