Last month I interviewed local writer to me, Wendy Fletcher (which you can read here). We discussed, among other things, her memoir, The Railway Carriage Child, and this is my review.
Wendy was born in the small fenland market town of Whittlesey, which, as mentioned in the foreword, includes two medieval churches, a 19th century Butter Cross and rare examples of 18th century mud boundary walls. Less well known is a pair of Victorian railway carriages, which stand just outside the town. These Great Eastern Railway carriages, built in 1887, later converted to living accommodation in the 1920s, were Wendy’s childhood home, and are still home to Wendy’s family to the present day.
Beginning around the mid-twentieth century, Wendy starts her story with her birth, introducing us to a life that seems a million miles away from our present one – “the ‘web’ was where the spiders lived [and] ‘Broadband’ was something that kept your hair tidy.” Moving through her childhood, she paints a picture of a time that, although arguably much physically harder for most than it is today, was also, mostly, a much simpler one too. One much closer to nature and one that, with none of the gadgets and technology of today, carried a wonderful sense of innocence about it. “I look back on a child’s lifetime of listening to the gentle sounds of dawn through the changing seasons. Each morning as I woke, I was bathed in the early light, spreading from the blurred patches that were the windows above my bed… It seemed that there was always plenty of time. I knew mother wouldn’t allow me out to play too early. She would say ‘Wait ‘til the day’s got up proper,’ as I pleaded to be released from the kitchen door.”
Filled with memories of scorching hot summers and fun-filled coach trips to the seaside, juxtaposed to bitterly cold winters (without central heating!) that required much-needed knitted shawls and woolly hats, not to mention lots of huddling round the hearth for heat, The Railway Carriage Child is both wonderfully warm and evocative. An easy to read but beautifully crafted memoir that, although heartfelt and reflective, is at times, delightfully humorous. An innocent account of an unconventional childhood but also a reassuringly familiar one, especially when I discovered that like me, Wendy also developed a keen love of books and reading whilst growing up.
However, if this review leaves you with one burning question, namely how, or why, Wendy’s family came to live in two Victorian railway carriages… well… I suggest you buy a copy of the book and therein find your answer.
Click here to purchase your copy of The Railway Carriage Child from Amazon