My Favourite Railway Stories

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This work is taken from the My Favourite series - favourite stories on different themes by different authors, each volume edited by a celebrity in the field. Early in the morning we made our way to the railway station, just in time for the first air raid of the day. The first thing we had to do was to get steam up in a railway engine. There were more air raids, and it came on the rain, and two Greek deserters stole my car, and altogether things did not look very hopeful. But the needle on the pressure-gauge in the cabin of our engine was rising slowly, and at last, whistling excitedly, the ancient machine got under way. It was a majestic sight, and it would have been event more majestic if she had not gone backwards instead of forwards - thus Peter Fleming recaptures, in the middle of a world war, the lively freshness of the pioneer days a century before. This invigorating anthology opens with the indomitable nineteenth-century engineers whose grand designs were driven through by sheer force or will. Flags, banners, huzzas, innumerable bands, and a great roar of steam as each new section of line is opened: these greet the advent of the railways. Splendid as a setting for Victorian drama ( D'ye know you're stopping the Silkminster Express? Thank God I have! ); enchanting as a background to children's stories ( Peter would give almost his ears to be in her place, on a real engine ); the railways became, above and beyond this, a rich field of symbol, metaphor and association for the great novelists. Tolstoy, Hardy, Kipling, Zola, all are represented here; so too, is L.T.C. Rolt describing the Abbots Ripton disaster; Humbert Simmons and the cheerful rogues he knew as a young clerk; Auden and Monro; E.V. Knox for comedy and J.B. Priestley for humour; and Paul Jennings himself walking the Colne Valley line: Standing in the fields, hearing nothing but birds, the wind, the occasional far-off lorry, you have a curious intimation of what it was the railways destroyed - the sheer, brute mysterious fact of distance. You can sense what it was like here when the navvies came and laid those straight tracks a century ago. There is a mystery in all beginnings.