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…

 

Seasonal Scaffolders

Inside the train station, high-vis clad scaffolders are labouring. It’s nearly 10pm, but despite the hour they’re merry, joking with each other as work on the scaffolding above the late evening travellers. They’re from Yorkshire, and – as I head home – their accents jolt me from the Central Belt norm.

Then, above my head, two of them begin to sing. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

It still sounds as I cross to the other platform, and I rename them, in my head. Dasher and Dancer; Prancer and Vixen; Comet and Cupid; Donner and Blitzen.

 

Platform Change

Platform change.

An evening rush hour crowd heads over to the newly designated platform, at the far end of the station.

Arm aloft, a member of staff gestures the crowd to follow them. No tourist crowd this, though, tightly packed around the umbrella, looking about them at the wonders. No, his pose is more leader-of-men, hastening them to the barricades.

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.

‘I’m half French, will that be a problem?’

GiniCentral Belt Shuffler, as you may or may not have gathered from the masthead of this blog, is half French and thus – naturellement – is partial to Orangina (even keener on Gini, but that’s less widely distributed. Odd, given that the legendary Serge Gainsbourg wrote an advertising jingle for it, and it’s the ‘hottest cold drink’, according to OranginaSchweppes’ own marketing copy).

So imagine the scenario, one evening, as Central Belt Shuffler stands on the platform awaiting the homeward train. It’s a warm evening, and I’m quenching my post-cycling thirst with Orangina. I look down the platform, and note several fellow passengers also holding orange-coloured fizzy drinks. Irn-Bru.

Central Belt Shuffler might never quite fit the norm – but at least it’s the right colour?

Dark and Stormy Shuffling

A winter’s night, dark and stormy. At the station, all trains are cancelled, due to high winds.

Scotrail has dug up coaches from somewhere – from their appearance, possibly the 1970s. They offer the only option back home, though, and so I board, along with the other Glasgow-bound passengers.

Once out on the motorway, the storm buffets us. Water has found its way between the layers of window-glass, and run to and fro by my head. More for comfort than hunger, I eat the snack I’d carried to work that morning. Emergency flapjack.

We arrive in Glasgow, but the out-of-town bus driver has to be guided to Queen Street by a passenger. He parks up, and we all get off, relieved to have made it back home.

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.

Rehearsal

A packed carriage, on the way home.

Next to me is a youngish man. We get to chatting, and – it transpires – he’s learning his lines, an audition piece. Somehow, in this short journey, I find myself helping with this task, reading out the lines for the other part.

It’s an extract of just a couple of pages from a play. He doesn’t know where it’s from. It feels Russian, Northern European. Chekhov, perhaps? Strindberg? A pastiche?

Over the course of the scene, the plot thickens. I read deeper into the character. There’s something slightly unseemly in this relationship between the man and his wife, or mistress.

The lines feel slightly compromising. I camp it up a bit. Giggle, aware of the other passengers.

Glasgow Queen Street approaches. The rehearsal ends.

I wonder if he got the part.