A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, before Covid-19 was even a glint in the eye of a bat flitting through the firmament over Wuhan, somebody drove his car to Sweden. He then flew back to England with tickets in his pocket for the return a few weeks later whereupon he would drive home again. Then on the 23rd March came lockdown. FCO advised against travel and the resulting lack of valid travel insurance meant that nobody wanted to travel. Result? No flights and no chance to get the car home. Hopefully things will sort themselves out before the MoT expires in September.


On 25th March Grant Crapps, or whatever the Secretary of State for Transport is called, rides to the rescue and announces a six month extension to MoTs. Brilliant! Don't need to get it back until March. Grateful that it's not been left in an airport car park clocking up a parking bill close to the GDP of a medium-sized African nation I arrange flights for the new year, (things are bound to have returned to some sort of normality by then) and a Swedish friend agrees to drive it around his farmstead every now and then to stop it seizing up.


23rd July. Brilliant! Just brilliant! Grant Crapps suspends the MoT extension. Check with insurance company. Yep! Just as expected. No MoT equals no insurance cover. With the chance of getting it home without passing any of the networked ANPR cameras through Sweden and then across Germany and the Netherlands being about as high as Darth Vader receiving the Nobel Peace Prize I now, once more, have to get it back by September. Being just a teeny bit annoyed by this U-turn in policy I email both my MP and the Department of Transport asking if any consideration had been given to folks who had made arrangements based upon the original decision and whether they knew of anyone who'd like a now redundant ticket to northern Scandinavia in January. I then set about working out how this recently released from shielding individual could get to Sweden when nobody still seemed to be flying, preferably without needing to take advantage of the last few months of life of my EHIC card whilst doing so.


31st July. I receive two emails within a couple of minutes of each other. One from the Department of Transport, who got my name wrong, and one from my MP, who didn't. Could they possibly have been working in cahoots? Each email helpfully suggests that perhaps I could consider having the car recovered. Just what planet do they live on? Just how much do they think recovery involving a four day journey with two ferry crossings would cost? It might be worth doing for a four-year-old Bugatti Veyron or McLaren 650S but this is a flaming Ford we're talking about, even though it does have an engine pre-heater and an extra set of wheels with studded tyres. Naturally, neither indicated whether any consideration had been given to the point I raised nor did either indicate that they could make use of a flight to Sweden in January.


9th August. Despite swearing in the past that I'd never, ever, get on another plane operated by a certain Irish airline that charge you for the air you breathe, I alight in a field several light years distant from the advertised destination of Gothenburg. Laden down with FFP3 masks, and enough propan-2-ol in 100ml bottles to sterilise the Boeing I'd just left several times over, I pick up a hire car and head north. A week or so later I head back south in the aforementioned Ford. Four days and two ferry crossings later and I'm back in Blighty, having managed to avoid the gunboats that Priti Vacant has sent out to intercept plague-ridden holidaymakers returning from vacations taken in countries that they had earlier been told were OK to visit. As a result I'm under two weeks of house arrest which affords plenty of time to float through the infinite internet, in whatever direction my mind wishes to wander.


With endless hours of ennui to endure I just let my mind and mouse-clicks drift freely, and isn't it weird just what t'interweb can produce? There I was following the random train of thoughts which my brain threw up when this old postcard of the Railway Tavern on Riccarton Road in Hurlford appeared.


Andrew Drinnan ran the Railway Tavern from at least as early as 1901 to 1910. Love the dogs!

So why should this be such a surprise or of particular interest to me? A couple of decades or so after this picture would've been taken my mother was born on Riccarton Road in Hurlford. Not actually on the road, you understand, but in a cottage alongside the highway. The same cottage in which her father took his last pneumonic gasp nine years later.


My grandfather now lies in the ground about a quarter of a mile to the west of the cottage, alongside what is now the A71. About the same distance to the east of his front door stood the Railway Tavern. Did he used to frequent the place? After all, he was a railway guard. I do not know the answer. I do know, however, that it is no longer serving the Allsopp's Pale Ale that it is advertising in the picture above. (Those Burton brews certainly did travel around a bit. Possibly the railway helped in getting them to the Railway.) The Railway is no longer serving anybody's ale.


The former Railway Tavern in 2018. © 2020 Google

I don't know too much about the place. According to the 1901 census Andrew Drinnan was running it, living there with his wife and daughter, both called Margaret. Andrew died in 1910, but a couple of legal documents suggest that his widow and daughter continued living there for a few years. Probate was granted to Margaret senior, of the Railway Tavern, the following year and a bit later Margaret junior is still living there, according to the records of the Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, whilst persuing a paternity claim against a William Girvan, stating he is the father of her daughter, Jessie, born in September 1913 .


I have a vague memory of there being a pair of pubs, joined like Siamese twins, along Riccarton Road, espied whilst peering through the rear widows of a blue Ford Anglia when visiting relatives in the first half of the 1960s. This is supported by the Ordnance Survey's town plan of 1961/2 which shows two pubs occupying the sites of 17, 19 and 21 Riccarton Road. As for when it actually closed... It had certainly gone by 2009 when I last passed by, on the way to my uncle's funeral. Its conjoined twin, the Poachers Rest might still be hanging on helped by its alter ego the Wild Blossom Cantonese Restaurant, accessed from the side, but there doesn't seem to be any on-line reviews since 2015. There is a picture here which purports to show its interior, but by now it may also be a bygone boozer.


One dead, one hanging on. Or is it? © 2020 Google

That's it! Everything I know about the Railway Tavern in a couple of paragraphs. There could well be a few more posts like this as I do the time for having commited the travel crime and wander randomly across the digital universe. I have to relieve the seemingly endless ennui of quarantine somehow. I suppose that being one of just three people in the western world who has never seen a single Star Wars film I could set about educating myself about Jedi and Ewoks but finding the odd lost pub or two seems to appeal more. So folks, be on the lookout for future chance encounters to appear here.


Oh! And can anyone make use of a flight to northern Scandinavia in January? I expect that the copper mine in Kiruna is particularly attractive when it's snow-covered. If you can see it in the perpetual winter darkness, of course. The thought doesn't seem to appeal to Grant Crapps or any of his minions.


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