Saturday, 1 August 2009

Secret Places

It's Monday morning and I'm on my way to Whitchurch (the one in Shropshire) to collect a vehicle from an auction. I'm currently at Crewe station, nearing the end of an hour long wait for the Shrewsbury train, which stops at Whitchurch. The platform only has one bench, which already has a person sat on each end of it, and so I'm crouched down on my heels nearby, looking idly around.

The platform opposite is about four feet above the level of the tracks, with the vertical side of it being made up of old brickwork, mostly black with dirt, but crumbling away in places to reveal unblemished red beneath. Exactly opposite me there is a gap in this brickwork, filled by a couple of lengths of timber, about six feet across. But between these lengths is another small gap through which can be glimpsed a lit subway running beneath the platforms. Nothing too unusual about this except that pedestrian access to all the platforms here is via footbridges. Presumably there is still some routine explanation - maybe the elevators go down while the stairs go up, or maybe it is some kind of service access for the staff. But I find myself wanting to think that there is some other more secretive, maybe even magical explanation for it.

I spent the last week on holiday near Chichester, during which time we took the kids to see the new Harry Potter film. I'd never seen any of the films before, or read any of the books, and I think maybe this first exposure has left an impression on me.

I catch the train to Whitchurch and then have a couple of miles to walk out to the auction, on the A41 south of the town. I'm only about half a mile away when it begins to rain so hard that I have to take shelter under a tree. In front of me the traffic on the dual carriageway ploughs through the surface water in a perpetual cloud of spray. Behind me is a tangled hedge and a dense patch of old trees, and behind that only fields. But peering through the trees I can see below me, at the bottom of a steep cutting, a dirt track which disappears into a tunnel under the main road. Undoubtedly this is just an access road and the only thing I'm likely to see on it is a tractor containing a ruddy-faced farmer with a flat cap on his head. But again there is the desire to believe that if I keep watching for long enough then something stranger than that will come along, out of sight of the drivers in the vehicles roaring past, and not expecting to be seen by anyone at all. I blame J K Rowling.

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