I’ll have an e-reader, Bob

My Books in Print

A Little Night Reading

Why All the Stations is special

Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe, sickened by 2016, resolved to do something, anything. The thing they resolved to do was visit all of the UK’s  stations over the spring and summer of 2017, and to make ‘a documentary’ about the trip.

Here are the Rules, and what counts as a station ; http://allthestations.co.uk/about/

There are 2563 stations, between Penzance and Wick. The trip started at the beginning of May, and finished on August 19th. To make the trip and the documentary about the trip possible, Geoff and Vicki raised £38k via Kickstarter.

As they visited all the stations, they documented what happened. They made short films, presented to camera by both of them, from the footage that they collected during a day of riding trains. They uploaded four a week, but there were bonus videos too; all on You Tube.  There’s live live Facebook stuff, action on Twitter and Instagram, and a series of albums of good looking photos. They ticked off the difficult stations; Shippea Hill, Pilning, Manchester United FC Halt, and looked again at the crowded ones, finding interesting images and something good humoured and intelligent to say, wherever they went. Unscripted, sometimes they appear together (always at the beginning of each film), sometimes on their own, presenting mini-packages, quick guided tours to the places around the station, and talking to interesting varied interviewees along the permanent way, happy to talk trains. Like me; I hooked up with them as they came through Radnorshire on the Heart of Wales line, and rode from Llanwrtyd Wells to Knighton.

It’s all done with a light heart, goodwill, and a mildly political agenda about using rail. The films are a treat, not just because they go to interesting out of the way places, but because of Geoff and Vicki. Geoff is like your mate who you really want on your quiz team; your phone-a-friend for a million. Geeky, but funny with it. Ready to forgive your geekiness, in return for being able to indulge his. Vicki is like Lucy Worsley, with that same warm enthusiasm, and bright-eyed intelligence, but Vicki is more engaging than LW, if you can imagine such a thing. She and Geoff share a capacity for wonder at the everyday. You want them both on your quiz team. Together, they are beautiful. The fans are caring about them. I care about them.

Visiting all those stations in a relatively short period of time, living in Premier Inns, out of a rucksack, you can see that it is taking its toll. Sometimes, they are tired. Something went wrong in Peterborough; the leaving of North Wales looked hard. But they keep battling on with their good hearted marathon documentary, waiting for the sunny days to come back, and for Vicki to smile and say ‘Yaaay!’

I love it that they go to places that no one cares about, no one uses. Stations used by 12 passengers a year. Stations that are hidden behind film studios and oil refineries. They go deep into the quotidian; what news from Heysham? How are things in Urmston? Can adventure be had in Ardwick? They find out. By the end of the trip, they will have covered a lot of ground and documented it in some detail. It’s a Whole Island snapshot, done in one summer. It’s like something Mass Observation might have come up with, and the project is generating spin off videos, fan flics made by people trying to relive moments from early in the series.

Through no fault of my own, I still know a bit about railways. If I see ludicrous pantaloon Portillo on one of his interminable train travel shows, I shout at the telly. Geoff and Vicki just made me smile. It’s very clever. At the end, they’re going to make a feature length documentary, which I hope we get to see on broadcast TV when it’s done.

But, I reckon that what they’ve done here, is invent a new genre. Simon Jenkins has a new book out, called ‘Britain’s Best 100 Railway Stations’, but Geoff and Vicki have made it obsolete. They didn’t go to the best stations. They went to All The Stations. All of them. Whenever you find yourself on a lonely platform at night, you can think ‘Geoff and Vicki came here.’ It was funded in the same way that travel books are; in advance, with the expenses coming from the advance, and the films read like a book, rather than a TV series. The music developed in a way which would be impossible in a conventional TV series. In the preview episode, where Geoff and Vicki set out the idea, the music is a raw motorik Kraut rock influenced theme; by the end, it has developed and grown into something lyrical and new (with a nice little joke by way of the last note). It’s a real theme tune, but because of the wawy the episodes grew, so does the music. It became the soundtrack of my summer.

There’s  merch – t-shirts, mugs, a CD,  – and I hope that at the end there’s a book, too. I hope that they get the viewers they deserve.  Above all, though, I hope that Geoff and Vicki live happily ever after. The remake of Brief Encounter, the will she or won’t she moments at Gretna constitute something like romance. This was a real journey, filmed in real time, showing real lives and real places. If you haven’t watched it yet, you are in for a real treat.

Four Point Plan.

We’ve just had the first piece of General Election tat in the post, and it’s from local estate agent and current Tory incumbent, Chris Davies. At least, I think it’s from him. There’s a picture of him sitting next to the Rt Hon. Member for Maidenhead and Wargrave, but his actual name only appears in the rubric in a 6pt font.

It outlines his ‘Plan For Brecon and Radnorshire, which I thought I might address. It has four points.

1. Vastly improved broadband. Everyone would like that, I’m sure. But at Number One on the list? No NHS, for example?

2. Rising employment. Davies claims that in the year before he was elected, unemployment in the constituency was 3%, and now, after two years of Chris, it’s down to 1%. If this is true, it is certainly nothing to do with him, and undermines the argument that immigrants are coming here to take ‘our’ jobs. It also disguises the truth that the population of the constituency is falling, and that young people are not looking for work because they have moved away. An increasing number of people in the constituency are not looking for work because they have retired.

3.Supporting our rural economy and communities. Chris says, (and I quote) ‘Agriculture is an iconic industry in Wales.’ Mate, in your constituency, don’t know if you’ve noticed, it’s pretty much the only industry, and this is how the Welsh Farmers Union are feeling.


I love the implication that he will have some say over Brexit negotiations. As Phillip Larkin wrote, ‘In a pig’s arse, friend.’

4. A tourism hotspot. Really. He really says that. Let’s think about tourism in Presteigne. Twice a week, a coachload of pensioners descend on The Judge’s Lodging, and then go back to Wolverhampton. Twice a day in summer, someone wanders past our house looking for the stone on the bridge which marks the border. Cyclists sometimes arrive and go to Elda’s. Posh people come for a few nights for the Presteigne Festival and the Vintage Sports Car rally. They go to Elda’s too, and also The Duck’s Nest. They stay in the hotel. And, er…

Let’s face it, you’re not going to take the kids to Radnorshire for a fortnight, are you? Day One; drive round The Elan Valley. Buy the kids an ice cream cone from the van, if he’s there. Take them to the museum about the Elan Valley. Day Two, feeding the kites. Day Three, Judge’s Lodging. Day Four, visit The Pales Meeting House in Llandegley, and then look at the Llandegley International Airport sign. Day Five, taking the waters in Llandrindod etc.

What fucking tourists? Has he ever driven on the A44 on a Bank Holiday in summer? Has he never noticed that there is never any traffic? Does this not strike him as unusual in a ‘tourist hotspot?’ You might get walkers in Brecon, but they don’t really come here, despite our proximity to the Offa’s Dyke Path. Hay is already a hot-spot, but that’s no thanks to Chris Davies, but thanks to a thriving community and some remarkarkable individuals, all of whom probably despise what he stands for.

I was e-mailed today by the Radnorshire Liberation Front, with their own plan, which I reproduce in full.

1. Increase the population.

2. Balkanise Powys.


This picture is from about 1890/1900, taken from Wales, and looking into England – the bridge marks the boundary. The first house on the right is ours. You can see that the track in front of our house leads down to a ford, at that time still in use, parallel to the Lugg Bridge. There was also a second parallel ford on the other side, where the wagon is parked.

Not much has changed. The shutters on the end of the house have been replaced by a window. The houses have TV aerials. Cars are parked on the street. Other than that, the scene could have been taken at anytime over the last 100 years.

A few years back, Duncan James, a local architectural historian, asked if he could look round, and we trailed around after him as he explained the difference between adze marks and pit-saw marks on the beams, and as he examined the wattle and daub wall in the attic. There were a few rafters in the attic which especially caught his eye.

‘This is medieval work’, he said. ‘You see it sometimes in the oldest houses. When Glendower came through, he burned Presteigne down, and when it was being rebuilt, they used timbers from the old houses.’

‘So how old?’ I asked.

‘Let’s say early 16th century. Could be a bit older. But no later than, say, 1520. It’s one of the oldest houses in the town, no doubt.’

Yesterday, the 1st of May, the housemartins came back. On the day of the first sighting, it’s usually just a few scouts – the main body turns up two or three days later. The male martins who colonize our house, and this end of the town generally, were pretty much all born here, though their brides can come from colonies several kilometres away. I wonder how long this colony has been here? On the High Street, you see swifts. There are swallows in Presteigne too, but the housemartins only come to this bit of town; perhaps a dozen or so houses. I saw nests on Chuch Close last year, the little cul-de-sac of new build houses a few hundred metres up the road, so they clearly don’t just use old houses. Is it a fair assumption, therefore, that the colony has been coming here for hundreds of years? And that when this place was new, they quickly built nests under the gables?

Also yesterday, I got an email from a family historian with whom I share a great great grandfather, the splendidly named Elkanah Marchant, asking me for any information. Amongst other things, I sent him this, my ‘line of descent’ from my earliest traceable ancestor, William Marchant, who was born and died in Preston Village, now a suburb of North Brighton.

Ian Marchant, born Guildford 14 Mar 1958

Alan Marchant, born Farnham, 13/12/1931, died 6/05/2010, Waterford, Ireland

Charles Jesse Marchant, born Bramley, Surrey, 29/03/1904 died 20/09/1984

Thomas David Marchant, born 1871, Hurstpierpoint, died 1928.

Elkanah Marchant, born Hurstpierpoint 9 Feb 1841, died Dec 1931

Thomas Marchant, born Hurstpierpoint 1 Jan1807, died 2 Sep 1872 Bridge Farm Cuckfield

John Marchant, born 1786, died Brighton Workhouse 22 Apr 1848, buried in Hurstpierpoint

William Marchant, Surgeon to His Majesty’s Powder Mills,born 1759, died Waltham Cross 13 Dec 1790

Thomas Marchant, born 1731, died Hurstpierpoint 17 Aug 1802

William Marchant, born Hurstpierpoint 26 Oct 1701, died Hurstpierpoint 16 Dec 1776

Thomas Marchant, diarist, born 23 Mar 1676, died Hurstpierpoint 14 Sep 1728

William Marchant, born 1648, buried Hurstpierpoint 17 Aug 1706

Thomas Marchant, born 1615, buried Albourne 4 Aug 1686

Richard Marchant, born 1584, buried 14 Nov 1625, Horsham, West Sussex

Miles Marchant, born 1545, Preston, Brighton, buried 13 Dec 1605, Edburton, West Sussex

William Marchant, born 1520, died 18 Dec 1558, Preston, Brighton

It struck me that old William was born in 1520, ie, the latest date that this house was built.

I can’t say for sure how long housemartins have been coming to nest in our gables, but I like to imagine that it is 500 years,  roughly since my ancestor was born; and that the nest-builders are descendants of an ancient colony.

We live in the house now, and on several rather important levels, we own it. But it is the martins place too; I see them as co-owners, with just as much right to be here as us; if not more.