Wednesday, 12 April 2017


I'm in two minds about this poem, which was written around 1990 (the reason I say 'around 1990' is explained below) because, for one thing, it contains every trainspotter cliche in the book (with the possible exception of the cheese & onion crisps to which all rail enthusiasts  are said to be addicted) and, despite the fact that it was originally intended as an affectionate tribute, it does seem to pander to the 'aren't trainspotters pathetic?' tendency which was very prevalent at the time. A tendency which I, as a dyed-in-the-wool, unrepentant trainspotter myself, was never a part of.
These days I love to tell all and sundry  just how great trains and railways are.
It took me a long time to get from pretending not to care what people think about me to actually not caring.
And, fortunately, attitudes to railways and railway enthusiasts have changed a lot in the ensuing 20 years or so.
It's the tired old jokes about trainspotters which are likely to be greeted with derision these days, rather than the trainspotters themselves
So if you like trains (and who doesn't?) I hope you'll accept Crewe South Shed as the nostalgic and whimsical bit of fun it was originally intended to be.
It was certainly accepted that way by the audience at the Davenport Theatre in Glossop on that wonderful evening in the 1990s when I bravely treated the audience not only to the poem Glossop but also to this one.
I was explaining, as is my wont, some of the more obscure points in the poem and, when I got to the vexed question of what an 'Ian Allan' was when it was at home, a man came running towards the stage waving his own 'combine' in the air and telling the audience all about it.
In case you don't know, an 'Ian Allan' is a book containing printed lists of railway locomotives which you underline when you have 'spotted' each one. There was an 'Ian Allan' for each BR region and a 'combine' was a volume combining listings for all the regions.
But when you're on a stage talking about such esoteric matters as a book full of loco numbers, what are the chances of someone actually turning up and waving one at you?
Hold on - Here comes one  now....
But Glossop is rightly proud of its railway heritage, having once been the home to the still very much missed Dinting Railway Centre.
Other notes on the text: A 'Pacamac (verse one) is a plastic raincoat (or macintosh) capable of being rolled up into a tiny tube and stowed in your duffel bag. 
Wearing one made you perspire so freely that you might as well have not bothered putting it on and let yourself get soaked by the rain anyway. 
The 'rubber' mentioned in verse two is, as you will have guessed, an ink rubber rather than a pencil rubber.
The line 'But what's the point of rushing? I'm only fifty-eight' started off as 'I'm only thirty-eight' and has been gradually revised upwards as time wore on.
The fact that  I was 38 in 1990 gave me a clue to the year the poem was probably written (the original manuscript got lost somewhere).
We're now sticking at fifty eight, as I'm  suggesting that sixty-eight, with the best will in the world, probably really is 'too late'.
And finally, the last two lines are a sort of homage to one of my favourite poems, The Rolling English Road by G K Chesterton:

For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.....


Well I've got me woolly jumper and I've got me anorak,
In case of an emergency I've got me Pacamac;
I've got a hat with badges on to stick upon me head,
So I'm ready for a foray down to Crewe South Shed.

I've a pencil and a fountain-pen, a good supply of ink
And I've also got a rubber (but not the sort you think),
So I'll root me Ian Allan out from underneath me bed,
And stick it in me bag and head for Crewe South Shed.

On the way I'll call for Kevin (a dear old friend of mine),
Who says he's seen more trains than me - he is a lying swine
And, if he says it one more time, I'll knock him on the head
And throw him underneath a train at Crewe South Shed.

At the buffet at the station we can grab a bite to eat;
Because we're going spotting we'll need three Shredded Wheat;
Well, you've got to keep your strength up and keep yourself well fed
When you're spotting with the big boys down at Crewe South Shed.

There'll be silly little twerps who think electrics reign supreme,
And bearded weirdos yearning for the Good Old Days of steam;
But I'm a true trainspotter, and when I lie in bed
I dream about the diesels down at Crewe South Shed.

A big, blue, throbbing diesel engine's my idea of bliss;
It's finer than a symphony and sweeter than a kiss
And the loveliest of perfumes, when all's been done and said,
Is the stench of choking diesel fumes at Crewe South Shed.

Now, when my time has come to shuffle off this mortal coil,
Anoint my corpse with diesel fuel and lubricating oil;
Phone the Railway Magazine and tell them that I'm dead,
Then bury me beneath the tracks at Crewe South Shed.

Mum says I ought to find a girl before it gets too late,
But what's the point in rushing? I'm only fifty-eight,
And there are engines yet to spot and train books to be read
Before we go to paradise by way of Crewe South Shed.

© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 2012

Originally published on THE ODD EXCEPTION

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