A man who reads out the buffet menu on First Great Western’s Paddington to Penzance route has won this year’s prestigious Poetry in Motion Prize. Buffet manager Jim Swindon says he was astonished when he was told he had won the competition: ‘I knew that there was this annual prize for poetry to do with rail travel, but I’d no idea that I’d been nominated.’
Margaret Derby, who regularly travels on Mr Swindon’s train, said: ‘When we heard about the competition, a few of us regulars got together and decided we should nominate Jim on account of the way he reads the buffet menu. It’s a delight to hear and something you never tire of. Even the intercom can’t destroy his mellifluous voice. Now I take the train just for his poetry.’
Cambridge University’s Dr F G Levin, who chaired the panel of judges said: ‘The panel had no hesitation in selecting Mr Swindon’s delightful reading of his buffet menu on the 10.05 from Paddington to Penzance as the winner of this year’s Poetry in Motion Prize. ‘His sensitive rhythmic rendition of the various freshly made sandwiches selection, followed by an exquisitely balanced passage on hot and cold beverages, various alcoholic drinks, crisps, biscuits and pastries; concluding with the unforgettably lyrical hot bacon rolls line which brings the work to a halt, leaves the listener breathless with admiration. We observed passengers who were transfixed as the locomotive slowed on the approach to Newton Abbot and Mr Swindon read a perfectly scanned section on how all first class passengers must show their tickets before ordering so as to qualify for a complimentary coffee. Pure Betjeman!
The London Review of Books declared that ‘Swindon takes the listener into little known sidings of poetic meaning, at junctures switching effortlessly from one line to another, shunting his menu items to create a crafted piece of work. Above all, he is a master of enjambment.’
First Great Western said that Mr Swindon (who failed his English exam at school), would be offered a lucrative contract to recite menus on other routes, but it is understood that Virgin has already offered him an undisclosed sum to read Milton’s Paradise Lost with ten miles of Robert Burns on their West Coast Main Line. It is understood he is considering an offer to read the complete works of Shakespeare between Taunton and Bristol Temple Meads.
‘I’m a bit overwhelmed and have rather lost track with all the excitement,’ Mr Swindon said. ‘The only definite decision I’ve made so far is to turn down an offer by Italian railways for me to read Dante’s Inferno on their overnight service between Milan and Reggio di Calabria.’