A Better Class

This week, Central Belt Shuffler has headed down the West Coast mainline to shuffle to and fro in the Lake District.

The short walk to the station reveals the aftermath of the recent flooding. Furniture and bin bags are piled high outside the rows of small terraced houses. The remains of kitchen units are piled against the walls. Many of the doors are open, showing men busily working within. The floorboards are lifted up in some of the houses: as well as pouring through the doors, the water rose up from below.

We change onto the mainline, jumping into the first class carriage as the connecting train is about to depart south. We make our way through the carriage to ours, dodging the complimentary drinks trolley. My companion spots the local MP (and leader of the Liberal Democrats) Tim Farron, seated at the very first table in standard class.

On his table, he has a big pile of Christmas cards. The Penguin design was chosen from pictures drawn by local schoolchildren. He’s industriously working through them, signing each one. If he gets them all done before Saturday, he’ll be able to get them in the second class post. Just like the rest of us.

Later in the day, on the way home, there are many more bags outside the terraced houses. They’re filled to the top with rubble. The newsagents is open again, and shining clean. I go in to buy some stamps. They warn me it’s cash only; their card machine isn’t working again yet. I try to buy the local paper, but it’s last week’s copy. They’ll be stocking the papers again tomorrow, they tell me, smiling.

As I continue home, the lights of Christmas trees fill the front windows of the battered houses.

Just for a moment…

CoveParkCowThis evening, just for a moment from the homewards train, Central Belt Shuffler sees four Highland Cows in a slim triangle of field abutting the train tracks.

It is entirely possible that I haven’t been looking out of the window at quite the right moment, concentrating on polishing off a few end-of-the-day emails or reading some paperwork. Maybe they’re always there, horns pointed down to the grass, eating pacifically.

The sight of them jolts me back to a few weeks ago, when I’d shuffled on over to Cove Park for a week’s writing retreat. Cove Park, among its many virtues, has its only little troupe of Highland Cows, who bathe in the pools in front of the accommodation, and stand in the pathway of the residents. Whether they seem to be doing so in welcome or in challenge depends largely on your familiarity with these big beasts.

Back to the train, following on the tail of this pastoral reminder, I see lambs skipping, then flying: all four limbs in joyous springtime bounds. A fox runs diagonally across a field. And then, a reminder of a literary journey on the Trans-Siberian Express: a couple of horses threading between the birch trees. Time slips backwards, forwards, and I start to write.