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The Flying Scotsman by Dave Whitehouse

05 October 2012


I have always loved trains. Big trains, little trains, shunters, haulers, pit trains, goods trains, passenger trains and express trains. But for all that I've never become carried away with trains. I can enjoy, yes. But I don't go glassy-eyed thinking about them. They are, after all, just trains.

In my youth trains were mainly steam trains., big boisterous, noisy, smelly, hugely powerful trains like New Zealand's 'J' and 'K'-class behemoths. Beautiful examples of the engineer's skills.

Uppermost amongst this enjoyment though has always been the image of the 'Flying Scotsman' with her apple-green, black and red livery on her established high-speed passenger run between London and Edinburgh. I had a relative who was a driver of the 'Scotsman' before, during and after the last war and his stories and memories of her were truly romantic.

Since I was a kid I've always wanted to just see the 'Flying Scotsman'. In 1986 on my first trip to England my old Uncle Ben in Lancashire, on a freezing winter's morning, took me to a train-shed west of Preston and announced that my dream was about to become true. We entered this tin shed, dripping with icicles and discovered the Scotsman had been moved the day before to a new home in London.

'Curses', says I.

'Curses and apologies' says Ben.

In 1988 the Flying Scotsman made a world tour which included America and Australia and as coincidence happens, I was in Sydney when I discovered my train was heading west out of Sydney to somewhere and would be on the Western Line at 12.37pm on a given date. This, I was not going to miss, so I made my way to a railway bridge over the line, not thinking for a moment that half of Sydney's population would beat me to the best viewing spots on that particular bridge to see the same train. I saw the smoke from her beautiful stack, I heard her coming, I felt the bridge rumble as she passed underneath and I caught a glimpse of the rear-end of her last carriage as she vanished into the distance.

'Curses' says I.

'Oh joy' says the multitude who actually saw it from that bridge.

In 2010, in another jaunt to England and after experiencing York Minster, my wife and I separated so she could go shopping and I could visit the National Railway Museum in York. The notice-board outside said that the 'Flying Scotsman' was on display due to her being in the workshops for her 10-year overhaul. 'Oh joy' says I, virtually running to the public gallery of the workshop. And after all these years of yearning there 'she' was below me on her specially laid track.

Well, part of her anyway. The day before they had carefully removed the engine body leaving just the engine-frame. They'd even removed the bogie! I couldn't believe it.

'Curses' says I (or a more colourful version of 'curses').

'Oh Joy, Oh joy' says all the Engineers.

What is wrong with these people ? They surely must have known I was coming?

Ah,well. What's a lifetime? Maybe on our next holiday I will see my train, with my own eyes, somewhere else in England .. or beyond.

Dave Whitehouse

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