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the daily column

Going North

(Ed: backdated for lack of internet access)

Perhaps the best demonstration that England was the place where the train was invented, pioneered, is the sheer number of lines and stations that criss cross the capital – the Underground aside, there is at least 10 ‘main line’ stations just within the Underground’s ‘Zone 1’, nominally the centre of the city.

How is this proof? Only early on would the unplanned, disconnected system have been sensible – the better for the many nascent companies to compete; allowing our customers to change to a competitor simply a way of throwing money away. The evolution of thought is reflected in the ‘grand central’ stations of the colonies – Sydney Central, Melbourne’s Spencer St Southern Cross, Delhi Central, New York’s Grand Central – single stations marshalling points for the assorted destinations serviced.

As my train, the 8:03 to Glasgow, pulls out of Euston station, the history long forgotten under the Virgin Trains brand, I notice something strange about the countryside. That light dusting of white isn’t morning frost – not when it’s on the roofs of houses and cars, on the rocks by the rails. It’s an early snow of the season, as if the whole land had been sprinkled with icing.

Suddenly, the name ‘icing’ makes that much more sense.

The early light makes the rushing landscape look like a faded image, a photograph left on the shelf for too long. The quaint literary images that once sounded like a dream-world throw themselves onto the landscape. Examination from a distance and at speed is impossible, but it makes an impression no less, contrasting sharply with my nominal home country and its more untamed landscape.

The race north keeps the sun low in the sky, the angle of the light never peaking higer than mid-morning of summer, subjectively only a few short months earlier.

A pause, a conversation with chance-met strangers. A philosopher and an idealist; another a fellow Australian, the election called; I hide my pleasure for the sake of

Birmingham, one of the landmark cities. Now the landscape is damp; whatever early morning snow has fallen here has since melted, the transient white coating replaced by the sheen of water. The accents are thicker up here, a lilting rythmn entering the voices. There’s a canal by the side of the train line, a second mode of transportation, now largely disused in favour of the more efficient overland routes.

The grey blanket of clouds lays thick over the landscape, filtering the light. A moment of despair for this summer child, for it is rare enough to see blue sky in this country, let alone absorb some sunlight.

The journey continues, through former industrial heartlands.

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