I’m now sat on the train from London to Braintree, a town at the end of a branch line off the main capital to coast route. And god damn, it’s good to be back.
If you’re ever tired of a place I can recommend living somewhere very different for a few months. I can’t stop staring at everything as the once tediously familiar now looks all fresh and foreign. I always used to marvel at how vast the American sky looks, but now the English sky seems to have grown, with huge white and grey clouds calmly cruising across it. And I never realised how distinctive the British look until I returned. I’m surrounded by pasty and lopsided faces. And the frowns! Is it possible to gauge a country’s standard of living by measuring the depth of frown lines on the foreheads of its populace?
Brick houses rather than the wooden shacks that reasonable people seem to regard as homes in Texas. Smaller cars on narrow, twisting streets. Roundabouts. Vague announcements from railway staff (“We apologise for the late arrival of this service which was due to mumble mumble ssssssss,” “The late running Braintree service will depart shortly”). There’s a whole new stop on the Braintree line actually. Some kind of discount designer retail village affair has been built just outside the town, with its own train station (it also has a park and ride bus service: park in the town centre and ride out to the retail village). This goes by the name of Freeport which, to me, sounds like somewhere that ruthless capitalism has run wild, resulting in a dangerous and self-contained state straight out of Waterworld or Neuromancer. I think I’ll be disappointed.
There’s now a whole new bucket of dotcoms to become familiar with, one tube journey yielding posters for clickmango.com, jobit.co.uk, easyRentacar, and a long one I can’t remember. The entrance to Victoria underground station was also surrounded by a gaggle of promotional stooges clad in red suits and devil horns advertising tubehell.com. At least one tourist interrupted their spiel to ask how they could best get to Buckingham Palace. The two businessmen behind me have started discussing a new website idea to assist with project management, and a poster by my window at Shenfield station was advertising fish4.co.uk. The poster gave me no idea why I should want to remember and visit this URL.