The Lollipop Lady, distracted

It’s a dark and cold morning, one month until the Winter Solstice. From here it only gets darker.

Central Belt Shuffler walks down the steps, part stone, part waterfall, only looking up to register the continuing gloom in the vista towards Park Circus.

As I lower my eyes again, I capture a high-visibility flash: the lollipop lady at the end of the street. She sees me coming and steps into the street, her smile broad as she turns to meet me. Anticipating her good spirits, mine lift too, and I grin and reply to her good morning.

Her attention switches suddenly, and two-thirds of the way across I turn to see what has distracted her. She returns to her pavement, and a small brown and white spaniel lifts her front paws to greet the lollipop lady, who reaches into her pocket for a treat.

‘Good morning, pet,’ she cries. The spaniel jumps up, wagging her tail in joy.

I turn my head back down towards my path, but my spirits are lighter. As I write this story up, tapping on my phone in the subway carriage, the luminescence of the lollipop lady’s coat, the dog’s happiness as she rises to greet her, and the brief encounter in the late Autumn morning take me elsewhere, until the lights of Buchanan Street station kick me out into the next part of my journey.

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.

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.

FullSizeRender (5)

Fibre on the Tracks

photo (13)Central Belt Shuffler has headed out to the South Side for some contemporary art. (See travel notes below*).

photo (10)It’s the Glasgow International Festival and Central Belt Shuffler is over at the Tramway. There’s fibre in the tracks, softening the industrial vestiges of the former tram works into a riot of colour. Trams are going nowhere. Trolleys sit in the tracks, too.

Monkeys climb the crumbling, arch-modernist buildings of Chandigarh. Its furniture is shipped round the world, restored and sold at high cost in auction houses. On the other side of the screen, a film shows the film being sold at Christie’s.

The industrial production of iceberg lettuce and pearls are surreally looped.

photo (9)The QE2, built on industrial Clydebank, has been digitally returned from Dubai (where in reality it still awaits its transformation into a luxury hotel) from Glasgow. On the journey back, it picks up some refugees. Broken in two and reconstituted as the QE3, it arches across the M8 motorway. It’s an art school, with one side for student accommodation. All the students are on full grants. The shipyards are no longer. The old Glasgow School of Art still burns. The crucible of industry has turned into one of creativity.

A woman sits and looks at her phone, to all intents at a bus stop.photo (3)

*Central Belt Shuffler mistakenly bought a ticket for Pollokshaws East rather than Pollokshields East.

The ticket inspector comment, ‘It’ll have cost you more.’

I nod, regretfully.

He adds, ‘As long as you know where you’re going.’

The day begins

Central Belt Shuffler is heading to the subway station, planning on catching the train an hour later than usual. It’s a chill day, rain is in the air.

The lollipop lady has finished her shift, and is walking away from the pitch.

She smiles at me, as I’m heading out to work. ‘That’s me for a pot of tea,’ she says, as she heads home.

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.

 

Yes, or no?

A stormy winter’s morning.

The walk to the subway, past the school. At the bottom of the road, the lollipop lady, new on the block. Her high-vis stands out in the morning gloom.

‘Yes or no?’, she says.

There is no one else around. Realising she’s asking me if would like her to help me across, I reply.

‘Yes,’ I say, already halfway across the narrow road. ‘Thank you.’

We smile.

‘Oh, I just love it.’

‘Even in this weather?’

She nods.

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.

Cats on Tracks

Yesterday saw the funeral of the Japanese station cat Tama, attended by 3000 mourning the death of a feline who had single-pawedly saved a rural railway line, and lifted the local tourist economy. She has been made a Shinto goddess, and a successor duly appointed to watch over the station and wear a funny hat.

Credit: Anthony Bale

Credit: Anthony Bale

Apposite news, as ‘Where’s the cat?’, and ‘Where’s the incredibly fast & exciting train?’, are more or less the only things Central Belt Shuffler can say in Japanese (neko wa doko desuka and shinkansen wa doko desuka, respectively). Japan is a world of cat wonder and weirdness, from Hello Kitty to cat cafes, from the movie Rent-a-Cat to cat island, and to pretty much every book that Haruki Murakami has ever written.

But for a little transcultural memorialising of Tama, here’s a picture of a cat patrolling the tracks in rural France, courtesy of a friend. Good night, and travel well, sweet Tama…

Back for Good

Yesterday, on the Glasgow-bound train, the inspector asked:

‘Are you gaun a take that n all?’

‘Pardon?’

‘Are you gaun a Take That?’

‘What?’

‘They’re playin, in Glasgow?’

‘Oh right,’ I reply (wondering, ‘Do I look like I’m going to a Take That gig?’). ‘No. I didn’t know they’re playing.’

‘Have ye been busy at work all day?’

‘Yes.’
The city’s gaun a be busy. An this train probably too.’ (The train is currently deserted.) ‘But ye’ve a seat already. Ye’re lucky.’
As we halt at each station, I look out at the platform, trying to guess who is a Take That fan.
The train doesn’t ever get busy. The fans must be in the Hydro already.
Here they are, though, with suitably Glaswegian weather, Back for Good, back in the day.