3.45 pm, Kings Cross to Peterborough; Once you’ve gone through the tunnels north of Kings Cross, it’s amazing how soon you find yourself travelling through open country, starting with the rolling, wooded Chiltern Hills. Somewhere beneath the layer of glacial debris which was plastered over the landscape north of London during the last advance of the ice there are chalk downs.
For a short while we follow the course of the River Great Ouse, a delightful stretch of the river that would make a suitable setting for The Wind in the Willows then, after Huntingdon, we start crossing flat fenland which stretches out for miles, as flat as a chessboard.
The scribbled birches at the top of the next page of my sketchbook represent the brief view we get of Holme Fen national nature reserve (and before it, further from the railway, Woodwalton Fen) as we approach Peterborough.
As the light fades the colour seeps out of the landscape and I carry on in pen only until we cross the Trent at Newark and I decide that drawing is no longer possible.
How to be a Hit
Then I can indulge in the other pleasure of a train journey; reading something from the station bookstall. St Pancras does better than most because as you walk in and head towards the Eurostar terminus there’s a Hatchard’s on your left, built into the Victorian brick arches. However, I had my eyes on a magazine that I’d spotted earlier in W H Smith’s, How to be a Hit on You Tube; ‘Become rich and famous doing something you love.’
Don’t laugh, that could be me once I’ve read it, but at least I’ve managed one out of those three so far.
At last I’ve found the best spot to sit and sketch at Kings Cross; one of the tables overlooking the concourse. The balcony has plate glass panels so you get an unrestricted view of the travellers below.
Despite the length of the concourse, I struggle to sketch people walking from one end to the other but soon little groups settle with their cases, giving me more of a chance. I like the way they arrange themselves, echoing each other in their poses, as well as in the way they dress.
The Olympics Effect
We’re so taken with how friendly and helpful people are in London. I’m sure it wasn’t like this in my student days! People go out of their way to help you, for instance the man on the information desk at St Pancras who walked with us the thirty yards to the machine to talk us through how to buy an Oyster card, which saves you 30 or 40 percent on tube travel.
Our friend Chris in Putney suggests that this is partly a result of the Olympics a couple of years ago, when residents got used to directing people around the city, acting as ambassadors.
London came in for a lot of criticism during the debate surrounding Scottish independence but, probably because the place did so much for me in my student days, I have enormous affection for its streets, parks, river and people. It’s good to have so many galleries, museums and historical sites – plus the zoo and Kew Gardens – concentrated into an easily accessed few square miles, rather than have them spread thinly across the country.
The city always gives me a buzz and inspiration, and a glow of nostalgia for my formative years but that’s not to say that it isn’t a relief when we get on the train, sink into our seats, buy a coffee and a packet of shortbread from the trolley and head back to the hills and small towns of Yorkshire!