A Fellow Traveller

The train home. Dr A and I sit in companionable silence, he furiously marking (he suspects he’ll have read about 125 essays by the end of the week), Central Belt Shuffler catching up on emails and social media.

A older cyclist gets on the train. It’s the first properly cold evening of the year, but he’s in knee-length shorts. He has the same fluorescent cycling jacket (slightly larger size) as me, though, and keeps his helmet on through the journey.

Not far out from Queen Street, he tosses words across the aisle at Dr A, ‘You’re a teacher?’

Dr A nods, wearily.

‘What dae ye teach?’ interrogates our fellow traveller.

I explain we work at the uni, and what my subject area is.

Dr A admits to teaching English.

‘Brutal,’ our interlocutor replies. It’s hard to know whether this is condemnation or approbation.

‘Ah’m a teacher too. Chemistry. When ye’re marking it’s easy to see. Is it 9 and a quarter? But English. That’s brutal.’

We realise he is speaking in sympathy at Dr A’s lot, and laugh.

‘Little and often is what my dad always advised about marking,’ I said. ‘He was a school teacher.’

He goes on to tell us about his own love of teaching, his school days in the East End of Glasgow. Tough, working class, Celtic and Rangers and a’ that.

‘Lamb, Spenser, the Faerie Queen, Milton… teaching that tae boys from the East End. But The Big McGonigall!’ He smiles, remembers, some long gone inspirational teacher in his mind’s eye.

‘James Joyce. Ah like the Irish writers. Joyce, Seamus Heaney. Ah shoulda done English,’ he said. ‘But working class boys, it wisnae fer us. The white heat of maths and chemistry, that wis the thing. It can still be like that ah think.’

We agree, and Dr A talks about his experience at university open days, trying to convince parents that English is worth studying.

‘Ah’m reading McIlvanney at the moment,’ he said. ‘The Kiln. It’s very autobiographical. It reminds me of my life.’

The train pulls into the station. We take our bikes off the train and head our separate ways homewards, wishing each other well.

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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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.

 

Causeways

It didn’t seem like a day for setting out on foot, but Central Belt Shuffler’s journey today is a triangular one, out to the office and on to Edinburgh before setting back home again. Despite my umbrella, I’m already soaked by the morning rain as I reach the subway station; glad, at least, that I’m not on my bike. I see someone cycling along the path on the other side of the river, and think they must be much more determined than me. The rain has the quality of that in a Hollywood movie, but none of the joyous grace of Gene Kelly tap dancing along the pavement edge, flirting with the lamp posts.

At the other end, the wait at the bus stop is lengthy, the number of people growing by the minute. Some huddle inside Greggs, but the staff inside make them leave, explaining that it’s a fire exit. There’d be plenty enough rain to put any fire out. Eventually several buses arrive at once, and the scrum to get on fills each with the smell of wet coats, condensation, and students checking the time on their phones, already 20 minutes delayed for lectures.

The delay gets worse as we head to campus. Roadworks mean the traffic crawls along Causewayhead Road at slower than walking pace. We are, at least, out of the rain.

I arrive late. Everyone who comes in is dripping, and breathless from the conditions. Umbrellas are doing little good, and a walk across campus is inadvisable in this weather.

In the afternoon I get a text from my parents, checking I was not affected by flooding on the way to work. I look online; the motorway was flooded, and the southbound carriageway closed. Some days, despite a wet start as a pedestrian, it’s definitely better not to drive.

Mid-afternoon, I set off to catch the train to my next destination. The river races fiercely under the bridge, sweeping around the tree trunks, churning brown. The sun comes out, briefly. The view across the valley is spectacular as the storm clouds are chased by the sun, a kiss-chase of the weather. The elevated train tracks become a temporary causeway, running above lower-lying land. Water surrounds us on both sides.

Looking out of the window, I think of causeways around the country. The roads that link the islands of the Outer Hebrides, that one day I plan to cycle. The causeway to Lindisfarne in Northumberland, which requires visitors to plan their journeys carefully to avoid staying longer on the island than they had intended.  Burgh Island in Devon, to which you can walk over the sands to the Art Deco hotel.  Even the cheapest rooms (Shrimp, and Dorothy Button) are prohibitively expensive, and I’m not quite sure I could manage the glamour of the black tie/ball gown dining requirements, though I suppose I could give it a go. I remember The Bay of Fundy in Canada, which has the highest tide differentials in the world. One summer I ran a watery (and muddy) 10K across its ocean floor, on the appropriately named Not Since Moses run. I think of Kirsty Logan’s recent novel The Gracekeepers, which draws a vivid picture of our dry world overtaken by the waters of the floods, an imaginative rendering of the future of climate change.

The wind turbines are spinning fast on the broad plain of the Forth Valley. The fields below are sodden, covered with the water of today’s rain, not dried out from their previous soakings. The floods of the past couple of months continue to be visited upon us, making journeys unpredictable, homes ruined, the skies dramatic. The main train route south from Glasgow to London has been cut off since New Year’s Eve, and looks to be so through February and possibly March. A viaduct has been badly damaged by the rising waters of the Clyde.

It is raining again. At each station, people are huddled together under cover, standing closer than they might normally. When they step on the train, water falls off their coats, their hair lashed slickly to their faces.

The contact I’m meeting in Edinburgh apologises for being late. A chimney stack has fallen from the rooftop onto a bus, causing road closures and detours.

I still have another journey leg to go.

Is it Saturday?

photoCentral Belt Shuffler sometimes reports on the (lack of) busy-ness on the rush hour train home. But earlier this week, it being Scottish half-term, the normally full morning train looked like this.

For a brief moment, I wondered if I’d mistakenly set off for work on a Saturday.

Redundancy & Abandonment

This might seem a dispiriting topic for a posting. But it is really nothing more than an observation of a bus stop close to Central Belt Shuffle’s home. In addition to its timetables, the stop has garnered commentary, official and otherwise, on both its north and south aspects.

Perhaps the stop could become an ongoing space for the polite discussion of issues relating to public transport?

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Bikes go in the first carriage

VelosCentral Belt Shuffler has been on tour for the last few weeks, so there hasn’t been much plying of the normal commuter routes.

But ever mindful of possible train/bike combinations, Central Belt Shuffler’s eye was drawn to this marking on the platform of the Yellow line in Montreal’s Metro system, detailing that ‘Les velos vont dans la premiere voiture’ (Bikes go in the first carriage). As well as its bilingualism (and its excellent ice cream), yet another reason to love this city.

Large, and orange

  

A variation, today, on planes, trains and automobiles.

Central Belt Shuffler boards the habitual morning train, stows the bike. Another bike (from another Glasgow-Stirling commuter) is leaned against it.

Then, a kayak.

A kayak comes on board the train, after some discussion with the conductor. It wants to go to Perth, the stop on from Stirling.

The conductor says that, technically, the train shouldn’t really be taking a kayak. It’s over-sized, and won’t fit into the luggage holders. (These are – it has to be said – under-sized for the amount of luggage on the train on some occasions. This time, though, he has a point.)

The conductor lets them on, telling them to stow it by the bikes, upright. It is large, and orange. It’s packed with luggage, and, it transpires the train tickets. There’s a lot of discussion about whether it should be upright or on the floor, and whether it will impede the passage of the trolley. Vertical, horizontal, vertical again. The younger man – a teenager – sits down, holding the kayak with one hand. Or, more precisely, resting his hand against it, while the other hovers over his smartphone.

His attention switches, and his hand hovers over the kayak and touches the screen. The train bumps over the points. The kayak starts to tip. I am in its fall line.

I put my hand out. The teenager too. The train steadies. The boat stays upright.

Stirling. Two bikes leave the train. One sea-faring vehicle remains.

I hope it made it to the Tay.

Shuffle Adventurously

photo (3)Many of us return to work tomorrow (apologies to those of you who have already, or have been working through the festive period to keep us safe, well and well-stocked of crucial Christmas goods). It’s never the most cheerful day of the year.

Central Belt Shuffler spent Christmas resting up south of the border in Kendal. Kendal is home to the fascinating Quaker Tapestry. Each panel was designed and created by different groups round the world, depicting aspects of Quaker history and philosophy.

One panel celebrates ‘Quaker Enterprise and the Early Railways’, and is decorated with wagons passing over a bridge, a stream rushing down below. Another, with a fully-rigged ship, encourages us to ‘Live Adventurously’, while advocating one of the key tenets of the Quakers: pacifism.

MoreFreedomAnother – Central Belt Shuffler’s favourite – depicts a long-skirted woman on a bike. ‘More Freedom,’ reads the legend. (Quakers were quick to the cause of women’s rights, anti-slavery and gay rights.)

These motifs of travel and tolerance, and a life lived adventurously, with freedom and equality, are good ones to take into the new year shuffle.

The Legacy Shuffle

The Autumn nights are drawing in, and it now seems far away from the Commonwealth Games excitement of late July and early August, which saw over 1.1 million passenger journeys on Scotrail heading into Glasgow. But the modern version of sporting events such as these insist on Legacy. Today, a poster spotted in Queen St is exhorting commuters to sign up to Glasgow Club, the city council’s sport centres, using the Games as its hook.

But for Central Belt Shuffler, this is probably my favourite legacy: chalked encouragement to Scottish cyclist David Millar, on the way out of Kelvingrove Park in the men’s road race route. It was an epic race, with only 12 out of the start list of 140 reaching the finish line.

A little incentive for the commuter-cyclist on the final push upwards and homewards.

Go Davie M!illar