There was one thing we knew as boys. And that was that the illustration on the front of Hornby catalogues and train set boxes would usually bear no relation to the contents. But it didn't matter. It was the whole idea of steam trains that attracted us, and the fact that they were inaccurately rendered in colourfully printed tinplate meant not a jot. Back in the day we were an 'O' Gauge family, forced by circumstance to watch richer neighbours' or friends' Hornby Dublo electric trains careen around specially constructed baseboards in front parlours. No, we were strictly clockwork, and our battered cheapo 'M' series trains ran amok through hallway and kitchen, and very memorably around the garden. My brother came back from Leicester market with a huge box full of track, staggering up our cul-de-sac lane shouting "Give me a hand someone". We couldn't believe how far it stretched, right from the bottom of the garden by the empty pond, past the sentinel lupins, across the yard, round the side and front of the house until finally running out of steam at the top of the drive. Almost literally, because one winding would do the lot. I was posted by the front gate, and I can still remember the rush of pleasure as the train approached, my brother having put an apple or biscuit in a truck for me. Alone and out of sight, I would put my ear to the silvered track to hear the approaching clattering of wheels. We were so into all this we parcelled an abbreviated version with a string handle to take on our holidays to Anderby Creek on the Lincolnshire coast. Rainy days found the trains whirring around the attic of our bungalow.
You know what's coming don't you? Readers may remember the purchase of an 0 gauge level crossing three years ago. It started a slow ball rolling. Signals, bits of stations, then wagons followed by the odd carriage. But no locomotive. Until this Tuesday! The coupling took place with due ceremony, and we're almost ready to roll. Just need a 100 yard stretch of track. You see, apart from my youngest chaps, there appears to be a growing cache of grandchildren in my family, and the idea is to start services running around Ashley Towers in a similar fashion to those of, err, a long time ago. Trucks with Ribena beakers spilling over them, trucks with Lego cargos. And the inevitable, as everyone watches in fascination as a rose petal drifts gently down onto the track and the whole thing spectacularly derails and crashes into the dustbins. Beware of trains.
* 'Oh my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!' For years I thought this line of poetry was someone remembering his train set. I couldn't figure out 'Barlow' because the only one I knew was my fellow milk monitor at school. Eventually I read the whole thing and it's about cricket: At Lord's by Francis Thompson.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)