Can you see the little steam engine? Look how shiney its brasses are. Look at the red buffer bar and the green and black livery on the engine. Can you hear the hiss of the steam coming out of the engine?
“All aboard” cries the station master and the carriage doors are closed noisily. Can you hear the carriage doors closing?
Peeeeeep — the station master blows his whistle. Can you hear the whistle blowing? Chuff chuff chuff — that is the sound that little steam engines make. Toot Toot goes the engine’s whistle. De-clack de-clack — is the sound the wheels make as they go along on the track. Can you hear it?
Perhaps, when lock down is over, you might travel to Denby Dale just outside Huddersfield and visit the Kirklees Light Railway and see the little steam engine.
Deep in darkest Dorset is the delightful coastal town of Swanage where, like most British seaside towns, time has stood still. During my tour of seaside towns I’ve noticed this is common place. For example, Douglas and the Isle of Man are trapped in a Scarfolkesque late 50s early-60s time bubble, Scarborough in a weird pre/post-mining eighteen/nineteen eighties decay, Skegness screams nineties revival, while Margate and Torquay languish in a struggling time recession of post-industrial Britain 1986.
Swanage however sits in a semi forgotten hauntological time zone where grandparents who, having retired to the seaside, now live. Independent shops, discrete amusement arcades and a well kept promenade with formal gardens show that Swanage is the Utopia of seaside towns. Even the pier, currently undergoing refurbishment, lacks the usual British Pier atmosphere of kiss-me-quick hats, the aroma of fresh doughnuts and the sound of wailing kids.
Getting to Swanage is probably best when approached from the east. Catching the chain ferry from the Sandbanks area of the conurbation of Poole-cum-Bournemouth, is like catching a ferry to some foreign country only without the need for border or passport checks. Indeed, once you arrive in Studland, even the landscape looks alien making you feel like you’ve gone abroad for the bargain price of £4.50. Then when the weirdly independent town of Swanage comes into view, the feeling of being in some weird off shore British island like Jersey, the Isle of Man or White is stronger. Moreover, possibly the biggest difference to other typical British seaside towns is the regularly audible and familiar toot and chuff of a steam engine for Swanage is home to the Swanage steam railway. Unlike Douglas in the Isle of Man, steam is not the main form of public transport to neighbouring areas in Swanage, it is, however, the easiest way to get to the eerie Corfe Castle.
The crumbling edifice of Corfe Castle looms out of the sea mist and inspires thoughts of knights, kings, princes and dirty peasants. Some say it inspired Enid Blyton’s Kirrin Castle in her Famous Five books, but you really could say that about any of the castles in the area indeed, it is clear to see why the area attracts coach loads of tourists and often the tiny streets of Corfe Castle village are riven with ambling shufflers gawping at every nook and cranny, some unable to comprehend the age of the place when compared to their own country’s history.
Further into Dorset one can also visit, by contrast, the town of Weymouth with its award winning beach. However, step beyond the hustle and bustle of the Blackpoolesque promenade and enter the ramshackle and tatty environs of the town, one can clearly see how lack of investment in seaside towns has become detrimental to the social community and infrastructure at large. Empty high street shops, lumbering shufflers and decaying buildings. Tattoo and massage parlours, the miasma of cooking takeaways and openly smoked cannabis, the sight of drugged up beggars and opportunist criminals highlights the betray and decay of a society through lack of investment promised by successive local government officials who no doubt only visit the area when official business requires their presence.
However all is not entirely gloomy. The Bill of Portland where Portland stone is still quarried is nearby, where it too attracts coaches of tourists with its lighthouse and scenery. As a young boy I would look longingly at my wall hung A0 map of the UK while listening to BBC Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast and try to imagine how sweater wearing bearded seaworn gentlemen would be struggling against the elements while putting on their Sou’westers and galoshes. The reality is dramatic but features no stereotypical fishermen these days.
Another location worth a visit and one that also the young Stegzy would dream about visiting is Chesil Beach; a unique natural heritage site where one can observe for ones self the effects of coastal erosion on stones. As well as an expanse of stones stretching out towards West Bay and Exmoor, there is a fantastic visitors centre which hopefully will inspire other young people to enhance their knowledge about the natural coastal forces and nature.
Back at Swanage as the sea mist rolls inland and the occasional eerie toot of steam train is heard, the contrast of investment in coastal areas is plain to see. From the modernist style of the cinema/theatre the Mowlem, to the well kept promenade with discrete amusment arcades. It seems the regions tourist board relys heavily on the natural wonders of the Isle of Purbeck, and why not! A visit to the nearby Durlston Country Park and Anvil Head will no doubt summon thoughts of misplaced childhood adventures, perhaps exploring the long closed Tilly Whim Caves or scrambling over the rocks to Anvil Head Lighthouse.
In all Swanage is very genteel. A relaxing locale for those more interested in nature and natural beauty over rowdy bars and vomit soaked pavements. I’d definately go back.
I can hear the rumble
Of metal on track
A far off tumble
As wheels clack
The ticket office closed
Thrown out with lost property
A glove and a shoe
I wait on the platform
And look down the line
Your train is delayed
But I am on time
They don’t say hello
But that’s because me
They, they don’t know
I see the lights distant
Your train it is here
I’m so glad you’re back home with me
So I’m driving home from work and I’m listening to the wireless and the Home service Radio 4.
The programme being broadcast was about a newspaper editor from Zimbabwe and how he is adapting to life as an asylum seeker in the UK. One of the main differences, he pointed out, between Harare and the UK was how people didn’t seem to talk to each other on public transport.
Now surprisingly, this guy lives in Leeds which is a good deal away from London where I believe such practices as ignoring ones fellow passengers is common place. It kind of shocked me and my Northern mind set because I’d always thought of the south as being a bit….well you know….”insular” when it comes to talking to complete strangers. Indeed, I’m quite happy to sit there with my earphones in (sometimes without anything attached at the other end) to avoid the weirdo on the bus or being assailed by some elderly person wanting to tell me about their gout.
And that got me thinking.
Sometimes I don’t mind talking to complete strangers on the bus or in the pub or where ever. Sometimes it’s nice to get chatting about things. Why don’t we do it more often? What stops us? Fear of a stabbing? Fear of being converted into some mind numbed zombie from a Nigel Kneale story? Wasps?
I think the main reason for our inherent phobia of talking to people on public transport is fear of extreme views. Nobody likes to be trapped by someone spouting vitriolic hate or outlandish views. A case in point could be the time when Jim and I went to the Brewery Tap at the Cains Brewery in Liverpool.
We got chatting to a seemingly jovial chap at the bar. He seemed ok, typical of the populace of the city. Friendly banter, John Lennon anecdotes, Billy Butleresque memories. However, the chat swiftly switched from idle scouse chit chatty banter to a strong antisemitic nationalist rant where one would have expected the gentleman to start waving his arm about a la Hitler at the Nuremberg Rally.
Then another case in point is the guy who once cornered me on the 78 and started talking about how the government controls the populace through the covert use of prescription medication.
So yeah, I can understand that people don’t really want to talk to each other on the bus for those reasons in illustration. But surely not everyone is like that. It seems people’s first reaction to someone talking to them on the bus or train or in the pub is one of suspicion and distrust.
Who is this weird person? How dare they talk to me? Are they going to knife me? Might they not try to bum me? Or maybe stick me in a dark cellar where I will be forced to eat marmite and parsnips until the day I die?
I know I’m not likely to force anyone into eating parsnips or marmite. I don’t even have a cellar. I suppose that coupled with the fear of being attacked by marmite wielding weirdos comes the fear that they themselves would be labelled a weirdo. Fear, as they say in Dune, is the mind killer.
Then I thought, what is needed is a kind of badge system. Like say a green badge for “I’m happy to talk to anyone” and a red badge for “Fuck off weirdo”. So those with green badges can sit and yatter away to their hearts content and the red badge wearers can scowl and frown and listen to their music or whatever without interruption. It could even be a registered thing so that should you like talking to someone then you take down the number on the badge and look them up on the internet when you get home or what ever.
There could also be a voting system like say badge wearer #473083 is very interesting and like prawns so people who like to talk about prawns (there are a lot of people that do) can look out for #473083 on their travels. Furthermore, one might get talking to #23932 and find out they are one of those religious zealot types that want to turn everything into some discussion about Jesus or whatever. You know, like :-
Person #48909823 – “So do you like tea?”
Person #23932 – “I do. In fact in the book of Ba’at chapter 30 it says ‘And the lord didst partake in tea and verily there was much rejoicing’. I like tea almost as much as I like Jesus. Jesus can be your friend. Oh yes he can. Do you know Jesus? He is your friend. He is you know.”
So the person #48909823 could go and say person #23932 likes to turn everything you talk about into something about Jesus and then people who prefer to talk about Jesus all the time can talk happily to #23932 while those that don’t can talk to whoever else.
What do you think?
Of course such a scheme would require some more thinking out. But I reckon it would work well. Especially with the technology of the day.
This is, of course a giant leap to make in a society which we need to make happier and better. I suppose we can make a start by chatting, at least once a day, to a complete stranger. Just be nice. Don’t say anything controversial or boring. Just something brief, engaging and relevant to your situation. Say it with a smile rather than a frown. Or perhaps just say “Hey, Do you know Stegzy Gnomepants? He writes on the intarwebz”
Next time I will tell you more about how we can make the world a better place.
Goodbye, I’m told, is the hardest word to say. Certainly, in recent times at least, I’ve had difficulty saying goodbye. Not because of some hideous speech impediment or because I’ve had a mouth full of pizza, but because emotionally it has proven difficult. That said, I’ve also said goodbye with as much ease as taking my socks off.
Every morning, with the last slurp of tea still fresh on my lips, I bid the girlfriend farewell with a peck and a dash for the door. Sometimes it’s a “See you later”, others a “bye” or a “ta-rah”. Maybe I will see her later, maybe I won’t. I might fall down a forgotten mine shaft (Now what ever happened to that mine shaft I used to have?) and never be seen again or maybe it’ll be her. I can never be sure so I suppose, out of habit, manners and education, I bid adieu in case I’m never seen again. A kind of closing statement. A full stop (or period if you’re over the other side of the planet (Do you know? When Merricans say period I immediately think of women menstruating….yeah it isn’t nice).
Other people don’t tend to be so lucky, the bus driver, the shop keeper, that weird bloke with the funny smell that lives down the street, they all tend to get smiles and grunts. Maybe peppered with a “ta” or a “nice one”. Is this because I feel these guys don’t deserve a farewell? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve been on the receiving end of a broad spectrum of endings. Especially through the variety of jobs I’ve done.
In the helpdesk for example from:-
stegzy – and that’s how you fix it Person on other end of phone – Thank you. Bye. stegzy – Bye
stegzy – and that’s how you fix it Person on the other end of the phone – **Click** brrrrrrrrrrrr
stegzy – and that’s how you fix it Person on the other end of the phone – well that’s bally well not good enough! stegzy – **Click** brrrrrrrrrrrr
I suppose it would be not only discomforting but unusual if, when saying goodbye, everybody took the same amount of time as is taken in the last hour of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I mean can you imagine?
stegzy – Goodbye Bus Driver – **hugging stegzy** Goodbye old chum, what happy adventures we have had stegzy – But we only went 5 stops Bus Driver – Indeed, but what an adventure. I’ll miss you stegzy – I’m only going to the off licence to get some cigarettes I’ll be getting this bus home. Passenger A – **hugging Bus Driver and stegzy** Ha! What a wag. Goodbye old friend. May you meet fortune face on stegzy – Jeez you’re a bunch of weirdos Passenger C – Ha! Farewell fellow travellers! Passenger D – Get a bloody move on, I’ve got to be places!
Sometimes it needs to be quick, more like
stegzy – See ya **gone** Person A – See y…oh you’ve gone.
Personally, when I’m going somewhere I’d rather it be a small goodbye than some re-enactment of the Waltons. I mean, I’m going, I need to be somewhere, hurry up! Let me go! Mrs Gnomepants, on the other hand will spend ages saying goodbye, sometimes saying goodbye, only to start another 1 hour conversation and then have to say goodbye once again. It’s not unusual, as Tom Jones said, for Mrs Gnomepants to take 5 minutes saying goodbye on a telephone conversation to her sister. Surely all that is needed is “Bye” followed by a reciprocated acknowledgement of the end of the conversation.
Goodbyes though eh?….we’re a peculiar bunch aren’t we?
This entry first appeared on Livejournal in September 2008 and has been edited to reflect changes in circumstance
Following the mad tour of the east coast of Devon we decided to take a trip inland. Our guide books told us of the wonders of Cornwall and our brief trip across the Taymar on Tuesday showed us that Cornwall was closer than we thought.
But where to go were either of us hadn’t been before? Our first thought was “Oooh where does FJ Warren live? She’s Cornish. But the thought of a another long drive was not appealing. Instead we peeked at the maps and guidebooks and settled on Launceston.
According to the guidebooks, Launceston was the ancient Cornish capital. It had a castle, a steam train and other interesting things like cider farms on route. So it seemed like the natural choice. So once more across the Taymar we went noting for the second time that week that people are charged to leave Cornwall and not go in.
Launceston is…boring. Tatty around the edges. Pretty. But boring. After a brief 10 minute walk it appeared we had done Launceston. So we tootled up to the castle to have mooch there. But at £7 each to go and look around some crumbling ruins we thought £14 would be better spent on cake or fun. So way ahead of planned schedule we buggered off back to the car and went to see where else we could get to.
The Bodmin Moor of my childhood was not the Bodmin Moor of my middle age. Either there has been a new road built across the moor in the 30 or so years since my last visit or my dad took us across Bodmin Moor along some weird unmarked B road. So much so, by the time we had reached Bodmin I was like “Oh, we’re here already”.
Bodmin was interesting. Well what we saw through the car windows. But with only shops and more money wanting to be spent we thought another stop mooching round a provincial town was not on the cards. So when the only place to park for free was up a side street alongside Bodmin General, part of the Bodmin Steam Railway, we thought “But a steam train ride might be fun!”
So that’s what we did. We bought 2 tickets to Boscarne and boarded the chuffing chuffer.
It was fun!
Badger enjoyed it too!
When we returned we stopped for a cream tea.
Full of cake and after a bit of geocaching, we hopped back into the car and headed toward Polperro via Lostwithiel. Lostwithiel is described as the Medieval Capital of Cornwall. Again, it was quaint, children were playing in the river and shops seemed open.
One thing we had noticed during our time in the Southwest was that everyone seemed to be so miserable. Shop keepers and ice cream van men were no exception. I can only imagine that the misery was down to the lack of boobs on display. Cornwall needs more boobs. Or cake. Or maybe just a tickle.
Anyway, before misery got a grip, we headed off again, this time to Polperro. My nan and granddad visited Polperro when they were alive. I remember leafing through their photograph album at the pretty houses and narrow streets. Indeed it was. Narrow, quaint, overpriced and packed with tourists. Having been fleeced £4 for parking we wandered into the village to try and find somewhere to eat. We were a bit early and all the restaurants seemed to do nice fish dishes. Sadly none were open until half an hour after our parking expired and I didn’t feel like paying a further £4-£8 just to stuff my face. Our minds were made up by the time we had reached the quayside that we would head off to Looe and see if there was any other nice places to eat instead.
But before we could turn round and make our way back, a woman offered us a boat ride along the coast. How could we refuse?
So that’s what we did.
On our return we made our way back through the tourists to the car and drove off to Looe. Looe reminded me of Skegness without the wind amusement arcades or Victoriana. It was heaving with tourists of the lower orders. Police men, our first since leaving the midlands, were talking to shouty drunk youths. Haggard teen mothers were dragging their screeching urchins. Young girls with more tattoos and piercings than a freak show jostled with loud shouty short haired scallies for chips from the harbour chippy. But our guidebooks insisted that there was good eating to be had somewhere in Looe.
And yes. They were right. We stopped for dinner at the Smuggler’s Cot in Looe where I had the biggest Lemon Sole (and bones) I’ve ever seen. It was delicious! Meanwhile Zoe struggled with her mammoth 20oz D cut rump steak. She assured me that was delicious too.