thoughtwisps One commit at a time


Published on 6th of May, 2019. I first started writing this post after giving a talk at PyCon UK 2017 and catching the late afternoon train from Cardiff back to Paddington. I wanted to capture something about what I had felt on the whole trip - the feeling of being almost alone in a train carriage, speeding through an almost dark countryside, watching as the lights come on in thousands and thousands of homes, wondering what kind of lives are lived behind those windows, under those lights. I never finished this piece, but I wanted to publish it as is in case someone finds solace or inspiration in these words.


Hiraeth is a Cymraeg word without an English definition. Perhaps because it is one of those words that is more than a simple thing, but a complex collection of feelings that spills over.

I am on the late train from Paddington to Cardiff. The towns and villages come and go: Reading, Swindon, Bristol Parkway. The crowd in the train thins out. looking out at the landscape receding in the opposite direction, at the millions of little lights and lives I will never know about.

I think, here alone in the train, I understand hiraeth a little bit. It’s a homesickness, but for a home that may no longer exist or may have never existed. A place that germinated at a particular time and with particular people and then dissolved into fragmented memories and pages in old albums that are looked at when someone moves or passes.

There is hiraeth for the childhood home, but not for the actual walls and doors and rooms but for the skinned knees and yard games and winter mornings sledding in powder snow and building snow men. The time when the world was made of possibility, without disappointment and despair. The excitement of knowing that the road is still ahead and not behind.

There is hiraeth for places that we may never visit, that only exist in the mind.