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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

60009 The Union of South Africa Approaches Chippenham at speed

On 3 July 1938 4468 Mallard ; the Nigel Gresley designed streamlined pacific, set a world speed record of 126 mph (202.8 km/h), pulling six coaches and a dynamometer car. In honour of this 75th anniversary I have included my poem about Mallard's sister engine 'Union of South Africa'
File:Up Capitals Limited express on the ECML at Wymondley, south of Hitchin 2282866.jpg 



Five hundred tons of steel
Cast iron, coal,
Bone, wood, glass
  Water, Blood, brass
Brain tissue and fire
Travelling at 75 miles an hour
(The limit for steam trains
On Network Rail)
But Enough sheer energy
To suck the breath from your body
To smash you to cells
To reduce you to nothing more than a red mist
Or to make the hairs on the back of your neck
Stand up and wave.
Thrown down the track with unimaginable power
60009 The Union of South Africa
Approaches Chippenham.

There is only the lulled hubbub
Of the evening station
A parked car waiting for some late commuter
Two station staff
Talking quietly
Then, for a second
The watchers of the night
See a brief whisp of light
See the single small light
As some distant planet….

Boiler pressure is 250 psi
Walschaerts gear on the outside cylinders, and
Gresley's conjugated gear for the inside cylinder.
 Kylchap double-blastpipe exhaust,
and Westinghouse QSA Brake Valves.
Mere words that sum up
Something cataclysmically alive

Now, listening out
 hear that unmistakable
Syncopation in the distance
we may not know what it means
No louder than a sewing machine
Click-a-click-a-click-click
6 beats per revolution
At 16 seconds just as our hearing begins to register
The faint sound is interrupted
By the four chimes
And the mechanical voice of the station announcement
Stand well away from the edge of platform 2. 
(We know this is only a machine speaking
Because there is no anticipation in the voice
No expectation
That this thing
This living thing
Is hurtling towards it)
Stand well away
Those who
Are in the know
Have heard the staccato
Off beat
Have turned and
Are watching the single small light
Growing from the distance
No adequate warning of what is coming
Stand well away from the edge of platform 2. 
The approaching…
One of the significant features of the Gresley A4s
Was the specially designed chime whistle
Removed and melted down in the war
Because they sounded too much
Like air raid sirens.
But all remade and replaced
So that its voice is unmistakable throughout the known univese
Stand well away from the edge of platform 2.  The approaching…
But the electric voice is smashed to pieces
By that hungry howl
That wells up from the bowels of hell
And would snatch you away
If you were standing any closer
It screams as if in a deep ecstasy
And just when you cannot stand anymore
The train
Is on you
Past you
A flash in the station lights
And already the carriages are
Crashing by
This is as close as we ever shall be to the pounding heart of God
And the long, long whistle
Modulates through Doppler
Down, down until you are almost sick
With the dragging at your guts.

With the breathless hush
As at the end of a great symphony
We stand watching
The winking light
Of the tail of the last carriage
Distant
Already fading

“That was loud enough Gareth”
“ I should think.”


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