I’m staying down in West Devon with my brother and his wife for Christmas.
We pay a morning visit to the rather attractive but heaving town of
Sidmouth. While Alison fishes among frocks in the Sea Salt shop and Mike
peruses German trousers of various textures, I seize the chance to duck into
the numerous charity shops that dot the streets. I’m after some steam-themed
reading and in minutes I emerge with two prizes. Who needs Amazon?!!
The first book is The Penguin Guide to the Railways of Britain by Edgar
Jones and published in 1981. Inside are some high contrast black and white
pics of trains and a map of the Birmingham rail network that looks like
Spiderman’s mask. There¹s also a piece of paper inside with weights and
words scribbled on it in a keen hand. Here¹s an example:
7kg plastic shaped bag
3 kg Mack¹s toy boy
9 kg blue grip
I can’t help wondering who Mack’s toy boy was and how come he weighed so
little. Also, isn’t nine kilograms heavy for a blue grip even if I knew
what a blue grip was? I’ve heard of a hair grip and a French lady singing
about La Grippe aka the flu.
I reach the conclusion that the book must have been previously in the
custody of a spy and this was a coded message to their superiors. They must
have travelled on trains an awful lot because we all know that spies prefer
to travel on trains to planes. Planes may be fast but if you want to mount a
decent fight scene with your antagonist you need the decent space offered by
a train carriage. Preferably a sleeper car because then you get to have a
life and death struggle over the sink and protect yourself by squirting
toothpaste in your adversary’s eyes. If you’ve ever inadvertently gotten
toothpaste in your eye you’ll know that it stings like a cobra.
My second book is much larger than the first. It’s by Colin Garratt and is
titled ‘Veterans in Steam’. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a companion
book called ‘Veterinarians in Steam’ but I suppose that’s unlikely. Mind
you, if you could round up enough vets and herd them into a Turkish Baths
you’d be onto a winner.
The book has many colour plates and I suppose my favourite has to be of a
charming perfectly formed loco festooned with black paint, rust and rivets.
This is Kamig AG’s 0-6-0 and it’s pictured standing in repose at the
Schwertberg exchange sidings in Upper Austria. The book also has a photo of
the author. As it’s from 1979, he is sporting very long hair and reminds me
of the absent father in the popular W.F. Yearns painting ‘When Last Did You
See Your Father?’. The painting depicts a young boy from a Royalist family
being interrogated by a crack team of Parlimentarians. They made a mistake.
They should have asked the family dog.
The brief but engaging biography of Mr Garratt tells us that he lives in the
same small Leicestershire village overlooking the bridge from where he
watched his first steam train in 1949. He also regularly lectured on lenses
and cameras for the Pentacon Praktica company. Prakticas were manufactured
in the former East Germany before reunification. Their SLR cameras had a
distinctively boxy body. A school friend’s dad had one and took a picture of
us dressed up as a pair of marauding Vikings, since lost.
post by sound artist Jim Whelton