Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Long day's journey into day
There's something romantic about starting a journey well before first light. It's as if you were doing a flit. There are few people about. The platform cafe - a miracle! it is open before 5am - glows like a rendezvous for characters out of Tinker Tailor. People are still within themselves, not really curious, absorbed in drinking something hot or opening a packed breakfast. The newspapers haven't arrived yet. There are only the magazines and a few remnant copies of last night's local paper. Outside, beyond the covered platform, it is squally and raining. You can see the rain drip from holes in the shelter but it isn't very cold. You could be stuck here for ever in this mild blowsy damp place, not quite sure whether you're awake or dreaming. I eat a squashed croissant from the pack left for me at the accommodation, sip the orange juice and buy a first coffee before checking my watch and venturing out onto the platform, where it is rather like those scenes in Krasznahorkai, figures, not many of them, maybe two or three groups - if they are groups, it's hard to tell - moving against the lamplight. Then the train draws in.
Having had very little sleep and with three longish legs of the journey to come I hope to doze off on the longest of them, the first, from Bangor to Nuneaton. My ticket reservation is next to the food and drink bar where three women attendants are talking. The train is bright and I am low on energy so decide, against all my experience and better instincts, to buy a bacon roll. A railway bacon roll (this is a Virgin Train) is a food calamity, I would say a train wreck but that seems too much like bad luck when on a train. The microwaved roll has the texture of soggy mousemat except that part of it is stuck to the paper bag it is served in. You know before you start that the sad corpses of bacon within will be scalding hot but will cool to room temperature within five minutes. You squirt tomato juice on the way people sometimes make a lame joke simply to pass the time, but it's no good, the mousemat is still there, and the hot dull coffee doesn't quite succeed in making it vanish. The flavour of mousemat lingers, the taste of the world after a very bad night.
Then we move forward into more darkness then, slowly, into degrees of differentiation between cloud and sky. The light in the carriage is very bright so nodding off is hard, besides, the ever clearer contrast in shapes outside holds a fascination of its own. I jot notes, try to read, can't, and do a crossword left over from the night before. The rain has stopped: I realise it stopped straight soon after Bangor.
By the time we arrive in Nuneaton the sun is out, low and blinding. Owing to stolen cables there is disruption on local trains. Our Stansted train is five minutes late, then eight minutes late, then twelve minutes late according to the tannoy. We grin wearily at each other as we wait on the platform. This at least is as we supposed. We are almost pleased with our Blitz spirit. There should be a penalty on trains arriving on time, we joke.
The train arrives some fifteen minutes late, still OK for my next connection. Now it's bright and warm, fully unseasonal in so far as anything in England is. Change at Ely, into Norwich, onto the bus, to university, into office. See people. Sleep is slipping into all four limbs and pressing at the eyes.
It's dark again, darkening, dark. C comes for me having spent the day with her mother. Both of us tired. Much to do yet. Tomorrow now.