A celebration of ugliness
The line to Hereford was closed. Up on the majestic Victorian iron bridge that crosses the Severn, orange-suited workmen were busy with welding and other equipment. The unwieldy machinery had been transported to the bridge on bogies stored behind the signal box at the level crossing.
An enthusiast might have derived great interest from standing at the crossing and looking down the tracks. To someone who had no understanding of railway engineering, the significance of the activity was that it must have been the only group gathering for miles around. While the rest of society had been voluntarily atomised, the railwaymen were still engaged in a collective effort. There was a beauty in their reflective clothing and heavy machines.
The cluster of vans in which they had come was parked at the roadside leading to the crossing. The prosaic nature of generic white vans could not hide the fact that here was a manifestation of normality, a remnant of the everyday life that had been snatched from us. The engineering works might once have been cursed by those whose journey plans had been disrupted, those who had to complete or commence journeys by bus. On a bitterly cold evening, in the extra evening daylight of British Summer Time, they were a hint of a world to come, a pointer to a re-establishment of the lives we had known.
Walking briskly, a search for isolation brought a turn up a street that became no more than an alley. A pub with its doors and curtains closed, half-completed building work, an empty restaurant with a notice saying deliveries were available: the dullness brought emptiness. Few people taking a walk would come this way.
A street was crossed and another side road was taken. A closed down banking branch and a car hire lot crammed with vehicles from various companies: with the collapse of business, all the cars seemed to have been brought to one place.
Across another road, and a footpath only lightly used even in normal times. A gravel car park and then the tarmac-surfaced path. On the left, a chain link fence topped with barbed wire; on the right, a ditch running with muddy water. The only person encountered was a pugnacious looking man walking a large brown dog who muttered, “how do?” as he passed.
A realization dawns that there are places where there are few people who wish to avoid you, few people for you to avoid. It is the beautiful places that attract the crowds, the ugly ones offer a quietness to be celebrated.
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