It’s raining cats, dogs and perhaps a few other drizzled animals as I arrive
in Sittingbourne. I have an express mission today. I’m here not to ride the
SKLR to Kemsley Down but to stand like a svelte scarecrow on the platform
with my microphone at the ready. I’m hoping to catch the steamily-iconic
sounds of comings and goings – the wheezing but determined chug-chug as the
train departs Sittingboune SKLR station to ascend the viaduct and puff off
towards Kemsley Down and the exuberant chuff-chuff that sings of it¹s
Having conferred with Jacqueline, the station manager of the day as to the
expected arrival time, I take position on the platform, recording gear ready
to roll. As if on cue, the weather now decides to let go with a vengeance. A
fierce downpour clatters onto the exposed platform, swelling the already
substantial puddles. Squalling gusts carry the driving rain and fling it
this way and that, with the fury of a long forgotten deity. I think at this
point any cartoon character worth its salt would roll its eyes and exclaim
in a high pitched voice, What have I done to deserve this?
The flimsy umbrella I’ve brought down is quickly flipped inside out exposing
me and my equipment to the elements, Being the all weather-type, I’m not
unduly bothered by a good soaking. Unfortunately, my microphone and digital
recorder are not of the same stripe. Like all electronic gear, they are
fair-weather friends who can only take so much water before expiring. With
the rain still bucketing down, Jacqueline and ticket maestro Alan take pity
on me and invite me into the warmth of the SKLR ticket office to dry off. My
kit is most appreciative. Come to that, so am I.
I’m intrigued by Alan’s ticket box, a venerable wooden suitcase that
contains classic printed tickets in variegated rail ticket colours. It
brings to mind teenage B.R. train journeys out to the edges of Essex and
beyond to catch bands playing in conspicuously seedy venues such as the
Southend Kursaal. Somehow, I always managed to lose my ticket down the back
of the carriage seat.
Jacqueline, in her role of SKLR rota organiser, enlightens me as to the
complexities of running the railway. Over eighty volunteers who require if
you’ll forgive the term shunting into particular slots. Quite a task!
Despite the weather, I’ve managed to record one complete take of the plucky
locomotive (Superb arriving and departing the station, albeit punctuated by
the sound of insistent raindrops) Maybe it will be drier next time.
post by sound artist Jim Whelton