Could Trainspotting be a new fetish for me? Like most things, a fetish has to start somewhere, making me suspect that yesterday’s activities may have had a tenuous link to having been restrained the evening before, strapped to an ice block.
In my previous blog, I described grumping my way up a bit of a tortuous hill having developed a sexagenarian pain in the foot. My life’s partner, Shan, always ready with some patent cure to prevent me becoming a complete pain in the arse, declared that the solution lay in cooling the injury down. I’d like to report that a small crowd of campers gathered to witness my ritual humiliation but it would be a lie.
Instead, I was strapped unceremoniously to a small plastic ice pack, more properly used in a miniature cool bag, using the strap that, in normal life, keeps Campy’s awning from blowing away. In order to complete the humiliation, the above photo was taken as evidence to be used for future blackmail. OK, so it was me who had been rabbiting on about getting a steam train from Corfe Castle to Swanage to meet The Queen in the morning. I believe this was to ensure that I wasn’t going to be able to get out of it when I was sober the next morning. A further bribe of fish and chips had induced me into this predicament in the first place.
All so that I could hobble my way down the rough-hewn byway to Corfe Castle to take up our assignation with steam and, unbeknownst to me, also with The Queen.
During one of those often tedious moments while waiting for a delayed train, serendipity took over when I confessed to a couple of charming steam train volunteers that I wished to take some photos of the steam locomotive to send to a friend. Expecting the normal knowing nudge and wink when using the “asking for a friend” explanation, I incurred genuine interest of the kind that turns bucket list tourism into genuine travellers’ experiences. I could easily have dug my hole a bit deeper when “confessing” that my friend was South African.
“Which part,” one of the volunteers asked. He was manning the Corfe Castle railway museum.
“Durban,” I replied. “East Coast.”
“He’s not part of the Umgeni Steam Railway, is he?”
This was too detailed for me. I’ll have to verify with Jeremy Hathorn (Jem) when we’re next in contact. I believe it to be true though.
Turns out this gentleman from Corfe Castle knew, and had traveled on, just about every steam railway in South Africa that had been extant in 1987 ... this last time he had visited the country. He’d also traversed many of the spectacular mountain road passes while on his railway quest (just like Jem, too). Apologising for gaps in his memory, he proceeded to reel off the names of all the passes between the Little and Great Karoo.
I also learned about the “Ficksburg line” and the last train that tried to traverse it in its neglected, dilapidated state. Beats Last Train to Clarksville any day. I was beginning to find out why people become trainspotters, many of whom lined the track between Corfe Castle and Swanage. There’s a visceral source of excitement when these iron beasts chug across spectacular countryside puffing steam from giant pistons and using it to toot a deafening whistle.
With all of my newfound excitement you may be justified in asking why I haven’t provided pukka illustrations ... I will, just as soon as I work out how to get them off my pukka camera while out in the bundu.
In the meantime, as soon as we arrived in Swanage we discovered that the iron roads had been central to the seaside town’s former glory. There must’ve once been a tram that skirted the bay, at least as far as the genteel pier. Swanage still has its attractions but the fine old buildings that cascade down the hill to the sea have been diluted by the more modern temples to fast food. As fish and chips may have delighted Victorian visitors to the seaside, perhaps while they rode the tram, it is possible that the older buildings remain behind some of the once-were-modern facades.
Covid-19 did bring a treble highlight to our brief sojourn in Swanage. We had to sit outside for our own interpretation of lockdown and spotted a brand new facade sporting fresh seating overlooking the fine bay. It was our first restaurant/bar/cafe meal since our tedious social distancing had begun.
A car drew up on the esplanade opposite and we were rewarded for our adventures by a wave from this fine lady smiling from the rear window of her chauffeur-driven Ford Fiesta.
Seemed apt somehow.
No trip to the seaside in England is complete without a walk on a pier and an ice cream. Swanage’s Wooden pier is sufficiently restrained to make it a peaceful haven and provide an opportunity to enter into dialogue with the local people fishing. Shan was particularly taken with a young woman’s minuscule fishing rod and asked her about it.
“It’s a Kayak fishing rod,” she responded, seemingly delighted that a fellow human being had taken an interest. My dear wife was delighted that she would have something to tell her sister, Kerry, about. Kerry is a world class fisherperson who has represented her country and lives in Hermanus in the Western Cape, a province of South Africa. Maybe it was ESP but Kerry phoned Shan and a typically raucous sisterly conversation took place between the three of them overheard by most of Swanage pier. I say three, because their 91-year-old Mum was there too and would, these days, rather be a sister.
And so it was we returned to the antique splendour of our steam railway. After our sumptuous lunch it was no disappointment that the buffet was closed. We’d learned a little more about how wonderful it is to have the time to stop and talk to people. The natural instinct seems to be that questions will not be welcome. How wrong an instinct this is. Show an interest and I’m prepared to wager the vast majority will be touched and delighted.
Shan tolerated my hobbling the mile back up to Campy, all revved up to complete this chapter by the time I went to bed yesterday evening.
I tolerated the interruption to despatch the “biggest hornet ever known to man, must be a super Vespa.”
Shan very seldom interrupts her teeth-cleaning for such trivia and so I’m completing these roaminations this afternoon from a completely different location. C’est la vie.