Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Barlick Spud

The media is full of the 50th anniversary of Dr Beeching's decision to carve up our railway system. Was I just 11 years old when they chopped The Barlick Spud?
Growing up in a 1950's Northern mill town  is indelibly etched on my memory and has forever shaped the way I look at life now. Some say it's a jaundiced view. Well, yes, we had jaundice in those days; we had TB, rickets, polio and diphtheria  whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever and chicken pox and were only just in the early stages of vaccinating against two of the complaints, polio and diphtheria  But an astonishing number of us survived the rest of the complaints and were tougher and stronger for it.
Obesity wasn't a problem. I'm old enough to have had my sweets and orange juice rationed, and so precious was food that one of my earliest memories is of a younger friend lunging from his pram with bared teeth when I ventured to pinch one of his chips.
The age is often caricatured now but if you lived it, it was a surreal world of gas lamps and fog, syrup of figs and glycerine and lemon, depending which orifice had a problem, and steam trains. In my home town, Barnoldswick, between Colne and Skipton, and you'll miss it if you blink, we had a railway station, until that bugger Beeching started. It was a magical place for me.
Shunting on a Saturday morning where an engine shoved the newly arrived and laden trucks to the far end of the station and the empty ones back out ready to go for more precious coal the following week. My grandfather's coal yard was one of several in the railway sidings. W.A. Smith's Best Coals. He had an advert on screen at The Majestic pictures and used to give yellow and black motiffed pencils to his best customers. He called his horse Nigger as well, you couldn't do that now. Old Nigger once knocked the brake off the cart down Bethesda Hill and careered off ending up with his head through the Co-op window, coal everywhere and stood benevolently munching the shop's carrots while pandemonium reigned in the street outside.
There was a level crossing on Station Road and the Station Master would shuffle back and forth opening and closing the gates, keeping impatient motorists and cyclists at bay with a whistle and a stare that would have melted Blackpool rock.
Ahh, Blackpool, and Morecambe, and if adventurous, Southport. At Wakes weeks, the annual July holidays, if you were very fortunate, you'd roll up at the station laden with enough food and drink to keep a small army going for a month and pay your 1s 3d apiece for a day return to the seaside. Posh people stayed for a week in boarding houses, a then modern day concentration camp where you'd have to pay threepence a day extra for a towel and the landlady often resembled a Nazi stormtrooper chewing a wasp.
You'd chug out towards Earby and open the window for a breath of fresh air, they had leather straps to open the windows then, and you'd be hit by a lung full of smoke as you went under the Rainhall Bridge. Likely as not your Dad would clout you with the cricket bat strung on the side of the suitcase to make you shut the window and sit down. But there were adventures to be had in the corridor. Peeking in the other carriages I well remember a courting couple having a very intense brief encounter which ended abruptly when I turned on the carriage light.
The Barlick Spud. So called because a local engine driver used to bake and roast potatoes on the engine's boiler and eager children would be at the station queuing for a tasty treat at the end of the journey. Magic.
The bright sparks who went to the Skipton Grammar schools used to travel from Barlick station but Dr Beeching put an end to all that and shut it. They used to shovel them out on two double-decker buses after that.
I remember going to see the last train into the station in 1963 and wiping away a tear even as a child because I knew I was witnessing the end of not just an era but a way of life. The old station site is a supermarket car park now, characterless and dull, but on a dark November night I'll swear you can hear a whistle blow and the mist conjures up the smell of The Barlick Spud.