Monday, February 1, 2016

Great Train Journeys

A Mind's Journey to Diss
By John Betjeman

Dear Mary,
Yes, it will be bliss
To go with you by train to Diss,
Your walking shoes upon your feet;
We'll meet, my sweet, at Liverpool Street.
That levellers we may be reckoned
Perhaps we'd better travel second;
Or, lest reporters on us burst,
Perhaps we'd better travel first.
Above the chimney-pots we'll go
Through Stepney, Stratford-atte-Bow
And out to where the Essex marsh
Is filled with houses new and harsh
Till, Witham pass'd, the landscape yields
On left and right to widening fields,
Flint church-towers sparkling in the light,
Black beams and weather-boarding white,
Cricket-bat willows silvery green
And elmy hills with brooks between,
Maltings and saltings, stack and quay
And, somewhere near, the grey North Sea;
Then further gentle undulations
With lonelier and less frequent stations,
Till in the dimmest place of all
The train slows down into a crawl
And stops in silence.....Where is this?
Dear Mary Wilson, this is Diss.

Monday pm.
I am at Diss Station too.
I’m waiting to board the ‘Sir John Betjeman’ train. How charming that it has a name as well as a destination.

A man has just edged past me with strident pink rhubarb stems and a bunch of yellow daffodil buds poking out of his holdall. I must trudge up the garden and check my rhubarb when I get back home.

There is a feral cockerel patrolling the station, looking for lunchbox leftovers. He is friendly, and has long and glistening sickle feathers. I’m certain Sir John would have liked that, he was very fond of Diss.

Now I’m on the train, sweeping through Betjeman’s landscape, heading for Liverpool Street.
Wide fields, winter wheat, weather-boarded barns and listing trees under infinite skies.
Before we get to the 'new and harsh'.
Stratford and beyond.
Sir John would barely recognise that.

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