I’ve always been a fan of Flanders and Swann. The 60s does seem to have been a period for a rather specific form of satirical song – witness Tom Lehrer doing something not entirely dissimilar across the Atlantic. I listen to F&S quite frequently on the iPod, and one day, sauntering home, I was listening to Slow Train (which is their nearest approach to artsong, if you ask me) and found myself thinking that all those wonderful station names would form the basis for a puzzle. Of course, I thought, it would have to be called “Stopping Service” – a neat encapsulation of both the action criticised and the item affected. For once, it was the appositeness of the proposed title that drove the puzzle.
There followed a period of extracting the station names, checking which had not been closed (I had myself already stopped at Chester-le-Street), and also eliminating those potentially slated for reopening. That still gave two reasonably familiar place names of 14 letters each, as well as some oddball names like Mortehoe, and even a station with ‘platform’ in its name. I tried manfully to wangle Troublehouse Halt into the puzzle – simultaneously the youngest station to be closed, and also the only one on the network specifically built to serve a pub – but the number of letters never quite worked for any particular aspect of grid or clues.
Next was how to provide some info for people who didn’t know the song and might not get the obscurer station names. That also constrained the station names used for misprints and additional letters. But it all fell into place eventually, and I was ready to start clueing. The next day I checked the BBC News website, and there was a big feature on the 50th anniversary of the Beeching Report. As I mused in a blog at the time, should I dash to complete the puzzle so that it could at least appear in the anniversary year (while perhaps looking like a rather hasty response to the news story) or should I just let time take its course? In the end writing those ruddy misprint clues took long enough…
Apologies for any shortcomings in this blog – first attempt at doing one via iPad. I’m currently in Wetherby, UK (which still has it’s station!)