Postcard from... England (Covered in snow)

Snow.jpg

By Paul Scraton:

It felt like an escape, when the train eased its way of the Leeds station on its way south towards London. There was snow on the ground and more to come, the newspapers losing their minds over the SNOWMAGGEDON to be brought down upon the country by the BEAST FROM THE EAST. Somewhere on the edge of Wakefield, where fields crossed by electricity pylons met the last garden fences of a housing estate, kids pulled sledges in the direction of a hill as crows circled above.

At London Bridge station, construction workers threw snowballs at each other, exploding them against hard hats and the metal fences, laughing and calling out to each other in the accents of many different nations. A man in a suit stood next to a young woman with a backpack in the door of the station, watching the snow falling before pulling out their phones to capture the moment. Everything seemed to have stopped to watch it come down. Station workers, travellers and the pub-door smokers.  The city, so loud and intense only a moment or two early, was now muffled.

Watch out mate, came the shout, as a misguided snowball sailed over the fence from the construction site, just missing my head.

The next morning Clapham Common was white but the roads were clear as we caught the bus to Vauxhall. Once there it began to snow again, so intense this time that the opposite bank of the river was obscured and the Houses of Parliament were nothing but a ghostly, Gothic shadow in the gloom. With nowhere to be that we couldn’t reach on foot, the snow for us was just a distraction, a pleasant break from the norm. Newspapers told a different story. Cars stranded on the M80. Army deployed in Lincolnshire. Scotland and Ireland on shut-down.

We have bread, the sign said, snow piling up against it outside a grocery store somewhere along the east coast of Ireland, and now appearing in my social media feed.

In another gap in the weather, we made it south to Hastings, where the announcer at the station greeted us with apocalyptic warnings of impending doom. An hour or so later it began to snow again. All trains cancelled. We walked over the hill and down into the old town, along fairy tale streets of crooked houses, like a Dickens scene in the snow. On the beach waves crashed against the snow that had settled on the pebbles and around the fishing boats pulled up high, away from the water. An eerie scene. We were alone, for a time, until a group of exchange students appeared out of the sea mist. Phones raised, they captured the icy onslaught of the snow and sea spray as it blew in from the English Channel.

The next morning it was time to leave. Most of the snow had gone. Another travel window in the weather, rolling north through frosted fields and past white cliffs towards Gatwick. I was heading home, from home. Always a strange feeling and it was made odder still, having spent five days in an England covered in snow.

Paul is the editor-in-chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. His book Ghosts on the Shore: Travel’s along Germany’s Baltic coast is out now from Influx Press.

Train

IMAGE: Sam Eadington

IMAGE: Sam Eadington

By Sam Eadington:

England is best seen from the train. The rolling landscapes of the patchwork quilt; the sheep, the horses, the cows, the deer; the noble oaks, winding streams, drystone walls and disciplined hedges. They’re all a part of it. There are the sprawling suburbs of bad brick banter, saloon-skinned culs-de-sac snakes of mini-mansions less than a yard apart, but importantly detached. That sense of independence, of possession, it matters, and transcends the shuddering windows to the carpeted isle where it blooms into righteous indignation with every incident of seat reservation noncompliance. It’s from the train you see England’s character exposed, its emotions raw, its real metal. Metal fences, metal wire, metal buildings, metal thieves; responsible for your delays. You are apologised to for the inconvenience this may have caused to your journey. You are apologised to again and again. Sorry, I nearly touched you. Sorry, can I just squeeze past. Sorry, this is my stop. Hopefully not a ‘Parkway’ stop, though. The new boys in town. Or more accurately the new boys out of town, where you’re guaranteed either a massive car park or a power station. Although, on second thoughts, perhaps not so unfitting for the dystopia Turner foresaw; hissing water falls, cooled, onto a concrete floor from a concrete tower, that train doesn’t stop at this station, just forces you behind the yellow line, a contemporary rendition of what was once called sublime. 

You’re back on the train flying through paintings. All those hedges, how blurry; impressionist. Then a tree shoots into focus stretching its arms into the sky still half asleep. Then more hedges, not blurry anymore. Sharp and predatory, judging by the huddle of deflated footballs gathered at their feet. Yet more hedges, but these ones looking fresh after a perpendicular swivel and slide between the stretched out gardens. So many trampolines, but nobody bouncing. There are lovely big windows but all the curtains are closed as if I might see something of you I shouldn’t, then see you again in town and tell you what I saw. There are tiny little windows on brand new houses, half glass, half white plastic frame, not even big enough to poke your head out for a smoke. 

Another station, another WHSmith, another poster about something Jesus said. Must be true, I’ve seen the same thing in Cheltenham, Doncaster, Swindon and Crewe. Corroborated evidence; not worth a thing anymore. The trolley rattles closer with its nervous disposition and although I’m not at all hungry I want to eat. Was this not the point of crisps? A bag of prawn cocktail, I can’t get those abroad. With an hour to go I fill my ears with noise I can choose. Pulp. I turn the volume right up and damage my ears so I don’t have to hear the businessman and his vacuous words. I pity the person on the other end of the line. I close my eyes and let Jarvis take me back in time.

Sam Eadington is a freelance writer, architecture student, and co-founder of design studio Estudio ESSE. Twitter: @SamEArch. Website: estudioesse.com