I haven’t added many new sounds to my repertoire lately – though the sound of a car crashing into our  house remains a novel and hopefully unique experience – as I seem to have familiarised myself with most of the sounds of everyday life, at home and work, and while travelling.

There’s still a number of less usual sounds to be acquired and I’ve been ticking off variants on a theme recently.

First of all – I’m a sucker for a miniature railway. I don’t mean model railways (these I do not even begin to understand). And, on the whole, romance of the railways I do NOT get, as a put-upon commuter – except in miniature when they just make me squeal with joy. If they’re steam ones, all the better. I’m often told I have a somewhat childlike quality, and what is that but childlikeness in action (I refuse to say childishness!) I just love the way you sit in a little carriage and chug round a park, as at South Marine Park, South Shields, but the wonderful Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway is a proper working little steam train with a timetable. At Blenheim Palace the miniature railway is free and is even used by staff to commute across the site: well, the grounds are a little on the large side! One reason I’ve always loved them is because of the way you sit so low down you can feel every single noise the train makes and you feel anchored to the clank-clatter-clang as it chunters round on its track, even when you can’t hear. But this time, at Salthouse Fields, Clevedon, I heard it as well. The Bear compressed himself into a carriage and took some photos of the eccentric-looking old bat opposite (me). The funny thing about this one was the fact that it sounded like a car, not a train (one built with a Ford engine, not a steam train).

A couple of weekends ago we went steaming on the Ashton Court miniature railway, and it’s a whole other set up, where you sit astride the ‘carriages’ which look like nothing so much as scaled-down vaulting horses, and the stokers stoke the engines with real, tiny coals, on dinky little purpose-made shovels, not unlike ice-cream sundae spoons. The little engines were making hyperventilating whiffling noises like pet dragons. This time the Bear sat on the back as ballast and instinctively ducked as we entered the tunnel where the whiffling and clanking noises both got suddenly echoey and everyone had a good squeal.

And yesterday – was the open day at Alan Keef’s works, light railway builders, near Ross-on-Wye. Technical buffs may be able to tell you at length about gauge and wheelsets and all the rest of it. All I can say is that these are serious little steam engines and we sat behind in close proximity, knee to knee on little wooden benches. Much like a small dog with a surprisingly deep and powerful WOOF, these little engines had lovely loud TOOTS and hissed and puffed steam as they climbed the bank in the garden. I had to have three – yes, three – rides, to get my fill of sound.

Behind engine "Chaloner" as we ran through the yard. So close to the steam I could see, hear, smell and taste it, and feel the power as it climbed the bank. © The Bear, 2010


(And for the curious among you: Miniature Railway Magazine)