A long walk back in time

Sometimes, when I’m thinking about a story, I like to go for a good long walk. Fresh air and endorphines work wonders for the imagination. Yesterday evening I was struck with an idea for a World War 2 inspired story with Weird themes. I fell asleep on the sofa making character notes, then when I woke up this morning (having relocated to bed at some point in the night) decided to find a long walk to go on and consider the idea more. A bus journey out of the city later I was hiking along a winding country road between fields shrouded in a perfect, wet British mist. The World War 2 story was unfolding as I walked, and my imagination was deep in the the atmosphere of Britain circa 1939.

(Usually I find that one image sparks the atmosphere of an imagined world for me. In this case it was a young soldier, queuing to leave a troop ship, holding a Lee Enfield rifle. I never know where these things come from, but come they do and they bring with them many more.)

So I was almost on the sign for a ‘hot cup of tea’ at the NAAFI Cafe, sitting  to one side of the narrow footpath as it came over the crest of a hill. The sign pointed into a door leading through a a brick wall which in the moment I glimpsed it seemed utterly incongruous, a fragment of the city superimposed over the fields. I glanced through the door way down a set of wooden stairs at the bottom of which stood a pile of suitcases on a train platform. I was looking at an early 20th Century branchline train station, which as I entered I saw was complete with posters and advertisements from the late 1930’s, including instructions for the usage of gas masks and air raid shelters and other things linked with Britains preparations for war with Nazi Germany. Ass odd as this all was, it wasn’t awe or even curiosity that made me walk down those stars. It was a cold day, and I wanted a cup of tea.

How I had arrived at the the Great Central Railway without even knowing it existed is beyond me. For 30 years a dedicated crew of volunteers have been keeping this stretch of the former LNER railway line open and operating, complete with the most wonderful steam engines and four fully operational train stations all faithfuly recreated as the would have been in 1939. Which is exactly the year the WW2 story I had been considering was set. Sitting in the aforementioned NAAFI cafe with the steaming hot cup of tea, listening to big band music from an antique radio of the era and reading in the Daily Mail of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war, I had the disconcerting feeling of having walked inside my own imagination. And I’m yet to entirely shake it off.

Needless to say, I’m thinking the World War 2 story must now be written.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

3 thoughts on “A long walk back in time

  1. Great Central Railway was used in the film “The Hours”. Nicole Kidman actually walked down the platform at Rothley station and local residents were drafted in as extras. Surprised it took you so long to find it!



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