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Saturday March 15th  2014  Tim Candler

 

     The last railway line to finger its way through the Chilterns was opened in 1906.  And it's worth pausing to recall the world as it might have been in that year.  You could read Jack London's White Fang in a magazine, and then wait for the next issue, so that you could find out what happened next.  The German Navy launched its first U-Boat.  A Frenchman flew a powered aeroplane two hundred feet. SOS became internationally recognized as a signal of distress.  The world's first feature film was released. In Russia there was an attempt by the central government to create a property owning peasant class. It was also the year when you could buy a Victrola, which was a windup gramophone record player that had an internal sound system, instead of a rather attractive horn that apparently calmed Terriers.  Someone made the first radio broadcast, and it must have been tricky for him to know what to broadcast, so he chose an aria about Xerxes enjoying some shade, 'O Holy Night' was sung, and then he made a speech asking for feed back which begun with a  passage from the Christian Bible.  And too, in 1906, there was some distress between the USA and Japan, one result of which in the USA was to segregate school children of Japanese origin. Finland decided it was safe to let women stand for public office. A Belgium company started mining in the Congo. And the phrase "Gordon Bennett," was coined as an expression of amazement.

 

 

      But when you were something like eleven years old, and you were down in a railway cutting, on the platform of a railway station in the first years of 1960, you didn't really give a damn about any of those things, because you were giving serious consideration to your future as the driver of a steam locomotive. And as you waited for the express to thunder through, smell the coal and steam, and the carbon release of reduction which follows improper stoking, you begin to think that you might have to start out driving one of the smaller steam engines, that did shunting in the sidings. In your mind you saw yourself, jumping out to change the points, you had a couple of flags to wave, and for lunch you'd probably have a thermos flask, a Banana sandwich and a coca cola.  And when you weren't eating lunch you'd probably smoke cigarettes. And of course you'd practice giving passers by your superior stare, and maybe learn a few cruel words so that you could put railway porters and ticket collectors in their place.  And one of the reasons you could think all these things is because there weren't many steam locomotives up and down the line and it was very easy to get bored waiting for one. So you'd look northward into the distance at the foot bridge and you'd decide that maybe if you waited for the steam locomotive on that bridge you'd not have to find thrupence for a platform ticket. (to be continued.....?)

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