A Commute Via Train In Spring Time | Jacob Groet
Lying in bed, alarm sounding gently close to your left ear, you remark on the fact that it is actually possible to smell spring on the air. The sound dampened slightly by your window, birdsong is noticeably louder than last Monday. Light daintily falls between the crack in the curtains and onto the carpet, illuminating your walls and ceiling in a soft white glow. You are well-rested, and getting out of bed is easy. Throwing open the curtains, your eyes adjust to the view of your street, as you’ve known it for years. A pretty row of well-adorned red brick terraced houses arc their way down the street toward a larger road. Nicely proportioned, each terrace has its own small details. Houses on each side are grouped in threes: outer terraces with confident bay windows flank a central terrace with a small, central Juliet balcony. Adorning each centre terrace, all down the street, are keystones with the build dates for each set of three: 2023, 2029, 1912, 2036, 1904,… Normally, you would be able to see the bell tower of St. Christopher’s above the roofline of terraces to your immediate left, but the trees lining the street are just starting to bloom, and young leaves now obscure your view.
You dress for a new week at work. It’s a serious place, and people go there to get things done, so you dress accordingly. You wear a smart, plain suit and you accompany this, almost scandalously you think, with the informality of a knitted woollen tie. Downstairs, the radio begins playing from the kitchen. The Today programme is celebrating its 100th year. Half-listening, you finish the latter half of your morning ritual with coffee.
You unchain your bike from the fence outside your home. The air is crisp- not cold, but not warm either. Sunshine is warming, shade is cool. Almost everyone cycles now, and the prevalence of petrol cars is low. Cars are still widely used, but are almost all electric. At some point in the early 30s, car manufacturers began producing vintage models with modern electric engines. You remember that you must get the charge port of your Austin Healey repaired at the weekend.
You live in a town within commuting distance of London, which remains the beating heart of the country- although many things there have changed since your father was a boy. Turning off your street and onto the high street, you join many other cyclists- some with children on their way to school, others with packages and shopping. You see many men and women in suits and dresses on the pavement, walking with purpose to the same place as you. The high street is well-populated with local and national shops, catering to a variety of needs: florists, cafés, butchers, grocers, corner shops and pubs mix well with department stores and the cashless supermarket, which is a point of simultaneous pride and concern for the people of your town. Most towns have this peaceful equilibrium, although it wasn’t always the case.
Cycling is fairly enjoyable in the Spring air- the early morning keeps things cool. You arrive at the station and lock your bike in a nearby rack. The station is old, but well maintained by the staff there, who are neatly dressed in their navy blue uniforms and who clearly take pride in their work. You catch the 7:31 to Euston. At 7:30, you see a train elegantly pull into the station. The engine is long, sleek and painted in a subtle green livery, adorned with the abbreviation ‘W.C.M.L’ on the body of the engine itself. Its arrival is announced with a series of loud, pneumatic hisses, as the machine catches its breath before the 300mph, hydrogen-powered sprint to the next station.
You enter one of the train carriages. You prefer compartments over open seated carriages as they afford a little more privacy and quiet as you think through the plan for the day ahead of you. The train speeds up, and begins tearing through the countryside with ease. You note how new the country looks with the arrival of spring: like the whole place has been newly painted in green and yellow.
The countryside is unique in its appearance- even when viewed at speed. It is the only place that seems to succeed in looking still whilst being abuzz with activity- completely serene whilst so much goes on. New farmhouses and woodlands populate a landscape that previously served endless waves of suburban sprawl.
You pass towns on your way to the capital at speed, only just making out chimneys and spires before ducking into long, dark tunnels. In those moments the spring scenery gives way to your reflection, catching you off guard for a second before daylight re-appears. Slowing down for stations affords a brief glimpse of these towns, which are busy with the construction of new homes. By the railway, you see proud new townhouses and terraces being erected by local building companies. Stopping at a station for a few minutes, you take the time to observe a father and son discuss their plans over tea at a house they are building parallel to the track- they are deep in conversation, illustrating their thoughts by pointing at things with their mugs.
Arriving in London these days always feels like you’re doing it for the first time. There’s so much to see and do to take it all in one go. As the train slows, you can start picking out the scaffolding around the skyscrapers, as construction engineers begin the hard work of carefully dismantling them. You remember how the tower blocks came down almost a decade ago, and that even then everyone knew that it would be the skyscrapers next. You pass under them, and wonder how many months it will be before they stop blighting the landscape once and for all.
Arriving into Euston is far different than it used to be- in the past, concrete pillars used to adorn one’s entrance into the capital, accompanied by low ceilings and the friendship of pigeons. These days, terminal stations have something of their original grandeur about them. Everything about the modern-day seems to incorporate the confidence of the past. Euston today is as it was- grand, airy, complex and yet simple in its neoclassicism. Your eye moves fluidly from elegant round lamps to high vaulted ceilings and internal arches. Outside the station, on the way to the bus, you pass under the Doric arch, whose stones were dredged up from the river four years ago as part of the restoration of the old station.
Everything new carries traces of the old- as is the established style these days- it has been since you were a child. Red buses and trams dominate the streets outside of Euston station, beeping as they vie for dominance over the same stretch of road, now ruled by the bicycle. Confident in navigating this busy city, you jump onto the back of a red bus, scanning your phone by the door. The journey to work will take 15 minutes. You’ll be at work in plenty of time.
Passing people in the street still fascinates you- even if by bus. When stopping at red lights, you are able to imagine the lives of those you see passing you. What does he do? Is she sad? Are they in love? The pace of life, even though assisted by technology, seems to have slowed in the last 20 years. People have more time for each other and, as a result, life has become more interesting.
The street is busy as you exit the bus, alive with the hum of a city that has rediscovered itself. You walk the remaining distance to work to catch a glimpse of the river. The tide is in, and seagulls interrupt the low hum of barge horns. River hauliers chug eastwards, delivering goods from the factories up-river to freeports in the East end. The sailors of these vessels seem a contented sort, and you envy the views that their line of work must afford them of the city.
The air is mustier than in the country, but not overwhelming. In fact, a steady breeze is passing through the trees, and it seems determined to pin open your jacket. The sky is bright, filled with those giant white clouds that look as though they could be holding up the firmament of heaven. Nestled amongst the clouds is the bold streak of a commercial jet plane- body and wings honed like a lawn dart. Its travel is accompanied by the unique, mid-pitch hum of hydrogen jets. You ponder how fast it must be going as it slips its way above the clouds.
The police are a regular sight in the city. Their custodian helmets make them stand out as they walk their beats. Since the reforms twenty years ago, you’ve always known the police as friendly and unintrusive. That is, as long as you behaved yourself. Walking past New Scotland Yard as you do every morning, however, you get the sense that modern police operations are far more sophisticated than the beat police would lead you to believe.
Modernity and history have found a fantastic marriage in this age, you consider in the final moments of your journey; the appeal of past ways of life has been joined inexorably with the heights of modern technology. It is as it should be: at once familiar, slow, reassuring and life-affirming yet also active, bold and innovative. Heritage is the root of the society, and future innovation the green shoots at the end of its branches.
It took a long time for us to understand this: that there is a natural order, and the future cannot arrive in all places at the same time. You hope that your society will be able to appreciate that for thousands of years to come, and imagine how great things could have been if we had understood it sooner.