This week’s Guest Writer is Ken Taylor, who took up writing when he retired from work. As you’ll see he has a talent for taking the reader right to the scene. Enjoy. Here’s a little bit about him in his own words:
“My name is Ken Taylor. Having retired from business, I am now living the life I wanted to live when I had to work to eat. I am married and have a grown up son and daughter.
“I am a freelance actor, director, and producer, and latterly a writer. I am a member of Leeds Arts Centre, based at the Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds. My proudest theatre achievement is that I directed a group of LAC actors with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the RSC Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon, and at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford in 2016.
“I am comparatively new to writing, having done a couple of terms of Creative Writing at the Swarthmore Centre in Leeds. I am currently working on my first novel, and have written two children’s adventure stories, as well as a number of short stories.
“I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to be chosen by Esther as a guest writer so early in my writing journey”.
The heat was almost visible as he walked up the road towards the railway station. The lush grass on the verges threaded with dandelions, buttercups and cowslips looked cool and green and inviting. He would have liked to have plunged in and rolled around in it.
Off to the left the yellow fields sloped away with their burgeoning crops of cereals and barley fizzing in the heat, the far horizon shimmering and wavering in the haze where the plain gave way to the blue Pennine foothills.
To the right, the verge was rising as the road approached the station, gradually merging into the embankment of the railway itself. The same lush grass inhabited the base of the banking but towards the top the growth gave way to burnt stubble and then ash and cinders, testament to the careless ejecting of sparks from the locomotives. The path of the railway on top of the embankment was betrayed by the escorting line of telegraph poles, odd ones buzzing with activity as he passed them by, and an interloping white painted signal stanchion. The slate tiled roof and chimney pots of the station peeked over the lip of the sloping rise before him.
He could now detect amid the scent of grass and dust the strange mixed smell of the railway. Creosote, tar, hot metal and the residue of steam which clung to the vicinity of the tracks.
The road rose eventually to meet the small yard outside the station, which nursed no vehicles on its gravel surface.
The station itself was a long low building of red rustic brick surmounted with a slate tile roof and with a central entrance. He entered the cool of this square arch, and stood at the window of the ticket office. In the small office, an untidy desk stood against the back wall, and a kettle rattled away on a gas hob beside the potbellied stove, mercifully unlit.
A figure appeared in the half window.
‘Warm enough for yer?’ inquired the man. He wore half-moon spectacles and a dusty British Railways jacket.
‘It’s grand. I never complain about warm weather.’
‘No, that’s right enough. That’s right enough.’
‘A single to Leeds please.’
‘You’ll need to change at Ilkley. Two and sixpence please.’
He handed over the half crown, and the man ran the ticket into his machine with a firm clunk and passed it through the hatch.
‘It’ll be along in,’ he looked behind him at the large wall clock, ‘seven minutes.’
‘Thanks very much.’ He took the ticket and walked out into the blinding sun on the platform.
He was alone on the station. He could hear the far off clattering of a tractor, and the tweeting of the birds in a stand of trees behind the station building on the opposite platform. Somewhere in the distance sheep were bleating.
He walked a few yards. The two parallel railway tracks shone brilliantly, sunk between the twin platforms. Again the smell of hot tar, creosote and old steam rose to meet him.
‘You’ll want to be on t’other platform, lad.’ A voice came from behind him. ‘Over t’bridge.’
The railwayman had emerged from a door, mug of tea in hand.
He made his way along the platform to the wooden footbridge, neat and white painted, which stood almost at the end, just before the ramp down to the track bed.
He climbed the stairs to the first level, where the steps changed direction to ascend to the bridge itself.
He paused in the centre of the bridge, and leant on the handrail, almost too hot to touch.
The station looked wonderful. The two platforms hosted long flower beds, carefully tended and bursting with red, blue and yellow plants. In the centre of both platforms a low banking was set out in gleaming white pebbles ADDINGHAM..
He turned and looked in the other direction. The gleaming parallel tracks stretched away on their grey and white bed of ballast, past a lonely signal box before curving out of sight in a slow bend to the left. Beyond, the fields stretched green and yellow, studded with copses and small woods. Above, the blue vault hosted billows of high cumulus clouds.
A faint clang brought his attention to the signal down the line. The arm of the distant signal was raised. He now noticed that off to the left above a distant ribbon of trees, puffs of white steam were rising, advancing steadily.
He descended the other side of the bridge, taking his time, and wandered back towards the centre of the platform.
He could now hear the faint whisper of the train, which must be working hard up the gradient judging from the smoke now mixed with the rising steam above the trees.
He looked down the line towards the curve where the train would appear. He could see the signalman silhouetted in the window of the distant box, hands on the levers.
At the curve the air shimmered and wavered, making shapes indistinct as in a mirage. Into the hazy picture now appeared the engine of the train as it emerged around the bend, followed by the red of the carriages. It seemed to hover just above the ground.
The image of the train clarified as it got closer, and became a round body surmounted by a great cloud of trailing smoke and steam, the insistent chugging seeming to echo in his chest. A booming whistle erupted from the engine, predicted by a jet of white steam climbing above it. The clouds of ejected steam from the funnel died away as the engine started to coast towards the station, gradually losing way, and the steam now rose from around the wheels as the brakes were first applied.
He stepped back from the platform edge as the massive black engine glided past him with a heavy thudding and the clanking of the slowing piston rods. Then a last loud hiss of escaping steam was joined by a squeal as the protesting wheels came to a gradual halt.
For a brief moment there was silence, apart from the hissing of steam. Then a railwayman emerged from a door in the station buildings and set off along the length of the train.
‘Addingham! Addingham!’ he shouted, to nobody in particular. Further back along the train a door swung out from a carriage and an elderly couple emerged, laden with heavy shopping bags. They commenced a slow waddling walk towards the station buildings.
He opened a heavy carriage door at the end of the second coach and climbed the two steps into the train. The corridor wasn’t cool, but was less hot than the outside. Closing the door behind him with a satisfying clunk, he wandered along the corridor and soon found an empty compartment. He entered, sliding the door closed behind him with a firm click.
He chose a seat by the window facing the direction of travel. The moquette seat covering was warm to the touch and the burnished wood of the seat edges and window frame shone brightly. There was that familiar smell of polish and tobacco smoke, and on the walls of the compartment above each seat were small framed pictures of Yorkshire scenes.
A faint thud further along the train told that the carriage door used by the old couple had been shut. A sharp blast on a whistle followed from the platform.
A faint creaking jerk told that the engine was taking the strain, and the scenery outside started to glide silently by.
The sound of the thunderous ejection of smoke and steam from the engine’s funnel came faintly to him, and the train picked up speed, indicated by the increasing tempo of the wheels passing over the gaps in the rails, and he settled back to enjoy the beauty of the sunlit realm of the dale as he headed towards home.