Monday, December 19, 2005

I don't miss the Tube ...

… but I miss feeling like I am a moving part of the structure of the city I am in. The Tube Map was as familiar as my own limbs; I knew the limits and the arcs of the joints and muscles that propelled me along the bones of the transport system (within reason of course, goddamn delays). I particularly enjoyed absorbing the intersections between all the parts of the city, separating the layers of settlement in my mind so I could envisage the melding of the peripheral market towns into suburbs and leaving them mere tube stops and mainline stations to remember their former independent glory.

Perth is a created city, not an organic one. Only five or six suburbs around the Central Business District can boast the natural feel of an area grown instead of an area planned. And even these suburbs are village-like only for those on the sidewalk, because in this city of cars, you only see your surroundings in the frame of the windscreen.

As I got behind the wheel of my old car for the first time in two years and went for a day of driving, I began to feel confident again, because the Perth of buses and trains was not the Perth I knew. The Perth I knew was framed by the windscreen, registered from three angles as you changed lanes and ignored to the feel of the oven-hot wind from the open window and the sound of the radio, providing a soundtrack for the tarmac.

I was never a traveller in my home town until my return, and now that I am seeing it from the familiar stand point of a driver’s seat, it is not exotic for me any more. The transport system in this town is geared around school kids and people who didn’t have their car for the day, creating an almost one way system of suburb-to-city lines with no intersecting lines as it merely moves people to work and school, not to social events or other people’s houses. Unwieldy as it was, I enjoyed seeing the city from the bus, I saw areas I had never registered as a driver, usually because I was too busy finding a parking space.

As the old driving habits come back; the shortcuts taken without thinking, the hill-starts taken with no hands on the wheel, the racing gear changes out of traffic lights, it is a surprisingly lonely time for me because I miss having 40 other people to contemplate while I make a journey. There is precious little stopping on Perth roads, they are wide and straight and race over a flat land, and I find that my mind has little to concentrate on besides keeping to the speed limit. Thus the white lines on black become the frames of thoughts prompted by familiar landmarks or favourite songs, and I travel alone.

Originally posted on Exiled Britophile, a blog I updated for about twelve months when I returned home from London. Due to it's frank discussion of how horrid I found Perth, these pieces had only been read by my London readers until 2011.

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