I dreamt of shopping last night.
That might not be a surprise to some, but it was to me . I am more used to dreaming about Charlize Thuron and Nicole Kidman .
No not like that!
Even in my dreams I can discriminate between the totally impossible and the merely exceptionally unlikely !
I am a photographer so for me it is more of a Norman Parkinson type of dream where I want to replicate the Vogue elegance of the 1950s, black and white fashion at its best . Having worked with professional models, their skill and talent amazes me when they transform through the lens and create something magical . As someone who considers himself to be a landscape travel and people photographer, COVID brings its challenges. No travel, no people and the same landscape has left me taking images of my dog, and lovely though he is, it is a bit limiting. But at least I am of an age where this is not a living so it could be worse. We count our blessings, slowly, to eke out the time until the pandemic recedes.
So perhaps that is why my dreams wandered to shopping . “Analogue” shopping .
Not the click and collect of an online world or a quick dash into Lidl, masked up and irritated at people who think social distancing is not actually getting into your trolley. In analogue shopping no one says “ substituted a Chocolate Cream Egg for the Chocolate Cake Sir -ok ?” Because in analogue shopping you are actually there, you make your own choices.
For me analogue shopping , other than local to my town is generally in Ayr or Glasgow and I get there by train .
There is nothing physically special about the train from Stranarer to Glasgow. In many respects the rolling stock is the “ end of the line” stuff that is often not just at the end of its life but is literally relegated to the end of the line where they don’t really expect so many folk to travel, and thus complain . The heating works, but not always, the windows work except when they don’t, it smells musty . I have only been on the train once when it stopped in the middle of nowhere and had to be towed back home . Apparently I’m lucky . The toilets …pass on the toilets .
But occasionally it becomes magical. Physically so when the sunset across the wonderful countryside between Stranarer and Girvan can be spectacularly bathed in golden light . ( I did say I was a landscape photographer, bursts of enthusiasm are to be expected .) But it is the people getting on with their analogue lives that make the train – occasionally – special .
I nearly always travel on a Saturday. Coming back on a Saturday evening can be interesting, a train load of often boozy usually happy, occasionally worrying , football fans can keep you entertained but usually thins out, as does the language, as you reach towards Ayr .But the morning journeys can be a real treat .
Once a year crowds, women dressed in their finery on the annual trip to the Ayr races, make an unusual sight on a blustery Stranarer station as they fight to keep their hats in place. Stranraer meets Epsom with Galloway Irish accents .
Then there are the “ Party Trains.” I’ll get back to them .
It has also once in my experience been the “Wedding Train .” To this day I have no idea what Ayr has to offer for weddings that Stranraer does not but on this one occasion clearly it did. Car after car draws up at Stranraer station, a team of dedicated assistants to keep the bride’s dress out of the mud. Giggles, men in morning dress, bridesmaids immaculately co-ordinated and a Priest in full regalia. Fascinators that are not at all fascinating , dresses that were mildly optimistic in their reuse. Decolletage making a rare outing into daylight .Suits that were hired for someone 2 inches shorter. A boy with a neat suit and superman socks . Hip flasks.
“ Grooms family and friends in the front carriage ….no the FRONT CARRIAGE …….put the bridesmaid down…. Bride’s lot in the rear carriage …… “ I was with the brides family , trying to “ blend in” while the Priest skipped from carriage to carriage keeping order . I wished the Bride good luck for her future, she blushed and smiled. Mum looked proud .
But the true and weekly Party Trains leave Stranraer early on a Saturday morning around 7 or 9. Of course they aren’t officially “ Party Trains.” Outside of Thomas the Tank Engine trains don’t actually party, or do they? Just trainloads that party.
There are some family groups going to Ayr to shop but others are going to Glasgow , small overnight bags ready to shop until they drop then take in a show and stay over.Wine flows, the crisps are out, “ care for an olive ?” It remains the only train, in fact the only place where I have been offered champagne and strawberries at just after 7am. People are generous on the party train, people set out to be happy, for this is to be different from the humdrum. Mums, grannies sisters making this trip special, memorable and it happens in a determined way. Train guards are pressed into service “ can you get this @$3%’ cork out for me Michael ? “ ( Like an island everyone knows everyone in Stranraer .)
It is happy place is the Party Train .
I sense that on some return journeys there is rather less prosecco and rather more paracetamol. Zoom is no substitute for a Party Train experience, it would have been less painful but less engaging too.
Now, no travellers, no booze, and less trains.
When the trains arrive,they disgorge their contents into Central Station. As if constrained in place for too long, eager people make their way urgently to wherever it was they intended to do whatever it is they had planned. Funny how people walk away faster from trains than towards them, unless they are late.
Analogue shopping, and perhaps what might before long become “ legacy” shopping to use another euphemism has such different qualities. The expectation the urgency .
In my case often if it was to something to do with photography it might have been a trip to a shop to test some piece of equipment . For me there is no substitute for feeling the weight of a camera, getting used to its heft. It is a tactile experience . A Nikon D 850 weighs 1005 grams and is 146 x 124 x 78.5 mm. But what does it sound like, feel like? I can’t form a relationship with a brochure however accurate . Digital cameras are used by analogue people .
Then there is the noise of the City. People noise . Conversations that show people’s humanity, strengths and weaknesses, that cause you to smile or frown . The couple arguing with the woman embarrassed, pretending that all is fine. The mum struggling with 3 children going in opposite directions. The sulky teenager, a carefully measured 8 paces behind the rest of the family, headphones in. Rejecting of uniform as a gross infringement of their human rights they are wearing exactly what the next teenager is wearing . People walking into people while on their phones. Street performers, some wonderful, some well, not at all. Bright lights, and the smells. Coffee shops.
Why does coffee taste better made by someone else? The caramel and cream scent of cakes and buns around you, is that cinnamon ? And the smell of a double espresso. As someone who became caffeine intolerant late in life , the disappointment of drinking a decaf can be ameliorated by the smell of a double espresso that could floor me in two sips.
If digital life is predictable and economical it is also bland. Analogue life is multi layered and rich in colour.
We will be back there soon, meanwhile I’ll take a nap.
“Charlie, Nicky …I’ll be there in a bit .”
Happy New Year