At last, with the new year here, we caught up with the man who has discovered more about the Western Class locomotives than any other researcher or historian, the man known as AC. Having been out of railway limelight for five years, he’s about to return in style, 

so we caught up with him to find out what’s in store…

CNBooks: First of all, thanks for taking the time and trouble for a sit down, cup of tea and a chat.

AC: Well, tea is my preferred tipple these days, so I couldn’t say no.

CNBooks: Well, it’s been a long time, so firstly, how are you?

AC: Five years apparently. I am almost back to as fit as I’m ever going to be, given I am now an OAP effectively. Well, I can get a bus pass I’m told.

CNBooks: So can you tell us why the absence?

AC: I can. Firstly, I was knocked down by a car which smashed a knee into pieces which my son recalled from the x-ray was like a jigsaw. Had I hit my head it could have been a lot worse apparently. I didn’t look at the x-ray of my knee. But a skilled Polish surgeon rebuilt it sufficiently although I had to spend six months on my back without putting the damaged leg on the floor or else the pins and plates would have come loose and surgery would have to be done again. It took three-and-a-half hours the first time, so didn’t want to go through that again. I never saw my own bedroom for nine months, and slept in a bed downstairs. Then there was the daily self-injection with a needle into my stomach with a drug that prevented blood clots forming as I was lying on my back for such a long time. My leg had to be higher than my heart too, which was also slightly tricky at times and going to the toilet, well, that was a military operation almost. Once the surgeon said I was fit there was the tricky bit of learning to walk all over again. The fear of putting my leg down on the floor was overwhelming at times, I just thought the worst would happen. It took me another three months to learn to walk without any crutches. In the meantime, Sam decided to end the magazine production as I was just U/s. I did have lots of visitors though, in particular, regular ones from Messrs Geach and Greenslade. So my spirits were kept high. People were so very good to me too. One chap sent me a couple of blue maintenance folders of Westerns, not to borrow but to keep as a gesture of thanks for all the work I’d done, it is people like that who keep you going.

CNBooks: But things then took another turn for the worst two years ago didn’t they?

AC: This must sound like an episode of Emergency ward 10! Yes, I was an emergency admission to hospital and underwent two serious operations in five days. I count myself extremely lucky to still be here. It was scary. It has changed my outlook on life completely, I have been given a second chance, and enjoy every day like it is the first day of my life. I have stared into the abyss but I’ve had the greatest care imaginable from a wonderful specialist who has effectively saved my life. Losing four stone was just a bonus. I cannot thank all the staff and doctors and specialists in various departments enough, I owe them all for what they’ve done for me. Their dedication and skill is remarkable. I am lucky, I know that, as a former journalistic colleague of mine died in September last year from a similar condition. MRI scans are not much fun but I can live with them.

CNBooks: Blimey, it sounds horrendous, how are you now?

AC: Fit, and signed off from my specialist for half-yearly check-ups. Considering they were weekly checks at one point shows how far I’ve come. The weekly blood tests have stopped too, as I think they’ve made the massive haggis now.

CNBooks: So what have you been doing in that time apart from hospital visits?

AC: Researching, writing, learning to play bass. I’ve done a fishing ghost book with an old friend, who also had health issues. It was good to write about something other than railways and there are a lot more anglers, so the work gets widely read. Initial interest is high and we are investigating doing some leather bound copies. Len is your typical East Ender, full of wit despite his problems, and we nicknamed ourselves the Stadler and Waldorf of angling publishing.

CNBooks: Anything railway related coming?

AC: Yep, getting these last books out is my main aim.

CNBooks: And then?

AC: Who knows?

CNBooks: But you do surely?

AC: Yep.

CNBooks: Can you tell us about it?

AC: Nope.

CNBooks: Why not?

AC: Things are not quite ready yet.

CNBooks: When will they be?

AC: Soon.

CNBooks: How soon?

AC: You’ll know, keep an eye on the mainstream railway press.

CNBooks: Can you give us a morsel of info?

AC: Nope, sorry.

CNBooks: But there will be your usual new stuff unearthed?

AC: Yes, of course, and some of it is quite remarkable. I’ve been fortunate to have interviewed people who have filled in many remaining gaps in Class 52 history.

CNBooks: You’ve often attracted criticism, how do you view it?

AC: Some of it was justified. Some of it not. Much of it wasn’t actually. Jealousy is often a motivating factor or the fact that everyone thinks you make millions out of publishing. I’ll stop here for a bout of hysterics. But after the events of the last few years, I think it is for those people to deal with their consciences, I am now a great believer in Karma. Yes, I made mistakes, but they were not intentional and I apologised and paid people back, but I’ve learned from those mistakes and whatever comes in the future, the same mistakes will not be made. I have a good management company on board who will oversee things. The future is one I intend to enjoy, a lasting legacy is all I want to give people whatever their view of me. I have never been one for trying to win friends and influence people, I just want to do a good job that is recognised as such. While I was on my back recovering, Sam was threatened with physical violence, verbal abuse, as was I, and threats. We let it all wash over us as we felt it is far better to be the bigger man or men. Plus, these things tend to become so very insignificant when you are fighting for your very life. Whatever comes next, I hope people will judge it and me with a clean slate.

CNBooks: Well, without giving away any secrets I’ve seen what is being put together and commend you.

AC: Thanks and it has nothing to do with Brexit. So it’s win-win all round.

CNBooks: Fancy another cuppa?

AC: Of course, I am now tee-total. Part of the fundamental life change I’ve undergone and two years dry now. I am very proud of that, and so is the family, who, I have to say, have done a superb job in ensuring that I get all the right stuff I need in diets and so on. Although, I now take so many pills, I am sure I rattle.

CNBooks: Still it is great to see you looking so well and to wrap up, how do you look back on everything?

AC: With an enormous sense of relief. Life is precious, get the best out of every day, be kind to people, treat them how you would like to be treated, and you can still learn how to be a better person each day. I am looking forward to the future with renewed vigour. I am embracing social media, such as twitter, facebook, Instagram and such like and Spurs and Lincoln are doing exceptionally well. My two sons and I shared a marvellous day out at Wembley last year to see Lincoln play there in the Checkatrade Trophy final. It was the first time the Imps had played at Wembley and we beat Shrewsbury 1-0 to win the cup. It was one of those days I will cherish for many reasons, not least being able to celebrate with my sons, with orange juice of course (for me).

CNBooks: And as far as your health goes?

AC: Well, I’ve already thanked the main people for doing what they have achieved. I’ve been to three funerals of ex-journalistic colleagues in the last three years and one of them was just 48, that’s no life. So, all that sadness has underlined how lucky I am to be here. I think I’d like to end this with a quote from rock singer and guitarist Ginger from the Wildhearts. He was talking about his own recent health issues in a magazine article and I thought his view summed up everything about my recent past too. When asked how he looked back on those health issues he said: “It’s been turbulent, but I’m hard to kill.”

Enough said.

CNBooks: Lovely, thank you so much for your time.

AC: Pleasure. Stay safe my friend.