Monday, June 13, 2011

The far fabled train station of Hansfield

Dear reader, you are probably going to take what I say with a pinch of salt, or some other condiment of your choice, but what I am about to tell you is the God’s honest truth, may Lionel Ritchie come and sing for me in my sitting room if I’m telling one word of a lie.
The other morning (not this one, the other one), just as the sun was peeping out over the unopened Ongar Community Centre, I happened to be passing by the roundabout that leads to the as-yet-unfinished Kelly’s pub, when I happened to glance down past the incomplete Barnwell estate in a general south-westerly direction.
The sight, I have to tell you, took my breath away and it was only after many threats that I managed to retrieve it.
There, its sapphire blue coloured dome glistening in the first rays of dawn, stood the far fabled, internationally renowned, mystical train station of Hansfield.
People may tell you that it is a myth, the stuff of legend but no more than that, like the lost city of Atlantis or full employment, but I saw it there, shimmering in all its ornamental splendour. I felt like stout Cortez when he first set eyes upon the Taj Mahal or Marco Polo stepping down onto the moon’s surface for the first time or maybe Howard Carter when he discovered the source of the Himalayas.
For ten seconds, maybe thirteen, certainly no longer than fifteen, I stood and gazed at its irridescent splendour and a choir of angels, unseen in heaven, seemed to raise a melodious chorus of Love Plus One by Haircut 100. The air was suddenly filled with a beautiful incense and a vague sense of absolute beauty came over me, which I later attributed to trapped wind.
And then, as suddenly as it came, it was gone again, enveloped in a mystical cloud that descended from on high, which is the best place for clouds to descend from. I started to run towards it but instantly realised the futility of my actions and stopped and picked my nose instead.
Had I been dreaming? I pinched myself to find out and was reassured when I cried “Ouch!” and slapped myself back.
For those of you who may not know, the train station at Hansfield was supposedly located roughly midway along the branch line between Clonsilla and Dunboyne. Its purpose was to save the good commuters of Ongar and Castaheany from travelling into darkest Clonsilla and snarling up the traffic system there but seemingly it was built without a road leading to it and was never used.
Nobody knows for certain who built this mythical train station. Some say that it was Ceres, the Greek godess of cornflakes and commuters, who raised it up from a pomegranate seed in revenge for her son being given a wedgie by Apollo. Others attribute it to the Irish warrior Niall of the Nine Sausages, who was acting on the instructions of a talking salmon. Legend has it, that it was one of the original eight wonders of the ancient world but forgot to keep up its subscriptions. But the fact is that its origins are shrouded in the mists of time and as nobody has actually seen the mists of time either (except maybe Doctor Who), this makes it doubly obscure.
The Annals of Castleknocke contains a strange tale of a railway platform in the middle of a field, on which a crowd of peasants stand waiting for a train to stop. Trains come and trains go but none ever actually come to a halt at the platform and in the end the peasants all turn into juniper bushes and look for refunds on their tickets.
There is another legend of a small band of Irish soldiers who fled from the Battle of Aughrim, with a battalion of Cromwell’s musketeers in hot pursuit. In desperation, the soldiers, barefooted and wearing little more than tracksuits, took refuge in a mysterious train station that suddenly loomed out of the darkness “in the vicinitye of Phybbelstown,” as one of the bad spellers in the group later wrote. As Cromwell’s musketeers advanced, twirling their swords and brandishing their moustaches, they were all summarily run over by the 5.15 from Dunboyne.
Jonathan Swift, or Dean Swift as he was also known (he could never make up his mind which Christian name he preferred) refused to believe in the sightings of the train station and wrote a brilliantly witty poem that totally crushed all those who believed in it. But despite brutalising the peasantry with his sarcastic rhyming couplets, even Swift could not put a stop to the rumours that the train station actually existed.
Even today, it has been reported in some of the more fanciful tabloids that commuters, whizzing through the rolling fields on the Dublin – Meath border have glimpsed a mysterious structure that looms out of the countryside and then disappears again almost immediately. There is no road leading to this building, they say, as though it were sprung from the earth, like Moses striking the rock and producing water, which is a pretty good trick in anyone’s book, though it would be even more impressive if it was whiskey. A caller to Liveline was so adamant that she had seen the mythical train station of Hansfield, that Joe recommended she seek psychiatric help.
Of course, it has occurred to me that I will be subject to the same ridicule and scepticism and there’s no way that I’m going to text 51551 simply to be called a looper. The fact that I saw the damned thing with my own eyes does not mean I will be able to convince Joe Public that I hadn’t eaten some very dodgy mushrooms the night before. But I know that it exists even though a search on Google Earth has been somewhat inconclusive.
If I had been quicker, I would have taken a photograph of the apparition before it disappeared from view but I only had my mobile phone with me at the time and have never bothered to read the instructions on how to take photos with it. Besides, I console myself that, even with this evidence, the photo would have been dismissed as a fake, with the train station alleged to have been a shadow or a cigar-shaped UFO or something more plausible.
But it does exist and you read it here first, good reader. I am currently in contact with Pat Falvey to launch an exhibition to find this mythical structure and, who knows, in ten years there might even be a documentary about Charlie Bird following in my footsteps.

Superstitions and omens

I’ve started running again.
Two years ago, I decided to do something about my burgeoning weight, which had been gleefully spiralling higher and higher since I a) turned forty, b) gave up the fags and c) got a job where I sat on my backside for the best part of the day.
Now, as anyone who reads this column regularly will know, spending money has never been one of my greatest attributes and whenever anyone suggested that I join a gym, my reaction of hysterical giggling would affirm the futility of pursuing that suggestion. Sure, didn’t we have pathways in abundance in Dublin 15 and even Fingal County Council haven’t started charging people for walking on them...yet?
So I dug out a load of old reject t-shirts from the top of wardrobe that I got when I used to work in a printing factory and rescued a couple of pairs of holiday shorts that my wife had earmarked for dusters and I announced that I was going running.
“What about runners?” enquired my wife.
“Sure, I have a pair of runners,” I informed her, “these ones that I bought in ShoeZone a month or two ago.”
Despite her assertions that these were not ‘proper’ (ie expensive) runners, I started off and for five weeks I was Roger Bannister, panting my way around the locality until a bad attack of shin splints and an even worse attack of ‘I told you so’s from an unnamed quarter suddenly put a premature end to my quest to regain fitness.
This March, the company I pretend to work for launched an initiative called Commit to be Fit, a sort of Operation Transformation for normal people. (I assume there’s a whole industry out there dreaming up snappy names for keep fit programmes – Great to Lose Weight, Brighter to be Lighter, Aerobics for Claustrophobics etc)
So I decided to do things right this time. Like a recalcitrant schoolboy, my wife brought me into Lifestyle, where I promptly fainted on seeing the price of ‘proper’ runners, only being revived with a drop of medicinal brandy. So, after a brief tug-of-war with the cashier and my wife over my €45, I emerged with a cushioned pair of runners that had the added health benefit of having a tick on the outside of them.
And I took it slowly. At first, I simply strolled down to the end of the road, sat on a wall for five minutes and then strolled back, looking for a piece of cake. Gradually, I increased the distance, then started running a bit until I’m now at the point where I can now run ten miles non-stop, though ‘staggering’ would probably be more descriptive of the final mile.
(Except of course when I see another jogger coming the other way. Then of course, I straighten up and jog along with an unconcerned air and a cheery ‘Good morning!” even though my insides are exploding.)
However, a series of incidents the other week had me questioning the wisdom of my new-found healthy lifestyle.
Now, I walk and limber up from my house to the end of the estate before I start running. I fondly imagine that this counts as the ‘warming up’ I’m supposed to do beforehand but I never seem to get particularly warm at seven in the morning, for some reason.
So, as I was tiptoeing past the house with the noisy dog at the end of our road, a slice of bread, with the crusts cut off, doubtless to thwart the forensic scientists, fell at my feet. As I stared at it, I imagined I heard a Welsh Male Voice Choir singing Bread of Heaven, though a loud “Caw!” from overhead soon disavowed me of any notion that this was divine intervention.
So, as I ran, I pondered the strange occurrence. I find pondering helps while jogging, as it helps to drown out the wailing and complaining of lungs and legs. Earphones also help, I’m sure, but I think I must have odd shaped earholes, as none seem to stay in my ear when I’m lying comatose, never mind running. I’ve even considered bringing along a boom box to distract me but I’m sure it would fall off my shoulder.
But back to the bread. Bread is good, the bread of life, give us this day our daily bread, so that could mean it was a good sign. However, it was dropped by that most evil and sinister of all God’s creatures, the crow – the killer crow, as my wife calls them – a harbinger of death and destruction, if ever there was one, particularly to open wheelie bins. Maybe Satan, in the guise of the crow, was mocking my attempts to improve my lifestyle?
Then, as I was passing Allendale on my first circuit of the block, I saw a shiny one cent piece lying invitingly in the middle of the path. (I should point out here that ‘the block’ is of course a Fingal County Council block of four kilometers. Our local authority hates through-roads and short cuts of any description out of fear that rats might run through them)
As I have mentioned before, I am somewhat parsimonious by nature and have always believed in the old adage, ‘Find a penny, pick it up, the rest of the day you’ll have a penny.’ But in the split second I had to decide between following my natural instincts to stop or to keep on with my comfortable stride, I chose the latter and soon, the penny was left far behind me.
Now, I’m not a believer in superstitions and omens. I believe that only superstitious people get bad luck and the course of events is pretty much random. But I have to say, I fretted about the one cent for the twenty five minutes it took me to do a complete circuit. How often are we short a one cent piece in shops? Of course, the cashier always says its okay but you know she thinks you’re a skinflint who has done it on purpose.
But fretting is akin to pondering when you’re running, and pretty soon I was back around by Allendale where I was delighted to find the one cent still shining up at me invitingly, so I quickly stooped down, scooped it up and went on my way like The Gooch collecting the ball on the wing and cutting inside for a pop at goal.
Mightily relieved, I continued around until I reached the roundabout for the world-famous Hansfield train station, when I heard a loud shriek. There, right in the middle of the roundabout, a male pheasant was standing and two female pheasants were running down the middle of the road towards him, doubtless wondering how they were going to spend his money.
This finished me completely. There is nothing in Greek mythology that I am aware of to explain the significance of pheasants in the middle of a roundabout. Nor bread falling from the sky. Nor shiny one cent pieces. I gave up trying to figure it out and staggered around the rest of my route, determined that in future I would run in blinkers.