Sliding Tracks

It’s always a shift of perspective leaving our home in Wales. Yesterday, after history class, Delphine and I got on the train to London. This is the monthly dance company commute, the first one of the the year. Go Candoco! This means driving a minute-and-a-half down the road from our house to Borth train station. That’s it. A minute-a-half of deep countryside will connect you, five hours travel time, to one of largest metropolises in the world.

For Mid Wales, the train remains one of its most solid Victorian legacies. The 1860’s arrival of the railway changed its landscape forever. It muscled in on the reclaimed land used for centuries by the shipping industry. The train follows the flat banks of the Dyfi estuary, where locally built clippers unloaded their goods from the Americas, re-loaded with Welsh slate and went back out into the world. Our village Borth was built on the spoils of this very industry – a favoured spot for sea captains to build their homes. I wonder if Victorian Brummies were looking for a caravan park to see out their summer holidays even then.

The railway literally cut out a line of change. Ships couldn’t access the boat yard anymore because of the train line blocking it. Built on a high strip of reclaimed land, its Victorian steam engines would have looked like a sinister version of WiFi to those poor sea captains. Or maybe they thought, no problem, I’ll just let out my boggy field to those holidaying Brummies and start up a half-decent fish and chips. Ahhh, the sweet smell of progress.

I feel this same sense of change on the train. I leave Borth as an excited yokel. Flask of tea, sandwiches, just happy to be staring out of the window at mountains and sea. Everyone on the trai  has the same strangely contented expression. This marks the embarrassing moment where strangers start talking. Suddenly it feels ok to tell fellow passengers sitting in a two-metre radius about your travel plans. Everyone crosses their fingers and wishes each other good luck. The tea lady comes by with her trolley. You buy a chocolate bar that you’d never normally consider paying fifteen times the normal price for – just to celebrate. Elderly people speaking Welsh nearby make you want to wrap yourself up in their knitting and have a welcome nap.

The change comes slowly. Usually for me it’s at Shrewsbury station. It’s still a rural-feeling market town, but the yokel reverie suddenly ends. It’s as if someone has come on board and washed my face with real-life windscreen. Suddenly everyone else’s expression changes too. Like we’re looking at each with new, slightly suspicious eyes.

As the train carries on and the setting becomes more and more urban, the look changes again. I stare at my clothes. What on Earth am I wearing? And if I look bad, what is the person next to me wearing? Can woolen felt ever be a good look? And why did we ever think that muddy boots would cut it in the city? Everyone around us is wearing shoes that have obviously never seen dirt. Oh yeah. Change.

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