Thursday, June 01, 2006
Would you like to see my jinty?
I like trains. I once took the train from Thessaloniki to Athens, a seven-hour journey as the Greek Firebird flies - while my colleague took the plane. We - the lucky passengers - passed through wonderful scenery, including Mount Olympus, this being the only time I ever got close to the gods, except for one memorable evening at the Liverpool Philharmonic, where, to be honest, I was more interested in the contents of my future wife's bra than the music playing in the far distance below us.
Anyway, I digress - which bloggers are allowed to do - my Athenian colleague (Can you believe a Greek lady called Bella Dietschi? Really. Hi, Bella!) met me at the station and apologised that the train was an hour late. My response was to say how pleased I was that I had had an extra hour at no extra cost. And I meant it. A similar experience with the Fatih Express from Istanbul to Ankara, on that occasion only an extra forty minutes gratis, but I don't want to be ungrateful or add fuel to the Graeco-Turkish issue (Cypriots that I have spoken to from both sides of the divide tell me: "We are not Greek", or "We are not Turkish". They say: "We are Cypriots". Come on, you Big Brothers, get out and leave them alone).
I also like trains because my son Jeremy likes trains, although he is an aficionado of the diesel era, while I have a nostalgia for steam. In my natal Shropshire village, we could go either to the main village station, Hadley, and see the LMS trains; or to Hadley Halt, north of the village, and watch the magnificent GRW locos speed past like spaceships. I liked both, but preferred the Halt because I had fallen for a dark-haired gypsy girl called Melva Davies who lived in a nearby railway cottage (I was eight at the time and it was love in its purest form, unrequited. How I have thriven on unrequited love over the years...)
I also like trains because my grandson, Joseph, likes trains. We made a couple of trigenerational trips to the Nene Valley Railway, an hour north of where I live in Cambs; and one trip to the Swanage Railway in Dorset, where Joseph and family lived before migrating to New Zealand. Wonderful! Do visit these collections of old trains, even if you are not into trains: there is something majestic about old locos. Joseph is now a kiwi, but he tells his father that he wants to visit Grandad again because Grandad has a Jinty.
Hands up all those who know what a Jinty is. Me neither till I bought one on impulse at a swapmeet in Bury St Edmunds, some years before Joseph was born. A jinty is an old-style shunting engine, a basic workhorse moving rolling stock about, and I bought a jinty trainset for £25. Watching a train with six assorted wagons trundling round a circular track on the dining-room table palls after a while, but my jinty had a new lease of life when my first grandson, Joseph, came to visit. And now, he tells everyone in Auckland, New Zealand, [a] that he is English; and [b] that his Grandad has a jinty. Oh my! That makes me so proud!
But I don't like modern trains. This is not me being a grumpy old man (although I do that well). I don't like these Sprinters because they have been designed, like so much of the planet, by a Malevolent Japanese Dwarf. Well, maybe not Japanese, but whoever he she or it is, they have very small bums and very short backs. My arse doesn't fit in the seat, and the seat stops in mid shoulderblade while the rest of my back, neck and head carry on. For a while, I thought it was me. For a while, I held to the proposition that I was on the Wrong Planet. But natural grumpiness forced me to the conclusion that I am probably on the Right Planet, and that there really is a conspiracy against anyone over one metre tall and seventy kilos weight. Tight seats, mingy legroom, low lintels, narrow beds, XXL still not enough for anyone of a decent size. Grrrrr. I once wrote to a clothing chain store asking them why they stacked clothes with the smallest sizes on the top rack and the biggest sizes on the bottom. Think about it. Of course, we have special shops called Big Man or Fuller Figure (I have a size problem, but it's better than being a woman with a size problem), but don't go in there: everything fits but is totally HORRIBLE. Woolworths do cheap crockery, fair enough. Cheap is good. But why do they also have to make it so UGLY. I reckon it's all part of the same conspiracy. Paranoid: Me? You bet!
Never mind all that. Let me reiterate: old locos are gorgeous. I should know, being a bit old and a bit loco myself.