Given how indisputably awesome I am, it may be surprising for you to learn that traindrivers are generally pretty rubbish at telling stories. I know, I know, it’s hard to imagine. But it’s completely true. The problem lies not in the storytelling skill of the driver but in a fairly limited range of material. Just how often can a person relate that they went to work, it got dark, it got light, it got dark, it got light, it got dark again before the audience wakes up and wanders off?
All that said, we do give it our best shot. Just this morning I was standing around waiting for dawn and chatting to another driver about this and that. And he told a story. Drivers are always telling stories of one sort or another. There is an incredible store of traindriver stories within LUL which pretty much dates back to when the lines were first built. And nothing is ever written down but passed on orally from one driving generation to the next. We’ve been around in one form or another for nearly 150 years and must have millions of different stories circulating. All of them unique except in one respect. They pretty much end in exactly the same way.
Take this morning’s story as an example. We had been talking about the wildlife to be found on the line. The story started well with an exposition on the types and number of fauna to be found on the railway which is phenomenal when you consider we work in a huge city. Today I saw a green woodpecker, rabbits, red kites, foxes, magpies, blackbirds, pigeons (but of course) and deer. And that’s just the things I can remember offhand. Today’s storyteller explained that the railway is not so much an urban environment but corridors of nature which intersect the city. Creatures live on the line but they also use it to travel from one place to another. And in the case of pigeons I mean that very literally with birds hopping on a train at one station and off at the next.
Framework laid, the story continued with a beautiful characterisation of some of the creatures we are lucky to observe about the place. The cheeky fox cubs who tumble down embankments, lazy rabbits dawdling along behind cable runs, darting magpies and aerobatic pigeons. We’re treading into Disney territory here but it’s all real life. In particular, the driver mentioned a beautiful deer he saw early one morning. A roe deer which tiptoed onto the line sometime just after dawn and stayed for a few days, gracefully wandering up and down the wild land beside the tracks.
Characterisation done, he moved on to the main part of the plot. The universal struggle of life. This deer is a little unusual for the railway as there’s usually not enough land for them to roam. Mostly we get the smaller muntjac deer which charge up and down embankments and leaping over boundary fences like malevolent goats. To get a roe deer visiting is a special event and it is likely that she entered the railway to gain a little peace and quiet for her fawn. It wasn’t very old but it could certainly roam up and down with her and the drivers saw them both in a variety of cute poses as trains zipped past. This story is really starting to rock and roll, isn’t it?
But in every story there must be a little tragedy and this one is no different. It happened that the doe wandered with her baby up the line to a fairly steep bank and got stuck. For her own reasons she didn’t want to walk back down the line and the bank was far too steep to easily climb. So she and the fawn stayed down on the railway and she ate what she could find. She kept trying to struggle up the bank but always returned to the track. I’m welling up a little just thinking about it.
But then, triumph! Every good story needs a happy victory. And the deer finally managed to scramble up to the top of the bank where she stood gazing out over the railway and the parkland beyond. In just a short time she’ll be running through the trees to be reunited with her herd. This story is great!
Well it would be. If it were not for the problem that pretty much all of our stories end up the same. It was a good story until the point that we need a conclusion. Nicely paced, interesting characters, good descriptions of the locality. We just need a decent ending for once. Let’s try it, shall we?
The deer looked back at the perilous climb she had just conquered, no doubt feeling a little proud of herself. As with most things, it’s easy if you know how and after doing it once she could run up and down that bank all day with no problems. But that was not her intention. Now that the fawn was old enough to move greater distances there was no need to shelter on the embankment and it was time to move on. There she stood in the early morning sun, waiting for her sweet baby to follow her route up the embankment. The young fawn gazed up at his mother standing in all her glory above him. Then he got hit by a train.