In the UK last month, I made quite a few journeys by train, which is one of my favourite ways of travelling. I like stations, from the main London termini, where the platforms run straight into bright modern shopping centres, to the sleepy country halts, where there’s no ticket office or porter, and no phone for miles.
It’s years since I took a sleeper train, and journeys have become so fast there’s no time for the genteel waiter service dining of the past. Even so, there’s still the chance of a mug of tea at the station café or a pint in the pub next door, a biscuit from the trolley service, or a ‘lucky dip’ paper bag to carry your hot coffee, tiny milk cartons, sugar sachets and wooden stirrer safely back from the buffet without spilling it over the other passengers. (Yes, the over-packaging is unecological, but I only do it once or twice a year.)
And there’s always something to set you thinking. This time, it was the juxtaposition of colours and smells that recurred:
Against the grey track
and clattering ballast
the fluorescent flash
of workmen’s overalls;
Above the tart smell
of vinegar and bleach
the scent of buddleia.
Recommended railway poems must include Robert Louis Stevenson’s From a Railway Carriage, and Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.