Shreds of Daylight

Shreds of LightOnce more, it’s lighter later. As February draws to a close, the evenings draw out. It must be one of those times of the year where each day stretches its fingers and toes, like a child in a music and movement class. (The length by which day grows or shrinks is not regular, and so that sensation of rapid change at some points in the year is not an illusion, but a reality – though it is influenced by the clarity or obscurity of the sky.)

And so, while the rise of the morning sun is still twenty minutes earlier in Central Belt Shuffler’s previous home town of Oxford, the sun is now setting five minutes later in Glasgow, as the Met Office’s app* reveals.Glasgow Weather

Today has been a particularly pleasant venture into Spring, with the heavy rainfall of the morning commute turning to afternoon sunshine, and shreds of daylight till after 6. And so the wait for the 1814 Bridge of Allan-Glasgow is accompanied by bird song, a clear view of the Wallace Monument, and the sense of hope and longer evenings ahead.

*Download this app; don’t use the standard weather app on your phone. (Central Belt Shuffler is a geography teacher’s daughter.)

Writing on the Shuffle

A little over a year ago, inspired by many a commute and one particular pre-Valentine’s Day happening, Central Belt Shuffler began this blog, much of which – if not quite all – is actually penned while travelling.

And now, an author friend has drawn my attention to news of a plan being hatched by Amtrak to give free rides to writers in the US. They’ve done a couple of test runs, and it looks like they might actually be rolling out on-board writers’ residencies.

In interview with The Wire, who reported on this admirable development, the first author to undertake a residency talked about the train as a ‘”unique environment for creative thought”‘, which ‘”takes you out of normal life”‘. This description is one that accords with that given by Guy Garvey over on his recent BBC Radio 6 Music show devoted to trains.

A L Kennedy, in her witty perspective on the author’s lot, On Writing, discusses writing in trains, retaining the most praise for US and Canadian train writing:

I can particularly recommend travel from New York to Montreal – the journey takes around eleven hours for no really good reason, beyond a type of shyness that will leave your train hiding, loitering and then simply fainting to a halt at regular intervals. When you are travelling north it will wait like a faithful lover to meet and be passed by the southbound train, and when you are travelling south it will also wait. You will do a great deal of waiting. But you will also be beguiled by the autumn foliage (should it be autumn), the picturesque wetlands and gentle vistas – all slightly distracting if you’re trying to write a sex scene and are already freaked out by your somewhat intrusive surroundings and the fiddly technical matters you have to consider. But you will be able to spot great blue herons and egrets and red-tailed hawks aplenty, as you wonder who should do what to whom first and from what angle.

(from A L Kennedy, On Writing)

Thanks to Amtrak and the powers of social media, it looks like writers in the US are going to get the opportunity to write on trains on a regular basis. Central Belt Shuffler has two thoughts as a consequence:

  1. Book a flight to America (or, in true A L Kennedy style, a transatlantic boat cabin) to take advantage of this great opportunity, and/or
  2. Petition the UK train companies to set up something similar. Yes please!

Update! See also Writer on the Train (First Great Western) and this Poetry Train Workshop, starting from Norwich. Let’s make that Scottish train companies (well, Scotrail) needing to set up something similar.

‘He’s always like this on the train…’

Homeward bound. At a table seat, a young couple sit with a baby of some months’ roundness. At the next stop a woman and a boy, probably about seven or eight, get on, and sit opposite them.

The boy starts chatting to the baby, and asking the parents questions about it. He’s friendly, and persistent. The parents respond, and the baby looks delighted. The woman with the boy – perhaps his grandmother rather than mother – looks slightly long-suffering.

As we draw into Glasgow Queen Street, the woman comments to the couple:

‘He’s always like this on the train. Settles down, and has a blether with whoever is next to him.’

Good on him.

Central Belt Shuffler makes an admission

Shuffling, and records of shuffling, have been a little thin on the ground in the past month.

An admission needs to be made. Central Belt Shuffler has a new car. It’s nippy, has a great sound system, and it’s cold outside. So, despite previous avowals to the contrary, the past month’s transport of choice has been the car.

In the last few weeks, the allure of the warm interior and the digital radio have been keeping me away from the train. There are some advantages to this (the occasional 35-minute door-to-door commute), and obvious downsides (no public transport banter or serendipities; no drinking at work).

Roll on spring.

Shuffling Soundtrack

Today is a Sunday, so no need for shuffling, short or long.

But on the magnificent BBC Radio 6 Music, Guy Garvey’s show is themed around the train, train journeys, and chance encounters on the train. (Nice anecdote about meeting Will Self.)

So for a great shuffling soundtrack, head on over to the Finest Hour

Viaduct Shuffle

Carlisle-Settle coffee cupCarlisle station. Tears streaming down my face from the biting wind.

There’s a certain rucksack-bearing, bearded demographic on the platform. Excited chatter.

We board the undistinguished carriages, but with the knowledge that this is, according to the Settle-Carlisle partnership, ‘England’s most scenic railway’ (plaudits for not claiming it to be the UK’s). It’s 25 years since the line was declared safe from closure, and it’s being marketed hard as a tourist destination (as well as a link from the West Coast mainline through to Leeds).

It’s a cold day, and the train sets off there’s discussion inside the carriage of the draughtiness of train stations, model railways, and other such trainspotterish chat. Outside, cows big with calf and sheep with unborn lambs fill the fields. Piebald ponies canter alongside the train. A deer bounds frightened from the engine and, as we pull higher and higher, a hare runs madly from us too. The rain makes the roads in places indistinguishable from the swollen rivers.

One passenger wears both large head-phones and an eye-mask, not interested in the view.  The most nerdy of fellow travellers is explaining to his companions, ‘Everyone knew in those days a back way into the engine shed, to prowl around a bit. Sometimes you’d know a member of staff, they’d turn a blind eye. That wouldn’t be allowed nowadays.’

Wensleydale sheep huddle against barns and stone walls in the sleet. A young couple, in urban attire and with over-sized suitcases, alight at Kirkby Stephen. They look lost briefly, but are swiftly greeted by a woman who warmly welcomes them into their accommodation right in the station building.

We pass by a flock of black sheep – Hebridean perhaps? – standing close in the wind. It’s snowing properly now, and I order a coffee which comes in a commemorative cup. We pass Dent, the highest station above sea level. The lights are on in Blea Moor signal box, and it looks cosy inside compared to the driving snow outside. Two hikers, well protected against the elements, take a path running parallel to the train tracks. The surrounding hills and mountains are hidden from view.Carlisle

We reach Ribblehead viaduct, a place I often visited as a child, as it is close to where my grandparents lived. This is the first time I’ve travelled over it, though.

The weather is looming grey, and the light is failing as we slide into Settle. Inside the houses, lights are coming on, and I imagine the smell of coal fires keeping homes warm.

The train heads on to my destination, Shipley. The day turns to night, and the snow back to rain.