The Stately Trains of England
(with apologies to Noel Coward)

Here you see a group of us,
where there once was a troupe of us,
passengers who go by rail.
And since we hate to be alone,
each one has got a mobile phone
and all we'll need for our survival,
pending our arrival.
Though this fate is befalling us,
yet our duty is calling us,
and although our senses quail,
while lesser folk take to their cars, we'll not be skittish,
because we're British.
Fortitude will prevail!

The stately trains of England, how grandly they process,
at forty miles a fortnight, from Hove to Inverness.
How delightfully redolent they seem
of a leisurely age that's now a dream:
all the glory that was steam,
when we told ourselves
that it was enough to be
travelling hopefully.
A motorcar transports you with comfort, style and pace,
but Virgin Trains escorts you with pure, unhurried grace,
so if leisure is what you've truly got, and you want to let
it show,
then go by the stately trains of England.

We believe, potentially,
if not experientially,
this could be our finest hour;
for it is widely understood
the British always have been good
at meeting every kind of trial
with devout denial.
We'll pretend not to care a bit
(though it's human to swear a bit),
we won't let it make us sour.
We shall convince ourselves that travelling at leisure
should be a pleasure;
we're not obsessed with power!

The stately trains of England are best when standing still,
to give the hungry trav'lers the chance to eat their fill -
though the fries are just mash, pushed through a tube,
and the burgers were cooked in the autolube,
and they're out of sugar cubes,
but they're bad for you,
and tea in a cardboard cup
really bucks you up.
Although their food has lacked in nutrition, style and
you'll find that what it's packed in is far too good to
If vinegar laced with the taste of grapes is your favourite
kind of wine,
then dine on the stately trains of England.

The stately trains of England, since journey times
are haunted by the spirits of trav'lers now deceased.
There's a phantom that rides the Brighton line,
who boarded in 1999;
now his seat's become a shrine -
pilgrims flock to it,
and ticket collectors say,
one day they'll make him pay.
The spectre of a pale guard who trembles near the door
rejected someone's railcard in 1994,
but the travellers' toast is the headless ghost
of whoever's to blame for the strife.
That's life on the stately trains of England.

Michael Forster
not the
Poet Laureate