Normally my journeys to the start of walks involve getting the first train from Ormskirk, changing at Liverpool and heading south. This time, as I try to get back to Wythall to continue onwards, the route will be a bit lengthier. I intend to get there directly following a work-related to trip to the US, in just over a week’s time – so in a sense my approach to the next leg has started and my current journey is an equivalent to all those dawn departures from home. Which is odd – I feel as if I’ve lost control of the scale of my maps, suddenly projecting myself to unlikely places…
Last week we were in Edinburgh, for a long weekend celebrating our anniversary. In Transreal Fiction, an excellent shop that is one of the few independent SF bookshops in the UK and an always-enjoyable place to visit, I bought a travel guide called Discover Kymaerica. I am taking this to the US to read and have only dipped into it, but it appears to be a guide to an ‘alternative universe’ that shares the same geography as our ‘linear world’. Eames Demetrios is Kymaerica‘s ‘geographer-at large’, who gives talks about his explorations and has helpfully installed a number of plaques around the world, marking historical events from the alternate world which Eames was inspired to discover by trying to ‘sense the stories that were just outside the frame’ in ‘abandoned, falling-apart roads’. Amazingly, there is one of these plaques in Edinburgh not far from Transreal, which the ever-knowledgeable and helpful Mike directed us to.
So now I am heading both to the Florida of the linear world and the Phlorida of Kymaerica. Along the way, following a hectic week at work, I have traveled by train to a Holiday Inn near Gatwick Airport. The journey seemed to involve an endless falling short, not getting quite as far as usual destinations: Moorfields rather than Liverpool Central; Watford rather than London; Gatwick rather than Brighton. The last of the November light faded leaving the windows as black mirrors. My twitter friends all seemed to be on trains at the same time; I felt a brief moment of travel-fellowship with my electronic network. Meanwwhile fellow travellers who were physically in the train with me spoke on mobiles, work calls and family calls, making the train both an extension of the workplace and of hearth and home.
Something was wrong with the train’s PA, so only stray syllables were audible from the announcements – it was like hearing an unfamiliar language with occasional familiar sounds. Suddenly amidst the stray phonemes there was a single barked name – ‘Stafford’ – but without any context, with just miles of dark air outside, it could have meant anything. Though I have been to that place along with many others along the walkinghometo50 way; somewhere out in the unseen fields is my route, recorded in the brighter months.
A sign offered the reassurance of CCTV recording, ‘for your safety’. This reminded me of the unexpected sight of a camera in the trees in the Netherton Country Park, like spotting a bird out of season perched on a branch.
Somewhere on the train a camera was capturing images or rather the potential of images, code plotting pixels to picture this group of unconnected passengers, this particular journey: fragments of information falling endlessly into storage on a drive, disk or distant server, countless digits drifting gently like snowfall covering a composite city-region made of our various destinations. In the city’s extensive suburbs, perhaps, an unvisited library contains a book that writes within itself a story that resolves our disparate journeys.
In Gatwick, or rather nearby Horley, I checked in to the hotel. It is comfortable and super-efficient, almost brutally comfortable, but (existing as it does in an airport hinterland of car parks and slip roads) feels like a place made for transit. I’m actually staying two nights, as I had a meeting in Reading the day before the America trip and didn’t want to turn up with a suitcase as if I was moving in. Coming back seems like an odd thing to do here, where everyone else is heading off after a single overnight stay: I’m like a crab trapped in a tidal pool.