THE LOVE GAUGE RAILWAY

Robin MacFarlan

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A whimsical look at the mechanics of art and love.

'It was a miserable machine, an inefficient machine she thought,

the human apparatus for painting and for feeling -

it always broke down at the wrong moment.'

Virgina Woolf - To the lighthouse

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Imagine, if you will, that ‘the human apparatus for painting and for feeling’ were a clockwork railway of the mind with many machines pounding up and down a myriad of branch lines and main lines.  Breakdowns would be probable but not inevitable.  Like most railways, its efficacy would be dependent on the owner’s will and ability.  Some would ignore the possibilities and preside over networks that would offer little more than misery, while others might plan, build and maintain systems that would be a joy to travel through.

‘The love gauge railway’ is the story of one particular railway - of how it evolved from a childhood gift, grew into a sprawling network, then sadly but inevitably declined.


106 pages / 39 illustrations.

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1.  THE EARLY YEARS

2.  COMING OF AGE

3.  BLIND AMBITION

4.  FROM CERTAINTY TO DOUBT

5.  DECLINE

6.  THE FINAL JOURNEY

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1
THE EARLY YEARS

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It came out of the blue,

the wonderful gift

of rails and a train

of make believe.

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With cries of joy the colours,

the shapes, the lines, the curves,

were joined together.

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There were departures

that arrived, by accident,

in tantrums and tears.

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Ways to slow and stop

and change direction

were soon discovered.

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Signs of learning appeared

as branch lines were built

to the unknown.

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There were new departures,

new adventures, excitement

and cries for more and more.

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There was recklessness,

stupidity, scratches, dents

and further floods of tears.

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COMING OF AGE

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The changes were profound

as new priorites

required a range

of smart new accessories.

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Recklessness was now contained

through an advanced system

of self control.

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Investments were made

in schemes designed and built

to connect with passengers.

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There were timetables,

a clock, a waiting room

and last trains at night.

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Schedules were introduced

that included time and space

for maintenance and rest.

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On waking, keys were turned,

springs wound

and doors opened wide.

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On most days

the nine-ten to somewhere arrived late

in the middle of nowhere.

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In the goods yard

supplies of hope, fear, desires and dreams were sorted, graded and distributed.

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There were trucks for every need,

including one

for combustible freight.

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Unusually large items

were measured to gauge

their suitability.

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Further sections


3.  BLIND AMBITION

4.  FROM CERTAINTY TO DOUBT

5.  DECLINE

6.  THE FINAL JOURNEY  

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THE END

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“She looked at her canvas:  it was blurred. 

With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second,

she drew a line there in the centre. It was done:  it was finished. 

Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue,

I have had my vision."

Virginia Wolf,  ‘To the lighthouse’.

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A LIFE IN TRAINS, JAZZ, ART & LOVE

Without British Rail and the subsequent privatised train companies there would have been no journeys.

Without all the people in my life, who wisely or otherwise have travelled on my clockwork railway, there would have been no substance.

Without the rhythms, the moods and the tones of jazz I might never have discoverd art.

Without the artistic journeys that frequently arrived in the middle of nowhere there would have been no images.

The following observations are an acknowledgement of the organisations, institutions and individuals who have made the vision possible.

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TRAINS

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The old clock, Portsmouth Harbour station,

from where my journey began.

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In those days rail travel was still a source of inspiration to composers, writers and artists.  Journeys were to be anticipated, railways revered with exotic names given to certain trains - The Golden Arrow, The Flying Scotsman, The Cornish Riviera - names that conjured up images of speed, romance and adventure.  Now, more than sixty years later, the power to excite and inspire has all but evaporated as economics and technology dictate the way we live, move, work and even love.  Where once there were compartments, lined in wood veneer, with spacious seats and panoramic windows with vents to allow the steam to filter through, we are now wedged into hermetically sealed containers wherein we hide behind our digital compartments, oblivious to the rest of humanity.

What chance is there of a book, a poem, a film, a song or a painting emerging from such a sterile environment?  And yet, of all the modes of transport, it is still possible to dream and to liberate the mind by train.

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JAZZ

“When I board a train, peace descends on me.
The train’s metallic rhythm soothes me,
the fireman plays the blues on the engine whistle,
big smeary things like a goddam woman
singing in the night.”

Duke Ellington.

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At my cold, grey and severe boarding school in the late 50’s there was no love or art.  But there was a boy who loved jazz.  Through him I began to realize that there was a brighter world with extraordinary rhythms, colours, moods and textures.  From there I discovered art.

Later on I also discovered that the histories of jazz and trains in the deep south of America are inextricably linked.  While the negroes built the railways they built jazz.  Not only did the rhythms of trains filter through into the early blues and gospel songs but within their lyrics trains were often used as metaphors for love, loss, escape, freedom and pathways to god and heaven.  Then as the music evolved - from New Orleans to swing to bebop - the symbiotic relationship continued to flourish until the demise of steam and the arrival of rock n’ roll in the 1950’s.

No other art form has embraced trains with with the same degree of passion and none will ever again.

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ART

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The birthplace of The Love Gauge Railway.

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As an art student in the sixties the only advice I remember was given to me while travelling by train.  I was on my way from Liverpool Street to Norwich when,  by chance, I sat next to a lecturer.  At college we hardly spoke but on the train we did and at one point he said to me “If the need is there, you will always paint.”.  A few months later I was asked to leave.

Thereafter there were many journeys in pursuit of trends and ‘isms’ that arrived nowhere.  Numerous departures with disappointing conclusions.  And then there were the journeys of necessity.  The ones prompted by need or loss like those I pursued following the end of relationships.  On one such occasion, while seeking solace through walking, beer and collecting visual metaphors that might clarify the inexplicable, I heard the sound of a train.  On reaching the next pub an idea was scribbled down on a beer mat.
 
In art, as in life, it is important to be in the right place at the right time.  I also occasionally wonder what might have happened had my art school been a train.

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LOVE

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My brother with 'Bunny", the driver of our tank engine.

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I loved 'Bunny' once.  But when my clockwork train set arrived things changed.  I became the engine driver with mother, father and my brother as my favourite passengers.  'Bunny' became redundant.

Thereafter there were many who, out of curiosity, travelled for a while and then departed.  And there are those who have since departed yet are still travelling - in sleeping cars.  And then there is the one who, against the odds, has been my constant passenger for more than thirty years.

The system she travels through, however, is far from perfect.  Some parts work. Some do not.  All I can do is maintain the parts that do to the best of my ability in the hope that she, and others who might wish to travel, can do so safely and reliably for most of the time.

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THE ARTIST

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Balham. 1998.

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Ever since my first visual recollection was captured through the window of a railway carriage millions more have been gathered and saved as trains have carried me to and from the various places in which I have lived, loved and learnt.

One of these was Clapham Junction which for twenty years and more became the hub of my existence.  From here I learnt to etch in Putney, listened to jazz in Barnes, explored the river and beyond, delivered work to galleries and publishers, visited friends and relatives, escaped to the country, and pursued a long distance relationship while bearing witness to the gradual modernisation of the station.  Yet despite the vast expense, new technologies and privatisation delays and cancellations remained unaltered, as did the voice that still apologises, ‘so sincerely’, for the inconvenience caused.

During the same period my own network was modernised and regardless of new technology and the money spent no answers were found for human error and the wrong kind of rain.

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