Through the looking glass
Country Life UK|January 26, 2022
On a bleak January day, John Lewis-Stempel boards a train from London to Herefordshire and admires the wealth of wildlife on view through the carriage window
John Lewis-Stempel
ABOARD the 07.50 from Paddington. Black sky pressing down on black buildings, faces lit by mobile phones on commuter platforms. For once, rather than stick my head in a thriller, I decide to view the passing of England through a carriage window.

For city miles, the unfeeling metal architecture of railways: parallel lines and skeleton gantries. Beside the track, spavined, dieseldosed bushes of buddleia. Creeping bramble, as bad as barbed wire. Not much to see.

Slough. Poor Slough. Doomed forever by Betjeman for its urban (lack of) planning and its industrialisation. ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! It isn’t fit for humans now/ There isn’t grass to graze a cow…’

Heading to Reading, towards the dawn. Two white swans on a flooded gravel pit. Morning light on thin water. A sort of relief. Cold optimism.

January is the contrary month, named for the Romans’ two-faced god Janus. A transitional month. The bulk of winter done, spring on the horizon. Often the coldest month of the year (England’s lowest ever temperature, -26.1ËšC, was in January 1982 and recorded in Shropshire), but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Beyond the rain-streaked window of carriage B: new-build houses, red-brick homes for humans, where Nature once lived. They are building over England.

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