ELEPHANT and CASTLE
Dennis W. Williams
Davy was feeling on top of the world. Here he was, fifteen years of age and this time tomorrow he thought to himself, he would be a man amongst men. In twenty four hours he would officially become a Junior Communications Technician in the Royal Navy, part of the intelligence organisation on board naval ships. His day-dreaming had wandered and taken him to far flung places from the Americas north and south, the West Indies to the Far East and beyond to Australia and New Zealand. Then the dreaming was broken by repeated calls of “next please” from Oswald the barber. His mother had ordered him to ‘Winger’s Gents Barbers’ to be at his tidy best when he set off from home the following morning.
He took his place in the Harrison barber chair. Obviously it was a Harrison, he had seen the manufacturer’s details stamped on a metal plate at the back of the chair following endless hours over many years awaiting his turn for the chop. To sit in that chair was sheer luxury and the novelty of being raised by the foot of Oswald on the hydraulic pump whilst his head nestled in the adjustable headrest with the back reclined to a forty-five degree angle.
There was something a little odd about Oswald he thought. He seemed to make a great play placing the gown around Davy’s torso, one hand wandering towards the crotch area whilst attempting to straighten the loose oversized garment. Davy took no notice really as it was well known locally that Oswald had been wounded in the leg during world war two, therefore a bit of a war hero, so perhaps best not to fuss. At this age, Davy was not wise to the behaviour of all men.
It was a few months earlier that Davy had left school at the age of fourteen. No qualifications had been gained. In fact, the opportunity to undertake any examinations had never crossed his mind. So it came as rather a surprise, indeed, quite a shock really, that Davy passed his entrance examination to the Communications Branch of the Navy with flying colours, and none more surprised than he himself.
On leaving school he worked in the town of Newroc for a company of Electrical wholesaler’s. In a short time boredom had crept in to his working life which was instrumental in deciding to pursue a career in the Royal Navy. And now he was on that verge of new horizons.
Later that day he was to present himself at the Royal Navy Careers Office in Wrexham to meet up with another local recruit, John O’Ryan, to receive further instructions on the following day’s itinerary plus train tickets together with one week’s full pay, the grand sum of fifteen shillings!
The following morning was an early wake-up call which would be the pattern of things to come for the next fourteen months. His mother ensured he ate a good hearty breakfast and emphasised the importance of having his bowels opened prior to departing as he was not to trust the cleanliness of the lavatories on the train, and besides, if he made use of these, his luggage was sure to go walking.
When the time came to depart, his mother kissed him on the cheek. Davy felt no emotion at leaving home. He would certainly miss his mother’s cooking and he felt uncomfortably sad at leaving behind Bob, his trusty and loyal Lakeland terrier.
Carrying a large brown leather suitcase, which had seen better days, he walked to the village railway station and travelled to Wrexham meeting up with his fellow recruit for the next stage of the journey which would be Euston station in London.
The journey itself was quite uneventful, as indeed Davy himself would not expect it to be otherwise. He had some idea as to the arrival time at Euston so, estimating by his watch they had travelled about half of the expected journey time, he unpacked his cheese and onion sandwiches his Mother had prepared and munched away with great delight. Much of the remaining journey was occupied with both he and his new friend and fellow recruit John, engaged in conversation with much anticipation of the new life that lay ahead.
Alighting from the train at Euston station they were met with such noise as to make it almost impossible to hear one another speak. They could hear boilers of many engines steaming under high pressure that carried the heat and smoke down into the cylinders. Smoke billowed from the smokestack joined by the steam from the cylinders emitting the familiar chuff-chuff puffing sound. The noise was unbelievable.
Loudspeakers crackled to life blaring out muffled announcements. The ear-piercing shrill of whistles blowing. People shouting to be heard as they criss-crossed to their departure platforms while others waltzed in-between to newspaper vendors and cigarette machines. Crowds surrounded time-table boards. Platform staff answered questions from bemused travellers.
It took Davy and John several minutes to orientate themselves to this railway circus. Once this was achieved they suddenly realised they were lost. Lost? At a railway station? John took out of his pocket a piece of paper with travelling instructions. Both lads studied this anxiously and found a friendly face in a British Railways uniform. They informed this person they needed to get to Liverpool Street station.
“Of course, if you are heading for Stansted you take the Victoria Line from Euston to Tottenham Hale then Stansted Express from there....”
“No sir” Davy interrupted, “We don’t wish to go to Stansted. It’s Liverpool Street we want to get to.”
“Ah, yes, I see” said the station guide. “You could take the Northern Line to Morden then walk from there or Victoria Line to Oxford Circus then Central Line to Liverpool Street”.
Both Davy and John tried their best to assimilate this information and surprisingly found themselves on the Northern Line. Comfortably seated for their first ever experience on the London Underground network both enquired of the other as to the directions given by the station guide. It was soon obvious that neither was any the wiser.
Davy was mesmerised by the station names and none moreso than one named ‘Elephant and Castle’. He drew John’s attention to the name and both wondered the origin of it. The rhythmic chugging of the train made both lads sleepy as their day was now many hours old. The train came to a halt and a sleepy-eyed Davy looked through the carriage window. He saw the station name – ‘Elephant and Castle’! He couldn’t believe it and shook John’s arm to wake him as he couldn’t wait to inform him that here was another station called ‘Elephant and Castle’. With one eye John glanced through the carriage window which confirmed Davy’s observation but soon dozed off again.
The journey seemed endless. Both lads drifted in and out of sleep, a kind of "mind awake body asleep". The tube train stopped and started. Now and again Davy noticed the stations’ name board. The train came to a halt. He couldn’t believe what he was looking at - ‘Elephant and Castle’! Once again John was awakened by Davy. Startled, the lads looked at each other. It now dawned on them that the tube train was travelling in circles. They burst out laughing.
Their uncontrollable laughter caught the attention of fellow commuters. Davy found the courage to enquire of one for directions to Liverpool Street station. He was informed to get off at Tottenham Court Road and on reaching Liverpool Street they should use the interchange from the Underground system to British Railways.
Eventually they arrived at Liverpool Street and found their way from the Underground to the Main Line Station. They reached the platform station name board. Davy stopped, turned to John drawing his attention to the board. “Hope there’s only one Liverpool Street station!” he said and both doubled up with laughter.
updated by @dennis-wyn-williams: 02/13/16 01:57:30AM