Miss Tink & English TrainsThursday, August 03, 2006
At precisely eleven minutes past eight marked by Roman numerals on the large round English platform clock, the electric train stopped at Coghlan Station on a Monday morning. A young boy in school uniform climbed into the train and deposited his books on the wrought iron luggage rack over the leather seats. Most of the seats were occupied by soberly dressed gentlemen reading The Standard or The Herald. Nineteen minutes later, after tickity-tacketing through brick tunnels covered with morning glory, crossing on iron bridges spanning rivers, and passing by polo and rugby fields, the train rolled into the cavernous Victorian station. Large billboards advertised Bovril, Horlicks, Old Smuggler Scotch and the latest offerings at Harrods. Only the soccer scores of Sunday's matches, boldly proclaimed from the front pages of sports papers on the newstands - scores like Newels's Old Boys 1 - Boca Juniors 2 - might reveal to a confused traveller that this was Retiro Station (the two yellow photos) in Buenos Aires, circa 1950.
Forty- four years later I stood on the platform at Crew Station, Chestershire. The rectangular digital clock read 12:18. The scene felt no different from the one of my childhood. As in Buenos Aires, I had to look to my right to see if the train was coming. The smell of iron rust on the tracks would have told me where I was, eyes closed. I could feel the comforting familiarity of the English train station. I was waiting for the 12:33, 225 Intercity, to transport me at over 200 kilometres per hour to Euston Station, London. This was exciting: riding an English train in England.
Looking out on the rapidly passing scenery, I saw green hills, interrupted here and there by English oaks. I could hear the music of Elgar in my imagination.Under miniature clouds and a horizon so close I could almost touch it, sheep graze. Their backsides were sprayed with bright red or blue paint. A Turner on acid. By the time the train reached Watford, the scenery gradually turned urban. I could see dying vines on the old brick embankments. Could those be morning glory? Miss Tink, the childhood governess of Jorge Luis Borges, had to come from here. Perhaps it was she who made Borges a lifelong Anglophile. From her he had learned to read in English before Spanish. At seven he translated Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince. As an adult, Borges proclaimed that "English is the only language to be known. English literature contains and sums up all things."
At 14:20, five minutes early, my train arrived at a dissapointingly '60s-modernized Euston Station. A black taxi deposited me and my luggage at the Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street.
Oscar Wilde, while staying here, at his favourite Tower Room, was arrested in 1895 and taken to Reading Gaol. The poet Sir John Betjeman wrote:
"...Mr. Woilde, we've come for tew
Where felons and criminals dwell.
We must ask yew tew leave with us
For this is the Cadogan Hotel....."
I don't think Borges could have improved on that.
In 1995 I returned to Coghlan with my poet friend Rubén Derlis. I photographed him with his pipe on the platform. I could smell the iron rust on the rails.