Location interview with Alex from the coach and wagon department. He really
knows his stuff. We learn how SKLR carriages are repaired and restored or
even built from the ground up. On site, there are enough coaches and wagons
to fill an infinitely rolling level crossing dream where the train never
ends. Mind you, if you told a Freudian psychologist you were having such
dreams they’d probably inform you that your unconscious is trying to resolve
a conflict between your desire to travel second class (super-ego) when
you’ve been handed a first class ticket (the id).
As you stroll through the yard you encounter passenger coaches decked out in
the Bowater company’s rolling stock livery. The exteriors are a confident
cheery green while the interiors are split at waist height by a saucy
caramel above and a deep nut brown below. Behind, on rise that borders the
vast modern paper mill, sharp faced daffodils poke out from the banks,
shaking their trumpets noiselessly in the wind.
Further on, toward the margins of the SKLR land, in an area reminiscent of
the forbidden zone in Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’, you find coaches bearing
Chattenden and Upnor logos. These originated from the military railway in
the Hoo, the marshy alluvial spur that separates the Thames from the Medway.
These de-militarised veterans still stand defiantly to attention though
they’ve long passed out on their last parade.
In among flat beds loaded with ruddy iron junk, clay and coal hoppers that
invite you to leap in and yell at the top of your voice. One is filled with
rolls of barbed wire, the spaghetti of security. Walking back to the
business end of the site, opposite the platform, are a row of wagons with
rusty ends loaded with the ballast and sleepers used to maintain the track.
Close to these are my two favourites – the recycled wood wagon and the fire
engine. The former has sides that look charred and burnt, as if it’s
survived a ride through a fiery torment. Close inspection suggests the
‘roasted alive look’ could just be the effect of the peeling paint. The fire
wagon is a child’s toy scaled up to life-size. Impossibly red and festooned
with hoses and buckets. It waits patiently for a call to action. Despite its
comical looks, it’s no mere show piece. Last year it was raced down the line
to tackle a raging brush fire. In the heat of summer, dried reeds that cover
the marsh present the perfect tinder.
post by sound artist Jim Whelton