I'd like to talk about trains.
Actually not trains, but train stations - or rather, 'a' train station.
I tend to think that having the desire to work in quiet solitude
is a distinct advantage for the instrument repairer. It's seldom
that you'll find us working in teams - it's the kind of trade that
requires a degree of concentration and a certain amount of silence
(yes, you really can hear if a pad is leaking when you press
a key down).
It would seem natural then that I gravitate towards
places that exhibit a similar kind of calm, and one such place can
be found just a few miles down the road from me.
is a pretty Georgian town tucked away in North Hampshire. I've no
doubt that such a town possesses a fine historical pedigree, but
for my purposes it's the train station that beckons me time and
again...and I flatly deny that the off-licence in the town that
sells a comprehensive range of bottled beers enters into the equation
In years gone by the line that ran through the town would have been
part of the huge network of lines that wove around and over the
entire countryside of Britain - but the march of 'progress' has
long since done away with the vast majority of these rural connections.
stretch of line that runs the ten miles or so from Alresford up
to Alton has been rescued by a team of enthusiasts and is now known
as 'The Watercress Line' (one of Alresford's claims to fame is the
production of fine watercress - which used to be transported around
the country from along this very line).
And with train enthusiasts come steam engines.
it's obvious that in my trade I ought to have more than a passing
interest in all things mechanical - which I do - but oddly enough
it's not the magnificent engines that draw me to this place, rather
the wonderfully evocative atmosphere of the station itself.
The Watercress Line houses just four stations, and each station
has been restored to reflect a particular period of the original
line's existence...ending with a relatively modern terminus at Alton,
where it co-exists with a modern-day station.
Alresford station resides in the golden age of rail...pre and post
What really clinches it is that given its relatively secluded location
it's possible, with a bit of judicious squinting, to stand on the
platform and not see any evidence of the last 60 years having taken
place. This in itself is wonderful enough, but there exists there
a certain kind of calm that can only be described as distilled nostalgia.
Not bad, considering I'm nowhere near old enough to be entitled
to share such nostalgia.
I like to take the children there of a Sunday lunchtime occasionally
- the station buffet does simple meals and serves tea in sturdy,
white mugs - and you can sit on the platform and watch those monuments
to art and engineering roll in and out, to the accompaniment of
that inspirational sound of raw power and the strangely invigorating
smell of oil, coal and steam.
For me though, the best part comes as the train departs with its
payload of waving children, misty-eyed dads and tolerant (or perhaps
resigned) wives, the fading sighs of the engine leaving a strangely
comforting silence to descend on the station once more.
It's at that point that I can feel the years fly away to when children
used to dream of driving engines, when records broke when you dropped
them, when radios had to warm up.... and when young saxophonists
would hanker after a Selmer Cigar Cutter.
All of this may seem entirely irrelevant to my trade - and yet I
firmly believe that to be good at any job you have to have an understanding
of it, a feel for it. I can stand on that platform surrounded by
the past, and it's exactly the same feeling I get when I flick the
catches on those vintage saxophone cases and lift another kind of
monument to art and engineering onto the workbench.
The reverie is broken by the ringing of the station bell, announcing
the expectation of another train - bringing with it that curious
'assemblage' of the past and the present.
There's a website for the Watercress
Line - if you're in the area it's well worth dropping by...especially
if you have children (any old excuse eh?). Entry onto the platform
is free, but as the line is run by volunteers I would encourage
you to drop a quid or two in the collection box in lieu of a platform
The off-licence I mentioned doesn't appear to open on Sundays...unfortunately.