T for Tuesday is asking for posts with some link to a drink..on the journey below, my Great Aunt Eliza and I drank coffee from a flask. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the coffee and see her pour it from the silver neck of the flask into beige cups. It all felt rather grown up. I learned the art of travelling by train from this aunt. It's been forty four years since she passed away but her influence on me has been indelible.
Manchester Piccadilly was the biggest and most magnificent railway station I had seen. Its fabulous Victorian iron-girdered ceiling - still blackened from the smoke of steam locomotives - and its long platforms transported me to the same place as the opening pages of a new book: it promised good things to come. Stepping on the long train, holding on to my small suitcase with one hand and my aunt with the other, I knew this was a special journey.
Taking small sips of strong coffee, I gazed through the windows as the train moved through the endless green countryside dotted with churches, cottages and farms, through the suburbs of little boxes and small factories and onwards into the city. On that journey, I saw something I have never seen since: as we entered the suburbs of London, hanging from every balcony of every tenement, were rows and rows of washing. When I repeated the journey a year later, a significant change had occured. There was far less washing. As the 60's gave way to the 70's it seemed to me that the population's washing habits underwent a revolution. Washing lines didn't disappear entirely but the sheer volume of wet shirts, skirts and knickers decorating the edges of the West Coast Line was severely reduce. And on the many journeys from the North to London I have made since then, never again have I seen so much washing decorating the line.
We reached Euston and, in order to reach our destination in Surrey, Aunt Eliza marched us down the short escalator into the tube station. We purchased our ticket at the wooden window and took a much longer ride down to the platforms.
I stood on the platform full of wonder and half afraid. When the train clattered into the station, I was scared the force of it might drag me on to the live rail, which Aunt Eliza had sternly explained would kill me should I fall upon it.
Inside the train, I was transfixed by the map of the Northern Line on the opposite wall above the heads of the passengers. We passed beneath Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square and Charing Cross and then moved out to Elephant and Castle, Kennington, Oval, Stockwell and North Clapham. At some point we came up from the tunnels and into daylight as I checked each station off against the thick brownish-black line opposite: Balham, Tooting Bec, Tooting Broadway, Colliers Wood, South Wimbledon and finally Morden.
After such a wonderful ride through unknown places, Morden was a dreadful anti-climax; to a child who'd grown up in the heartland of the industrial North, South London surburbia seemed incredibly dull. All it had to recommend it was the eerie white light of the street lamps, which illuminated the long avenue where another Aunt, Aunt Rachel, who we had travelled all these miles to visit, lived.
The journey stands out in my mind perhaps because this was where I first discovered the incantational power of place names and first experienced the strange and almost obsessional pull the capital city had on my imagination. It also made me aware of the magical art of train travel and its superiority to any other form of transport.