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Tony Grist

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Coke [Oct. 22nd, 2004|05:38 pm]
Tony Grist
The air smells faintly of coke.

Not cocaine or coca-cola, but coke as in Coketown- the processed coal they still allow you to burn in smokeless zones.

The smell of a 1950s winter.

Only then the reek was sharper and harsher. Everyone was burning the hard stuff. If weather conditions were right we had visitations of that thick, sulphurous, man-killing fog that Dickens called a “London peculiar”.

Up on Croham Hurst. Snow on the ground, fog among the trees and me alone and terrified of ghosts. Of one ghost in particular. The ghost of an Edwardian lady rider who’d gone done the slope at full tilt and broken her neck. Friends said that if you scrabbled among the scree you could still find stones with her blood on.

There’s a sound that goes with the smell. It’s the sound of sacks of coal being emptied into the concrete bunker in the back-yard.

(The coal man had a horse and cart)

A sliding roar that ends in a whisper.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: besideserato
2004-10-22 06:43 pm (UTC)
Wow, you paint such a vivid, lovely image. I am almost there with you, smelling everything, walking through the fog, feeling the chill as I walk down the cobboles to where the coal man stands with his horse and cart. Astounding.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-22 06:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

I remember an era when horses and carts were quite common on the streets of suburban London (I can't speak for other places.) Jesus, how long ago and far away that is!
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2004-10-22 07:24 pm (UTC)
I remember that in Peru, too, and that means it was very, very recent, no more than a decade a half, at most.

But it does feel like a century ago. It's so strange. I long for it. I want to go back there and smell those childhood scents that make you feel safe and make everything cozy and warm.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-22 07:29 pm (UTC)
Steam trains too.

There was a railway viaduct about half a mile away and I'd lie in bed and hear the trains go rattling over it. For some reason it was a very comforting sound
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2004-10-22 07:39 pm (UTC)
Wow, that just reminded me of our summer house in Mejia. There was a rainroad just below the plaza and the train would pass every morning. It would wake me, but I would know that it was early still and I could sleep more, and what a lovely feeling, to be awakened and be allowed to return to sleep. Makes one enjoy their dreams more, I think.

Yes, the sounds! Magical. So comforting, though loud and strange. I wonder they would still comfort now? Would they wake me and keep me from sleeping again? Would they annoy me? Is my room the same? When will I go there again?

Strange thoughts.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-22 09:38 pm (UTC)
Trains are good. I once had a bedroom right next to onto a railway- a busy south London line with lots of trains- and it didn't bother me in the least. I had no problem sleeping and if I was awake the trains soothed me. Trains stand for regularity and time tables and everything under control. Theirs is the sound of civilization.
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2004-10-23 06:25 am (UTC)
You are absolutely right. Trains are civility.
Only an Old World South American and a Brit could come to this sort of conclusion.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-22 07:53 pm (UTC)
My grandmother's Oklahoma town was surrounded with oil wells. We couldn't see the mysterious bobbing pumps from First Street, where her house was, but we could always hear their rhythmic chuffing.

Oil well pumps were replaced long ago by silent electronic devices, silencing that unique mechanical music.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-22 09:40 pm (UTC)
What powers an oil pump? Is it steam or electricity or hydraulics or what?

Ah, the vanishing sounds of the Industrial Age!
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-22 11:32 pm (UTC)
Here's a good article that includes:

"The first pumping was done by water wheels, boilers, even mules. A hand pitcher pump (farm water pump) served when Drake brought in his 1859 well. Steam-powered central pumping units arrived about 1880. Natural gas from the oil lease wells replaced steam as soon as engines were developed to handle it. Gas engines became common in the mid 1890's and drove many powers (still do)."

"In their heyday, engines for the powers had barkers which emitted a signature sound for each power when it was working. I remember these sounds in the oilfields. On crisp mornings in the late fall, the sounds would fill the valleys, each in its place in the musical score. You could even tell if the engine on the other side of the ridge was working or not. You could also hear sundry sounds caused by friction on the metal rod lines and from the pumping devices. A pumping lease creates a medley, soft to sharp, pleasantly repetitive, but one must be prepared for the staccato punctuations of the barker and backfires of the engine."
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-23 10:27 am (UTC)
"gears and eccentrics"- I love it.

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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-10-22 07:01 pm (UTC)
Up on Croham Hurst. Snow on the ground, fog among the trees and me alone and terrified of ghosts. Of one ghost in particular. The ghost of an Edwardian lady rider who’d gone done the slope at full tilt and broken her neck. Friends said that if you scrabbled among the scree you could still find stones with her blood on. This is as good as any Blackwood I've been reading! Very atmospheric and vivid.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-22 07:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

Spookiest experience I've ever had. I'd lost a toy soldier up in the woods and I'd gone to retrieve him. My friend, who had earlier offered to accompany me, chickened out, but I went ahead
because I knew I wouldn't respect myself if I didn't. I got to the clearing, did a quick 180 degree scan, then plunged back down the hill.




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[User Picture]From: four_thorns
2004-10-22 09:12 pm (UTC)
(The coal man had a horse and cart)

this sounds so wonderfully ominous... this whole post is so well written. i wish i had been around to see such things. when i was a kid i used to love to run out to the mailman's truck and get the mail, because the mailman smoked a pipe and it smelled like vanilla. i had never smelled vanilla before.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-22 09:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

No-one smokes a pipe anymore. It's a shame. I'm not too keen on cigarette smoke but pipe tobacco is a completely different matter.
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2004-10-23 08:53 am (UTC)
Oy; my mother smokes a pipe! (As does my father, but that seems to surprise people less than the sight of my mother, wearing her short, tight faux-leather jacket in a vivid shad of purple, with her pipe...)

I have often considered purchasing a pipe myself, merely for home use, at it would seem too pretentious for a student of literature to walk around with a pipe... -Especially on days of bad weather, when I have to make concessions to the cold and damp and stick on the tweed jacket!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-23 10:50 am (UTC)
Pipes and tweed jackets go together. Your jacket is just crying out for you to spill fluffy ash down its front.

I'd love to see a picture of your mother with all her gear.
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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2004-10-23 10:54 am (UTC)
My mother make heads turn, even when I took her to Camden; home of the "I try so hard to be different"-freaks... (That's where she bought the jacket!)
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[User Picture]From: ibid
2004-10-24 11:51 am (UTC)
My father still does and there is a shop in my homwtown that sells them!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-24 12:55 pm (UTC)
Maybe there'll be a come-back. I rather hope so.
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[User Picture]From: mtl
2004-10-23 05:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this posting.

I could almost smell and hear this!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-10-23 06:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

It was a smellier, noisier time.....
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