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This Strange Engine

Introduction: In an interview with Ed Sciaky from WMMR, 93.3 in Philadelphia, Steve Hogarth said: "The story behind that song is that I was lying in bed one night, as so often is the case, unable to sleep, it was about 4 in the morning and these words started to go around in my head a couple of summers ago and I wrestled with the idea of not getting up, 'cos I really didn't want to, and then in the end, I thought I'm gonna have to get up and write this down, 'cos I'll have forgotten it in the morning. I went downstairs and I wrote a poem, in a very short time, it was over the space of about 20 minutes to a half an hour. This poem came flooding out. It's the story of my life, but it was really in attempt to write something down for my father and to acknowledge what my father had sacrificed for me. Because I've now got to that age, I was his age when he had me."

Steve Hogarth had the following to say in an interview with Ian Scott of Music America Magazine: "I was sitting around in bed half asleep one summer morning, I think it was in June a couple of years ago, and these words started forming in my head.

"I hate it when that happens, 'cause you know if you don't get right up and write them down, you will have forgotten them in the morning but it tends to happen when the last thing that you feel like doing is getting up. I dragged my bones out of bed and went downstairs and wrote what was really a poem for my father, I suppose. The story of my early life, but it was an attempt to acknowledge what he had given up to be with my mother and I and to acknowledge the fact that I was now in a very similar position. He was a sailor and he used to sail around the tropics and visit the Caribbean, South Africa, the Indian Ocean and all these incredible places. All back in the days when people didn't really used to travel. He was in a very privileged position and he used to sit me on his knee when I was a kid and tell me stories of watching the sun set on the equator, flying fish, Montego Bay, Table Mountain, the Indian Ocean and the Panama Canal.

"So, even though I grew up in this little industrial town in the north of England, he filled my head with the big world. He filled me up with a wanderlust and with a sense of the world being a lot bigger and that there was a lot of magic out there waiting to be experienced. He ultimately gave up this job in the Navy to come back to England and to work down a coal mine. He literally went from the sun set on the equator to the blackness of being under the ground digging out coal.

"When I was a kid I never thought about it twice but recently revisiting those memories of just what an enormous sacrifice it was. I am often faced with similar decisions myself. I don't see too much of my children myself. I wander about the world being treated like a king living the high life and I wanted to let him know that he is a better man than I am."

Additionally, h tells the story in much greater detail on his h Natural DVD and in even greater depth in episode 1 of his Corona Diaries podcast.

'At the hands of a holy woman, in a holy place'

While talking about the raising of Bluebird, h mentioned: "I was born at Helme Chase hospital [which was] a maternity hospital ran, at the time, by nuns."

That hospital is no more, but the name lives on in the name of the maternity ward at the nearby Westmoreland General.

The photo on the left is by Andy Smith.

'He wore a red coat and walked a bulldog' The bulldog was called Peter and belonged to h's grandmother. Peter was well-behaved and allowed himself to be led about by a toddler, never pulling him over. Apparently the dog had an obsession with oranges, and if someone opened one nearby it'd go mad trying to steal it!

'Lived in the shadow [...] polished wood of his bed'

h spent his early years in a flat over his grandmother's sweet shop in Kendal while his father was away in the navy. Needless to say that shop's long gone but you can see where it was in Andy Smith's photo to the right.

'And his father [...] home thoughts from abroad'
Home Thoughts, From Abroad is the title of an 1845 poem by Robert Browning, written during an extended stay in Italy. 
Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!
'An upright piano and the boys in the choir'
h used to attend an after-school choir practice in Doncaster led by a man named William Appleby. Appleby was famous as the presenter of a BBC radio programme, Singing Together, which encouraged school children to sing a repertoire mostly drawn from British folk songs.

'Triumph Motorbike'
h's dad's bike wasn't a Triumph, but a Norton. Triumph scanned better.

'A crowd of bees'
Actually wasps, but bees scanned better.

Note that an additional line was added to the song for the version recorded for the With Friends from the Orchestra album. Details are here.

Songs with a link have explanations.

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  1. jerry belioso- holland- rotterdam region16 January 2018 at 21:49

    Thanks!!!! Marillion must belong to the kindest but most powerful peeps in the universe

  2. jerry belioso- holland- rotterdam region16 January 2018 at 21:52

    Thanks!! Marillion must belong to the kindest but most powerful peeps in the world

  3. Roberto - São Paulo, Brazil27 January 2018 at 21:19

    Thanks for sharing that information!


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