Tuesday, July 16, 2013

atmospheric stories

The Atmospheric Railway: New and Selected Stories, by Shena MacKay (2010, Vintage Books, London).

The Atmospheric Railway

The short story starts with Neville on a train. It is a Sunday night in January. Neville is a grandfather in a soft red jumper. He is remembering the weekend, and his adventures into researching the Atmospheric Railway. The adventures are started by the stories of his aunt, Florence. Neville and his sister Beryl only have faint memories of Florence. But they have found out, through her diaries, that there was a potential romance between her and Archie Erskine, who worked on the Atmospheric Railway. Here the train carriages connect, and we are told about Neville's fascination with Archie, and the Railway he worked on.

The reader learns about the various atmospheric or pneumatic railways of England, including Brunel's South Devon Railway, "which cynics referred to as his 'Atmospheric Caper'" (p14)"
"There were frequent break-downs, when third-class passengers had to disembark and push, but the chief problem again was the leather sealing valve, which deteriorated, and was eaten by rats. Constant replacement would have proved too costly. Neville realised that he was just a dilettante and that there existed a cyber community of troglodytes who were experts in the lost tunnels and rivers of England, subterranean trolls and elves inhabiting the ghostly pumping stations and engine houses of south London" (p14).
There is a reference to an excursion that Florence took on the Atmospheric Railway with her students:
"It cost sixpence a ride and she must have paid from her own pocket, Beryl said. Neville had not read it het but was looking forward to Beryl's photocopied version. The railway, propelled by a steam engine coupled to a fan 22 feet in diameter, ran through a tunnel 600 yards in length and 10 feet in diameter. The tunnel gradient was 1 in 15 inches, with a sharp curve ... There were thirty-five seats in the Atmospheric Railway's coach ... All the passengers must have shared the excitement, united in the democracy of novelty as they travelled into the scientific future" (p18).
Not everyone was travelling into the future though. In the story we read of male passengers who were left behind on the platform after they had got out to push flailing railcars. The story ends when the guard of Neville's train is also nearly left behind.

Image from Wikipedia.

No comments:

Post a Comment