Speaks for itself

IMG_0857Central Belt Shuffler is away from home again, awaiting Dr F on Kendal station platform. Trains shuttle back and forth between Windermere and Oxenholme, and occasionally onto Lancaster.

Around the station, the fells are icing-sugar laced with snow. The air is crisp, the sun is out: an early spring day. There’s the promise of an afternoon’s walk ahead.

A handful of other people are also waiting for the Windermere train. A mother with her child in a buggy. A smartly dressed woman. A man, holding a ventriloquist’s dummy, its shock of orange blazing surreally bright in the sunshine.

 

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.

 

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 1

IMG_0680The camioneta arrives. It’s empty. We’re waiting at the side of the road with a middle-aged couple, who have a red plastic crate with them. We climb in, and the man pushes the crate along the floor to the front of the van. With a start, we realise that the crate contains a very large fish, which hides bags of meat, and another, smaller, fish, underneath. I get my camera out, and the woman tells me it will be 20 pesos for a photo of the fish. She’s joking. I think.

In the hot afternoon, the smell of the fish and meat combines with the odour of petrol from the camioneta. After a couple of minutes, Dr D stands up, looking slightly sick, and faces out of the front of the camioneta. It’s moving at a snail’s pace up and down the hills between the two coastal villages.

I sit at the back, while the couple comment on what all they see as we go past: someone lying, seemingly dead to the world, in the scrubland at the top of one of the rises. They try to work out, with mild concern, who it is. A man on a red motorbike drives up to the open back of the camioneta, and makes some comment to me which I don’t understand, and then overtakes. The woman tries to explain, in a disapproving tone. The sound of his throttle fades away ahead of us.

We arrive at the village, climb out, and head for a beer. The fish continues its journey.

A Mexican Proposal

IMG_0773[1]Central Belt Shuffler is far from home, waiting at the top of a steep dirt track with Dr D for a ride on the camioneta.

The sun is hot, and we gather in the shade, breathing heavily from the steep route up the track. We look towards the bright blue of the Pacific ocean, and gather our breath.

A taxi rounds the hill, and the front-seat passenger shouts out.

‘Colectivo?’ replies Dr D. (Some taxis are exclusively hired, whereas others will take multiple fares heading in the same direction.)

The taxi halts. The passenger, hanging out of the window, beckons in agreement, ‘Zipolite’.

We get in. There are two young male passengers, drinking beer. The taxi driver, older, is passive, driving quietly. The passenger in the front seat, who introduces himself as Oz, wants to chat. They’ve travelled through from a surf venue up the coast, one fetching the other to his home town. The back seat passenger is a famous surfer, we are told.

The famous surfer is quieter than his companion, but halfway through the 10-minute journey interjects that his friend is looking for a girlfriend. ‘It’s been too long that I’ve been alone,’ he confirms, in playful melodrama. ‘Yes, the time is right for me. I want to get married. A family.’

He directs his attention to me. ‘Yes,’ he repeats, ‘the time is right.’ I nod, and laugh. ‘You Claaaar, I like your look. Will you be my wife?’*

We reach the turn-off for our destination. They are keen to take us all the way to the beach, that there’s a shorter route, but Dr Dr knows this isn’t true. We jump out, and ask the driver how much. The front passenger shakes his head. This wasn’t a collective, but a free ride.

‘If you want a beer later?’ asks the front-seat passenger.

‘Quizas,’ I say, ‘perhaps.’

* this is an updated version of this post, with the wording of the proposal provided by Dr D (26 February 2016).

 

Coastal Shuffle

Piran CoachCentral Belt Shuffler has returned to her normal terrain, but – before the summer is over – would like fondly to report on another Slovene shuffle, though not on the train, but on the bus from Ljubljana to Piran.

Although the bus looks full of holiday-makers headed for the Slovenian and Croatian coastal destinations of Piran, Portoroz, Rovinj, and Pula (indeed it is), for Central Belt Shuffler, this was a work trip. This time, to interview a writer, former publisher and cultural policy-maker.

Piran vistaHe had invited me to the beautiful coastal town for lunch, and for an interview on his third-floor terrace, facing the shimmering seas of the Adriatic. Children played on the rocks below, a gentle breeze refreshed us (as did a glass of wine), and yachts and speedboats passed by. Nice work, if you can get it.

After a simple but delicious lunch (ending with fresh figs bought from an Albanian stall holder who asked that I bring him a Glasgow Rangers shirt next time I visit), I had some time to climb the old city walls, which afforded an even more stunning Museumvista over the town. The Museum of Underwater Activities lured me in, with the promise of Team Zissou-style adventure (though the reality was somewhat more prosaic).

Then, back to the bus station to wait in the hot early evening sun, ice-cream in hand, for the journey back to my temporary home.

Bus home

Carniolan Shuffle

You may not have noticed the absence of Central Belt Shuffler in recent weeks, as the demands of working life took over the recording of the daily commute. But now, though far from habitual terrain, an opportunity for shuffling has occurred.

In this shuffle, the train is heading away from the city, and towards wooded foothills, and a small, historic town known for its gingerbread and its bee museum (honey production is a speciality of the region). One of the two under-occupied train managers (the younger; the elder conveys a more world-weary air) is solicitous and ensures I leave the train at the right stop. I had, anyway, written the previous stop down on a scrap of paper: the tiny and charmingly-named Globoko – a station which, had Slovenia had its own Beeching – would surely now be gone.

GlobokoOn the journey, at the biggest intermediary station, descending passengers walk over the tracks to get to the exit; the station manager awaiting a brown paper envelope that one of them holds out for him.

I step down from the train at a sleepy station, to be greeted by the publisher I had travelled here to meet. Besuited and clearly the only possible publisher in the station, he nonetheless holds a hand-written sign with my name on it.

Later, I look down on the train tracks from the old town, over terraces of carefully tended fruit and vegetables.

Hebridean Shuffle

Twin OtterIn a diversion from normal patterns, Central Belt Shuffler travelled last weekend on a rather different mode of transport – a de Havilland Twin Otter, en route for Tiree in the Inner Hebrides. (A work trip, hence a commute, of sorts.)

This was a scheduled flight, but the tiny plane was a very different experience from the normal commercial routes. The Twin Otter has a sliding door to the cockpit, but it was left open, giving us a view straight onto the flight controls and the pilot. We lifted off over Paisley and the Clyde, with Loch Lomond coming into view between the clouds to the north. Patchy cloud continued through the route, but enough to see down over Mull and the open seas towards Tiree and Coll, and to let a stream of sunshine into the cabin and cockpit. Apart from one bump, our route was very smooth, and the young children on the plane all slept for most of the 50-minute route.

As we began our descent to the airstrip at Tiree, the clouds lifted, the sun glistened on the ocean, and we could see the small figures of people on the beach, silhouetted dark against the white sands. On arrival, our hire car was to be found awaiting us in the airport car park, key in ignition. As we set off on the single track roads, mindful as much of the grazing cows and calves as other vehicles, we were welcomed to a world away from the Central Belt…