Digger, Sergei, Fly, and Big Al

This was a weekend of epic car journeys, taking Central Belt Shuffler far, far beyond the habitual terrain. The journeys – and the regular stops for photo opportunities, snacks, leg stretching, and parking practice – travelled through what must be some of the most awesome scenery in the world – the road north-west of Glasgow by Loch Lomond, through Rannoch Moor and Glencoe, beyond Fort William to the Great Glen and Loch Ness before heading over the Black Isle beyond Inverness, and onwards to Ullapool. (The return journey went via the A9 and a night-time trip to Stirling cemetery.)

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Photo credit: Beth Driscoll

The car journeys were punctuated by a book festival, several fish suppers and ice creams, and an enormous amount of very interesting conversation. They were also bookended by dogs on public transport.

Here’s Digger (otherwise known as Trip Hazard), who travels on his owner’s boat shipping tourists over to the Summer Isles. He skitters surefootedly around the deck as the boat travels over the waves, staring out to the rocks and the seals, keeping an eye out for puffins. He first foots Tanera Mor, before we tourists head off for warming coffee and brownies, to write a quick postcard using the private island postal service, and then to have a quick walk above the scattered houses before we head back to the mainland. (The island is still for sale, incidentally… Crowd-funder, anyone?)photo

Then, back in the big city, waving sadly goodbye in Glasgow Central to road trip companion Dr D, three dogs and their rucksacked owner board the train south. Rescue dogs all, they are called Sergei, Fly, and Big Al. Big Al is very big indeed.

The journeys continue. And so do the stories…

Speaks for itself

IMG_0857Central Belt Shuffler is away from home again, awaiting Dr F on Kendal station platform. Trains shuttle back and forth between Windermere and Oxenholme, and occasionally onto Lancaster.

Around the station, the fells are icing-sugar laced with snow. The air is crisp, the sun is out: an early spring day. There’s the promise of an afternoon’s walk ahead.

A handful of other people are also waiting for the Windermere train. A mother with her child in a buggy. A smartly dressed woman. A man, holding a ventriloquist’s dummy, its shock of orange blazing surreally bright in the sunshine.

 

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.

Is it Saturday?

photoCentral Belt Shuffler sometimes reports on the (lack of) busy-ness on the rush hour train home. But earlier this week, it being Scottish half-term, the normally full morning train looked like this.

For a brief moment, I wondered if I’d mistakenly set off for work on a Saturday.

A Shuffler’s Manifesto

img00124-20110625-1850.jpg‘The car is freedom,’ Prof A asserts.

Unbound, I suppose, by timetables, stations, and stops. By the demands of onwards destinations and over-weight baggage. By the weather, and the occasional need to stand all the way.

But what do you learn of human nature in the car, other than that of your own emotions? Something, perhaps, if you listen to a good radio programme. But otherwise, a very limited range of expression: road rage and idiocy; courtesy and control; patience.

Patience can yield its rewards, though. As the cars slow down, you have more time to see your fellow car drivers and, in a favourite motorway traffic jam game, take an absurdist guess at their occupations. The amusement of the game doesn’t detract from the fact, though, that you’re gridlocked. And that you’re making it up.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a car. It sometimes even gets driven to work. It’s very convenient (apart from around MOT time). But, essentially, it’s a bubble. You’re visible, you can see out, but the experience is muffled. If you get too close to another car, the bubble bursts. You crash.

The train is sometimes far from convenient (though four trains an hour from Glasgow to Edinburgh isn’t bad), costs more than it should do, is over-crowded. But it allows something the car does not: the opportunity – if you so view it – to encounter the full variety of human nature. This includes those you will meet in the car (aggression, politeness, patience). But also a whole range of other emotions and modes: passive aggression, banter, helpfulness, fear, selfishness, generosity, humour, love. People rubbing each other up the wrong way, and the right way. Perhaps I wouldn’t think this if I were a south-east of England shuffler, but the Central Belt Shuffle is just fine.

Oh, and shuffling is also much better for both writing and reading, of course.

Hebridean Shuffle

Twin OtterIn a diversion from normal patterns, Central Belt Shuffler travelled last weekend on a rather different mode of transport – a de Havilland Twin Otter, en route for Tiree in the Inner Hebrides. (A work trip, hence a commute, of sorts.)

This was a scheduled flight, but the tiny plane was a very different experience from the normal commercial routes. The Twin Otter has a sliding door to the cockpit, but it was left open, giving us a view straight onto the flight controls and the pilot. We lifted off over Paisley and the Clyde, with Loch Lomond coming into view between the clouds to the north. Patchy cloud continued through the route, but enough to see down over Mull and the open seas towards Tiree and Coll, and to let a stream of sunshine into the cabin and cockpit. Apart from one bump, our route was very smooth, and the young children on the plane all slept for most of the 50-minute route.

As we began our descent to the airstrip at Tiree, the clouds lifted, the sun glistened on the ocean, and we could see the small figures of people on the beach, silhouetted dark against the white sands. On arrival, our hire car was to be found awaiting us in the airport car park, key in ignition. As we set off on the single track roads, mindful as much of the grazing cows and calves as other vehicles, we were welcomed to a world away from the Central Belt…