Place to Be


I remember the first time I took a train from Barrhead station. I was 9. It was a moment of revelation. I knew then there was a way out. I’ve always wanted out.

Granny didn’t understand why. This was her whole world. Her place to be. But it’s not mine. Not now, not ever.

It’s 11am and it’s freezing. I’ve just been to see her, and now I’m off again. I always seem to be waiting on a train out of here. Glasgow, Newcastle, London, anywhere that will take me and my miseries and my guitar.

I’ll give her a wee wave as I pass on the way to Glasgow. But she can’t wave back anymore. She just sleeps. If she opened her eyes she’d see the trains rumbling by; but she doesn’t like trains. She probably grumbles about the noise and the way the express makes the ground shake.

She never saw the point of the railway line. “The tracks tae trouble,” she called them when I told her I was moving to Glasgow. She didn’t like Glasgow.

“Ye hae everythin’ ye need here,” she said, looking disapprovingly at me. “Why go?”

By “everything” she meant family. And everyone in Barrhead was family.

Granny knew their lineage back to Adam and Eve: the ‘gud-uns’ and the ‘wrong-uns’; the sacred and profane; the faithful and the adulterers – and the adulterers’ offspring. She could list every “bastard” – Granny was not one for political correctness – within a six-mile radius.

There was no such thing as six degrees of separation for her. Everyone was part of her extended family – even the pools guy who ripped her off every weekend when he pocketed her stake.

She knew he was drinking her dreams away, but the pound was worth the entertainment when he came round to collect her cash. He was a flirt and made her feel 18 again. That was worth a quid of anyone’s money, even if she didn’t really have it to spend.

Granny took the train to Glasgow only once. Her sister wanted to buy a new coat and needed someone to give her advice. But Granny couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Too much noise, too many people and no-one to stop and talk to. She never went back. One train ride to Glasgow was enough excitement for a lifetime.

To tell the truth, she never ‘got’ transport. “Walkin’s gud fae the heart,” was her favourite phrase. The only time I remember seeing her in a car was when the hearse took her to her grave – it was a Merc. I bet she was embarrassed. Granny hated the Germans more than Glaswegians, and that’s saying something.

This time I don’t think I’ll be coming back. She’s never really forgiven me for leaving in the first place, and I don’t want to upset her any more. There’s no-one left for me here but her.

When I moved to Glasgow I was green, greener than the hill they buried her on. I thought my guitar would take me to the place I needed to be. Now I don’t know where that place is.

The happiest people are the ones who have no dreams. And she’s happy in St Conval’s Cemetery with her friends. Happy with her certainties, happy with her sense of belonging, and happy with the peace she enjoys in the moments when the train tracks are mere lines of metal in the landscape.

Tom Collins

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