Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Train whistles

“Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it.”

What is it about trains? Those railways sing bewitchment…as Paul Theroux wrote, and he's right. They are timeless, yet historical, they swerve and glide, sink and shuffle their way across all manner of landscapes, in a manner that no other form of transport has managed to replicate. They get you to B from A, but through C, D, E and beyond, giving you a true glimpse into a world a plane, or car, can never do.

Theroux may have gone around most of the world's countries by train, but even my four hour journey home to Cornwall is a mix of strange pleasures: the stolen glances into people back room windows, the fisherman, dogs being walked, cows, sheep, rivers arcing, the sun streaming in over wide open land that is so English, the rest.

Drowsy too: no need to worry about directions, or control, just recline, stare, read, engage with others. Theroux so often meets interesting, intriguing people (or has the ability to make them seem so), on his trips, and admittedly he is in far away lands, on 20-hour journeys in shared cabins, so perhaps it comes easy, more naturally, but it is still part of the potential thrill of travel.
My cousin traveled from Beijing in Brighton by train after her travels around Asia and said it was fantastic. Trains inspire in a way that many people identify with, but in ways that are hard to fathom, to exactly pin-point.

I've read three Theroux's now, each one a tome to his love of railways, their uniqueness, grandness, ramshackle-ness, and beyond, and each time I left with a sense of something, I don't know, A sense of falling, like an arrow shower, sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain (Too much? Well, more railways in art at least).

This is a video of Lou Reed reading an abridged version of the open page from The Great Railway Bazaar set to music, it is rather great.


Siany said...

I do my best thinking on trains. If I'm having trouble writing, I hop on a train and whooosh somewhere and by the time I'm where i need to be, I'm all figured out.

My favourite form of travel, without a doubt. As long as I'm sat by the window, facing fowards.

Dan Worth said...

I too am very much all for train thinking. Where do you go? Far, or near?

I would recommened the Great Railway Bazaar highly to you if you are already a train travel convert. PLus it's an excellent book too.

John Medd said...

Dan, do you know Ian Marchant's Parallel Lines?

Dan Worth said...

Cheers, John, have stuck it on the to read list on amazon, some glowing reviews.