Sandy's Garden ... Plus ca Change!

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The Evening Standard’s headline on Wednesday, February 6, 1952 read: ‘THE KING DIES IN HIS SLEEP.’

I was 15 years old, living with my parents in Perth.

That evening I cycled to Perth Station, as was my wont on dry evenings in those distant television-less days, as the roads were almost vehicle-free.

As a trainspotter, I wanted to see which ex-LMS Pacific class locomotive was in charge of the ‘Royal Highlander,’ the Inverness-London Euston sleeping car express which had a locomotive change in Perth where a Crewe North based engine usually took over.

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Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy SimpsonFalkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson
Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson

I dismounted, entered the huge building from Station Square, wheeled my bike across the ramped bridge connecting Platform 3 with Platform 4 and walked along to its south end.

There it was, sheltering in the shadow of St. Leonard's Bridge Signal Box, awaiting the arrival of her train. Then, after the two Stanier class 5s which had brought the train over the Highland Main Line had moved off to the engine shed, she eased back and into view. In one sense, it was a disappointment – an old friend, 46244 ‘King George VI.’

But I had never seen a locomotive more magnificently turned out; and I haven’t seen one looking so splendid in the 70 subsequent years. On the day of the late King’s death, the Perth shed engine cleaners had got every speck of soot, every grain of dirt, every oily hint of a fingerprint off that engine’s paintwork. I have never seen even a newly ex-paint shop locomotive so utterly immaculate.

Ah yes, things were indeed different then, when the whole royal family was held in high public esteem and we didn’t read or hear much about the odd dissolute black sheep.

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You can guess what brought these memories back to the front of my consciousness. And the only thing that they have in common with gardens is the reflection that some things really were different then.

My parents, in common with most of our neighbours, had a vegetable garden as well as a flower garden. Everyone who had a garden had a drying green and, usually, a ‘front grass’ as well. Garden paths were spread with granite chips … very few pebbles in those days … and paviour blocks were unknown.

And, of course, only two of our neighbours had cars … and one of these was a company vehicle, for the breadwinner in that household was a ‘commercial traveller’; so no-one in our street … or in immediately-neighbouring streets … had a driveway.

We lived in a cul-de-sac and we played on the roadway in complete safety, for the Co-op’s horse-drawn carts travelled very slowly and their driver’s very occasional stentorian admonition of any child who didn’t stay well clear far outranked most vehicle horns today.

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Yes, some things were very different – but only some things. One neighbour was a top link engine driver who might well have been in charge of one of the two ‘black 5s’ which brought that sleeper up from Inverness 70 years ago.

He didn’t live much longer than King George VI’s 56 years, killed by hard work and poor working conditions. King or commoner, privileged or poor, levelling down was the Grim Reaper’s forte. And that’s still the same!

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