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…I’m not well acquainted with Glasgow, you know, so a train trip to Glasgow was something of a novelty. If you want a return ticket from Inverness you receive five tickets, which is a system designed to confuse the easily confusable, I thought, as I handed the Ticket Inspector my seat reservation ticket, followed by my ticket receipt that looked remarkably like the correct ticket but was not, and then finally handed him all five to sort out, which he duly did.

I strolled out of Queens Street Station into a slightly damp George Square, past a parked police van with a CCTV camera (‘Global Eye’) suspended from a hydraulic arm, then headed for the nearest bakery shop for an apple strudel and a coffee. The bakery had thirteen types of French, Italian and Moroccan coffee to choose from, although what I really wanted was a Nescafe 1980’s style. I did well, though, as more often than not it’s Liz who does the ordering in such confusing places. “I’ll have a white coffee and that bun thing over there” I might utter, jabbing my finger at a tasty looking pastry, at which point Liz does the rest, what a marvellous woman, translating my jabberings into the correct pastry and coffee combination, as well as sorting out the size of beverage which is very important in today’s society where tall is small, regular is ‘”quite sufficient for anybody, thank you very much” and large is simply a bucket in disguise.  Good grief, no wonder we are all getting a bit porky.

George Square is a fascinating place to be. I sat on a damp bench munching my apple strudel and watching the world go by. Two nuns on bicycles, umbrellas hoisted, whizzed and weaved diagonally across the open space, a host of folks meandered under the ever-watchful gaze of the ‘Global Eye’, and Japanese tourists took photos of the statues which all, without exception, had streaky white heads courtesy of pigeon droppings and Glasgow rain. I was studying Robert Burns’ ‘bonce’ closely for any traces of cleaning fluid and scrub marks (somebody must have the contract for scrubbing statue heads) when the extendable CCTV camera focused it’s ‘eye’ upon me. Did I look suspicious, I wondered, a solitary middle aged man eating an apple strudel in the rain? At which point a pigeon swooped and swiped the strudel from my knee. Swine. I was not pleased. Would a Princess Street pigeon do the same?

What was I doing in Glasgow in the first place?  I was down for a spot of lunch, to meet a few folk for a chat before heading home on the train. But I couldn’t find the restaurant, so I asked directions from a friendly security guard in the Tourist office who queried why I had been frantically gesticulating skywards some moments earlier. “Pigeon, apple strudel,” I babbled, “apple strudel, pigeon,” which clearly was enough to establish my sanity in this city.

I returned home later that day with an image in my head of two nuns, umbrellas hoisted, whizzing and weaving their way through George Square on bicycles. I’ve seen a spectacle like this before, you know, twenty five years ago in London’s Greenwich Park when five cycling nuns, all with umbrellas hoisted, whizzed and weaved past me in the rain. If only they had been singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music” whilst being pursued by a staff-wielding Bishop. That would have been truly extraordinary, wouldn’t it? …

(Extracted from The Bit in the Middle: the curiously comic tale of a gardener in the Scottish Highlands.  An Ebook by Patrick Vickery)


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