I'm sure Bill Aitken hopes that when he reaches eternity, he'll find the only way to get there is by meter and narrow gauge railways. If he has his way, there certainly won't be any cars or planes, there won't even be any main lines, they'll all be branch lines, branches of what, I'm not quite sure. He writes scornfully of "the anonymity of the utterly predictable broad gauge". Yet although small railways give Bill his intimations of immortality, it was on what I assume was a broad gauge, mainline journey, from the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad in 1960, that he came to realise "the system created by the mind of George Stephenson does echo a grand design worthy of the Almighty". Despite his love of small lines there is obviously a place for all railways in Bill's heart, if not in eternity.
This book is unashamedly nostalgic. Bill has written of steam's "magical dimension which only intuition can grasp". He reminded me of nights being rocked to sleep in old-fashioned meter gauge rolling stock. He made me envious of the quaint narrow gauge lines I will now never be able to travel. He has related many delightful stories like the ticket clerk in a sleepy station whose commercial interests were aroused, and the judge who perambulated at midnight along the platform in his pyjamas accompanied by his entourage of chaprasis and servants who had to turn out in full dress uniform. He has travelled on the footplate and noted the skill and discipline of steam crews, and their very personal relationship with their locomotives. But there is more to this book than nostalgia. It is a passionate appeal for the conservation of steam and all that went with it.