Tuesday, January 14, 2014


"It is common knowledge that many hundreds of clergymen are enthralled with everything that has to do with railways, but none of them can pick and choose where they will work by whether the parish has an interesting or dull railway station.  In railway matters the parson must take what he finds and make the most of it.  Furthermore, he must pursue what engines run through the parish only in his spare time, since it was not for this that he was ordained.  My life as a priest has been passed so far in five different places, four of these being parishes and the fifth a great cathedral. Of these, two offered a high degree of railway interest, two were quite hopeless from a railway point of view, and the fifth, though dull and uneventful within the strict limit of its own parochial boundaries, had a station of great interest only a mile or two outside them. Memories of odd moments and occasional hours of observation within the limits imposed by workaday duty during these thirty-two years of ministry do form something like a microcosm of the development of British railways in that period." 

Yesterday I found, strictly by chance, Roger Lloyd’s delightful Farewell To Steam (George Unwin & Allen, Ltd., 1956) at The Title Page in Bryn Mawr.  Lloyd, who I subsequently learned was a prominent mid-20th century Anglican churchman, the Vice-Dean of Winchester Cathedral, and a leading authority on Chrisitian socialism, also knew a great deal about engines, stations and railway history, and wrote compellingly on the subject in an entertaining, engaging way.  Caroline and I have spent so much of our lives riding trains   she daily to school from Paoli to Bryn Mawr and I from Lawrence to Penn Station Manhattan, dating from the time when New York’s subways were clean, safe and exciting in a good way.  After becoming a couple, we rode trains regularly to visit her mother in Pennsylvania, drinking Bloody Marys & talking and looking out the window at New Jersey cows and fields.  And trains in Spain are some of our very best memories.  Jane’s hardly been on trains at all.  I feel guilty about this, but much of the fun has gone out of train travel in the US. Amtrak, for instance, has become ruinously expensive and now charges “dynamic pricing” like airlines and sports arenas.  The Kinks song linked below is a predictable, but highly appropriate selection and the British railway footage which accompanies it is fun to watch.  And the Howlin’ Wolf record it’s based on is just the greatest and it needs to be played and listened to over and over to remind the world that Smokestack Lighting has nothing to do with Viagra.  The bottom two photos show evocative railroad scenes in Winchester Chesil and Winchester Alresford.  The top shot depicts unforgettable London railway rush hour.

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