I wake up at a bed and breakfast that has no real breakfast. (It’s actually a student residence) – they hand you a bag that contains a muffin, a pouch of instant coffee, a tea bag, and apple juice when you arrive, as well as vouchers to present daily for the exact same rations. The voucher system is faintly humiliating, but that’s the least of my problems. I am deeply and profoundly addicted to coffee. I make myself a cup of tea and head out into the drizzle, headachey, hungry, yet doggedly determined to fulfill a day of tourism before my second conference of this trip begins.
A meandering bus takes me into Glasgow’s city centre. Part of the trip reveals stunning Victorian architecture, while the core, with boarded up shops and pedestrian malls reminds me of London Ontario, a strange and unfortunate flashback. As I get off near the train station, a Starbuck’s appears before me, a corporate mirage. I stumble in blindly, order the largest latte possible, and suck at it like it’s mother’s milk.
I find the train station, My plan is to take a train to the Aireshire coast and then a ferry to the Isle of Cumbrae where there are hills and ocean and hiking trails, a mere 1.5 hours from Glasgow. But first, a traditional Scottish breakfast – a puzzling array of meats, potato scone, single fried egg, grilled tomato and canned beans. The kind of breakfast a shipbuilder or an ironworker or a miner would take before heading off to do manly labour. Or, perhaps, a tourist about to hike in the pouring rain.
Arrive in Largs to a grey, chill downpour. Largs is a charming small town full of second hand stores and a tea shop where I have so-called Devon scones with strawberries. Only one very wilted strawberry: perhaps the s is a typo. Perhaps I’ve been had.
The rain has abated somewhat, and here I am, in a a tiny seaside town, crooked shops and pubs hugging a curved rocky coast. Shopkeepers stand in the their doors and stare at me.
I pop into a pub and order fish and chips. Scottish chips are puffy and large, these taste frozen. The fish seems fresh, and has a breaded coating, a nice touch. I try the mushy peas, they taste like cold pea soup: I almost gag. I find out later the peas are characteristic of northern U.K.: dried marrowfat peas soaked overnight then boiled up with sugar. Perhaps a way to get some of the minerals and protein legumes can provide, when fresh veg were scarce.
I’ve hiked the hills, seen a poignantly beautiful old graveyard, rolling hills and stunning views of the isles. The fog in my head has cleared, and I’m ready to re-enter the world of words, theories and intellectual labour again. I’m also ready for dinner, while fearing what horrors it may hold.
Back in Largs, I search for bread and cheese to take with me on the train. A helpful townswoman directs me to Iceland, which is fascinating: a store entirely devoted to frozen foods – even the bread and cheese are cryogenically preserved. Back at the Glasgow train station I end up buying a tasty couscous salad from Marks and Spencers’ food outlet, Simply Food.
Glass and metal arches swoop over train platforms, and commuters buy takeaway before heading home.