Trains through time

May 28th, 2009 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Michael is heading home on the DART.  The last of his eight exams is over and his first year at Trinity College is complete.

For a moment, images return.

Catching the District Line train from Kew Gardens to Waterloo, carrying a case that could only be moved in fifty yard bursts, the weight of books being so heavy.  The tube train defying the label ‘underground’ as it made its way through the scenery of west London, only dropping just below street level as it approached the centre, like an uncertain swimmer not wanting to get out of their depth; being overtaken by the speeding trains from the Piccadilly line which did not hesitate to dive deep into tunnels.

Buying a single ticket for Yeovil Junction and lugging the case into a compartment of one of the old Southern Region carriages that were still pulled up and down the line to Exeter.  There was poetry in the list of stations called out by the British Rail station announcer: the next train from Platform 10 will be the 1435 for Exeter Saint Davids, calling at Basingstoke, Andover, Salisbury, Gillingham, Sherborne, Yeovil Junction, Crewkerne, Axminster, Honiton, Exeter Central and Exeter Saint Davids.  A man walked the length of the train, swinging closed the carriage doors, each resounding thud bringing nearer the moment of departure. A shrill whistle and then we pulled out, heading south through Clapham.

The compartment was empty except for myself; I leaned against the glass and watched the grey suburbs which were followed by the greenness of English shires on a June afternoon.

The train pulled into Yeovil Junction at twenty to five; opening the door meant sliding down the window and leaning out to turn the handle.  My Dad stood waiting on the platform and moved to help with the weight of the suitcase.  We walked up the stairs and over the bridge to reach the car park.

Having dropped out of college after two terms, and having returned twelve months later to complete first year, it seemed like the end of a very long journey.

I never really re-engaged with the London School of Economics, where I was a student.  It was as though the year apart had opened a chasm between us.  I went on to complete the second and third years in a desultory fashion, turning up for lectures, completing essays on time, getting sufficient marks to pass the exams.  I made no friends in the seven terms after returning and never set foot in the place after leaving in 1983.  Passing down the Aldwych in a cab last autumn, a friend looked left into Houghton Street and said, “There’s the LSE, Ian. Didn’t you go there?”

“Aye”, I said, “it was a long time ago”.

Yet the memories of that June afternoon are fresh, even the taste of the tea at the house of my grandmother where we called on the way home.

Time to go to the station for a small boy.

Leave a comment »

  1. Crikey has a year gone by already. It doesn’t seem but weeks since he left school. I didn’t engage much at uni either. I regret it now. Probably because I lived close to the campus and came home every day so never really got into the lifestyle. It’ll be nice to have him home! (Not so small I suspect!)

  2. He lives at home – very reclusively!

  3. Change at Gillingham for the Slow and Dirty – I remember it well! The LSE too – I was at the sit-in in solidarity: that was when I twigged the Tory press are habitual liars.

  4. Betjeman’s ‘All change at Evercreech Junction’ is watchable in three parts on YouTube. Wonderful footage of the SDR

  5. I have finished my first year in college-
    travelled back and forth about 40 miles each way everyday.
    Never once stayed over or went out during the year.
    Perhaps its something i should have done- and perhaps i will regret it. I guess i do miss out on the lifestyle- although
    i could find myself doing more of the lifestyle and less of the college 🙂 – so maybe its better this way !

  6. Maybe it’s the difference between being lonely and being solitary. I used to feel very lonely in college days, used to go to things by myself because there was no-one else to go with. As the years have passed, I find I quite like being solitary at times, there’s no-one else to mess things up. I knew a great character in the North who was a real solitary:

  7. I think there certainly is a difference between the two-I can spend many a happy hour sitting on a riverbank
    fishing , totally solitary and i love it. While yet at the same time, i can be at a disco and be surrounded by hundreds of people and feel totally alone. I think the feeling of loneliness is a lot less when you are in your ‘comfort zone’ i.e home. But thats not to say you cant be lonely at home either- it does happen.

    I agree with you one hundred percent, in that, one of my reasons I like being solitary is there is nobody to mess it up or to annoy you. Nobody constantly blabbering on that you feel compelled that you actually must answer them etc.

    I do like the company of people, i know i do, but only for short periods, most of the time i like to work or do whatever on my own. Something that worries me is , how do people cope with marriage? How does someone spend so much time with someone and not get fed up with their company?

    I remeber back to a time when I could barely go to the toliet without my girlfriend ringing me or texting me to see what i was at, and if i was 2 or 3 mins late in texting, she would text me to text back ! I hated that so much – really put me off long term relationships.

    I do hope that she was a special case, because she gave me the opinion that long term relationships and marriage even – would be too claustraphobic. While i feel marriage is a good thing- I feel theres a great risk to take – with things not working out and its a bit too late to find out that its not for you when your married ! Also, as the bible doesnt condone divorce for the reason of not getting on with your partner or other such reasons- you could be trapped or forced into a situation that you wouldnt want to be in.

    Would make you wonder how right the saying ‘Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all ‘.

    Sorry, about going off on a tangent and such a long post, i was just writing this down as it entered my mind. Thanks for your link- i found it quite interesting.

  8. I got married when I was 22 and am married 26 years! Making space to be yourself as well as being part of a couple is important.

  9. Congratulations on that and hope you both have many more.
    I think you have summed that up quite well, i was once told the secret of staying together is, spending time apart, not spending every minute possible with each other.

Leave Comment