Sunday 9 May 2010

The Golden Thread

Why is the band called Big Big Train? We still get asked that question, and the answers I've given over the years haven't always been consistent. In the early days, we were slightly embarrassed about admitting to showing too much of an interest in railways as we were frightened of being labelled as train-spotters, so we hid away from the obvious context. In more recent years, I've learned not to care.

The truth is, I like trains, dammit. I like railway stations and lines and all of the associated paraphernalia.

It's in the blood, you see. My grandad was a railway men and my mum was brought up in a railway cottage, a stone-throw from the line and a few paces from the engine sheds at Leicester yard, where her dad, a wheeltapper, spent all of his working life.

The picture below is of the yard (the Leicester Midland Locomotive Depot) and was taken just after the second world war. My mum lived in one of the terraced houses to the immediate left of the huge circular engine shed. She lived there for all of her childhood, only leaving in the late 1950's, when she got married.

Last weekend we took Mum back to the East Midland town of Leicester to revisit her past.

Whether you think large-scale immigration is a good or a bad thing or have no particular view on the subject, it is not a controversial point to observe that inward migration has brought major change to this part of Leicester which, in community terms, is now an area where madrassas, mosques and halal butchers have replaced the corner shops and churches familiar to my mum's generation.

The landscape has changed as well. Some of the terraces have been demolished (including my grandad's old house) and replaced by flats and industrial units, although enough of the old houses survive to get a feel for the area as it was. And many other things have also remained the same. The Royal Mail sorting office where one of my uncles worked is still a postal depot. Mum's girls' school has changed its name but not its function; the park she played in and walked across to get to the school is still there and still beautifully kept.

And down on the railway, whilst the engine sheds have gone, the sidings remain, although silent now; the rails are rusting and grass-grown and there are no engines any more.

Leicester yard in 2010, view taken from the bridge shown at the top of the previous picture. Mum's house would have been on the right of this picture, behind the trees

As we left the area, we stopped at a crossing for a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old. Her face lit up as she ran headlong across the road to the safety of the pavement. She may well have been on her way to play in the park. A half a century ago, that little girl could have been my mum.


Tim (Kalyr) said...

I guess you've seen the tagline on my blog :)

Speaking of Leicester, sad to see the demise of the bowstring bridge.

Gregory Spawton said...

I have indeed, Tim.

The loss of the bridge was a great shame.

On the other hand, I was pleased to see that part of the GCR trackbed (further south) may be used for High Speed 2.

Anonymous said...

Now this is a wonderful post.
I came to know big big train thanks to the recommendation of a friend, but this description of Leicester, the trains and your mother took me to the train station of my own hometown.

Not even near as big as Leicester station it is situated in the deep palatinate forest in southwest Germany. To see bands you had to travel quite a bit from there, by the way. We had about 67 000 people living in the city, today less than half of that. But five or six years before I learnt to know them Genesis played somewhere near, in 1972, and older guys who saw them talked about that even a decade later...
Living in big Hamburg today I found out, thanks to you!, that the old Pirmasens train station is no more, replaced by a newer one, looking a bit like "everywhere else" now. But for some people it might surely be better, even if the old station had a real flair, and the new one is - well, new and smaller.
I remember thousands of travels in my student-years, years before I could get a first portable cd-player. Thus the forest combined with the prog music (and classical music in my case) only in my head :-), and those train hours were sometimes, maybe in November or if the forest around the rail tracks lay covered deep in the snow - kind of mystical. Music wins that way, I guess. so having a train in the name is a superb idea that suits your music well.

As a hobby-musician I always thought about writing a music about an hour long with a few tracks, each one as long as about the time it took the train to make it to the next (very very small...^^) station.
Reading your blog I'll enjoy the 3 CDs even more I just ordered from you. Just that they won't be delivered by train, he he (I'm living just a minute away from Hamburg central station now^^), but by german snail mail one of these days.
Thanks again for your story!