One Day Without Us

headerToday saw a day of action to celebrate the contribution of migrants in the UK. Central Belt Shuffler, away from home turf, joined colleagues in solidarity at another university outside the students’ union.

The day before, I’d been travelling to my temporary home in the Midlands. The Sunday afternoon train was packed with people returning from half-term holidays, shopping in the big city, and heading onwards to the airport at the end of the route. Large suitcases and bags stuffed with new purchases were blocking the aisles, and several people were standing. Families and friends were separated, picking single seats where they could.

When the overcrowding on the train eased a little, a quiet, turbaned train guard checked our tickets. Then, from the other end of the carriage, the food and drinks trolley started to make its way, pushed by a dreadlocked man. He made it through to the vestibule area, which was still blocked by scattered suitcases, mine included. In a cheerful manner, he started to rearrange people’s bags to make more room, lifting smaller bags to the overhead racks, and fitting the larger ones into the spaces at the end of the carriage.

He talked good-naturedly while he did so, his intonation inflected by his Caribbean accent. He came to talk to our few seats, making all the passengers laugh with his explanation of how stacking luggage wasn’t his job, but he needed to make the passageways clear so he could sell from the trolley. He explained his father had always told him to do a decent day’s work. His dad had been a farmer, and he would also work as a farmer, and a builder, before he came over to the UK from Montserrat. He’d watch his goats, and plant during January to April: dasheen, sweet potato, blue peas, cucumber. His father would grow enough for him and his family, to give some to neighbours, to sell some. He couldn’t farm in the UK, and had tried building work for a while, but his hands couldn’t take the cold. So he was working on the trains. He was heading home to Montserrat for a couple of weeks’ holiday soon. He was looking forward to it.

As we approached the next stop, a larger city where lots of people got up to leave, he asked everyone to sit back down again to make way for the train guard as he came through to open the doors. The guard smiled wryly as he went past. Our trolley man sang us a bit of Bob Marley.

As we left the train, each passenger got a hand down with their bags, including my very heavy suitcase.

I smiled at him as I left the train, and thanked just one more of the individuals who come to make their homes here, and thereby enrich our lives, help us out, share their stories, and spread the love.

Citizenship Shuffle

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By © Andrew Dunn, http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

There is a boy on the train with his dad (this, it is important to note, is a north-west of England shuffle rather than within the Central Belt).

He’s doing a worksheet (half-term homework?) on British citizenship, and trying to work out what ‘British values’ are. His dad is struggling to explain to him that being nice is not a uniquely British value.

The boy looks at his worksheet. ‘“The values that British people hold?”’ He turns triumphantly to his dad. ‘Like having lots of fish and chips.’

A Fellow Traveller

The train home. Dr A and I sit in companionable silence, he furiously marking (he suspects he’ll have read about 125 essays by the end of the week), Central Belt Shuffler catching up on emails and social media.

A older cyclist gets on the train. It’s the first properly cold evening of the year, but he’s in knee-length shorts. He has the same fluorescent cycling jacket (slightly larger size) as me, though, and keeps his helmet on through the journey.

Not far out from Queen Street, he tosses words across the aisle at Dr A, ‘You’re a teacher?’

Dr A nods, wearily.

‘What dae ye teach?’ interrogates our fellow traveller.

I explain we work at the uni, and what my subject area is.

Dr A admits to teaching English.

‘Brutal,’ our interlocutor replies. It’s hard to know whether this is condemnation or approbation.

‘Ah’m a teacher too. Chemistry. When ye’re marking it’s easy to see. Is it 9 and a quarter? But English. That’s brutal.’

We realise he is speaking in sympathy at Dr A’s lot, and laugh.

‘Little and often is what my dad always advised about marking,’ I said. ‘He was a school teacher.’

He goes on to tell us about his own love of teaching, his school days in the East End of Glasgow. Tough, working class, Celtic and Rangers and a’ that.

‘Lamb, Spenser, the Faerie Queen, Milton… teaching that tae boys from the East End. But The Big McGonigall!’ He smiles, remembers, some long gone inspirational teacher in his mind’s eye.

‘James Joyce. Ah like the Irish writers. Joyce, Seamus Heaney. Ah shoulda done English,’ he said. ‘But working class boys, it wisnae fer us. The white heat of maths and chemistry, that wis the thing. It can still be like that ah think.’

We agree, and Dr A talks about his experience at university open days, trying to convince parents that English is worth studying.

‘Ah’m reading McIlvanney at the moment,’ he said. ‘The Kiln. It’s very autobiographical. It reminds me of my life.’

The train pulls into the station. We take our bikes off the train and head our separate ways homewards, wishing each other well.

Striking Up

The subway draws into Cowcaddens. The brakes make the sound of bagpipes striking up, the a dhuine dhuine in Gaelic, Central Belt Shuffler is given to understand.*

I lift my head at the noise of the brakes, and remember that this is the subway stop for the National Piping Centre. Rather unexpectedly, I once was involved in a project with the NPC’s ELearning Hub where – as initial website analytics showed – online piping classes where of most interest to (in order) individuals in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, the Isle of Man, Germany, Ireland, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands.

Even a couple of stops from home, the world expands at the sound of the brakes…

*alternative, and not always entirely polite, suggestions for this sound from friends included ‘annoying’, ‘the tuneless racket before the tuneless racket’, ‘gasping, heaving, moaning’, and Central Belt Shuffler’s own contribution, ‘an elephant giving birth’.

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.)

Camioneta Dreaming, Part 2

IMG_0784Central Belt Shuffler and Dr D are back at the side of the road, waiting for the camioneta home. The light is starting to fade.

We stand a few paces away from three men, two older, fatter ones, wearing straw cowboy hats, and a younger, thinner one. They drink from beer cans, their language slurred. They’re doing a sum, ’17 and 17 is 42’, says one. ‘Oh God,’ says Dr D. ‘I hope they’re not getting on the camioneta with us. If a taxi arrives, let’s take it.’

A taxi comes, but it’s headed in the opposite direction from where we want to go.

A camioneta arrives, also heading in the opposite direction. The drunk men ask the driver something, then, as the camioneta heads off, swear at its retreating exhaust.

Walking down the road comes a small group of Mexicans, accompanying a tall, thin black man, smartly dressed with a calm demeanor. A visiting preacher from Paraguay. The drunks recognise one of the women walking with him, and say hello. She replies, nervously. The preacher calmly greets them, ‘Buenas tardes.’

Another camioneta arrives, heading in the right direction. It’s already quite full, and we get on quickly, making our way to the front. The three men also get on, causing a commotion on the camioneta. A few of the Mexicans look at them in disapproval, and shift around to give them space to sit together. A little girl is carrying a tiny puppy, which a woman then takes on her lap as the camioneta sways with the number of people on it. Several men are standing on the back bumper.

The drunks fall asleep. One lets fall an unopened beer can, which the younger man picks up. A family starts singing, the young boy repeating the words, to everyone’s delight. Then, the clear strong voice of the grandma singing by herself. Most of the camioneta join in for a moment, and laugh together at the end of the song.

An older woman, large in frame, gets on. One of the drunk men wakes up and tries to give her his seat. The woman, quickly assessing the situation, tries to dissuade his alcohol-fuelled courtesy, but he is insistent. She sits down, and he stands, swaying.

I reach my stop, and struggle to make my way through the throng to the back of the bus. The other passengers helpfully shout so that the driver knows to wait, and to the drunk, so he gets out of the way.

I squeeze my way out, then reach into my purse, counting out my 6 pesos, handing it to the driver. The camioneta continues onwards, passengers still clinging to the back. I hope Dr D manages to get out in due course. I head for some shopping, and a cooling margarita.

Dr D later reports on the continuation of this journey. The drunks start swearing, and she tells them off, reminding them there are children in the camioneta. When she reaches her stop, she climbs down. ‘Suerte,’ (Good luck), she says to those passengers continuing the journey.

They laugh.

 

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).

 

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.

 

Going Abroad

photoCentral Belt Shuffler has been away for the weekend, celebrating that very non-Central Belt Shuffling American tradition of Thanksgiving. The weekend was spent in Yorkshire, and as well as liberal doses of turkey, potatoes both roast and mashed, parsnips, carrots, stuffing, succotash, Yorkshire puddings (for a local twist), mashed sweet potato topped with marshmallow, pumpkin pie, wine, whisky, rum and coke, there was a lot of weather. Wind, rain. Rain, and rain. And then some more rain.

Undaunted, we headed out into the countryside for a big walk before tucking into our dinner, and then (for this group of celebrants) the obligatory game of ‘Who’s in the Bag?’ (aka The Name Game). (As a travelling aside, Philip Pullman was explained as a kind of railway carriage, rather than a children’s writer.)

The following day, Central Belt Shuffler boarded the train back from Gargrave to Glasgow. The route was not that taken on the way down (the Carlisle to Settle route), but on a local train through to Morecambe. As Central Belt Shuffler prepared to step out of the train, gazing apprehensively at the horizontal rain heading down the Lancaster platform, the following interchange took place:

Yorkshire train guard, to Central Belt Shuffler and another woman who is getting off: It doesn’t look very nice out there.

Central Belt Shuffler: No, it doesn’t.

Yorkshire train guard: That’s what happens, if you go abroad.

A warning indeed to travellers daring to go outside of God’s Own Country, Yorkshire.

The train guard’s warnings proved prophetic. At Lancaster, all the trains north were cancelled due to fallen trees on the track beyond Oxenholme. The likelihood of getting back to the Central Belt looked slim (confirmed by a later message on the National Rail website, to the effect that, ‘Buses have been requested to run between Preston and Carlisle however Virgin Trains are currently unable to source any.’). Using a bit of local Lake District knowledge I headed for the local bus service over to Kendal, where I bedded down for the night (and got my underwear speed-washed by my mother). The following conversation took place:

French mother: What I don’t understand is why they have trees so close to the train line anyway. You think they’d cut them down.

English daughter: This isn’t France, mum.

French mother: They do that when they built the TGV lines.

English daughter: As I said, this isn’t France, mum.

The next morning, I set off from Kendal to Edinburgh, for a morning meeting. Two middle-aged female passengers who boarded at Carlisle discussed the pressing matter of chips.

Cumbrian lady 1: I don’t mind oven chips.

Cumbrian lady 2: I really prefer them in fat.

Cumbrian lady 1: Yes. In lard.

As the train pulled through the snow-topped hills to Edinburgh, I reflected that travelling the North of England – be it Yorkshire, Lancashire, or Cumbria – is every bit as rewarding as Central Belt Shuffling.

Peter and Wayne

Two mid-sized pigeons, standing on a train

One called Peter, one called Wayne

Ride away Peter, ride away Wayne

Getting the Bishopbriggs train home again?*

*This doggerel was inspired by the sight of two pigeons standing on the roof of the Dunblane train as it pulled out of the Queen Street platform into the tunnel. Riding high, like a cowboy atop a train in a Western. John Wayne, perhaps.