A sense of space and time

A sense of space and time

Doesn’t everyone occasionally indulge in escapism? However rewarding life may be, we may want to slip away from it, now and again, just for a while. The one solemnly meditates; the other just daydreams. I admit to having tried at some such moments to slip into another dimension. The microscope provided a glimpse of the very small; but as far as I was concerned neither corpuscles nor even wriggling amoeba provided friendly company. At the other extreme of size, Stephen Hawking’s writings introduced me to infinity and eternity; but neither appeared particularly congenial, and trying to grasp the idea of black holes frankly left me with a splitting headache. All the same, his notion of space-time set me thinking. Suppose I could fortify my daydreams, backwards in time and downwards in space, by recreating some fond memory in miniature?

The memory was to hand. As a boy growing up on the edge of England’s Black Country (at the time very Black indeed), the local railway station was my gateway to the big world. Stourbridge Town provided no more than a three minute trip to the Junction, whence the bigger trains of the G.W.R. steamed majestically off to the cities, but the Town Station was where every adventure began. Lengthy and low, proudly put up in 1879 in yellow brick at the top of a sloping forecourt, with trees at either end and surmounted by two squat and uncompromisingly Victorian towers, the Station was the grand little portal that offered instantaneous escape, from the indecent clamour of the High Street and the impatience of the buses, into the decorous world of God’s Wonderful Railway. Here was the stationmaster, lord of all he surveyed (which, in truth, was not all that much), pulling out his pocketwatch in a proper expression of concern whenever the incoming train appeared to be half a minute late. In summer there were flowers on the grand table in the waiting room, and on a wintry day a stove crackled and glowed there. Nearby was the domain of the booking clerk, gravely stamping every pasteboard ticket in a dating device that resembled a cast-iron coffee pot; I once disconcerted him by enquiring, in adolescent innocence, as to the price of a return to Paris (“Nay, lad, you better ask the folks in Birmingham as to that”). Outside, the Nestlé machine offered miniscule chocolate bars at one penny a piece. And there came the train, hurrying busily in from the Junction with much whistling and a splendid show of steam. Alas, only six minutes later the engine would be obliged, somewhat shamefacedly, to reverse and push its single coach back the way it had come, since there was no space and no time to turn the train around.

Such was the memory, compounded from a hundred or more journeys, that seeded my occasional daydreams over later years. And mere daydreams they remained until, one rainy day recently, I found myself venturing down to my workshop in the cellar with the notion of making them just a trifle less ephemeral. There were sheets of discarded plywood there, fretsaws and glue, and remnants of a long-abandoned doll’s house; it was too tempting. Since then, at those moments in the week when I need half an hour’s relief from my desktop, I have betaken myself to the workbench; very, very gradually, I have begun to recreate Stourbridge Town, an image of the way it was. Just sufficiently large and real so that, bending down, I can look in at the booking office, open the door of the waiting room and savour the view along the platform again as I once did in the days when it offered me my first portal to the world.

And the real Town Station? Shame, oh shame! In 1979 the Town Planners arrived, intent (so it is said) on making Stourbridge look like any other place. Fearful, it would seem, that persons with a sense of history might come running to point to the Station’s imminent centenary and call for its preservation, they hastily tore it down. Today, an unassuming little brick structure suffices to shelter a dozen passengers from a shower; the train from the Junction is bumpy, wobbly and appears to run on clockwork. Ah, well; perhaps, sixty years from now, there may well be people with nothing better to remember who will daydream even about that.

Graham Dukes is a lawyer, physician, author and church organist. He lives in Oslo.

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