Friday, October 12, 2007

Away Day

The 10.11 from Wainfleet to Grantham echoes a more leisurely era. It trundles gently through the flatlands and scattered villages; a carriage almost to yourself, calling here and there to pick up a handful of rustics - I dare say if you stood beside the track and waved a white hankie, the driver would stop the train and get out of his cab to help you aboard. I can't remember the last time I traveled like this, but it's actually quite pleasant, as long as you've got plenty of time. I gave myself 20 minutes from leaving home to catch it, spent another 10 on the windswept platform and 15 after that, we were passing the end of our lane and I could see my house. I should think if I'd set off in my car in the first place, I'd have been about half way to Grantham by then. Such is the inconvenience of public transport and why the enviro-fascists can't get anybody to use it when there's an alternative. But anyway, eventually we got there and waited for the connection to Kings Cross. This was even better - I've no idea why people complain about it - it thunders along at 100mph, they bring you a cup of complimentary coffee and a biscuit, give you a newspaper and it arrives bang on time. So in other words, what I'm saying is; when I got to London, I was still perfectly happy and normal and in relaxed Lincolnshire mode. Completely unfitted for what hits you there.

God it's horrible.

There's a distant and demented look etched into people's faces. It's as if they have to be somewhere else in their minds in order to cope with the unbearable stress of it all. Nobody can wait a split second longer than they're used to doing - on stairs, escalators, ticket barriers, platforms. They sit (if they're lucky) on the Tube, grimly gripping the precious strip of bench with their buttocks, as if it's the last lifebelt in a terrible shipwreck. They don't look at anything or make eye contact with anybody - everything has to be seen out of peripheral vision as they stare blankly forward with halibut eyes. When you arrive at Piccadilly or wherever, you can't get off before the new arrivals force their way on unless you're as ruthless and determined as they are. If you do manage it, don't pause to look for the exit because the irresistible human tide will pick you up and sweep you along. Back at street level, it's just as bewildering and frenzied, especially in
coffee shops that sell stuff you've never heard of and you get shunted down the queue while you're struggling to understand the menu (how strange that it's possible to order a coffee in most European languages on the Continent but that same knowledge is useless in London).

It's a rum thing, this sense of alienation -
to be expected abroad in places like the Rif Mountains or the Gobi Desert, but something more of a shock when it's in one's own country - and I was surprised at how strongly I resented it. Worse than differences based on age, say, or income or gender. Not even being lost and alone in a gay nightclub in Bolton could be more unsettling. No doubt Londoners would take time to adjust up here, too, where the nearest traffic light is 15 miles away and you can't go for a haircut or to the doctors or for an illicit assignation without bumping into a neighbour. It means you can't live in the protective shell that slowly encrusts people in the overcrowded cities. I lived down there for a while, yonks ago, and was oblivious to it. Was part of it, probably. Maybe it's changed. But more likely, it's me.

1 comment:

mountainear said...

If it's you, then it's me as well. (We're sunk into the Wales/Shropshire borderlands.) Sometimes in the city I feel like a stranger in my own land. In London I wonder if I look like some wandering hayseed? I can cope with Manchester and Birmingham.

But coming home, the ride over the Long Mountain where all that noise and thrash melt away is JUST MAGIC.