Wall Scrawlings…

20 04 2009

As I made the journey to and from the delightful old city of York last week, my train took me past various towns, villages and cities all with delightful reminders of the two sides of Britain, which co-exist peacefully alongside each other, even though they should have no right to.

Passing through Sheffield revealed the ugly side of Britain. The approach to the station was littered with the various trainside power boxes, steep walls and concrete posts. On all of these things, and much more someone had scrawled their tag, “Bloodaxe”. Bloodaxe, or perhaps Mr Bloodaxe (I’m sorry, but I have difficulty in associating such a title with a female creator), had, very methodically it seems, made the effort to tag every little thing within about a mile either side of Sheffield station. These were not crafted examples of graffiti at its undoubted best, but instead were simple name scrawls, placed as an act of rebellion against…something. What, I’m not quite sure, but there must be the thrill of doing something wrong which drove Mr Bloodaxe to lazily scribble his self-appointed gory label on everything you could see. It did not look good, it did not look clever. In fact it quickly got boring. Aside from the commitment this vandalistic individual showed to the cause of tagging, there was nothing creative or impressive about the work. It just seemed so very pointless.

By way of comparison, we passed through or by some villages which reflected a more traditional view of England. The rolling hillsides and slowly meandering rivers and streams that seem more fitting in a Wordsworth poem all passed by and proved stark contrast to the world of Mr Bloodaxe. The tranquility (as best it was with a train ploughing through it) was remarkable in comparison to the hustle and bustle of town stations. The apparent slow nature of time as you see a tractor pushing its way through a field is heightened further as you compare it to the cars and buses pushing their way through the crowded streets of inner cities. Even York, as picturesque as it is, has this trouble. For other, uglier towns,  bustle and blunder seem the perfect fit for the imperfect world.

Train journeys frequently provide contrast, and whilst travelling northwards, this was brought home even more as the train dived in and out of cities and countryside. Whilst it is possible that this is not the most scenic of routes, it was an interesting trip to the casual observer.


More train thinking…

23 03 2008

Right, returning to the stream of conciousness that was yesterday, I want to elaborate on a topic which I’m sure everyone has some interest in.


It seems to have a knack of being hugely applicable to the situation you are in at any point. Take yesterday for example. As I was pulling out of New Street one very apt song launched itself into my ears. “Last Train Home” by the Lost Prophets began its familiar introduction, and all I could do was smile at how my ipod has a unique sense of timing, as I sat trying to blot out the crying baby.

As I had sat though with my earphones in for most of the preceeding thirty minutes, I reflected on how most of those songs reminded me of something before. Be it sharing a moment with someone, or just a song which happened to be playing in the background, or a song which reminds me of the band live; songs just have a peculiar way of bringing back memories. Some songs bring back one specific memory, others a certain period of time in your life.

And that’s before you start hearing the lyrics. Very often the best songs are the ones with the worst lyrics. Take my favourite song, “Mr Brightside”. The lyrics to it are simplistic and repetitive. Yet when added to good music they become meaningful. They become something to which I can relate.

And there are other songs. Ones which don’t necessarily have good music, but are lyrically superb. These are the songs which you don’t necessarily think of when picking your favourite songs. But they mean something. They evoke thoughts, and feelings, and very often can be related to. And this made me think. Songs can be like horoscopes.

Let me explain. Horoscopes are basically rubbish written by someone who enjoys star-gazing but dislikes the science behind it. They are broad sweeping statements relating to things which are common in everyones life: “you will meet someone…”– yes, almost certainly. Unless I box myself in a room for another week in order to prove the prediction wrong. The readers of horoscopes then take what has been said and manipulate it to fit their own life. “Ooh, I did meet someone this week…”, for example. To me, songs can do the same thing.

If the singer sings about experiences or thoughts, I have the tendancy to try and place such templates of emotion over my own life. If a singer sings about meeting someone somewhere, I place myself, and all the people in my life into this pre-made template. I  (and I’m guessing I’m not alone here) fit the song to my own life, making the song about the actors in the play of me. Making the thoughts my own. There’s a quality to music which draws some very base instinct out of oneself. It plays to emotion. Perhaps that is just to do with the music I listen to, but I like to think that everyones music tastes (no matter how much I dislike them) are created because the music, or the songs, mean something to them.

For me, I like music where I can feel emotion in the singer’s voice. It makes them real. It makes them human. It is much more preferable to the mono-syllabic monotonous noise that is rapping, or the thumping repetitive nature of dance music. But this is only my opinion. Obviously tastes vary.

So sat there as I was thinking about the music which was playing away into my ears, and still doing my best to blot out the screaming little brat on the other side of the carriage, another song sprung into life. “Fix You” by Coldplay. This too was apt. Fix You I thought.  Yeah, that baby needs fixing…

Train thinking…

22 03 2008

Whilst on the train home today, many thoughts flitted, briefly across my mind. Now, unlike some people, I love my train ride home. In no time at all, I go from being in the centre of one of the biggest cities in the UK, to going through sleepy villages. It isn’t just the contrasting scenery though. There are so many elements of the journey I enjoy.

My journey takes me through history. In a mere forty minutes from Birmingham, I can experience culture, heritage and colour. My journey through the Black Country, takes me past deserted old brick buildings which have had all their windows smashed in over the course of time. Yet they still have the names of their former owners plastered on the side, standing as part of reminder of a distant time just itching to re-establish itself. These buildings are a brilliant red brick colour still, and co-ordinate themselves marvellously with the rust of old metalworks which likewise occur along the side of the railway. The reminders of the industrial heritage of this region are constant as you stare out of the window, trying to escape the noisy baby in the seat opposite you.

It isn’t just the industrial side of things though either. There are swathes of greenery cut into this harsh landscape. There is also the contrast between old and new. There are new roads, new warehouses and new businesses which all struggle for space along the railway line. All of them appear to have a silver fetish, being, as everything seems to be nowadays, coloured a sterile silver. In comparison to the previous brickworks, this is just plain boring. But I find the contrast an amazing thing to see. Side by side are buildings, designed for a certain business seperated by at least one hundred years. And they co-exist marvellously. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the absence of windows and the rather hastily scrawled graffiti on the older buildings, you could see them still being operated in the same way they were in the 1800s. And this is brilliant. I can think of few places where industrial heritage is as important as it is for those in the Black Country. I can think of fewer still who are proud of what they are and where they came from in the manner than people from the Black Country are. Heritage isn’t just something that has happened, it is still very much an active part of everyday life.

And so I returned to my journey, fresh from thinking about heritage, to see one of the many metal horses dancing its way along the train line towards Birmingham. These horses are an amazing thing. Not individually you understand, on their own they are rusting, bent by the wind or vandals, and forlorn. Collectively, the ten or so horses which run alongside the track from Wolverhampton to Birmingham, through the Black Country, are something thought provoking and wonderful. They are there. I see them every time I go home. Yet I haven’t thought about them, until today. What are they there for? What do they symbolise? Why are they all facing Birmingham?

There are more questions than answers about these creatures from me I’m afraid. I don’t know what they symbolise. I think of progress, but then, if it’s progress, is it not hypocritical to use them in a place where machines and technology took off in Britain, if not the world?

Why are they running towards Birmingham? Is it just a chance co-incidence? Poor design on the creators part? Or something more meaningful? What is wrong with Wolverhampton that these creatures are all motioning towards Birmingham? What is the draw of Birmingham? Perhaps this is the point, do they symbolise the millions of people who migrated to the city to find work and live? Or is it something different?

Who put them there? And when? Were they built around the railway? Were they just meant to be a decoration, something to liven the journey? Is it just me looking for meaning in something in which none exists? Were there more than I can see now? If so, how many? If anyone can explain the horses I would be delighted to know.

There were other thoughts which radiated into my consciousness during the train journey, and I will blog about them at some other point I’m sure. But for now I am content with wondering how many other journeys across Britain provoke the same level of contemplation. Or how many have the screaming baby which you just want to escape? I’m guessing the latter has more takers than the former.