There are trains, sturdy old clunkers. Some are coming from the wrong direction. Others ignore you, thudding slowly past like a line of weathered elephants without stopping. Your train, the train for which you bought a ticket yesterday by queuing for two hours, the train that was due an hour ago, that train will be here in five hours. Or eleven. You can sit on your filthy rucksack, endlessly smoking Wills Gold Leaf. You can try to bunk down on the wooden pews of the waiting room, and hope you don’t get groped in your sleep again. But more gloriously, you can eat.
On every platform a man with a freestanding hotplate-on-legs is cooking up thin green-chilli omelettes. Boys are roaming with hard-boiled eggs in bird-cage baskets, serving them up in a scrap of newspaper with a pinch of black salt and cumin. Steamed idli rice-flour dumplings at the bus station, soaked in sambal curry and coconut chutney. Perfect savoury crepe-thin dosas filled with mustard-seed-freckled spiced potatoes. And chai, and more chai, and another glass of chai, ladled from on high through jam-bag strainers to cool and froth the milk. Cinnammmmon and cardamommmmm.
Back home, although we grumble about the slightest delay, there isn’t the same sense that timetables are actually the absurdist text to a vast, durational live art investigation into the psychology of patience. Is that why we are denied the consolation of delicious fresh food? The Costa Coffee hegemony, the sticky kiosks full of flab-flubbery cakes and full-fat pasties, are these our only choices?
- When you order a cup of tea to take out, they automatically brutalise the teabag against the side of the polystyrene cup so you get a PROPER BREW.
- They lovingly regiment all their stainless steel teapots and white mugs on the correct shelves, with all handles placed at the identical correct angle, and this is a small thing of great beauty.
- Although they have recently made the bold move of branching out from currant scones into cinnamon & orange scones, they have kept the price at 80p.
The details of a place, the ones you encounter every day, are the very molecules of reality. They are what make your destination ‘foreign’; and then, given time, they are what makes it ‘home’.
Would you like to join me in some writing?
Prompt 1 – tell me about a place you go to every day, where I’ve never been.
Prompt 2 – tell me about the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten abroad – make my mouth water…