Waiting in the bushes by the railings of the train station my adolescent friends and I would crouch. Timed to perfection, upon seeing the train coming under the bridge, we’d start running.
Our eighties equivalent of electronic ticket gates was a lengthy leg, wrapped in dark grey trousers. Said leg was attached to a stout, greying moustached Scotsman, who, from his ticket office would suspend it to reach the wooden planked wall at the other end of the corridor leading to the platforms, infectively creating an impenetrable barrier.
If judged just right, we could enter the station at speed, skid on our knees under the protruding leg, pretend we didn’t hear his aggressive howl nor see his waving fist, pray he didn’t take up chase, scamper down those cast iron stairs onto the platform, and board the train to Chelmsford seconds before the whistle was blown!
Looking back the risk was hardly worth the reward; Chelmsford hardly a utopian paradise, yet it was our nearest larger town and had amenities above our own; namely a cinema and Wimpy bar.
We lived around trains, marvelled at their abilities and played by the line; the highly dangerous “chicken,” or at less extreme times laying slow worms on the track and betting sweets on which one would make it off before the train crossed; it was our sadistic version of pooh-sticks. But our obsession with trains was entirely practical, unlike my elder brother, who for a short chapter in his life paid pennies, actually paid, not for a ticket to travel rather for a “platform” ticket in which he and his nerdy, anorak-clad mates would stand writing train numbers in a book; God, how I laughed then, still do today.
Trainspotting was real, unsure if it still is, until Stroud’s Amberley Publishing kindly sent me a book to review titled Wiltshire Traction by Mark Jamieson. To buy a copy would confirm.
I confess I was intrigued by the prospect of reading a history of Wiltshire’s railways, being while home of the GWR plant in Swindon, anyone from our area under the age of Dr Richard Beeching’s act of axing several main lines in the sixties, doesn’t share similar fond but mischievous railway memories as mine above.
So, there’s me expecting an informative history of the railways here, from days of steam to date; my ignorance at the term “Traction” in its title. For what it’s worth it begins as such, a brief explanation of Wiltshire’s landscape, agricultural and industrial trades in an extract taken from Bradshaw’s 1861 Handbook of Great Britain and Ireland. The introduction then mentions the existing main lines, and GWR works, but only breezes over past lines before rambling headlong into some serious train-spotter jargon about major freight operators and where they operate.
This is the fashion this photo-book continues on, ergo I’d wager the series, which are all ingeniously titled “[enter county name] Traction,” are much the same. With no text hereafter the two-page introduction, save a complex blurb detailing traction models, serial numbers and which line it ran on, to which a train obsessed fruit bat might view the series as a biblical, the rest of us would remain baffled and mind-numbingly bored with at the passing of the second or third photo.
If you’ve only a passing interest in trains, as I, or you’re thinking “hey, maybe trainspotting might be a worthy hobby perusing,” I guarantee this book will put you off. You’d surely have to be a dedicated enthusiast to be entertained by this, but if you are, well then, buy Wiltshire Traction.
Perhaps I’m over-reacting but I’d like to have seen some narrative, what the trains meant to Wiltshire folk, how the Beeching Act affected their lives, what it’d have been like working at the GWR; all queries which could be answered with a visit to Steam in Swindon I suppose, yet this is a local book about trains I’d be hoping for, not an endless stream of similar photos of dirty trodden engines scooting through our green and pleasant land.
All said and done, needles are in the haystacks (an endless stream of traction engines running on lines images) as in between the barrage of train-spotter’s wet dreams, there are a few photos which caught my attention; one of the Intercity 125 in it’s glorious retro colours, the D818 Glory being scrapped at Swindon’s works, a class 08 overhaul also at the factory, and the new Hitachi-built class 800 units at Swindon station, but that about wraps it up for fear of donning an anorak; you, though, might like it.