‘And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine…’
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST, Marcel Proust
The day the season’s second Atlantic storm
was due there was I – after a sausage
and bacon bap with brown sauce and an Earl Grey
in the heritage station’s draughty café –
celebrating my 74th birthday
with my small family in a British Rail
standard compartment on the Santa Special.
We journeyed from Llangollen to Lapland
(aka Carrog) with mince pies, miniature Baileys
for the adults and juice for our granddaughter,
who gave me a cartoon sestych entitled
‘My Grandpa is amazing – he does…’.
She appeared with me in each frame as I
talked, shopped, word processed, cooked, travelled and read.
We passed pastel shaded December fields,
empty copses filled with russet leaves,
and bleak hawthorn hedge rows festooned with a wild
clematis – Travellers’ Joy or Old Man’s Beard.
Someone, despite the notices, had left
a window open in the corridor,
so, as we went through the long Berwyn Tunnel,
it yellowed with billowing sooty smoke
that seeped under the compartment’s door.
It was a madeleine moment: crossing
sulphurous bridges, waiting on ill-lit
platforms amongst gouts of steam and fog,
shuddering reflections in carriage windows.
As we climbed, we left the river – by turns
meandering through meadows then white water –
to still slowly gouge the valley bed,
and we had a visit from Santa himself,
with Elves, bearing gifts. Our granddaughter
was appropriately shy and polite
though she is calculatedly and/or
patronisingly agnostic about
F.C. – and reasonably sure God is
imaginary and certain there is
no such thing anywhere in the universe
as zero gravity. I am certain
I still believed when I was nearly 7.
The world seemed an obscurantist place.
At Lapland, we queued to pose with Santa
et al for a photo op on a sledge.
It began to drizzle. In the waiting room
a coal fire was burning in the grate.
My grand daughter hugged me. I felt gravely
light of heart and head, warmly welcome
in the universe – and thought suddenly
of a world garlanded with Old Man’s Beard.