Friday, 16 November 2012

Doctor Terror's House of Horrors


Everything that can do is going tits-up in my world at the moment,  and it just feels as though all it would take is one person to pull the bottom card out to bring the whole lot down. Still, it's being so cheerful as keeps us going, eh?

During his profitable sojourn in Great Britain, Bill Bryson summed up the sort of weather we are having at the moment as being 'like living in a Tupperware box with the lid on'. When that weather descends, you can never see an end to it, but then again, when the weather is gloriously warm and sunny, you can never see an end to childhood either.

When I was about 14, I decided to enrol in a Geology night class, because one of my stupid teachers confused Geology with Paleontology, which was where my real interest lay.

I arrived at the modern school in Camberley, Surrey, late one night, to be greeted by all my fellow students in the science lab. Not one of them was under 50 years old. I was quickly disabused about the difference between fossil-hunting and Geology, but I stuck it out for about three lessons so that I could survive one field trip to Lyme Regis, where all of us came very close to being killed by a rock-fall of a single piece of cliff weighing about 15 tons.

I think what made me give up so soon was the trip from my home town to Camberley, which - being winter-time - was made fairly late at night and in the dark.

It took two trains to reach Camberley (a military garrison town second only to Aldershot in grimness), and the first train stopped at a little un-manned halt called Ash Vale. This station was illuminated by gaslight, believe it or not, and the ghastly green pallor of the lights made the British Rail woodwork seem even more Victorian than it actually was.

The train would wheeze into the station and come to a prolonged, screeching stop, and I would be the only person to alight. I looked with envy to the handful of people left on it as they slowly pulled away into the darkness, and they would look back at me in mute sympathy, as if I was being dropped off at Dracula's castle, never to be seen again.

Although I had reassurances from the guard on the train that my connection would arrive about half an hour after he had gone, I was totally alone on the platform for what seemed like hours, with the gas lights making more eery hissing sounds than actual light.

I don't know if you have ever seen the Hammer Horror film, 'Dr Terror's House of Horrors', but each scene in it begins in an absolutely identical, dark and deserted railway station to the Ash Vale of the mid-1960s.

After what seemed like about four hours, I would manage to convince myself that not only my connecting train would never arrive, but dawn itself would never arrive either.

Of course, it always did, and now I have to remember the lonely, cold and dark nights at Ash Vale for some sort of horrible reassurance about the inevitability of change.

13 comments:

  1. That'll learn yer!

    What happened to the complaining letters from yesterday?

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  2. Very nice picture. Painswick?

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  3. I've had that same feeling in some dark places.

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  4. I grew up in Ash Vale! There used to be an good natured Irish station master who'd been there for years - imaginatively known as 'Paddy' by all and sundry. He ruled the station with a rod of iron but in the winter he always ensured that there was a roaring fire lit in the waiting rooms of what was still then a Victorian station. Get him on a good day and he'd even make you a mug of tea if your train got delayed for any reason. Then he was retired in the wake of supposed improvements. Now at the station there's very little shelter from the cold and gloom of winter, it's largely unmanned, and the plastic lean-too's they built in place of proper waiting rooms are vandalised on a regular basis. So much for progress!

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    1. Well well, Kate - I wish that Paddy had been there when I was on those dark nights. A small world.

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    2. Isn't it just! I think Paddy must have been there after your hammer house experience - mid 70's onwards. He was certainly a one off so I doubt if you'd forget him, if ever you crossed his path.

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  5. Your weather must be different from ours up here Tom as we have had a week of lovely warm weather, glorious autumn leaves falling in showers from the beech trees - just the weather to make you feel good. Sorry about that but then you usually get the good stuff down there while we are suffering, so makes a change.

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    1. We all get a turn - last Sunday was marvellous down here.

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  6. Oo-er I recognised Painswick as well. From a strange walking weekend there some years ago.

    As for old unattended rural stations - been there as well. Not to mention travelling on old spooky trains trapped with odd ball ( male) fellow passengers in those single closed compartments. AAAArgh. My parents would have been horrified. Actually so was I. Thank God for the corridors.

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  7. Replies
    1. A life in stone... something has to change.

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