People you may meet on a train to Edinburgh

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”
Gloria Steinem

With a low electric hum, the train moved over the tracks leading from Glasgow’s Central Station. Across the aisle, two women took seats by the window. One, a mature, petite woman, a silk scarf draped elegantly around her shoulders; the other, a young woman who appeared to be in her early 20s. As the train picked up speed the older woman settled down to read a paper. The young woman, her face unblemished, clear, healthy, began rummaging through the tote bag that along with a music-case, occupied the seat next to her. Long, warm-blond hair hung straight down her back. A blue shirt cut high and clinging to her slender frame exposed a small expanse of flat, pale abdomen. Striped jogger pants were tucked into black ankle boots. From the depths of the bag she pulled out a make-up pouch and flat-iron and placed them on the table.

What in the world is she going to do with that? I wondered.

My friends looked out the window. I was fascinated with the young woman.

She plugged in the iron. She noticed me staring at her.

I didn’t realize they had outlets on the train, I said to her, by way of excuse.

I’ve got to get into costume while I’m on the train, she said. I’m performing this afternoon at the Fringe festival. The theater doesn’t have room for us to change and put on our make-up.

What do you do there? I asked.

I’m a musician. I’m part of a small women’s group; we’re putting on a musical, she explained.

Once again, she dug through her bag then handed me a post-card-size flyer.
On a background that featured two women dressed in period costumes, velvet skirts and jackets in vivid dark teal and rust orange was printed, Fearless Players Present, A New Musical, Armour. A Herstory of the Scottish Bard

Chattering away, she ran the flat-iron through her hair transforming it into loose, wavy tendrils befitting the style of an 18th century woman. Earlier in the year she graduated from Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She felt lucky to have been chosen to play a part in Shonagh Murray’s production, she told us.

I’m a feminist, she said unabashedly. This play tells the other side of our famous bard, Robert Burns. It tells the story of the women in his life. While he was out shagging everything in skirts, he had a wife and nine children at home.

Wow. That’s interesting. Especially since I’m also a feminist, I said.

My friend Debbie asked, do you have to take the train home at night?

I can’t afford to travel back and forth a lot. Sometimes, I go home late at night. It’s funny the characters you see on the train then; a lot of drunks. But today I’m going to use my starving artist excuse to knock on my Gran’s door. She loves spoiling me.

The train slowed as we approached our destination, Edinburgh’s Waverly Train Station. I quieted so she could concentrate on finishing her make-up.

I noticed her name on the tote bag – Bethany Tennick.

Would you mind signing the flyer and may I take your photo? I asked.

Bethany laughed, saying no one has ever asked her for an autograph.

Well, you never know. One day, you could be famous, and I can say: I met her once on a train to Edinburgh when she was still a struggling artist, I replied.

When the train pulled into the station we headed to the door.

Here, buy yourself a coffee or something after today’s performance, I said, thrusting some money into her hand.

Surprised, she tried to refuse it.

Consider it my little donation to the arts, I said.

No one’s ever given me money before just for being friendly and outgoing and telling strangers why I’m curling my hair on the train, said Bethany.

I lost sight of her in the stream of people heading into the city.

A short while later, as my friends and I wound through the streets to Holyrood Palace and the Royal Mile, we turned a corner. There was Bethany and her friends. She quickly introduced us to her fellow performers. Their excitement was evident—laughing, chatting rapidly, eager to get on stage. I wished I had time to take in their show. But, we came to Edinburgh for the Tattoo and only had the afternoon to take in a few of the sights. In any case, during the flurry of activity outside the theater, Bethany was thrilled to tell us that the show was sold out.

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Recently I googled Armour. I wanted to know how the audience received a story of a meeting of Robert Burns’ wife Jean and his mistress Agnes “Nancy” Maclehose. The results for the Fringe festival performances were positive. The reviewer for Broadway World Scotland wrote of Bethany’s performance as the poet’s grand-daughter, Sarah: “Tennick plays Sarah with an eager chattiness, which delights and even amuses the audience at times.” The Stage wrote “…and Bethany Tennick bring warmth and sincerity to the book and lyrics and, despite the privations of this modest production, Armour oozes potential.”

It looks like Bethany’s character carried over into her performance on stage. She seems to have some of what it takes — training, personality, drive and support — to achieve her dreams. I know that an hour on a train isn’t enough to fully understand someone’s life goals. But from what I glimpsed, I’d say that years honing her passion for music provided the platform to what the young woman hopes to accomplish in life.

In my younger years, I had a decade-older friend whose favorite saying was, “There are only so many shopping days left until Christmas.” One day, that same friend called me a dreamer. At the time, I wasn’t sure if she was being kind or just mocked me. In any case, what I understood from the first motto was this: Time is short. Dreams do have an expiration date.

Our lives are filled with possibilities. The problem is that we don’t often notice or act on an opportunity. Sometimes it’s a matter of confidence, or rather, lack of. We allow fear to overrule our curiosity, prevent us from asking questions, speaking up. And when life presents us with just a hint of experiencing unexpected small pleasures, we turn away.

I’m grateful to have reached a stage in life where I’m older and yes, bolder. Learning, life experiences, travel: they all helped make me more assertive. Now I’m more open. I’ve learned the value of making even only a momentary connection with a stranger. It’s a small pleasure, one that can give each a temporary lift, add a spark to the day, leave lasting, sweet memories.

As for Bethany, I’m sure that with persistence, a little luck and some support, she may just make it. And if by chance you see her on the stage somewhere, someday, I hope you’ll pass on this message to her from the eccentric older American woman she once met on a train from Glasgow to Edinburgh,

See, Bethany, I told you so.

For more information on Robert Burns and the women in his life, see the following link for an online BBC News article:

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