I took a ride, finally, on the Severn Valley Railway today. It's Britains longest permanently running steam line, going from Kidderminster (close to the conventional railway station) to Bridgenorth. Several trains run on the line, and the trip takes a little over an hour, despite not being the longest of distances. But speed is definitely not the main priority. If anything, it's anti-speed.
It's also cheap. A return ticket bought in advance is £14. A first class cabin upgrade is £3. Compared to the ridiculously large fares on conventional trains, sometimes costing hundreds of pounds for a few hours travel (with no guarantee of a seat), it's actually a bargain. Compare to going to a football match, or a theme or amusement park. Much cheaper, and more relaxing.
And also comfortable. At 43 I'm old enough to remember these slam door carriages, with the first class compartments that seat 6 people each. And they were, and are, shockingly comfortable. Lots of leg room. Comfy seats. You can adjust the heating and the lighting yourself, or pull down the door window (all this comfort control has been taken away from you on contemporary trains). The luggage racks were large enough to take, well, luggage (rage at modern trains).
The scenery, travelling through Worcestershire and Shropshire, was pleasant. Familiar, but also unfamiliar. The river Severn wound and looped its path around the train line. Many woods, wild and kept, were passed, with pheasant and grouse in peculiar abundance. On the hills overlooking the river, several caravan and trailer parks. Some gave the impression of being for tourists, others for more permanent residents, in a way which peculiarly reminded of south Ohio and Kentucky.
Anyway; it was a nice Christmas present to myself, after the third turbulent year in a row. Please, Cthulhu, let's get everything finally sorted out in 2012 and have a more settled future. I had planned to do this a few years ago, when living with an ex- in a destructive relationship, but it was almost inevitable that we'd end up rowing and the day ruined, as so many were, so am glad I didn't do it then. Wish Becky had been here so we could have done the trip together; pretty sure she would have enjoyed it, and it would have made it even more fun.
But more importantly, this trip felt like I had gained some more of an indefinable closure on ... stuff from my childhood, doing this ride. Like (trying to) live in the West Midlands at the moment, there's reminders all the time of past things done and visited, such as when the train passes the West Midlands Safari Park (where the monkeys ripped the wing mirrors off the family car in the 70s), or got into Bridgenorth with its rather nice town centre on a hill, that trigged off more vague and very distant memories.
You are what you eat, as the saying goes. But you're also what you do and where you've been, as that's what forms the memories you carry around in the bundle of synapses and neurons in your brain.
Never go back. It's never the same, and the only reason to go back is to say goodbye. Think the only thing I've got left to do to get closure is to visit Tenbury Wells, and scatter my moms ashes somewhere appropriate, probably a bluebell wood.
Anyway; digression. The train ride was nice, as was a cheap lunch in Bridgenorth. Even the annoyance of being sent annoying email (ironically another damned memory of the past, and a reminder not to check my email when out and about so often), to the wrong email address, didn't dampen the day. A good way to pretty much end 2011.
(Pictures on here by me, and the full set is on Flickr)