trains

Steel Rails

I’ve been spending a lot of time on trains lately. A lot. Might-as-well-just-install-a-bed level time. And I can work on trains a bit, but it’s admittedly a touch difficult to concentrate when the four-year old in the seat behind you is playing some kind of piano simulator on a tablet at high volume, and their dad is catching up on the football on his phone at equally high volume. So mostly I look out of the window when I can.

(Don’t judge me: that particular journey started at 6.30am with 4 hours sleep, 3 changes and the joy of paying £3.50 for a cup of tea when I finally cracked and decided that if I didn’t have one Something Bad was likely to happen. I was a joy that morning.)

But – noise and, you know, humans, aside – I quite like trains. I like being able to watch the world slide past the windows; because it always feels like it’s the world passing by rather than you passing through. Maybe it’s something to do with the size and the shape of the windows, which make everything outside feel like a projection simply being wheeled past you. I always get the feeling that if you were to open the window and pick up the corner of the view, you’d find an old-style cinema projectionist back there, turning a handle and watching for the cigarette burns to mark the reel switch.

Trees. Forests. Fields. Hills. Rivers. Tunnels.

Houses, back gardens. Kitchen windows.

Someone, years ago – it might have been Billy Connolly, it might have been someone else – said in an interview that they loved taking the train: people shield their lives from the road with blinds or net curtains in the windows… but they don’t bother to hide it from the railway. And ever since then, I’ve looked.

Football goals. Paddling pools. Terraces festooned with bunting and fairy lights.

Sidings with elaborate swags of carved greenery, half-buried in renegade ivy and Japanese knotweed. So many blackberries on tangles of brambles that the leaves have turned purple from the juice. Butterflies dancing around a bush.

Mist and swathes of drifting drizzle. Slices of sunlight across the fields so thick you could pick them up in your fist and watch the light pour out between your fingers. Sheep: little clouds fallen to earth. Cows like… well, like cows, really.

People running. People walking dogs, riding horses. Children. Dads playing football with their kids; mums scooping babies out of pushchairs… and dads scooping babies out of pushchairs and mums playing football with their kids.

Life. Sunsets and sunrises and everything that falls between the two. Moons and mist and dusk and dawn. Houses and mountains, cities and forests and farms.

There for the blink of an eye and then gone. All those lives. All those individual little worlds within one big wide world.

All sliding by on the steel rails.

And when we get to my stop and I shuffle out, down along the platform, the train pulls out alongside me… and as it does, a man in the window of one of the carriages catches my eye. Because he’s doing the same thing: watching all those worlds slip by.

And then he’s gone. And so is the train.

What a thing.

Still. £3.50 for a cup of tea. Pffft.

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