online: 25 october 2003

20 october 2003 returning to the city

About 09:30 on a train from Wales to London. This sunny morning reminds me of the last part of my Giraldus trip* 25 years ago. Returning to England - and to life away from my origins in Wales. I'm still moving towards, or in, the English culture that Welsh people of my generation were taught - in language, custom, everything - except for the chapel - and that was a protestantism imposed from without, not coming from the more catholic (or even pagan) nature of Welsh culture, I believe.

But this fine morning I am thinking risky thoughts - to try for once, and perhaps finally, to escape that imposed colonial culture, even personality, and to proceed now (in writing, and in place and language) to another life - I hope decolonised (as all the world will surely be, eventually, however long it takes).

Birmingham to London. Our train missed a connection at Wolverhampton so I'm on a later train. Apparently the trains on this route are late more often than not. And now we are again on one of the new 'tilting trains'** - they are not yet running at high speed or tilting to retain stability on curves. I am told that they are already disliked for the painful seating and other discomforts that I experienced when travelling here three days ago.

...suddenly a man sitting nearby is calling for help because his companion has collapsed... The train manager arrives almost immediately and a doctor-passenger comes in two or three minutes...

12:00 the train has stopped and those of us who were sitting nearby are waiting in the bar while the collapsed woman is treated on the train by para-medics. After 10-15 minutes of resuscitation she is moved onto the platform. The train manager announces that she 'appears to have had a heart attack' and that we will arrive half an hour late.

I notice the speed and the calm way that those trained for emergency dealt with it. Will there come a time when 'normal life' is dealt with as well - and when everyone around behaves so helpfully as this. I think yes! That is the kind of constructive and adaptive realism I am always expecting ...

But later I heard that some passengers were saying things like 'why don't they get the woman off - I'm in a hurry'. The train manager said he had to bite his tongue.

The person who told me this suggested that there is a selfishness that has become widespread since the Thatcherite/Reganite 1980s that will have to be overcome before public life can improve..if it ever will. I tried to imagine a generational change that would overcome this selfishness (and I hope that this writing becomes part of it!).

12:15 The collapsed woman is already in an ambulance and on the way to hospital - the train is moving again - and we are back in our seats.

I think again about living non-colonially, if I can!

But then I look out and see the clouds in three dimensions - the vast spaces between and behind clouds being made visible by the motion of the train. I see that it is taking about 2 seconds to travel from one overhead line post to another - perhaps 40 metres - and calculate from this that we're moving at about 100 miles (or 160 kilometres) an hour.

So what could be my first move to evade, disobey, or to go beyond the colonised life and culture to which I was educated? In fiction if not in life - if indeed there is a difference)?... But for the moment my thoughts remain in the actual clouds.

But nevertheless I re-read the waking notes where this resolve began and see many things that I would like to enact... So my first move before leaving train, in 10-20 minutes, is to be what?... The first thing I think of is to continue my two Welsh projects: 'after Giraldus' and '25 villages'***!

And now we in a tunnel approaching London. I guess we are underneath the heath!

'Euston station 1 mile' ... we arrive at 13.15 and these thoughts are distracted by the hurried actions of re-entering the city and its transportation and getting to a dental appointment.

21:04 After return to the city I kept making seemingly trivial mistakes such as forgetting my glasses, my bus pass, getting on the wrong bus... Am I leaving the colonised world or falling back into it? Has something changed? Yes I feel somewhat different.

*'After Giraldus' is the book of my following the route of Giraldus Cambrensis - his journey through Wales in 1188. At each stop I asked the first person I met to read what Giraldus wrote of that place. There is one copy, of a first edition of only three copies, at Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth. The visit to Neath appears on pages 195-203 of the internet and everyone, Batsford Books, London 2000, ISBN 1-899858-20-2.

** Virgin Rail has bought tilting trains in order to drive at high speeds on old track which has curves sharp enough to derail a non-tilting train at high speed.

***For 'after Giraldus' see above. '25 villages' is the as-yet-unwritten book of my visit to 25 villages said by the regional planners to be declining. I asked a person born in each village to write about its past, its present and its future. The writing of Ann Watkins about the first village, Glyntawe, appears on pages 204-208 of the internet and everyone, Batsford Books, London 2000, ISBN 1-899858-20-2.

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