This is where the trams sleep.
After a long day on the steppes of Croydon they huddle together for warmth, apparently dormant and yet alert. For one of the wonders of the London night is about to take place. From dark corners of the depot emerges a swarm of tiny helpers, resplendent in their high-visibility plumage as they tend to the needs of the slumbering beasts. It is a profitable symbiotic relationship: a deep relaxing grooming for the tram, and for the tram carers gifts of food and the previous day's Metro to take back to their nests.
We must be very quiet as we observe, for the trams are still dangerous when roused and the carers are shy and scuttle away at the slightest noise. Then the trams might go the night ungroomed, leading to delays. Suddenly there is a clatter, and the carers freeze. But it is only a senior carer wearing a hat. Look closer, and he has the badge of TLF. Closer still, and we can see the name etched below: "JEFF". The swarm of tram carers relaxes and resumes its work.
- There is a disrupted service on the trams due to a lack of trams. Please use tram replacement boat services.
- Delays due to lack of trams. We have sent our Chief Negotiator (Jeff, with a stick) to coax the trams out of their cave. Family flowers only.
Morning, but the herd has not ventured forth. Today there will be no persuading them, though, for the trams are broody. They will shuffle their doors and sound their horns in a mighty (if rather asthmatic) lament, all the while hoping to attract a worthy suitor.
But wait, what is this? It is the number 28 bus, looking remarkably bright and clean. It has even wiped its destination blind. Such a partnership is not unknown, but the offspring is often cast out and left to fend for itself, Pacing the frozen wastes of the North.
How will the Tram Queen react? She rolls forwards, flashes her lights, and then there is a terrible deathly silence followed by the unique hallmark of the Trams' mating ritual. To demonstrate her fertility and to deter the less hardy, the Queen throws out an enormous silvery egg which crashes in front of Number 28, which flaps its wipers nervously.
She is displeased and at a signal the other trams shoot forwards and tear Number 28 to shreds.
- The number 28 bus is not running today. It probably wishes it had.
- Please use bus replacement bus services.
The sad red wreckage is shunted aside and the trams shuffle excitedly now. Surely the time is near. A boat, hiding improbably in a puddle, slinks away for she is no match for the Tram Queen. Half a DLR train scoots forwards, drawn by the ozone musk, but there is a whirr of angry motors. She reverses, departing again in a hurry as the trams menace her hungrily, hopefully.
Finally, there comes a long silver stranger with a smooth nose. The plumage is strange and her calls have a strange Midlands accent, but she has found favour. The trams throw eggs in turn and then the Queen comes forward, for she is content that the stranger is worthy. She has found her mate.
- A good service is running on all trams. If you see it could you ask it to stop? Please do not run on the trams.
- Please use bus replacement tram services, you know, while the going's good.
Life on the steppe returns to its usual routines: Elmers End, Wimbledon, Centrale, Beckenham Junction, but already we see the herding behaviour of the trams as they move to protect their Queen from harm. She groans and wheezes with aching bogies, and they know that she is With Tram.
- An enhanced tram service is operating on the central section. All other routes are partly suspended. You will not go to Beckenham today.
- The dangleway is wholly suspended.
Quickly the signs become clearer to the other dwellers of the Croydon steppe. People move more fearfully around the trams and their Queen, afraid not only of the eldritch horror that lurks beneath the streets, but of delays. The Queen will move slowly for the next few weeks, as her wheels swell, causing delays, and she has to stop and rest to get her hydraulics back. Her concertina middle bulges and flaps distressingly and lets in the rain.
- Rain leads to suffering. Suffering leads to delays. Delays lead to the Dark Side (Wimbledon)
As she nurtures the growing tramling, the next stage is unpleasant for the tram mother. Sickness strikes in the early morning, and the tram carers bear the brunt of it. Their copies of Metro are soiled with oil, and they know their nests will be sticky for weeks to come. Worse, many of them will fall victim to the Queen's bizarre cravings. Even pineapples on the District Line are not safe. It is a time where everyone on the steppe is nervous, for there is little more terrifying than a herd of trams hunting for food to satisfy their Royal Mistress.
- LOST PROPERTY: a fedora. Do not leave hipsters unattended on the trams at any time. Particularly when the trams are hungry.
- Journalism is not permitted anywhere on the TLF network. If you have lost your journalist, please contact Jeff in the Lost Propriety Office.
Here, some of the steppe dwellers have found they can protect themselves from the trams by carrying fish. Nobody knows why this works, but it deters trams, much to the chagrin of the fishmongers of Waddon Marsh. It is at this time in the tram lifecycle that the steppe smells most fishy, leading to delays.
Soon the fateful day approaches and once again service is suspended as the trams corral themselves at the depot, protecting the Queen and the royal tram child. Forming themselves into a tight henge, this is when they are at their most vicious and protective, and nobody has ever captured the moment of a tram birth. The tram care teams withdraw -- there will be no Metro or Evening Standard for them tonight -- and wait with the New Fleet Supervisor (Jeff).
The sun sets, the steppe dwellers board their tram replacement pogo sticks, and Croydon waits anxiously for news.
- Remember to touch in to your bed every night, or you may be charged for a whole day's screaming horrors.
It's a tram! The trams pull back and reveal the new shiny green tramling, still shiny with youth and bearing a streamlined nose - she takes after her mother. She beeps her horn experimentally, and it emits a plaintive noise. The other trams hoot energetically in approval and the new tramling rolls back and forward in joy, enjoying the rails beneath her wheels and the fresh if still slightly fishy air of a Croydon morning. This time she hoots triumphantly, and sets out on the first of her many journeys.
* * *
This is where the trams weep.
At the end of a tram's days, she comes here at the edge of the steppe, to rest. Her work is over, her lights dim, and everything is delayed. There will be no more dancing in the moonlight, no more skipping stops in exuberance, no more worship of the Elder Gods South of the River. Her days are at an end. But she does not die alone. The trams gather round, and sound one long sonorous blast on their horns, a tribute to their fallen sister. One day, perhaps soon, the Tram Queen herself will pass, a new Queen will be made, and the cycle will begin again. But for now, this is where the trams weep.
To the memory of 2551 and those who fell with her.