The Railway Children


There are few greater attractions than the country railway station.

Full of promise, of excitement. Was it not from an English country railway station that the Pevensie children disappeared on one of their adventures into Narnia?

I am sitting on one now. More is the pity that I am on my way to St Pancras and not the reverse, but the attraction is still there, even if I would prefer to be en route to Cair Paravel. Or deepest Wales.

Airports are no fun nowadays. You could almost feel you were on the way to a gulag or a death camp. Over zealous petty officials surround you, armed with rubber gloves to probe places that should remain forever private. Little wonder that Hitler’s atrocities were committed on a day to day level by the little people. Small people emboldened and given a taste of power by means of their small minded uniforms and their charter to threaten and terrify.

But the English country railway station: there you have an altogether more friendly beast. The old dear locked up in the staff room was most jolly, even if she was not available to sell me a ticket. And the ticket machine was broken; obs.

Never mind I shall bluff my way through somehow, hoping to avoid railway police and the magistrates court. I bought and paid for a ticket of course (online) but petty officialdom will hold you liable no doubt for the failure of its own technology.

Most people are charming. Lovely even if you approach them in the right way. And thus the conductor proved; understanding and helpful.

Others take rather more careful handling. There is nothing more dangerous than the small time official with a chip and a modicum of power. God help you if you cross him. Or her.

I had the misfortune of attending a speed awareness course recently and intentionally or otherwise was made to feel small, dirty and bad.

I was an offender, a criminal given the chance to redeem himself by attending a few hours of ritual humiliation. I was warned of all the dire consequences which would follow any infraction of the draconian rules of the gruelling four hour course. Magistrates courts were mentioned regularly and we all gasped in terror at the prospect of finding ourselves up in front of Judge Jeffries. The infamous Hanging Judge. The course instructors of course were paragons of modern society and the finest drivers on the road. Although humour and criticism were not encouraged. We the prisoners, they the camp guards. Allowed to crack their truly awful jokes and god help those who didn’t titter.

But I digress. That I loathe society will be self evident to any who have had the misfortune of reading my increasingly fevered ramblings.

There is a point to my drivelling, I suppose.

It all takes me back to the attraction of ritual, churches and make believe.

While lacking a shred of belief I nonetheless get great comfort from the arcane and ancient rituals of the Anglican church. It and they transport me to a better place. I can put aside my cynicism for an hour and bathe in music and smells and bells which transport me from mundanity to an altogether more attrative realm.

And so with half an hour spent on a country railway station. Where is the harm in revelling in the mild and childish excitement of a short and pleasant journey?

Where is the harm indeed in putting yourself in the shoes of the Pevensie kids and travelling in your imagination into Archenland, or to the Lantern in the snowy woods to meet the White Witch Jadis.

Stories are good for us. And in a sense they are true. Or can be made to be true. So you don’t believe in the Christian God? Or even the Buddha. Made up stories to soothe the existential howling, the black hole at the heart of our psyche. But imagine the benefit of behaving as if your favourite faery story were true.

How much better might we behave, how much better might we feel, if we maintained the fiction that Father Christmas were true and that Aslan’s land was just the other side of the Wardrobe.

Am I talking of Pascal’s Wager? No, not at all. I live in the 21st Century. But I try to take his advice not because I believe in heaven and hell but because trying to be reasonably pleasant (as far as my perennial black moods and cynicism allow) makes me feel better.

And I read beautiful faery stories and attend beautiful rituals because, in a sense, it does actually alter my reality. It makes a better world for me and, I hope, for those I might come into contact with.

And there you have the importance of the humble country railway station. Give it a go. It might transport you to some surprising places.

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