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.’

The IndyRef Shuffle

It’s September, and so the regular Central Belt Shuffle starts once more. The leaves on this fine early Autumn day are turning golden, and gently crunch under my bike wheels.

The morning commute, flask in hand, is joined by my colleague Dr A. We discuss the possibilities not of Scottish Independence, but Scottish Renaissance Studies, or rather, Renaissance Studies in Scotland. I cast my mind to Rona Munro’s James Plays, the third of which – with its triumphant casting of Sofie Grabol (aka The Killing’s Sarah Lund) as James III’s Danish wife – I’d seen in August during the festival shuffle period. The play included a direct address to the audience (as well as her court and country) from Grabol. ‘Who,’ she asks, ‘would want the job of ruling Scotland?’ And, even more provocatively, ‘You know the problem with you lot? You’ve got fuck-all except attitude.’ As Michael Billington put it in his review, ‘Even Alistair Darling wouldn’t dare to go that far.’

And as tomorrow the three leaders of the Westminster parties shuffle northwards in one last ditch attempt to woo us, at last fully cognisant that not only might there be something to lose, but that it is (as the polls are telling us) a real possibility, I look out the window on the shuffle home for signs of the debate. I don’t see any large Yes or Nos emblazoned on the landscape (though there is at least one hillside near Stirling showing its political affiliations), and my fellow travellers seem much the same as ever – reading, staring into space, sleeping, yawning, wishing there were a drinks trolley on the train, chatting. But change is coming, very fast, whichever way the vote goes – as this, perhaps one of the most perceptive (and chilling, in its grasp of realpolitik) of the pieces I’ve yet read on the referendum and its aftermath – lays out.

Home from home

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There’ve been no tales of shuffling for a while, as Central Belt Shuffler has been on tour again.

But it was impossible to resist this sneak shot on the Berlin U6 (pronounced You-Sex, much to the amusement of any innuendo-minded Brit).

Berlin home from home?

The Socialist Train

Today, Tony Benn has left us. A towering political figure of the left, a powerful rhetorician, and a deeply humane individual who constantly reminded us of collectivism.

CentralBeltShuffler had the privilege to see him in action more than once: a magnificent, inspiring lecture on Thomas Paine twenty years ago at UEA; and then some years later in ‘national treasure’ mode at the Oxford Literary Festival (although if that’s national treasure, give me a whole museum and we can curate – and create – a better, fairer world).

Luckily, so much of his career has been documented (not least by his own capacious writings), that we have no excuse not to remember him, and his socialist analysis of 20th and 21st century politics. In the digital, 21st century, we also have instant resource to the power of his rhetoric via YouTube.

Here, his critique of the damage wrought to the fabric of our nation by Thatcherism ends in high-style, and with reference to a commute. See here (from c3:20, though please listen to the whole thing), or in transcript, below:

RIP Tony Benn. May we keep your politics alive.

Transcript:

‘I had one experience the other day, which confirmed me in my view that she hasn’t really changed the thinking or the culture of the British people.

‘I don’t know how many people travel as I do, on trains, but I go regularly on the trains, and I see all the little businessmen with their calculators, working out their cash flow, frowning [at] people, looking and glaring at each other.

‘Thatcherite trains, the train of the competitive society…

‘I was coming back from Chesterfield the other day, and the train broke down. [Benn has earlier discussed the evils of privatisation.]

‘And the train changed. Someone came in and said, ‘Have a cup of tea from my Thermos.’ And they looked after each other’s children. A young couple talked to me, and I said after about half an hour, ‘How long have you been married,’ and they said, ‘Oh, we met on the train,’ they said. And a woman said, ‘Will you get off the train in Derby and ring my son in Swansea, because he’ll be worried’.

And by the time we got to London, we were a socialist train. Because you can’t change human nature.

‘There is good and bad in everyone. And for ten years it is the bad, and the good that has been denounced as lunatic, out of touch, cloud cuckoo land, extremist and militant. That’s what the party opposite has done.’