It’s rare that a book about railways can be said to be relaxing, but one has arrived that is packed full of lazy summers travelling around the countryside looking for those often lonely outposts — the railway signal box.
Roger has had a life-long passion for recording railway signal boxes, and while he clearly knows enough to have written a very conventional railway book, packed full of facts and details and likely as not, suffocatingly dull, it’s a delight that he chose not to.
He’s an artist, and he’s taken to drawing the signal boxes and writing a short piece about each one. The soft pencil drawings are evocative of a past age, as they pare back the photos in his collection to a simpler form, something closer to how we often imagine the railway signal box to be like in reality, shorn of the muck and decay of the decades.
It’s a paean to a fading memory of the railways when every junction was watched over by railwaymen keeping an eye out for trains that would pass with a toot and a wave. Of course, the romantic image was rarely accurate, but why let facts spoil a pleasant dream?
And this book by Roger Elsom is dreamy. It’s crumpets and tea with the vicar. It’s a time when there was more green and less noise. If you wanted to make a film of this book, it’d be the opening credits to Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple.
Each signal box is accompanied by a soft pencil map to help locate it, as the author notes, even with proper maps some were hard to find when on the ground. The text is handwritten, not printed, which initially slightly irked me as if design had won over function, but after a while found it enjoyable, especially when I realised it was slowing down how fast I could read.
Much like the drawings, the text had transported me into a slower calmer world.
And not many books have ever done that.
It’s so beautiful, and so unlike any railway book I have read. Now, please excuse me, I’m off for some tea and crumpets.