With a Train In My Hand And A Song in My Heart

Torrential rain and overactive under-fives call for measures of Machiavellian brilliance.

Brilliance which I, Auntie Kate, possess.

When I walk away from my three working days the eyes of my colleagues follow me with envy. I’d like to be walking out just like you, they intimate hungrily. And that, my friends, is because they have never met four-year-old Big Al.

You can imagine that the incessant spell of rainy days has presented some challenges.Β Not to sound like a 19th century matronly nanny, but small children need exercise, physical and intellectual.

And by yesterday there was an agreeable but slightly unhinged look in the eyes of my small nephew.

I had been giving this matter some consideration, and came to the conclusion that the only thing for it was a train ride. Train rides provide a modicum of air, albeit diesel-laden. They provide long walks down endless covered platforms and a different stimulus every millisecond.

One gets the exhilaration of crowds and the sustenance of a bun shop.

What more could one want?

So I met Al from playgroup and we cheated: we went out for lunch and then drove with great ceremony to park in the station car park.

My plan was to take any train, anywhere, the first one that came and promised to be back in time for school collection time. My car is an ancient seven seater Mercedes with a rear-facing chamber at the back.

This is Al’s office. He uses it to conduct his many operations with the voice of a bellowing balrog.

I left him sitting in his office and stepped three cars away to the ticket machine.

It was a phone-your-ticket one. I dialled and battled with the automated lady on the other end. It took a long time. The small enthusiastic town-crier in the car began to bellow. “Auntie Ka-ate! Can I get out now?”

One cannot tell an automated lady to hold. I bellowed back: “Al, I’m just talking to a lady to get a car ticket….” but I had lost her. She said “goodbye”with infuriating finality and hung up.

No time to rant. I scrabbled for change and found just enough, unstrapped the bellowing town crier and put him in the position which has dangerous levels of potential energy: on his two feet.

Holding his hands firmly, we gazed through the chain-link fence at the rails, jut a metre of so from where we stood. “Auntie Kate, is that the rails?” “Yes, Al, that’s the rails.”

We talked about electricity, and why the fence was there and why the yellow line which runs along the platform as a safety guide. I don’t necessarily think Al was receiving: the sights and sounds were becoming intoxicating.

We pottered past the bicycle bank and into the ticket office where Al introduced us to the man behind the counter.

He brandished Felix’s toy train, a long black number, and before I could say “A return to Reading, please,” he had interrogated the gentleman as to whether the train we were about to get on was bigger than Al’s handheld.

Al enchants people. The iron visage of the ticket officer softened, and he said, yes, the trains here were quite big actually. We got our ticket and climbed the stairs to the platform on the other side.

We hadn’t long to wait. The coming of a train slowly along the track into a platform is an exercise in building suspense that Hitchcock would appreciate. Al’s eyes grew bigger and he waved energetically to the train driver. Who, because Al is Al, waved back.

We sat down next to a window. I had thought his attention might wander during the 25 minute journey to a major station: but no; every inch of the way he was glued to the view. Firing questions possible and impossible, we sped through the countryside of Berkshire, noting car parks and fields and level crossings and signs.

Al fell in love with the graffiti scratched into the glass of his window by some young citizen. It think that was his favourite.

When we reached the big station we clocked high-speed trains and guards and whistles and the big bridge that runs over the busy track. We visited the bun shop to buy a bun to munch in the carriage on the way home.

“Look at my train!: Al shouted joyfully at the cashier, who smiled indulgently.

We got on the train, and munched happily, all the way home, tired but happy.

And I am informed Al slept inordinately well last night.

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44 thoughts on “With a Train In My Hand And A Song in My Heart

  1. I’ve never heard of a phone-your-ticket machine, Kate. Maybe they haven’t been introduced here in the North yet, but it’s probably more likely due to my perceptions of rail travel still being in the eighties…

    1. There are posters at each station with a number you call, Tom. Then you give them the details of the car and your credit card and they should do the rest. It sounds simple, but it SO isn’t.

  2. Gosh – wonderful. You have reminded me of how I used to do that too, living in London, no car, two boys, Paddington here we come, a great day out…

  3. This is fantastic! First of all, I love Al’s train. Second, when I come to London next you get to plan my itinerary. All by train. πŸ˜‰ What a great idea for a day’s activity. I wish the same type of thing were available here.

    Reminds me of when I was a kid and get bored – my mother would take me to the airport just to watch the trains land and take-off. It is only now that I realize that she was probably watching those planes with a bit of wistfulness herself – dreaming of taking off to faraway lands. Or at least lands where children weren’t bored and incessantly questioning.

    1. There is no age limit to adoring the romance of the train or the plane, is there, Carnell? The moment you have a trip planned pick up the phone. We’ll even throw in the high speed channel rail link for good measure: ah, the romance of high speed rail travel…

  4. What a fun time it must be to spend time with Big Al, and what a great Auntie Kate you are to do these adventures with the young master. As I mentioned yesterday, the Lovely Miss TK and I did the trains every day for 12 days when we were in Birmingham for the Rotary International Convention three years ago. A train from downtown in the morning out to the Convention Center at the airport and trains all over the countryside 7 of the days we were there. It is such a fun and entertaining way to travel and never boring, whether you’re people watching or just checking out the scenery whizzing by. Big Al is one lucky boy.

    1. Hi! Thanks so much for coming to read πŸ™‚ Fortunately this is my nephew – I get to give him back at the end of the day – so we have auntie-style treats every Thursday and Friday. High jinks!

  5. I understand Sir Francis Drake’s mother took him on train rides all the time when he was 4 too. Career training or at least wetting the appetite. Will you be introducing him to cartography soon ?

  6. Trains are brilliant entertainment for people of any age. Big Al is lucky his Auntie Kate likes to ride them, too. He won’t soon forget this day.

    Off topic, but I thought of you today. Don’t laugh, but we were touring a house museum here, and the owner kept a mouse house in his bedroom, a Victorian device that allowed mice to be dropped in one hole and race through the labyrinth inside to find the out hole. It was something I thought Felix and Al would both find fascinating.

    1. Them and me both, Andra! Thank you, you are right: that would appeal to all of us here. Must go googling!

      Enjoy the rest of your stay….was MOST impressed by the President Andra picture on Lou’s FB!

  7. There is that saying, ‘to get your groove on’, but I think I would rather get a little bit of my ‘Big Al-ish-ness’ back. Often forgotten are the best parts of being young -eyes wide open and full of astonishment. A train ride perhaps? Sounds perfect, I have to remember this cure for when the rainy days a cometh and they always do from time to time..

    1. Good to hear from you, Hudson! Hope all goes well with that raven enchantress of yours., the one with the huge entrancing eyes and long floppy ears. I agree: a train ride can really heal many ills. I remember a few which have got me out of quite a trough.

      1. Elvira is doing fine, thank you, definitely the most level headed of the two of us. She has been in a happy place since she found out she will have her own page when the new blog gets running -Elvira ‘Zen master of Beyond Plum Creek’. Between you and me, I think she has her sights on fixing the world once she has fixed me. Who knows, she has some pretty powerful shtufffs within her.

  8. Look at you, Auntie Kate, with all your creativity. What an imaginative way to spend some pent up four year old energy. In fact, I’m thinking that would be a wonderful way to spend some of my own water-logged malaise.

    Love the first photo with the engines – and, of course, the ever favorite Big Al.

  9. Brilliant day out, Kate, and tks for the pics yesterday.
    Mum was tired after today’s visitors, but will rest tomorrow. She has one of the less glamorous hospital conditions, but they are feeding her Semtex soup for it.
    Lovely day out, but I know how labour intensive it must have been, love.

    Love Dad

  10. What a wonderful Aunty you are – I wish I could have come along for the ride! ‘Torrential rain and overactive under-fives call for measures of Machiavellian brilliance.
    Brilliance which I, Auntie Kate, possess.’ – a terrific start to your tale, Mary Poppins πŸ˜‰

  11. Oh boy, Auntie Kate, you are someone’s hero for life. (Do we still say heroine?) Do these brilliant measures pop up unintentionally or are they premeditated survival skills? πŸ™‚

  12. What a lucky boy. Felix loves the train, and taking him for trips via rail is one of my favorites, I imagine he and Big Al would get along famously in a rail yard.

  13. hmmm…I still am with your co-workers πŸ˜‰ Of course, our library is oft your train venture. We are known for our vast play area (yes, with many many toys) which later I get to pick up, oy! I wish we had a train system, there would be a new promo on the library’s facebook with a hint about brilliant Kate’s way to entertain 4 year olds, ha! ~

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