In the hectic time leading up to the publication of Rustblind and Silverbright, our anthology of railway-themed slipstream and horror, I have invited short blog contributions from the authors included in that book, which I will be publishing at irregular intervals over the next month or two. Next in the series is Eibonvale regular Douglas Thompson with a characteristically metaphysical and thoughtful musing on the nature of the familiar railway station . . .
Stations are How Towns Dream.
by Douglas Thompson
Stations are how towns dream.
If you are lucky enough to have one of those Victorian ones left over, not crushed and brushed away under the onslaught of sixties modernism and brutalism that swept through our world like a rabid brontosaurus and lurched off around the corner of our minds in a hazy childhood cloud of half-remembered concrete dust. If you have a real station building with timber trellised eaves and cast-iron fretwork of interlacing beams like corset work, you’ll know that you are licensed to dream there, and that as you do: the town and all the long-dead men who built it are dreaming with you.
At its station, the limits of a town’s identity cease in a wistful demarcation, a petering out, and the town dreams of being by the seaside, or at the foot of a Highland glen. The station dreams of being Euston, Paris Gare Du Nor, Istanbul, a gateway to the Orient, its cool marble slabs spattered with the exotic spices of foreigners gabling in obscure tongues like music. The word ‘gay’ becomes somehow innocent and playful again under the canopies of a true station, built in the golden age when the world first became aware of itself and its true extent. There is something forever festive and celebratory in the architecture, like frozen flags and buntings. We are all going somewhere, or someone much beloved is coming home again after a long trial. An exciting beginning or a happy ending.
In stations, the buildings themselves dream that they are not bound to the ground by foundations, that like us they might up sticks, gird their loins, and shimmy off towards the far horizons drawn by the sight of a wistful puff of summer cloud that says “Escape”. Station architecture dreams of timber bathing huts by the seaside, of Alpine villas and the bracing air of snowfields and natural springs.
And what of the towns themselves that we glimpse from these stations as we pass on through in the train? We see them from above, we see their roofs beneath which their citizens sleep in harmonious rows like well-behaved children. Their dead sleep there too, in their graveyards, and the dead have left their stories woven around the thousand chimney pots like drifting smoke. The living citizens each think they are unique and new as they walk around like little toy soldiers and dolls in their perfect town that the dead have left them. But bit by bit, the buildings themselves and the stories they have encoded, re-take the citizens in their dreams as they sleep at night, and make them one with the town itself, the town’s true, immortal character. History repeats itself like a stained-glass window through which each day’s new sun must shine. The colours change but the pattern is so beautiful that it creates itself, it seems always to have existed, as all great art must.
A town is a living entity, which while its citizens themselves must know birth and death, it can know neither. People are like light bulbs, newspapers, matches, a tide of necessary ephemera which comes and goes, swept in and out at its stations. What is left behind and what endures is the town, its spirit and character and hope, the character of humanity and of the earth itself, which is indomitable and indestructible. Therefore never despair of your own life and fate, but know this: that you are not the matches burnt or the paper discarded on the wind. You are the town itself, its very bricks, part of it and all of it.
A town is a living person, and its station is where it dreams.
Visit Douglas Thompson at http://www.glasgowsurrealist.com/douglas