Railway directions

Jul 16th, 2012 | By | Category: Spirituality

‘General Directions to Agents and members of the Staffs with Regard to the Management of Stations and Conveyance of Merchandise Traffic’, Sept 1920.’

The book is part of Lot 401 at Ashgrove Auctions in Ballybrittas tomorrow night. It would be a good book to have. Were it being sold alone, there might be a chance of placing a winning bid; similar books online are priced at US$60 and more. As it is, the book is part of a bundle, the price of which will probably be out of reach. (A scrapbook of World War I newspaper cuttings that someone had lovingly made almost a century ago sold for over €100 at another local auction last year – nostalgia is becoming expensive).

The ‘General Directions’ would conjure a world rebuilt by people like Cyril.  Cyril was the sort of man who gave you confidence that there might be a future for humanity.

He was a teacher of some sort in his day job, in his spare time he was a steam train enthusiast, spending hours and hours working on the local steam railway, doing everything from helping build the line to working as a guard when the trains ran.

Cyril’s steam railway was an excellent place to be. The society to which he belonged had recreated a special part of the past. The stone buildings were restored to perfection, the rolling stock shone, every detail received the minutest attention. It was good to be there.

A summer Sunday in 1995 remains fresh in the memory. Cyril welcoming our kids aboard his train; laughing as he blew his whistle and waved the green flag. Cyril was in his element in being part of something that treasured beauty and workmanship.

The visits to the steam railways stopped going because I assumed our kids had grown too old and suave and sophisticated for such activities. A dozen years after that Sunday afternoon on Cyril’s train and half a dozen after a visit to any steam railway,  one of them asked why it was so long since we had been on a steam train. Cyril would have been pleased that the railways had left such a lasting impression.

Perhaps the affection for steam railways arises from a love of history and beauty and craftsmanship; perhaps it’s something deeper. Enthusiasm for steam railways seems particularly high among the ranks of the clergy. Perhaps it’s about an affection for a world that is ordered and predictable, one where actions create known outcomes, one where there is someone in control.

Work has been done on the theology implicit in the writings of the Rev. W. Awdry, creator of Thomas the Tank Engine; the General Directions belong to an adult version of the world of Thomas.

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