Thursday, December 10, 2015

another whistle stop


A lady who traveled by train to a village in the southwest of England arrived at the station to see nothing but countryside all around. She asked the station master, 'Where is the village?' The man replied that it's about 2 miles away, down the hill. The lady then asked 'Wouldn't it have been better to build the station near the village?' To which the station master replied, 'Yes madam, but we thought it better to build it near the railway.'

Decades ago I was living in England and loving to travel by train whenever I got the chance. For me it was a return to some bucolic yesteryear when the landscape was unspoiled. Imagine my surprise to read that my experience wasn't shared by the Victorians when railway travel expanded enormously in the mid 1800s. Many of them described the havoc wreaked upon urban centers by railways, such as driving up real estate prices, devastating working class housing, and adding to urban congestion. They also protested the effects of the new transportation technology upon the pristine countryside:

'Once it were a capital county, I say. Hah! you asks me what have happened to it. You take and go and look at it now. And down heer'll be no better soon, I tells 'em. When ah was a boy, old Hampshire was a proud country, wi' the old coaches and the old squires, and Harvest Homes, and Christmas merryings. — Cutting up the land! There's no pride in livin' theer, nor anywhere, as I sees, now.'

'You mean the railways.'

'It's the Devil come up and abroad ower all England!' exclaimed the melancholy ancient patriot.


Within a few decades the term Railway Mania was used to describe a huge speculative bubble. Reporting the investment frenzy of the time and the subsequent crash author Charles Reade wrote:

'When this sober state of things had endured some time, there came a year that money was loose, and a speculative fever due in the whirligig of time. Then railways bubbled. New ones were advertised, fifty a month, and all went to a premium. High and low scrambled for the shares, even when the projected line was to run from the town of Nought to the village of Nothing across a goose common. The flame spread, fanned by prospectus and advertisement, two mines of glowing fiction, compared with which the legitimate article is a mere tissue of understatements; princes sat in railway tenders, and clove the air like the birds whose effigies surmount their armorials; our stiffest Peers relaxed into Boards [of Directors]; Bishops warned their clergy against avarice, and buttered Hudson an inch thick for shares; and turned their little aprons into great pockets; men, stainless hitherto, put down their infants, nurses included, as independent subscribers, and bagged the coupons.'

Remind you of anything we've witnessed since then? People are always looking for a way to get rich quick.

The coming of the railway age was a watershed in the history of Great Britain. Some Victorians were happy and others mourned the changes that came with the new technology. Nowadays I often feel like one of those genteel cynics who sees our society heading full speed across a goose common where there is no track. Then again, perhaps all is well and I'm just getting old and cranky.

“Intelligence may indeed be a benign influence creating isolated groups of philosopher-kings far apart in the heavens…On the other hand, intelligence may be a cancer of purposeless technological exploitation, sweeping across a galaxy as irresistibly as it has swept across our own planet”
– Freeman Dyson

18 comments:

Andrew R. Scott said...

There is something very fine and romantic about railways, definitely. As a child lying in bed, the distant moan of a train's horn far away in the middle of the night used to really get to me and take my mind out of itself, in a fine way. And travelling round Europe on an Inter-rail ticket as a student was the best holiday I ever had (although having my beautiful lady along with me helped too). Your train drawings stir up pleasant memories.

L'Adelaide said...

I love your drawings of train travel long ago... well, sort of ;) It is wistful yet seems so slow and soothing, very much distant from travel of today. I want to travel by train but have neard they are filthy, not running on time and have enough crashes to make me uncomfortable. I suppose trains have always had things like that but somehow today
s dirt seems dirtier somehow.

and that drawing of the aunties is hilarious. as is that titanic one. and definitely the way it would be. i wonder how many grab their phones when witnessing some terrible event rather than helping w/o thinking of needing to post it online..... ah my dear, i fear we are becoming cynical, not that i mind. :)

xoxoxo

susan said...

Yes, there's definitely something indefinably wonderful about train travel. It seems you can never go so far away by rail that you can't return.. so long as you have a ticket.

I'm glad the pictures stir up pleasant memories for you as well.

susan said...

Well, it really was very long ago - much longer and there would have been a horse pulling the wagon I was on. :) Trains in the US aren't likely to be as nice (or as clean) as the ones in Europe and Japan but they don't have that many accidents unless they happen to be carrying crude oil. Geez..

I'm glad you like the aunties (the Titanic was one I found). I saw a very weird picture the other day of a crowd of people all facing away from the Mona Lisa taking selfies. Cynicism is totally warrented.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
Another delightful picture in what is becoming a series that brings back fond memories of interesting rail travel which has been amply described by previous comments.
I think we do make some progress but a lot is lost because of mistrust and continued duplication. I notice Google in an attempt to wage a war against duplication in business seeks to modify their search algorithm but unwittingly may remove some originators rather than the duplicators. There is always a need for human intervention/ oversight/debate to help curb inevitable excesses that will arise as consequence of any sort of progress. We will always have I think some form of old fashioned fear campaigns which can provoke the very worst in human nature, as it always has but now in different forms and at least it is more widely known. This gives the impression it is more widespread via a more extensive media, but previously it was hidden. So that overall I think we are much better informed, to go with all of the rather obvious horrific excesses.
Best wishes

L'Adelaide said...

What a "picture" that created in my mind.... turned away from the Mona Lisa with their dear phones taking selfies. Life just keeps getting weirder! xox

gfid said...


trains, aunties dancing, drinks with Nana..... and, as always, your beautiful pictures. Once again, bedtime stories to dream on. Love, D and M

susan said...

I prefer to read the stories about the idiots who turn their backs to grizzly bears so they can take that last selfie :)
xoxo

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
Glad you liked the picture.
From what I've read the new Google plan is designed to speed up the loading of news pages using a revised HTML code. Apparently, Facebook has offered its users a higher speed reading/loading function on mobile devices and Google wants to
keep their market share. For one thing, I'd hate to get my news from FB since they try to tailor what you see depending on their version of your preferences. Now, as you noted, Google will be dropping web pages that don't use its new code to lower spots in searches.
I agree with you that we do have access to more information now and that's a good thing. What worries me is that we're so much more liable to be manipulated by people and groups who don't have the public's best interest in mind.
All the best

susan said...

So happy to see the two of you have been by to visit. M has a great smile :)

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
You have touched on a complex subject but I think you will find Google say the recent algorithm changes are primarily designed to tweak or improve searches. But it’s certainly in the growing mobile area we have all the intense competition and alliances as Apple claim they more than 50 media players, Facebook a growing number and more speedy responses. Google, in response now have a partnership with Twitter-getting the news/ opinions faster. The only thing that has changed it seems to me is that which can be classified as gossip is now more abundantly facilitated from any number of technologically savvy robotic applications.
Best wishes

The Geezers said...

Very nice artwork, and an equally interesting bit of history. Thanks for sharing it.

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
I keep forgetting that most people have smart phones, Facebook or Google or Bing accounts, etc. Other than advertising, the gossip you mention does seem to be the prime subject motivating these engines. I can't help but wonder what their ultimate goal might be - perhaps there isn't one.
All the best

marja-leena said...

Another lovely drawing and memory tweak of long ago travel. The last time we were on a train was the one from London to Paris through the Chunnel - very modern, clean, fast and smooth.

I am curious about the 'writing room' - was that for real?

Best wishes for the coming holiday season, Susan!

susan said...

Thanks so much, Geezers. The promise of easy money has been corrupting people for a long time.

susan said...

It one of those drawings that won't bear too much scrutiny, Marja-Leena, but it got the idea across.

A woman I knew in Portland lived in the UK for years while her husband worked as one of the chief mechanical engineers on the Chunnel. Did you know they tunneled through chalk from one end to the other?

Apologies for my printing on that sign - it's supposed to be easily read as 'Waiting Room'. :)

marja-leena said...

Ach, pardon me, that misreading is my fault! I think I need new glasses. Yet, I rather like the idea of a "writing" room, a rather Jane Austenish feature, methinks :-)

Interesting that the chalk carried all across the channel but not surprising as Britain's south coast IS mostly chalk, isn't it?

susan said...

You're right, it would be charmingly Austenish to have a 'writing' room as part of a country station.

Yes, the south coast is mostly chalk but I was surprised too to learn it went all the way over. Apparently, it didn't maintain it's easily tunneled consistency at the French side of the Channel.

I think I'd still prefer the ferry. :)