There and back again

Monday 22nd August 2011

LONG journeys back from somewhere don’t have the same appeal as the journey there. Perhaps that RTN on the ticket stands for retribution: the price paid for having been on an outing through outstanding scenery the previous day.

The four blokes playing cards don’t help. Not loud, but bothersome. Then there’s the catching of seated passengers’ elbows by suitcases too big for over-head racks. And having to wait to depart after arriving early: six minutes at York, ten at Sheffield – almost enough time to get off, find the exit, explain to the person on the barrier that you’re only popping out for a quick smoke, take in three drags and rush back on board before it goes. But not really.

I can’t settle to reading or writing. Should have stayed another day. Princes Street had been slow, but throngs are more spectacle than crowd. Much of England now feels cramped, unwelcoming, noticeably divided.

Despite making my connections and the fires of a Malverns sunset, we’re still quarter of an hour late chugging into Kemble.

On the other hand, going up through northern valleys and southern uplands had been glorious: an escape to escarpment, farmstead and forest. I started some song-lines, might have found a whole stanza, had I not been drawn into conversation with a travelling companion.

She was heading home after a busy week’s work at BirdLife International, of which I knew nothing. And her cow was pregnant.

“I still haven’t worked out how, or who the father might be.”

Her office is in Cambridge. It would be cheaper and quicker to fly, but she shares my concerns about global warming. We discuss Our Final Century by Martin Rees and Jeremy Rifkin’s The Empathic Civilization, agreeing that humankind really has to advance beyond the Me-Me-Me culture.

“But the mega-rich are ruthless,” she warns, having met a few.

I nod. She alights at Carlisle.

Biological life is moving away from the equator at 20cm per hour: terrifyingly quick. I must stop moaning about the length of train journeys.


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