You were invited to indulge in steamy nostalgia, or anti-nostalgia, or comment on the pleasures and pains of modern rail travel, but most of this quarter’s competitors, whether insular, sub-continental or continental, largely eschewed nostalgia for the gritty reality of today.
However, Elizabeth Horrocks remembered four of the famous companies pre-nationalisation and British Rail, gloomily noting ‘And then ignoring all beseeching/Most lines were closed by Dr Beeching.’ Martin Choules recorded that ‘after huffing belching steam/the throaty diesels came’. Meanwhile, Joanna Bird had a depressing experience in Basingstoke, Peter Goulding spotted a train-spotter, in his anorak and his corduroys/carrying his flask of weak tea, and Mae Scanlan extolled a civilised way of travel in the style of Ogden Nash.
With thanks to all who took part, below in no particular order are the defiantly unclosed lines.
Sue Scott: Dear Skimbleshanks
There’s a whisper down the line at 11.39
As the fast train shimmers on the track.
People grab their bags and cases; climb on board and search for spaces;
Throw their coats and luggage up upon the rack.
As they squeeze into their seating, there are folk already tweeting;
Others with their phone clamped firmly to their ear.
No-one really has a notion that the train is now in motion
As they tap and swipe the latest bit of gear.
It’s not really all the rage in this ultra-modern age
To do nothing except simply sit and stare.
For with very little trouble, you’re absorbed within a bubble
Of a wireless world that takes you anywhere.
A clutter of gardens slip away;
A lake- just a silver sheen;
Hills rolled in light, a hawk in flight–
And they all pass by unseen.
Bob Newman: Elegy on a mainline terminus
The city winds down from another day,
The hum of business starting to abate.
As workers homeward plod their weary way,
Frustrations from the office dissipate.
Then at the station crowds seethe in dismay –
The trains to take them home are running late.
Some give up, and seek solace in a pub.
But does drink mellow them? Aye, there’s the rub!
Wracked by his guilt, the station master cowers.
Announcers make excuses; porters quail.
The tyrant with unchallenged office powers
Finds here his claims to special status fail.
Disruption to the evening journey sours
The mood of those enfeebled by travail.
Come, god of travel, crack a thunderbolt!
Ignite the longed-for passengers’ revolt!
S. Subramanian: Nonpareil Of Indian Railways
You’re bound to hit sooner if not later
Between Renigunta and Arakkonam
Even if it’s not your idea of ‘summum bonum’.
For I’ve heard brave men say
That if you should travel in May
By train on this section,
Even ice is no protection
Against the heat of the summer.
This makes travelling a bummer,
And it’s no compensation
That there’s no other station
Whose name’s length is greater
D. A. Prince: Train Stationed
(With apologies to Ted Hughes)
I sit on the high-speed line, my doors closed.
Inactive, no promise that a team
Will move my stalled engine and locked wheels.
Or trouble the locked silence of my sleep.
The convenience of the station's sheltering roof!
The trapped air and the burned sun
Do not discomfort me,
Nor the crowd's angry face. Awaiting fitters' attention.
My wheels are grounded to the steel rails.
It's taking the whole of the station
To manage my delay, my each missed connection;
Now I hold all Network Rail to my charge.
The darkness is falling.
Only the clock has moved since this began.
My faults require something larger than attention.
I am going to keep things like this.
Susanna Clayson: Railway reverse – Commuters curse
Boarding the train for home once again
slamming of doors as passengers pause
find a free seat and something to eat
carriages sway as train pulls away
sulphurous smell, cacophonous hell
urban decay, drab shades of grey
graffiti scrawl, tags every wall
each soot-streaked pane, like a freeze frame
snapshots of life, moment of strife
image I find, plays through my mind
bags on the rack, rattle and thwack
clickety clack, train on a track
green fields flash by, blink of an eye
sat back to back, listen to chat
just tittle-tat, stations flik-flak
home, hit the sack, wake and go back.
C. R. Edenhill: Thoughts In The Underground
Ignoring fervid adverts’ praise
Of chocolates, coffees, colas, cocoas,
I did read one about the days
Of steam and carbonivorous locos.
It told of rambling rural tracks
In railways' gas-and-Gothic ages,
New lines held up by ducal packs
Or clashing broad and narrow gauges.
A non-commercial treat to scan
Among the hyper-graphic pleading
As far as “Since The Rocket ran
Our ales have merited their leading . . .”
Dare we now hope more firms will switch
To decking subterranean stations
With such publicity, in which
The puffs are tiny exhalations?
Alex Steelsmith: Staying on Track
You can travel with ease through all kinds of terrain
On a perfectly practical, trustworthy train.
You assume a conductor is somewhere on deck –
At the helm, you would hope – but you don’t need to check.
It’s a matter of faith, since a train seldom fails
To remain in its grooves on reliable rails.
With a subway, you trust in your daily commute,
And the thought of conductors is more or less moot
When you hop on a car of an underground train
That appears to be driven by no human brain.
It’s as if we’ve been riding in cars that self-drive,
Of a sort, for as long as we’ve all been alive.
If the newfangled self-driving autos relied
On a track (not a satellite’s dubious guide),
Then you probably wouldn’t be out of your gourd
To imagine they’re safe, and you might be on board.
Liza McAlister Williams: The Amtrak Downeaster
For those who know the eastern coast that runs from Boston up to Maine,
it’s one of the iconic journeys one may hazard on a train,
endless on the northward trip, and just as endless home again,
tooting at each “rail-sing cross-road” as my father used to say,
through the back lots and the byways, weedy fields and mouldy hay,
past the houses’ seedy gardens – it’s a trip that kills a day.
Hour by hour it takes its leisure, so you may as well sit back,
set up vigil by the window, listen to the clackety-clack,
watch the miles eat up the hours, as they fade from light to black.
Still, in spite of all one’s grousing, glimpsing sights that aren’t on show,
it’s a pleasant way to travel, if you really have to go –
mesmerized, the cradle rocking, chugging fast or chugging slow.