The news last week that a train had derailed outside of Stonehaven, a small town in the North-East of Scotland on the outskirts of Aberdeen, hit surprisingly hard. For most people outside of the UK, and likely outside of Scotland, this isn’t even news they would’ve heard in the first place, perhaps understandably given what’s happening everywhere else in the world right now; and yet, it was a subject that I found myself obsessed with on the day it happened, checking and rechecking and refreshing news reports from the Guardian and the BBC for whatever new updates I could get.
A lot of the reason for my fascination was, I’ll be honest, something resembling nostalgia. Not for train disasters, although when I put it like that, it feels like something that someone would have a weird longing for, because it sounds like a horror from days of old. “Remember when the worst thing that could happen would be a train derailment? Oh, those were the days…!”
Instead, I mean nostalgia for my old art school days, and the people that filled them. My best friend of the time moved to Stonehaven a few years after we all graduated, into a tiny little house with his family that always felt curiously old-fashioned and beautifully peaceful at once; when I first read the news, my first thought (and my second, and third, and on and on until I saw an appropriate update) was concern that maybe he or one of his family had been in the train when it happened. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Nonetheless, the more I read and learned, the more I imagined how horrible what was happening for everyone involved. Sure, my friend wasn’t in the train but I was all too aware of what everyone else who feared the same thing was feeling, and just as certain that a number of those people would find their fears turn out to be well-founded. There’s something about that kind of strange close shave that adds to whatever sense of empathy you already had, because for all intents and purposes, you really were that person just minutes earlier.
Three people died in the accident, as it turned out, with six others taken to hospital. I feel guilty for being as relieved as I am that I didn’t know any of them.