There was a school trip to Russia in 1974. While most people stayed in Leningrad, some went to Moscow on a 24 hour visit. The eight hour journey in each direction was interspersed with eight hours in the Soviet capital. On the return journey, there was some delay in departure. Mr Preston, in charge of the boys. had put his head out of the train window to see what the delay might be.
At the very moment Mr Preston looked out, Mrs Hartry looked out the window of another carriage, of a different train. Had their inquiring glances not coincided, the girls might have been carried eastwards, on a train they alleged was bound for Siberia.
Returning to England for a funeral, I met someone from those years, someone I hadn’t seen her for thirty years, but her name rang a bell as soon as I heard it. Larger than life, she used to sit halfway down the school bus. I remember her being always good humoured, always laughing. It was her own choice not to finish the course. She was well able for the studies, but preferred beginning a job than spending another year at college.
I didn’t recognise her when I saw her. I suppose, if I had thought, I would have assumed that she would still have been working for the same firm with which she had begun when she was seventeen.
I stood and asked if she remembered various names; it was a moment filled with laughter because the people who came to mind were the ‘characters’. She was always a character herself and still recalled with glee encounters with teachers. ‘My physics teacher asked me, that with all the subjects I could have chosen, why I had to be in his class’. A comment that was followed by loud laughter, I didn’t ask her physics grade!
She was running a small hotel and obviously took delight in her job and her staff obviously enjoyed working with her. ‘They have been watching our conversation on the security camera at the front desk’, she said, ‘They are baffled about what I could possibly be talking about with a vicar’. Another burst of laughter followed.
Thirty years had passed between our encounters and we had both grown inexorably older. I had never achieved my ambitions to be a journalist and MP; I never asked if the hotel had been her ambition, or where time in between had brought her.
Inexorable processes can seem depressing, an unstoppable slide downwards, a decline that could not be reversed. I didn’t like the inexorable; it was like being carried eastwards on a Siberia bound train when you wanted to travel westwards to home.
But there was light in the sky after six this evening and I realised that the spring was moving inexorably onwards, that the long days were coming back and, eventually, the summer warmth would return.
Inexorable processes can seem a decline into gloom or an ascent into joy, maybe it depends on where we start and where we end, on which way the train is travelling.
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