CREATIVE Julie Owen Moylan

NWR Issue 112

Moscow to Beijing on Train Number Four

I hate being cold and would happily live somewhere with permanent summer time. I can get chilly in Cardiff in July. I imagined the Russians would be strong, hardy people unafraid of bitter cold winter and they are, in some respects, but I’m also delighted to find the only people who hate being cold more than me are in fact Russians. Every building blasts with heat. All doors are heavy and windows small. One night in Moscow we were convinced a restaurant we wanted to visit was shut, we are so used to bright lights in large glass fronts and ever open doors. It wasn’t shut. It was keeping out the cold. The train is no exception to this rule. People are wandering about in T-shirts. Not me, obviously, but I’m cosy and warm and very happy about that. When our door is open we catch occasional glimpses of people from other carriages wandering through, either just to take some exercise or on their way to the dining car. Sometimes the Mongolian traders who occupy whole carriages further down the train will pass by trying to sell you something you might find useful: a leather jacket, a magazine, bottles of coke.

We haven’t bothered with the dining car. We have a plan. Our trusty tartan bag is full of bread rolls, sausage, cheese and our jar of dill pickle. We have of course brought some beer and we have purchased some of those dried foods that you can just add hot water to and they turn into ‘chilli’ or ‘stew’. Except they don’t. They turn from dried particles that look not unlike something my cat would eat to mush without passing through a stage called ‘chilli’ or ‘stew’. Tasteless mush. We abandon the idea of dried food bags very quickly and vow to keep them for emergencies only. This is code for we might consider them again if the other option was eating Babs and Gunter next door. It’s not going to happen, and they will end up in the carriage bin once we reach Beijing. We will eat mostly sausage and cheese sandwiches with of course our dill pickle topping. It’s surprisingly good washed down with beer or tea (depending on the time of day). Our food will keep well – however warm the compartment gets – since under the seats it is so close to the ice and snow that it is always chilled. The one thing we discover pretty quickly is we are going to need a top up of biscuits, chocolate and beer as we haven’t bought enough for six days. We have heard you can buy things at the stations but we haven’t stopped anywhere in daylight yet that had anything, except Kirov where there was bizarrely a cart full of stuffed toys and teddy bears, presumably for Russian commuters to take home to their children. Help is at hand, though, as we approach Balzino.

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Julie Owen Moylan was born and raised in Cardiff where she now also lives with her husband Sean, after a long and exciting flirtation with the rest of the world. Travelling is an enormous passion of hers and she recently circumnavigated the globe on a train, only stopping to fly over the wet bits. Since completing a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Cardiff Met University she has had several short stories published and has recently completed her debut novel, The Honest Woman. ‘Moscow to Beijing on Train Number Four’, the essay which is excerpted here (originally titled ‘Anxiety and Wet Wipes on Train Number Four’), was highly commended this summer in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2016 University of South Wales Prize for Travel Writing, run by ourselves. Our ten-minute showcase of highly commended entries, featuring 'Moscow to Beijing on Train Number Four', with author presentation and reading, can be viewed at Multimedia.


       


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