Boys and the black stuff

Just short of 30 years ago I was writing a fortnightly column in the now defunct Steam Railway News, a fortnightly broadsheet newspaper covering preservation and heritage railways. The by-line for the column was Clag and Rockets and I had pretty much free rein to write what I liked, as I do now. The most controversial piece I penned was about the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway and the proposal to bury huge amounts of nuclear waste very close by.

Weird, I know, but I have this thing about synchronicity and today I had one of those kinds of things. When I wrote the ‘Laal Ratty’ piece Steam Railway News was being published by East Lancashire Publications and I had to be fairly persuasive to get it into print. Today, I discovered that one of the people I was involved with, in the production of SRN, had previously lived  in Bentham. During a very brief spell as a fireman at Holbeck, I worked on just one passenger duty, a late afternoon Leeds to Morecambe service, first stop Keighley and then pretty much every station on the ‘little North Western” including Bentham. The engine was a Black 5, a locomotive for which the term Utilitarian, might have been written – Jeremy Bentham was the ‘Godfather’ of Utilitarianism. Basically – “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong” J. Bentham

However, this knowledge should be tempered by this comment he made about his conceptual prison, ‘The Panopticon’  ‘he described the Panopticon prison as, “a mill for grinding rogues honest”.  And it is here that weirdness kicks in; the chap from SRN is about to take up a post as a prison chaplin. When I began writing Clag & Rockets for SRN I had just finished my degree in Philosophy, in which Bentham and his ideas were a feature. And moments before I read about the Bentham connection I was wondering how to persuade my good lady that a trip to Laal Ratty, to see Synolda & Count Louis double-heading, is a wonderful journey through Lakeland – even if we do have to be up at 6a.m. for a 3 hour car trip. I’d even been on Google maps checking out the route! Must be something in the ether.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:



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