Those Summer Trains

  1. It was last week when I found myself south of London on a Brighton bound train and reflecting that there’s something slightly different about summer time trains. I remembered an early commuter line ride as a young teenager on my first visit alone in the capital when, with a friend, I took a train from Victoria to Sevenoaks and I encountered people and stories I’d only heard about on TV. Husbands waving farewell to the patient spouses returning to the family estate-car as the train gently bumped and  recommenced its way through the leafy summer settlements.

Why did it seem silence always came down so suddenly whenever the train stopped on those deserted platforms? It’s been a theme of many classic poems ..Edward Thomas’s Addlestrop being the best known.

It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.

No one left and no one came

On the bare platform.

Later Dannie Abse wrote of a brief encounter on an unknown platform that was Not Addlestrop:

Not Adlestrop, no – besides the name
hardly matters. Nor did I languish in June heat.
Simply, I stood, too early, on the empty platform,
and the wrong train came in slowly, surprised, stopped.
Directly facing me, from a window,
a very, very pretty girl leaned out.

It was these summer stops on days heavy with heat and perhaps expectation, that brought my favourite train poem to mind. Phillip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings paints a beautiful picture of a slow holiday train to London as it picks up brides and grooms wending their way to start married life on honeymoons elsewhere catching the east coast train to Kings’s Cross. There’s always something deeply poignant about Larkin’s pointed loneliness set against the frivolous, careless happiness of the newly betrothed. I love the way the train journey sets out as any ride would until the author lifts his head out of the book to become aware of the fuss:

At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
    The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys   
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls   
I took for porters larking with the mails,   
And went on reading. Once we started, though,   
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls   
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,   
All posed irresolutely, watching us go
Then the idea of the train as a gathering of lives for one short journey together in common purpose but soon to be dispersed…
like an arrow-shower   
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.
How beautifully the rain dampens all the pent-up heat of that summer rail ride.
I started writing this blog many years ago as the man who organised my web page heard I was about to do a radio show and suggested a blog. Years in it’s become confined to subjects closer to country music. Today I remembered I’d started it as somewhere I could simply write about anything that was in my mind. So it seems a good place to rest for a while. The blog shall return in late summer and I will, of course, be on air throughout the year playing you country music (our way).Now…. if only I could find a country song about a summer train …….

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