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.

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.

Causeways

It didn’t seem like a day for setting out on foot, but Central Belt Shuffler’s journey today is a triangular one, out to the office and on to Edinburgh before setting back home again. Despite my umbrella, I’m already soaked by the morning rain as I reach the subway station; glad, at least, that I’m not on my bike. I see someone cycling along the path on the other side of the river, and think they must be much more determined than me. The rain has the quality of that in a Hollywood movie, but none of the joyous grace of Gene Kelly tap dancing along the pavement edge, flirting with the lamp posts.

At the other end, the wait at the bus stop is lengthy, the number of people growing by the minute. Some huddle inside Greggs, but the staff inside make them leave, explaining that it’s a fire exit. There’d be plenty enough rain to put any fire out. Eventually several buses arrive at once, and the scrum to get on fills each with the smell of wet coats, condensation, and students checking the time on their phones, already 20 minutes delayed for lectures.

The delay gets worse as we head to campus. Roadworks mean the traffic crawls along Causewayhead Road at slower than walking pace. We are, at least, out of the rain.

I arrive late. Everyone who comes in is dripping, and breathless from the conditions. Umbrellas are doing little good, and a walk across campus is inadvisable in this weather.

In the afternoon I get a text from my parents, checking I was not affected by flooding on the way to work. I look online; the motorway was flooded, and the southbound carriageway closed. Some days, despite a wet start as a pedestrian, it’s definitely better not to drive.

Mid-afternoon, I set off to catch the train to my next destination. The river races fiercely under the bridge, sweeping around the tree trunks, churning brown. The sun comes out, briefly. The view across the valley is spectacular as the storm clouds are chased by the sun, a kiss-chase of the weather. The elevated train tracks become a temporary causeway, running above lower-lying land. Water surrounds us on both sides.

Looking out of the window, I think of causeways around the country. The roads that link the islands of the Outer Hebrides, that one day I plan to cycle. The causeway to Lindisfarne in Northumberland, which requires visitors to plan their journeys carefully to avoid staying longer on the island than they had intended.  Burgh Island in Devon, to which you can walk over the sands to the Art Deco hotel.  Even the cheapest rooms (Shrimp, and Dorothy Button) are prohibitively expensive, and I’m not quite sure I could manage the glamour of the black tie/ball gown dining requirements, though I suppose I could give it a go. I remember The Bay of Fundy in Canada, which has the highest tide differentials in the world. One summer I ran a watery (and muddy) 10K across its ocean floor, on the appropriately named Not Since Moses run. I think of Kirsty Logan’s recent novel The Gracekeepers, which draws a vivid picture of our dry world overtaken by the waters of the floods, an imaginative rendering of the future of climate change.

The wind turbines are spinning fast on the broad plain of the Forth Valley. The fields below are sodden, covered with the water of today’s rain, not dried out from their previous soakings. The floods of the past couple of months continue to be visited upon us, making journeys unpredictable, homes ruined, the skies dramatic. The main train route south from Glasgow to London has been cut off since New Year’s Eve, and looks to be so through February and possibly March. A viaduct has been badly damaged by the rising waters of the Clyde.

It is raining again. At each station, people are huddled together under cover, standing closer than they might normally. When they step on the train, water falls off their coats, their hair lashed slickly to their faces.

The contact I’m meeting in Edinburgh apologises for being late. A chimney stack has fallen from the rooftop onto a bus, causing road closures and detours.

I still have another journey leg to go.

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.

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.

A sailor’s pocket handkerchief

pockethandkerchiefEarly for the train, Central Belt Shuffler spends a little time shopping before buying a ticket. This is to be a particularly pleasing journey for a work meeting, given it is Monday, and the train is heading the opposite direction from the office. Somehow (late winter snuffles? early spring hay fever?) a handkerchief, adorned with clouds, soaring birds and a vaguely nautical stripe, becomes a necessary purchase.

As we step off the train, to await the ferry over to Kilcreggan, the weather is living up to the promise of the handkerchief: bright, blustery, spring-like. The clouds race in over the Clyde and onwards to Glasgow, from sun to rain and back again in minutes. The quick trip over the river to the peninsula carries us to a different world, yet one eminently commutable from Glasgow.

On the return journey, as we disembark the ferry to catch the train back to the city, a rainbow appears. It almost spans the river, signalling gold on the other side.

Shreds of Daylight

Shreds of LightOnce more, it’s lighter later. As February draws to a close, the evenings draw out. It must be one of those times of the year where each day stretches its fingers and toes, like a child in a music and movement class. (The length by which day grows or shrinks is not regular, and so that sensation of rapid change at some points in the year is not an illusion, but a reality – though it is influenced by the clarity or obscurity of the sky.)

And so, while the rise of the morning sun is still twenty minutes earlier in Central Belt Shuffler’s previous home town of Oxford, the sun is now setting five minutes later in Glasgow, as the Met Office’s app* reveals.Glasgow Weather

Today has been a particularly pleasant venture into Spring, with the heavy rainfall of the morning commute turning to afternoon sunshine, and shreds of daylight till after 6. And so the wait for the 1814 Bridge of Allan-Glasgow is accompanied by bird song, a clear view of the Wallace Monument, and the sense of hope and longer evenings ahead.

*Download this app; don’t use the standard weather app on your phone. (Central Belt Shuffler is a geography teacher’s daughter.)

Viaduct Shuffle

Carlisle-Settle coffee cupCarlisle station. Tears streaming down my face from the biting wind.

There’s a certain rucksack-bearing, bearded demographic on the platform. Excited chatter.

We board the undistinguished carriages, but with the knowledge that this is, according to the Settle-Carlisle partnership, ‘England’s most scenic railway’ (plaudits for not claiming it to be the UK’s). It’s 25 years since the line was declared safe from closure, and it’s being marketed hard as a tourist destination (as well as a link from the West Coast mainline through to Leeds).

It’s a cold day, and the train sets off there’s discussion inside the carriage of the draughtiness of train stations, model railways, and other such trainspotterish chat. Outside, cows big with calf and sheep with unborn lambs fill the fields. Piebald ponies canter alongside the train. A deer bounds frightened from the engine and, as we pull higher and higher, a hare runs madly from us too. The rain makes the roads in places indistinguishable from the swollen rivers.

One passenger wears both large head-phones and an eye-mask, not interested in the view.  The most nerdy of fellow travellers is explaining to his companions, ‘Everyone knew in those days a back way into the engine shed, to prowl around a bit. Sometimes you’d know a member of staff, they’d turn a blind eye. That wouldn’t be allowed nowadays.’

Wensleydale sheep huddle against barns and stone walls in the sleet. A young couple, in urban attire and with over-sized suitcases, alight at Kirkby Stephen. They look lost briefly, but are swiftly greeted by a woman who warmly welcomes them into their accommodation right in the station building.

We pass by a flock of black sheep – Hebridean perhaps? – standing close in the wind. It’s snowing properly now, and I order a coffee which comes in a commemorative cup. We pass Dent, the highest station above sea level. The lights are on in Blea Moor signal box, and it looks cosy inside compared to the driving snow outside. Two hikers, well protected against the elements, take a path running parallel to the train tracks. The surrounding hills and mountains are hidden from view.Carlisle

We reach Ribblehead viaduct, a place I often visited as a child, as it is close to where my grandparents lived. This is the first time I’ve travelled over it, though.

The weather is looming grey, and the light is failing as we slide into Settle. Inside the houses, lights are coming on, and I imagine the smell of coal fires keeping homes warm.

The train heads on to my destination, Shipley. The day turns to night, and the snow back to rain.