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.


Coirí Filíochta said...

It's a lovely train journey along the North Welsh coast. I go the one from Holyhead to Town Green station in Aughton. A three stage trip. Town Green to Liverpool is 20 minutes, change to the Wirral line to Chester at Central station, and another local journey; then into the bar-cafe on Chester station for the full English. At £4.95 it's far less than the rip off you'll be charged for in Dublin, or the 14 euro on Irish Ferries.

The 2 hour trip from Chester to Holyhead whizzes by because there's so much scenery.

But I made a terrible mistake when I last came from Dublin, buying a chicken and, what was advertized as, bacon burger. I was handed a rock and some microwaved mousemat, immediately handing it back after taking one bite, asking the Estonian crew member (all Irish Ferries staff are now Estonians) would he eat it.

I got another, less frazzled one and made do, learning my lesson of never to buy food on ferries. The funniest anomoly is, if you buy a miniature of wine in the bar it's 6 euro, yet you can buy the exact same one in duty free for 2 quid.

Another great train journey is from Chester to Ludlow, running through Shropshire. Lots of gentle mountains and quaint English villages.

Coirí Filíochta said...

Not Ludlow, sorry, Ledbury. I made it when I travelled to the poetry festival there a few years ago, camping on the festival site. There was only myself, a young chap recently graduated from art college, and Angela France who'd had the same idea. It was a nice week, reading at the open mics with the young fella and soaking it all in.

havantaclu said...

The journey down to Leominster from Stockport is rather splendid. First you have Jodrell Bank, then Shrewsbury - then the hills start. Caer Caradoc and Wenlock Edge on the left, both apologetically slanting off a little towards the north-east as if remembering important appointments. The uncompromising bulk of the Longmynd edging your view to the right through Much Wenlock, then the Clun Hills between the Longmynd and Ludlow, with the double cliff-edge of the Clee Hills making their 'look-at-me-I-used-to-be-a-volcano' statement as you pass Ludlow, and realise that the lump ahead of the train is Dinmore Hill - but you're not going through that today ...

Used to do this trip at least three times a year while I was at University (Leeds)so many years ago - but it hasn't changed - and long may that country remain in its magic and mystery!

No train food in those days - and no-one would have known what a mousemat was either!

Your prose is as good as your poetry, George. Thank you!

Kathleen Jones said...

Love the mousemat! Arrived in England last weekend at Stansted to discover delayed train and then no tube due to stolen cable - more than three hours to get from Stansted to Ealing.
Sending warm thoughts to you and C. having recently gone through the same experience with my mother.