The Ingenuity of Pigeons

Today is a strike day, so no shuffling is to be had.

So instead, a second-hand report from a previous day. But a good one.

According to another frequent shuffler on Twitter:

‘My train is delayed “due to animals”. Well, that’s a first. Better get Snow White to sort them out.’

And then:

‘You know those spikes in stations to stop birds nesting? I just saw a pigeon having a rest on a spike cluster. Animals are winning today.’

Shuffling gold.

Corgi caption competition

Photo courtesy of Fiona MacLeod

Photo courtesy of Fiona MacLeod

Central Belt Shuffler noticed this rather wonderful picture on a friend’s Facebook profile, and asked for a borrow for this blog.

As Central Belt Shuffler wasn’t present, it’s not possible to elucidate what the relationship was between man and corgi, but perhaps a caption competition might be appropriate. Any thoughts? Do comment below.

Apparently the man’s name is Fernando.

The dramatic entrance

Glasgow 1901From the opening of Glasgow in 1901, by James Hamilton Muir, which is Central Belt Shuffler’s current bedtime reading:

‘It must be accounted a pretty piece of stage direction on the part of the genius loci, that a traveller usually enters his strange city in the company of nightfall. As his train slows down and outskirts sweep out to meet him, then, whether he is entering a town of old romance, whose ancient monuments waver past him one by one like gestures of emaciated hands, or whether he finds his dark carriage “lit dreadfully” from beneath by flaring furnaces which march with him to remind him that his journey’s end is an unknown black heart of the provinces – it is night, transforming all outlines and fusing all colours, that prepares the dramatic quality of his entrance.

‘Dusk is falling; the train from the South is pounding on through the Black Country of Lanarkshire, past an endless procession of dour little mining villages, shot into heaps of waste rising from stagnant pools; on, past green fields blanched in the smoke, with bare little roads that scurry off to a fugitive horizon, over which the hills seem to cock their ears for a moment and sink back suddenly into the wilderness. And over the face of the land the evening sky is reeled off in an unending, monotonous ribbon by your flying train. For hours you seem to have sat in your corner, lulled by the narcotic of droning, insistent wheels, of cinders pattering on the roof of the rocking carriage pounding northwards along the black trail. Then the fields grow rarer, then suddenly cease; suburban stations swing past with steady rows of lamps and groups of blurred people. The houses mount higher and higher on either hand; down you go into a sudden gut; out goes the last of the sunset, and descends night’s curtain with a sudden run. Your train is gliding now through the squalid heart of the city; then it slackens speed, as you yawn and collect your wraps, it rumbles out on a bridge, the darkness lifts again, and for a moment of time a vision lies before you, seen through the twinkling lattice of the girders. It is of a short reach in a river, of water coloured a faint greenish bronze, of a dusky West Highland sunset lingering overhead, where shreds of clouds are drifting into nests for the night, of huddled silhouettes of vessels moored in the mid-stream or coaling at wharves, of brown smoke and sudden lights blinking out along the quays and dulling sky and water to the mellow chiaroscuro of an old painting. For a moment it hangs before you, dreamy, yet work-a-day, instinct with the modern poetry of night fallen on unended labours. Another moment and your train rumbles over the bridge, and a swarming, nocturnal city leaps up on every hand to welcome you.

‘It is the Clyde you have seen…’

Being an old-fashioned kind of policeman…

A crowded evening train home (in contrast to some trains plying this route).

An elderly gentleman and lady are comparing notes on city vs. country living, car-driving and age. Central Belt Shuffler’s ears prick up:

Elderly gentleman: ‘An old retired man hadn’t driven for 12 years. He got in his car, and started to drive the wrong way down a one-way street. A policeman recognised the driver, and flagged the car down to stop. “This is a one-way street.” “Constable, it’s just one way that I’m going, so clear the street.” [A dismissive flick of the wrist illustrates the anecdote.] Being an old-fashioned kind of policeman, he let him on his way, and then phoned the man’s family.’


Elderly lady: ‘My son is a research fellow in nanotechnology’.

Elderly gentleman: ‘Oh!’ (In a way that indicates he knows exactly what that means.) Then, ‘Now, you’ll have to put me right on that.’

Elderly lady: ‘That’s very very wee.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘I know!’

Elderly lady: ‘He works with diamonds. I can’t help but boast about him sometimes.’


Elderly gentleman: ‘He was born with a chip on his shoulder. All of them are after a certain time.’

Elderly lady: ‘I’ve got an iPad now. I use it for email and so on. I saw a 3-year-old the other day, swiping.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘They’re implanted.’

Elderly lady: ‘But I don’t use it for my bank account details. I don’t trust it. They can hack into your account.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘When they phone up and ask you to prove who you are by answering questions. Who are _you_?, I want to know.’

Elderly lady: ‘I don’t believe in those three questions. We don’t need computers.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘Well, I don’t. But the world does.’

Elderly lady goes to toilet.

Elderly gentleman turns to me: ‘How can you tell someone’s age in a lift?’

Me: ‘Enlighten me.’

Elderly gentleman, showing his thumb and then his index finger: ‘Whether they use this, or this.’ He points to my phone, on which (somewhat shamefacedly), I have been noting down their conversation with lightning thumb action.

Me (laughing): ‘Oh, I thought that was going to be a joke.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘Well, it’s quite funny.’


Me (looking up from my copy of The Bookseller): ‘Did you know that the take-up of ebooks is stronger in rural Scotland than anywhere else in the whole of the UK?’

Elderly gentleman: ‘Well, that’s not surprising. That goes back to John Knox.’

From thence on, the conversation skips by the smell of books, the merits of publishing church materials on Lulu, broad-based and specialised undergraduate education, teacher training for university lecturers, whether the grace of God is a noun, differing types of Spanish in the Peruvian jungle and Lima, how to stop your five-year-old swearing in Spanish (use ‘Ballachulish’ instead), The Ballachulish ferry/bridge, the Skye ferry/bridge, the new Forth road bridge/bring back the ferry, cycling in the city, and the possibility of a backy to the West End for the elderly lady, her suitcase and stick.

We parted at Queen Street.

Elderly lady: ‘This is why I like travelling on the train.’

Me too.

Poetic Fudge Shuffle

The journey started in a muddle. The train awaited us on Platform 2, but Central Belt Shuffler and fellow travellers were, as instructed by the display boards, on Platform 1. We obediently trudged along the platform, up, over and back down to Platform 2. Everyone took their time.

It was midway through the evening, and – despite having had an early evening scone – Central Belt Shuffler was hungry for dinner. The man opposite, and his family at the next table, brought out a bumper bag of fudge. It smelled good.

Sensing my hunger, my travelling companion checked his bag for an apple he thought might be there. No. But he asked if I could have some fudge.

Shared food leads to shared conversation. This was a family reunited from around the globe – Scotland, Canada, Australia – for a wedding. The man opposite teased me about my hunger, and gave me various flavours to try: chocolate, mint, lemon.

As we went our separate ways at Queen Street, he said, ‘If you’re ever in Sydney, look me up.’

‘How will I find you?’ I replied.

‘Just ask around,’ said his daughter. ‘Someone will know.’

The man got out his wallet and handed me a couple of business cards. ‘I’ve got a few different businesses.’ (Senior Manager, Senior Project Manager, Global Implementation.) ‘That’s me. Robert Burns. Call the mobile.’

Fudge from an émigré poet.

Display Board Poetry

Not all days, as the previous post revealed, are good commuting days.

It was a subsequent day of delays and confusion, this time with no apologies or reasons given. A tweet about the unhelpful, impolite and unhelpful staff gave rise, however, to some unexpected poetry via a sympathetic colleague on Twitter (to whom a coffee is owed):

‘This is Scotrail. Cross at disorder. Knew I should have got the bus down to Lauder’.

He followed this up with: ‘They’re ghastly to the rich and beastly to the poor. There’s vomit in the toilets and urine on the floor’.

And then: ‘Pulling into Larbert, never on time. Everybody hates you on the Queen Street line.’

As another Central Belt Shuffle correspondent commented, if only the station display boards displayed poetry appropriate to the day and state of Scotrail, we’d all be happier travellers. Now there’s a thought for Scottish Book Trust.

A person struck

Person struck by train near Stirling services subject to short notice cancellation or change. Inconsiderate bastard. There’s some poor family grieving. Person struck by train. Cancelled. Cancelled. Cancelled. Delayed. Replacement bus will depart from the station front. Scotrail apologise.  Services are still subject to major disruption. Scotrail apologise for the inconvenience caused today. Delayed due to a person struck by a train earlier: apologies.