last of a long line

another london to manchester
last of a long line
calling at crewe, wilmslow, and stockport

we pull out 

a brickwork defile


in the cut raindrops crawl 
determinedly across my polycarbonate windowpane
like hebephrenic sperms in spasmodic stop-motion

the outgoing inter-city diesel overtakes us on the way out of euston
later, after we cross regents canal, recognising camden
it flies past us 
in reverse

probably left something at the station

metroland and
the suburban backyard
socioeconomic sinusoid 
nice, then not so nice, then nice again

milton keynes appears, disappears, in a ten-second social experiment
ten thousand squares of tinted glass
reflecting the weather so 
grey today

and with an unhurried electrical hum

our bobbing-apple earth rolls
lazily over, and my north-bound train
turns into a space elevator
ascending at two hundred english miles an hour

the hedgerow’d farmland drops away vertically
and the trackside becomes a free-falling eiffel tower of rain-rusted railway marginalia

now nothing.
field after field after field
of grass, and pylons
and tractors

inside, someone has stuck googly-eyes under the existing eyebrows of the train alarm
i’m being watched

in the forgotten fenced-off lots round the back of former industrial units

empty brick-built factories with saw-tooth roofs and interiors coruscating with underfoot-crunching wire-reinforced glass and chromium drug paraphernalia

generations of green, overgrown alien things cracking sixties concrete and sluggishly munching through victorian mortar like worms in a bad apple

and abandoned cars and caravans, rusting to nothing

post-apocalyptic anachronisms, hiding here in plain sight, peering warily through the weeds and their broken windshields, waiting, waiting, waiting

world-weary weather-beaten relics, trogging through the treacle-thick time that surrounds the sad old station

where wilson’s white heat of revolution
rolled slowly into the station
and was propped up on bricks and liberated from its wheels
while the driver went off for a cup of tea and a mars bar


i wrote this text in october 2020, on a train from london euston to manchester piccadilly. me and my two small furrys in a travel carrier. on the way up north for the second-to-last time before leaving the big smoke for good. this was a couple of weeks before the second uk coronavirus lockdown, necessary to prevent a ‘medical and moral disaster’ to the NHS. it was a weird fucking time. 

the city was a ghost town mostly. not 28 days later style, you know – EMPTY – like it was in march and april, when i could cycle to the lab with my questionable key-worker printout in my pocket and run every single red-light along the way. with my eyes closed if i’d wanted to. no cars. no taxis. no buses. no fucking people. by october we’d been living this shit for what felt, at the time, like a long fucking time. but it was ghostly nonetheless. shuttered shopfronts, silence, facemasks. dead eyes and dead people. and the weather that day – standard october shit – overcast, occasionally raining, murky. 

i forget sometimes how unnatural everything was. nothing about it was normal. it’s like when i randomly remember particularly significant times in my life, and i think – wild! that shit actually happened, just like that, i didn’t imagine it. whole weird weeks, months, years of my life, distorted, dreamlike. time dilating and compressing like a cosmic slinky. 

depressing, too, for most. for me though, this was something different. the end of one thing and the start of the next. one month into post-phd life it takes more than the threat of a second lockdown to perturb your orbit. i didn’t give a shit.

i spent the first lockdown writing up my phd thesis. alone, mostly, in a spare bedroom. going for morning walks on the moors. being bored. millions died, and it meant nothing to me. i might’ve been the last person left on the planet, pressing SUBMIT with a big silly smile on my face. if the world outside wanted to tear itself apart it was all the same to me. 

and then it was over. for me i mean. and there was the wretched world outside, waiting.

the text itself is incidental, the illustrations too. white noise.

writing is trifling.
drawing is trivial.
what matters is looking out of the window. 

post postscript

standard class

in most of europe, the second-tier of tickets are for so-called second-class. it’s jarring to see it printed on paper. 2. in the UK, the class system is so ubiquitous that we have to pretend it doesn’t exist, and that there’s no such thing as a second class. not on trains. not amongst the citizenry. instead we have ‘first’ and ‘standard’. being a second class citizen in the UK is just business as usual, it’s normal, it’s standard. then again, second class on most european trains is much, much nicer than first on a UK train, so there’s that. 


the word chromium entered my personal dictionary courtesy of jg ballard’s monumentally fucked-up and brilliant book, crash (1973), a novel which follows a group of techno-fetishists whose particular kink is celebrity car accidents. see also binnacle

wilmslow and wilson’s white heat of revolution

(james) harold wilson was prime minister of the uk twice, from october 1964 to june 1970, and from march 1974 to april 1976. he was born in huddersfield, yorkshire, and as far as i know, has no notable links with wilmslow. gladstone though (william ewart), who was prime minister of the uk four times, on and off between 1868 and 1894, actually lived in wilmslow, albeit briefly, between january and april 1828. so now you know.