The Ultimate Trainspotting Spot?

Bookspotting at HaymarketA sunny day, and a hour’s meeting stolen in between trains on the journey to St Andrews.

We sit on the cafe terrace above Haymarket station, discussing ebook interoperability, hybrid diesel/electric trains, Beeching and (the demise of) branchlines. Below us, the range of franchised trains roll in, halt, and then continue on their journey. One of my companions explains to our overseas visitor the intricacies of Scotrail, East Coast mainline, Virgin, CrossCountry. Behind my sunglasses, I close my eyes and imagine my two-wheeled way into the countryside.

These ten days have the following travel schedule: Glasgow-Stockholm (including the magnificent Arlanda Express)-Glasgow-Birmingham-University of Birmingham-Brimingham-Glasgow-Stirling-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Leuchars-St Andrews-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Glasgow-Stirling-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Glasgow-Bearsden-Glasgow. Important to pay attention to platform announcements and the display panels.

I don’t remember in every station to check out the closest bookish locations, as indicated the Bookspotting app. But in Haymarket, there’s a moment before the next train to find myself in literary terms. The Scottish Episcopal Church General Synod Office is, slightly oddly, the closest location (relating to former-Bishop-now-writer Richard Holloway), but also featured are Caledonian Place (home to Davie in Irvine Welsh‘s Trainspotting) and 160 Bruntsfield Place (Muriel Spark‘s birthplace).

Good job the train is perfect for reading…


Being an old-fashioned kind of policeman…

A crowded evening train home (in contrast to some trains plying this route).

An elderly gentleman and lady are comparing notes on city vs. country living, car-driving and age. Central Belt Shuffler’s ears prick up:

Elderly gentleman: ‘An old retired man hadn’t driven for 12 years. He got in his car, and started to drive the wrong way down a one-way street. A policeman recognised the driver, and flagged the car down to stop. “This is a one-way street.” “Constable, it’s just one way that I’m going, so clear the street.” [A dismissive flick of the wrist illustrates the anecdote.] Being an old-fashioned kind of policeman, he let him on his way, and then phoned the man’s family.’


Elderly lady: ‘My son is a research fellow in nanotechnology’.

Elderly gentleman: ‘Oh!’ (In a way that indicates he knows exactly what that means.) Then, ‘Now, you’ll have to put me right on that.’

Elderly lady: ‘That’s very very wee.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘I know!’

Elderly lady: ‘He works with diamonds. I can’t help but boast about him sometimes.’


Elderly gentleman: ‘He was born with a chip on his shoulder. All of them are after a certain time.’

Elderly lady: ‘I’ve got an iPad now. I use it for email and so on. I saw a 3-year-old the other day, swiping.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘They’re implanted.’

Elderly lady: ‘But I don’t use it for my bank account details. I don’t trust it. They can hack into your account.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘When they phone up and ask you to prove who you are by answering questions. Who are _you_?, I want to know.’

Elderly lady: ‘I don’t believe in those three questions. We don’t need computers.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘Well, I don’t. But the world does.’

Elderly lady goes to toilet.

Elderly gentleman turns to me: ‘How can you tell someone’s age in a lift?’

Me: ‘Enlighten me.’

Elderly gentleman, showing his thumb and then his index finger: ‘Whether they use this, or this.’ He points to my phone, on which (somewhat shamefacedly), I have been noting down their conversation with lightning thumb action.

Me (laughing): ‘Oh, I thought that was going to be a joke.’

Elderly gentleman: ‘Well, it’s quite funny.’


Me (looking up from my copy of The Bookseller): ‘Did you know that the take-up of ebooks is stronger in rural Scotland than anywhere else in the whole of the UK?’

Elderly gentleman: ‘Well, that’s not surprising. That goes back to John Knox.’

From thence on, the conversation skips by the smell of books, the merits of publishing church materials on Lulu, broad-based and specialised undergraduate education, teacher training for university lecturers, whether the grace of God is a noun, differing types of Spanish in the Peruvian jungle and Lima, how to stop your five-year-old swearing in Spanish (use ‘Ballachulish’ instead), The Ballachulish ferry/bridge, the Skye ferry/bridge, the new Forth road bridge/bring back the ferry, cycling in the city, and the possibility of a backy to the West End for the elderly lady, her suitcase and stick.

We parted at Queen Street.

Elderly lady: ‘This is why I like travelling on the train.’

Me too.

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.