Patrick McGuinness

I spent my childhood in a small post-industrial town called Bouillon, in southern Belgium, that became more and more post-industrial as I grew up. That hyphen between the ‘post’ and the ‘industrial’ looks abrupt and short; it wasn’t. It was a slow thinning of the thread, a long unmooring during which the habits and reflexes of work remained as the work disappeared and the habits suddenly became noticeable because the life that had determined them was no longer there. The town had had a train station but it shut some time in the late 1950s. ‘Terminus’, they announce with a splash of pride at the end of rail and tram journeys in Belgium, and there’s nothing more terminal than a disused railway station. The end of the line? Better: it’s all end and no line, because the rails are long gone, along with the sleepers. Even the crunchy, fist-sized ballast-stones that bedded down the track, which as children we used to throw at cars from various hideouts around town, have now disappeared – buried or overgrown, or stolen in wheelbarrows and used for DIY. The station is now a parking lot for local buses, which graze there among the tufts of grass and weeds, while the snazzy hotel that once housed Bouillon’s first and last sauna/solarium has been demolished. There are no shops or cafés left, though the area is still called the ‘quartier de la gare’.

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