That’s progress?

Change is not only good, it’s inevitable – but what happens when the baby is thrown out with the bathwater?

I travel to Edinburgh by train two or three times a year, as a rule. If you’ve never been, rest assured it’s worth the trip. A fine city.

The experience of the train trip ranges from passable to ghastly but is never, these days, a pleasure; largely because, aside from the aesthetic unpleasantness of modern trains, there is no restaurant car. Whoever thought an aisle trolley pushed by a disgruntled employee on the minimum wage, attempting to sell you an unwanted bag of crisps because she needs the commission, is an improvement on a cottage pie and a glass of claret served at a proper table with a white tablecloth, real cutlery and a little vase of flowers – albeit by a bolshie British Rail waiter in a stained white jacket – has no place making such decisions.

Watching the Northumberland coast roll past your dining table as you sup on a postprandial digestif is a pleasure now lost to us. The best that can be said for modern trains is that they’re faster; the dull aching pain of the journey passes relatively quickly. I’ll take slow pleasure over fast convenience any day, thanks; but I can’t stand in the way of progress.

The guard’s van has also been left behind at the depot of abandoned happiness. All trains used to have a guard’s van (if you’ve seen A Hard Day’s Night you’ll remember the lovable mop-tops playing an impromptu gig in a guard’s van). It was effectively a goods carriage, often attached to the back of the train, where you could not only leave large baggage for the duration of your journey but also you could send your heavy items to travel on their own, ahead of you, in the guard’s van of an earlier train, and it would be waiting, when you, well fed and content after your lunch, achieved  your destination. And there would be a porter with a trolley to carry it to the next stage of your journey.

Progress has meant that now anyone who is not able-bodied, and weight-trained, is left attempting to heave their bags into a rack, which is usually already full. Which means luggage is left to become obstacles for the aisle-trolley of the underpaid potato-crisp sales-woman. All this happened when ‘passengers’ became ‘customers’.

Arrival at Edinburgh Waverley reminds you that the entire porter’s profession has been eradicated. If you can’t carry your bags yourself you’re stuffed; there isn’t even a self-drive trolley to be had. A very friendly station employee confirms that there aren’t any trolleys, and cheerfully reassures you that he knows this is a flaw in the slick modern rail transport machine and that he’s told them but they don’t listen.

Fighting your way along the platform and across the concourse, haphazardly avoiding all the shops that have been deliberately placed in your way, dragging your bags behind you, you remember something. Waverley was designed by the victorians in a very practical way. The central feature of the concourse was a circular taxi rank, so that passengers could alight from their train and climb into a taxi with the minimum of fuss, i.e. without having to climb three flights of stairs, go outside into the wind and rain, and walk down the street. Dragging their bags.

Needless to say, progress has seen to it that the taxi rank, while still in evidence, is no longer used. It’s a security issue, apparently; although the consensus at the station seemed to be that the owners wanted to use the space for more shops. Whatever the reason, the nearest rank is now three stories up and down the street.

The taxi driver was very apologetic and understanding.

Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies


Lascivious nods

Come with me on a trip back to my shameful youth

Rose Street played a small but memorable role in my younger life; what cultural commentators like to call a ‘rite of passage’.

For in a pub there – now, I hope and trust, long vanished – I witnessed my first and last stripper.

It was lunchtime, and my friend Andy decided this was the place to spend it. Not for want of alternatives – Rose Street had, I think, even more pubs then than it does now – but possibly because he’d spotted a seductive sign in the window, the promise of naked flesh with your pint.

And so we pushed open the old wooden door and quit the bright street for the dark, sparse, tobacco smoke scented den of iniquity. I recall a few solemn tables near the walls, and a few solemn men venerating their pints with more smoke, and – a surprise this, since I’d missed the sign in the window – one corner of the dark panelled room which was covered in mirror tiles. It called to mind a makeshift shower area built for a narcissist. “There’s a stripper,” said Andy.

As we moved towards the bar, monitored without interest by some of the solemn men, Andy nudged me. I glanced at his lasciviously grinning face – he really was much more enthusiastic and confident about all this than I was – he nodded towards Mirror Corner: “Look at the tiles on the left there.”

My eyes, slowly becoming accustomed to the gloom, studied the mirror and saw nothing of note until suddenly the impression left by a pair of oiled breasts sprung out at me. I can’t deny a thrill of excitement; teenaged obsession with the female breast was strong in me. Andy broke my reverie, handing me a pint. The lascivious nod again, toward the bar’s end.

I followed his gaze to where a heavily made up woman with dark curly hair stood, a shawl draped casually over her nakedness, drinking a pint. The man next to her had an arm resting lewdly across her shoulders.

I felt no attraction to her – she probably seemed from another planet – but will admit to a strong curiosity. Some music started. She stepped up on to the small raised platform in Mirror Corner and, in an utterly disinterested way, removed her shawl and her g-string over the next two minutes. She then stepped off the platform, finished her pint, and, still naked, walked around the room waving the empty glass at the solemn men, some of whom put money in it. Andy and I were among them.

Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies


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