The man who walks

I got a brief chance to catch up with an artist and comics creator I’ve known for years online but never met in person earlier this week. Oli East has created some fascinating and unique works based on his long walks, often following railway lines, and his new project sees him retracing the steps of Maharajah, an elephant from the 1870s. Bought from a circus Maharajah was to travel by train to his new home in a zoo in Manchester, but made his displeasure known in spectacular fashion (wrecking the freight train carriage he was to go in), so he and his keeper had to walk the whole way from Edinburgh to Manchester. I met Oli early in the morning in Edinburgh’s huge Waverley train station where he was getting ready to set out on his journey, creating sketches as he goes on his ten day walk following the same route as the elephant and his keeper, our very own comics Hannibal. The journey is being filmed for a documentary and the finished artwork by Oli will be shown as part of the third Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal this autumn. (more details of Oli’s walk and project over on the FP blog)

Two hundred years of Waverley

The Edinburgh City of Literature campaign is celebrating two hundred years of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, and the huge Edinburgh railway station which shares that name is currently peppered with quotations from Scott to mark the bicentennial of the famous Scottish novel:

“They shall not grow old…”

For Armistice Day, one of Edinburgh’s smaller memorials, a little plaque in Edinburgh’s Waverley Stations, probably passed by and largely ignored by thousands of people every day as they go around their busy journeys, a tiny reminder of the past, of maimed and injured soldiers coming home from the War to End All Wars, resting here on their way, hopefully cadging a brew-up and a fag from some Red Cross volunteers. A little corner of history, if you care to look for the echoes of the past that still sound in the present.

Great War memorial, Waverley Station

As they at last comprehend all their sacrifice, all their pain,
All their sorrow, all their suffering, all the death,
Did not change or alter a thing, was not a lesson learned
Nor an experience not to be repeated..
Realizing their friend’s painful, brutal, ultimate sacrifice
Was only a necessary evil of Mankind’s political process
Which has never changed, and never will,
For each generation brings anew to the world
Its own self-styled madness of universal death, tragedy and suffering,
In wars to be fought by the young, bright-eyed children of the world
Unknowingly raised as sacrificial lambs of slaughter,
To be killed and gone forever, for nothing.
That is why, all Veterans cry.

In this hallowed place of the dead
The lonely graves of war’s youthful victims
Who died for a thought,
an idea, for a cause
Promulgated by selfish, insane men in power
These war graves and cemeteries are Harbingers
Of the eternal, mindless death cycle of war.
Young men killed by politicians’ words and mindless acts,
Their promise and existence forever ended too soon.
Now, forever sleep beneath the green muffled grass
Sharing the earth with the youth and victims of past wars,
Too numerous to count, to numbing to contemplate,
The dead, as powerless and impotent as the now living
To change or alter, or detour the inexorable course of madmen,
They patiently wait for the next generation to join them

a fragment from Harbingers, a poem on the occassion of the Normandy landings anniversary by Curtis D. Bennett

Union of South Africa

Here’s what dad and I saw steaming in to Edinburgh this afternoon, steam whistle blowing, smoke and steam billowing, Union of South Africa, an A4 Pacific steam loco (the class which set the world steam engine speed record) with the streamliner casing. I know the streamlining was more about image and marketing and didn’t give much of an advantage in reality, but ye gods its lovely. Elegance and power from a different era when travelling the length of our islands drawn by some great steel, fire breathing dragon like this was an adventure and not the boring, over priced chore its become now.
Union of South Africa arrives in Edinburgh 4

(click the pic for the larger version)

Imagine charging down from Edinburgh along Britain’s east coast mainline to London behind one of these magnificent engines, the sea on your left as you roar down towards Berwick upon Tweed, the roar of the engine resounding across the landscape, easily pulling a long line of carriages with its enormous power, crossing the border, cruising into Northern England, passing ancient York, surging south on steel and iron and fire and water at a speed most people of the time would never encounter anywhere else in their life (this series could easily cruise beyond 100mph) until you arrive in King’s Cross in the middle of London. Before most people had cars, long before motorways existed it would have been remarkable to travel so swiftly, to go from one great capital city of the United Kingdom to another in just a few hours, and in comfort and style as well. God, that was the era to travel by train in this country…

Steam power

Here’s what my dad and I went to see arriving then departing from Edinburgh the last couple of weekends, a brand new steam locomotive (built to the old designs, but new build), the Tornado, created by the A1 Steam Trust. Not a static museum piece but a living, breathing, working locomotive, undergoing her shake down runs, here steaming through Edinburgh hauling a huge line of passenger carriages with utmost ease due to the raw power of such a huge locomotive. She drew a fair crowd and made quite a sight, steam whistle blowing, the roar of the engine and the sheer power and elegant beauty…

Tornado departs Edinburgh 6