Bring it back: #1 The traditional railway carriage
I like things just the way they are. And yet I long for the past.
That is to say, I wish things were the way they used to be but I’m happy the way things turned out.
Yes, I am the Contrary Mary…
What I’m trying to say is that whereas a lot of things are as good as they can be right now, perhaps there are some things we can bring back. Not as a replacement, but as an alternative…
For my first example I offer for your approval:
THE TRADITIONAL RAILWAY CARRIAGE.
Now, your modern railway carriage is light, centrally heated, air-conditioned, fairly comfortable. Perhaps not up to the standard of a few years back with Richard Branson’s airline style audio channels built into your seats. And I am looking at things as a weekend explorer rather than a daily commuter, so apologies & respect to yourselves. Oh, and the wi-if.
But where’s the romance of it all?
Consider the movie “The 39 Steps”.
Hannay – the hero – on the run from the police for a crime he (spoiler alert) didn’t commit darts into a compartment and embraces a girl sat alone in there (this is the 1930s). The police enter the compartment, and to save the blushes of what they assume to be a canoodling honeymoon couple, make their excuses and Hannay makes his escape. Now read on.
This scene works because of the layout of the old style carriage. Unlocked manually operated doors. and each end & in the middle. A long straight corridor to run down, leading off into individual glass fronted compartments which seat around six to eight. The bolt-hole of the compartment, its confinement, its semi-privacy.
This was used to great effect by genius TV comedy writers Dick Clement & Ian la Frenais in the opening episode of not one but three of their shows: Porridge, its sequel Going Straight and their revival Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads. In all three cases, the laughs (and the pathos) come from the characters being stuck together – moving forward but going nowhere.
And as a final example I offer you A Hard Days Night, where a poor businessman on his way to London finds himself confined with four long haired yobs, particularly the smartalec one. I hope the man had a word with the guard which is how come the quartet ended up in the guard’s van. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
What I’m trying to say here is none of these classic scenes could have been played out in a modern open-plan rail carriage. If John Lennon came and sat next to you now, you’d probably fold your Metro up & go and sit yourself elsewhere.
So what I asking of Britain’s beleaguered train companies is just. Modernize away – there are some fantastic locomotives coming online. But somehow, you’ve got to couple up an old-fashioned carriage into the set. For the fun of it. For the romance of it.
It would be just the ticket.