The New Sun

Ain't Life Grand? (Part 2)

Crewe Railway station, UK. Late 1950s. Like all large railway stations at that time, it was a cold, smoke-blacked, murky place. Many lines ran through it, so it was busy. The town around it was just as black and smoke-coloured.

We were six kids, ranging in age from a few months to 13. I was the eldest. My father was a railway shunter who had free railway passes for his family, so mother took us everywhere whilst Dad... well, shunted.

This time we were on our way back from the gaudy but gloriously fun Blackpool, and it was very late by the time we arrived at Crewe. We had to get off the local train from Blackpool and get another one to South Wales.

My mother left us all sitting on a bench and went to ask the porter when the next train would come along. He told us, and we trooped over the brown and green painted cast iron bridge to the correct platform. As we sat I roamed around looking at the great steam engines chuffing majestically alongside the platform. One of them chuffed louder and began to creak and clank out from the station, as I waved goodbye.

I returned to my mother and she told me to again ask a porter when the train was due. "That's it," he said, pointing to the train that was just leaving! Asked when the next one would be along, his reply left us all dejected... "Next one won't be until 7 am Monday." It was now Saturday night!

We had no option but to get some shelter. Remember the old film, "Brief Encounter"? British train stations really were like that. So were the British Rail buffets. My mother took us all into the grey buffet selling grey tea and grey stale sandwiches. She urged us all to try and get some sleep. We had no money, but we didn't expect to be stranded, either. We all started to nod off.

Then, as if in a dream, just after midnight, a gang of people barged into the buffet full of fun. The men all wore evening dress with bow ties. The women wore ball gowns! About 30 in all. They went to the girl behind the counter and ordered something as we watched in amazement.

A short while later, people wafted out of the kitchen with plate after plate of hot food - fish and chips! The gang of toffs tucked in with laughter and great enjoyment. Then, one of them noticed us, laying across the hard benches in the corner. He went from person to person in his party and walked over to us, carrying a handkerchief. He smiled kindly and handed it to my mother. It contained a lot of cash! He then ordered food and tea from the buffet and went back to his party, who whooped with laughter and barged back out again!

In the ensuing silence we wondered what on earth was happening, but we were touched that these folk took a thought from their own pleasure to help us. They probably thought we were homeless!

At 2 in the morning the station master came in and spoke to my mother. After he had made several phone calls about our predicament, he told us that a milk train (one that takes milk churns to market towns) was passing through in another hour. Though it was not scheduled to stop, it would this time, to give us a lift! Was it pity for a whole family? Or was it down to my mother being very pretty? Who cared!

We all had to cram into a wagon with clanking milk churns, but, within four hours we were at our home station. Yes, there are people out there who will do you down, but there are also very kind, considerate and lovely people, too. Take folk as they come and things often work out okay.

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by Barry Napier

Also by Mr. Napier: Ain't Life Grand? (Part 1).
Marlborough: Deliciously English, about a lovely small town in the U.K.
A Quirky English Pastime, Cooper's Hill Annual Cheese Rolling & Wake competition.
England's House of Cheese, a shop in the historic village of Tetbury determined to keep tradition alive.