If you haven’t read Part One, you’ll need to for the next bit to make sense…
The point at which we were able to join the track was close to the town centre, but the signal was on a stretch that ran past a hamlet about half a mile from the edge of town. In all, then, I guess we walked a mile to a mile and a half before reaching the signal post. And at least half of that was in the dark, with only the reflected glow of distant streetlights to help our torches. Of course, we wanted to be sparing in our use of torches anyway, because we didn’t want to arouse the suspicions of anyone passing by. Not that there was a heavy trade in traffic or walkers in the wee small hours but, as the effects of the alcohol began to wear off, I did begin to question the merits of the task we’d set ourselves. After all, I worked in a building society – a respectable job that included clauses in my contract about behaving in a way that wouldn’t reflect badly on the institution. To the question: what could possibly go wrong? I was beginning to imagine a few of the answers.
The signal was located partway across a short viaduct, so the final approaches were up an incline. And, as we arrived, we were conscious that it overlooked the village church – and its graveyard. We were also aware of how quiet everything was up there. As we moved around the base of the signal pole, the crunching of gravel and the clink of tools being lifted from the bag seemed much louder than they otherwise should have done.
If memory serves me correctly, the metal ladder running up the side of the pole wasn’t fixed to the ground. I believe it stopped a foot or so from the bottom, so when we climbed on it there was a distinct wobble. Somehow being up it in the cool night air seemed even more precarious than it might otherwise have done. When you were near the top, you could look down at the shadowy trackside and not be able to make out where your companion was. I seem to think this did cause a near miss at one point as a tool was dropped to the ground.
We took it in turns. Zim went up first, and worked out which spanner would work best with the bolts up there. Unfortunately, after both of us had worked at it for some time, we concluded that the bolts were so rusted on that we wouldn’t be able to shift them.
Somewhat disappointed in the results of our efforts, we headed back along the track to return the tools to Zim’s house before I headed back to my own and a few short hours’ sleep before I had to get up for work the next day.
That doesn’t mean to say we’d given up. We might not have been able to shift the bolts that night, but that was just because we hadn’t had the right tools. More accurately, we hadn’t had enough leverage.
So a piece of piping was procured that would fit over the end of the spanner’s handle, and this joined our other tools in the bag as we set off again a few nights later. Late nights were becoming the order of the day.
Once again, it was a long walk with trip hazards in the dark. Once again, we felt conspicuous even though there was no one around at that time of night. Once again, the chink of metal against metal seemed to ring out from the top of the viaduct and across the nearby hamlet. But no one else seemed to notice.
That second night saw us leaving the signal at the top of the post again. Even so, we felt we’d made some progress.
So, with momentum behind us, we returned a third night and finally worked the last of the bolts off, still without attracting the attention of the locals.
Two very self-satisfied young men made their way back to Zim’s house that night, almost two weeks after our adventure had started. I can’t remember what his plans were for the signal, but no doubt it took pride of place somewhere in his bedroom. When he bought his own house not long after, it was able to take a more prominent position.
And that, you might think, would be the end of the story. But you’d be wrong…