Regular irregulars on the Slow Train

I love my regulars.  Regular irregulars they are, just like all record shops attract.  Perhaps my most valued irregular regular is the person I’ve known longer than anyone else outside my family.  Every Friday at about 4.15 a tall man in a long coat and significant sideburns bounds through the door.  He never comes empty handed; there is always a book or a poem or a cassette tape, a newspaper cutting, a DVD or a photograph of some long lost corner of the Potteries.  The owner of the sideburns is Mr Mark Watson, local historian, film maker, photographer and walking encyclopaedia on everything from the Beatles to Brian Clough, the Grateful Dead to Nikolai Gogol.  But the apotheosis of Mr Watson’s expertise is his knowledge of the railways.

Mark Watson was my first friend in primary school, St Gregory’s in Longton.  We spent our playtimes together almost every day, for how long I can’t be sure, time plays tricks on memories but at some point, owing to a reorganisation of school years I never understood, Mark was moved up a year.  Our friendship changed from playmates to acquaintances and could never have survived his move up to high school.  By the time I reached high school, we were really only on nodding terms.  In the intervening years I saw Mark only very occasionally, across the street or getting off a bus somewhere but so it goes, lives change.

Then, on the first Monday of my tenure at Bevans in mid-July 2012 a familiar figure came into the shop.  I recognised her immediately as Mrs Watson, Mark’s mum and I re-introduced myself.  Since then, Mark has made his Friday afternoon appearance at the shop and somehow it’s as though that school reorganisation that split us up in the 1970’s had never happened.

Our conversation one Friday turned to Flanders and Swann’ s The Slow Train and I showed him the chapter from Retracing My Vinyl Footsteps that deals with my experience of the song.  I printed him a copy of the lyrics and downloaded the song for him.  A few weeks later Mark came in with a reinterpretation of the song that relocates it entirely to North Staffordshire.

Here is Flanders and Swann’s original nostalgic masterpiece, followed by Mr Watson’s reworking

Alton Towers for Bosley


Silverdale and Sudbury

No more will I go to Trentham Gardens or Cauldon Low

On a slow train from Radway Green or Liverpool Road

No signals, no parcels, no kiss on the cheek

At Milton or Hixon or Rushton or Leek

We won’t be meeting again, on the slow train.

I’ll travel no more from Rocester to Rudyard or Oakamoor

At Meir it’s clear we won’t be going to Leigh anymore

No loopline stoppers, not up and not down

No Tunstall or Burslem or Hanley around

We’ll all be walking to town

With no slow train

On the mainline, through the platforms the trains pass through

At Normacot and Fenton on their way to Crewe

The weeds grow high at Newcastle and Kidsgrove Halt

The traffic jams round here are Beeching’s fault

All trains have stopped, there’s nothing at all

From Cresswell to Denstone, Keele and Froghall

We’ve all waved goodbye to the slow train

Consall for Endon

On the slow train

Newchapel and Golden Hill

On the slow train

Pitts Hill and Ford Green

On the slow train

Bignall End

Mark Watson, with apologies to Flanders and Swann

Well done to the Leek Post and Times who recognised the deftness of Mark’s reworking and published it in their letters pages

To read my musings on Flanders and Swann’s Slow Train click here


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