It feels like coming home…

FullSizeRender (6)It’s early, a sunny morning. Central Belt Shuffler is slowly getting back into the return to work. The early alarm for the commuter train, hopping on the bike, the initial speed down hill, and then the push through to the station. It’s an even earlier train than normal today, to arrive in good time for an event.

I arrive at the station well in time, and head into the ticket office. There’s a hipster brass band playing on the concourse, and Scotrail branded cupcakes, celebrating the reopening of the Queen St tunnel. As travellers pass through the barriers on their way to work they are offered cake. Initially, some are wary, thinking it’s a charity collection, but then – as the sun streams through the roof – they realise it’s a small gift, the icing on its top literally buttering up customers after months of extended journey times.

The commuters’ early-morning head-down intent turns to smiles. The girls handing out the cakes dance in time to the band. The boys grin at everyone.

I board my train, and the short journey opens up into the large vistas of the Forth Valley, the dramatic sight of Stirling castle and the Wallace monument heaving into view.

I catch the train home with 10 seconds to spare, hoisting my bike up onto the rack. A familiar movement, but one I haven’t made for a while.

I have my ticket on the table, ready for inspection. The train guard comes by, and I hold it out.

He nods, and smiles, without really scrutinising it. ‘Thank you pal, good on ye.’

The sun shines on the Campsie Fells. A deer runs lazily across a field.

It feels like coming home. It is.

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Piper Jam

It’s been a season of disrupted Central Belt Shuffling.

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Kelvinbridge Underground Overground Station

Glasgow’s Queen Street tunnel has just reopened after several months’ of closure, which lengthened journeys to the north and east. For Central Belt Shuffler, this timing has been rather fortunate, as research leave has meant less need for frequent shuffling, and hence fewer, longer journeys than might otherwise have been necessary.

But while the trains are working again, with the works completed in time for Edinburgh festival trips, Glasgow’s subway remains closed for an extended period. There are replacement buses (overground undergrounds, which remind Central Belt Shuffler of a certain Wombling song).

The service is relatively good, and cheaper and faster than the normal buses. But the journey is of course subject to other street traffic.

Today, heading into the city centre, my replacement subway bus was held up by hundreds of marching pipers, part of the city’s Piping Live festival. Well, I suppose as jams go it offers authentic local colour (and sound).

(Oh, and here’s that Womble song. Because you can’t have enough sousaphones.)

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.

 

Shuffling Soundscape

The 1814 from Bridge of Allan to Glasgow Queen Street is a frequent route for Central Belt Shuffler, as numerous other posts reveal. This post, however, provides neither pictures or words, but a Bridge of Allan platform soundscape, as the train approaches.

Writing on the Shuffle

A little over a year ago, inspired by many a commute and one particular pre-Valentine’s Day happening, Central Belt Shuffler began this blog, much of which – if not quite all – is actually penned while travelling.

And now, an author friend has drawn my attention to news of a plan being hatched by Amtrak to give free rides to writers in the US. They’ve done a couple of test runs, and it looks like they might actually be rolling out on-board writers’ residencies.

In interview with The Wire, who reported on this admirable development, the first author to undertake a residency talked about the train as a ‘”unique environment for creative thought”‘, which ‘”takes you out of normal life”‘. This description is one that accords with that given by Guy Garvey over on his recent BBC Radio 6 Music show devoted to trains.

A L Kennedy, in her witty perspective on the author’s lot, On Writing, discusses writing in trains, retaining the most praise for US and Canadian train writing:

I can particularly recommend travel from New York to Montreal – the journey takes around eleven hours for no really good reason, beyond a type of shyness that will leave your train hiding, loitering and then simply fainting to a halt at regular intervals. When you are travelling north it will wait like a faithful lover to meet and be passed by the southbound train, and when you are travelling south it will also wait. You will do a great deal of waiting. But you will also be beguiled by the autumn foliage (should it be autumn), the picturesque wetlands and gentle vistas – all slightly distracting if you’re trying to write a sex scene and are already freaked out by your somewhat intrusive surroundings and the fiddly technical matters you have to consider. But you will be able to spot great blue herons and egrets and red-tailed hawks aplenty, as you wonder who should do what to whom first and from what angle.

(from A L Kennedy, On Writing)

Thanks to Amtrak and the powers of social media, it looks like writers in the US are going to get the opportunity to write on trains on a regular basis. Central Belt Shuffler has two thoughts as a consequence:

  1. Book a flight to America (or, in true A L Kennedy style, a transatlantic boat cabin) to take advantage of this great opportunity, and/or
  2. Petition the UK train companies to set up something similar. Yes please!

Update! See also Writer on the Train (First Great Western) and this Poetry Train Workshop, starting from Norwich. Let’s make that Scottish train companies (well, Scotrail) needing to set up something similar.

Central Belt Shuffler makes an admission

Shuffling, and records of shuffling, have been a little thin on the ground in the past month.

An admission needs to be made. Central Belt Shuffler has a new car. It’s nippy, has a great sound system, and it’s cold outside. So, despite previous avowals to the contrary, the past month’s transport of choice has been the car.

In the last few weeks, the allure of the warm interior and the digital radio have been keeping me away from the train. There are some advantages to this (the occasional 35-minute door-to-door commute), and obvious downsides (no public transport banter or serendipities; no drinking at work).

Roll on spring.

Shuffling Soundtrack

Today is a Sunday, so no need for shuffling, short or long.

But on the magnificent BBC Radio 6 Music, Guy Garvey’s show is themed around the train, train journeys, and chance encounters on the train. (Nice anecdote about meeting Will Self.)

So for a great shuffling soundtrack, head on over to the Finest Hour