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.

Citizenship Shuffle

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By © Andrew Dunn, http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

There is a boy on the train with his dad (this, it is important to note, is a north-west of England shuffle rather than within the Central Belt).

He’s doing a worksheet (half-term homework?) on British citizenship, and trying to work out what ‘British values’ are. His dad is struggling to explain to him that being nice is not a uniquely British value.

The boy looks at his worksheet. ‘“The values that British people hold?”’ He turns triumphantly to his dad. ‘Like having lots of fish and chips.’

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…

 

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…

The day begins

Central Belt Shuffler is heading to the subway station, planning on catching the train an hour later than usual. It’s a chill day, rain is in the air.

The lollipop lady has finished her shift, and is walking away from the pitch.

She smiles at me, as I’m heading out to work. ‘That’s me for a pot of tea,’ she says, as she heads home.

Good for transport links

Two retired women, smartly dressed, are chatting on the subway. Their husbands stand, holding the bar, swaying to the movement of the train.

One is asking the other about how it is, living in the city centre.

‘Not the best,’ replies her friend, dismissively.

The first woman, slightly put back, presses her friend. ‘Why do you say that?’

‘Well, it’s good for transport links,’ she admits. It becomes clear, though, that it can be difficult for deliveries.

Their conversation pauses for a while, then the city centre dweller picks up, following the train of thought about deliveries.

‘I bought John one of those wing-backed chairs for his birthday,’ she reveals.

‘Does he know?’ (The two men remain oblivious to the conversation).

‘Oh yes!’

‘And a packet of those Werther’s Originals!’

Both women laugh at the thought.

Four Gringos and a Bomba

IMG_0792We’ve headed off for an overnight stay: part pleasure (beaches, a trip to a luminescent lagoon unfortunately cancelled due to too bright moonlight, eating and drinking), part chores – buying some good coffee, checking out a store for lighting fixtures and a sink for the house my friends are building, buying a water pump, a “bomba”.

The temperature is rising – into the mid-30s Celsius during the day, over 25 at night. From my room, I can hear the heavy bass of a rooftop disco. The fan runs so fast it is rocking backwards and forwards, directly above my bed. It masks the bass, but its helicopter whirr alarms me and I switch it off. Tossing and turning, I eventually sleep.

IMG_0808The next day we buy the bomba. There are four of us, a small car, and a large pump. It would seem that two of us will have to brave the midday sun on the bus. The heat is beating down on the street. The passing buses look hot, sticky, dusty. Two and a half hours…

All of our kit is out of the car, the back seats lowered. The pump is pushed in. We pack the bags and the other shopping around it. Then we pack ourselves in, Dr D sitting high beside the pump box.

It reminds me of an old joke: ‘How do you fit four elephants in a Mini? Two in the front, two in the back.’

We set off.

We fit in just fine.

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.