Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3656 Set by Casement and Ross

How would W H Auden (or any other poet) have written about the railways today?

Report by Ms de MeanerThe winners picked T S Eliot, W H Auden, Glenn Miller, Edward Thomas and Auden again. £20 each; vouchers to Ms Blake.

There's a whisper down the line: "Railtrack shares are in decline

And the CE's ready to depart;

Gerald Corbett, where is Corbett? He has left the railway orbit

So who will get the trains to start?"

All the folk at every station are demanding compensation

And they now are most irate

Shouting: "Corbett, where is Corbett? He has proved a pretty raw bet

With the trains still running late."

Now the people on the Board have decided they have scored -

They have picked Steve Marshall as their man

And they say that he will prove that rolling-stock can move -

Or he will, if anybody can.

But I'm pretty sure it's beyond a cure

This privatised train mess:

It's a sorry fact that the rails are cracked

And the network's in distress.

Take a look at Virgin Rail running slower than a snail,

And the grandly named GNER

Which invites you to go forth and explore the distant north -

But Newcastle is a stop too far.

And if you would like a chance to see Belg-i-um or France

Then you should not trust Eurostar.

Going down to the South West, you will surely find it best

To travel in your motor car.

Yes, the Northern Spirit's low, and Connex is back at "Go"

With commuters packed like sardines,

While if you stop to think, you'll avoid the Silverlink

And those Thames trains nobody cleans.

Alanna Blake

This is the hotline for train information,

Offering discount on each destination,

Savers for the West and savers for the East,

Awaydays and supers, off-peak and off-piste,

Changes and Apex, to Hayle or to Humber,

Provided you ring on a different number,

Are prepared to depart after 10.17,

Coming back late on Thursday before Hallowe'en,

And trust in a schedule secure as an icicle,

And don't have a baby, a bag or a bicycle.

Out on the platform, the children are bouncing,

Since they can't hear the words that a voice is announcing,

Delays on the line, delays due to cleaning,

Delays to delays, delays without meaning,

Red lights and leaves, a service curtailment

Regrettably caused by a fatal derailment.

Will Bellenger

Pardon me, boy, is that the Peterborough choo choo?

There on Platform Nine, but that's the Hatfield line . . .

I cannot wait to board the Peterborough choo choo

I'm just in time to catch the ten past two.

We leave the Kings Cross Station 'bout a quarter to four

Standing cheek to cheek then we ain't going no more.

Nice and safe says Railtrack, there's just one thing we lack

That's some forward motion: I'd walk if I had my mac.

When you see floods a'spreadin', A1's boats not a car,

Then you know that Huntingdon is not very far

At just past eight we pass the Eastbound Freight,

Whoo, whoo, Peterborough, there you are.

Sara Williams

Yes. I remain in Adlestrop -

They blame, of course, one afternoon

Of heat. The express train drew up here

Quite wonkily. It was late, June.

The track's pissed. Someone's cleared the coach.

No announcement and no one came

Near a bare apology. I want more

Than agitprop - to name and shame.

Wrong leaves, rolling-stock and staff,

And men in suits, the ham rolls dry,

No whit less still a target fair

For the Exocet in the sky.

And for one minute a mobile rang

Close by, and round it, nastier,

Louder and louder, all the phones

Made by Ericsson and Nokia.

John Bevis

This is the slow train stuck at the border,

Scuppered by cracked rails and rising flood waters,

Crammed with commuters shouting down mobiles,

Students who've been standing five hours (that's two miles),

Businessmen couching complaints to get cash back

While stoic folk crack feeble jokes about Snailtrack.

The guards play cards in their van, which they've locked,

Bored apologies crackle through the train from the driver

Who waffles a script that he can't believe either.

In First Class, executives boil behind broadsheets

While way back in Standard, kids squirm in their seats,

Eyes bright as they watch orange men on the line

Paying lip-service to safety for sweet overtime.

Adrian Fry

No 3659 Set by George Cowley

Two well-known comedians are PM and opposition leader. Cut and thrust from PM's Questions, please, by 14 December.


This article first appeared in the 04 December 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Goodbye to the dirty mac image