Friday, 2 November 2007

Train travel

This evening I took the train from London up to the romantic Yorkshire town of Doncaster, and if you're not from England then please take the word romantic in it's most sarcastic sense. For years I've associated Doncaster with one thing, Thorpe Marsh power station. As you drive South down the A1 motorway you know you've reached Doncaster as you see the hideous row of six cooling towers visible for many miles around. The reason I was travelling is that I am spending the weekend with my father, a necessary chore due to the proximity of his birthday -- that is my story.

On the train I don't really like to be disturbed as it's a great chance for reflection. Reflection of a country you don't know, of the things that plague your thoughts and of your fellow passengers. At other times life goes on around you and you are so caught up in your own affairs that you give them no thought but on a train, or even better, on a plane you're all heading the same direction, for one moment in time you are a bit part in the plot of a story you don't know. I like to dwell on the possible stories of the people in my carriage; the eldely couple in the seat adjacent to my own could be on their way to spend a weekend with their grandchildren or perhaps escaping away to celebrate an anniversary; the young professional looking woman in front with the horrendously vibrant pink I-pod and the black attache case be off on a business trip to sell the idea of her new line in fluffy hippo shaped chamois monitor cleaners to the buyers of a Northern department store. Most likely, at 7pm on a Friday evening on a train leaving London they are commuters heading home after a hard day at work but then that's not my story so why make it theirs?

I got off at Doncaster as I mentioned before, but that was not the first stop, the previous one was Grantham. Marcel Proust liked to read train timetables, especially late at night if he could not sleep and thanks to his severe problems with asthma there were many nights when he could not sleep. He was even said to have enjoyed a train timetable more than a good book and to a certain extent I can see his point as when you have little more to go by than a name and a time you can't help but fill in the blanks yourself and there is little which has a greater aesthetic effect on you than that which you have helped create as nothing engages you more. Cumbria is a good place to start in England if you want romantic sounding names, try Aspatria, Whitehaven , Bassenthwaite, Appleby-in-Westmorland. I don't live in Cumbria, alas, and the only thing to fire my imagination is Grantham which sounds hard, industrial and bleak. I don't know anything about the place but I know I don't want to go there.