On Saturday morning, I went to the National Rail Enquiries webpage to find out what the train times were from Birmingham to Northampton. My fingers typed in my origin and my destination, and I saw that trains left at 13 and 49 past the hour all afternoon. I navigated my way through a crowded and slightly confusing mall to Birmingham New Street, and checked the Departures board for my train. There it was, time and destination, with a platform listing. I was on the platform with 10 minutes to spare. But not until the train pulled up and the announcer said what train it was, aloud, that I realized that this was the train to Nottingham.
The words are close to the same length and have many of the same letters; even so, I'd been the one to start this cascade of confusion by subconsciously typing in the wrong destination in the first place. I knew where I was going, and it wasn't Nottingham. It was a good, if highly disconcerting, lesson in careless reading, in how easy it is to recognize, rather than read, a word, when reading inattentively.
The next train to Northampton wasn't for another 45 minutes, but fortunately my ride was running late too, so it ended up proving no problem for anything except my ego.
A city is never best judged from its ring roads. The train pulled in through gently rolling hills to an industrial expanse. The railway station seemed no where in particular. Its driveway meandered a bit before dropping us onto a car-oriented road. As we wended our way around Northampton in search of the right road signs, the city struck me as incoherent. It grew up in minor spurts and starts before indulging in minor, generic sprawl and a tangle of overlapping routs orbiting the center. I've only driven around Northampton, and it's superficial to judge a city on such transient interaction. Then again, it didn't say much about it when I read on a hotel review website, in a frequent business traveler's comment, that all the city's hotels are located at dual carriageway junctions.