On lonely places

So I’m on a train — one of the 225s that run between London and the north-east, or up to Edinburgh. It’s shooting along, smooth and sleek. But then, for some reason — it doesn’t matter what — the brakes engage, with their characteristic smell of burning rubber. It takes miles for the beast to stop, but finally, jerkily, it does. I turn and look out of the window. A bright late morning, suddenly quiet enough to hear the birds chirping away in their usual manic happiness. There’s a wooden fence just there, separating a wild, overgrown field from the tracks. The grass and wild-flowers reach through, so close I could reach out and touch them. And I look at one of the flowers, and realise that it’s likely no-one has ever looked at it before. Then that it’s likely no-one will ever look at it again. It took the randomness of the train’s stopping exactly here for me to see it. It’s a strange sort of secret, a confidence that’s been given only to me.

It’s a shivery feeling for me, but also oddly comforting. I love the loneliness of places no-one sees, especially if they’re somehow hidden in-between the places that they see all the time. Maybe there’s something reassuring in watching the world work perfectly well, perfectly happily, without people to observe it, to manage it. I love the detail that no-one is ever going to notice: this flower, or that blade of grass. I love that discovered moment: seeing the way the wind blows that flower right now, here at this place that no-one was supposed to see, when no-one was supposed to be here. I think part of me sometimes wants to stay there, where it’s hidden and safe, like a child’s den in the woods. It’s a womb-fixation, probably, Dr Freud.

Anyway, from Boing Boing, this fantastic collection of photographs by Yuji Saiga of Gunkanjima, a Japanese island reclaimed from the sea as a coal-mining community, then abandoned as the coal ran out. Some introductory text here, and then a set of galleries here. The photographs of the last days of the community are haunting enough — people living under the shadow of so much industrial hulk — but the photographs of the abandoned island are hauntingly lonely. There’s something of Hiroshima about them.

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