Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Railway Timetables and the Beatitudes

Burton Dasset has just hit that post-holiday blues blip. He's been wandering around, looking out of windows and sighing. Normally I'd sling him out the Moot House and refuse to let him back in till he cheered up or frostbite set in - but thankfully he's brought some books of timetables back from that model railway between Minehead and Taunton.

So when I went up last night he was sat in the Library poring over the 1928 Porlock and Polzeath Line, or some such. And this morning he's fast asleep on "Sunday Timetables from Bradford and Leeds to Bournemouth". He's got a great stack of these things, so no danger of him suddenly running out.

I sometimes wonder, though, if railway timetables are not a little like the Beatitudes They're not so much a guide to when trains will run - more a sort of perfect template of what a railway should be like. They set out an ideal of where an 8am train leaving Whatnot Junction shall arrive, without at fail, at 8.31 in Doubrie South. The reality is, of course, that the train fails to achieve it - or maybe, rather than blame the train, it is the whole system at fault. So when you or I arrive at Doubrie South, puffing and panting having run to get there the regulation two minutes before the train is to leave, we discover it's not even at Whatnot Junction yet, having suffered points failure at Twing Common.

But despite the sad reality, there the timetable hangs, not upbraiding the service so much as saying "there really is a better way - you actually could be this good - given an Act of God."

Will you let that Act of God happen in your life? Will you let the trains of your heart run on time, and arrive at the right platforms with the bike section at the end you promised it would be?


  1. Model railway?
    That's where the rot sets in, you know, when people have no real appreciation of the truth of the underlying reality of the train. The Taunton Minehead link is a proper train, a commercial service that still runs... according to time-ish.

    How can we ever reconcile our differences regarding the use of mobile phones in silent carriages if we cannot even agree on what train we are all on?

  2. I used to travel by train to work in the smoke. I did it for 10 years and realised early on that the timetable was a movable feast and that patience was needed and always having a good book to hand.

    It was in fact more important to know at which station's you needed to MIND THE STEP or, which stations had the connections you needed to get to your destination if your normal service failed, was going to be late or just plain, didn't turn up.

    So, I became expert in hopping off a train, hopping on a bus or the underground to a station on another line which would get me to work. The only times I was late, tended to be when I fell asleep and missed a station, thankfully, that was normally on the way home, dog tired after a hard day in the office.

    There's nothing better than being shaken awake by an concerned guard, thinking that you've died on him (or her). It's comedy in action.


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