Railway Time

Do you remember that lazy afternoon
Back in August 1958?
Well, I bloody well do mate.
We were sitting on the bunker
At the end of platform four,
Just by the giant semaphore signal,
When 5050 The Earl of St Germans
Came steaming, Brunswick green and brass dome gleaming,
To a shrieking, whistling halt;
And you showed me how to record the numbers,
In a three-penny red memo book
(Weights and measures on the back),
And how to underline name and number
In my half-crown Ian Allan train book,
And you opened the door to magic:
Happy years at the Iron Bridge, the Greenbridge,
And the Bunky Bridge on the Highworth line,
On Vickers Armstrongs outings with our badges,
And trapping your thumb in the leather strapped door,
And the milepost says it’s seventy eight miles and a furlong
From Swindon Junction to Paddington;
Or sneaking on to the station
When you couldn’t afford a platform ticket,
Staring at the Five Boys Chocolate,
And the machine that stamped your name for a penny,
Or watching the trains from the Milk-bank,
Or a signal box with its clunking, clanking levers,
Then taking me inside the Railway Works
On a school holiday Wednesday afternoon,
Queuing to walk through that hallowed entrance,
Then along the tunnel into a Wonderworld
Of mechanics, machines, girders, cranes and grease,
And odd bits of steam engines, with the numbers
Chalked on steam-pipe, or funnel, or wheel,
And it counted as a cop –
You told me it wasn’t wagging and so it wasn’t!
And do you remember the men pouring out
From the Works and Pressed Steel at lunch time,
A river of men on bikes in full flood
In a frantic rush for grub and a fag,
And do you remember seeing 70030,
William Wordsworth, strain and slide
In snorting steam on ice cold winter days?
Or seeing sunlight shimmer, gleaming
On endless heat-hot railway lines,
Until they at last disappeared
In far off main line vanishing point;
Or waiting for the Cheltenham Flyer,
Studying the semaphore signal
In the sun haze squinting distance;
And you showed me all of this Ian Allan
ABC world of names and numbers,
This alphabet of railway alchemy:
You showed me the right way, the railway,
The Permanent Way –
So you’ll always be sitting beside me
On the wooden fence near Standish Junction,
As Jubilee class, 45609,
Gilbert and Ellice Islands steams into sight:
Railway Time,
Keith Time,
Brother Time.