To Edinburgh By Train
virus bombs, empty cities, and other chance happenings from the most amusing afternoon of my life
My work there was done. My mother was guaranteed shielding by the NHS, great and mighty church of our state religion of NHSism. My doctor friend described his typical routine, for which he was yanked back from his holiday and into rotation, as “baking furiously and staring out the window”. But I’m sure it’s different for everybody else. Half a million five-year old crayonists wouldn’t lie. All praise the NHS, the only thing more important than our health!
Besides, the garden was gardened, the house was tidied (ish). I could go home. A “family hug” shared, a few tears shed, a few denials of the shedding of tears, and I leave.
I will miss it. I enjoyed the garden and the air and the river. I enjoyed my flagrant violation of the legal régime du jour with my three walks a day in the lowland countryside. I thought of it as civil disobedience. I don’t need their lockdown! I would tell the lambs. My, how they have grown.
I even enjoyed imagining how The Man might try to stop me:
“999, what is your emergency? … a young man, yes … THREE TIMES? … where is he? … a field? Half an hour ago? … I see … You’re going to have to be more specific … oh you can’t … I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t make this a priority unless you suspect he has committed a hate crime.”
I make my way to the train station and I am right on time. As the train approaches, the driver waves. That has never happened to me in my life. How odd, I think. I am the only one on the platform and, as I board, I realise I am the only one on the train as well. Maybe that was why. Maybe he was lonely. It has probably never happened to him either.
My phone won’t connect to the wifi. Shit. I can’t tweet. I can’t even see responses to my tweets. I’m going cold turkey. I don’t like it because nobody ever does. I stare out the window. Nobody on the motorway either.
I get to Glasgow and trudge across the perfectly Scottish city in perfectly Scottish weather. Half way to Queen Street Station I see that Buchanan Street is deserted. I have never seen this before, either. Usually somebody would have accosted me with an accordion by now, bumped into me tipsily, or suggested with a smorgasbord of posters and banners that peace in Palestine is but a few leaflets away.
I notice an enormous sign that proudly declares, People Make Glasgow, although I am the only person around. I am about to take a photo when I see I am mistaken — a stranger appears out of nowhere! On an adventure similar to my own it would seem. He realises what I am doing. He laughs, then silence. He wanders into my shot, but I don’t have time to wait. I have a train to Edinburgh to catch, and Buchanan Street is long. It seems even longer with a single person walking down it.
I get to Queen Street. The schedule is reduced so I have to wait longer than expected. Damn it, I could have waited for that photo after all. The station looks good, though! The redevelopment is coming along nicely. It’s probably a lot easier with nobody around. Wait — can you do construction work while socially distancing? I am a white-collar snob so I have no idea. I work from home. I work better from home. But I hope you can do construction. The lockdown sucks.
The seats are mostly taped over, with every fourth free. I check with the staff that this means what I think it means. They tell me, “yes, it’s for social distancing,” as if my standing ten feet away and shouting through my mask didn’t suggest strongly that I am on the same page about this. I ask where I can get a good coffee. They do not realise this is a joke. The virus has killed Glaswegian wit, it would seem. Will nothing precious be spared?
I sit down, socially distanced from nobody. The staff look bored. There are more of them than us. After a while, one of them invents a game. There are equally spaced dots all over the ground to help all of nobody to socially distance while standing around doing nothing. The younger one tries to jump from one to the next for as long as he can while maintaining momentum. The older one tries and falls over. They laugh, then silence.
There’s that phrase again, social distancing. I think about how silly it is. I am physically distanced from all of the nobody else here, as well as from actual people when I go places people are, but I am not socially distanced at all. I am socially closer than I have ever been these past few months because there is nothing to do, nothing I am allowed to do, and everything has stopped except the Internet.
My profound pensiveness is broken by bona fide drama. There is a suitcase unattended. It is dirty. Everybody is tense. I’ve seen movies — it could be a bomb! It could be a virus bomb! Are virus bombs a real thing? I dunno …
The staff seem both nervous and excited. This is without a doubt the most interesting thing to have happened to them in weeks, but also it seems they were not trained for this. They were originally trained to work the ticket gizmo and to know which platforms are where. They were more recently trained to yell, “SOCIAL DISTANCE!!!” at people. They were never trained on (virus?) bomb disposal. Should they touch it? Should they shoot it? Should they run away?
The tension dissolves as the owner returns. The tension immediately returns when everybody notices he appears to be Chinese. This is brilliant. We’re all thinking it, but nobody is going to say it. I am grinning ear to ear, but I’m wearing a mask so nobody knows. What will they say?
“Sir, you can’t leave your luggage unattended!” says the woman.
“Yes,” says the man, although it isn’t entirely clear as he is wearing a mask.
“What?” she says, very clearly, as she is not wearing a mask.
“YES,” he enunciates.
“Please, go stand by it,” she instructs.
“Yes,” he says, but he doesn’t move. My grin gets even wider.
“SIR, YOU HAVE TO-“
- he starts to move. He walks past me and notices I too have a mask. He nods. I nod back. Respek, fam. He may not understand their English but he understands my hygiene.
The train arrives. All five of us get on. That’s a four hundred percent increase in an hour! That’s COVID-esque growth! My goodness, if we don’t flatten this curve, all of Scotland will be on this train within just a few days! It won’t be able to hold us all! The transport system will collapse!
I am on this train as I type — as is my (maybe?) Chinese soulmate — so I can’t tell you whether the transport system has collapsed yet. By the time you read this you will probably know, if you are still reading or watching the news. I sincerely hope you are not, by the way, but you probably are.
This is the most boring train journey of my life. Again, no wifi. But nobody on whom to eavesdrop, either. The (maybe?) Chinese fellow and the other four took a carriage each. I go in First Class because The System can’t hold me down. But I’m still bored. I should have brought a book, but at least I have my laptop.
I type up this blog post and I wonder what on earth people will make of it. I want the lockdown to continue for long enough that everybody who wants to can experience such a bizarre and amusing afternoon.
But not a second longer.
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