This Is The Page Of The Train

(aka getting to Web Technologies Scotland)

There’s something peaceful about travelling by train.

Of course, you have to sit on a cold and draughty platform on an uncomfortable metal seat for twenty minutes while you watch a barely coherent and barely vertical — but still somewhat belligerent — gentleman gets manhandled of the train before yours by the police before you can get your train. But once you’ve done that…

…and once you’ve struggled to your seat with your luggage trying to find your reservation, and you’ve managed to somehow wedge yourself into the small space available and tried to sit down comfortably, then you can relax.

And the journey between Newcastle and Edinburgh is a particularly pleasant one. The line remains close to the coast for the most part, so you can watch as you glide serenely past places on the Northumbrian coast like Alnmouth.

Of course, after my recent train journeys I remembered one key fact which made my journey somewhat easier.

That is that someone will always be talking on a mobile phone.

So this time, I took my MP3 player and — with the music on softly, so hopefully the rest of the carriage wasn’t subjected to a tinny hissing ‘headphones’ noise — I was cocooned in my own little peaceful world.

I could still hear that there was talking going on around me, but I was no longer able to pick up fragments of conversation and so I was able to drift along happily in my own little world. Of course, everyone else presumably has to listen to the sounds of me frantically scribbling this all down in an A5 jotter for transcription when I get back home, but you can’t have everything

Talking of which, I can’t help but notice that there’s something about Scotland which seems to be inherently wet (a bit like Peterlee, which seems to generate its own local fog). When I left Newcastle, it was an unspectacular if slightly dull March afternoon. However, as we’re heading north, the grey banks of grey clouds are seeming to pile up, becoming ominously thicker and darker.

Passing close to the coast again, we slip quickly past what appears to be a wetland area close to the sea, and that reminds me of the thing I don’t like about this journey.

While it’s true that I enjoy watching the scenic coast fly past, sometimes the scenic coast appears to be a little too near the train — as in when you look down from the window and you can’t actually see any ground at all, and you find yourself idly wondering just how many inches of damp, crumbling rock and earth are separating you and the train from a calamitous descent over the cliffside and into the sea. Something for you all to watch out for, just near Berwick, if you ever travel up there on the East Coast main line…

But even with that, there’s still something special about this journey. I’m going between two cities I particularly love — Newcastle and Edinburgh — and it always reminds me that as a North-Easterner I tend to feel culturally closer to, and more at home with, the Scots, than with Londoners, and I wonder how come I’m part of England when my home is far, far closer to the capital of Scotland?

It’s also interesting to watch people on a train sans sound, as it were. There are people reading books (I was one of ‘em earlier on); there are people you can spot obviously by themselves, those in groups, those travelling for work, those travelling for pleasure and usually (although I don’t spot any on this carriage) those who are already somewhat “refreshed”. As a newt.

I’d guess that the person sitting across from me with the three A4 sized texts on Employer/Employee relations is travelling for work purposes, for example. Either that or she’s spectacularly dull, if that’s her preferred read for entertainment purposes.

And I wonder whether people assume that I’m a business or a pleasure traveller. I’m wearing a shirt and tie, which would normally put me squarely in the business category, but I am furiously scribbling in a battered looking A5 jotter. Now you and I know that just makes me a compulsive blogger who was a bit bored on the train, but I’m guessing it’s puzzling to any of my fellow passengers who are attempting to play the “business or pleasure” game.

I’m actually coming up here to represent the PSWMG by chairing the Web Technologies Scotland event [Ed: see yesterday's post, plus the one which will appear once I've written up my copious notes]. That’s sort-of business (it’s not what you’d call a holiday), yet I’ve taken a day’s holiday to attend, as I’m not representing my employers. So it’s somewhere in between, I guess!

We’re passing through some simply breathtaking landscapes now — rolling hills, stands of trees, streams (we’ve passed Berwick, will these be “burns” now?) … but all under the same increasingly leaden sky.

You Southerners may have the weather [Ed: by all accounts, rather a lot of it today, as it happens] but I tell you, the Scots and the Northerners have… well we’ve got the scenery. It’s like God’s own country up here. If only I’d remembered my camera, I could have taken a picture to show you.

Quite some way past Berwick now — just about to reach Dunbar, and I’m in sensory overload. I’m thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow, I’m writing this, I’m gazing at a fir-covered hillside and the Sisters of Mercy are providing the soundtrack.

Passing a strange, white, boxy structure now which for some reason I assume to be some kind of power station, I notice that the sky has darkened further. Of course, by now it’s ten to six, and as I’m going further north in winter, I’m moving to shorter days, earlier sunsets and the like, so perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising.

Another reason that I like this journey is that it’s a nice sort of time. Ninety-five minutes or so, without needing to change anywhere. It gives you enough time to comfortably do some work, read, or even in my case write, without it being so long that it feels like you’re spending half the day on the train.

Now it’s started to rain. And not just drizzle. I mean rain, with a capital “pissing down”. Streams of water are running down the carriage windows and visibility outside is suddenly way down. But I’m still inside, one a comfortably cool train, nice and dry, and not having to drive, to concentrate or to worry about the road conditions.

Letting the train take the strain, like the advertising refrain that I’m saying again…

I can see a gap in the clouds to the North now, and it surprises me how light it still is: indicating that the blackness before wasn’t the blackness of night, but was just related to the great big black rainclouds.

…and then finally the train announcer, standing about eight foot away from me with a microphone in his hand, announces that we’ll be pulling into Edinburgh in a few minutes, so it’s time for me to start packing up…

5 Responses to “This Is The Page Of The Train”

  1. Gill responds:

    Have you ever read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”? Yours is shorter. :-)

  2. JackP responds:

    @Gill: unfortunately I haven’t so I’m not sure what you’re telling me!

  3. pixeldiva responds:

    It’s funny, train journeys, especially London-Scotland journeys up that particular stretch of track always make me think the same sort of thoughts.

    For all that train travel can be a pain, I actually quite enjoy the five or so hours of limbo, travelling from place to place. It has a peculiar tranquility for me - which will no doubt be shattered next time I travel, by some idiot playing music on their mobile phone speaker, or a screaming baby or whatever, but still.

  4. Collegue Man responds:

    The bridge at Berwick upon Tweed, beautiful and brings back childhood memories. Aye ’tis a loverly journey indeed.

  5. Dan responds:

    I love that journey too, and think I could quite happily make that commute every day. You’ve captured it very nicely indeed, also illustrating the benefits of carrying an A5 jotter. :-)

    I’ve been travelling a lot by plane recently, up and down to London and further afield, and the train wins by a country mile in terms of the experience. Sadly flying wins on economics, logistics and flexibility. But we are getting the railway back in Alloa later this year (we might get electricity next year) so I can see new opportunities on the horizon…

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