Edward Thomas was right. There are few places more evocative than a small country station in the summer, and those countries that still have them (stations and summers) should count their blessings. Not all stations possess the magic, of course. They need a few details to make them perfect. There should be a bar with a blind made of faded plastic strips at the door to keep out flies. The blind, though, should be knotted a little back on itself, so that one or two flies do penetrate the semi-darkness to buzz around the scuffed plastic dome protecting the last third of a crumbling sponge cake. There should be no other food of any consequence – it’s too hot to eat. The light outside the bar will be intense.
Animals should be present. Ideally, a dog of indeterminate breed will be lying somewhere inconvenient, across the doormat or halfway beneath one of the three zinc-topped tables squeezed under the shelter of the station eaves, each with its plastic ashtray advertising Crodino or Dubonnet. If the dog’s small enough, it will be curled up, nose to arsehole, on one of the chairs, ear cocked, pelt marked by the odd feeding tick. It will have a collar, but no name tag, and behave as though it belongs to no one. Failing that, a cat.
There will be no announcements, but the barman, a middle-aged man in pressed black trousers and a vest, will have all the information you need. The coffee will not be very good, but may come ready sugared. You will drink it slowly, staring out to where you have left your cases, drunkenly heaped against the base of a cast-iron lamppost. There will be two platforms, the one you use when you leave and the one you will be brought to when you return. The only way to get from one platform to the other is to cross the track or to take the train and let it bring you back. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky indeed, you will need to shoo chickens away as you do so. The train will always be late, sometimes by hours, and you will be angry, but deep-down you won’t care because you have already arrived, without knowing it, and no other place on your holiday will stay with you for as long as this station does.