Category Archives: Railway
“Ah, you’re awake!” my companion says.
“Yes,” I say. My tongue is dry.
“Here, clean your mouth.” The man sitting opposite hands me a small plastic bottle of water, which at least refreshes my tongue, if not my dream-befogged mind.
“You looked dead to the world when you got on,” he says, “and just collapsed into the corner there. Don’t worry,” he gave me reassuring smile, “you didn’t snore.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t …” I look around. The compartment seems fairly nondescript, though rather old-fashioned. Bench seats face each other, and above them are luggage racks and faded paintings screwed onto the wall. To my right a sliding door gives onto the corridor. To my left, through the sash window, a wide expanse of sunglinted mirrorwater reflects a steel-blue sky. The only other person in the compartment smiles, lines crinkling his periwinkle-blue eyes.
“My name’s Charon,” he says.
“Ah, after Pluto’s largest moon?”
“In a way, yes,” he says, his eyes flashing. “You’re an astronomer?”
“I’m not sure,” I say honestly. I try to think. “I can’t even remember getting on the train.”
“Oh, dear. Mind you, it looks like you came a long way to catch it,” he says, pointing at my feet. They are filthy; bare, blistered and bleeding. “You should clean them.” He passes me a white handkerchief, almost dazzling in the intense sunglare that streams into the compartment. I pour a little water onto the cloth, squinting against the brightness.
“It’s not that bright,” Charon says. “You just have the dust of too many memories in your eyes, refracting the light. You should clean those, too.”
I begin to rub at the grime on my feet, staining the pristine cloth brown and black.
“The handkerchief’s a metaphor, clearly,” Charon says. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. I think it was Chekhov that said that, wasn’t it? Oh look, we’ve arrived.”
I look up. I am alone in the compartment. Outside, a railway station glides into view, all picket fences, milk churns, flowerbeds, waiting rooms and porter’s barrows. As the train slows to a halt, I see Charon standing on the platform in a guard’s uniform, holding a red flag. Behind him an ornate metal sign displays the name of the station, and suddenly I realise where I am. Charon blows a shrill whistle.
“All change!” he shouts. “Purgatorium! This is Purgatorium!”
Arthur Harold Raby, my father-in-law, died on Tuesday 5th February. He was eighty-five. A bluff Yorkshireman with a dry wit, he drove railway engines for his whole working life. His final journey as a driver was an Inter City 125 express from London, terminating at Doncaster. Arthur terminated at Scarborough at about half past four in the afternoon.
This post is not so much about Arthur, however, as about his funeral, and the people I met there. East Riding Crematorium in Octon, near Driffield, is a quiet and beautiful place. Grassy lawns and reflective pools, and inside a lovely stained glass window showing a boat buggering off into a beautiful sunset beneath a rainbow. ‘Ship of Souls’ it is called, and made me think of the ending of the Lord of the Rings.
Amongst many cards we received was this from Arthur’s Salvation Army friend, Albert Skinner, one of only three people ever to be made an honorary citizen of Filey. “Please excuse scribble,” he says, in writing far better and more legible than mine, “But it’s not easy at 94.” Albert did attend the funeral, although it is hard for him to walk now, and he proudly wore his Sally Army uniform. The service was led by the lovely Major Susan, although I kept forgetting and almost called her ‘Major Barbara’ a few times, and once ‘Major Tom’.
I also had lovely talks with relatives not seen for a very long time, including a fascinating chat with Mary’s Uncle Bob, a one-time FIFA referee. He once sent off three players and booked eight in one match. For swearing. Imagine that happening now, eh? One of Arthur’s domino mates was an ex-goalkeeper who had played at Rawmarsh Welfare, the now-defunct football club next to the street where I grew up. We used to sneak in through a hole we’d dug beneath the boundary wall.
I called shotgun to sit in the front of the limo going back through the picturesque villages that dot the East Yorkshire countryside. Wood-panelled dashboard, gorgeous interior, and a driver who was also a grave-digger when he wasn’t driving. Another fascinating chat.
We’d arranged a ‘do’ at Arthur’s Snooker Club, one of the places he played his dommies, and a belting ‘spread’ it was. They also had Theakston Mild on draft – win! A tear came to mine eye when they told us that they have honoured Arthur by creating ‘The Arthur Raby Memorial Trophy’, to be competed for annually by the club’s domino players.
Arthur would have loved that. Sithee, Dad.