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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Speaks for itself

IMG_0857Central Belt Shuffler is away from home again, awaiting Dr F on Kendal station platform. Trains shuttle back and forth between Windermere and Oxenholme, and occasionally onto Lancaster.

Around the station, the fells are icing-sugar laced with snow. The air is crisp, the sun is out: an early spring day. There’s the promise of an afternoon’s walk ahead.

A handful of other people are also waiting for the Windermere train. A mother with her child in a buggy. A smartly dressed woman. A man, holding a ventriloquist’s dummy, its shock of orange blazing surreally bright in the sunshine.

 

Taxis here, taxis there

IMG_0713It’s time to head home from Mexico. Central Belt Shuffler’s taxi arrives promptly, and the driver helps my heavy rucksack into the boot. Celeste the dog, my new best friend, lies down by the passenger door to say goodbye.

On the route to the airport, we discuss (in broken Spanish) girls who share their names with car brands, Scottish independence (rather confused by the driver asking how far Scotland is from England. One centimetre? Several hundred kilometres?), retirement ages and pensions, benefits and medical provision, private and free beaches on the Oaxaca coast line. He asks me whether I like Mexican music, what music I listen to at home.

The car is slowed by numerous topes (sleeping policemen) and a truck belching fumes.

As we turn a bend, an iguana sits in the road in front of us. It lopes off to the scrub on the side before we reach it.

Several hours, thousands of kilometres, and a huge drop in temperature later, the taxi line attendant lifts my bag into the car. ‘New car?’ he asks the driver. ‘Aye. First fare,’ the driver replies.

He drives very slowly over the speed bumps. ‘I need to go slowly over these. It’s catching on the bottom.’ The car scrapes.

‘Did I hear that right? I’m your first fare in this cab? There were speed bumps everywhere in Mexico,’ I contribute.

‘Aye. You don’t want to know what happened to the last one.’

‘You can’t say that. Now I do!’

‘Well, as you were in Mexico you probably won’t have seen this on the news. My last one caught on fire, right outside the airport. On 14 February.’

‘That’s quite a Valentine’s Day gift.’ We talk about the fire, insurance, the new cab, working into your 70s as a taxi driver, long-haul flights and holiday destinations. The motorway is running slowly, coming to a halt. We leave the motorway, and drive through parts of Renfrew. The sky is grey, the houses, hugging the side of the motorway, look poor. The car keeps scraping on high speed bumps. He needs to get the casing fixed.

He thinks he’s made the wrong decision to leave the motorway. We’re slowed by a cyclist, and overtake giving him wide space. The traffic comes to a halt. The cyclist catches up with us.

As we wait at the junction to go onto the Byres Road, he tells me that he was record-shopping there recently. He’s bought a new turntable, and is building up his collection again after selling his old vinyl, and player, four years ago. His collection would have doubled now in price. Original Neil Young vinyl is particularly pricey.

We arrive home, and he lifts my bag out. I go inside, pleased to be home, but wishing my cat (who is still with her Lake District minders) were there to greet me.

 

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 1

IMG_0680The camioneta arrives. It’s empty. We’re waiting at the side of the road with a middle-aged couple, who have a red plastic crate with them. We climb in, and the man pushes the crate along the floor to the front of the van. With a start, we realise that the crate contains a very large fish, which hides bags of meat, and another, smaller, fish, underneath. I get my camera out, and the woman tells me it will be 20 pesos for a photo of the fish. She’s joking. I think.

In the hot afternoon, the smell of the fish and meat combines with the odour of petrol from the camioneta. After a couple of minutes, Dr D stands up, looking slightly sick, and faces out of the front of the camioneta. It’s moving at a snail’s pace up and down the hills between the two coastal villages.

I sit at the back, while the couple comment on what all they see as we go past: someone lying, seemingly dead to the world, in the scrubland at the top of one of the rises. They try to work out, with mild concern, who it is. A man on a red motorbike drives up to the open back of the camioneta, and makes some comment to me which I don’t understand, and then overtakes. The woman tries to explain, in a disapproving tone. The sound of his throttle fades away ahead of us.

We arrive at the village, climb out, and head for a beer. The fish continues its journey.

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).

 

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.

Is it Saturday?

photoCentral Belt Shuffler sometimes reports on the (lack of) busy-ness on the rush hour train home. But earlier this week, it being Scottish half-term, the normally full morning train looked like this.

For a brief moment, I wondered if I’d mistakenly set off for work on a Saturday.

Just for a moment…

CoveParkCowThis evening, just for a moment from the homewards train, Central Belt Shuffler sees four Highland Cows in a slim triangle of field abutting the train tracks.

It is entirely possible that I haven’t been looking out of the window at quite the right moment, concentrating on polishing off a few end-of-the-day emails or reading some paperwork. Maybe they’re always there, horns pointed down to the grass, eating pacifically.

The sight of them jolts me back to a few weeks ago, when I’d shuffled on over to Cove Park for a week’s writing retreat. Cove Park, among its many virtues, has its only little troupe of Highland Cows, who bathe in the pools in front of the accommodation, and stand in the pathway of the residents. Whether they seem to be doing so in welcome or in challenge depends largely on your familiarity with these big beasts.

Back to the train, following on the tail of this pastoral reminder, I see lambs skipping, then flying: all four limbs in joyous springtime bounds. A fox runs diagonally across a field. And then, a reminder of a literary journey on the Trans-Siberian Express: a couple of horses threading between the birch trees. Time slips backwards, forwards, and I start to write.

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.