Train Of Thought

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

17th July 2015
HE was aware of the sound before he was even properly awake. Every day. The low, dull, methodical, mechanical sound, growing, and carried on the wind, getting closer. It got into his brain.
A honk of a horn sometimes, the train approaching the level crossing.
He knew so much about the day before he even opened his eyes.
The louder the sound of the train, the stronger the wind coming off the sea in the west, the day ahead likely to be breezy and wet.
Quiet and it was coming from the east, likely to be drier with a colder snap.
Crucially, the sound brought a daily comfort.
He didn't yet know if all was well with the wider world. But he did know life was at least going on in this part of it. Another day was starting. He was alive.
The train, the 5.50am, triggered his routine. Dog walk, jog, work.
Although today was different. Today was a lie-in. A rest day. A Saturday. The day he could allow himself to drift in and out of sleep, in and out of thought.
And when Johnny thought, he was never sure where it, where he, would end up.
A stream of memory, a train of thought swinging this way and that, in and out of the past, the future, the present.
The more he thought, the more his mind picked up speed, flowing now, soon up to full speed, hurtling around bends, sometimes having to slam the breaks on when he reached a particularly dark tunnel. He didn’t want to go there. He always stopped before he slammed into particularly painful memories. Parting with loved ones at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, or Euston.
Thankfully these were the exceptions. Most memories made him smile.
He was happy on trains. He loved looking out of the window. How green Britain was. The train itself was inter-connecting big cities, all cramped and congested. But in between was mostly green, mostly fields.
He'd always loved trains since he was a child. The thought of stepping into a world of adventure.
All from a simple, yet magical concept. Step on in one place, step on in another.
As a student he took it to extremes. Three weeks Inter-railing around Europe, three weeks on Via Rail across Canada, three weeks on Amtrak across America. Always alone.
The sights, the sounds, the smells, of being on board trains for days on end.
Trains had taken him to Venice - surely the best arrival at any station in the world - all that water.
To the Grand Canyon, the heat, the dust. The Arctic Circle - beluga whale watching off Churchill.
The joy of unexpected food and drink travelling by train. The coffee cart that turned up at 5am after a particularly early arrival in Salt Lake City, sipping tea on the platform on the Greek/Turkish border in the middle of the night en route to Istanbul.
The companions, spending three days and three nights with Kate from Nova Scotia in the Dome Car riding east-to west across Canada. Plains giving away to rivers and mountains before a picnic in Stanley Park, to celebrate/commisserate Vancouver's journey's end. Johnny wondered now, more than 25 years later, whatever became of Kate. They wrote. But not for long.
Before then, before girls. Days out as a child. One, just him and his mum. To Seascale on the west Cumbrian coast. Stony beach. Wide open space. The green of the Flying Scotsman on the way there, lovely blue and shape of Sir Nigel Gressley on the way back. He’d never forget that. A faded Polariod photo in an album. He loved that Polariod camera. Press the button. Click. Whirr. And there was the photo. Magic days. Magic memories.
He even had the name of a train as a nine-year-old child. All his school class did. All because Jeremy Stagg had been to York with his parents on an Easter break and fell in love with Deltics (he must have been too young for girls too).
Jonny was Meld. He remembered that even now 40 years on. Silly, that. He smiled. He’d even dragged his parents to stand and wait at King’s Cross to watch the Deltics coming in when his dad was in London on business. His late parents were good to him. He rarely heard the word ‘no’ as a child.
Jonny wasn't as train mad as Jeremy Stagg. But even he could appreciate the power of these huge machines. Most of all he liked that they were a rare sight, or at least for him.
Great hulking diesel Deltics were an East Coast thing. Jonny was a West Coast boy, all 86s, and 87, electrics, wires, only the special ones with names on red plates on the side. He’d learned all that from days out with his classmates sitting on Crewe station. Sandwiches. Pop. Conversation (sometimes about girls, but mostly about trains, music, football and cricket).
Deltics. Jonny's train of thought had gone into reverse. Something wanted to be found, to be discovered. Chris Rea. The concert. Belfast. Morag. There it was. He’d remembered. A broad smile now. His long time girl friend (note the separation of the two words, it mattered massively when he was 20, less so now). He spent years hoping the two words might merge. They did so briefly, disastrously, abroad. But the pain was long gone. Now he just smiled, remembering the day she’d asked him to go shopping to Belfast. Brown, thin, Cashmere, turtle neck, and a black one to match. Her smile. Amazing. And they’d spent the night watching Chris Rea at the King’s Hall. Chris Rea. He wrote a song about Deltics.
Another time after visiting Morag, Johnny spent the night on Glasgow station. Still to this day the only time he's slept on a station bench. Big tall Jimmy from uni had knocked him unconscious. Took exception to Johnny asking for his share of the rent back on their student pad over in Northern Ireland while Jimmy was showing off his native Glasgow.
Wow, he'd not recalled that for years. Never heard from Jimmy since. Except for a drunken apology on a late night phone call once night.
Northern Ireland. Trains from Coleraine to Derry on a Sunday. The beach at Castlerock, all expanse and surf. Milky coffee in the Derry cafe. Walk through the Bogside, "You Are Now Entering Free Derry", to the Brandywell. The game. Putting your feet up on the train on the way back (pushing off your shoes under the seat, and sneaking your stocking feat under the table onto the seat diagonal on a late Sunday afternoon in winter Bliss).
DMUs, it was all coming back to him now. DMUs, diesel multiple units, they transported him around his native Lancashire as a teenager. Off to Manchester to meet up with mates, down to Old Trafford for a day at the cricket. Lancashire mostly, England occasionally, packed lunches, autograph books.
Pacers, they came next. All square and bulky. On his native Fylde Coast, alongside the dunes, by the golf course. He'd got Seve's autograph there twice, in '79 and '88. Special memories. Not so special when his autograph book was stolen during a burglary. Sad that.
ATP. Wow the Deltic guys would have drooled over that. The future. Like a tilting rocket. In Jonny's teenage years, seeing the ATP at Tebay was akin to attending a Space Shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. All ambition and dreams. No frontier too final.
But by the time Jonny reached his late 20s, life got a bit mundane.
Jonny settled into family cars. Estate cars. M6 journeys. No romance.
He'd hoped his children would share the magic of trains. But they didn't "get it".
Couldn't understand the attraction.
They didn't even want to watch the Polar Express on Christmas Eve anymore.
He felt like the hobo. A ghost who had travelled all these miles, all these years, but no-one shared his sense of adventure.
At the end of every day, his children grown up, Megan, Jeremy Stagg, and friends long scattered, he still looks out over the fields to the coastal tracks.
And even to this day, even tonight, when he sees the lit carriages of the last train making its way through the darkness by the sea, it still brings a smile.
He still wonders who is on board, and where they are going.
For Jonny, it was never about reaching his final destination. It was only ever about the journey.