Monday, January 07, 2008
West Coast Line
for Christmas, on the twenty-third,
was always going to be a journey
of parallels, of those who have and
those poor sods who haven’t booked
who squat in silent misery on
cases over-stuffed with gifts.
We slow to crawl through Birmingham
past empty gaunt gasometers,
canals and vast flat muddy plains
patched with puddles big as lakes.
The queue for coffee edges on
towards the counter where the man
has just run out of paper bags
and will not let us have hot drinks
for fear of spilling on the crowds
of squatters in between the cars.
The fogbound cityscapes give way
to late sun slanting over cows.
The couple opposite grow loud
from drinking solidly for hours.
We stop at Crewe. The dusty roof
- of glass, but fogged with layers of filth –
casts dim green light on grey cream tiles
as stragglers haul their luggage off
the heavy train, and we heave out
into the sun, a golden stream.
At Warrington we have a laugh –
the drunken woman disappears
and then returns to tell her tale,
How she’s been stuck, and phoned for help:
“I’m in the toilet in coach J –
I’m in the darkness” – and she laughed
half fearful that her plight had been
broadcast to all, but sadly, no.
Wigan: some platforms, not a pier
grey beneath the pink of dusk.
Above the wires, a large pale moon.
In red iron cubes some pansies flower
-and off we go, past playing fields
where hardy figures kick a ball.
The loud-voiced man stands up to leave
- a chance of peace from the next halt.
I think of Larkin on his train
and brood on weddings in the sun
as darkness falls and off we speed
much faster now, with no more stops
till Scotland and the homeward stretch
to Christmas and the thought of home.
The train is quieter now. I doze
and when I waken we are there.
We drag our bags down to the door
and all these strangers pull on coats
to leave the long womb of the train
and vanish in the Glasgow night.