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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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.

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.