04 August 2008

railway cuttings

One of my favourite films is The Station Agent, the story of a special man, immersed in railway lore and timetables, who inherits a disused railway station in rural New Jersey and ups and moves there. I love that little station house, outside the front door railway trains rumbling past; and its own mobile cafeteria pulling up in the morning where you can buy fresh ccoffee. I want that paint-peeling run down little house. I want to go there for holidays.

But this is the nearest I get to it - thousands of miles away.

I tell you all this as a precursor to a bit of natural history. One warm morning last week, at least I think it was last week and not the week before, I jumped on the first train that arrived so that I could get off a couple of stops down the line at Whitechapel, and sit in the sun for a few minutes. Where the backs of the shops lining Whitechapel Road meet the railway line there is a small gap, which has been populated by vine like plants and buddleia.

Buddleia is not a particularly pretty plant. The pendulous flowers are attractive enough - and butterflies and bees love it - but it's generally pretty scruffy when it's not in flower. It does have the most remarkable tenacity though. You can see it growing along every London railway line, on any vestiges of derelict land. Under railway arches.

It holds on in those cleats of land between buildings, and even from the cracks in the pediments of terraced houses (though not mine, I hope).

I like that willingness to take the main chance and hold on tight. And the fact that on the one side of these buildings is the chaos of Whitechapel with its out of whack no-fixed-aboders mingling with devout Muslims, stalls full of mangoes, exotic vegetables and brightly coloured textiles and on the other side of the tracks is, with the help of a little imagination, a slice of the countryside.

We'll take a trip to the other side of the tracks another day, I think.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's a wonderful piece of film - especially the little girl who's running in her hat and coat. I grew up in West London in the '50s but school sports day at my primary school was very, very similar. Lots of ritual humiliation involving dropped eggs, sacks that tripped you up, and going sprawling in the three-legged race . . . and praying that you would not come last.