A misty morning in early spring smells of freshly cut grass. The train horn honks around where I heard it yesterday when I stood at the top of the heath. Paying attention for the first time, the reason is apparent: there’s a level crossing here. (Under rules set by the Rail Safety and Standards Board, train drivers have to sound their horns when they approach level crossings, tunnels, or trackside workers.)
The landscape is concealed by grey fog. The grass looks wet and dull. The boundary between the ground and the sky, with its ground-hugging clouds, is soft and imprecise.
The lady next to me is listening to music on a small, thin music player. Its brand name is Lenco. A blue scarf with white dots is tied around her neck. The cord to the earphones is red. She has a small, brown leather satchel bag. A larger satchel hangs by its strap from the fold-out table. Gloves are placed neatly on top of a grey hat, which is perched on a tartan patterned scarf.
A fat man in a light blue and white chequered shirt snores pleasantly in the background.
In a section of tube carriage on the Northern line to Kennington all nine passengers are looking at their phones. A woman balances by the door in a pose. It looks like she is hoping to stretch her Achilles tendon: her handbag is on the seat-cushioned ledge by the door. Her right leg is stretched back, her left is forward and bent by the knee. Her face looks down onto her phone, which is propped up on the handbag. She wobbles as the train shakes. She re-adjusts herself and stands up properly, never taking her eyes off the phone. She leaves the train at Charing Cross.
The gut is the control centre of the human body. Energy starts here; tension is resolved here.
The church tower at Baldock: a lead-coloured roof like a sharpened pencil and a round blue clock. Unremarkable parts combined to make a supermodular whole.
Four men, or, more accurately, three Irish white-collar workers and an American who is separated from his colleagues at the opposite pair of doors by a carriage-width full of people, are talking about golf: “let’s go to St. Andrews tomorrow, says one of the Irish fellows: a gold-star course for the gold winning team. I’ll convince Dan to give us the budget.” “Good luck with that,” says another next to him. Now they’re all laughing. “Actually, Dan loves golf. He goes to Spain every year for a golf tour,” say the third fellow. “Then I won’t tell him how close I lived to Pinehurst,” says the American, “it was literally only one hour away.” “One hour?” says the most talkative and youngest of the three Irish passengers, “in Ireland a place one hour away is a place you go to on holidays. Look, if you tell people in Ireland that you travel 2 hours just to go to work, they’ll say that’s crazy! That’s more than I’d travel to go on holiday.” They all laugh.
Next to me sits a reader with a brown sweater and khaki coloured trousers. His reading glasses sit on the tip of his nose while he investigates the landscape going by, taking a break from reading his Wordsworth Classic edition of Moby Dick. The cover has a picture of a whale in the last moments of its life, one harpoon lodged in the back of its “neck” and another at its front above a very small fin, which is attached just under its eye, mouth wide open, yellow teeth, exceeding the white border of the picture. The hunters are in a boat in the background with four men on it and more harpoons at the ready.
“Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about—however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way— either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.”
A woman in light blue, almost green pants, starts making baby noises. She has blond curly hair and she has gelled it at the top to make it sit flat. She is talking to her baby through the camera and microphone of her entertainment cartridge.Why can’t people speak to their children in a normal voice? Her voice modulates, she is oblivious to anything outside the boundary of the screen. The infant is sitting on the lap of a person who must be its father. Then suddenly the call is over and she immediately switches back to the drama she was watching.
There are long shadows in the fields: the sun is confident this morning, strong enough to pass through a band of grey cloud cover. The passenger next to me holds a schedule to a “DIPLOS” workshop and a paper with his reviewer comments. He is gaunt, hawkish, with hair only on the side and at the lower back of his head. He wears horn-rimmed glasses. At Letchworth, a woman’s bag strap whips the side of his head at the temple. He clicks his tongue in annoyance, takes his glasses off to look for damage, puts them back on. He’s very annoyed. “Sorry,” says the new passenger. He immediately takes his glasses off to check them again. Then he gets up to to find a pullover and puts it on and falls asleep. The woman (who now sits behind me) drops something onto the floor, probably her work ID judging by the sound. “Sorry, I need to pick this up from the floor.” The physicist’s phone is encased by a heavy-duty wood frame.
The window above me is mischievous, opening and closing with a thump of its own accord every time we pass through a tunnel and the balance of pressure changes. The passenger behind me tries to close it once and for all, but it will not be fastened and soon opens itself again.
The sun has emerged fully, the sky is lined with long cloud trails, the edges of houses gleam in the light; the birds are exuberant enough to make themselves heard by passengers in a train rumbling through the final stretch of busy infrastructure to the station.
A cello-case in the aisle is branded “hightech by bam.” Its chaperone wears a cap, sunglasses (the modern athletic multi-purpose kind), a mustache of blonde-grey hair, a tweed jacket over a purple jumper, black trousers and black boots with silver buckles.