Patrick McGuinness on “the empowerments of disorientation” and station buffets

I’m back in Brussels. There’s more to write about our trip last month to Asturias, Cantabria and the Pais Vasco but that requires me to finish sorting out the photos. In the meantime I’ve read Other People’s Countries by Patrick McGuinness (2014). It’s about growing up in Bouillon in the Ardennes, and other things to:

I have written a lot about stations, and about trains, and spent a lot of time in and around them. They are where I do some of my best mourning, and rail travel generally is conducive to all varieties of introspection, from the kind where you feel you’re descending a mineshaft to the kind where you feel you’re being scattered thinly and lightly, like the ash you will become, over the world around you.

I like station buffets and I like station hotels and cafés, places which seem to have absorbed something of the essence of departure and arrival but not to have caved in to them: the sticky, reluctant going, the fresh confusions of arrival, and all that lies between them. The solidity of these places in the face of all that going and coming seems a comfort. There’s a muted romance to it all that you don’t get in garages or airports or bus depots, but also an ordinariness too, as if all our departures were part of a single movement, and we simply have our own piece, hewn off, to work on like a sculptor with a slab of marble.

I like those station cafés that stay open all night, playing to those goods and post trains that go on through, dragging the curves of their sirens across the night, long after the country’s passengers have gone to bed.

My parents married in 1956. They went from Liverpool to Innsbruck on their honeymoon. They were allowed to take £15 out of the country; the train ticket cost £9. They couldn’t not make a day trip to Vienna, which took another chunk of their money. So – they ate soup every evening, at the Innsbruck station buffet.

Coming back from Manchester on the last train to Wilmslow after a night out, I fell asleep and woke up in Crewe. I spent the night in the all night buffet there.

Later, coming back from London on the last train to Oxford, I woke up at Bristol Temple Meads. Luckily there is (or was) an all night buffet there too.

Some station buffets:

IMG_2843 Arlon station buffet 508.JPG Arlon, Belgium, 2008

57 Oberlenningen station cafe 1111.JPG Oberlenningen, Germany, 2011

Köln station 612 3.JPG Cologne, Germany, 2012

cafe station Kiev 612.JPG Kiev, Ukraine, 2012

Luxembourg station buffet 512.JPG Luxembourg city, 2012

station bar Ingolstadt 514.JPG Ingolstadt, Germany, 2014

cafe, Porto Garibaldi station 714.JPG Porto Garibaldi, Milan, Italy, 2014

Basel 815 station.JPG Basel, Switzerland, 2015

railway station cafe Leuven 1215.JPG Leuven, Belgium, 2015

Dunkel beer station restaurant Passau 415.JPG Passau, Germany, 2015

cafe Irun station 716 2.JPG Irun, Spain, 2016

Oxford station 616 101.JPG Oxford, England, 2016

pintxes women FEVE station cafe Santander 816 fruit machine.JPG Santander, Spain, 2016





Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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