I like to think that strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet

In a widening field Journeys in Body and Imagination Miranda Tufnell and Chris Crickmay write that:

‘The stories of our lives include many places -places lived in, visited, remembered, heard of, and dreamed about. Some’ of these hold a special significance -the place we were born, the place we’ regard as home, places we love to go, places we avoid. Every place is many places -for you and for me each place will be different’

Thinking back I consider my high school experience. I was the new girl at school five times, in the five years of my senior education from 11 – 16. In each new place and school I began with a slightly different version of myself, reflecting and learning from each past experience to take forward into the next. I got better at it. On the first day of each new school year, I would stand at the front of a class of strangers and the teacher would introduce me as the new girl. This is Ria, she has moved from….lets all welcome her. I would look up at the thirty faces staring back at me and feel nervous and embarrassed and hope for a friendly smile or gesture, someone to sit next to, someone to have lunch with, a group who would invite me into their already established clic. It still kind of feels that way for me, when beginning in a new place, standing in the presence of strangers and being the new girl.

I would make good friends, and then I would leave again. I would try to stay in touch, but the momentum would fade as I kept moving and there became more and more people to keep in touch with which became difficult to keep up. When I finished school, I just kept moving. I didn’t really know where to go or where to begin so on impulse one day I jumped on a train, I had no money and no ticket but decided that I would just see where it took me and leave where ever I might end up to chance. I started in Rugby and I waited to be asked for my ticket, but no one came. I got off at Manchester, my city of birth, and although I had not lived there for a long time, it made sense to me to begin at the beginning and be in a place where I knew I could stay with family if the shit hit the fan. But on my way into the City I met strangers whom I told my story to and they invited me to Reading, so I went there for a while and met someone who invited me to Leeds, so I went there for a while. I carried on doing this until one day I became stranded in Tamworth late at night. It had been three months and my Mum was quite worried about me, so I went home.

Looking back at my naivety and the risks I took as a young woman travelling around the country, taking on the invitations of strangers, although I like to think that strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet, I can say I am much more cautious today. But there was a kind of knowing and a kind of trust and mutual agreement I could sense in people and a lure to the places they took me. I felt as though I was entrusting guardians guiding safe passages through my nomadic existence. I was on a quest, searching for a place to stay and to call my home. But at the time I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for.

Some twelve years later I initiated the Train project, a two week drift across the UK rail network by train, never leaving the stations and only stopping to change platform and direction. I slept, ate, washed, and performed on the trains and at stations for two solid weeks. I had come to realise that home had become a series of beginnings, where placelessness, in motion was my stability. Like birds flying off for the winter, their home is in between places, they have left but not yet arrived and for a while travelling is home.

My grandparents whom had migrated from Jamaica in the 60s both worked for British rail up to their retirement. There beginnings here were then invested in the connectivity of others through transportation, and it suddenly occurred to me that the trainline not only connected me to them, geographically, but to their labour and lives and our history. I was in search of more than just a place to stay, I was also looking for a way to make sense of my identity, my heritage, and my other homes.