Picked up the Sunday Times on the way back from football, see what Appleyard is up to, gloat over Fergie’s humiliation etc. They gave away a free CD of Noel Gallagher playing a charity gig at the Albert Hall. Do you know, it’s rather good. Like most right-thinking people I gave up on Oasis after Be Here Now. Lapsed Oasis fans are like ex-Communists – contempt is sharpened by embarrassment at the memory of how fervently we used to champion the cause. The new Beatles…Ha! We were fooled into thinking that those first two albums and the casualness with which Noel tossed away top tunes on B-sides was all a sign of unprecedented prolificacy and promise. Turns out that was all he had in him, and he shot his bolt too early. But those early B-sides, which make up a chunk of the freebie CD, do sound great. I always thought Noel should have ditched the chugging Dad-Rock vehicles for Liam’s sneer after Be Here Now and tried an acoustic solo album, preferably employing a lyricist or at least a decent rhyme-jockey. He covers The Smiths' There is a light that never goes out on this album, so it’s probably the closest we’ll ever get. Can't get much more Manc than Gallagher singing Morrissey. Can't get much more English.
Except maybe at Bitton Railway, which is not a working station, but a café and a little museum and on odd Sundays an old steam engine that chugs steady as Dad-Rock up and down beside the cycle path to amuse the kids and nerds.
It was in action this Sunday. Here’s a picture of its retreating arse.
Now I’m no steam engine enthusiast but sometimes I can see the appeal. Lovely machines, especially on a rare Spring afternoon with the daffodils a-massing and the birds a-tweeting and kids on wobbly bicycles drrrringing their bells. England at its finest.
Not everyone likes them though.
That graffiti says THOMAS CAUSES GLOBAL WARMING and is the best of a small string of slogans along the cycle path urging all and sundry to BOYCOTT BITTON STATION on warmenist grounds. That’s right, the occasional weekend up-and-down tootling of the Avon Valley steam engine must account for at least 0.00000(a lot more 0s)001% of global carbon emissions, at a conservative estimate. It may be much more than that… Stamp it out! Destroy it! Crush every tiny little bit of human enjoyment that doesn’t conform to the . . .oh I can’t go on. Poor old Eco-Fascists. When you make yourself into a laughing stock you do so much more harm than good to your cause. “Thomas”, of course, refers to The Tank Engine, so that’s one purely to upset the kiddies. Nasty, silly greens, filling their heads with theories and statistics and understanding nothing about nothing about nothing.
The café at Bitton station offers seating in an old converted train carriage. It’s very popular with pensioners and children. Through the window of this carriage I glimpsed a scene of striking Englishness. Three generations of Bristolians were squeezed absurdly into train car seats (there are perfectly good and spacious seats outside the carriage of course), tea mugs balanced on the table, all laughing their heads off. It was framed beautifully with the sunlight streaming and I attempted a sneaky phone-photo but it didn’t come out properly. Later, having watched a programme about Japan, I realised that the image was pure English Wabi Sabi.
Wabi Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that involves simplicity, imperfection, beauty, truth, impermanence, decay, loss. Well, it’s hard to define. The Japanese named it, but it's universal. It’s more of a feeling than a concept and the Japanese find it in tea ceremonies and seasons. And so too, naturally, do the English.
There was more Anglo Sabi in the Upton Inn, to which we drove after Bitton. The latest of the late Sunday lunchers were stocking their plates at the carvery. I drained my pint of Badger bitter and through the distortion of the glass, ringed with sliding foam bubbles, I watched a chap carrying a plate absolutely loaded to the point of physical impossibility with beef, gravy and giant Yorkshire puddings. He had a grin like a Cheshire Cat. Then we went out, into the birdsong and the last of the rare Sunday sun. England fades, England endures.