Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Train Journey from Cambridge to Norwich Feb 3rd 2011

[On my way to play a show. Copied out from a notebook.]

Black, black soil of the Fens. Ely where I once took my girlfriend to look at the cathedral. Pretty canal boats on the river. Endless flatness. Electricity pylons fading into ghostly distance for a hundred miles in a long straight string. Ditches gleaming with steely water, reflecting the blue-grey, endless wash of sky, punctuated by small black clouds kissed pink by the first setting rays of sun. Screens of trees in tall neat rows. Tractors and farm machines. Dead trees and reeds fluffy with seed-heads. Banks and channels, and stillness and sometimes black birds. But all grey, scrubbed green, ochre or the colour of dead wood. Sometimes black wetland birds in ragged ticker-tape formations. Train scrapes, rattles and creaks. Electrical buzz and squeak of plastic, and rubber and metal. Now telegraph posts serve a little farm. There are thick bushes now and trees obscuring the horizon. The horizon shows a slow and gentle hill. Three metal sheds painted blue and weathered. Next stop Brandon. Derelict buildings, old station-house of brick and flint with boarded windows. Old man gets off, stoops. Behind a fence, a digger shifts aggregate in a yard. Three jets fly overhead in formation. Squat houses back onto the tracks. Sheds, pipes, huge warehouses and apparatus, and the encroaching weeds finding the gaps in concrete. Doors sing and slide shut, there is silence, but for the beat of music piped through headphones somewhere in the carriage. Now moving onward, and a forest of dark conifers. Dark and low, trees clustered tight. And now taller trees, on both sides, dark and tall, and the train running through clearings. Now a farm and some fields fenced with rope, now more trees. It is colder in the train. Car headlights flash through forest gaps. A road runs along a ridge. We break out into fields before plunging back into the forest, and cars go back and forth along a ridge on a low hill. Lights on in estate windows. This is Thetford. Next stop Thetford. Allotments and, beyond, ugly squat towerblocks of offices. A scarecrow stands stupidly and watches the train leave. Another reclines in a wooden chair, hat over his face of sackcloth. Some kids play in a field with a climbing frame among rows of grey and red brick houses. Thetford passes quickly and the conductor comes round again to check tickets. Now the landscape rolls with hills again, darkened by forest. A field of pig pens, with a few pale pigs outdoors. More blocks of dark forest. Fields of chocolate earth lined by the plow. The train groans and whines. It strains to speed up. Clouds of flickering black birds alight from distant trees. The forest closes back around the windows. Sometimes we break out into fields left fallow, or ploughed, or home to muddy pigs. It is getting darker. Then the forest ends. Cows stand in a circle round a feeding trough with their backsides stuck out. On the crest of a hill, tractor floodlights shine like a low evening star. Pigs and sometimes houses. Murky patches of deciduous forest, some logged and stripped, pale limbs piled in corkscrew stacks. Texts to reply to from my brother and Sam Killin. Stop at Attleborough. Farm machinery and a green for playing bowls. Sky is deep grey-blue, electric lights gleam through the coming gloom. Two more stops, Wymondham and Norwich, to see Ollie, Ollie, Will and play a show. Good to be moving. Good to be out of Cambridge for a while. Even ten miles out, I could feel the weight lifting. Almost dark now. Rows of houses are clusters of light. This is Wymondham. Nest stop Wymondham. Refreshment room and restaurant. David Turner Pianos (Tuning, Servicing, Repairs) and orange platform lights. This is the half-light, all the lamps point down, and cast triangle glows against the sides of metal warehouses. Above, the sky is solid, cloudless blue, darkening to indigo. A phone mast shows two red lights for low-flying planes. The scenery now is all black, with cars streaks of light, and my reflection getting clearer in the window. Trees are silhouettes. I roll down my sleeves, put my long coat on again. My blurry reflection looks back at me from behind the sharp, upturned collar. Houses are chimneys and lit windows. I get my holdall down from the luggage rack, and put it next to my guitar, resting on the seat next to me. Tall buildings lit like Christmas trees begin to punctuate the sky. Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be arriving in Norwich. Norwich is your next and final station stop. Thank you.

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