There is a moment on my train trips in and out of London where I’m suddenly aware of being in the hinterland, the border region between London and The Rest. The first few stops on the train are loops in a crochet of fields – some green and fresh, some now exposing their winter-slept soil – and the bobbled curves of paths between hedges and houses. As the train stutters on the towns become bigger: warehouses and multi-storey parking begin to lurch out of the earth.
And then the M25.
The train was held at a red signal once, right in the middle of this huge motorway and I could feel the rage, the fear, the impatience of the tiny creatures I could see, trapped in their steel boxes, straining to move, to be anywhere but there, then.
The outer suburbs of London are not ugly. There are narrow belts of green threading through mock Tudor houses and Victorian terraces. Alexandra Palace looms suddenly in glass-domed wonder above concrete spans. The shiny modern stadium seems to be moving up and out from its roots of graffitied cement.
And then the tunnels suck you into the heart of it all: you birth into skyscrapers and tar, noise and fumes.
By evening I am harried. I submerge myself into the underground darkness once again and, only now that the days grow longer, lift my head, blinking at the sudden light with moleish confusion. I sometimes get the full spectrum from blue, to golden yellow, burnished copper to a thick, bloody cloudset.
I can see again. And breathe. I can breathe again.