48 hours – A soundscape by Evelyn Karlsberg
My heart sank as I boarded the coach on Jeffrey Street. It was packed. A sea of grumpy faces. Only the driver making a brief announcement and the crumpling of a crisp packet broke the silence as I made my way to the empty seats in the back row. The 17:45 LNER train –the last out of Edinburgh heading south that day—had been cancelled, and I was on a replacement coach service to Newcastle. From there a train was supposed to take me south to York, where I would be visiting my daughter and granddaughter.
As we inched our way out of Edinburgh in the heavy traffic, I could hear muffled chatting and the raised voices of children, punctuated by the occasional car horn and a siren. Whether we liked it or not, the driver had decided Kingdom Radio would keep us company. Voices soon gave way to a resigned quiet once we reached the A1. Many people had entered their own world through their headphones. Instead, I immersed myself in my book, and did my best to ignore the pelting of rain on the roof and the loud breathing of a man seated nearby who had fallen asleep well before we even left Edinburgh. Apparently, he had just been on a big stag do…
It took three hours to reach Newcastle train station. I got off the coach to be greeted by bright lights and heavy rain; a blur of people rushing about; shouting; horns honking in the confusion of traffic. Inside the station, urgent announcements blared on the tannoy. A train had just disgorged its passengers. The march of footsteps up a ramp, then crossing the bridge, the clacking and hum of suitcase wheels, excited voices, echoed through this cavernous space. And then they were gone. An eerie stillness pervaded the station, and it suddenly felt deserted. I pulled my suitcase along, the grinding wheels reverberating on the concrete. The train to York? The empty one sitting over there on platform four, I was told. I took a seat in the quiet coach and waited --an hour as it turned out-- for it to depart. Quiet? The silence was deafening. Once the train started to move, all I can recall from that part of the journey is being almost alone in that coach, the pitch darkness outside –except for the stations along the way-- and an automated voice announcing train stops. And the incessant rain. I was never so happy to finally arrive at my daughter’s house…
The following day’s sunshine and blue skies were the perfect antidote to this journey. And the timing was perfect too, because my granddaughter and I were booked on a cruise on the River Ouse!
My granddaughter is three and talks non-stop these days. While I pushed her in the buggy from home to the landing where we would board the boat, she prattled on about the noisy cars and lorries on the road; the quacking ducks flying overhead; and the bumps and holes in the pavement. She talked about her favourite new toys. And I listened, taking pleasure in seeing and hearing the world through her eyes and ears.
Once the cruise got under way, other sounds came alive. Many were new for her, as she had not been on a boat before. She liked the whoosh of the water; less so the wind in her hair. She found the tooting of the boat’s horn funny but the sound of the engine scary when the boat went into reverse gear. Much better the cawing of crows in the trees on the riverbank and the peculiar echo of the boat and our voices as we passed under Skeldergate and other bridges.
A café for lunch was our next stop. A treat for both of us, though more for me, if you are at all familiar with the elegant Betty’s Tearooms. It is a Yorkshire institution, where lovely food is served amid the soft rumble of conversation and the gentle clacking and clinking of cutlery, glass and crockery. Surprisingly, my granddaughter thoroughly enjoyed her meal and surroundings. Afterwards, a walk through the Shambles, where she eventually fell asleep from all that excitement and fresh air. This is when I strolled on and took in the sounds of the city on my own: tourist busses with commentary blaring; the busy clatter of shoppers and tourists on foot; the tinkle of bicycle bells; pop music wafting out of shops; and the robust tones of a busker singing old sea shanties. No bagpipes, but sounds otherwise quite reminiscent of Edinburgh, especially during the summer festivals…
The walk home offered me time for quiet contemplation and to enjoy the pleasure my granddaughter took in this special day out.
The following afternoon saw me get on the train back to Edinburgh. As the train slowed down on its approach into Waverley Station, wheels screeching, I was already at the door, ready to disembark. Some beeping, a swoosh as I released the door, and on stepping out onto the platform I joined the surge of other passengers heading towards the gate. I was home!
We are extremely grateful to the Third Year Illustration students at Edinburgh College of Art, and Harvey Dingwall for making this collaboration possible. The Citizen Writing Group is part of Citizen, our flagship communities project which is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and through the PLACE Programme (funded by the Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council, and the Edinburgh Festivals, and supported and administered by Creative Scotland).
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