Staring absent-mindedly through the window into the darkness beyond, a row of lights appears passing at an upper level through the night landscape. The railway runs through the mountains, its line being high above the town, the trains come and go like UFOs in the January evening sky. The persistent snow muffles every sound from the streets around, but locomotives pulling carriages or great strings of goods wagons are still audible. The Internet says Euro and Inter-City trains pass through the valley and in the quietness there is time to ponder who might travel through Austria on a winter’s night.
Imagining who might be moving along with the travelling lights is an activity that goes back to childhood days. Our house had a view that extended across fields and a valley to the raised landscape beyond, through which would travel the cars coming from our small local town. In daytime, they would not be so easy to spot, but once darkness fell, the progress of the pairs of headlights heading for the village could easily be followed.
Of course, those travelling would hardly have been as exotic as the passengers of a train rolling through a mountain valley in Central Europe, but they were just as interesting to a bored boy staring from the front window of his house. Who might be in the cars? What might they have done that day? Where might they be going now? Probably home, tired after a day’s work.
Did other people watch such comings and goings in their own home places and wonder similar things? It would have been unlikely that anyone would have admitted to such a degree of boredom, they all led much more interesting lives.
Since the days in that small village, travel has been a fascination; not so much the actual journeying, which can often be dull and tiring, but the engagement of countless people in countless journeys, whether through the farmland of Central Somerset or through the Alpine scenery of Austria.
Sometimes the ordinary, mundane, dull journeying of the travel of daily life is much more fascinating than the travel of those who might cross Europe on a night train. There is, in the routines, more room for speculation, more chances to wonder who it is that drives to the village at a particular time each day, to imagine the sort of person they might be, to imagine what thoughts they might be having as they drive along.
A train running through a mountain valley presents simply too many possible characters for imagination, it was much easier to imagine the driver of a single van heading up the road from the town on a night when he would never have thought he was being observed.