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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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…

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).

 

Bikes go in the first carriage

VelosCentral Belt Shuffler has been on tour for the last few weeks, so there hasn’t been much plying of the normal commuter routes.

But ever mindful of possible train/bike combinations, Central Belt Shuffler’s eye was drawn to this marking on the platform of the Yellow line in Montreal’s Metro system, detailing that ‘Les velos vont dans la premiere voiture’ (Bikes go in the first carriage). As well as its bilingualism (and its excellent ice cream), yet another reason to love this city.

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?

 

The Ultimate Trainspotting Spot?

Bookspotting at HaymarketA sunny day, and a hour’s meeting stolen in between trains on the journey to St Andrews.

We sit on the cafe terrace above Haymarket station, discussing ebook interoperability, hybrid diesel/electric trains, Beeching and (the demise of) branchlines. Below us, the range of franchised trains roll in, halt, and then continue on their journey. One of my companions explains to our overseas visitor the intricacies of Scotrail, East Coast mainline, Virgin, CrossCountry. Behind my sunglasses, I close my eyes and imagine my two-wheeled way into the countryside.

These ten days have the following travel schedule: Glasgow-Stockholm (including the magnificent Arlanda Express)-Glasgow-Birmingham-University of Birmingham-Brimingham-Glasgow-Stirling-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Leuchars-St Andrews-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Glasgow-Stirling-Glasgow-Edinburgh-Glasgow-Bearsden-Glasgow. Important to pay attention to platform announcements and the display panels.

I don’t remember in every station to check out the closest bookish locations, as indicated the Bookspotting app. But in Haymarket, there’s a moment before the next train to find myself in literary terms. The Scottish Episcopal Church General Synod Office is, slightly oddly, the closest location (relating to former-Bishop-now-writer Richard Holloway), but also featured are Caledonian Place (home to Davie in Irvine Welsh‘s Trainspotting) and 160 Bruntsfield Place (Muriel Spark‘s birthplace).

Good job the train is perfect for reading…

 

‘I’m half French, will that be a problem?’

GiniCentral Belt Shuffler, as you may or may not have gathered from the masthead of this blog, is half French and thus – naturellement – is partial to Orangina (even keener on Gini, but that’s less widely distributed. Odd, given that the legendary Serge Gainsbourg wrote an advertising jingle for it, and it’s the ‘hottest cold drink’, according to OranginaSchweppes’ own marketing copy).

So imagine the scenario, one evening, as Central Belt Shuffler stands on the platform awaiting the homeward train. It’s a warm evening, and I’m quenching my post-cycling thirst with Orangina. I look down the platform, and note several fellow passengers also holding orange-coloured fizzy drinks. Irn-Bru.

Central Belt Shuffler might never quite fit the norm – but at least it’s the right colour?

Zombie Shuffle

It’s that time of the year again, when all flock to Edinburgh. Festival season – explored in Angela Bartie’s new book The Edinburgh Festivals: Culture and Society in Post-War Britain.

Most of Central Belt Shuffler’s trips to the festivals also end with a flocking back west – and home – across the Central Belt to Glasgow. Such was one night, a couple of years ago.

Zombie GlasgowThe train drew into Queen Street after a foray over to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for a bit of bookish stimulation. Central Belt Shuffler emerged into a very different cityscape. Not the quotidian contrast of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but one with an additional skin. Glasgow had been temporarily turned into Philadelphia, for the filming of a zombie movie, released in 2013 as World War Z.

Glaswegians temporarily became tourists in their own city, having their photos taken with the Philadelphia street plans, signposts, and taxis. While Edinburgh was attracting thousands of visitors into its heart, Glasgow had transported itself 3000 miles away.

Coastal Shuffle

Piran CoachCentral Belt Shuffler has returned to her normal terrain, but – before the summer is over – would like fondly to report on another Slovene shuffle, though not on the train, but on the bus from Ljubljana to Piran.

Although the bus looks full of holiday-makers headed for the Slovenian and Croatian coastal destinations of Piran, Portoroz, Rovinj, and Pula (indeed it is), for Central Belt Shuffler, this was a work trip. This time, to interview a writer, former publisher and cultural policy-maker.

Piran vistaHe had invited me to the beautiful coastal town for lunch, and for an interview on his third-floor terrace, facing the shimmering seas of the Adriatic. Children played on the rocks below, a gentle breeze refreshed us (as did a glass of wine), and yachts and speedboats passed by. Nice work, if you can get it.

After a simple but delicious lunch (ending with fresh figs bought from an Albanian stall holder who asked that I bring him a Glasgow Rangers shirt next time I visit), I had some time to climb the old city walls, which afforded an even more stunning Museumvista over the town. The Museum of Underwater Activities lured me in, with the promise of Team Zissou-style adventure (though the reality was somewhat more prosaic).

Then, back to the bus station to wait in the hot early evening sun, ice-cream in hand, for the journey back to my temporary home.

Bus home

Carniolan Shuffle

You may not have noticed the absence of Central Belt Shuffler in recent weeks, as the demands of working life took over the recording of the daily commute. But now, though far from habitual terrain, an opportunity for shuffling has occurred.

In this shuffle, the train is heading away from the city, and towards wooded foothills, and a small, historic town known for its gingerbread and its bee museum (honey production is a speciality of the region). One of the two under-occupied train managers (the younger; the elder conveys a more world-weary air) is solicitous and ensures I leave the train at the right stop. I had, anyway, written the previous stop down on a scrap of paper: the tiny and charmingly-named Globoko – a station which, had Slovenia had its own Beeching – would surely now be gone.

GlobokoOn the journey, at the biggest intermediary station, descending passengers walk over the tracks to get to the exit; the station manager awaiting a brown paper envelope that one of them holds out for him.

I step down from the train at a sleepy station, to be greeted by the publisher I had travelled here to meet. Besuited and clearly the only possible publisher in the station, he nonetheless holds a hand-written sign with my name on it.

Later, I look down on the train tracks from the old town, over terraces of carefully tended fruit and vegetables.