slow trains


fragment of map, Blandford cropped

1935 Map of the Somerset and Dorset Railway

No more will I go to Blandford Forum and Moretehoe
On the slow train from Midsomer Norton and Mumby Road
No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat
At Chorlton-cum-Hardy or Chester-le-Street
We won’t be meeting again
On the slow train.

I used to live near Blandford Forum, and for the past forty-three years have had some reason to pass through regularly or visit.  My grandmother was born there; my aunt and her husband ran a market garden from Blandford St Mary (it fed the town for two generations at least); my wedding reception was held there. But in the past 12 months it has ceased to be a node in my life.

I remember when they tore up the line, because it ran behind our home (see map).  It was part of the Somerset and Dorset Railway, the “Slow and Dirty” as it was  known colloquially.  I got into trouble for accepting a short ride between Charlton Marshall and Spetisbury from the workmen on their tractor and trailer.  My mother banished me to my room in disgrace, without any tea.  I was only four.

A few weeks ago, when I heard Joe Stilgoe’s version (right mouse-click open in new window, play track) of the Flanders and Swann classic Slow Train, my ears pricked up. This sounded special. The song is about the controversial closure of the local British railway network in the 1960s, of which the S&D formed a resonant part.  Where the original song is light opera, the cover is all cool jazz ballad.  Joe’s management put it up on Myspace especially for us.  Enjoy.

BromptonThere’s an argument — should it become necessary to mobilize a vast army of unemployed — to rebuild the railways.  If I put on my counterfactual-tinted spectacles, this network would never have been closed had the Brompton Folding Bicycle been invented earlier.   And there might not be a huge car industry now to drag us all into an even deeper crisis.  Just a thought.

Photo credit: Brompton Danny McL

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