Potatoes at the Museum

Posted: April 27, 2014 in Fantasy, Magic
Tags: , , , , ,

Michael Rinehart was excited. He had applied for a job at the National Railway Museum in York, doubting that he had a chance. And here he was, walking up to the entrance, invited for a job interview. The employees at the entrance greeted him warmly. As he told them about his interview, Neil Jordan introduced himself as chief of the guards, leading the way to the manager. The manager and Neil talked about the regulations, schedule, tasks, etc. They asked him about his earlier job – Michael answered truthfully. He had lost his job because he was sleepy by day and wide awake by night. Not really ideal for a day job. Neil grinned, the manager cleared his throat, stating: “If you really want to take on this job, you can stay and Neil shows you what needs to be done.”

Michael couldn’t believe his good luck. He told them that he wanted the job, and that he was willing to start on March 15 for the second shift. They all stood, shaking hands. The paperwork would be handled by the secretary first thing in the morning.

National Railway Museum, York - The Flying Scotsman -

National Railway Museum, York
– The Flying Scotsman –

Neil and Michael started their tour. First, Neil showed Michael the offices, kitchen, common room, and cloakroom. Then he told him he’d show him the museum parts outside his responsibility range, first. This meant a walk to the Great Hall, The Shop, and The Warehouse. Michael gasped as he stood next to The Flying Scotsman. Neil grinned. He knew the effect this train had on the visitors. “Did you know that YORK was one of the principal stations on the route of the Flying Scotsman?”

Neil and Michael went back to the entrance hall to get to the Station Hall, The Gallery, and The Depot. “This will be your responsibility, Michael.”

Michael learned that there were always two guards in the Great Hall and one guard in the Station Hall. Shifts were from 6 pm to 1 pm and from 1 am to 8 am, weekly alternating. All guards were to meet in the common room ten minutes before shift start – for a briefing. “If you still have some minutes, I can introduce you to the guys who are going to share your shift.”

Neil and Michael met Tom Bradshaw and Ray Jackson in the common room. They seemed nice enough and Michael felt relieved. His experiences with colleagues in earlier employments had been mostly suboptimal. They chatted for some minutes, Neil started the briefing. Afterwards, he showed Michael the guards’ entrance and handed him the key. “You had better not lose this key, Michael. Exchanging the keys and locks is very expensive . Your salary would be reduced by the amount it costs. See you on the 15th. We’ll meet me by the entrance.”

On the 15th, Michael arrived at the National Railway Museum at 12:30 am. Neil was already waiting by the entrance. They shook hands. “Welcome to your first shift!”

They went inside. “You lead the way, Michael!”

Michael remembered the location of the cloakroom. He changed into his uniform and Neil handed him the required equipment: cell phone, torch, baton. They met Tom and Ray, as well as John, Travis, and Bill who just completed the first shift at exactly 12:50 am. The first shift had been uneventful. Neil thanked everybody and dismissed the first group of guards. “Let’s go, boys!”

Tom and Ray went to the Great Hall to start their first round. Neil and Michael went to the Station Hall. Neil thoroughly explained Michael what to look out for, what and how often to check certain parts of the hall. Michael could tell how much Neil loved his job. The time flew by. At 5 am they let in the cleaning staff. Seven men and women split into two groups. Five of them went to clean the offices and the Great Hall, two of them took care of the gallery and the Station Hall. Then it was morning and Michael found himself in the cloakroom, changing into his own clothes. “Great job, Michael! As of your next shift you are on your own.”

Michael loved his new job, no matter if he was on the first or on the second shift. He often imagined what it must have been like to travel on theses beautiful trains. Life was good!

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National Railway Museum, York - The 'Spinner' -

National Railway Museum, York
– The ‘Spinner’ –

Benjamin Knight entered the Spinner’s kitchen. He was alone. And he knew the reason: His assistant, Donald Harbinger, was on his honeymoon. Two days ago, Diana Jones – responsible for menial tasks – had fallen ill. Benjamin didn’t mind. He was determined to show his dear travellers on the train that he was capable of preparing the most delicious meals without assistance.

Softly humming, Benjamin scanned the menu he had written the night before. He was deeply satisfied with his choice and started collecting the goods required for the meals. Then he set to chopping the vegetables for the soup, filleted the fish, whipped cream for the dessert, etc. Occasionally, he glanced out of the window to know their location.  They often had noble guests he would never dare to disappoint. Therefore, the goods had to be exquisite to be accepted, and he always insisted on strictest punctuality.

As soon as all ovens were occupied by pots and pans and the respective content, he inspected his supplies. He soon realised that he would have to order milk, cheese, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and celery, bananas, grapes, and pears, flour, vanilla beans, cinnamon, and rosemary, finest wine, as well as still and sparkling water. He made a note of the necessary goods, hollowed out a potato, and put the note inside. He waited until the Spinner approached the next signal box and threw the potato out of the window. He knew that the signaller would telegraph up the line, and everything he needed would be waiting for him at the next station.

Benjamin checked the soup. It was perfectly seasoned. He happily closed his eyes and sighed. A look at the clock told him it was time to prepare the soup bowls for the travelling guests. He prepared the bowls, decorated each one with fresh chives and brought them to the counter where the waiter would pick them up. He was satisfied, that the soup bowls where already gone when he brought the next ones. No guest was to have lukewarm soup as long as he was the chef aboard the Spinner.

After producing the last bowl of soup, Benjamin started to check the pots and pans containing the main course. Everything was as it should be. He starting humming again as he lovingly filled the plates. Once again he was very pleased that the plates were handled fast. He peeked out of the window. They were approaching the next station. The Spinner came to a halt and Benjamin went out to bring in the goods. He carefully placed them where they belonged.

The Spinner had left the station, at an average of 60 mph (97 kph) they approached their destination quickly. High time for Benjamin to serve dessert. Each guest was to receive a delightful cream of chocolate and vanilla, fresh raspberries and sliced bananas, freshly brewed coffee at the side. Again he was glad that Ronald Watts, the waiter, was so fast. What a pity that Ronald was so busy, he would have liked to thank him for the great support. ‘Tomorrow I will  talk to him,’ he said to himself, retreating to clean the Spinner’s kitchen for the next ride.

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Michael had soon adapted to the routine. When he started the second shift after one week in first shift, George from the cleaning staff approached him. “Michael, we don’t know what to do! The restaurant team seems quite negligent. Every morning there is another potato! And I just found another one. This is not funny!”

Michael tried to calm him down. “I’ll have Neil talk to them, George. Please do not worry.”

True to his word, Michael informed Neil about the incidents right after his shift ended. Neil came in and talked to the restaurant team. They declared that they hadn’t had any meals with potatoes in over two weeks. Neil shook his head in disbelief. Where did the potatoes come from? The day staff had confirmed that there had not been any potato meals in the past weeks.

When Michael started his shift that night, he found Neil’s note to take a closer look at the restaurant’s surroundings throughout the night. Instead of pausing 30 minutes between his rounds, he was to shorten the pauses to 20 minutes. There was nothing on his first round. On his second round, Michel smelled potatoes and rosemary; it was mouth-watering. On his third round, he found a potato. It was hollowed out, and there was a piece of paper inside. It was a shopping list.

NRM_Spinner_dHe took a closer look at the train beside him. The sign read: Express passenger locomotive, nicknamed Spinner. There was an odd mist around the engine. He walked further along the train. Another sign indicated how the chef ordered new groceries: He wrote a note, hollowed out a potato, put the note inside, threw it out at a signal box to receive the goods at the next station.

Michael inched further as he heard a slight humming. At the next door, the translucent form of a chef descended, picked up two translucent boxes and returned to the carriage. Michael took three more steps just as the translucent form stepped out again. The chef eyed him in horror and – dissolved.

When the cleaning staff arrived, Michael did not tell them anything about the previous event. There was no potato obviously, as Michael had it in his pocket.

There were no more nocturnal potatoes at the National Railway Museum in York.

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NRM_Spinner_nMichael was curious and did some online research. Benjamin Knight had been the Spinner’s chef for 25 years. He never married, his job was his vocation. The Spinner was for him like home. When the Spinner was taken over by the museum and no longer needed a chef, Benjamin Knight was devastated. He died that very night of a broken heart.

Last week’s newspapers wrote that some graves had to be moved, among them that of Benjamin Knight. The day after Michael’s ‘encounter’ with Benjamin Knight, the latter was carefully buried at his new site.

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My visit to the National Railway Museum in York on 2014-03-07 – especially the fine mist around the ‘Spinner’s’ locomotive – inspired me to write this short story.

Disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction. The National Railway Museum in York exists, so do the ‘Flying Scotsman’ and the ‘Spinner’ (the potato part to receive supplies is also true). The story around is just a product of my imagination.

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  1. memeethemuse says:

    I loved that it was a ghost story. But I don’t understand and maybe you don’t know the answer (I know that my own stories seem to write themselves) why did the chef stop haunting? Was he only ghostly cooking during the brief days that his body was out of the ground? I only ask because I am intrigued I suppose. I like ghost stories. 🙂 As though he was awakened and then did what he had always done? (See I am figuring it out as I write this comment.)

    Thanks for any insight you might have!


    • Karen says:

      Thank you very much for the praise, Memee. 🙂
      The chef’s ghost (in my story) was indeed active while his remains were out of the ground. ‘Disturbing the peace’ may result in certain activities; this was a statement I frequently read during my research. My imagination proceeded from there.

  2. Belinda Crane says:

    Karen this is wonderful! You created a magic feel to the entire story. Wonderful characters and I especially love how you’ve created the ‘boy love’ for trains for your characters. I was right there with them! 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Thank you very much for the praise, Belinda. 🙂
      There was a magic feel on the platform near the ‘Spinner’. My little black book did come in handy for memorising the information on the supplies process and – for creating this story…

      • Belinda Crane says:

        It’s funny you know Karen, but I’m starting to realise the more real we can make our story lines, the more they are enjoyed by others. Your story has just emphasised this with me! 🙂

      • Karen says:

        It took a while for me to identify what I really love to write about, Belinda. The more I love about it – the better the result. Real life with a touch of supernatural/paranormal is what I like best. I enjoy reading many genres, therefore a little crime or YA may also be integrated in my writing.

      • Belinda Crane says:

        And Karen, I’m sure when you really love what you write about, it comes out to the reader, like this piece. It really does show because I think there is more emotion laced in the wording.

      • Karen says:

        Thank you very much for your kind words, Belinda. 🙂

  3. […] March 2014, interviewed author David Coles at the National Railway Museum (inspiration for ‘Potatoes at the Museum‘), strolled around and discovered this pub, the ale, the ‘Coffee Yard’ (we walked […]

  4. Topaz says:

    I love the changing POVs in this story (and the idea behind it was so creative!). Great job, Karen! 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Thank you very much, Topaz! This means a lot. 🙂
      You would have like the Spinner. There was something magic about this train. Whenever I get back to York, I’ll make sure to visit ‘my’ train…

  5. David M says:

    I have nominated you for the ‘Seed of Light Award’. Please accept this as my appreciation of your creativity and inspiration you’ve continued to be. Thank you! Regards,

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