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One of the train lines that ran through my neighbourhood when I was growing up was known as the Goblin line. The nickname endured, presumably because of the joke it inspired – “The Goblin line: if it runs on time it must be magic!” – though the derivation is much more boring (it’s a contraction: the Gospel Oak to Barking line, therefore GOBlin).
In the juniors’ playground it was the subject of much mythologising. There was the tale of “the Goblin”, a shadowy figure patrolling the lines at night, preying on children who had stayed out too late. Others said the line was blessed by ancient cockney goblins and everyone who rode it would receive good luck.
For me, travelling on the Goblin line was just another mysterious thing big people did, along with taxes and sitting during parties. Princess Jasmine from Aladdin rode a magic carpet; adults rode the Goblin.
I remembered those myths this week when stuck on a rush-hour Goblin, sandwiched between one person’s unrepentant chewing and another’s loud sighing. All the magic in life is dead, I thought. I have never been one for the occult, whether that means horoscopes or those teenage spam emails about a curse that can only be lifted by forwarding them on (who knew supernatural spirits were so into raising their internet profile?). But there is something about that childlike sense of wonder, of imagining when there is no knowing, that I miss.
Maybe I’m at an awkward age: too old to believe in magic but not yet old enough for the adult’s. By adult magic, I mean those truly wondrous things: creating a child, or summoning superhuman strength when a loved one passes.
Or maybe it’s my fault. I have a device near-permanently attached to my hand, so I can conduct a search on every thought that crosses my mind. And I will follow the results with abandon, through Wikipedia pages to podcasts and beyond. I have lost the ability to tolerate not knowing, and to fill that space with dreams, even for a moment. Perhaps it’s me who has sucked all the magic out of life.
Then again, while writing this I discovered there is an entire online community dedicated to the Goblin. More than a thousand strangers connected in our hostile, unfriendly capital, by an interest in a train line. So maybe it was magic, after all