I wrote this a couple of days ago:
I’ve been thinking about trains recently; where we live isn’t that far from the railway line, just over half a mile as the seagull flies I would guess, and from my little upstairs room where I write I can hear the trains roaring past. I was looking out the window and was aware of a train, unseen, rattling its way either to or from the town and I had a memory of a short train journey I once made from an airport into London.
The reason I’ve been more aware than usual of passing trains is that we have a lodger, the dog, Reg. He takes a while to settle at night and over the last week I’ve found myself standing on the midnight doorstep, while he wanders round sniffing, and I listen to the sounds of the night which include the nearby trains. It’s a night sound from childhood, probably from babyhood.
My first fourteen years were spent living in a flat. For the first few years of those fourteen, there was not much beyond the back wall, allotments, rough land, a few houses, some roads with 1930’s houses, and then the railway line. I must have heard steam engines pulling their carriages or freightwagons, as well as more modern diesel and electric. We then moved to Weston, and we lived on Bleadon Hill, a couple of hundred yards at the most from the Bleadon railway bridge, known as Devil’s Bridge, – if not built by Brunel, then at least designed by him. I moved away to Manchester, travelling by train of course, and nearly ten years later I got a job in London. I travelled there by train, and lived in rooms overlooking a railway line. That was the closest I’ve ever lived to a railway line, and loved the sound of the trains at night.
So now we can hear the trains, especially at night. Last year, I challenged myself to write a hundred words a day for a hundred consecutive days. I mentioned trains several times, including here:
We’d returned to a former age, when night sounds were the startled squawk of a sleepy bird, anguished cries of foxes, no human voice except muffled from inside homes. Walking at night, alone, the streets empty, curtains drawn, dim lights from bedrooms – the villagers all retired early to bed, there were distinct rattles of empty trains travelling through the dark, a siren, then the unusual engine noise as a single vehicle passed from here to there.
Now the night is full of the sound of racing cars, shouts and calls as pub-folk wander home. We have returned to now.
Night air is different from day air; it’s not the temperature, cool or balmy, muggy or fresh, nor the quality of sound, sometimes travelling from afar – a rattling train, the cry of a fox, the call of an owl. It’s something else. Maybe it is texture, if air can be textured, thick or heavy, soft or sharp, blanketing or piercing. Sometimes, it seems if only we had the right sort of vision, we could see it flowing like water, or sluggish and dense, or rushing through cracks and gaps between the door and frame, or pouring gustily down the chimney.
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