Sunday, 12 December 2010

The train goes running along the line

I am writing a short story at the moment set on a commuter train. It might be more accurate to say that it is set in the mind of a commuter, dealing with the repetition of those journeys, the way the little differences from one morning to the next become magnified against the familiar background.

Almost every weekday I take the same overground train East to West across London. Even though I grow weary of the struggle to wedge myself onto the train, and the every man for himself attitude that usually prevails, I still love to stare out of the window, when I can get near one. Trees, marshes and reservoirs slide past, pointing out the seasons that are hidden by the buildings that follow.

The train gets an unusual view on its path, taking you past the backs of everything. Instead of neat terrace fronts I can see the jumbly back gardens, washing flapping from awkward roof spaces, the places where foxes escape through the back fence into the strips of railway wilderness.

I remember the first time I spotted the rows of icicles fringing a station platform like its own secret Christmas decorations. Little views like that I sometimes wish I had captured, so I dared to get out my Diana camera with her new wide angle lens last week as I waited for my train, which was miraculously running. This is what she saw:

Some friends who came to live in London from Mexico used to say to me that London was blue, always blue. They meant it literally (they were professional photographers) but it took me a long time before I saw what they meant about the light here. You don't notice until you return from a faraway place, and then every view across the Londn skyline, from the bridges, morning or evening, seems to have a dusky blue filter across it. When I can't see it anymore because I've been in the city too long, one place where the air is always blue is in St Pancras, up under the roof.

I love big stations, but St Pancras is my favourite at the moment. My photo didn't do it justice at all, and failed to capture just how far away that roof seems, like a lid on a cool blue world that the inhabitatnts can never touch. It's probably a bit sad to admit it, but wandering about in there makes me glad to be in London again.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Diana in Rome

This is a view of the river taken from a bridge near Trastevere in Rome in October. I remember the colour of the sky, that odd royal blue that is bright and deep at the same time, and it has sort of shown up here. I sat Diana on the edge of the bridge and opened the shutter for about 15 seconds, meaning the lights that didn't seem so bright to the eye at the time now look like flares.

I like the way the pattern in that image echoes the one in this photo which is more recognisably of Rome:

When I first glimpsed the Coliseum from up the hill, the hairs on my neck prickled, and I was surprised to find my eyes watering. I hadn't expected such a familiar landmark to have an emotional effect on me, but it did, more than anything else I saw in Rome. I spent the five days gravitating back to this building and just staring, wondering why I was mesmerised. I still haven't figured it out. If I believed in past lives I'd say I must have been there before.

I had imagined Rome to be mash of honking traffic jams, pollution, and urban development crammed in amongst the ruins. It turned out to be a lovely city to walk around, with spaces and quiet to be found even in the busiest parts. Curtains of creepers hung everywhere, drawing me down side alleys and into dead ends with their flashes of green and red. I felt quite at home there, and would happily have settled into a few months of writing and wandering, fuelled by perfect espresso, finding new views of the Coliseum from Rome's hills.