Dream Time


Ancestral Dreamtime

Iron workers, ‘tinmen’, and porters,

Laundry women, farm labourers,

Servants, herdsmen, carpenters,

Coach builders, spinners, weavers,

Sparkies and upholsterers;

Lives spreading east from Wiltshire to London,

Lives spreading west to Stroud and the five valleys;

Five generations drawn to Swindon,

And the Great Western Railway Works,

Like my great-grandfather in Wroughton,

Tramping four miles a day from this village,

A Captain Swing farm-arson village,

Just one short generation before,

Then tramping four miles back again

After a long and arduous shift,

To labour in the home and garden;

Or my great-grandfather coming down from London,

Leaving upholstery, carriage and coach building

For the vehicles of the capital’s streets,

To commence employment in the GWR,

In the carriage and wagon works

(His wife missed the bright lights

And hot-footed it back to London

Almost straight away),

Or my dad taking his grand dad’s snap

To the tall, high, imposing Hill and Paul mill,

That red brick mill hard by Stroud railway station,

Back in the days just before the General Strike,

Or my dad some fifty years later,

Unconsciously following the thoughts of Alfred Williams:

Keep any labour saving ideas to yourself;

Don’t let the bosses know you’ve found a more efficient,

Cost and time saving way of doing a job,

Because workmates might lose their jobs

(My memory tells me that dad devised a new method

Of rewiring diesel multiple units,

That would have saved British Rail I don’t know how much,

But kept it all, characteristically, and nobly, to himself:

Twentieth century ‘aristocracy of labour’);

Or myself in 1973, on Cup Final Day

(Leeds United versus Sunderland),

Nipping up the footsteps of the signal box

(Time to fill the driver’s billy can),

Stuck at a semaphore signal at Bicester

With a freight train,

And when I climbed wearily back into the cab,

The signalman waved his arm with the cheery imperative:

‘Right away, mate’,

He then disappeared for a second and then reappeared,

This time with a red and white striped scarf:

‘Ian Porterfield’s just scored for Sunderland,

Leeds are one nil down!’

These are my ancestral memories and inheritance:

This is my ancestral dreamtime:

A world of forever rusting railway lines,

Spring-time lilac by a station siding,

Holiday labels on brown leather cases,

Red tail lamps in midwinter darkness,

Winter warmth in a night frost waiting room,

Semaphore signals on a moon glazed night,

With a full moon on the line,

Knotted holes in railway bridges,

Where you could press an eye to spot fugitive

Train numbers in inaccessible spots

(A world where even today, your neck jerks

To follow a train whenever you hear its approach),

Screeching points and, far distant,

Railway line vanishing points,

Where you once sat in a siding,

Drowsily drinking tea with the driver,

A hot smoky fume-fug in the cab,

Yet more tepid tea from the over stained billy can,

The screech of owls in the distant wood:

But then the signal arm at last clunks down:

And the train takes you into dreamtime,

Not a linear line,

But a line to ancestral dreamtime.

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