I don’t think I could have ever have been a train driver as the hat would have messed up my hair (being daubed in soot wasn’t a major attraction either, even for a ten -year-old boy who loathed washing!); however, until it was withdrawn in 1972, watching the Brighton Bellle through the railings on Wandsworth Common – the only thing which ever stopped our games of football there – was a fleeting glimpse of railway magic, where you contemplated becoming one.
Although, running toward the track invariably resulted in our opposition team scoring a goal whilst our entire defence were peering through the rail-side railings wondering if any of us would ever become Casey Jones (the late 50s Californian TV train driver, not the burger shop)?
If you played against the bigger boys on Wandsworth Common there was the inherent danger that your jumper-cum-goalpost might be nicked. So, a few, fleeting moments of pre-Dr Beeching joy, frequently ended in pain (and a subsequent slight chill).
But Wandsworth Common has changed since the time the Brighton Belle would make its daily visit. As a kid, kicking a football or sending down a leg break, instead of fancy wine bars and Michelin Star restaurants, the poshest shop on Bellevue Road was Budgen’s. No doubt the current residents there pronounce every consonant too; whereas in my day, the only thing we had in common with the French was in inability to pronounce the letter H at the start of words!
I’m envious of people who witnessed the steam train days as the nearest I ever got to seeing Mallard was feeding one on Wandsworth Common ponds.