Monday 9 December 2013

An Early Christmas Present - The Magic of Steam

There is something special about steam trains at Christmas, almost magical! One of my Asperger-related special interests which came to me at a very young age, and is shared by many other adults with Asperger's Syndrome I have met to the point where it has become a stereotype, is steam trains. When seeing a steam train arrive at the platform I still feel just the same as I did when opening a present of a train set as a child on Christmas morning.  

Once again, this year, I have had an early Christmas present of a steam-hauled train journey from Newcastle to London Kings Cross on the Tynesider Special hauled by Class A4 Pacific 4-6-2 60009 Union of South Africa. This journey was special for me as it was the first time that I had gone the full distance down the East Coast Mainline steam-hauled, after having been up and down this route numerous times on more modern traction.

60009 Union of South Africa in Newcastle
Arriving at the platform at Newcastle Central Station during the early hours when it was still dark with old-fashioned carriages, Union of South Africa's entrance into a station dominated by more up-to-date rail traction including Virgin Voyager trains was atmospheric, arriving in a cloud of smoke with its accompanying steam sound. With the station lights on in the background and Christmas decorations in its old-fashioned carriages, the Tynesider Special almost looked like a magic train bringing Santa Claus down from the North Pole!

More than simply a journey, as a person with Asperger's Syndrome and also from a mindfulness perspective, a steam-hauled journey is also a sensory experience. Unlike on a normal modern train, as a passenger on a steam-hauled train, because in this day and age it is not obviously the norm to travel by steam-hauled train, one gets in touch with the with the distinctive sounds made by the locomotive, the smell of smoke and also, a feel of the gradient profile of the line. Whereas one is largely oblivious to gradients on a railway line when travelling on modern traction with modern suspension systems, including tilt trains, when going up steeper gradients on a steam hauled train, it can be quite a drama hearing the locomotive working hard and giving off huge clouds of smoke and exhaust steam, almost like a marathon runner taking longer breaths while working hard in getting up steep inclines of the route. So having been up and down this route numerous times, I haven't felt I have known the East Coast Mainline in such finer detail until now.

On the footplate!
As a passenger, you can almost feel a 'sigh of relief' when the train succeeds in going over a steep gradient as well as a sense of freedom when coming down a bank. Enthusiasts kept a close eye on their speedometers when Union of South Africa came down Stoke Bank, where fellow A4 Pacific LNER 4468 Mallard famously broke the official world record for steam traction, reaching 126mph on July 3rd 1938. When the train reached King's Cross, I had a special experience! After getting off the train to shake the driver and fireman's hands, to my surprise, I got to experience a childhood dream when they let me come onto the footplate! The train was diesel-hauled back to Newcastle, allowing me to spend some extra time in London, including visits to the Science and Victoria & Albert Museums.

Apologies if I have gone on too much about trains in this blog reverting to the Asperger tendency to go off on a tangent about a special interest, so I guess now is the time to change the subject. Meanwhile, back at Autism Works, as some may have already seen on Facebook, we have entered into a formal partnership with Socitm, who will be marketing our services under our trading name see:detail. Socitim is the professional body that represents people involved in the leadership and management of IT and digitally-enabled services for public benefit. Socitim's CEO Adrian Hancock is particularly optimistic about not just providing exceptional service in software testing, but also enabling Socitim to further fulfil its mission in embedding social value into public and private sector supply chains. Additionally, this could also be an opportunity for Autism Works to raise awareness of autism and Asperger's Syndrome through supply chains, enabling awareness with mainstream employers across all sectors, not just within IT.

More updates will follow as to how this partnership develops via our social media feeds.

Special thanks to driver David Blair and fireman Neal Woods for letting me come onto the footplate on 60009 Union of South Africa and to the Railway Touring Company for their hospitality.

RIP Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013. One of my favourite quotes from his long walk: 'After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb'. Let's hope Mandela's inspiration will encourage us to climb these hills.

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