17 Nov On a Virgin Pendolino
On a Virgin Pendolino heading north, sitting on the left looking west. It’s 4pm and we’ve finally left the canopy of Midland clouds behind. Replaced them with a watercolour sky of deep grey, pale grey and rose. All smooth, like a wash of subtle shades rendered by an old master. Southern Scotland. Rolling hills framed with low bare hedges that write a complicated script onto the horizon. Ancient illuminations. In the far distance, benign low cloud merges with dusk-drenched upland, their shades of subtle grey impossible to distinguish from one another. A dance of shadows.
It seemed to take a long time to travel through the north of England with its brick-built houses in squat, spare rows, its tall chimneys and scattered, empty industrial yards. Lancashire’s brick and slate cede quietly to Cumbria’s grass and beast. Sheep cluster in fields damp and green again now summer is truly past.
The rosy light in the western sky fades quickly this time of year, its warm glow snatched away. Nearly all the leaves are gone up here, the trees skeletal, the hedgerows bereft. Now and again, a stalwart survivor of autumn, brittle rust that yesterday was burnished orange. Windmills on a yonder hill scoop the air lazily. Barely a breeze.
The train whistles softly on the tracks, moving effortlessly, an occasional lurch for some fleeting irregularity of track or some surge of speed. White farmsteads, green corrugated barn roofs. Darkness edging in swiftly to usurp the light. Occasional glimpses of headlights on a distant road.
I love this journey. Especially this time of year when the structure of the land is laid bare and the light fades ghostly and timeless. After weeks in the city the sense of space soothes. More air for the mind to breathe.
Sounds of fellow passengers – laughter, slumber, rustle of paper, chewing and sipping, clicks of mobile phones, the tap of my fingers on the keyboard. Chatter of conversations, half heard. Accents of home, stretched vowels and rounded consonants, warm and sweetly familiar, the unique music and idiom of my once-upon-a-time-long-ago life.
And finally, the lights of the city twinkle in its concrete outskirts and feeder towns. The sprawl of Glasgow unfolds as we hurtle through the last few miles. Someone is playing the theme from A Fistful of Dollars through a mobile phone – the wild west. I smile to myself.