Railways, nostalgia, memories and time travel.

I am sure I am not alone when I say stations and trains hold countless evocative memories for me. Many of these recollections are from my childhood, others from my adolescence and beyond. But most are essentially pure nostalgic longing.

I say nostalgic longing rather than reminiscent memory because most of the evocative scenes which play within my mind, when I contemplate railway carriages and station platforms, are false recollections. They are simply wistful yearnings for a time and place I have never been privy to.

Those of you who do not have a creative bent, those who are not writers, poets or lyricists may not, as yet, comprehend my words. So I shall, in my usual arbitrary, chaotic and irregular manner, begin to ramble away and hopefully elucidate you all too where my thoughts have wandered regarding this subject.

If you will humour me, I shall ask you to close your eyes for a moment or two and imagine you are on a station platform in the nineteen forties or fifties.

casablanca04Hear the sounds of the locomotive hissing steam as it waits for the passengers to disembark. See the porters wheel loaded wooden carts to the goods wagon, while others push handcarts laden with passenger’s luggage to the coach doorway where they assist the people to alight.

In the waiting room a small coal fire burns filling the air with a sooty but homely scent, a scent of warmth and comfort. From a small kiosk a man wearing a scarf and flat cap sells newspapers to the passengers waiting on the platform.

All around a cacophony of sound melds into this concert of life, whistles blow, milk churns clank, You can hear the ‘thunk’ as reams of newspapers are plonked on the platform ready for collection. Passenger’s voices are a constant murmur, a backdrop to the stationmaster’s call of “All aboard”. Doors slam shut, the train huffs and puffs as it pulls away. A metallic squeal pierces the air as the wheels begin to turn.

Those remaining on the platform wave off their loved ones who, leaning out of the windows, blow kisses back.

The pervading smell is of coal, steam, hot metal, wood, newspaper and soot.bacio in treno grande

That is how I remember railway stations. Or at least that is how my selective and partially false memories cause my mind to create this evocative picture in my head.

I am not old enough to have had such an experience. I was not born into that era. Perhaps I do have just enough knowledge, enough memory to blend the truth into this fantasy.

As a young child, maybe six or seven years old, I regularly watched the last few operational steam trains as the rattled over the railway bridge in Penge.

I remember ‘platform tickets’, tickets which allowed non-passengers access onto the platforms to say goodbye and wave off their loved ones, or to meet them on their return. I have sat in the comforting warmth of a British Rail waiting room which was heated by an open coal fire, the smell of which I shall never forget. I also recall when the green liveried trains had first, second and third class carriages, as well as a goods wagon and guards van at the rear.

Some may say that these were the ‘good old day’s’ and in many ways I agree. But historical conclusion is not the topic of today’s rambling.

I was not born early enough to have encountered life in the forties, not early enough to truly know the scents, sounds and feel of traveling by train in ‘those days’. Yet I do have the ability to create with my pen an acceptable and, this is the important bit, believable account of ‘being there’.

This is where ‘false memory’ becomes a friend and not the enemy.

downloadMixed with those few true memories I have are the perceptions of what life was like during such times. I have absorbed and pooled many of these ideas by reading books and watching films from that era, such as Brief Encounter (1945), or The Lady Eve (1941) and many other such scenes from plays and television programmes.

If, as a writer, I do my job well I can utilise both the true, the false and the acquired to create a world that will captivate the consciousness of the reader, draw them into my fantasy world as their eyes traverse the page. I want to fascinate and enthral the reader, not only with my characters and their antics but also by lending to them an illusory world where they can escape the mundane and humdrum of life, at least for the moment.

This is where nostalgia, or at least nostalgic imagery features. I believe it is something we all have a longing for. Who, for instance would not wish to travel back, to at least one certain point in time, if they were able?

I know that is something I would do if it were at all possible.

So why, I hear you ask, have I focused on railways as a topic to discuss the past. The answer is simple. Trains were ‘the’ mode of transport for the majority of people ‘way back when’ when few owned a car, less could afford to board a ship and air travel was just an aviators dream. Most places were too far away to cycle and horses were all but history.

How many have not said goodbye, waved off a loved one or shed a tear on a railway platform. Who has not been be45a6b16e065833331925e08c5acb93bursting with excitement and anticipation while awaiting the arrival of a train returning a family member, a friend or a lover home?

It is a fact that stations are a place we all hold dear, because this is where we have experienced numerous emotions countless times.

The station, the train, the railway is a place indelibly ingrained, permanently embedded and entwined with both our memory and emotion, however true or however false those evocative recollections might be will still hold them close, we still cherish them.

We all carry within that simple wistful yearning for a time and place that we have never been.

Thank you for reading this rambling. I hope that these few randomly scribbled words have given you food for thought, stimulated your muse or even simply entertained you for a short while, Paul.

 


To read more of my work please feel free to visit A Little more Fiction http://wp.me/5od8T

or Further Ramblings http://wp.me/5njAU

If you enjoy a great book why not check out Sneak Peek where you can browse and read excerpts from a plethora of books from fantastic authors  http://wp.me/5sgTb

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The Wind & the Sun

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  This is a story my father used to tell me as a young child.

  Way back then I had no idea that this story was his version of an Aesop’s fable.

  I loved listening to him regale it over and again; although I had heard this story many times, it was not until I was about seven that I began to understand how the moral of the tale, or at least the basic message it carried, related to life.

   My father has now been dead for over thirty five years, yet I still recall his voice when I think of the Wind & the Sun.

   Moreover I am still learning the true extent of how the simple and basic message this story carries can affect every part of our lives, in work, play, socially, and in our domestic and love life relationships.

   I will try my best to recount this tale as closely to my father’s recitation as I can recall, because I still prefer his version to that of Aesop!

   Maybe you would too, if you could hear his voice as clearly I still do.


One day the Wind and the Sun were looking down upon the earth when they saw a man walking along a footpath.

‘Look at that man’ said the Wind, ‘I bet I can get his jacket off him quicker than you ’.

‘You think you can?’ answered the Sun.

‘Of course’ the Wind replied ‘because I am strong and powerful’.

‘Go on then’ said the Sun ‘let me see what you can do’.

So the Wind began to blow. As the Wind blew the man’s jacket flapped in the breeze. The Wind blew harder, whipping up clouds of dust and blowing the leaves from the trees.

The man buttoned his jacket, turned up his collar, lowered his head and continued walking.

Displeased with his efforts so far the Wind let a howling gale bellow over the ground. It was so forceful that the man had to fold his arms across his chest to stop his jacket from being blown off.

The Wind saw what the man was doing took a huge puff and let loose a tempest.

The man clutched his jacket tighter to himself, holding it firm with both hands.

Again and again the Wind blew and blew. The harder the Wind blew the tighter the man clung to his Jacket.

Eventually the Wind had puffed so hard for so long that he blew himself out.

The sun laughed and said to the Wind ‘Now it is my turn to try and get this man’s jacket off’.

So the Sun smiled and shone his gentle rays of warm sunlight upon the earth and upon the man.

The man took his hands from his jacket.

The Sun continued to smile and spread his warmth.

The man unbuttoned his jacket and loosened his tie.

After a while the man, bathed in the glorious heat from the sun, removed his jacket, slung it over his shoulder and began to whistle as he walked.

‘You see, Wind’ said the Sun, ‘you can accomplish far more by being gentle and giving than you can with brute force alone’.

.

I hope you enjoyed my father’s version of this story.


You can read more by visiting https://alittlemorefiction.wordpress.com/

It’s been a long walk home.

Many of you will be aware that I am (almost) at the publishing stage for a book I have been working on for a little over three years. The book is titled ‘Life in the Warzone’ it is about the effects that living in an area of conflict has on people, be they combatants or innocent civilians, even children.

During my research and interviews (from Sarajevo, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, and the Ukraine) I often come across essays, poems and other forms of accounts which expresses personal trauma.

Here is one such piece I would like to share with you.

This is not my work. I take no credit for these words.

 


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It’s been a long walk home.

(Author unknown)

.

It’s been a long walk home, I’m almost there,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

I’m right back there again,

lost in that same damn firefight,

It’s been forty years,

When will it end?

Every night it’s that same damn firefight,

We lost Sam and Bill,

Tag’em and bag’em,

we were told,

we’d never seen em again.

But every night, it’s their faces that I see,

and I ask myself why wasn’t it me,

my name should be etched in that cold black wall of stone,

It’s been a long walk home,

I’m almost there.

.

But I hear that chopper so near,

Raining tracers down,

Can’t they see us here?

Marine down, corpsman up,

But silence is all I hear.

Why am I the only one left,

Screaming GOD get me outta here?

It’s been forty years,

I still see that day,

We were almost there.

.

The edge of the jungle,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

Tag’em n bag’em the list goes on,

To many to remember,

It was their last firefight.

I’m the only one left,

Lost and running looking for my way out.

It’s been a long walk home.

.

My family, don’t understand

When I say that this can’t be real

Just let me wake up one time and this not be,

But it’s that same damn firefight every night,

I wake up shaking like a leaf in the wind,

Tell’n my wife that it was just a chill,

Not that rage to kill,

But she sees it in my eyes,

That same damn firefight,

It’s been a long walk home, I’m almost there.

.

I was telling her good-bye,

When she realized I didn’t fear death anymore,

It was my life I was about to take,

She cried out for me to come out of that jungle, out into the daylight,

Think of the kids and what this would do,

She took me by the hand helping me make that first step,

Coming out of that jungle into the daylight,

It’s been a long walk home.

.

Forty years and I’m almost there,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

but this time it’s a younger brother yelling out,

trying to find his way out into the daylight,

Out of that smoky fog of that same damn firefight,

It’s been forty years for me,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

It’s their pain that I feel,

Knowing that this damn firefight is not real,

I’m here to help lead my younger brothers out,

Not to walk forty years as I,

Lost in that same damn firefight of PTSD!


If you would like to know more about my forthcoming book ‘Life in the Warzone’ please visit my website and look on the ‘works in progress’ page. http://paulznewpostbox.wix.com/paul-white

Thank you, Paul.

Late train home

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I find the dull metallic hum, as the train pulls away from the harsh glow of neon lights on the station platform, somewhat comforting in its reassurance. As is entering the dark cavern of the subway tunnel whilst cocooned in the dim warmth of the vibrating carriage.

Once again the familiar tempo of steel wheels upon the rails, and the irregular rocking as the train rumbles along, calms the customary angst which always seemed too accompany me in hectic, overcrowded places.

Seated comfortably, time slows. Harmony descends upon me like a cloak of serene velvet. I sigh out loudly, a liberated wisp of disquiet flutters away, disappearing into the ether.

Unbuttoning my coat and flicking the hood from my head, I leaned back stretching my weary legs out in front of me. The carriage is empty. I am alone. Peace and calm descend.

At this time of night the subway takes on a different form, its very structure becomes prominent. Vibrations resound in every wall, wafts of cool air frequently gust throughout; inhale, exhale, the subway breathes deeply. Recurrent metallic taps echo from the depths of the black underpasses in harmony with those rustling organic whispers. It is as if the subway comes to life, wakens as an entity in itself.

I love the subway at this time of night, which is why I like to take the late train home. I can relax.

I like to stare through the glass, trying to make out what the indistinct passing shapes that flash by actually are. Long, thick wires twist together, hanging in sooty swags from the tunnel walls, like massive black anacondas awaiting unsuspecting prey. The occasional light, dulled by a layer of caked on grime, giant fireflies? And dark recesses, small arches sunken into the curvature of the walls. What lays within? Possibly a door, a secrete door to another world, a parallel universe?

Then there is the reflection, my reflection, eerily unfocused, staring back at me from the darkened window pane. But is that me? I think not. Looking I see the reflection has a smirk on his face, he is hiding his knowledge of me, or a secret. He has the answers I seek. The answers I have spent my whole life trying to find. He smiles before fading away as the train enters a brightly lit station.

stock-footage-reflections-in-subway-window

These are my fantasies, my late night daydreams as I travel home. This is where my reality and illusion merge, where imagination and invention combine.

This is the birthplace of whimsy and caprice.

This is why I like to take the late train home.

© Paul White 2014

FFCO1808‎2014