Going to the shops


Shops in the Railway Works

Shops had a double meaning in my childhood:

The obvious, which was the domain of women,

Open every weekday except Wednesday afternoon,

And the ‘Inside’, which was the domain of men,

And accessible to children

On Wednesday afternoons only -

When we clutched our precious Permits,

Applied for all those long weeks before,

To process down through the tunnel,

To get train numbers beyond anyone’s dreams,

Wandering through the Railway Works,

And its alchemy-alphabet of shops:

A Shop, A Erecting Shop, A Shop Engine Testing Plant, A Shop Extension;

B Shop, Boiler AV Shop, Boiler House, Brass Turning & Fitting Shop;

C Shop, Concentration Yard, Carpenter’s Shop, Carriage Finishers (No.7) Shop,

Carriage Repair (No.19) Shop, Carriage & Wagon Construction (No.24) Shop,

Carriage & Wagon (No. 16) Shop, Coppersmiths’ Shop; Cylinder Shop;

Diesel Engine Repair Shop, DMU Lifting Shop, Erecting Shop;

Forge & Smiths’ Shop;

Grinding Shop;

Iron Foundry;

Lifting Shop, Locomotive Paint Shop, Locomotive Wheel (AV) Shop;

New Points & Crossing Shop, Points & Crossing (X) Shop;

Road Motor (No.17) Shop, Rolling Mill;

Steam Hammer Shop, Stamping Shop;

Tender Shop, Trimming Shop, Truck Shop, Turning Shops;

Wagon Frame (No.13) Shop, Wheel Shop, Wheel-smiths’ Shop.

I took my mother back there in 1997,

When the designer outlet opened,

On the site of all those closed down railway shops,

And we went shopping where dad used to work,

Ghosts of five generations of my family,

Marching through the tunnel to work inside,

From Wiltshire village and from Clerkenwell,

In search of work, wage, pride and dignity.

I sniffed the air:

Smoke, steam, gas, coal, coke, oil;

I tasted the soot in the cold April air -

The factory hooter resounding around the town;

Mum bent down to pick up a piece of ballast:

A keepsake, a magic touchstone,

That had the power to open closed down shops.

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