The train from the North

My dad still tells of
The great steam trains of his youth
Vast hammer clouds of dirty smoke
Erupting from the chimneys,
Not just ejected from the engine, but up, up,
Up, Into the upper reaches of the stratosphere
Hanging above the cuttings
At the bottom of Oak Street
Or Marsh Green Road;
But the majesty – no other word
Will do to describe, to eulogise
The crowning glories of the Victorian Engineers;
The ingenuity to create movement
From cracked stone, fire and iron-clad inertia
From what is, in truth, whisper it…
A teapot on wheels.
And such is the way in those parts,
Where I grew up, near Railway Town,
There was a fascination, a worship
Of engines, of tracks,
The mobile machinations
Of pumping pistons and spinning gears –
Of water, of rock, of gas, of light.
Maybe then, it’s why, when I jump on
The train from the north midway along
A carriage of Scousers and Mancs
And the posher sort, from Wilmslow or Hale,
There remains all around still
That childlike fascination of travel on train
To distant places,
Through nameless middle lands
But then, on the edges of the Smoke,
The train, now smoke free
Yaws on the tracks and the necks strain
Rotate, pivot, swivel and spin
At dreamed-of panoramas;
The looping arch of Wembley;
The first glimpse of curving Tube tracks,
A peep through buddleia riddled track side
Towards the Post Office Tower or Centre Point,
Before the descent into the gloom –
Stephenson’s vast cutting –
And All Change, All Change
For reality.

3 thoughts on “The train from the North

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