Shuffle Adventurously

photo (3)Many of us return to work tomorrow (apologies to those of you who have already, or have been working through the festive period to keep us safe, well and well-stocked of crucial Christmas goods). It’s never the most cheerful day of the year.

Central Belt Shuffler spent Christmas resting up south of the border in Kendal. Kendal is home to the fascinating Quaker Tapestry. Each panel was designed and created by different groups round the world, depicting aspects of Quaker history and philosophy.

One panel celebrates ‘Quaker Enterprise and the Early Railways’, and is decorated with wagons passing over a bridge, a stream rushing down below. Another, with a fully-rigged ship, encourages us to ‘Live Adventurously’, while advocating one of the key tenets of the Quakers: pacifism.

MoreFreedomAnother – Central Belt Shuffler’s favourite – depicts a long-skirted woman on a bike. ‘More Freedom,’ reads the legend. (Quakers were quick to the cause of women’s rights, anti-slavery and gay rights.)

These motifs of travel and tolerance, and a life lived adventurously, with freedom and equality, are good ones to take into the new year shuffle.

Writing on the Shuffle

A little over a year ago, inspired by many a commute and one particular pre-Valentine’s Day happening, Central Belt Shuffler began this blog, much of which – if not quite all – is actually penned while travelling.

And now, an author friend has drawn my attention to news of a plan being hatched by Amtrak to give free rides to writers in the US. They’ve done a couple of test runs, and it looks like they might actually be rolling out on-board writers’ residencies.

In interview with The Wire, who reported on this admirable development, the first author to undertake a residency talked about the train as a ‘”unique environment for creative thought”‘, which ‘”takes you out of normal life”‘. This description is one that accords with that given by Guy Garvey over on his recent BBC Radio 6 Music show devoted to trains.

A L Kennedy, in her witty perspective on the author’s lot, On Writing, discusses writing in trains, retaining the most praise for US and Canadian train writing:

I can particularly recommend travel from New York to Montreal – the journey takes around eleven hours for no really good reason, beyond a type of shyness that will leave your train hiding, loitering and then simply fainting to a halt at regular intervals. When you are travelling north it will wait like a faithful lover to meet and be passed by the southbound train, and when you are travelling south it will also wait. You will do a great deal of waiting. But you will also be beguiled by the autumn foliage (should it be autumn), the picturesque wetlands and gentle vistas – all slightly distracting if you’re trying to write a sex scene and are already freaked out by your somewhat intrusive surroundings and the fiddly technical matters you have to consider. But you will be able to spot great blue herons and egrets and red-tailed hawks aplenty, as you wonder who should do what to whom first and from what angle.

(from A L Kennedy, On Writing)

Thanks to Amtrak and the powers of social media, it looks like writers in the US are going to get the opportunity to write on trains on a regular basis. Central Belt Shuffler has two thoughts as a consequence:

  1. Book a flight to America (or, in true A L Kennedy style, a transatlantic boat cabin) to take advantage of this great opportunity, and/or
  2. Petition the UK train companies to set up something similar. Yes please!

Update! See also Writer on the Train (First Great Western) and this Poetry Train Workshop, starting from Norwich. Let’s make that Scottish train companies (well, Scotrail) needing to set up something similar.

‘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?


A packed carriage, on the way home.

Next to me is a youngish man. We get to chatting, and – it transpires – he’s learning his lines, an audition piece. Somehow, in this short journey, I find myself helping with this task, reading out the lines for the other part.

It’s an extract of just a couple of pages from a play. He doesn’t know where it’s from. It feels Russian, Northern European. Chekhov, perhaps? Strindberg? A pastiche?

Over the course of the scene, the plot thickens. I read deeper into the character. There’s something slightly unseemly in this relationship between the man and his wife, or mistress.

The lines feel slightly compromising. I camp it up a bit. Giggle, aware of the other passengers.

Glasgow Queen Street approaches. The rehearsal ends.

I wonder if he got the part.

Doggy Dancing

‘Have you heard of doggy dancing?’

This wasn’t the way that I’d anticipated introducing my frequent travelling companion, the urbane Dr A. But such a conversation opener demands its record.

In my innocence, I wasn’t really aware of the phenomenon of the doggy dancing, which Dr A tells me has taken America by storm, is incorporated into Crufts, and can even be found on primetime TV here in the UK. (Although I didn’t think Pudsey was ‘dancing’, but who am I to judge?)

Apparently the human tends to lead, with the dog frequently dancing backwards, reminding me of the famous quote about Fred Astaire’s dancing partner, ‘Sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards…and in high heels’. This brought me to a sentence I never thought I’d utter, on a train or otherwise:

‘So is the dog the woman?’

And an interesting one to answer in terms of gender and canine politics, as there is, apparently, a preponderance of gay men who doggy dance. At this point, I decided the conversation was getting too confusing for a Tuesday night, and we turned to the relative merits of hamsters and horses as pets.

I tentatively Googled ‘Doggy Dancing’ later that evening, and came up with this rather fine merengue. (Now there’s a happy couple, if I ever saw one.) It also returned this piece in the Torygraph, reporting on the Kennel Club’s ban on certain doggy dance tricks (dog health & safety), and ‘rules against routines that are “degrading” to the dogs’. Ms Kisco, Club secretary, commented that ‘”They are allowed to wear a certain amount – perhaps the equivalent of a dog coat. But we would absolutely not expect the dog to turn up in a full Father Christmas Claus kit, for instance”‘. (Checking the publication date of this piece revealed it was not 1 April as initially suspected, but 19 August.)

Apparently humans can continue to wear whatever they wish, though perhaps Simon Cowell and his ilk might want to consider whether costumes and routines on their shows which are ‘extreme, unnatural or degrading’ should be referred to the human equivalent of the Kennel Club. (Though perhaps the Grammys already tried and failed to do this in the much-ridiculed Wardrobe Advisory.)

Next time, I promise to report on the more erudite conversations in which Dr A and I engage, but in the meantime, here’s some more doggy dancing, from the delightful Eleanor Powell and Buttons. That’s my doggy dancing style.

Wine and Hearts

February 13th.

Boarded the evening train and sat opposite a blinged-up lady of a certain age. She looked a bit perturbed and said her friend was joining the train. I politely pointed out that there were still two free seats at the table.

Friend arrived, sat down. Lady 1 got out tablecloth (actually a napkin), forks, pre-packed salad (crayfish), sushi, Doritos, a bottle of white wine.

They fed me crisps and offered me wine (I was being abstemious). I got a bit of sushi.

Then it was pudding: chocolate hearts in white, milk and dark chocolate.

We had by this time been chatting quite a bit. I said, ‘I did worry that I’d interrupted an early Valentine’s.’

They shrieked with laughter.

Apparently they’re in an all-ladies samba band, most of whom (but not them) are lesbians. (‘We’re not gay’; drumroll.)