Notes from Northumbria

I am, as I type, rolling over the viaduct in Durham (we’re not stopping, the Cathedral just flashed by) and it struck me that it’s been just over ten years since I started taking the East Coast line regularly, when I first went down for an open day at… York, it must have been? Lot of change since then, not least of which is that I am wearing a suit – I’m on my way to a wedding – and connected to the internet on a netbook substantially more useful than any PC I had access to at the time. I might just have had mild terror at the idea of paying £110 for a weekend return ticket back then – and been equally surprised at just whose wedding I’d be coming back home for.

The line is the same, but the trains are refurbished; this is their third owner in that time, having gone from GNER to National Rail to the magnificently dully-named East Coast. Thinking about it, it’s probably their second stint in public ownership – some of the rolling stock here must be a good twenty years old, pre-privatisation. The spirit of British Rail manages to live on in the new nationalisation; even the hasty repainting of the carriages seems to have been done shoddily. (I have yet to test the quality of the sandwiches.)

Still, it’s fun. In the late eighties, when I first remember taking trains – very rarely – it was an exciting adventure because, well, it was a train, and I was six. In 2000, when I started taking long-haul trains regularly, it was exciting because there was a new life ahead, and it was all bound up with that. (“The noblest prospect”, etc.) In 2010, it’s almost mundane, but there continues to be a small thrill – there’s still that faint sense of wonder that I can amble up to the station, buy a cup of coffee, wave some paper, take my seat, settle down, and get whisked to the other end of the country, quietly and cleanly and unobtrusively. No security checks, none of the nonsense that makes flying unpleasant, just the enjoyment of being taken somewhere, the scenery flicking past the windows, and not having to worry about how.

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