I did a gig in Falmouth last week. Cornwall is so beautiful. If I lived there I wouldn’t just want independence, I’d literally cut myself off from the rest of England and row the county away.
I went to the gig by train and passing through all the West Country railway stations, largely unchanged since I was a Somerset-based teenager stirred up all kinds of Proustian memories.
Falmouth Town station is a concrete platform with a single track. There is a little shelter at one end and the only concession to modernity is a small electronic help station. As I stood in the drizzle, waiting for the 10.23 to Truro, I was suddenly 19 again, travelling around the UK and Europe with my red Karrimore rucksack and one-man tent (fittingly, as I never got anyone to share it with me, not for want of trying).
Travelling by train seemed romantic and exciting then when, like the Littlest Hobo, I had nowhere particularly to go. My only objective was to explore and experience stuff (which I did tentatively and inefficiently). The train was not, as it was today, a tedious necessity to get me from where I was to where I wanted to go, it represented freedom. My life was unwritten and the world was full of potential.
Yet typically, that young man had no idea how lucky he was or how special or fleeting that time would be, how he should savour it and make the most of every second because he’d never get the chance to experience it again. Or if he did it would only be decades later, as a pleasant, dull, ache of nostalgia in his stomach.
I had been like Paul Simon sitting on a railway station, my unknowable future spreading out before me, torn between wishing I was at home and wanting to escape and make the world my own.
Back in the present day, waiting in the rain, with a ticket for my destination, I hummed “Homeward Bound” and thought about how we can sometimes reach back through time and touch our past with our fingertips, though never get to change it. Yet even as we do this we remain unaware of the fingertips of our future self reaching back to us. Just as we finger our young self we are unaware we are being fingered in turn by our own gnarled digits.
The Richard Herring of 2044 might travel through one of these West Country train stations, with its ancient decorative, metal balustrades and recall the man he was thirty years before, unaware of… well, I don’t know what, because I am unaware of it. Maybe of the fact that he had wasted his last few days of calm before his life was turned upside down by becoming a dad.
West Country people are the best though. On the train I shared a table with a kind-faced businesswoman working on her laptop and a young student. Across the aisle two Railway managers were joking together. One of them had a little beard on his chin, like a wizard might have had. Only in the South West. The other made the businesswoman laugh by complaining about his cough and wishing he could have a cigarette to make it better. He then popped to the dining car and surprised as by bringing enough hot drinks and biscuits for us all. This kind of civility should be the norm, but it would never happen in London.
What fantastic customer service. Great Western Railways should be proud. That’s not a sentence that you will see very often.