Someone was standing on the platform when I cycled into the station. Good , I thought, that means I haven’t missed the train. I’d left home in plenty of time but, wheeling the bike down the path, it stopped suddenly and I discovered the elastic tie with hooked ends was wrapped around the gear chains on the rear wheel. It took twenty minutes to disentangle and then to scrub my oily fingers. So I wasn’t sure I’d make the train. But I was just in time. I tethered my bike, and a minute later the train came in. No one else on board apart from the young man who ’d been waiting on the platform. I offered cash to the conductor to pay for my ticket. He said they weren’t issuing tickets on the train, if the station ticket machine wasn’t in use (it wasn’t, it was taped off). Oh, I said. He was young, friendly. So I looked out of the window – the first time I’d been on this train.
We walked almost the length of it a few years ago, C and I, when it was still ‘the old railway’, the former dismantled railway , but there was talk of reconstructing it. Let’s walk along it while we still can, said C. It was spring then too, earlier in the year, but warmer. And now here I was, finally on the train. I had never used it, as the nearest station is five miles away from my home. I took the bus instead. But there were no more buses running, so the bike ride, and the train, was t he only way to reach the nearest town, with its lure of supermarkets. (There’s a small shop in the village where the train leaves from, but it s range of goods is limited.)
I was cold, cycling towards the village – or my hands were, my leather jacket kept the rest of me warm. I’d got oil on my gloves and tossed them inside before I left. The air was chill and nibbled at my fingers. Coming back, I strapped the bulging rucksack onto the little carrier and it was hot then. But the weight mad e the bike unwieldy and a sudden gust of wind could wobble me across the road. The thought of coffee outside in the garden, in the sun, that s what kept me going.
The town, once I reached it, once I got off the train, was almost deserted, but a few people queuing to go into Home Grown or Home Benefits or whatever it’s called. I really wanted c ream – face cream and body cream, anticipating the hot days strung like a succession of dazzling beads on a makeshift abacus.
In another shop I bought a loaf of home-baked spelt bread. The bank was closed and the stationer’s and post office. But I didn’t really want a newspaper, it’s one of those habits that feels a little ridiculous now. I have so much else to read, books that take me far away the Balkans, Mitteleuropa, yes, a good start. Why would I want to read more stories of scarcity of PPEs, of deaths, usually more deaths than the day before and of criticism of the government and endless speculation about when the lockdown will be over.
I am now nudging at the entrance t o the band of ‘older people’, though I feel about as elderly as the burgeoning grass. Not as young as the madly playful lambs but hardly frail, which the word elderly suggests to me. But – conscious of having lived a long time, with an attic full of memories. Are these accumulations accretions of a kind? I’ve done many different things in my life, but it’s hardly time to stop now, it could well, I think, be time for a change, but ‘the times’ are not conducive to change, not now when we are being exhorted to stay at home. Posters in the streets and in the station declare this, and it is announced too over the platform loudspeaker. Public pronouncements have turned into incessant warning s – repetitive, banal, unimaginative. Mostly, people smile, they are good-humoured as they go on with their restricted lives, waiting in line behind each other at the required distance, walking in the direction indicated up one aisle and down the other. It is like a very amateurish play.
But there’s the river, tree-bordered, in the sunlight. From t he train window, I see some black and brown cattle cross a stream, one behind the other, very slowly. We pass through the tunnel that usually is seen from the road. I like this way much better, there is something almost secretive, clandestine, about this depopulated train sliding so easily through these green and growing fields, full of their own life of vegetation, of flocks of sheep with their new lambs, with the slow-moving cattle, picking precise footsteps through the shallow water.
Writer of poetry and prose – fiction, non-fiction and travel articles. Blog is https://rivertrain.blog spot.co.uk