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