It’s not that much ever happened; in fact, being honest, it was possibly one of the most boring places on Earth. Even rural Ireland of the time seems buzzing with activity compared with the memories of 1970s Somerset. Perhaps because nothing ever happened, and perhaps because places changed little over the years, particular spots grew to have stories attached to them. Not stories of dramatic events or exciting scenes, but stories of everyday life; stories of people going about their daily business.
The railway station at Upton would figure in some of the stories; it was merely a halt at which a few local trains would stop, but because it was on the mainline between London Paddington and the West Country, and because express trains would go hurtling through it had a romantic air about it; adventures could start at this little place on our doorstep.
My grandmother would catch the train at Upton; that wasn’t its proper name, it was ‘Long Sutton and Pitney’, but since it was at neither, the name of the hamlet in which it was situated was used by local people. Her death in February 2007 brought memories of the station, and a month later I went back to the spot to look for some spirit of the place. The twin tracks ran towards Taunton in one direction and Paddington in the other and in the darkness of a March evening there was little to see. I leant on the wall of the bridge and stared into the gloom. What might have once been the edge of a platform still remained on one side of the tracks, but it was hard to know.
The station was closed more than 40 years ago, but it had been my Nan’s gateway to the world, it was a special place to her and her family, and this morning, three years on, I returned on a bright morning to look again for the station.
It appeared to have moved! To the east of the railway bridge, there were signs of what had once been a crossing and to the north side of the tracks, rubble strewn ground.
To the west side, where I had peered into the darkness in 2007 there was the imagined platform on the south side of the track, but nothing else. Had the family stories been misheard for more than forty years?
My mother has an extraordinarily retentive memory off people and places.
“When you went to catch the train at Upton, which side was the station on?”
“But that side is very narrow”.
“The station was very narrow – just a platform, no ticket office. You bought your ticket from the guard on the train”.
“So what was on the other side? What was here, where the rubble is?”
“That’s where they loaded milk onto trucks – it was always open space”.
What happens when there is no-one left to remember the stories? Or when we are so rootless that we never heard the stories?
Maybe every detail is kept in some great archive, but whole areas of countryside that were once alive in the imagination through all the things told about them. Driving through the lowlands of Somerset barely a mile passes without there being something we were told as children; perhaps they were reminiscences, or family connections, or one of the plethora of legends that abound, but without them it would not be the place it is.