Saturday, 11 August 2012

Writer on the train

I really enjoyed James Attlee's books Isolarion (a journey along Oxford's Cowley Road) and Nocturne (a meditation on night and the dark), so I was intrigued to learn that his current incarnation is as 'writer on the train'. First Great Western has granted him a pass to its network and permission to talk to its staff, and so he is currently undertaking hundreds of journeys, seeing what insights he can gather when 'cut loose from the need to reach my destination as quickly as possible, on the lookout for unusual stories and destinations'.

Attlee joins a distinguished tradition of writers reflecting about the state of England and the meaning of life on trains. Edward Thomas's Adlestrop, of course. Orwell leaving Wigan in a third-class carriage, seeing a distraught working-class housewife, poking a blocked drain with a stick. The ‘frail travelling coincidence’ of the train journey that inspired Larkin's 'The Whitsun Weddings'. Or Peter Readings’s long poem, Stet (1986):

'A cooling tower, scrap cars bashed into cubes,
A preternaturally mauve canal.
… Cropped boys,
Aged about sixteen, manifest recruits'

Then there is Frances Cornford's 'To a fat woman seen from the train': 'O fat white woman whom nobody loves ...' - which begs the question, how did she know that nobody loved her?

Anyway, I urge you to check out Attlee's blog about the project at

and, if you are so inclined, follow him on Twitter at @thesteelhighway

Mundane quote for the day: ‘Do you remember the five-thirty from Paddington? What a dear old train it was.’ - Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man

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