12.9.05

It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train ...


An odd thing happened yesterday morning. I was sitting here with my sons going over a speech Jesse, the older one, is going to give to his year three cohort at the end of this term. It's about an idea he has for a film, a comedy called When Grannies Go Bad. The Grannies get fed up with life in the nursing home and break out ... most of the film appears to be shoot-em-up action as the forces of lawn order try, unsuccessfully, to round them up. Eventually they succeed in busting out the Granddad's from their nursing home. And off they go into a geriatric sunset. It's full of food jokes: one reason the Grannies are jack of the nursing home is because, every night, dessert is that old English favourite Spotted Dick; while the Granddads subsist on a diet of Toad in the Hole. I've had nothing to do with the genesis of this idea, Jesse's made it up himself with a couple of his mates ... but I don't mind helping out when I can, because I think it's really funny and also credible: you could actually make a picture like this.

Anyway, we're sitting here yesterday morning giggling over pictures of Haggis we found on the net when we hear a train whistle blowing and catch the chugga-chugga-chugga sound of a steam engine drifting on the air, along with the clackety-clack of wheels on the rails ... we looked at each other: that's the 3801 going by, we said. We've been on that train, about six years ago, on a run up to Newcastle. Liamh was just a babe in arms then, I remember he was in a front pack as I walked along the bank of the Hunter River, not noticing until it was too late that he was getting a touch of sunburn on the top of his head.

What was strange for me was how the sound whirled me back to my childhood in the 1950s, to the world of the images I posted last week: because every night there the Limited Express went through twice, first the north bound train then, a little later, the south bound. Something about the acoustics meant that the sound of the train bounced off the hills below the mountain in a way that amplified it, with echo. You'd hear this enormous lonely wailing, then the steam engine building pressure, the clackety-clack rising then fading ... so that, even though our house was probably a mile or more away, it always seemed like the train was passing much closer - across the river maybe. The 3801 going through Summer Hill station yesterday morning had that exact same resonance ...


top: the 3801 at Sydney; bottom: at Newcastle

2 comments:

Okir said...

I have always, without exception, lived within one block of the train tracks. I guess that says something about my economic status. In any case, the sound of the train engines, the clank and squeal of their wheels, has always been the background soundtrack of my domestic life. But -- we never had a steam engine. Now that would've been a fine thing! Once, while I was living in Berkeley, by the tracks again, there was a period of about a month, when, for some reason, a steam engine would chug by in the night (I never actually saw it). I can only imagine that it was going back and forth for repairs or something, and must've eventually been bound for the train museum in Fremont. Its sound was so haunting.

Martin Edmond said...

One reason I like living in Summer Hill is the proximity to the tracks. The trains go all night so when you wake at 3 am or whatever, there's that clickety-clack to lull you back to sleep ... but, yeah, steam trains are something else. They say there's never been a movie set on a train that didn't work ...