UNHEIMLICHE HEIMAT:THE RETURN TO THE SPECTRAL STATION. PART 2 OF A SERIES.BY STEVEN BENSON

Eerily fascinated, the man returned to the semi-derelict station a few months later; it was the start of a compulsion. He entered it by the only entrance, at the side of the building. From the outside he hallucinated that the station was slightly but perceptibly sliding down the hill. He had no intention to board the one remaining train service.

In just that few months the station side entrance had taken on a cavernous, gloomy, neglected feel; no ticket office, just a passageway. He emerged on bay platform 4: the Wolverhampton dmu had just arrived, and waited forlornly in the vast carapace. A half-hearted attempt to board off the two platforms in use from the remaining ten (ex mainline) platforms had been made; but it was easy to slide through a gap in the boards; and, once again, a sense of dislocation, de-realization and time-slippage occupied him as he realised the station was in even more of a desuetudinous state than last time.He walked around; again the buffet, with broken crockery on the floor; and then a parcels office, with tickets scattered around, randomly. No-one had bothered to clean up. It was some time, yet no time.

Seperating out the fact, in his mind, that he HAD often been here( literally) before, he also felt he had been here in some sort of semi-conscious, inexplicable way;as he became aware, as the sun streamed falteringly through the grimy overall roof, that he was somehow a child again: he was at the station where he had gone trainspotting with his grandma a few years ago, when there was still (just about) steam trains; he also remembered Liverpool Central High level in its last distressing days, reduced to that single line; so it was homely but uncannily so. He then remembered that the railway from London Paddington via this station went to Birkenhead Woodside , closed at the same time as this selfsame one. Time boundaries collapsed upon each other. Feeling a vague sense of psychological and physical malaise, he carried on walking to try and free himself from this uncomfortable feeling.

The man nearly jumped out of his skin…a railway worker appeared out of one of the doorways on an abandoned platform. Both of them were relieved to see each other amongst this ghostly wasteland; they chatted. The railwayman said that, since the closure of the main lines, the signal box had shut too; and the signalling was operated by one person from a “panel”, a simplified form of signalling, for the one remaining one-coach dmu to Wolverhampton Low Level. This quotidian piece of information somehow grounded the man; he felt calmed; there was someone else in this  vast empty,dying  building which was the spectre of itself.

(to be continued)

{Acknowledgements to Sebald; and to  various Flicker pictues of Birmingham Snow Hill station in its dying days}

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