A Shuffler’s Manifesto

img00124-20110625-1850.jpg‘The car is freedom,’ Prof A asserts.

Unbound, I suppose, by timetables, stations, and stops. By the demands of onwards destinations and over-weight baggage. By the weather, and the occasional need to stand all the way.

But what do you learn of human nature in the car, other than that of your own emotions? Something, perhaps, if you listen to a good radio programme. But otherwise, a very limited range of expression: road rage and idiocy; courtesy and control; patience.

Patience can yield its rewards, though. As the cars slow down, you have more time to see your fellow car drivers and, in a favourite motorway traffic jam game, take an absurdist guess at their occupations. The amusement of the game doesn’t detract from the fact, though, that you’re gridlocked. And that you’re making it up.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a car. It sometimes even gets driven to work. It’s very convenient (apart from around MOT time). But, essentially, it’s a bubble. You’re visible, you can see out, but the experience is muffled. If you get too close to another car, the bubble bursts. You crash.

The train is sometimes far from convenient (though four trains an hour from Glasgow to Edinburgh isn’t bad), costs more than it should do, is over-crowded. But it allows something the car does not: the opportunity – if you so view it – to encounter the full variety of human nature. This includes those you will meet in the car (aggression, politeness, patience). But also a whole range of other emotions and modes: passive aggression, banter, helpfulness, fear, selfishness, generosity, humour, love. People rubbing each other up the wrong way, and the right way. Perhaps I wouldn’t think this if I were a south-east of England shuffler, but the Central Belt Shuffle is just fine.

Oh, and shuffling is also much better for both writing and reading, of course.

Carniolan Shuffle

You may not have noticed the absence of Central Belt Shuffler in recent weeks, as the demands of working life took over the recording of the daily commute. But now, though far from habitual terrain, an opportunity for shuffling has occurred.

In this shuffle, the train is heading away from the city, and towards wooded foothills, and a small, historic town known for its gingerbread and its bee museum (honey production is a speciality of the region). One of the two under-occupied train managers (the younger; the elder conveys a more world-weary air) is solicitous and ensures I leave the train at the right stop. I had, anyway, written the previous stop down on a scrap of paper: the tiny and charmingly-named Globoko – a station which, had Slovenia had its own Beeching – would surely now be gone.

GlobokoOn the journey, at the biggest intermediary station, descending passengers walk over the tracks to get to the exit; the station manager awaiting a brown paper envelope that one of them holds out for him.

I step down from the train at a sleepy station, to be greeted by the publisher I had travelled here to meet. Besuited and clearly the only possible publisher in the station, he nonetheless holds a hand-written sign with my name on it.

Later, I look down on the train tracks from the old town, over terraces of carefully tended fruit and vegetables.