Monthly Archives: March 2015

Night Journey 3

The compartment had emptied, and now, in relative tranquillity, I had time to think back over the last few hectic days. It seemed to me that in some ways my trip to London had been a disappointment. Not completely, but one vital factor stood out: there had been no discussion, no reconciliation, no possibility of revitalising a relationship which had run into choppy seas – rather like the ferry crossing I’d endured on the way over.

Earlier that year I’d separated from my wife. She needed space, she said, so I gave her space: I moved to Switzerland. Always the survivor, I landed on my feet, met some interesting people, and found myself living in an ancient wooden farmhouse south of Bern – with a distant view of the mountains. The summer had passed with plenty of fresh air and encouragement in coming to terms with what had happened. I wondered about the future, whether we’d ever get back together.

I would be staying in Switzerland over the winter, and as I’d set out initially with only summer clothes – I’d had no idea how long I’d be away – I was going to need something warmer. Another excuse for returning was that I’d booked my place on a Tai Ji workshop with a teacher who had inspired me a couple of years earlier.

I’d contacted my wife. She was fine about me staying in the London flat, but there was no way she was going to be there at the same time. Obviously, she needed a bit more space. So no chance of talking things through, of trying to heal the hurts of what had happened. But I could collect my winter clothes. The fewer the reminders of me, the better for her. This was another hint that the London part of my life was over.

I thought again about the Tai Ji workshop; it had given me new inspiration and a desire to do more in the future. The experience would stay with me for a long time. My mission to recover my spare clothes has also been successfully completed, and somewhere my case was also making the same journey as I was, traveling through the night, through unknown France. I was looking forward to resuming my rural and continually bizarre life in Switzerland.

I remembered being in the flat, not seen for five months. It had been somewhat disconcerting at first. It no longer felt like my flat even though the furniture was the same, the kitchen in its usual state, the familiar shampoo in the bathroom. But this territory was mine no longer. I would treat it as a kind of hotel but remain an outsider. And no wife to talk to, to catch up on the gossip, to tell about my adventures abroad. But as we’d reached a semi-hostile stale-mate, such a conversation would not be welcome. It’s hard breaking down barriers when you encounter passive resistance on the other side. And on my side, mixed feelings. Did I really want to perpetuate a crumbling marriage? Surely, if we got back together, then it was more than likely that the same undermining disputes would occur again, and we’d be no further on. Instead of wasting time like that, we’d be better off getting on with our separate lives. So I’d sat in the empty flat, gave a big sigh, found a wry smile, and got on with sorting out my jumpers, and preparing myself for the workshop.

I’d been hoping that my train journey back would be quiet and I’d be able to get some sleep, even have room to stretch out on a seat. But in those first few hours after Calais the carriage was stuffy and bulging with chatty French commuters going home to Lille, and I’d ended up sitting huddled in the corner. What a relief when they all got off some time after midnight. Calmer now – there aren’t many going all the way to Basel. With my head full of the unexpected events of the weekend, I’m drifting off to sleep, mirrored in my indecision by the frequent changes of direction the train makes as it ploughs through the darkness.

 

© Peter Young 2015

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Night Journey 2

That story you wrote, Night Journey, it was based on something that actually happened?
Yes. In 1981, when I was living in Switzerland.
Well, it’s not quite right.
What do you mean?
I found this letter that you wrote, dated 6 November 1981, and that doesn’t quite match what you said.
Well, I’m not that surprised. It was a long time ago, and you know what memory is like. Now I have to admit that I was never quite convinced about the darkness. I had somehow worked out that I’d arrived back in Switzerland on the 1st August, because I remember everything being shut as it was the Swiss National Holiday. But that would have meant that it didn’t get dark until much later.
The truth is, you made that journey three months later, at the end of October.
Which makes me wonder if I ever was in Basel on the 1st August. Perhaps I fabricated that from some other memory. Is there anything about that in the letters?
No, I haven’t found anything yet. By the way, you never revealed why you were traveling back to Switzerland in the first place. Or even why you had been living in Switzerland before that.
Well, the reason I was traveling back was because I’d been to a Tai Ji workshop in London. And as part of my visit I had returned to my flat in London in order to collect some more appropriate clothing for living through the coming Swiss winter. That makes sense.
Because there’s a reference to luggage. Being delayed by Customs.
No, I didn’t remember anything about the luggage before now. However, putting it in that context, it makes sense. I must have filled a large suitcase with my warm clothing, and sent it on as ‘accompanied baggage’ – though the luggage and I were not physically together. That’s how one did those things in those days. Maybe you can still do it; I don’t know.
That would account for the luggage arriving some days later, having been inspected by Customs.
I wonder what they could have been looking for. Anyway, that’s another piece of the jigsaw put in place.
You also wrote that the train was crowded, until most of the other passengers got off at Lille. At two in the morning.
I’d forgotten that. The journey across Flanders seems to have come from a different journey, because in that memory, I’m traveling towards Calais. So I cheated a bit. But that’s all right. It provided a bit of atmosphere. As did, I imagine, a compartment full of returning French people. The relief when they left. And thinking that at last I could perhaps stretch out a bit on one of the seats, and get some sleep. You know how people chat, even late at night, or they have the reading light on. It’s ok for them, they know that soon after two they’ll be able to sleep in their own beds, somewhere dans les parages de Lille. But for us poor through-travelers, it’s grab what you can when you can. And after Lille I did nod off. And woke again with the brightly lit platform – waiting there for what seemed ages, peeping out from half-closed eyelids, wishing they’d get a move on, or stop yabbering, and turn the light out.
And it wasn’t 6 o’clock – it was 5:20 according to your letter.
That’s ever worse! No wonder I was confused!

 

© Peter Young 2015

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

All-Purpose

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Welcome to the world
Revolving gaudy mobiles,
Arms waving hello.

A cartoon duvet:
Kitty, Cars or Spiderman
Still rumpled, half off.

A caring mother nurse
Soothes with sweet red medicine,
Curtains drawn, hushed tones.

Under the bedclothes
The torchlit story unfolds
And overcomes death.

Strip back the covers
Youthful enthusiasm
Knows no boundaries.

Sides have been taken.
Pyjama-d cosy sleepers
Snuggle into spoons.

Sunday supplements
Divert to other life-styles,
Crumbs of toast and news.

Retreat from the world
Into a good book. Notepad
Ready, just in case.

Winter’s breath exhaled
A sheet hiding the grey face;
We grieve in silence.

© Peter Young 2015

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Night Journey (1981)

The Darkest Hour

I’m on the overnight train to Basel. I prefer to use the German spelling, as I was at that time living in the German speaking part of Switzerland. I’d crossed the channel, been through Customs at Calais and found a window seat on the train waiting at the dockside platform. The journey from Calais to Basel takes most of the night – there’s no hurry as it’s collecting mail from a number of stations along the route – and arrives at six in the morning. I was prepared to rough it, dozing in my corner.

The route lies along the edge of northern France, bordering Flanders. It’s the country you hear about in tales of the First World War. Now the land has been smoothed, the bomb craters filled, the fields back under cultivation. What hasn’t changed is the flatness. While it is still light, I can see across the unvarying flat landscape, criss-crossed with irrigation ditches, in which dark memories fade into the mist. The dull monotony of the gathering gloom draws a veil over what happened here so long ago. It’s hard to believe that really happened; the land has done its best to heal its wounds.

The train speeds through tiny hamlets where the streetlights have just come on. It’s often too quick to catch the name on the platform, but sometimes a nearby shop or direction sign gives a clue to where we are – not that I would recognise the names of the hamlets between St Omer and Hazebrouck. What fascinates me are the violet signal lamps used by SNCF – a colour I’ve not seen used on British railways. They give an eery, other-worldly touch and let me know once again, that I am in a foreign land.

The first stop is Lille. A town I’ve never visited, and know only from my old-fashioned radio dial. The train pulls into a terminus. On a neighbouring platform a local train is waiting, almost miniature, small and square, painted red and yellow, nothing like a mainline train. I wonder how claustrophobic that might be to ride. Now my train sets off again, in reverse so to speak, pulled from the other end. Complete darkness falls. In the following hours of the night, the same procedure is carried out. The train arrives at a platform full of waiting trolleys. The sudden jolt of stopping brings me out of my slumber. Under the bright working lights the station staff transfer bundles of newspapers and other goods to the freight carriages. Their shouting and clattering draw my attention to these nocturnal activities – and I watch without enthusiasm until the sheer boredom and my tiredness return me to sleep, head resting against the cold glass.

Another town, Metz, somewhere near the German border – it sounds German, and I’m reminded of Metzgerei and wonder if the town has a bustling trade in meat products. There must have been other stations where we stopped but I did not wake. Am I going forwards or backwards? Some of those stations must have been termini, where the train again changed its direction of travel. Sometimes when I look out of the window I wonder if I’m going back to England.

At six the train has arrived at Basel, and I’ve been asleep. The compartment is empty; the other passengers have gone. I rub my bleary eyes and look out. I seem to be in railway sidings, dormant trains either side of me. No station. Where am I? No proper platform, but then continental railways don’t have high platforms; you have to climb down to almost ground level. Assuming I am in Basel, I quickly gather my bags and head out into the corridor, and then open the end door to let myself down onto the concrete walkway between the looming trains. Which way to go? All I can see are carriages stretching in both directions, and neither way seems more likely than the other. I’m still half-asleep so I stumble off towards the morning light. Suddenly a railway worker calls out, asks me where I’m going. “Basel” I say stupidly. He points in the opposite direction. “Merci vielmal” I reply as I turn and head towards the station.

© Peter Young 2015

Back in the Red

The Guildhall Pillarbox has now been repainted in ‘pillarbox red’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Not a Red Letter Day

The Pillar Boxes in Worcester are being repainted, and in the process provide an unusual sight. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Bridge over the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Lansdowne Road is being repaired. The sealant is bright red, which has brought a splash of colour to this usually rather dull concrete bridge:

Lansdowne Road Bridge Works 150228 pan 4 Looking more closely reveals a ‘Martian’ landscape:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

© Peter Young 2015

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized