Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Back to Shippea Hill

The excellent Some Definite Service blog revisists (though not literally) Shippea Hill, the least visited train station in the UK.

The author of the blog visited Shippea Hill some years ago, which made him one of only twenty-two people who stopped there that year.

Shippea Hill is such an out-of-the-way station that you have to request a stop there, and the only reason to stop there is...so you can say you stopped there. It sounds good to me. I would love to go there.

I've always been fascinated with places that are unfrequented, ill-attended or sleepy.

I found myself thinking of this during the last weekday Mass in the UCD Church before the Christmas break. The term had ended and there were only five or six people in the church at the opening blessing. The priest remarked upon it. (More people sauntered in before Communion. I'll never understand why people are so casual about punctuality, especially when it comes to Mass.)

As I walked back to the library, looking around the all-but-deserted campus, I meditated on how much I love such days in UCD-- out-of-term days when hardly anybody is around, and the campus seems to be half-asleep. I also recalled how much I'd loved days in school where the same situation pertained, for one reason or another. It often happened in P.E class, since the teacher was very laid-back about excuse slips. Sometimes there were only half a dozen people participating. I was always one of them, since I loved P.E. class.

Part of this is a love of seasonality. I love the ebb and flow of life. The 'unto everything there is a season" passage from Ecclesiastes is (I think) one of the most moving texts ever written.

But I also particularly like half-deserted, or nearly-deserted, or entirely deserted places and events.

A crowded pub is the last place I'd ever want to be. (This is why I try to avoid ever going out on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, or at Christmas.) A sleepy, dreamy pub, on the other hand, is a delightful place to be.

A crowded cinema can be fun-- though not so much if you're sitting in the middle of the aisle. But I've always preferred deserted screeenings. Indeed, on at least three occasions, I've been the only member of a cinema audience.

Only yesterday, I was savouring one of my favourite scenes in Groundhog Day, where Phil and his two ne'er-do-well drinking buddies are hanging out in a near-empty bowling alley, with the song "Take me Home Again" in the background. (I always thought it was a cover version of 'Words' by the Bee Gees-- thanks to the inimitable Robert Black and his Groundhog Day Project blog for the correction.)

For much the same reason, I've always had a fascination with films nobody watches, books nobody reads, and songs nobody listens to. I sometimes seek out library books which seem unlikely to have had any readers at all for decades. (The poetry shelves are the most likely source for these.) Opening them feels like walking into the garden in The Secret Garden-- a favourite book of my childhood.

There's even an equivalent to Shippea Hill in my own life-- sort of. I take the route 4 bus to and from Ballymun every working day (and many other days).  'Harristown' is the terminus displayed on its destination board. "Where's Harristown?", I've heard at least one local wonder aloud. Harristown, apparently, is pretty much the terminus and nothing else. It's beside the airport. I've sometimes thought of staying on the bus all the way to the terminus just to see this place which is not a place. (How did it even get a name?) In fact, although I'm not much of a map reader, I sometimes enjoy poring over the map of Dublin and looking at places (such as the poetically named Fox and Geese) which seem to occupy quite a lot of map surface but which I never hear anybody talk about, ever.

All this from Shippea Hill-- what a wonderful place it is!

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