A Summer Evening Whilst Tired
August 31, 2015
I wrote this post when tired around 3 weeks before I published it here. I had been up since 4:45 in the morning and wrote the bulk of this post on my second 2-hour train journey of the day, back to London from Norwich where I had spent the day.
It doesn’t matter why I was on the train. The purpose of my trip to Norwich is irrelevant. I just wanted to write down some thoughts and share them. This is a writing exercise, not something good. You might see something good. Enjoy that.
When tired, I find everything takes on a romantic quality. Just now as I looked out of the window of my train I saw hay bales in fields, glowing in the August evening punctuated by a small football club where a group of young men played at pretending they weren’t getting old.
The only time I would refer to hay bales as glowing, or a field being punctuated by anything is when I am drunk, tired, or romantic. I sometimes wonder what the difference between the three is, but I know on this occasion I am neither drunk or in the company of the woman I love.
When I started the day, fresh and eager, I was in the back of a car driving through London. The route we took was included iconoic sights, but to me they prompted thoughts about modern England in some ways.
Along Knightsbridge I saw young men in garishly loud jackets stumbling out of casinos. I do not believe they were drunk, or tired, or were being particularly romantic, but they looked like they were in shock, their eyes as empty as their wallets.
I remembered when I used to think it was glamourous to stay out all night gambling. Now I spend some of my spare time writing automated scripts - bots - to gamble for me through the night, and prefer to sleep.
We passed by Buckingham Palace just a few minutes after 5:30am, and through the grey dimness unique to very early dawns, I was able to see the Union flag atop the flag pole. No lights were on. She was asleep inside somewhere.
I thought to myself why would she stay there as much as she does, even more so when Parliament is not in session? Surely she can take the easy option and insist that every time she is needed to sign her assent on an Act of Parliament that has been passed by the Houses, she can demand they bring it to her somewhere nicer. Like Ipswich. That seems like a nicer place to be. Or the Norfolk farm house my train just passed.
Driving down the mall I noticed that framed in the windscreen was a picture book view of Parliament. The Clock Tower - the monument most of the World mistakenly calls Big Ben - had its clock faces glowing, perched over London’s green trees and sat in perfect architectural and memetic glory. It was a timeless and romantic view of London that tourists are excited by, but Londoners try not to be, lest they show they care about what it is they live in.
Up along the Embankment and through the City we continued. Everywhere was eerily quiet. Men sat behind desks staring at computer screens in huge expansive reception areas near the Bank of England. Their bored faces illuminated by a web browser, they sat with nothing to do but wait for the morning commuters to arrive. By this point it was nearly 6am, and I mistakenly thought bankers got paid well because they were in early.
As we creeped up to Liverpool Street I realised I had just travelled through one version of what many people would describe when talking about England: a bustling London tinged with pagenatry and idolatry, a lust for money and service workers tolerating them.
I prefer the evening version.
This evening I am racing through the countryside on a train back to London and every time I look out of the window I ache with love for what I see. It might be the early start, but the pale gold fields, basking in the setting Sun with borders of Oaks and Elms, all of it seeming to call out to me.
Across the aisle is the perfect picture of a Norfolk gentleman: yellow tweed jacket, grey cardigan, knitted tie, light green trousers, glasses, a face aged like a good piece of furniture handed down the generations topped with a Panama hat that has seen many more Summers than I have.
Opposite him sits his wife in similarly tweedy Norfolk wear, next to another lady who by all appearances could well be her twin sister. They are nervous and jump every time a train passes in the opposite direction, but jovial. They are an old family in all senses.
As our train lurches down leafy trenches dug out by our ancestors, and out in to wide open expanses that feel like rolling plains, I wonder about the differences between those people opposite and myself. We are both sat in First Class and therefore have chosen a comfortable life in our own minor way.
They are reading the Telegraph, I’m tapping away on a laptop. I look out of the window and fall in love with my country, and they no doubt look at me and feel despair. They perhaps think I’m working or doing something only young people do, what with my contraption.
One unusual sight out of the window is the occasional small housing estate, stuck in the middle of nowhere, an A-road being the only links to civilisation. Why do they exist? Who lives there? Will one of them one day grow to be a major town? Or a city? Who names these places?
We just passed a freight yard. Shipping containers are perhaps one of the most interesting things ever invented. That discussion is for another day. The fact shipping containers are everywhere should not surprise me, but does.
And back into the country we go. The remarkable thing about farmland is that we just accept it. It is spoiled land, agricutlure is the most primitive form of mass production mankind has created. A Farm is a factory with its machinery exposed for all to see as they pass by. We stare out at it and see nothing but beauty.
I just looked out as our train passed part of the estuary of the Stour. Boats sat lop-sided in the marshes and sands were almost singing to me about a better way to spend the evening than being in London. They looked stranded, wrecked, a chaotic mess of material, but at the same time beautiful. There is rarely a time I am near water where I am not relaxed.
On the way to the station I remarked to my taxi driver - a man who had lived in Norwich all his life - that with a childhood spent in the Peak District and my adult life spent in the largest cities in the land, it was hard sometimes for me to decide if I was a country boy or a townie. He laughed.
I am pretty sure people look at me and see the townie, but deep down I yearn to be the country boy. The reality is, I love them both for different reasons, and seaside towns where by definition half the landscape is left to nature seem to regularly be a good compromise.
I think because of that, I finally understand why gentlemen of a certain class in centuries gone by would spend some of the year in the city, and some of the year out in the country. Just the thought of that lifestyle makes me envious.
We just stopped in Colchester which the signs at the station insist is “More than Britain’s oldest recorded town”, although that claim is in itself something worth celebrating. I would bet Colchester did not start out as a small estate of houses on the edge of an A-road. It had a purpose, and its people were proud. They may well still be.
If there is a theme to my train of thought (no pun intended), it’s that seeing things for what they are and how they are perceived can be a deeply spiritual moment. There are few things that move me more than certain iconic vistas, but the iconic to me is not what is seen or known from media, but that tells a story.
And so it is that I find myself inspired to sit here, writing this nonsense, waiting for thoughts to melt into something more structured and iconic by themselves.