For roughly the first 21 years of my life Gran and Grandad lived in Queensbury. For those of you familiar with the London Underground, that means that they were two stops from the end of the Jubilee line – or, if you prefer, two stops past Wembley Park, where you disembark for Wembley Stadium.
A short walk from their house was – and probably still is – a footpath, leading to a bridge across the railway line. I couldn’t tell you where it is, I just remember that you went out of their house, turned left and followed whichever grown up you had persuaded to take you there.
The strange thing about that bridge is that, so far as I can recall, I never, ever, crossed it. The bridge, you see, had a quality which was magical to all small boys. It was The Bridge Where You Waved At The Trains.
If there is one thing that time, age, privatisation and managerial ineptness have failed to kill off, it is the love that small boys – and some small girls – have for trains of all kinds. Even the most spoilt, hyperactive, of kids will pause for a moment when crossing a railway bridge, silently hoping that a train will pass underneath them.
This bridge was different, though. The drivers knew to look out for small children waving to them from it. Nine times out of ten, you could be guaranteed that you would get a wave back or, better still, a toot of the train’s horn. And the one driver who didn’t respond had no idea of the level of distress that he was causing up above him.
The really wonderful thing, though, is that the tradition lives on. Not necessarily at that particular bridge (I can’t check, I don’t know where it is, remember) but at railway bridges all over the country. These days there aren’t many things that I can say that I did as a child that my grandfather also did, but I know for a fact that waving at trains – and being waved back at – was one of them*. And in turn I have taken my own son to wave at trains, and yes, the drivers waved back, much to his delight. Long may it continue.
*Grandad told me about it, one day when we were riding on the Severn Valley Railway. But that is another tale altogether.