Even the train complains as we pull out of Victoria Station, articulating its protest with an ear-splitting screech of steel. Engineering works on the line have turned my fifty-minute trip back to Brighton into a gruelling, two-hour trudge.
We grind past the ribbed turrets of Battersea Power Station and pass tall brick walls, decorated with coils of flayed-metal burglar-stoppers that spiral past like abstract sculptures.
We rattle past the backs of flats and terraced houses, just slow enough to take in a gallery of rooftop gardens; a spectrum of plant-pots nurture obedient herbs and well-trained shrubs. We gain speed until public parks and private patios blur into manicured lawns and bean-poled allotments.
As roots and stems start to crumble the concrete, we plunge into the earth, clattering through a blackened tunnel and then shoot out the other side into dense jungle: vertical banks are buried in a mess of matted weeds, emerald bushes cling to the verge, and lime-coloured creepers clamber towards the train-tracks. A ginger fox flicks its eyes and yawns wide its raw-pink mouth, its curling tongue framed by jagged white teeth and wet black lips.
And then tangled grasses transform into windswept fields, the wilderness tamed as we speed past stable-yards, cricket-clubs and farm buildings – a living Lego-land of controlled countryside. History happens in such as rush, as a ruined fort blurs past, succeeded moments later by the immaculate fortress of Arundel Castle, its commanding stone columns rising around the crenelated keep.
We whizz along the coast-line, passing modest homes, unremarkable towns and unassuming dog-walkers; splashes of a sparkling sea wink just a few hundred metres beyond as the raspberry-red sun kisses the English Channel. I sink into my seat, watching autumn’s early-evening hues melt into the horizon until, giddy from my adventure, I alight at Brighton station all too soon. Walking home, I hope that they’re still mending the line tomorrow…