Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Getting Up Steam

The periods of time between posts in this journal - a serious misnomer given the word's Latin root - grow ever longer. I've no idea why. Perhaps there are too many other demands on my time due to my quest for continuing mental stimulation, the essential offset to the depredations of advancing years. Certainly I've taken on new challenges of late - well, one new challenge at least, the others are old ones, like getting out of bed at a reasonable time and not eating chips.

I've become a voluntary guide at a stately home. A couple of days a week I get to pretend that I own a large Palladian mansion in the heart of the Worcestershire countryside. I can swan around from room to room, chatting to our clientele, raising a laugh and singing. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to sing but the room acoustics are tremendous and irresistible. And nobody has complained yet.

Suddenly there are lots of facts to stuff away into my crowded brain, that same brain where now, after sixty years, some of the storage rooms have become locked and keyless, their contents mouldering away, never to be retrieved. Wouldn't it be great if you could shuffle through the repository stuck inside your head and throw out all those memories for which you no longer have a use? In my case that could be the registration numbers of all the cars I've ever owned (and some of my Dad's), the phone number of one of the flats I lived in Bristol or the best pubs to drink in in the West Country in the early 1970s. All redundant knowledge but still there, clogging up the neuron pathways, pathways which might be better occupied with the names of the 6th Earl of Coventry's wives or the methods of production of cylinder glass.

Still, what does it matter? If I don't know the answer, I can always make something up, one of the benefits of being relatively well-read and knowing not quite enough about a lot of things. And so I do. Constantly, such drivel as would make you weep.

Enough of that. It's patently obvious that there have been insufficient images of steam trains on these pages. So here is one. While viewing this picture, try to conjure up a bitterly cold December day with the scent of snow in the air. Then smell the rich, overpowering, exotic tang of hot oil and coal smoke, and hear the hiss and splutter of steam erupting from a straining safety valve. When you have that in your mind, you will understand how, in one way at least, I experience perfection.