London to East Tilbury by Train

24th November, 2011. I've reached Fenchurch Street, last station on the Monopoly board, five more squares to Go. Train delayed. Another 5 minutes lost to eternity - is it inevitable or not certain? The 12:20 lumbers out at 12:25; rolling and yawning into the open of the unreal city; reborn. Birthday, once again.

Cranes decorate the railway side, and church flags, Saint George's, mostly. Through Shadwell, no stopping, now side-by-side with a ghost; a driverless DLR train. Canary Wharf needling in the distance; risking the world all around. Limehouse. I’m in the Quiet Zone. A young women talks quietly, purposefully, not-quite-urgently, on her mobile, clasped to her ear.

East Tilbury Train

East End flattening out now, simple harmonic motion dampened from the Dockland peaks. Houses more regular, a lumbar yard, ex-trees and trees now, then industrial wasteland. West Ham. The misremembered scene of a youthful photo back in 88, the future all in front back then. Now half there, if 90 is normal, and no turning back. 45, single.

A faux valley yields tufting grass banks. A baby burbles. An Indian conversation breaks into consciousness behind me. Not quite a quiet zone transgression. Barking. Grab-a-Bite, Vicarage Field shopping centre; any suburban town. “The next station is Upminster”, the train breaks the Quiet Zone rules. A mainly up year, but somehow downs linger; shaded not faded. Three more Saint George’s flags. Think of England. Linger and foreboding; half a future or a past re-run? The B-side; more experimental, less pleasing, less commercial.

The train horn, warning workers, stirs an Amtrak memory; dusty Guadalupe, Calilfornia. A windmill appears amid middle-class homes. Upminster, as the train promised. Pumpkin café. “The Canadian Rockies are why you have a passport” a poster says. A tracksuited man leans against a lamppost.

Gingerly traversing tracks. Green fields, ploughed fields. Ockendon. William of Ockendon, the one out East who preferred the more complex explanation. Hapag-Lloyd. The Indian conversation rattles on at a pace. Chafford Hundred. A modern riff on an olde name. “Change here for lakeside shopping and leisure centre.” QE2 bridge-land, an urban tetris of oversized developments.

Is it blue or grey today? Let’s say blue. Morrisons. Grays. “Introducing thank you’s for all our customers” EDF say. Spice of Bengal. Stations thick and fast. Not a single golf course in the suburban hinterland. Ned-Lloyd, Hapag’s younger brother. Tilbury Town. Next stop is mine. A glimpse of Thames-side docks through trees, far off. The river; fear death by drowning. Power station by the river, EDF again, a future half-life, thanking all our customers: the source and the sink.

East Tilbury Train 2

East Tilbury, Bata as Bauhaus proud against the mottled, blue sky. Blue it is. No shoes from here anymore, a future utopia designed, built, and realised once, but not survived. Everyone needs shoes, you’d think, but not from Bata-on-Thames. Down to the platform, one foot in front of the other. Lonely after the train leaves. Arrival. Breathe. Walk.


December 2012