The little railway town..
Carnforth is a minor, old railway town. It’s a passing-through kind of place. The town’s heritage, a Victorian railway museum hosting passing steam trains such as The Flying Scotsman and The Hogwart’s Express. Waiting on the platform to meet you is the experience of being part of a 1940s- wartime Britain, as you walk under the giant world famous platform clock, from the 1945 film Brief Encounter.
A few supermarkets and pubs dot the busy A6 at its center. A small travelling market sets up stall each week and necessities like the bank, a pie shop, chemist… surround its tiny town square. I can hear traffic; a young man flying past in a sporty motor, with his rude exhaust popping after him. A traditional book shop perches near the crossroads. I recall going there with a close friend when I was high school age.
A quaint old book shop
We enjoyed exploring its many shelves, miniature rooms and dust filled corners; joined by hollow sounding staircases and narrow, creaking corridors. These knowledge crammed rooms sit at different levels- like a crooked stack of unwashed plates that tell a story of the people who ate from them, like the books themselves, piled one on top of another, from floor to ceiling. The store locks one or two antiquities in a glass coffin, where they wait for a dealer to free them again. Dark green, faded red and letters of gold; hard-backed literary genius, classical texts, ancient poetry, and tired maps lay amongst the irregular rows.
Downstairs are the modern books-clean and glossy- a thoroughly contrasting aroma to the old relics held upstairs. When I was a little girl, I cherished the newness of a novel- that book smell when it had just arrived out of the bookshop, along with the excitement of opening a fresh story. I’d draw it from its paper bag and run my fingers slowly over the smooth cover, then after a moment, open it as if lifting the lid on a treasure chest. Assured of an adventure waiting, what will you will discover concealed within? On my narrow-boat there is little room for texts, all kinds of useful objects fighting for space, so my Kindle has to suffice. But I miss that unique smell, the special feeling and the touch and texture that paper books bring.
Back to earth
Cheerfully, it’s a warm spring day. Flies annoy me repeatedly by buzzing through the open barge windows. A long white fly screen, like a bridal train, hangs from the top of the wide doors at the bow. A gentle breeze wafts the net now and again, blowing on through the body of the vessel, bringing a refreshing and pleasurable climate into the cabin, in which I feel total peace- I’m fully relaxed. Recovering from an illness which has resulted in dizziness if I move my head, and with poor balance, the cool air feels welcome and healing. It’s an effort to focus on my rough notes, as for now this imbalance has rendered me partly blind.
and a rare visitor
An unexpected moment ends my tranquil harmony; “Quick, come and look!” I hastily join my spouse and peer through the clear window at the wide expanse of wash, intently waiting to see what the fuss is about. We linger in hushed anticipation, a long fifteen seconds, hope and void- one.
“Look there!” Emerging from the surface, a dark shape turns its round, black, soaked and shining back to the sunlight. It was there again! “An otter!” She lay on her back, basking in the warm sunshine. One arm behind her head and floating, suspended as easy as oil drifting on water, with perfect ease. In a single, solitary moment of time, we are held transfixed… “I’ll get my camera.” “No, don’t, you’ll miss it.” We stare. She basks in the golden light for a protracted minute… Then head down and bottom up, she slides, black and silent, back under, into the deep opaque waters.
We wait… but she has gone. A rare occasion. I feel blessed to have seen her just for those few seconds, in the midst of the busy A6, where the commotion-interrupted, time stood still. One of nature’s secrets popped out to say hello to this crazy world- just passing through like the traffic and trains. But she’s out of place in our madness and mayhem- she’s a tiny dot, lost in a complex urban landscape. Mute, spirited, discerning, unnoticed; she vanished, slipped back to her secret holt.
Jane Elizabeth Firth