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 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.)


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…

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.


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.

Mind the Spaniel

Milly‘Would you mind my things?’

I nodded, and the woman headed up the carriage towards the toilet.

Her things included a spaniel, attached by its lead to the table leg. It started hoovering up food from the floor. I wasn’t sure how much I was supposed to be minding the spaniel, and how much the inanimate possessions.

The dog’s owner returned. ‘She’ll eat anything, except grapes and raw onions.’ She is also, apparently, a regular central belt shuffler, well used to train travel.

The train manager came by to check our tickets, giving the spaniel a tickle under the chin on the way past.

He returned a few minutes later to check out the dog – Milly – more thoroughly. He sat down at the table; Milly stood on her hind legs, nose to nose with him.

‘She’s a complete sook. She’ll snog anyone.’

‘Don’t snog me,’ the train manager told Milly affectionately. ‘Ma girlfriend will be jealous.’

Flanders & Swann-song

This weekend, the Observer carried an article by Robin McKie on ‘How Beeching got it wrong about Britain’s railways’. McKie explains that rail passenger figures have almost doubled in 10 years, old lines are being reopened, and new ones planned for launch.

McKie argues that this ‘has more to do with the UK’s fading romance with the car than a refound love of the train’, although his evocation of a Cornish journey, full of dramatic views of surf and sea, serves to indicate that some train journeys have a magical nature that the car can never match, let alone surpass.

Dr Beeching, whose report led to the closure of so many branch lines and 5000 miles of track in the 1960s, has a popularity, says McKie, that lies between that of Richard III and Robert Maxwell. McKie’s link to the Flanders & Swann-song ‘The Slow Train’, with accompanying pictures of steam trains and bygone stations, shows us a little of what was lost.

Elsewhere in the media, the BBC has been running a TV series called ‘The Railway’. Last week’s episode featured Hayley, who displayed extraordinary cheerfulness while working in the Lost Property office, and poor dead Ronnie, a dog who ventured onto the tracks and was killed. Apart from sliced-off legs and being frozen solid, she was still in a presentable-enough state to be returned to her owners, which Ben – an economics graduate working on track recovery and clearance – duly did. Compelling.

The last episode in the series will focus on the West Coast Mainline, a route often travelled by Central Belt Shuffler. Don’t miss it.

Doggy Dancing

‘Have you heard of doggy dancing?’

This wasn’t the way that I’d anticipated introducing my frequent travelling companion, the urbane Dr A. But such a conversation opener demands its record.

In my innocence, I wasn’t really aware of the phenomenon of the doggy dancing, which Dr A tells me has taken America by storm, is incorporated into Crufts, and can even be found on primetime TV here in the UK. (Although I didn’t think Pudsey was ‘dancing’, but who am I to judge?)

Apparently the human tends to lead, with the dog frequently dancing backwards, reminding me of the famous quote about Fred Astaire’s dancing partner, ‘Sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards…and in high heels’. This brought me to a sentence I never thought I’d utter, on a train or otherwise:

‘So is the dog the woman?’

And an interesting one to answer in terms of gender and canine politics, as there is, apparently, a preponderance of gay men who doggy dance. At this point, I decided the conversation was getting too confusing for a Tuesday night, and we turned to the relative merits of hamsters and horses as pets.

I tentatively Googled ‘Doggy Dancing’ later that evening, and came up with this rather fine merengue. (Now there’s a happy couple, if I ever saw one.) It also returned this piece in the Torygraph, reporting on the Kennel Club’s ban on certain doggy dance tricks (dog health & safety), and ‘rules against routines that are “degrading” to the dogs’. Ms Kisco, Club secretary, commented that ‘”They are allowed to wear a certain amount – perhaps the equivalent of a dog coat. But we would absolutely not expect the dog to turn up in a full Father Christmas Claus kit, for instance”‘. (Checking the publication date of this piece revealed it was not 1 April as initially suspected, but 19 August.)

Apparently humans can continue to wear whatever they wish, though perhaps Simon Cowell and his ilk might want to consider whether costumes and routines on their shows which are ‘extreme, unnatural or degrading’ should be referred to the human equivalent of the Kennel Club. (Though perhaps the Grammys already tried and failed to do this in the much-ridiculed Wardrobe Advisory.)

Next time, I promise to report on the more erudite conversations in which Dr A and I engage, but in the meantime, here’s some more doggy dancing, from the delightful Eleanor Powell and Buttons. That’s my doggy dancing style.