08 May Time travel
Bank holiday. Lines out of Euston closed. Northbound hordes pile into Kings Cross, milling anxiously in the huge concourse. London brick meets tubular steel, a glorious canopy of white metal fanning across the roof. A mezzanine of toilets and Costa coffee – possibly in reverse order – with views to a man dressed as a bride drinking Carlsberg with his stag-mates, a child-woman in a pink frilly coat with an enormous bow at the back. The ordinary, the weird and the wonderful gathered here. And us – mother and daughter meet by Leon to head north.
Trains line up, load up and leave. I fumble at the gate with tickets lodged in my mobile phone. The thumbprint recognition doesn’t work when I’m in a rush or nervous. Key in the numbers one-handed. Awkward. Annoying. Our train looks well-worn, metal matted from years of track, grime and weather. Inside is clean. Orange seats with raised pile, faux velvet. We settle in. Coach D, seats 35 and 36. Multitudes pack in around us. A whistle. We’re off.
A man walks past holding a bottle with a whole pear inside. Peeled, slightly pink from whatever liquor suspends it there, mid-bottle. I understand the mechanics of a ship in a bottle but this defeats me. He joins another stag party (no boy-bride this time) further along. Loud voices.
The train manager announces each stop. The intercom’s harsh metallic tone breaks the audioscape of paper bags rustling, beer cans hissing, animated conversations – the football team, last night’s TV, today’s headlines, other people’s foibles, have you seen the queue for the loo? did you want another beer?
It might look beaten up but the train moves smooth as you like and fast. Each stop disgorges passengers and sucks in more: Peterborough, Newark, Doncaster, York, Durham. We cross high above the Tyne to Newcastle. Empty wooden jetties to the left, iconic semi-circular bridge of green to the right. Arches, bricks and black-painted ironmongery. Victorian station. The large stag party dismounts, taking the pear in the bottle (no longer suspended) with them. Quieter now.
Train travel is time travel. A high-rise block overlooks rows of brick-built terraces and an estate of small new-builds. 150 years of social housing in a single montage. An eyeful. The tape of the seasons rewinds. Lambs get smaller. Trees suck back their leaves. Hawthorn and maybush withdraw their blossom, wrapping it back into buds. Blasts of rape in blooming yellow fade to mottled green then disappear. I speculate about the word – ‘rape’. Why that word for a crop? I pass time googling origins: rapa– Latin for turnip or brassica; rapere – to seize by force. Latin again. I reel back the tape in my head to a wooden desk in a north Glasgow classroom. Mr Fulton, tall, balding, comic, reminds us: Latin? It’s all about endings. Sometimes unhappy ones.
The journey feels faster now. Berwick and the border. Grass waving in the wind. Waves beat white against the sandy shore. Bass Rock, a great big volcanic lump in the sea. Gracious sandstone houses with dark red paintwork tell of lowland Scotland. We called it maroon, or, later, maybe burgundy. Our house was just like that.
Turn west along the Firth of Forth. Not far now. Rare view of Arthur’s Seat from behind – I chuckle. Glimpses of Holyrood, palace and parliament. We’re here. Edinburgh Waverley.