On Trains

Of all the grandchildren, Martha and I spent the most time in our grandparents’ house, given that we are the eldest and generally the favourites (if the number of photos are anything to go by). In the three years before the family got very rowdy (from 1984 to 1987), we played a lot in their house and garden, with such memorable games as “Falling Down the Roof“, “Picking Snowballs” and “Breaking the Head off the Statue that Granny got for her Birthday” (that was a once-off, but was often referred to in the years to come).If we were stuck inside, we would “help” Grandad in the shop, play with Granny’s button box, or read (we were very advanced three-year olds). Granny loved books, a love she passed down to her children and most of her grandchildren. One such book that Martha and I were talking about recently was A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Being the nerds that we are, we tried to remember our favourite poems from this book. Mine was a toss between The Moon and From a Railway Carriage. “Faster than fairies, faster than witches” etc. The trick to this poem is that you have to read it aloud, and in doing so, you start to read it at the same speed as a train, getting faster and faster. I’m sure there is some lexical word for this, but that would take the beauty out of it.

This poem comes to mind on a train to Ypres/Ieper on 11 November 2010, Armistice Day. It’s about an hour and three-quarters from Brussels, and aside from the person sitting behind me who smells like turnips, it’s quite nice. A big group of elderly Canadians has just gotten on the train beside me. Example line (while passing a festively decorated graveyard): “the ‘mums are ubiquitous around here”.

I would love to be on this train with Granny, Mom, Finola and Martha. Gran and Martha would be discussing war poetry. Mom and Finola would be (not very discreetly) listening to the other passengers. They would all be looking forward to a cup of tea in Ypres. It’s not the same going on my own. I don’t often feel homesick or lonely. It’s an appropriate mood for where I’m going.

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