Sometimes someone comes up with a workshop that is such fun and so obviously inspiring that you can’t think why no-one has done it before. Ana’s workshop last night was definitely in that category. She began by giving us several options but the main strand of her thinking was around train journeys. Past, contemporary, even future. Imaginary or factual. The places and the people observed on the way. We could, she told us, ignore the trains and alternatively write about the possibilities of an eight day week, but most of us chose to go on a railway trip. Though even the only eight day choice involved a journey, albeit to the moon. Ana then played an original piece of music by a composer friend which was designed to soothe us into letting our creative juices flow.
We began with a colourful and perilous ride on the roof of a train to Delhi, where it began to feel as if only the story teller would survive. Not sure this storyteller felt very soothed, and he certainly left us with nerve ends jangling. But we continued with a delightful family journey, where the noise of the train eventually lulled both parents and baby to sleep. Then we passed to charming reminiscence of a crossing from Calais to Paris in 1955. You have to be a certain age to understand what a big deal that would have been in those days..
There was poignant piece about the closing of a railway line in Wales in 1984, which affected an entire village as it went from being a thriving and close knit community to having to find new motivation and ways of surviving. And, happily, it eventually did. And another piece sent a chill down the spine as it recalled the packed trains departing for the gas chambers.
But the overwhelmingly upbeat stories came think and fast. We were amused by the reluctant daughter boarding the wrong train when forced to attend the family cat’s birthday party, and the splendid poem which managed to reproduce the rhythms of the train whilst making us laugh.
Memories, real or otherwise came pouring out, inspired by the age of the train. Without doubt, the romanticism of those dirty smelly, steam trains persists, immortalised, I suspect, by film of The Railway Children. (In reality, I have always suspected Jenny Argutter would have fallen down choking asthmatically on the platform long before she reached her daddy. Ok, I’m a cynic.)
We had an enchanting diversion into fantasy that had the main participants, Olga and Otto, gorgeously illustrated for us, another that had John Wayne dancing to jazz music in a cowboy movie, and another about a childhood dominated by laundry day and a vicious mangle. We heard a description of the claustrophobia of tunnels, and the danger to your fellow passengers of drinking from those squishy coffee cups. And two 1970’s diversions, one around Europe and the other from LA to San Francisco.
Almost no railway line unremarked on, in fact! Well done and thank you, Ana. Next week, a reading week at Tesco, the optional subject Sunk without trace. See you there. Sally