Sunday found us at the Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester. Once used for pumping enormous amounts of sewage up to Beaumont Leys in Leicester (for which they were very grateful I'm sure), the incredible Gimson steam engines are housed in a Victorian Valhalla of decorated iron pillars and clanking walkways. As often as possible they're fired-up to thunderously roll again, but at the side is an utterly absorbing Museum of Science & Technology that shows you (amongst lots of other things) how lavatories work. Every now and then there's a Special Event, and this Sunday it was Steam Toys. It was just wonderful. A tent full of blokes bent over stationary Mamod engines, more people with their glasses opaque with condensation in the roof above the pumps running tin locos past tin stations; and outside a full-size train running in and out of the obligatory Victorian planting of laurels. Oil, steam, hoots and whistles. I had to go and lie down, and that was before sitting on a late 1930's Leicester Corporation bus ('Spitting Prohibited') and being allowed inside the Unmitigated 1938 Bedford mobile chip shop. (Thankyou Barrie.) There was a lot more, but was it all a steam elitist day out for shiny anoraks? Certainly not. The place was heaving, full of local families resisting the cold and having an utterly brilliant time. Perhaps this is the kind of thing Dave means when he goes on about the Big Society, a community coming and acting together for a common good.
You know what's coming next, don't you? Yes, Leicester City Council want to close the whole enterprise down, along with Belgrave Hall, the Roman museum at Jewry Wall and the fantastic medieval Guildhall next to the cathedral. The excuse is 'cuts' of course, but the Pumping Station does what it does because it's served by 100 (yes, 100) volunteers, who love and cherish it so that we and future generations can be educated, enthralled, or just given a marvellous time on a cold Sunday. The permanent staff will move on, the Pumping Station will be boarded-up, and thieves will break in (they've made a start on the roof) and destroy the engines for scrap. It will never be the same again. Unless of course a miracle happens, and someone will realise what a golden opportunity exists here- right next door to the National Space Centre- to tell the whole story of technological ingenuity on one site. Let's hope it's not another End of Steam.