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A family day out today, with sister and brother-in-law, niece and nephew-in-law and great-niece Sylvie, on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Steam Railway. A day of delights on one of the country’s glorious steam railways which have been restored, repaired, reopened and are run entirely by volunteers. A day of old-fashioned stations adorned with flowers, buffets replete with egg sandwiches and knitted tea-cosies and home-made cakes, staff in box-fresh uniforms with red floral buttonholes (station) or neckerchieves (trains), all accessorised with beaming smiles, portly middle-aged men slung about with cameras and accompanied by indulgent wives and nice dogs, many of the dogs also wearing neckerchieves, hikers eating picnic lunches out of Tupperware boxes, and trains.

Ah, the trains! Or rather, to be technically exact, the engines! On this line today the engines which pulled us were smaller freight locomotives, but they still had all the romance of steam – the animal warmth emanating from the curved flank of the boiler, the urgent note of the whistle, then the slowly starting, steadily increasing, chuff-chuff-chuff, like huge breaths as the engine gets going, the puffs of steam rising rhythmically and blowing back over the carriages as they pull out of the station, the distant whistle as they pass away: “Goodbye! Goodbye!” No matter that they are only going ten miles down the line and will be back in an hour, they still have all the romance of the great locomotives which used to race the length and breadth of Britain pulling The Flying Scotsman, The Bristolian, The Royal Scot, The Cornishman, the Bournemouth Belle, The Night Riviera, The Northumbrian, The Caledonian, The Scarborough Flyer. All the great passenger trains of the great age of railways. In their honour today, one bad haiku, one appalling clerihew, and one poem by a real poet whose shoes I am not fit to lick.

Family day out on
God’s Wonderful Railway.
A step back in time.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Did not feel terribly well.
He got nauseous when he travelled too far by carriage,
So he built the Great Western Railway, an engineering marvel of the Victorian age.

Dilton Marsh Halt (John Betjeman)

Was it worth keeping the Halt open?/We thought as we looked at the sky/Red through the spread of the cedar tree/With the evening train gone by.
Yes, for in summer the anglers use it,/two and sometimes three,/bringing their catches of rods and poles and perches/to Westbury, home to tea.
There isn’t a porter. The platform is made of sleepers./The guard of the last up train puts out the light,/as high over lorries and cattle the Halt unwinking/waits through the Wiltshire night.
O housewife safe in the comprehensive churning/of the Warminster launderette,/O husband down at the depot with car in car park/the Halt is waiting yet.
And when all the horrible roads are finally done for,/and there’s no more petrol left in the world to burn,/here to the Halt from Salisbury and from Bristol/steam trains will return.

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