Different Trains

Luton Old Bus Station
After a return visit to Luton last weekend [an altogether odd experience because although it was nice seeing everybody, the context was all wrong – we were celebrating Zoe’s birthday in a town we used to live in, but don’t any more – and I felt disjointed, out of place…I felt that the house I’d grown up in had become ‘my parents house’, that the streets I’d walked along for the majority of my life had become distant and unfamiliar through my lack of use/presence; I guess this confirms that ‘you can’t go home again’…apologies for the pretentious digression, it is something I do too often] I noticed that work was almost complete on the monstrous car park that sits alongside Luton Station. I’m assuming/hoping it becomes to Luton what Park Hill is and was to Sheffield minus the Le Corbusier aping design and vague utopian ideals (I can’t see Michael Caine throwing anyone off of it) as it seems to be visible from almost anywhere where The Mall nee The Arndale isn’t in the way. The new façade on the George Square side of the centre looks identical which is presumably a thematic choice on the part of the developers, the theme being ‘We’re The Same As Everywhere Else’. Also, I suppose as a potential suicide spot, the new car park offers the potential for maximising types of death making it possible to jump from a great height and be hit by a train at the same time. Any way, the point it reminded me of, aside from how much the place is changing (for better, for worse…I have no idea), is how many of my recollections are tied up with events in stations. As with these more lengthy posts – this is long, hit the back button if necessary and wander elsewhere – the theme presented itself via random association, that I then realised linked a number of not-so-disparate happenings together.

Norwich
Norwich
I travelled semi regularly between Norwich and Cambridge for the three years that I spent living in a different city to Zoe (a fortnightly frequency). This journey, much like the one from Stevenage to York, is etched in my mind – I can see the details of hedgerows, woodland, small provincial towns. I also have similar memories of the Cambridge to Hitchin journey; the external developments at Addenbrookes, the unusual undulations of ground outside Royston. Birds flying over new crops, four inches from the ground, wings flapping infrequently. Rows of fields indistinguishable from each other.

On my trips from Norwich I would, invariably, arrive two or so hours early to the station. I am not entirely sure why. I remember liking to have something to eat in the station, and watching people arrive and leave. In 2004, I was at the station when Jack text me to tell me that John Peel had died. They say ‘you never forget where you were’. Like with JFK…I remember leaning out of the window of the Book Depository in Dallas…20 years and 2 days before my birth. It was shortly after the death of John Peel that I started a very brief correspondence with a mystery girl. At least I assume it was a girl; the notes seemed devoid of male presence. As some of you will be familiar, I have, on occasion, gone on rambles around disused industrial sites (and in the case of the High Town Sports and Arts Centre, sites that were at the time under construction) for my own limited amusement. During several visits to Norwich Station, I went on such explorations.

First instance: I left early for my train as usual, though it was already dark when I left, and got off the bus at the regular stop. Alongside Norwich Station, there is an access road that leads up past a £2.80 all day parking place – I imagine now the price has gone up – and in to a run down old spray shop for train carriages. These seem to be a standard feature of end-of-the-line stations such as Norwich. I decided to have a bit of an explore, whilst eating a cheese and tomato sandwich, and having uncovered my notebook from the time, in which I detailed this exploration during the subsequent 80 minute rail journey, I feel I can now share it with the sort of authority discovered words possess and my memory lacks.

There was a hole in the fence to the side of the gate at the end of the access road, which sort of invalidated the gate completely. Inside there were three large abandoned sheds, with railway sleepers lying rotten on the ground, tracks rusted and unusable, scything through the structures so trains could pass in and out when necessary. The walls in the first shed were thickly coated with various fluorescent tags*, the windows smashed in or replaced with wood. In the second shed, the windows were intact, but thick with engine grease and associated railway effluvia. In the middle, there was an empty mouldering carriage from a freight carrier whose name I didn’t bother noting down, surrounded by rickety looking wooden scaffolds. Outside, there was then a long half-lit yard, flanked by overhanging curved Victorianesque lamps and stunted trees, that seemed to be part way through a failed redevelopment. Various materials were strewn about the place – bags of concrete, steel poles, plastic panels still shrink-wrapped and filled with condensation – and pipes and bricks dotted the area. There was an old chest of drawers I remember looking in, which was empty aside from two glass coke bottles full of lichen. A phone line ran the length of the yard, slightly lopsided and sagging. There were also two sort of look-out posts with crows nests (I’ve seen similar things on the way in to Hitchin Station and still have no idea what their function is except perhaps allowing access to the roofs of carriages) and redundant halogen-lamps, rusted ladders broken and clinging to the framework. The general feeling I had was that the place could be a set for Schindler’s List, assuming that concentration camps were a Mecca for run-out spray paint cans. Occasionally there was the hum from the overhead cables to the left of the yard where trains still passed, their carriages brightly lit and filled with people who couldn’t see me meandering around the detritus of failed National Rail projects that were sometimes dismantled, like much of the network, under privatisation.

In front of the third shed were the foundations of a building, replete with further piles of bricks and pipes sticking out from the concrete. It was impossible to tell how long the foundations had been there; they could have been a week old or fifty years old. I sat on some bricks, looking about, unsure where to wander to next, and spotted some paper sticking out from the pile. I pulled it out. It was a letter, unaddressed, which made very little sense. According to my notebook (fuck knows what I did with the actual letter), it said;

‘I pause when reading your words. Soon on an aeroplane back to _____**. May even not go back. Watch says five eighteen. Somewhere, I last heard, more of those coastal travails through the mid-west. Hope to be there someday, right there with marshmallows and Texas. Written on vertical blinds by the windows they’re building here. You’ve seen what they’re making, taped to my walls. Small black capital letters. Brown wrapping paper to be written on. Making plans for the next tomorrow I have free.’

I still have no clue what this means. I took a page out of my notebook and wrote a response, though I can recall none of what I responded with; in hindsight I should have written it out twice. The following fortnight, I returned again. The building had been worked on a little, and new fixtures bought and brought in. The pipes were being connected to longer lengths of plastic, and two sinks lay on their sides against the wall I sat on. My note has gone from the undisturbed pile of bricks, and had been replaced with a new one. At the time, I thought this turn of events was the most logical thing in the world, but looking back on it now it seems to be a sort of other-worldly occurrence, that I could enter in to a correspondence with someone via a building site that presumably neither of us were officially linked to. The follow up note said;

Thank you for talking with me like this. I didn’t catch my return. ‘What lies beyond, at which all existence stands, is knowledge – knowledge of what might-have-been, of which men and women can only dream and, in waking, find the dream vanish.’ Write again.

My response this time was curt – I remember writing ‘Who are you?’. On my final visit to the site, before the building took on its conclusive form, there was another note in the now much diminished pile of bricks. It was a large black arrow, with three words underneath it – ‘In the pipe’. Straight across from the bricks was the last unconnected pipe for what I guess became the internal water system of the building. I went over and looked inside it. The pipe had been filled with concrete. I figured this was indicative of our fleeting relationship.

Station
York
A recollection from when I first lived in York, and had to walk through the train station to catch the bus to University;

‘Walking to the train station yesterday evening, the streets largely deserted, aside from a group of boys and girls in tight jeans and leggings who appeared to be waiting for a gig to begin in someone’s living room. As I get to the steps that lead to the station, what I initially considered to be a pissed collapsed drunk man yells to me. I stop, as I often do when people yell to me, and go over to see what the matter is. He asks for my help, says he isn’t drunk but has a disease of the brain that means he is unable to balance. Can I help him up the stairs to the station. Why not, I say. He gradually makes his way over to me, walking stick in one hand, poorly disguised bottle of booze in the other. On the way to the station, he tells me about an Irish man he once knew when he was in his twenties and was first diagnosed with the ‘disease’ (he said the name of it several times but I fail to remember) and how he always said, ‘I pity you boy’. The drunk and or permanently stumbling man said to me ‘I never thought it could be this bad’, in between bouts of tumbling sideways. I told him to hold on to the fence, which he did for a while. I ask if there is medication he can take for it and he tells me that it exists but he cant afford it. At one point, half way up the long flight of stairs, he said something to me to which I responded with, ‘I can imagine’. He stopped and looked at me with his one good eye and replied, ‘I’m sorry son, but you can’t possibly imagine’. He also cursed the heavens on two occasions, in a similar way to the Japanese man in the audience of Radiohead’s Astoria gig in 1994, during the song ‘Black Star’.

Once inside I ask him where he’d like to go. ‘As far south as possible’. The woman announcer calls Newcastle, which makes him recoil. ‘Anywhere but back there’ he says. He is wearing a black puffa jacket and smells also of fags. I take him to platform three, now supporting him with my arm, seeing as the guide rails have stopped. I tell him there is a train to London in 30 mins and he eases himself into a chair. He then takes my hand and says, ‘What is your name son.’ I say ‘Matthew’. He says, ‘Do you know your place in the Bible?’. I respond with, ‘Somewhere near the front.’ He nods with approval. I tell him I have to leave to meet my girlfriend from the train – a lie. He says farewell and as I leave he yells, ‘If you do ten, it shall be repaid tenfold. Thank you for all you have done, and thank you for not ignoring me. I hope your life is a blessed one.’

In turn, this story reminded me of another;
A guy on the train on our way up here, possibly stopped at Doncaster. He came storming into our carriage, flustered and red.
‘Can anyone tell me if this train goes to York.’
I said, ‘Yes it does, York is the next stop.’
He responded with, ‘Thanks pal, I hope you win the fucking lottery!’

Hethersett Old
Hethersett
Prior to this blog, or facebook, or social networking generally, Livejournal was a place to communicate whilst my friends were spread about the country. After the Subcultures conference that I mention on here with apparently alarming regularity***, I was talking to Paul Hodkinson about what I was trying to do with my PhD, explaining that I was wary of focusing too much on the social networking side of things owing to its temporality. He said that he’d once written a piece for a print journal of sociology about the use of Livejournal in the goth communities he studies, but by the time it was published 2 years later, he looked like he was incredibly out of the loop. The following piece was written in February 2004, half a year or more before walking around the disused train yard, and was perhaps better suited to my Disintegration Loop blog – except it didn’t exist at the time;

‘My unsuccessful attempt to show a small group to a train in Heathersett (sic)****, where tickets were free and the bus driver was always someone I knew.
Zoe standing at station in the night, I’m stuck in Heathersett (sic).
Back in the shop, pulling plastic sheets from the fridge and piling it up on the counter. Woman tells me I already have milk which made sense at the time.
Her husband asks if he can come with me, she is on the phone being loud as I walk out. He follows.
Zoe has vanished by this point. Vines crawling up the walls of a hospital; I’m outside, formally interviewing half-dog, half-David Duchovny type. He keeps gesturing behind me at the weeds breaking through the hospital window. I can’t make out what he is saying through my headphones. The boom mic operator, the man from the shop, is leant against the wall smoking.’

The other reference to stations comes from an entry on the 3rd of November, 2002, when I was living in the ziggurats at UEA. I archived my Livejournal last month so as not to lose what were teenage and early twenties ramblings and poor attempts at fiction, which would ultimately become Sunshine and Power Lines (which I started editing again this week for the first time in over a year…some of it stands up nicely, mainly the end parts written in 2005…but the start is pretty poor; I can recall writing a section called ‘Beach Trip’ as a freeflow exercise in Liam’s bedroom in the summer of 2003 whilst Pank set up the Gamecube to play Timesplitters 2 or similar), when the site is, like the aforementioned Hethersett Station, inevitably closed down. It is largely juvenile and ill informed, but I am quite fond of the person I was, when I was just finding out who I actually was when I was away from the rigidity of school life, when I could confidently and misguidedly proclaim ‘I’m a Marxist’ to no-one and walk through dense fog at night attempting to record the feel of it on to minidisc.

‘Skew wiff,
standing on the railway line, all blurred and full of nightmares,
watching the constellations of love,
high above and glowing like they mean something.
Distant night birds circling, singing (the birds at midnight)
and not a hint of loneliness’

Footbridge

The unifying factor seems to be the vagueness of my memory.

____________________________________________________

* I wondered on one occasion what the ‘Gangs of Norwich’ would be like. Disenfranchised choristers perhaps. On the crossroads of The Avenues and Colman Road I was once accosted by four kids in the essential hooded top who asked me to buy them cigarettes. I said no, and they said ‘Fair enough, sorry to bother you,’ and walked away.

** This is as-it-is in the notebook; I don’t know if I purposefully left out the location, if the author did, or if the location was illegible on the original note

*** I find it strange how things which seem thoroughly uneventful take on a more distinctive hue when it comes to codifying them.

****Hethersett, as it is actually spelt, did have a station prior to the Beeching Report and its closure in 1966. It sat between Spinks Lane and Trowse on the south eastern approach to Norwich and was run by the Great Eastern Railway from 1845 onwards. Why it appeared in my dream I am unsure as I have never been there or have any knowledge of hearing about it. The picture is of the station in its present state.

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