Sunday, 19 October 2014

Poetry and trains

Looking back at the few posts I've actually put on this blog I realise two things: first, that I should really put something up more often...March 2013, hell’s teeth! And second, the few posts I have put up are pretty diverse – dog’s paws, workplace kitchens and VW campers no less.

The last of these should probably be a rich vein for posts if I could actually be bothered to write them – we go away regularly in our camper and always have a great time and I guess that would make interesting reading for at least someone (no idea who that someone is but I’m sure they’re out there...).

Anyhow, it’s our most recent trip which is the subject of this post, or, to be specific, our excursion on the Swanage Steam Railway while we were away.

It was a rainy day when we pulled into the main beach car park on the outskirts of Swanage and took the short walk to the station – incidentally, I’d totally forgotten this nice little seaside town until we returned this month and I was thrilled to see that they’re investing in the provision of some cool new beach huts on the sea front (here’s a photo on my Twitter feed:

As we turned the corner to the road running above the North side of the station, a train was just pulling out (here’s a short video if that: and I was instantly reminded of the things that those who experienced steam always say about the sound and smell– it was...evocative. Which is odd, as I have no memories of steam engines to evoke, but there is something visceral about a steam engine, something live which seems so easy to connect with.

We bought return tickets for the whole journey (which only takes twenty minutes one way) and eagerly boarded the train. We sat in a carriage I’m guessing was built in the ‘50s on seats that have that odd mix of being sort of firm but springy at the same time and wooden edged tables with history in every groove and mark.

Soon it was our turn to pull out of the station, in that odd hesitant one-two, one-two way and we made our way sedately through the Dorset countryside; through Herston, Harmans Cross, Corfe Castle and finally to Norden where we waited for about fifteen minutes, and then, came back.

I guess if you’re used to hurtling up and down motorways or even modern train travel with bleary eyed early mornings on your way to work this might not seem entirely thrilling, but let me tell you, it was. It’s hard to imagine this is nostalgia, because I don’t remember steam railways. I don’t have any connection with steam railways (beyond enjoying JK Rowling’s Hogwart’s Express just as much as the next middle-aged reader), so it’s not that. There just seems to be something real and physical and whole about the experience – you see the beauty of the engines, you smell the unique aroma of burning coal and hot oil, you hear the billow and fizz of the steam and, what I really hadn't realised, is how much you feel the motion of the train, the tug of the engine as though you’re part of this great effort of getting from station to station.

On a totally separate, but relevant (honest) note, I've often wondered about poetry. What’s the point of it? I enjoy some of it for sure and, on more than one occasion, I dabbled in writing a poem or two – but I could never really understand why. More recently though I’ve found myself thinking in poetic terms if that makes sense. The seeing, hearing, sensing of things which inspire the nascent wisps of a line or two somewhere in my head seems to happen more frequently these days.

So, to come back to steam trains, just last weekend in Dorset, on a steam train, I wrote two poems. I have no idea if they conform to any ‘correct’ type but nonetheless here they are; two short poems inspired by, and written on, the train. Told you it was relevant.


The halt at the station,
punctuated by the slow,
rhythmic beating of the cooling engine’s heart,
until it stops.
Not dead, but dormant,
waiting quietly, still,
for searing, burning power to be called again,
to life, to duty, to serve.


And on the slow climb,
the chugging, rattling pull,
of the mighty engine, explosive steam bursting,
at every step.
With each chain clicking
clacking beneath us
her constant hissing, billowing breath accompanies
the moving window vista.

Well, that was fun wasn’t it...

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