Solidarity Shuffle

SquirellontheSubwayCentral Belt Shuffler has been on strike for the past week or few. This has meant decisions each day about whether to shuffle on into work earlier than usual, to be on the picket line with colleagues, or to stay at home.

But today there was a rally on home territory, so Central Belt Shuffler headed to George Square, with a homemade placard in hand. University unions from round Scotland gathered, as well as trade unionists from other industrial sectors (thank you – and lessons learned in support for workers next time Scotrail has a strike).

On the way home, I leaned my placard by the subway rail. A woman smiled at it, and got onto the same carriage as me.

We got chatting about the strike. She was a student at a local university. I asked if her classes had been disrupted. She shrugged, smiled, and said, we support you!

Heartening words of solidarity on the shuffle home. Thank you.

The Lollipop Lady, distracted

It’s a dark and cold morning, one month until the Winter Solstice. From here it only gets darker.

Central Belt Shuffler walks down the steps, part stone, part waterfall, only looking up to register the continuing gloom in the vista towards Park Circus.

As I lower my eyes again, I capture a high-visibility flash: the lollipop lady at the end of the street. She sees me coming and steps into the street, her smile broad as she turns to meet me. Anticipating her good spirits, mine lift too, and I grin and reply to her good morning.

Her attention switches suddenly, and two-thirds of the way across I turn to see what has distracted her. She returns to her pavement, and a small brown and white spaniel lifts her front paws to greet the lollipop lady, who reaches into her pocket for a treat.

‘Good morning, pet,’ she cries. The spaniel jumps up, wagging her tail in joy.

I turn my head back down towards my path, but my spirits are lighter. As I write this story up, tapping on my phone in the subway carriage, the luminescence of the lollipop lady’s coat, the dog’s happiness as she rises to greet her, and the brief encounter in the late Autumn morning take me elsewhere, until the lights of Buchanan Street station kick me out into the next part of my journey.

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.

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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One Girl and her Dog

 

There’s been a little run of dog sightings on Central Belt Shuffler recently. Here’s another:

Girl and dog are on the platform – she, aged 6 or so, in denim dungarees, the dog, black and white, with floppy ears.

The dog won’t step into the train, so her dad tells her to pick the dog up. She bundles the dog under her arm, then sits in a seat with it in her lap.

She smiles. The dog looks happy.

Because of the shape of the dog’s ears, girl and dog seem to have the same triangular hairstyle.

The dog licks the train ticket.

She puts him on the seat, and tucks into a sandwich.

The dog looks out of the window. We pass over the Clyde.

Digger, Sergei, Fly, and Big Al

This was a weekend of epic car journeys, taking Central Belt Shuffler far, far beyond the habitual terrain. The journeys – and the regular stops for photo opportunities, snacks, leg stretching, and parking practice – travelled through what must be some of the most awesome scenery in the world – the road north-west of Glasgow by Loch Lomond, through Rannoch Moor and Glencoe, beyond Fort William to the Great Glen and Loch Ness before heading over the Black Isle beyond Inverness, and onwards to Ullapool. (The return journey went via the A9 and a night-time trip to Stirling cemetery.)

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Photo credit: Beth Driscoll

The car journeys were punctuated by a book festival, several fish suppers and ice creams, and an enormous amount of very interesting conversation. They were also bookended by dogs on public transport.

Here’s Digger (otherwise known as Trip Hazard), who travels on his owner’s boat shipping tourists over to the Summer Isles. He skitters surefootedly around the deck as the boat travels over the waves, staring out to the rocks and the seals, keeping an eye out for puffins. He first foots Tanera Mor, before we tourists head off for warming coffee and brownies, to write a quick postcard using the private island postal service, and then to have a quick walk above the scattered houses before we head back to the mainland. (The island is still for sale, incidentally… Crowd-funder, anyone?)photo

Then, back in the big city, waving sadly goodbye in Glasgow Central to road trip companion Dr D, three dogs and their rucksacked owner board the train south. Rescue dogs all, they are called Sergei, Fly, and Big Al. Big Al is very big indeed.

The journeys continue. And so do the stories…

Fibre on the Tracks

photo (13)Central Belt Shuffler has headed out to the South Side for some contemporary art. (See travel notes below*).

photo (10)It’s the Glasgow International Festival and Central Belt Shuffler is over at the Tramway. There’s fibre in the tracks, softening the industrial vestiges of the former tram works into a riot of colour. Trams are going nowhere. Trolleys sit in the tracks, too.

Monkeys climb the crumbling, arch-modernist buildings of Chandigarh. Its furniture is shipped round the world, restored and sold at high cost in auction houses. On the other side of the screen, a film shows the film being sold at Christie’s.

The industrial production of iceberg lettuce and pearls are surreally looped.

photo (9)The QE2, built on industrial Clydebank, has been digitally returned from Dubai (where in reality it still awaits its transformation into a luxury hotel) from Glasgow. On the journey back, it picks up some refugees. Broken in two and reconstituted as the QE3, it arches across the M8 motorway. It’s an art school, with one side for student accommodation. All the students are on full grants. The shipyards are no longer. The old Glasgow School of Art still burns. The crucible of industry has turned into one of creativity.

A woman sits and looks at her phone, to all intents at a bus stop.photo (3)

*Central Belt Shuffler mistakenly bought a ticket for Pollokshaws East rather than Pollokshields East.

The ticket inspector comment, ‘It’ll have cost you more.’

I nod, regretfully.

He adds, ‘As long as you know where you’re going.’

Taxis here, taxis there

IMG_0713It’s time to head home from Mexico. Central Belt Shuffler’s taxi arrives promptly, and the driver helps my heavy rucksack into the boot. Celeste the dog, my new best friend, lies down by the passenger door to say goodbye.

On the route to the airport, we discuss (in broken Spanish) girls who share their names with car brands, Scottish independence (rather confused by the driver asking how far Scotland is from England. One centimetre? Several hundred kilometres?), retirement ages and pensions, benefits and medical provision, private and free beaches on the Oaxaca coast line. He asks me whether I like Mexican music, what music I listen to at home.

The car is slowed by numerous topes (sleeping policemen) and a truck belching fumes.

As we turn a bend, an iguana sits in the road in front of us. It lopes off to the scrub on the side before we reach it.

Several hours, thousands of kilometres, and a huge drop in temperature later, the taxi line attendant lifts my bag into the car. ‘New car?’ he asks the driver. ‘Aye. First fare,’ the driver replies.

He drives very slowly over the speed bumps. ‘I need to go slowly over these. It’s catching on the bottom.’ The car scrapes.

‘Did I hear that right? I’m your first fare in this cab? There were speed bumps everywhere in Mexico,’ I contribute.

‘Aye. You don’t want to know what happened to the last one.’

‘You can’t say that. Now I do!’

‘Well, as you were in Mexico you probably won’t have seen this on the news. My last one caught on fire, right outside the airport. On 14 February.’

‘That’s quite a Valentine’s Day gift.’ We talk about the fire, insurance, the new cab, working into your 70s as a taxi driver, long-haul flights and holiday destinations. The motorway is running slowly, coming to a halt. We leave the motorway, and drive through parts of Renfrew. The sky is grey, the houses, hugging the side of the motorway, look poor. The car keeps scraping on high speed bumps. He needs to get the casing fixed.

He thinks he’s made the wrong decision to leave the motorway. We’re slowed by a cyclist, and overtake giving him wide space. The traffic comes to a halt. The cyclist catches up with us.

As we wait at the junction to go onto the Byres Road, he tells me that he was record-shopping there recently. He’s bought a new turntable, and is building up his collection again after selling his old vinyl, and player, four years ago. His collection would have doubled now in price. Original Neil Young vinyl is particularly pricey.

We arrive home, and he lifts my bag out. I go inside, pleased to be home, but wishing my cat (who is still with her Lake District minders) were there to greet me.

 

Camioneta Dreaming, Part 2

IMG_0784Central Belt Shuffler and Dr D are back at the side of the road, waiting for the camioneta home. The light is starting to fade.

We stand a few paces away from three men, two older, fatter ones, wearing straw cowboy hats, and a younger, thinner one. They drink from beer cans, their language slurred. They’re doing a sum, ’17 and 17 is 42’, says one. ‘Oh God,’ says Dr D. ‘I hope they’re not getting on the camioneta with us. If a taxi arrives, let’s take it.’

A taxi comes, but it’s headed in the opposite direction from where we want to go.

A camioneta arrives, also heading in the opposite direction. The drunk men ask the driver something, then, as the camioneta heads off, swear at its retreating exhaust.

Walking down the road comes a small group of Mexicans, accompanying a tall, thin black man, smartly dressed with a calm demeanor. A visiting preacher from Paraguay. The drunks recognise one of the women walking with him, and say hello. She replies, nervously. The preacher calmly greets them, ‘Buenas tardes.’

Another camioneta arrives, heading in the right direction. It’s already quite full, and we get on quickly, making our way to the front. The three men also get on, causing a commotion on the camioneta. A few of the Mexicans look at them in disapproval, and shift around to give them space to sit together. A little girl is carrying a tiny puppy, which a woman then takes on her lap as the camioneta sways with the number of people on it. Several men are standing on the back bumper.

The drunks fall asleep. One lets fall an unopened beer can, which the younger man picks up. A family starts singing, the young boy repeating the words, to everyone’s delight. Then, the clear strong voice of the grandma singing by herself. Most of the camioneta join in for a moment, and laugh together at the end of the song.

An older woman, large in frame, gets on. One of the drunk men wakes up and tries to give her his seat. The woman, quickly assessing the situation, tries to dissuade his alcohol-fuelled courtesy, but he is insistent. She sits down, and he stands, swaying.

I reach my stop, and struggle to make my way through the throng to the back of the bus. The other passengers helpfully shout so that the driver knows to wait, and to the drunk, so he gets out of the way.

I squeeze my way out, then reach into my purse, counting out my 6 pesos, handing it to the driver. The camioneta continues onwards, passengers still clinging to the back. I hope Dr D manages to get out in due course. I head for some shopping, and a cooling margarita.

Dr D later reports on the continuation of this journey. The drunks start swearing, and she tells them off, reminding them there are children in the camioneta. When she reaches her stop, she climbs down. ‘Suerte,’ (Good luck), she says to those passengers continuing the journey.

They laugh.