Journey on a Steam Train
There is still nothing that beats a train journey and adventure. It flows through my veins probably. Memories of yesteryear engraved into every fibre of my being, thanks to holidays taken from and to Rhodesia in the late 60’s & 70’s.
Cradled in bed rocking gently from side to side listening to the song of the wheels – clickety clack, I think I can – I think I can – I think I can, whilst the engines drag mighty carriages behind her going up hills
……………………. followed by huge plumes of smoke and steam puffed out the chimney stack by the magnificent steam engine up front ….. singing her downhill chorus of – I thought I could – I thought I could – I thought I could – woohoo. Clickety clack. 2 days & 2 nights of bliss lay before us.
Chasing smartly uniformed porters ferrying large trolleys overflowing with our suitcases, packed with summery new homemade dresses, cozzies & beach towels, fat lilos (blow up plastic surf boards/ micky mouse rings to sit in and float on) & surfboards piled on top, from car to train was the most exciting moment for us girls. This is really happening. This long-awaited day has finally arrived – “we are going on a summer holiday,… “. Salisbury train terminal welcomes us for our trip to the sunny seaside of Mozambique.
The first train vacation we took, my sister was 5 years I guess – me, just a weeny 2 year pipsqueak and the last trip aged 12 & 9 – the very September of the Coup. Inbetween we missed a year here or there.
Mum & Dad found our 2 bed up, 2 down family Compartment and we settled in, making ourselves comfy – after squabbling, tossing coins & rolling dice to work out who could sleep on the top bunks. The top was only really nice for tiny people as one would sit up and bump one’s head on the low roof in the middle of the night (just up a little child’s street). A sturdy shared ladder would remain hooked where it could be reached by the person on the other side. I shimmy up and down it like a little monkey impeding the unpacking ceremony. God help my parents!!
There were hairy moments on those holidays. Once we lost my sister during a shunt-off at a station en route. There she stood, wide-eyed, calling from the last carriage of ‘the other train’, as the 2 trains drifted apart. Who knows how that happened? Ginny was probably in a quiet corner reading an engrossing novel or drawing, in her own little dream world, oblivious to whistles blowing, choofing steam engines warming up and wheels screeching.
Another time we misplaced a bed roll / sleeping bag during a changeover of trains & Dad sauntered off to lost property to claim it. As he rounded the corner, toot toot the engine spewed out a huge puff of smoke & creaked into a slow shuffle out of the station, ready to finish the last leg of the journey. Peering out of the windows, crying like banshees, we thought Dad was agona – now what? Suddenly a tall slender man sprinted alongside the train, cumbersome baggage underarm – speeding up to match the pace of the train – finally (just like in the moves) he leapt off the last metre of the concrete platform into an open doorway of our getaway train.
To signal mealtimes a railway staff member march through the entire train at lightening speeded playing a miniature marimba, vanishing before we ever saw him. Intrigued by this phantom of the train, one day I waited at our slightly open door, peeping through the slit, to catch him as he passed by. You know what he did – he boinked me on the forehead with the knob on the stick!!! So the identity person with the marimba remain a mystery to me as there was never a second spy plot.
After an early supper for us kids, we were rounded up and sent off to bed. You know how children were to be seen and not heard during that era! My folks were cautious about 2 little girls’ safety so we weren’t allowed to leave the compartment without an adult, not even to the wc for a wee. Clever Mum always brought along a potty to solve the problem. One morning my sister stepped down from her bed, right into the porta-loo. Funny – not!
MY WICKED SENSE OF HUMOUR
However, wickedly this vision still has me in hysterics every time I think of it. Her face. The fury. The trouble. The mess! (A clumsy friend of mine stepped off a ladder into the paint tin below once and broke his ankle, lucky escape for my sister eh?)
Every train window was huge, each cabin had an opening one, and easy to slide up fully, which worried my folks, so Mum made up a story of all stories. ‘Mind the windows girls, beware leaning out too far because other people empty their potties from their windows and you wouldn’t like you-know-what in your faces’. Not the truth, nobody did, however rather a clever ploy to keep us from falling overboard 🙂
When we were older rules were made to be disobeyed. During dinner time when we were left alone ……. Ginny and I flung our heads & shoulders as far out of the window as possible with gay abandon – hanging onto the basin between us, with our knees and feet – the wind tossing our hair into knots and our eyes blinded by metal filings from the squealing wheels and fragments of ash from the steam engine up front. Children never listen do they! What the eyes don’t see the heart can’t weep for! We never did tell them.
WE COULD TICKLE THE MOON
At night it was glorious to watch the glasses of water we poured onto the tracks burst into a thousand sparkling stars. The scenery was vast and one could nearly reach out and touch the full moon. By day miles of flat sand lay as far as the eye could see, showing off wild horses galloping away from the noise the locomotion made. Sometimes the hooter would honk, scattering a journey of giraffe. Mirages of Gemsbok sailed like yachts over the horizon on hot days.
Through Botswana we watched for the funny signs of towns Palapye & Mahalapye where other trains, contraflow, would appear out of nowhere nearly blow our wigs off with a sudden surprising whoosh. We’d watch them pass and try to wave at other passengers and Conductors, then they’d turn away as the tracks scissored and transformed into a red snake winding its way into the distance to someone else’s dream destination.
As I mentioned earlier, the journey took 2 days & nights, many stops, lots of delicious meals and cups of famous railway coffee – sloshing into our saucers constantly. We began in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), through Botswana, across a sliver of South Africa into Mozambique. When I look at the map it seems strange to take this long route – perhaps we took another usually and this was one memorable route?
Hours of card games, tiddly winks, chess, monopoly, snakes & ladders & running in the corridors rekindling old friendships (many of whom will read this – hello) & making new ones. My friend, Rose and I loved to stand in the gangway connection where the passing ground & rail wheel noise was ferocious and the feeling of danger was exciting at that age. Life through the eyes of a child!
CLICKETY CLACKETY … CLICKETY CLACKETY
In the middle of the last night we’d be dumped unceremoniously at the isolated Manica Station in the middle of nowhere (I don’t recall if this was a train change or where the Hotel bus collected us in the morning? – funny thing the memory – remembering some parts so clearly and other bits simply drain through the sieve). My beautiful Steam Strain choofed off into nothingness, huffing and puffing (as I am with covid) into oblivion, leaving us to fend for ourselves in the darkness.
The station, which sounded like an aerodrome for thousands of malaria-carrying mosquitos, was unlit, felt forsaken, humid and stiflingly hot. Mum would take us to the disgustingly filthy ablutions where she dangled us over the loo to have a wee (not touching seats or handles). Followed by a smothering of Mylol before we became mozzi vampire victims, then presented ourselves at the ticket office.
Have you noticed how most train & bus ticket offices around the globe jail unfriendly people behind counters, who pretend to be occupied, unable to speak English and do their utmost not to sell a ticket? Are unsold tickets converted to meal vouchers at the end of each day, perhaps? Is it possible they are all related to moles? What does this have to do with the price of eggs you ask? Nothing – just saying!
Hop, skip & a jump to long white beaches, seashell hunting, azure warm waters where seahorses dance, octopus grab swimmer’s legs, squid squirt black ink at you and adults get tipsy on red wine ……
Herewith a link to remind you of the relaxing tranquil sounds of a Steam Train Journey https://youtu.be/0Yvdm_ZgEOY