Tout Compris

Tout compris roughly translated from the French means Everything is included, but The spoken word can also sound like  Everything is understood. 

This piece, a mini story was written on the back of an envelope, scribbled down feverishly, almost illegibly, while I was sitting on the train. This was a trip I took every Monday and Friday while I commuted to Montmorillon, in France, for my year at the Agricultural college there. I have always loved travelling by train and these words came to me, suddenly crystallizing of the reasons that I do.

Come with me on this short train ride. Don’t bring a book!

Photo by Ellie Kennard 2013
Train tracks in the fall, Photo by Ellie Kennard 2013


Inside the moving train the patrons overlook the bonus on their ticket – theirs for the taking. Theirs is the world of the between the covers magazines, the ‘before’ and ‘afters’ of fashion makeovers and other modern fables. Before their unseeing eyes the world awakens beyond the train’s cinema windows and the sun tries to distract them, but they close the curtains.

The pages of my book cannot hold me. I try to focus my attention – I have seen this same scene every week, so often, and the writing on the page is new to me and should captivate me into its world – but the flashing pictures beyond the glass draw me, and I am once again mesmerised before the unfolding story. I feel a slight shame, that of the addict or the lover who hopes his passion is not nakedly exposed for the world to see, then I abandon myself completely to this panoramic moving landscape fusing the fact of vision with the fiction of a fired and active imagination. I press myself shamelessly to the glass, then strain to look across through the other side – so much to miss!

Leaving the grey and black tunnel city, the strip of film unrolls along the track, interrupted by tunnels allowing for a few brief moments of reflection in the dark. I feel certain that this secret world does not exist except as seen from the moving train – could not be found on ordnance survey or tourist guide – and hesitates, breath held, to live again, twice each day as the train passes for the next performance. The fleeting moments glimpsed in flash of sun or gloom of rain are ever changing, though always constant. The torrents of spring running beneath the dripping winter moss trees become a gentle stream, twisting and turning lazily in the heat beneath the hanging leaves of summer; a rusting wreck undergoes an unseen and patient transformation; in a stretch of field, surprised in the late spring sun’s warmth, fleeing young lambs betray their youth near their calm mothers – last year’s frightened babies – heads bowed, intent on the evening browse, hungrily oblivious, their memories of indoor winter hay too fresh.

Black plastic covered heaps, rusted fence and end of track to the side and then we slide into the little country station for a pause in the unfolding drama.

On again, through shameful flooded stretches, sodden and weary of all the rain. I see the red brown dead bracken, fallen protectively in one last brave act, to cover the secret curled unfurling green, pushing insistently, stiffly through the smothering embrace. Wet black trunks and branches pass, some with new pale green – spring promise of summer’s welcome shade – others dark and still. Winter is a great equalizer for the woods. Which trees are sleeping, waiting? Which are dead? Those who watch behind glass windows will see when it’s time.

Pick-up sticks railway sleepers tumbled down the bank by some careless giant hand are gently being covered by secret tangles of brambles and riotous hawthorn blossom. Rutted tracks appear suddenly, take me to a dark plough-furrowed field, then twist and run off where I can no longer follow, first leaving me a glimpse, in a flash of sun, of the misty haze of bluebells. On a hillside, older lambs with their numbers in black on their backs, horizontal ears curious, are familiar, emboldened by their few weeks experience. These are my crowd scenes and walk-on parts in this unfolding life, briefly glimpsed, week after week, from the train.

On each journey these scenes hold my attention, silently insisting. In my carriage there is only me watching, searching, seeing, eyes wide, drinking in all this mystery, this dream of possibilities that is this unreachable, unreal world of scene from the train – and all for the price of the ticket from Limoges to Poitiers.

7 Responses

  1. Lovely, lovely word and image trip you’ve taken me on, Ellie. This is such a treat for the imagination. I only wish my computer would read to me so I could close my eyes and “see” it all on my eyelids.

    1. What a lovely thing to say, thank you so much Sandra. There’s an idea. I should put them all on an audio book! Then you could just press play and close your eyes. 😀

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