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…

Four Gringos and a Bomba

IMG_0792We’ve headed off for an overnight stay: part pleasure (beaches, a trip to a luminescent lagoon unfortunately cancelled due to too bright moonlight, eating and drinking), part chores – buying some good coffee, checking out a store for lighting fixtures and a sink for the house my friends are building, buying a water pump, a “bomba”.

The temperature is rising – into the mid-30s Celsius during the day, over 25 at night. From my room, I can hear the heavy bass of a rooftop disco. The fan runs so fast it is rocking backwards and forwards, directly above my bed. It masks the bass, but its helicopter whirr alarms me and I switch it off. Tossing and turning, I eventually sleep.

IMG_0808The next day we buy the bomba. There are four of us, a small car, and a large pump. It would seem that two of us will have to brave the midday sun on the bus. The heat is beating down on the street. The passing buses look hot, sticky, dusty. Two and a half hours…

All of our kit is out of the car, the back seats lowered. The pump is pushed in. We pack the bags and the other shopping around it. Then we pack ourselves in, Dr D sitting high beside the pump box.

It reminds me of an old joke: ‘How do you fit four elephants in a Mini? Two in the front, two in the back.’

We set off.

We fit in just fine.

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.

 

Central Belt Service Alterations

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 22.18.26The time for the ‘Central Belt Service Alterations’ is nearly upon us.

In reality, this is to allow for engineering works in the Winchburgh Tunnel to lower the tracks, in order to gain additional headroom for the electrification of the tunnel.

But Central Belt Shuffler’s mind runs instead to a different sort of alteration. A shortened hem; a nip and tuck; a colouring of grey hairs; an extra notch on the belt.

Will a much spruced up train service emerge to greet us at the end of July?

 

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.

Display Board Poetry

Not all days, as the previous post revealed, are good commuting days.

It was a subsequent day of delays and confusion, this time with no apologies or reasons given. A tweet about the unhelpful, impolite and unhelpful staff gave rise, however, to some unexpected poetry via a sympathetic colleague on Twitter (to whom a coffee is owed):

‘This is Scotrail. Cross at disorder. Knew I should have got the bus down to Lauder’.

He followed this up with: ‘They’re ghastly to the rich and beastly to the poor. There’s vomit in the toilets and urine on the floor’.

And then: ‘Pulling into Larbert, never on time. Everybody hates you on the Queen Street line.’

As another Central Belt Shuffle correspondent commented, if only the station display boards displayed poetry appropriate to the day and state of Scotrail, we’d all be happier travellers. Now there’s a thought for Scottish Book Trust.

Weapon of War

Travelling by bike and train has its charms. And its occasional challenges.

Particularly when catching a Friday evening train some hours into its journey south from Aberdeen.

Not long started on the Central Belt Shuffle, and boarding a busy train one evening, I had to ask someone to get up from a tip-up seat by the bike storage area so I could get my bike in. The two of us were then standing for the rest of the journey.

Another, prematurely elderly, tin-drinking man took offence. He started snarling at me, if you can both slur and snarl. I’ve no idea what he was saying, and smiled as best I could.

Five or so minutes later, out came a small set of pipes, with black* velvet bag.

I’d heard that bagpipes were a weapon of war. In a packed train carriage, with 20 minutes journey-time remaining, that was confirmed.

*This post was previously entitled The Black Piper, until my PC-checker suggested I might change it to avoid any confusion. Good call, Miss J.