Solidarity Shuffle

SquirellontheSubwayCentral Belt Shuffler has been on strike for the past week or few. This has meant decisions each day about whether to shuffle on into work earlier than usual, to be on the picket line with colleagues, or to stay at home.

But today there was a rally on home territory, so Central Belt Shuffler headed to George Square, with a homemade placard in hand. University unions from round Scotland gathered, as well as trade unionists from other industrial sectors (thank you – and lessons learned in support for workers next time Scotrail has a strike).

On the way home, I leaned my placard by the subway rail. A woman smiled at it, and got onto the same carriage as me.

We got chatting about the strike. She was a student at a local university. I asked if her classes had been disrupted. She shrugged, smiled, and said, we support you!

Heartening words of solidarity on the shuffle home. Thank you.

A small gift

Credit: Pip Hill

Credit: Pip Hill

Up and over, back down, under the pass, down the stair.

Only to hear – and then see – the subway doors close.

The driver, facing the stair, opens the doors again, smiling sweetly. A small gift, halfway through the evening shift.

Thank you, I say, as I get on.


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.


‘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.’

Poetic Fudge Shuffle

The journey started in a muddle. The train awaited us on Platform 2, but Central Belt Shuffler and fellow travellers were, as instructed by the display boards, on Platform 1. We obediently trudged along the platform, up, over and back down to Platform 2. Everyone took their time.

It was midway through the evening, and – despite having had an early evening scone – Central Belt Shuffler was hungry for dinner. The man opposite, and his family at the next table, brought out a bumper bag of fudge. It smelled good.

Sensing my hunger, my travelling companion checked his bag for an apple he thought might be there. No. But he asked if I could have some fudge.

Shared food leads to shared conversation. This was a family reunited from around the globe – Scotland, Canada, Australia – for a wedding. The man opposite teased me about my hunger, and gave me various flavours to try: chocolate, mint, lemon.

As we went our separate ways at Queen Street, he said, ‘If you’re ever in Sydney, look me up.’

‘How will I find you?’ I replied.

‘Just ask around,’ said his daughter. ‘Someone will know.’

The man got out his wallet and handed me a couple of business cards. ‘I’ve got a few different businesses.’ (Senior Manager, Senior Project Manager, Global Implementation.) ‘That’s me. Robert Burns. Call the mobile.’

Fudge from an émigré poet.

A Shuffler’s Manifesto

img00124-20110625-1850.jpg‘The car is freedom,’ Prof A asserts.

Unbound, I suppose, by timetables, stations, and stops. By the demands of onwards destinations and over-weight baggage. By the weather, and the occasional need to stand all the way.

But what do you learn of human nature in the car, other than that of your own emotions? Something, perhaps, if you listen to a good radio programme. But otherwise, a very limited range of expression: road rage and idiocy; courtesy and control; patience.

Patience can yield its rewards, though. As the cars slow down, you have more time to see your fellow car drivers and, in a favourite motorway traffic jam game, take an absurdist guess at their occupations. The amusement of the game doesn’t detract from the fact, though, that you’re gridlocked. And that you’re making it up.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a car. It sometimes even gets driven to work. It’s very convenient (apart from around MOT time). But, essentially, it’s a bubble. You’re visible, you can see out, but the experience is muffled. If you get too close to another car, the bubble bursts. You crash.

The train is sometimes far from convenient (though four trains an hour from Glasgow to Edinburgh isn’t bad), costs more than it should do, is over-crowded. But it allows something the car does not: the opportunity – if you so view it – to encounter the full variety of human nature. This includes those you will meet in the car (aggression, politeness, patience). But also a whole range of other emotions and modes: passive aggression, banter, helpfulness, fear, selfishness, generosity, humour, love. People rubbing each other up the wrong way, and the right way. Perhaps I wouldn’t think this if I were a south-east of England shuffler, but the Central Belt Shuffle is just fine.

Oh, and shuffling is also much better for both writing and reading, of course.

Wine and Hearts

February 13th.

Boarded the evening train and sat opposite a blinged-up lady of a certain age. She looked a bit perturbed and said her friend was joining the train. I politely pointed out that there were still two free seats at the table.

Friend arrived, sat down. Lady 1 got out tablecloth (actually a napkin), forks, pre-packed salad (crayfish), sushi, Doritos, a bottle of white wine.

They fed me crisps and offered me wine (I was being abstemious). I got a bit of sushi.

Then it was pudding: chocolate hearts in white, milk and dark chocolate.

We had by this time been chatting quite a bit. I said, ‘I did worry that I’d interrupted an early Valentine’s.’

They shrieked with laughter.

Apparently they’re in an all-ladies samba band, most of whom (but not them) are lesbians. (‘We’re not gay’; drumroll.)