A particle of light can travel the distance between London to Newcastle seven hundred times a second. In the three hours it has taken me to get to you by train, this hypothetical east coast photon has made one million two hundred and sixty thousand round trips; that is to say, it has covered the same distance two million five hundred and twenty thousand times while I have read a mere seventy pages of my paperback, consumed one wensleydale cheese sandwich, a white coffee in a plastic cup, and a slice of fruit cake.
These are the long days of summer. When I arrive at Central Station it is still light. Uncounted photons sleet across the city at cumulative angles conducive to long shadows. Seagulls as big as cats screech in the streets around the station, over the bridges and down the river to Tynemouth and the sea. They wheel around passengers disgorged from a two-carriage train newly arrived from Hexham, seven minutes late on its way to Saltburn, and a 19 year old girl with kohl rimmed eyes wearing a black and white stripy top drums her fingers on her lap and looks out the carriage window, willing the train to depart. Under the Tyne Bridge gulls are nesting in gaps in the bricks that rise like vertigo from the new sandstone coloured quayside to the industrial green railings on the bridge high above. The shadowed ground beneath the arch of the bridge is covered in guano and a big-boned woman dressed in an asymmetric vest, jean skirt and kitten heel sandals, picks up her pace until she teeters to safety out in the open.
Across the river, sloping up behind the millennium trinity of Baltic, blinking eye Bridge and Sage, pigeons fly between levels of the abandoned Get Carter car park in Gateshead, cement-green and bird-mottled in the twilight. A shrivelled woman with a curved back struggles to push her brown pvc shopping trolley uphill past The Metropole, less than ten minutes walk from the gleaming glass curves of the Sage. Inside the pub, the landlord serves a pint of bitter to a man in a football shirt who has been sitting at the bar since 2pm, and wonders if it’s worth putting on a karaoke night. On the other side of the High Street, tied up outside Kwik Save, a white terrier barks while her bladdered owner unzips to pee against the wall around the corner.
There are two cities here, the new silhouette occupying, almost, the same space as the past, separated only by the width of a photon moving in different directions. Time slides over the cityscape with the familiar uncertainty of home: either I know where home is, or I know how fast I’m moving away. In Newcastle Central Station, high-speed trains, dark blue, bright red, pull into platforms arched like the ribcage of a dinosaur. I’m supposed to meet you here, under the clock. Counting down, five, four, three, two …