Volumes of Memory

img_2751-2Two nights running a reader has sat in the same spot across the aisle from Central Belt Shuffler. He is immersed in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and is halfway through.

Last night the train stopped for a while outside of Croy, with no explanation forthcoming. This is the sort of situation that such a book is born for, although I occupied myself with marking.

His immersion made me remember when I read the same book. I was an undergraduate, in that odd period just after coursework and final exams are finished, but before the results are out. I recall sitting on a concrete step overlooking the university lake (60s buildings and lakes, with wildfowl attached, obviously hold some kind of attraction), while I worked my way through the tome, anxious about my results, thinking about the future, but pleasantly distracted by the novel.

In twenty years’ time will the reader, coming back to the book, remember the 2016 Stirling-Glasgow commute? Will the fabric of the already-aged Scotrail seats come flooding back into his memory? Proust wrote in À La Recherche du Temps Perdu how the madeleine brought back volumes’ worth of memory. But sometimes the volume itself can do that too…

 

Piper Jam

It’s been a season of disrupted Central Belt Shuffling.

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Kelvinbridge Underground Overground Station

Glasgow’s Queen Street tunnel has just reopened after several months’ of closure, which lengthened journeys to the north and east. For Central Belt Shuffler, this timing has been rather fortunate, as research leave has meant less need for frequent shuffling, and hence fewer, longer journeys than might otherwise have been necessary.

But while the trains are working again, with the works completed in time for Edinburgh festival trips, Glasgow’s subway remains closed for an extended period. There are replacement buses (overground undergrounds, which remind Central Belt Shuffler of a certain Wombling song).

The service is relatively good, and cheaper and faster than the normal buses. But the journey is of course subject to other street traffic.

Today, heading into the city centre, my replacement subway bus was held up by hundreds of marching pipers, part of the city’s Piping Live festival. Well, I suppose as jams go it offers authentic local colour (and sound).

(Oh, and here’s that Womble song. Because you can’t have enough sousaphones.)

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.

 

Going Abroad

photoCentral Belt Shuffler has been away for the weekend, celebrating that very non-Central Belt Shuffling American tradition of Thanksgiving. The weekend was spent in Yorkshire, and as well as liberal doses of turkey, potatoes both roast and mashed, parsnips, carrots, stuffing, succotash, Yorkshire puddings (for a local twist), mashed sweet potato topped with marshmallow, pumpkin pie, wine, whisky, rum and coke, there was a lot of weather. Wind, rain. Rain, and rain. And then some more rain.

Undaunted, we headed out into the countryside for a big walk before tucking into our dinner, and then (for this group of celebrants) the obligatory game of ‘Who’s in the Bag?’ (aka The Name Game). (As a travelling aside, Philip Pullman was explained as a kind of railway carriage, rather than a children’s writer.)

The following day, Central Belt Shuffler boarded the train back from Gargrave to Glasgow. The route was not that taken on the way down (the Carlisle to Settle route), but on a local train through to Morecambe. As Central Belt Shuffler prepared to step out of the train, gazing apprehensively at the horizontal rain heading down the Lancaster platform, the following interchange took place:

Yorkshire train guard, to Central Belt Shuffler and another woman who is getting off: It doesn’t look very nice out there.

Central Belt Shuffler: No, it doesn’t.

Yorkshire train guard: That’s what happens, if you go abroad.

A warning indeed to travellers daring to go outside of God’s Own Country, Yorkshire.

The train guard’s warnings proved prophetic. At Lancaster, all the trains north were cancelled due to fallen trees on the track beyond Oxenholme. The likelihood of getting back to the Central Belt looked slim (confirmed by a later message on the National Rail website, to the effect that, ‘Buses have been requested to run between Preston and Carlisle however Virgin Trains are currently unable to source any.’). Using a bit of local Lake District knowledge I headed for the local bus service over to Kendal, where I bedded down for the night (and got my underwear speed-washed by my mother). The following conversation took place:

French mother: What I don’t understand is why they have trees so close to the train line anyway. You think they’d cut them down.

English daughter: This isn’t France, mum.

French mother: They do that when they built the TGV lines.

English daughter: As I said, this isn’t France, mum.

The next morning, I set off from Kendal to Edinburgh, for a morning meeting. Two middle-aged female passengers who boarded at Carlisle discussed the pressing matter of chips.

Cumbrian lady 1: I don’t mind oven chips.

Cumbrian lady 2: I really prefer them in fat.

Cumbrian lady 1: Yes. In lard.

As the train pulled through the snow-topped hills to Edinburgh, I reflected that travelling the North of England – be it Yorkshire, Lancashire, or Cumbria – is every bit as rewarding as Central Belt Shuffling.

Central Belt Service Alterations

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 22.18.26The time for the ‘Central Belt Service Alterations’ is nearly upon us.

In reality, this is to allow for engineering works in the Winchburgh Tunnel to lower the tracks, in order to gain additional headroom for the electrification of the tunnel.

But Central Belt Shuffler’s mind runs instead to a different sort of alteration. A shortened hem; a nip and tuck; a colouring of grey hairs; an extra notch on the belt.

Will a much spruced up train service emerge to greet us at the end of July?

 

The Socialist Train

Today, Tony Benn has left us. A towering political figure of the left, a powerful rhetorician, and a deeply humane individual who constantly reminded us of collectivism.

CentralBeltShuffler had the privilege to see him in action more than once: a magnificent, inspiring lecture on Thomas Paine twenty years ago at UEA; and then some years later in ‘national treasure’ mode at the Oxford Literary Festival (although if that’s national treasure, give me a whole museum and we can curate – and create – a better, fairer world).

Luckily, so much of his career has been documented (not least by his own capacious writings), that we have no excuse not to remember him, and his socialist analysis of 20th and 21st century politics. In the digital, 21st century, we also have instant resource to the power of his rhetoric via YouTube.

Here, his critique of the damage wrought to the fabric of our nation by Thatcherism ends in high-style, and with reference to a commute. See here (from c3:20, though please listen to the whole thing), or in transcript, below:

RIP Tony Benn. May we keep your politics alive.

Transcript:

‘I had one experience the other day, which confirmed me in my view that she hasn’t really changed the thinking or the culture of the British people.

‘I don’t know how many people travel as I do, on trains, but I go regularly on the trains, and I see all the little businessmen with their calculators, working out their cash flow, frowning [at] people, looking and glaring at each other.

‘Thatcherite trains, the train of the competitive society…

‘I was coming back from Chesterfield the other day, and the train broke down. [Benn has earlier discussed the evils of privatisation.]

‘And the train changed. Someone came in and said, ‘Have a cup of tea from my Thermos.’ And they looked after each other’s children. A young couple talked to me, and I said after about half an hour, ‘How long have you been married,’ and they said, ‘Oh, we met on the train,’ they said. And a woman said, ‘Will you get off the train in Derby and ring my son in Swansea, because he’ll be worried’.

And by the time we got to London, we were a socialist train. Because you can’t change human nature.

‘There is good and bad in everyone. And for ten years it is the bad, and the good that has been denounced as lunatic, out of touch, cloud cuckoo land, extremist and militant. That’s what the party opposite has done.’

The Ingenuity of Pigeons

Today is a strike day, so no shuffling is to be had.

So instead, a second-hand report from a previous day. But a good one.

According to another frequent shuffler on Twitter:

‘My train is delayed “due to animals”. Well, that’s a first. Better get Snow White to sort them out.’

And then:

‘You know those spikes in stations to stop birds nesting? I just saw a pigeon having a rest on a spike cluster. Animals are winning today.’

Shuffling gold.

Display Board Poetry

Not all days, as the previous post revealed, are good commuting days.

It was a subsequent day of delays and confusion, this time with no apologies or reasons given. A tweet about the unhelpful, impolite and unhelpful staff gave rise, however, to some unexpected poetry via a sympathetic colleague on Twitter (to whom a coffee is owed):

‘This is Scotrail. Cross at disorder. Knew I should have got the bus down to Lauder’.

He followed this up with: ‘They’re ghastly to the rich and beastly to the poor. There’s vomit in the toilets and urine on the floor’.

And then: ‘Pulling into Larbert, never on time. Everybody hates you on the Queen Street line.’

As another Central Belt Shuffle correspondent commented, if only the station display boards displayed poetry appropriate to the day and state of Scotrail, we’d all be happier travellers. Now there’s a thought for Scottish Book Trust.

A person struck

Person struck by train near Stirling services subject to short notice cancellation or change. Inconsiderate bastard. There’s some poor family grieving. Person struck by train. Cancelled. Cancelled. Cancelled. Delayed. Replacement bus will depart from the station front. Scotrail apologise.  Services are still subject to major disruption. Scotrail apologise for the inconvenience caused today. Delayed due to a person struck by a train earlier: apologies.