But when, at Chatham, I have to relocate for a fourth time, I do so petulantly. The little metal tray table in front of me bleats tinnily as I jab it back into place. I hasten from the scene muttering failed epigrams. When I plonk myself down again, two carriages along, I realize I have misplaced my glasses, without which I cannot read a word, and I feel too embarrassed to go back and look for them. This is a fugue of my favorite thing.
Most discussions of whether it is better to travel or to arrive fail to take into account a third option, which is that perhaps it would have been better to stay at home. In common with many people, I have found it more difficult to return to the world than I had thought I would in the doldrums of 2021. Was everything always this tiring? Another epigram bubbles up: “What’s the point of going out? We’re just going to wind up back here anyway.” Thank you, Homer Simpson.
I may not be able to read my book, but I can still gaze out of the window. Rochester Castle, with its 12th-century keep, glides past, and already there are children playing on the grounds. We cross Rainham Marshes and I spot scattered groups of bird-watchers who have been at it since dawn. Coronavirus remains rife; the economy is lurching out of control; the planet is on fire; there is war in Europe. As more travelers join the London service, some bound for the football, others to go shopping at Westfield Stratford, it occurs to me that no one on this train is ever going to return to normal, because normality isn’t where we left it. But who would blame us for trying?
As if to confirm this unexpected epiphany of fellow feeling, a tap comes on my shoulder. I look up. Holding out my glasses to me is a man in an Arsenal shirt.
Later, safe in the dark of the Crouch End Picturehouse, there will be a screening of “Quatermass and the Pit” (1967), the film adaptation of Kneale’s 1958 teleplay. The original version concludes with words from Professor Bernard Quatermass delivered amid the smoking ruins of the capital city: “Every war crisis, witch hunt, race riot and purge is a reminder and a warning. We are the Martians. If we cannot control the inheritance within us, this will be their second dead planet.”
I’ve seen this film before. I go to the pub instead.
Andy Miller is the author of “The Year of Reading Dangerously” and the co-host of the podcast “Backlisted.”