One Day Without Us

headerToday saw a day of action to celebrate the contribution of migrants in the UK. Central Belt Shuffler, away from home turf, joined colleagues in solidarity at another university outside the students’ union.

The day before, I’d been travelling to my temporary home in the Midlands. The Sunday afternoon train was packed with people returning from half-term holidays, shopping in the big city, and heading onwards to the airport at the end of the route. Large suitcases and bags stuffed with new purchases were blocking the aisles, and several people were standing. Families and friends were separated, picking single seats where they could.

When the overcrowding on the train eased a little, a quiet, turbaned train guard checked our tickets. Then, from the other end of the carriage, the food and drinks trolley started to make its way, pushed by a dreadlocked man. He made it through to the vestibule area, which was still blocked by scattered suitcases, mine included. In a cheerful manner, he started to rearrange people’s bags to make more room, lifting smaller bags to the overhead racks, and fitting the larger ones into the spaces at the end of the carriage.

He talked good-naturedly while he did so, his intonation inflected by his Caribbean accent. He came to talk to our few seats, making all the passengers laugh with his explanation of how stacking luggage wasn’t his job, but he needed to make the passageways clear so he could sell from the trolley. He explained his father had always told him to do a decent day’s work. His dad had been a farmer, and he would also work as a farmer, and a builder, before he came over to the UK from Montserrat. He’d watch his goats, and plant during January to April: dasheen, sweet potato, blue peas, cucumber. His father would grow enough for him and his family, to give some to neighbours, to sell some. He couldn’t farm in the UK, and had tried building work for a while, but his hands couldn’t take the cold. So he was working on the trains. He was heading home to Montserrat for a couple of weeks’ holiday soon. He was looking forward to it.

As we approached the next stop, a larger city where lots of people got up to leave, he asked everyone to sit back down again to make way for the train guard as he came through to open the doors. The guard smiled wryly as he went past. Our trolley man sang us a bit of Bob Marley.

As we left the train, each passenger got a hand down with their bags, including my very heavy suitcase.

I smiled at him as I left the train, and thanked just one more of the individuals who come to make their homes here, and thereby enrich our lives, help us out, share their stories, and spread the love.

Citizenship Shuffle

Fish and chips.jpg
By © Andrew Dunn, http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

There is a boy on the train with his dad (this, it is important to note, is a north-west of England shuffle rather than within the Central Belt).

He’s doing a worksheet (half-term homework?) on British citizenship, and trying to work out what ‘British values’ are. His dad is struggling to explain to him that being nice is not a uniquely British value.

The boy looks at his worksheet. ‘“The values that British people hold?”’ He turns triumphantly to his dad. ‘Like having lots of fish and chips.’

Volumes of Memory

img_2751-2Two nights running a reader has sat in the same spot across the aisle from Central Belt Shuffler. He is immersed in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and is halfway through.

Last night the train stopped for a while outside of Croy, with no explanation forthcoming. This is the sort of situation that such a book is born for, although I occupied myself with marking.

His immersion made me remember when I read the same book. I was an undergraduate, in that odd period just after coursework and final exams are finished, but before the results are out. I recall sitting on a concrete step overlooking the university lake (60s buildings and lakes, with wildfowl attached, obviously hold some kind of attraction), while I worked my way through the tome, anxious about my results, thinking about the future, but pleasantly distracted by the novel.

In twenty years’ time will the reader, coming back to the book, remember the 2016 Stirling-Glasgow commute? Will the fabric of the already-aged Scotrail seats come flooding back into his memory? Proust wrote in À La Recherche du Temps Perdu how the madeleine brought back volumes’ worth of memory. But sometimes the volume itself can do that too…

 

A Fellow Traveller

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.

Striking Up

The subway draws into Cowcaddens. The brakes make the sound of bagpipes striking up, the a dhuine dhuine in Gaelic, Central Belt Shuffler is given to understand.*

I lift my head at the noise of the brakes, and remember that this is the subway stop for the National Piping Centre. Rather unexpectedly, I once was involved in a project with the NPC’s ELearning Hub where – as initial website analytics showed – online piping classes where of most interest to (in order) individuals in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, the Isle of Man, Germany, Ireland, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands.

Even a couple of stops from home, the world expands at the sound of the brakes…

*alternative, and not always entirely polite, suggestions for this sound from friends included ‘annoying’, ‘the tuneless racket before the tuneless racket’, ‘gasping, heaving, moaning’, and Central Belt Shuffler’s own contribution, ‘an elephant giving birth’.

It feels like coming home…

FullSizeRender (6)It’s early, a sunny morning. Central Belt Shuffler is slowly getting back into the return to work. The early alarm for the commuter train, hopping on the bike, the initial speed down hill, and then the push through to the station. It’s an even earlier train than normal today, to arrive in good time for an event.

I arrive at the station well in time, and head into the ticket office. There’s a hipster brass band playing on the concourse, and Scotrail branded cupcakes, celebrating the reopening of the Queen St tunnel. As travellers pass through the barriers on their way to work they are offered cake. Initially, some are wary, thinking it’s a charity collection, but then – as the sun streams through the roof – they realise it’s a small gift, the icing on its top literally buttering up customers after months of extended journey times.

The commuters’ early-morning head-down intent turns to smiles. The girls handing out the cakes dance in time to the band. The boys grin at everyone.

I board my train, and the short journey opens up into the large vistas of the Forth Valley, the dramatic sight of Stirling castle and the Wallace monument heaving into view.

I catch the train home with 10 seconds to spare, hoisting my bike up onto the rack. A familiar movement, but one I haven’t made for a while.

I have my ticket on the table, ready for inspection. The train guard comes by, and I hold it out.

He nods, and smiles, without really scrutinising it. ‘Thank you pal, good on ye.’

The sun shines on the Campsie Fells. A deer runs lazily across a field.

It feels like coming home. It is.

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