The truly surreal moment of the day came when, waiting for a connection to Bristol, the announcements at Salisbury station began to be made in French. Perhaps more terrifyingly, the train turned out to be a single-carriage affair; quite a change from the eight-carriage Intercity I usually get. This was to be my transport through an hour and a half of Wessex countryside (with request stops, no less).

There is something cinematic about train journeys: the world passes by as a linear sequence of images, their progression controlled by the mechanistic director called Timetable. Villages, roads, fields, farms; office blocks, hotels, out-of-town supermarkets. The architecture of human life, inscribed on the countryside. And there are details: a crow alighting in a field; a couple on a bike ride; rusting cars and broken fences. The minutiae of our surroundings are laid bare for those who choose to look.

Many, bizarrely, don’t, choosing instead to remain immersed in newspapers, phone conversations, or the latest trashy thriller to top the bestseller lists. Personally, I cherish the opportunity a train journey gives me to do nothing and not feel guilty about it (although when I have a heavy workload, I often do spend time working rather than looking out of the window).

Train journeys afford us the chance to do other things, too. The Maori believe that we walk backwards into the future: we can see only the past, in front of us; we are blind to what will happen next. If you’re lucky, on a train you can sit facing forwards, the uncharted vista of the future spread out before you.