The Railway Children


Breogan museum has a photo of the station taken when it was a junction for trains going south, east and west. There was even a wee shop selling newspapers and snacks. The southern line was the first to go, and then the other one was reduced to a single track through Breogan.

In the bigger stations, like Inverness or Aberdeen, it gave me a buzz to watch mute passengers go in different directions, paths crossing, shoulders brushing, sometimes for the only time in their lives. I was envious of the little hobos going places.

I spent the best days of summer at the river with Martin and Peter. One of the farmer’s boys had got hold of an old inflatable tube from a tractor tyre and we had a craic with that, sinking into the great rubber doughnut, diving and emerging with wet skins before shaking the river out of our hair. We dried off in the sunlight and swang from the rope suspended from the railway bridge.

“Whit aboot a game o chicken?” suggested Martin.

Peter and I couldn’t really say no. The first challenge was to walk on the bridge. It was a good hundred yards long. We went round the side, avoiding the hogweed, and climbed up onto the metal structure. It was easy to hear the trains so crossing the bridge wasn’t that risky. Martin said we could spice things up by staying there as a train went by.

“No way, yu’ll get sucked under.”

After five years in Breogan, the local twang was discernable in Peter’s speech.

Martin mimicked a chicken flapping its wings.

“Puck, puck, puck.” 

Then he flicked a two pence piece up in the air. 

“That’s shite anyway, Pete. It’s an auld wives’ tale yer mammy telt ya. Wanna toss for it?”

“Nae need,” I said. “I’m game for it if you are. We live or die together.”

We shook on it and walked onto the bridge. The late afternoon train was approaching. It crossed my mind to leg it to the other side. Instead, I slapped my palms against the warm ironwork and tried to blank out all thought. I felt the blood pumping in my ears and the rattling of carriages. Fortunately, there were only a few. The noise and terror was replaced by sun and silence. Then the cry of a gull. I looked up and saw Peter standing opposite. He must’ve run onto the bridge at the last minute. Martin jumped onto the line and picked up a piece of flattened copper. It was the remains of the two pence piece with the Queen’s head mangled beyond recognition. He chucked it towards Peter.

“Keep it,” he said. “Proof that you’re nae a feart Sassenach efter aa.”

Excerpt from Countries of the World and photo by Steve Porter 

©2010

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