The incredible success of this year’s ‘Summer of Sport’ got me thinking. Although I have participated in many sports such as: Football, Skiing, Climbing, Long Distance Running, Tae Kwon Do and Ice Skating, I cannot really be said to have excelled at any.
Except Train Carriage Hurdles.
My frame – even to this day, compact, lithe and muscular (less objective commentators might say skinny) is perfect for a discipline which requires powerful bursts of speed, agility, the ability to propel oneself to a significant height, after – and, this is where the key factor, balance comes in – consuming copious quantities of alcohol … or indeed while consuming copious quantities of alcohol.
Don’t be surprised if you have never heard of Train Carriage Hurdles; it has been largely an underground pursuit, (no pun intended – much) despite attempts to have it accepted as a demonstration sport in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Of course you need some specialist equipment: such as a Bulleid 4EPB/SR train carriage. Introduced in 1940, they populated the Southern region and remained in service until 1992. You know the ones: with the distinctive luggage racks, known and hated by two generations of commuters, with a three seat one side, two seat the other configuration.
Also essential is a short run of track between two stations. We used to use the now-defunct spur to Woodside from Elmer’s End. It served our purposes perfectly. For one, the journey length; no more than 3 or 4 minutes meant just enough time to complete a race and scramble off the train. And secondly, it was where we lived. That is to say My Best Mate Aky, The Baron, the rest of the gang and briefly, Yours Truly.
So what did Train Carriage Hurdles involve? Well, assuming you were in an empty carriage at Elmer’s End (it was possible to compete in an occupied waggon, but the risk of being detained by the British Transport Police or getting your teeth knocked down your throat by an irate fellow commuter was significantly increased.) The two competitors tossed a coin to choose start positions: almost always on the three seat side for reasons which will become apparent. Numbers were restricted to two in a race. The only exception being the relay, in which case the second leg runners took their places at the other end of the train in the ‘baton change-over’ area. Once the start marshall was happy, competitors went on the signal ‘Go!’
The object of the race was to jump off the seat cushions, and launch oneself, first between the top of the seat and the luggage rack in front, onto the next seat then another launch and over – this time beween the luggage rack and the carriage roof. And so on in an ‘under and over’ fashion (you see why most competitors, save for the slightest-built quicker starters opted to start on the three seat row) until the end of the carriage was reached, at which point, they would cross to the opposite side and come all the way back in the same manner. The winner of course, being first home before Woodside was reached.
If ever there was a sport for which I was entirely suited it was this. It is just a shame that it was of an era before the current blurring of the boundaries between sport and criminal behaviour. In fact there are probably fewer than half a dozen people alive on this planet who can bear witness to my prowess as a Train Carriage Hurdler. Those were the days!