As the train sped towards Edinburgh, I caught glimpses of countryside soaked in July sunshine. A heat wave clung to the landscape, sending a wave of drowsiness over every passenger that pressed down with all its weight. The air hung sticky in the carriage; a line of sweat glistened on every top lip.
Crisp packets and book pages rustled in muffled tones. Water bottles cracked as parched passengers drained their contents. Beneath the seats shoes lay abandoned, cracked sandal straps twitching with the train’s motion. Itchy seats made us wriggle, skin sticky with the day’s intense heat, extraordinary for this climate.
Outside, the sun-scorched grass stood still, not a breath of wind to stir it. Hazy thick air was ripped by as trains tore past. Trees stood to attention, their hidden roots probing the earth with cracked spindled fingers, silent but desperate in their search for sustenance. The sky was a single sheet of undisturbed silk, a baby blue blend from near royal blue to almost white. A single cloud hung suspended on an empty canvas, floating lonely through the afternoon.
In the fields that whizzed by in a flash of brown and green, a tractor churned up clouds of palomino dust that choked the seabirds that pursued it. Baking in the sun, hay bales sat like blocks of butter. Pale grey cotton balls feasted on the dried grass, shaking off the flies with a flick of the ear.
Countryside blended into the urban jungle. Telegraph lines arced up and down in shallow waves before dipping down out of sight. Grass became concrete and sheep became people. Sat at Doncaster station, we waited for engineers to try and fix the air conditioning. We slowly cooked in anticipation as a steward handed out bottles of water. Once again the carriage was filled with the water bottle chorus: the sudden snap of a lid being broken, the sharp fizz of the sparkling variety, plastic crackling as the contents disappears down dry gullets.
Comfort is sought in the movement of passengers down the skinny aisle of the train, sending a brief but delicious breeze across hot skin. A student leafs through her notes, hand pressed against her forehead as she struggles to overlook her discomfort.
Trains arrive and depart on either side, leaving us behind. Such an uncommon thing, to have a train so hot in the United Kingdom. Deep sighs escape irritable passengers, while laughs erupt from the enthusiastic amongst us. I sat in silence, fingers drumming the keys and etching the here and now onto paper. My hair felt like a woollen blanket on my neck, but somehow the heat had made tying it up seem like a considerable effort.
The crackled voice of the train manager has informed us that nothing can be done for our overheated train, so it crawled lazily out of Doncaster station and continued on to Edinburgh Waverley. I suddenly wondered why it is that wherever I needed to depart is always the last station on the route. An amusing inconvenience.