Sunday, October 26, 2008

Journeys



Sunday; Strong winds and rain, the weekend has already unfolded itself into storm and greyness. Train journeys, a London packed with the hustle and bustle of people, each time I have wandered through the concourse of Liverpool Street, I have seen someone with a dog and thought about my Moss travelling through this maelstrom of people. Stand on a tube and look at the faces of those around, each has a story to tell, millions of people moving through a network of trains, linking back to their familar lives through mobiles. Here is a young girl, pale and scruffily dressed, three large crumpled carrier bags, is she moving from one place to another? There are the older people with their doggy bags (the ones you pull behind you) going for a weekend visit.
All races are represented in London, a hotch-potch of people that you only become aware of as you travel through the bleak landscape of the tube.
This is the capital of our country, for those who live in other parts of this fair land, and especially down in the West, we get angry that so much money gets spent on this city. It seems dirty, grey full of cars and a great confusing mass of people that disorientates you, it's fast moving, the blank stares and coldness reaches into the depths of your soul and sends a shudder through it.
Train journeys through the countryside are gentle affairs, the long haul up to Yorkshire to see my grandchildren, travels through the different aspects, so that here we find the flat plains of the Midlands, the rolling medieval rig and plough still captured in the fields. Sluggish brown rivers, almost overflowing in winter, will carry the flotsam of our modern age; a scatter of plastic, foam that has washed down from a factory, the trailing willows catching in their branches wisps of things. Gritstone brown stone houses through Derby, the Yorkshire moors still a dull brown unless the gorse or the heather lend their bright colours to the scene.
The tumbling down of the moors to the sea, as the bus winds down through steep lanes, sheep scattered amongst the grey stones of the moor, grass eaten to a velvet smoothness. And then the sea itself, blue or gray depending on the weather, the sharp lines of the cliffs, Whitby Abbey standing like some great guarding sentinel on top of the cliff, and then the homeliness of Whitby, old houses clustered round the harbour, the smell of fish and chips and holidaymakers crowding the narrow streets.
There is one more train journey from the past; this is the Orient Express on which myself and my daughter would travel to Switzerland on for Xmas and summer holidays to my in-laws house. I cannot remember much of the beginning of the journey only that when we reached France it would be dark and you would go to sleep on an uncomfortable couchette, the train waking you in the night as it shunted around a station, Paris I think it was. But it was the early morning as light broke and you crossed the border between France and Switzerland that stays in the memory - the morning sun on the mountains.
The journey back started at midnight catching the train at Vevey as it came into the station for a couple of minutes; a great monster, fond farewells, lifting the luggage onto the train. One disastrous Christmas with a wheelie case chock full of xmas presents, the whole lot was stolen, probably by a cleaner who came on in the middle of the night, nothing to be done the train rolled on the presents were lost.
Switzerland is the land of little trains, chugging up into the mountains, winding over narrow bridges and tumbling water. A family friend lived in a small Swiss house in Blonay by the train track that came up from Vevey, her garden down the driveway was full of flowers, tall sunflowers, and her house the traditional wooden one, plain, simple and white. She had been a dancer in her day and photos on the wall showed her in the heyday of youth.
Leni was my mother-in-law's best friend, though they would often have little arguments, she would come over to Sunday lunch, out under the loggia, a family gathering of friends and family. Arguing gently, Con my father-in-law, sometimes throwing his napkin over his head and explode with the words S.I.D., S.I.D, which meant 'sometimes I despair,' it normally produced laughter and the argument would be stopped. At these gatherings and tea in the afternoon, tricks would be played on the guests by Con and Marc, my daughter's cousin. Plastic dog poo, was one, false mustard and plastic cakes much to the fury of Lotta, who could not tolerate such games at the table. One trick fell foul of its target, the vicar from the church at Territet, manipulation of the cake plate had managed to make him pick up the plastic cake, and he plunged his teeth in as we all watched expectantly. The result was a very cross vicar who almost broke his teeth and did'nt see the funny side of it as the children howled.

1 comment:

  1. Memories of journeys: so many, usually by car though. Even when I am the driver - which I often am - I still have memories of landscape, of rocky hillsides near Rhayader this summer taking my middle daughter back to University; of majestic fells on the edge of the Pennines; of a Curlew swooping over the road from moorland to moorland in the rugged Pennines of Hannah Hauxwell country.

    This weekend's journey along the A40 to a friend near Ross-on-Wye, deep valleys and hillside farms, the flat top of Pen-y-Fan, turning leaves on oak trees and beech to join the sycamore and hawthorn and hazel. A journey the "long way home" going castle-hunting, with the outlines of the Skirrid, the Blorange and the Sugarloaf drawing ever-closer . . .

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