I was a little doubtful when I saw, on the front page of Friday’s Guardian, the tagline “Steam trains – the great aphrodisiac”. I do like trains, but I wouldn’t say that about them.
It turned out to be subeditor’s hyperbolae. The article, by a former director of British Rail, turned out to be about the radical romanticism of the steam engine. Eroticism was only briefly mentioned. I’m rather glad, to be honest. Train-into-tunnel might be a classic visual metaphor, but I don’t think very many people would say that the train itself is what gets them going. There are people out there who haven’t just had sex on the train, but can remember the numbers of the trains they’ve had sex on – but I somehow don’t think it was the train itself that was turning them on.*
What I do like about trains is what that article calls “the rigmarole of trains”. The ritual surrounding the railway. The little bits of peculiar terminology that you don’t get anywhere else.** The natural romanticism of rail travel, and the community feeling that can spring up around the line.
* but if it was – on balance, I think I’d rather not know!
** phrases like “not to be used outside possessions”, or “not to be loose or hump shunted”.