Echoes of a Bitter Past
Copyright© 2010 by Texrep
Author's notes: Mallard was a Gresley design of 4-6-2 wheel arrangement which set a world record for steam locomotion in 1938 achieving a speed of 125.88 m.p.h. A Jubilee was a 1934 Stanier design of 4-6-0 wheel arrangement. Much used on secondary route express services.
I settled in quickly at Derby R.T.C. Part of the job was to evaluate research projects under normal conditions of traffic, which meant I got to drive experimental units. As experimental units could not be allowed to interfere with the timetable the work was done at night, when there was little traffic. Night work was paid better. The problem of testing at night would be eradicated later when in the early sixties the R.T.C. was given access to two lines which Dr. Beeching had marked for closure. It was there that we could carry out speed and braking tests. All of this was great fun as some of the new trains would be tasked to travel at high speed. They were looking to a time when one hundred miles an hour was normal speed and one hundred and twenty-five would be attained by expresses. That could not happen until steam traction was eliminated completely and signalling systems radically improved. That was a part our remit. For the time being we would trundle along at average speeds of seventy to eighty miles per hour, with only a few services being tasked to travel nearer an average of ninety.
My life in Derby was exciting. I at first rented a small apartment, giving me much freedom with my social life. I was a frequent visitor to Derby's pubs and ballrooms and I could now invite young ladies who showed the inclination back for some dancing in the horizontal rather than vertical. Then after I had been in Derby for three years I speculated by buying a small house in Littleover. I believe I was the first one in my family to ever own a house. Well the Building Society would own it; it would take me twenty five years to really say it was mine. There was a good bus service from Littleover into Derby.
Railwaymen get concessionary travel so I was able to get back to Birmingham and see mum and dad quite frequently. Sometimes the concessionary ticket was not needed. I was travelling to Birmingham quite frequently to test drive production models of the Blue Pullman sets as they came out of Metro-Cammell. These sets were rated at a maximum of ninety miles per hour, but in testing we would push them further even though the ride was very bumpy. When I was in Brum (The local nick-name for Birmingham) I would pop home and see mum and dad. Dad had always been a grumpy old bugger, but these days he was even more bad tempered. He had grown up with and worked steam engines all his life. Now the writing was on the wall, within a few months there would not be a single steam loco in the depot. The offer that was made to all the steam drivers of conversion to diesels was not to his liking and early retirement with compensation was negotiated by A.S.L.E.F. The union that represented footplate crew. The house was owned by the railway but a concession was made and the family could stay there. Truthfully as the shed was closing there would be no one to take the place if the family moved out, so it wasn't so much a concession as financial common sense. Whenever I went home the familiar smells of bleach and damp washing assailed my senses. This day was very much like others when I called in.
Dad may be contemplating retirement but for mum the work was never-ending. She stopped long enough to make a cup of tea for us and sat down to regale me with all the gossip.
"Mavis doesn't look happy."
"Oh! You've seen her?"
"Yes she comes back to see her ma and pa from time to time. The baby's a lovely little thing. She's called him Richard you know." That was quite a surprise to me and as I sat contemplating why she would have done that mum watched me with that 'look' in her eye. I grinned at her.
"No good mum. That look doesn't work with me anymore, especially when I have nothing to confess."
"No? Strange though. That she should name her son after you." I shrugged my shoulders.
"Perhaps it wasn't named after me; maybe she just liked the name." Mum made a noise like "Humph", finished her tea and got up.
"I have to get on." She returned to her bleach and damp washing.
Dad had been silent during this conversation and after mum left he lit his pipe then through the smoke I heard him say.
"She would have liked a grandson, and always thought it would be you and Mavis who gave her that." I shook my head.
"No dad. I don't think that Mavis loved me that way and I was certain I didn't love her. We liked each other, but that was as far as it went."
"Love!" He exclaimed bitterly. "Love isn't for the likes of us, Lad. When the pressures of keeping a roof over your heads, food on the table and clothes on your back come, love can go out of the window bloody quick. 'Like' will see you through. Leave love to them as can afford it." He blew more clouds of aromatic smoke into the room. That was typical of dad. He would make his statement then leave it in the air, never explaining himself. He would let others try to work out the meaning. "So have you got someone?"
"I see some girls from time to time. Nothing serious though."
"Don't bring us any trouble, lad."
"No dad. I am taking care." He nodded.
"Good. A man's got to sow his wild oats, but I am pleased you are being sensible."
Our conversation turned to what I was doing. His opinion of diesels was very low, but he listened without comment as I talked. He came alive when I told him.
"I had one up to a hundred and twenty the other day."
"What?" I grinned and confirmed the figure." He shook his head slowly.
"No one's done that since 'Mallard'. Even then they nearly broke it to get there." He thought about it. "Bloody hell! A hundred and twenty. I had a Jubilee up to the ton once. It bounced about so much that I thought we would be thrown off the footplate." He looked at me with a boyish smile. "Did it feel good?"
I left mum and dad after chatting some more and walked down the street. I was thinking of just popping in to say hello to Mavis's parents. I had done as much growing up in their house as in mine. I knocked the door and her mum shouted "come in." As I opened the door I called.
"It's me, Ricky." I walked straight through to the scullery.
"Hello stranger." The voice was Mavis. Her mum smiled at me.
"Cup of tea, Richard?" I thanked her and sat down at the table. Mavis's mum was cut from the same cloth as my mum and like mum always called me Richard though all my friends called me Rick or in Mavis's case Ricky.
"How are you, Mavis?"
"I'm fine, Ricky." She said the words but the conviction wasn't there, making me think that something was wrong.
"Where's the little one?"
"He's having a nap in the front room. Want to see him?" I nodded and she took me through. I was being polite really, as babies were not of interest to me. He had to be three years old by now.
"Why did you call him Richard?" I enquired. Mavis looked a little embarrassed and then seemed to gather some courage.
"I named him after you, as you were the best friend I ever had."
"Didn't your husband ... It's David isn't it? Didn't he have anything to say about it?"
"He didn't care. He never wanted to know anything about me so I never talked about you."
"Still, I would have thought he would want to have some say in the matter."
"No, Ricky. He's just not interested, not in Richard nor in me." Her words and the sadness in her voice as she said them confirmed my earlier impression.
I thanked Mrs. Johnson for the tea, saying I should get back to the station. Mavis asked if she could walk with me. Her mum would look after Richard if he woke. We set out. It would take about fifteen minutes to get to the station. As soon as we turned right out of the street Mavis linked her arm through mine.
"I didn't say anything in front of mum, but I haven't seen David for six months. I think he's left me."
"Oh shit." Not the response that some would have made, but it was good enough for the moment. Mavis seemed to agree.
"Yes." We walked in silence for a while.
"How are you managing?" I asked her.
"I get my Child Allowance. I cash a cheque from time to time; they are always honoured so he must be putting money into the account."
"Well I suppose that is something. But what about the future?" Mavis shrugged her shoulders.
"The rent is paid for another six months and I'll stay to see if he comes back in that time. If he doesn't, I suppose I will have to move back in with mum and dad."
"What will you do then?"
"I saw a solicitor. He says wait for two years then divorce him for desertion, that is if I can find him and he will agree. If not I have to wait five years."
We walked into the station. At the barrier she turned to me. "It's so good to see you again and all I've done is talk about my troubles. Your mum says you are doing well. I'm pleased about that."
"It's a lot better than the engine shed," I held up my hands.
"Look I have clean hands now." Mavis looked shamefaced.