Planes, trains and automobiles. John is an enthusiast of all things fast and roaring. That must be why he loves me so much! Ok ok, I’m not that fast, but I do roar a lot when I’m trying to get my point across, as I explained to the handsome black labrodor on the platform at Bluebell Railway the other day. He said his name was Marmeduke but his friends call him Dukie (not Duckie apparently)! Dukie was there with his owner, a strong young man covered in axel grease we had seen earlier working on an some kind of engine as part of a vintage car rally just by Horsted Keynes station. I told Dukie how impressed I was with his patience and generally angelic behaviour, given that the last dog I met was a mad yappy thing that arrived at my house one day, got majorly on my nerves and never came back! Dukie on the other hand was composed, dignified and rather fetching for a canine. He chuckled and explained that he was as much of a train buff as his owner and could spend hours watching the trains come and go and enjoying the cultured atmosphere.
The attention to detail at the Bluebell Railway makes it easy to transport yourself through time to the 18th century when someone called Tobias Hornblower would have tipped a station employee to carry his leather studded trunk boxes on to the sleeper car while he escorted his lady friend Ellsepeth Humfray to the dining car for a meal of mutton with thyme, marrow-bone hash and oatmeal pudding (eeww)! The working model train in the station museum was so meticulously made that it had an operational junction box, sign-writing on the passenger carriages and freight wagons, and even different expressions on the train guards’ faces.
Dukie and I wandered around talking about the polished veneer carriages and the intricate engine parts that required many hours of human labour to be maintained. We admired the volunteers who gave up their time to preserve this unique bit of English heritage and agreed that the whistles, chuffs, puffs and sighs of the steam engines were delightful to hear. He showed me how he can sniff out a dining car at over 100 paces and I showed him the most effective strategy for acquiring a meaty snack from the kitchen assistants. Then I showed him the best spot for a nap inside the station master’s cabin and he shared his water bowl with me. We had a lovely time.
I might be an enlightened cat living in a modern world, but my soul is traditional which might be why I enjoy seeing humans use time-honoured practical skills to build and nurture things of beauty, such as six-foot scratch posts, steam engines and home-made raspberry jam. My old-fashioned curiosity was satisfied at the fourth annual Wiston Steam Rally last weekend which was held in Steyning in the middle of the charming West Sussex countryside.
There were a variety of stalls and craft tents selling local products as well as a fairground, although John wouldn’t have noticed the entertainment because he spent most of the time with his head up a coal-bunker! Regular readers may know that he is a real steam enthusiast and was happy to be strolling around in the open air surrounded by like-minded people. There was no room for obsessive compulsive disorder amongst the steam engine aficionados who were busy working on a machine with one oil-covered hand while munching sandwiches with the other!
There were apparently over 600 exhibits including steam engines, vintage and classic cars, lorries, military vehicles, tractors, bikes and motorbikes. Can you see the colourful object that depicts 3 ladies carrying union jacks, 2 attractive blonde heads adorned with wings, angelic cherubs playing musical instruments and a flamingo? It’s actually a magnificently sculpted organ and if you look carefully you can see the pipes showing through the gaps in the craftsmanship. Wood-cutting techniques were also being demonstrated and it is worth noting that the woodmanship was being carried out with proper consideration to ecological woodland management.
My little paws were feeling the strain as we headed towards the exit so a kind black dog let me hitch a ride with him on a miniature tractor while John walked beside me. My trip in the trailer was a bit bumpy and there was a faint whiff of farmyard substances about the dog, but it was good fun and made people laugh. By the time we got to the car for the journey home, I settled happily down for my pre-supper nap, a smile on my face and a purr in my heart.