Humor Magazine

Train Travel Tales #45 – Waving Flags (Part 1)

By Gingerfightback @Gingerfightback



Here’s a three-part Train Travel Tale – We return to the earliest days of the railways…………

Waving Flags Part 1

Manchester, England, November 1830

William Bleasedale was sure that the aroma of a frying rasher of bacon was the finest smell of all. An event so rare in his household that it guaranteed a special day was in the offing. And today was most certainly a special day.

As he made his way down the rickety stairs, the sound of children playing, fighting, or just being children filled the small cottage which was home to William, his wife Anne and their offspring, Cedric, Charles, James, Caroline, Lottie, Henrietta, Elizabeth, William and Florence.

For William, a man with a bent towards melancholy, it felt that the children occupied every nook and cranny of the house. He constantly fretted over providing enough for them and for Anne a sturdy, stoical woman who combined the duties of motherhood with working on the looms at Joseph Sander’s mighty linen mill in Newton Heath.

James took his Father by complete surprise as he clambered out of the cupboard where he slept. A boy clambering out of a cupboard was not in itself unusual, young Cedric slept in the coal scuttle, but it took William several seconds to recognize the boy as his son and thus part of their chaotic but effervescent home life.

Anne, dreaming of universal suffrage, tended the rashers and eggs sizzling in the pan. William watched her with silent ease,  pleased that the luster of their relationship still shone as witnessed by the plethora of children but also in the quiet moments they shared when his humourous anecdotes and mimicry would cause his earnest wife of fourteen years to giggle and slap his arm in mock outrage.

“Morning!” William said.

“Morning Father!” the five children present chimed. The three eldest Elizabeth, William and Henrietta had already left for work hauling coal from the Pit whilst the youngest, three month old Florence, slept peacefully in her cot, a welcome relief from the croop that had caused Anne seemingly endless nights of interrupted sleep.

William sat in his chair by the hearth and examined his boots, left specifically there each morning. The soles were worn but the uppers remained in good condition and Charles had given them a fine polish. The promise of a fresh penny did wonders for the boy’s concentration.

“Well done Charles! I can see my face in them!” William tossed the promised penny to his son who stared at the coin as if it were treasure plundered by Drake himself from the Spaniards. The other children gazed upon the fortune in their brother’s hand.

William pulled the boots on and double knotted each lace. As usual the left shoe felt tight around the little toe, but that was a private discomfort and not for anyone else to know or care about. The boots squeaked as he stood and walked to the table.

Anne dished the rashers and eggs onto the plate. William cut himself a slice of bread and savoured the wonderful meal set before him.

“Enjoy Father.”

“I most certainly shall Mother!”  He ate with relish, giving silent celebration for the pig. A pig which had shared the couple’s bedroom all summer. He felt a pang of regret as Mr. Jellicoe, the butcher slaughtered the swine (whom had been christened Thomas by the children) for sixpence three weeks previously. But it meant that there would be meat to feed the family through the long winter that had now settled upon them.

With the exception of Charles who remained enraptured by his coin, the tots stared at their Father in the hope that he may cut a slither of bacon or egg for them to taste. Experience had taught them that this kind hearted man would usually provide one or two with a titbit. But not today. This special day.  

Having wiped the grease off the plate with his bread, William lit a pipe. A piece of bacon rind was stuck between his two back lower molars, the only molars still in his mouth. He flicked at the rind with his tongue, trying to dislodge it.

The tobacco smoke plumed and furled in the low ceilinged room like a genie leaving its clay potted lamp. The children sniffed the air and enjoyed the giddying aroma of the Virginia Leaf.

“Shall we fetch it down now Father?” Anne asked.

“Indeed Mother.”  Anne scuttled upstairs. Lottie followed her. There was clumping and bumping on the ceiling and the sound of a door hinge in need of lubrication creaking open. Before long Anne’s heavy footsteps were heard on the rickety staircase. She returned carrying a large box, nearly the same size as her. She set the box on the table, opened it and revealed a magnificent stove pipe hat, fully two feet in height.

The children were agog to see such millinery splendour in their small home and gasped  as their father still sat at the table, placed it regally upon his head.

“My, my Father, aren’t we the handsome one!”

“Thank you Mother. Not bad for an old ‘un! Did you find the pea for my whistle?”

“I’ve allowed each of the little ‘uns to lick it for their breakfast, should keep the pangs at bay for a while. Don’t forget your flags.”

“I won’t.” He smiled at her. She returned the smile and began to fuss around the kitchen, lifting pots, wiping crumbs, cleaning children’s faces with spit and a cloth. She felt nervous for him. Her man.

“Both the green and red one?”

Yes. May I say Mother, you have excelled yourself with this canister.”

The leather canister containing the flags was Anne’s idea. It was her late Father’s who claimed he had plundered it from a dead Boneapartist at Waterloo fifteen years previous (a claim that barely stood up to scrutiny given her father was in prison for eating a stolen potato peeling at the time).

How fitting that the Old Iron Duke himself, Wellington was going to grace the day. The man who had saved England from tyranny, frogs legs and the evils of metrication. Anne found the flags fitted perfectly into the canister after she had cut an inch off the flagpoles. William had not noticed. Normally he did.

He was pleased as punch. A man who carries his tools to work is definitely man of substance. Especially on a day such as today.

Part 2 Tomorrow!

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