Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Cautionary Tale No. 4472 [Part III]

In the previous parts of this tale I've introduced my first train set and given a very brief history of the Flying Scotsman up to September 1983 when it was housed and maintained at Steamtown in Carnforth, where this exciting episode of Cautionary Tale No. 4472 continues the story.

I'd just had my fourth birthday and we had gone on holiday, renting a self catering house in Arnside just north of Carnforth in Cumbria. There was me, my younger brother (who spent much off the time crying while cutting teeth), my parents and my Grandma. I'm not sure how long the holiday was, probably a week, or how long we had been there but on the 18th of September 1983 we all visited Steamtown in nearby Carnforth.

Steamtown was original a British Rail engine shed, but had by this time become one of the primary steam engine preservation sheds. Many, if not most, of the steam engines certified to run on the mainline network were stored and maintained at Steamtown and as such it was a great place to visit. While this is still it's primary function, under it's current owners West Coast Railways, it is unfortunately no longer open to the public (for more details see this brief history page). Back in 1983 though it was a fantastic place to visit, especially for a 4 year old with a fascination for steam engines.

For me the highlight of the day was going to be seeing Flying Scotsman for the first time. It was amazing, and huge. Steam trains still seem large but to a four year old it really was unbelievably big. Unfortunately, it wasn't steaming on the day we visited but it was on display in one of the sheds. Of course given the limited room in the sheds this meant getting photos of it was difficult, but my Dad did his best, and at least managed a photo of the name plate.

We spent quite a bit of time wondering around Steamtown having a wonderful day. At the time there was quite a lot to see both in the sheds and out by the water tower and turntable. To get a feel for what it was like I'd recommend visiting this gallery of photos which covers the period I visited in. It really was a glorious day and all too soon it came time to leave. Of course I didn't want to leave without just one more look at the Flying Scotsman, so we headed back towards the sheds for one final look.

Now I don't know how many of you will have ever wondered around an engine yard but as you can guess there are train tracks everywhere. We were following one set of tracks back to the sheds and I was holding onto my Grandma's hand. I don't know why but I decided it would be fun to jump from one railway sleeper to the next rather than simply walking. Now this was relatively safe at the sedate pace of my Grandma, but disaster was bound to strike as soon as I decided to go a little faster and let go of her hand.

I don't know how far apart railway sleepers are spaced but for a four year old they are probably too far apart to be jumping from one to the next at speed -- or maybe I just had short legs. Anyway I hadn't got far before I missed placed my footing and fell. Now falling in a railway yard would always have ended with a cut, even if only a nasty knee graze, but with my unsurpassed aiming skills I managed to land head first on one of the bolts that holds the metal track to the wood sleeper.

Quite surprisingly, I don't remember it being painful. I do, however, remember there being a lot of blood. People always say that head wounds bleed heavily and as an expert in the field (since this incident I've used at least a coffee table, metal window frame and a car boot lock to draw blood from my head) I can confirm that they do. I assume my parents were in a bit of a panic by this point but for some reason my memory of the events following me falling are a little on the fuzzy side! The next thing I remember clearly is reading a book.

My parents had managed to get me back towards the entrance and attract the attention of a member of staff. For some reason rather than phoning for an ambulance I was driven to the nearby hospital. I think we went in the car of a member of staff who knew the way to the hospital. My mum, brother and grandmother certainly went straight back to where we were staying while my Dad went with me to hospital. To keep me occupied in the car I was given the Ladybird Leaders book of trains from the shop. I don't know how much of it I read or looked at in the car as I was worried about dripping blood onto it. As you can see from the picture even 24 years later it is still in relatively good condition. Ignoring christening presents and the train set this is probably the earliest gift that I still have and cherish in a weird way.

And now for a useful tip for anyone who ever finds themselves having a child who falls over cutting his head on a railway bolt and needs stitches in the middle of his forehead. The child will find the stitching equipment quite scary especially when it is so close to his eyes and so can see exactly what is going to happen next. Trying to find enough hospital staff to fully restrain a screaming four year old is a big challenge. What you need to find is a small towel (you should always know where your towel is at). Simply place the towel across the child's eyes so they can't see what is going on and they will lie perfectly still while their forehead is stitched up. Thanks to the matron at the hospital for that very useful parenting tip!

Fortunately I wasn't left with any permanent damage other than a lovely X shaped scare in the middle of my forehead. It is no longer very visible unless I tan, but as you can see from this school photo it used to be a lot more visible.

So the main point of Cautionary Tale No.4472 is that if at four years old you find yourself wondering around a railway yard try not to run along the sleepers. I speak from a position of experience when I tell you it won't end well!

And in the next, and final, exciting instalment I'll bring you up to date on my experiences of seeing Flying Scotsman, with the additional promise that there will be no further mention of blood!

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