The train home. Dr A and I sit in companionable silence, he furiously marking (he suspects he’ll have read about 125 essays by the end of the week), Central Belt Shuffler catching up on emails and social media.
A older cyclist gets on the train. It’s the first properly cold evening of the year, but he’s in knee-length shorts. He has the same fluorescent cycling jacket (slightly larger size) as me, though, and keeps his helmet on through the journey.
Not far out from Queen Street, he tosses words across the aisle at Dr A, ‘You’re a teacher?’
Dr A nods, wearily.
‘What dae ye teach?’ interrogates our fellow traveller.
I explain we work at the uni, and what my subject area is.
Dr A admits to teaching English.
‘Brutal,’ our interlocutor replies. It’s hard to know whether this is condemnation or approbation.
‘Ah’m a teacher too. Chemistry. When ye’re marking it’s easy to see. Is it 9 and a quarter? But English. That’s brutal.’
We realise he is speaking in sympathy at Dr A’s lot, and laugh.
‘Little and often is what my dad always advised about marking,’ I said. ‘He was a school teacher.’
He goes on to tell us about his own love of teaching, his school days in the East End of Glasgow. Tough, working class, Celtic and Rangers and a’ that.
‘Lamb, Spenser, the Faerie Queen, Milton… teaching that tae boys from the East End. But The Big McGonigall!’ He smiles, remembers, some long gone inspirational teacher in his mind’s eye.
‘James Joyce. Ah like the Irish writers. Joyce, Seamus Heaney. Ah shoulda done English,’ he said. ‘But working class boys, it wisnae fer us. The white heat of maths and chemistry, that wis the thing. It can still be like that ah think.’
We agree, and Dr A talks about his experience at university open days, trying to convince parents that English is worth studying.
‘Ah’m reading McIlvanney at the moment,’ he said. ‘The Kiln. It’s very autobiographical. It reminds me of my life.’
The train pulls into the station. We take our bikes off the train and head our separate ways homewards, wishing each other well.