I check with the man at the information desk in the Metro station at Amsterdam Centraal.
‘Sprek du Engels?’
He looks at me and then in to the distance, as if he is thinking very hard about a different question, as if I had said to him, ‘Did I meet you at the house of Erasmus in Bruxelles in 1521? In the garden. Do you remember?’
He comes back from some far off place and remembers that he does speak English and he suggests that I put the card to the right of the barrier to open the gate. ‘Otherwise’, he says, ‘the gate to the left will open’. I understand what he means. It was getting late. The train journey was an hour longer than expected. Not through any delays, but from reading the timetable incorrectly. Human error is as difficult to eradicate from railway journeys as any other sphere of human activity.
Sandling is a proper railway station. When you alight and the train departs, you are often the only person left on the platform. There is a sense of distance from anywhere else, of the magical silence which can be created if only the bullying authorities who insist on ‘see it say it sorted’ would shut up and let us daydream when we travel. If they are so concerned with bombs and explosions then perhaps more time should be spent telling British arms manufacturers to desist from selling high explosives to Saudi Arabia which are then used to blow up innocent people in Yemen. How many dead are there? See it, say it, sorted it indeed, as long as it doesn’t reference faraway people in faraway lands. What could any of that have to do with England apart from the profits of bombs and weapons making companies?
I returned to Sandling, having read more about the Junction, the plans for the Channel Tunnel of years ago, the building and the closure of the railway. It is a good starting point for a walk. Leave the station with all its tedious traits of the twenty first century, ticket machines and endless announcements, corporate branding and expensive fares. There are deep undercurrents of class conflicts all across the railways, between the workers and the managers, between the passengers and the companies, between those who build the rolling stock and maintain the track and those who make decisions about rates of pay and working conditions. But none of this must surface, none of this murmuring can be allowed to be heard.