When the York Waterstones moved the length of Coney Street nearer to Redfellow Cottage, further attrition on my current account was inevitable.
Yesterday’s raid was: two paperback histories, a hardback ‘techie and — I know I should have resisted — Sean O’Brien and Don Paterson’s anthology of Train Songs.
As always, the problem with such collections is you already have many of the selected verses in other books. That is inevitable with the obvious:
- RLS looking From a Railway Carriage (page 10);
- Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings (page 35);
- Wordsworth blethering his sonnet over the projected Kendal and Windermere Railway (page 42) [— which always prompts me to abbreviate J.K.Stephen: Two voices are there: one is of the deep; … And one is of an old half-witted sheep … And, Wordsworth, both are thine];
- Edward Thomas at Adlestrop (page 50);
- Wilfred Owen: The Send-off (page 52),
In there, already, I’ve had a happy moment over Michael Flanders and Donald Swann putting the boot in on Beeching’s axing of The Slow Train:
My own ear worm has the remembered names on 43 miles of the defunct Wells-on-Sea to Norwich line: Kimberley Park, Thuxton, Yaxham, Nor’ Elm’n, Cowntee Schoo .., Fakenham! Fakenham! (always called twice), WalSINGham, Walsingham (ditto), Wighton Halt … All to the rhythm of a 4-4-0 Claud on jointed track.
A more taxing remembrance involves the names, and the eccentric East Norfolk pronunciations thereof, between Wells and Heacham, on the line closed after the 1953 floods: Holkham, Burnham Market, Stanhoe, Docking, Sedgeford, Heacham. Then on through Snettisham, Dersingham, Wolferton (and, pre-Myxy, its multitudinous rabbits), North Wootton, to Lynn.
The other stuff
I had forgotten that:
O fat white woman whom nobody loves
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves …
was Frances Cornford (page 19) and Seen from a Train. Note that, apart from the title, ano train is involved. Her Parting in Wartime is here, too (page 53), short, sharp and effective, even on a poster on the Central Line:
How long ago Hector took off his plume,
Not wanting that his little son should cry,
Then kissed his sad Andromache goodbye –
And now we three in Euston waiting-room.
There’s a surprising Irish (and Scots) element in this anthology: Heaney and MacNeice get three apiece, along with Michael Longley in an Italian Couchette (page 127), Paul Durcan, and Dennis O’Driscoll. A new one, to me, and wholly grabbing is Thomas McCarthy’s The Emigration Trains. Since McCarthy was born 1954, one wonders over:
We were heading for England and the world
At war. Neutrality we couldn’t afford.
I thought I would spend two years away,
But in the end the two became twenty.
Within hours we’d reach the junction at Crewe
And sample powdered eggs from the menu,
As well as doodlebugs falling nearby;
And that fatal traffic of an alien sky.
It doesn’t do to brood too much over that: would the best route from Waterford to work on the underground be through Holyhead and the Irish Mail? Surely no V1 flying bomb came anywhere near Crewe? Even so, McCarthy invites us to Pity the Poor Immigrant. No: there’s no Bobster represented here, not even his Slow Train. Copyright issues, perhaps? On the other hand, we do have Tom Waits’s Train Song (page 163) and a couple of obvious page-fillers (The Midnight Special, page 127, and Robert Johnson’s Love in Vain Blues (page 91, but worthy for other reasons):
If those, why not Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans? Or Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound from Wigan, via Widnes, to Brentwood? Both of those are indisputably “train songs”.
But may well be about to do so again …