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I commute long-distance. Most weeks, I’m on a train early on a Monday or Tuesday morning, crossing the UK from west to east, Wiltshire to London. There’s a lot to long-distance commuting that’s less than fun, but one of the upsides is what you can see out of the window - as long as you look up from your phone and your laptop, and actually bother to look out through it.
After four years of doing the same journey, I know this route well now. I know that the fields between Westbury and Pewsey are full of deer at this time of the morning. They don’t seem to be bothered by the passing train. They don’t seem to be trying very hard to stay out of sight. I see them running across farmland, leaping over fences and hedges. Generally having a fantastic time.
I see birds. Flocks of something small and brown that definitely are bothered by the passing train, and rise from fields like a winged blanket as I watch. Herons stand watching the canal that intertwines with the railway line, waiting for their breakfast to swim past, unsuspecting. Pheasants, loads of pheasants being dim like pheasants are. Pecking at nothing, wandering down the middle of country lanes as if they want to get hit by a car. Chickens, lots of chickens. Some of them kept in neat pens at the back of large houses, others clucking around in tatty farmyards. Chickens are the punks of poultry: they just don't give a damn what you think.
I look at those large houses. Families with summer houses, vast conservatories that their owners could reasonably call orangeries, outbuildings and tennis courts and one or two very English-looking swimming pools. (Outdoor swimming pools in England only look amazing on blistering hot summer days, which of course are few and far between in England. The rest of the year, they look uninviting and unwelcoming.)
Early in the morning, dog owners are out with their dogs. Dogs enjoying the outdoors are dogs at their happiest, and a happy dog is a joy to see. They fling themselves through thickets and brambles, stuff their noses into stinging nettle patches, roll in all manner of things disgusting, and look up at their owners with noses and eyes shining. “What’s next?” their doggy faces say. “This is so much fun!”
The further east we get, the closer to London, the more urban the sights. The wildlife gives way to architecture, commerce, and public infrastructure. Thames valley offices, huge and surrounded by huge car parks. Industrial estates, filled with builders’ merchants, tyre shops, welders and waste management contractors. The canal still accompanies us, twisting through the same landscape, showing that some of those industrial estates probably began before the canal was even built.
More water: flood plains, which at times I’ve seen flooded. There’s a house standing amid flat farmland, a hefty four-by-four parked outside. Further down the line, a half-mile long allotment that I once saw turned into a torrent as the river alongside broke its banks. The plot owners have worked hard since then, and the allotment is full of neat rows of things ready to sprout when spring comes.
Today’s journey is good:
I have a flask of hot tea. I am seeing things.
(8 Mar 2016)