Miles Kington Remembered: A priceless fragment of railway heritage preserved

3 August 2004

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I recently told you that I was a great collector of one of the last forms of living verse, motorway ballads. To my amazement, I met an old man on a train the other day, who said that there were plenty of railway ballads as well. Like what ? I said. Like this one, he said, and he told me the following bit of doggerel...

One day I thought I'd like to go

On a lovely trip by train

To somewhere nice like Oxford

And then come back again.

So off I went to Paddington

And found an empty place,

But just before the train went

off

This bloke with a spotty face

Got in and sat right next to me

And pulled out a machine,

All small and round and shiny

With a bright metallic sheen.

He placed it on the table

And chose a small CD

Which he placed in the player

With great solemnity.

And then he took two earphones

And placed one in each ear,

And then he turned the gadget

on

And this is what I could hear:

"Tikka tikka tik, tikka tik tik,

Tik tikka tikka tik tik,

Tikka tik tik, tikka tik tik tik,

Tik tikka tik tik tikka tik ..."

It dribbled from his headphones

Like water from a tap,

Like a leaky night-time

drainpipe

Or a tree, exuding sap.

It made me think of moments

Spent in the dentist's chair,

Waiting wildly for the drill

To lay the nerve end bare.

It might have been Stockhausen

Or a Xhosa language tape,

Or even Iron Maiden

Or Yes, or Moby Grape,

But all I could distinguish

Was this evil ticking sound

Which issued forth like poison

gas

And filled the air around.

"Tikka tikka tik, tikka tik tik tik,

Tik tikka tikka tik tik,

Tikka tik tik, tikka tik tik tik,

Tik tikka tik tik tikka tik ..."

First, I tried politeness.

"Could you turn it down ?" I said.

But of course he couldn't hear

me

With those earphones on

his head.

So then I took some Kleenex

And stuffed it in my ears,

But still I thought that I could

hear

Nirvana, or Tears for Fears,

Or whatever he was playing

– Philip Glass or Elton John.

I started to detest him,

This man with headphones on.

In order to escape him,

And bring solace to my ear,

I walked to the railway buffet

And bought a can of beer,

And coming back to the carriage

I saw that man again,

By an open window,

Leaning out of the train.

Nobody else was present

There was no one behind my

back

When I picked him up so

quickly

And tipped him out on the track.

Oh, then I went back to my

carriage

And the silence was lovely and

sweet,

But all at once I heard a noise

Which seemed to come from my

feet:

"Tikka tikka tik, tikka tik tik tik,

Tik tikka tikka tik tik,

Tikka tik tik, tikka tik tik tik,

Tik tikka tik tik tikka tik ..."

Yes, the sound of the wheels on

the railway

Had come to punish my soul

And whenever I go on a train

trip,

As soon as it starts to roll,

I hear the reproachful music

Accuse me of his death.

I hear the death watch beetle

Pointing his finger at me.

I hear the accusing ticking

As the sands of time flow free.

So, to drown the sound of my

murder,

I now take an iPod with me

And play my favourite music

To keep my sanity,

And the people around may look

daggers,

And put Kleenex in their ears

But I'd rather have their black

looks

Than face my secret fears.

And I never go to the buffet,

Eve if racked by drought,

And I never open a window,

And I never, never lean out.

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