The night I went to an electronic dance event

I was sitting at my laptop, on the internet auction site eBay, browsing the various categories in search of inspiration for Christmas gifts, but it didn’t seem that any of their retailers were selling it.  Scrolling through pages of listings, my attention was grabbed by a collection of vintage 1980s glass baubles for a Christmas tree. For the price of £5, it seemed like it would be a mistake to not hit the blue ‘Buy it now’ button, and within seconds I was the owner of decorations for a tree I did not yet have.

Some minutes later, I happened upon a 9ft artificial pine garland, which I could imagine happily dressing in a festive fashion the mirror which sits on my fireplace.  At £5.99 with free postage and packaging, it felt as though I was really sticking it to those eBay sellers when I bought one. What a bargain!  I was thinking to myself as I got into the Christmas spirit of buying things for myself.  Adrenalin was pulsing through my body: it was the most exciting thing I had done in months.  

I had forgotten all about buying presents for other people by the time I arrived on the next page and found a three-piece set of plush Christmas figurines which looked ideal not only for sitting along the end of the mantel place but also for providing more animated company during the season than the tired old cactus plant, which is collecting dust in the way a group of festive carol singers gathers elderly women.  I placed a bid of £12.99 and went to bed to read a book written by Charles Bukowski.

The ornamental figurines had slipped from my conscience by the following morning, though when I received an email notification that I had been outbid for them, I suddenly found myself embroiled in a war for their affection. I was feeling strangely hard done by that someone should wish to deprive me of a plush Santa, snowman, and reindeer – and at Christmas, too! – so I logged back into my eBay account and set a maximum bid of £19.99, which seemed reasonable to me.  For the next nine hours and 48 minutes, I was on tenterhooks. I imagined that this must be how a person who is in court accused of some petty crime must feel as they await judgment, wondering if they have done enough to plead their case.  They might consider it unfair that they are even in such a position, arguing for their freedom, as I was feeling that it was unjustified that I should have to increase my bid for a three-piece set of plush Christmas figurines that I previously hadn’t known I even wanted. When the judge finally returned his verdict, I was the owner of some new novelty ornaments.

Despite vowing to myself at the beginning of every December that I will make a concentrated effort to start Christmas shopping early, and maybe even have it wrapped up by the second weekend of the month, I always drag it out into the week before the day itself.  I can’t keep my mind from thinking that, even though there is still time to get the shopping done early, there will still be time in a week, or two weeks, from now.  It is a lot like the dilemma faced when there is an alluring girl at the bar and I am procrastinating over talking to her:  I could go and speak to her and screw it up in that moment, but I know that there will still be time to make a stupid joke later in the night.

Things seemed much more simple back in the days when I was but a pre-teen boy; when on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in December I would venture out into the cold and rain with a budget of around £5 of my pocket money to spend per person.  As an adult man, £5 wouldn’t cover the cost of a whisky chaser or a 9ft artificial pine garland, though I no longer have to shop in the rain and the majority of my purchases can be made online, in the cold of my flat.

In the halcyon days of the nineties in Oban, it was more or less a choice between looking in John Menzies or Woolworths for gifts, maybe Boots if I was really stuck, feeling inventive or shopping for my mum.  I would return home after around an hour or so clutching a couple of plastic bags, my cheeks and big ears pink and wet and weather-beaten, like a sodden little elf.  Feeling tired and unsure of my gift wrapping credentials, I would attempt to convince different members of my family that it would make my offerings look more presentable if they had been wrapped by someone else, and usually I would get away without having to touch a roll of gift wrap or struggle to find the end of the sellotape.  As a young boy, like now, I cursed the festive season for reminding me that I am terrible at wrapping, whereas for the other eleven months of the year it is my inability to rap which frustrates me.

While over the years I have come to terms with my useless gift wrapping, it is so often the case that the truth is painful to hear, and that was the eventuality for the woman in Markie Dans who questioned whether the plant doctor, my brother and myself are all brothers.  We glanced at one another, feeling amused that someone could think such a thing, and it seemed a harmless thing to say that we are all brothers.  “Really?  Youse don’t look alike,” was the woman’s response, which was accurate in so much as we don’t look alike and the plant doctor isn’t a sibling of my brother and me.

My two brothers spread around the bar to talk to other people, and I was left in conversation with the unsuspecting woman, who spoke with a Lanarkshire dialect.  Over the course of ten cycles of the second hand around a clock, I learned that she is in her forties, had recently been divorced, returned from living in New Zealand and had made a bad impression at a job interview with the NHS.  I was drinking all of this information in, whilst at the same time contemplating why I was the one who had been landed talking to her.  As she stared across the floor at the two bearded men I had walked in with, she once more asked if we were really all brothers.  I can’t be sure why I didn’t take the opportunity to come clean and confess that only one of the men is my brother, or at least tell the lesser lie and claim that I had misheard her to begin with, especially when the entire rouse didn’t seem as funny when it was only me hearing it, but instead I continued to insist that the plant doctor is a blood relative.

The story became more elaborate when I decided to throw in the additional detail that we probably don’t all look the same because the plant doctor was put out for adoption when he was two-years-old.  This surprised the Lanarkshire lass as much as it did me, and she asked why our parents would decide to do such a thing.  “Our mother was hoping for a girl,” I said as we looked over at the plant doctor’s hairy red beard.

“Does she have mental health problems?”

“She wasn’t happy with how the plant doctor turned out.”

“It’s really nice that you are all still friends.”

Returning to her time in New Zealand, the forty-year-old health professional asked me if I had traveled, and when I told her that I hadn’t, she chastised me for failing to experience life.  As she took video footage of the bar band as they played in the corner, I decided that I would travel – and I walked out of the bar and traveled home along the Esplanade as I talked on the phone to a friend I don’t talk to often enough.  It transpired that she later asked the plant doctor if we were all really brothers, and when he advised her that we are not, she left with a look of upset on her face.

I learned of this development the following evening when we all attended the Bassment event in the Cellar Bar.  Bassment is a night of electronic dance music, and although it is not typically a genre of music I enjoy, I decided that I would go along after hearing my brother rave about their previous events.

When we arrived downstairs in the bar, the plant doctor joined a group of his work colleagues.  I sat amongst them and soon attempted to engage a smoking French woman, and the rest of the table, in what felt like a deep and meaningful conversation about cigarettes and beer, and whether we can honestly say that we enjoy every one we have.  As I listened to the smoking Frenchwoman’s voice, I was reminded of the few years I spent studying French during high school.  For Standard Grade, students were given the option of continuing to learn either French or German, and I chose the former since I found German to be a quite brutal and harsh sounding language.  I was never particularly good at French, though, and I can remember my teacher often criticising me in class for my failure to understand the French feminine form.  Twenty years later, Mr. Wilson’s words still rang true.

On the dance floor, the scent of B.O. was clinging to the atmosphere the way a stray strand of tinsel holds on to a sweater.  It wasn’t immediately obvious, or off-putting, but it was there.  The DJ decks were sitting on top of a covered pool table, and when I first noticed this I was struggling to get it out of my mind.  I couldn’t give myself up to the electronic dance music when all I could concentrate on was my attempt to think of a pun for the image of DJ decks on a pool table, but I couldn’t get anything.  Eventually, my feet began to move like a kick drum, and my first night at Bassment wasn’t as bad as I feared.

Sunday was the day of the Scottish League Cup final between Celtic and Aberdeen, and my intention was to go easy the night before so that I could enjoy the day and take part in the pub quiz on Sunday night.  After a shot of tequila my mood lightened, and following Bassment my brother, my fake brother and I went back to my flat, where we drank beer and listened to George Harrison until five o’clock in the morning.  In an effort to be a more mature host than on previous occasions, and as a means of not having to brush broken Pringles off my floor the next day, I opened a 400g bag of salted peanuts and shared them amongst three small bowls, which worked out at approximately 133g of nuts each.  A scattering of savoury snacks were still strewn across the oak flooring, however, and when they were tread on they had been crushed into the wood.  I observed this scene on Sunday morning and mused how it was not the first time that my nuts had been crushed in my flat in recent times.

Despite recovering from Saturday’s hangover in a manner that some might consider miraculous, and even after a generous serving of Baba ghanoush, the pub quiz quickly descended into a drunken shambles, and our team finished last out of a meager three teams.  By the time the final questions arrived, I was left to single-handedly tackle the music round, and the tracks played were not kind to a thirty-five-year-old man.  We were too luminous in liquor to wallow in our defeat, and instead, we were dancing to some terrible pop music which none of us recognised, a distraction which made it difficult for those guys who were still trying to finish their game of pool.

My attention was drawn to a girl who I felt I wanted to talk to, but I didn’t know how, and in the back of my mind I feared that she would only recognise me as a pub quiz loser.  After some time thinking about it I approached her.  All I was able to do was remark on her red glasses, and before my brain could catch up my drunken mouth had noted how they were similar in colour to her lips and her hair, though not her mauve nails.  I wasn’t even entirely sure what colour mauve was, but it didn’t matter, I’d already said it.  I retreated to my table and accepted that I should have treated the situation like my Christmas shopping.

 

 

Advertisements

The night I was told I smell like old books

It was the twenty-first of November – I knew this because it was Wednesday, and it always rains on the day the blue recycling bins are emptied.  The morning was remarkable only for the way it was like every other morning: I woke up as a single in a double bed, trimmed my stubble to a fine 1.0mm, showered, stood bare-chested in the kitchen as I ironed a shirt which was the colour of a custard cream, ate a handful of blueberries and drank two small glasses of orange juice; because I like to get my vitamins and my bright colours early in the day.

Fully dressed and ready for work, I was approaching the door of my flat when something struck me as being peculiar and out of the ordinary.  In the close, snuggled in against the bottom of the stairs, was a baby’s buggy – or, at least, a buggy which belonged to the parents of a baby.  Its transparent plastic hood had amassed a collection of pearly raindrops, and on the thin layer of fabric at the back of the seat were three polar bears of varying size, coloured white, black and minty blue.  The bears looked friendly and happy, as though they knew that their only purpose in life was to look at the back of this baby’s head, and they were doing a good job. Cradled between the purple handlebars was a pink blanket which looked like it would provide great comfort and warmth.  The blanket had little pink tassels that dangled loosely along the ends, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they would look against my navy blue suit.

I was standing in the cold concrete surroundings of the close, the only light provided by a streak of winter daylight which was shining through the glass pane on the back door, illuminating this baby’s buggy which had become the object of my curiosity.  Nobody in my block of flats has any children, as far as I am aware, and the youngest living being is a one-year-old golden retriever who lives with her owners on the second floor, and I was feeling certain that she could be taken on walks without the aid of a pushchair.  I couldn’t imagine where the buggy had come from or why it was sitting outside my flat, especially when Christmas was more than four weeks away.

As the week developed, there was an increasingly cold wind which was ripping in from the sea, the kind that rattles in your bones and leaves a person feeling like they need to pee.  On my nightly walks along the Esplanade, I was finding that my hands were making for the pockets of my coat regularly, in search of warmth and in an effort to assure myself that I was still in command of my functions.  In Aulay’s, as I was entering into a debate with a bald-headed man about the percentage of a pint of lager which should be head, a pair of women who were wearing wooly hats were ordering a measure of whisky each, and at that moment they were maybe the warmest people I have ever laid eyes on.

Downtown in the Oban Inn, a woman who was some years beyond middle age – if it is assumed that she won’t live to be a hundred – was dancing by the side of the bar with great enthusiasm.  She informed us that her father had recently died and that all she wanted to do was dance.  Over the shoulder of the middle-aged dancer, the one man bar band was preparing to resume his set, and as he sat on a chair alongside his pale electric guitar he was looking like a drawing a young child would produce if it had been asked to sketch the saddest man in the world.  His eyes were dropping like shaded pencil outlines, and his mouth could have been a golf umbrella.

A short while later, in a bar along the bracing seafront, I found myself in conversation with a woman who was claiming to have cut my hair when I was little more than a small boy.  I didn’t remember her face, but she seemed trustworthy and I decided that I would believe her.  After all, I thought to myself, who would it really benefit to invent such a story?  The hairdresser was beginning to embellish me with further details when I could just about see the cartoon thought bubble appear above her head.  “I always knew he would struggle to keep his hair,” it read.

In a booth close to the door, my brother and I were talking to a couple of young women who we had met whilst stood at the bar.  The girl sitting closest to me had canary blonde hair that rested upon the top of her head, which was the size of a boulder.  Her facial features looked like they had been carved out of stone, the sort an archaeologist would spend an age studying.  She was a close talker who liked to speak almost directly into the eardrum.  Each time she leaned in to say something, her hair would wave across my cheek and I was picking up a distinctive scent which I couldn’t quite place.  I speculated that it might be vanilla, and suggested this to the girl who had a face like a rock, thinking that vanilla is an inoffensive fragrance.  She didn’t dispute my sense of smell, and once again leaned into my ear.

“You smell like old books.”

I have never been told that I have the aura of antique literature, and being that it was something I am not used to hearing, I misheard the words she originally used.  I don’t know why the question that I next asked occurred to me, but it was the only response that I could think of.

“The kind of old boots that someone might have died wearing?”

The girl’s stony features had the look of confusion you might usually see on someone who has happened upon a single slipper by the side of a busy road.  Her hair brushed my face once more, and she intimated that she didn’t know what I was talking about, before repeating that I smell like old books and that she found it comforting.

With it cleared up that I have the fragrance of words which go to the soul, rather than leather which goes to the sole, the archaeologist’s dream asked me if I had ever considered how sexy it would be for two people who work together in a library to hook up after a time.  I told her that I had not spent any time contemplating that particular scenario, though in my mind I was thinking how I would find it sexy to get with another person in just about any situation.

She sat closer to me as she started to elaborate on the fantasy she had in mind.  She asked me to picture how it would be to work as a librarian, and I told her that I had no trouble conjuring the image of finding a way to make girls stop talking.  In her workplace ballad, the two participants would have been working in the same library for years but rarely crossed paths, which seemed terribly unlikely to me, but I didn’t want to tread on her artistic license.  One day, she said, they would be returning books to the same section of the library, and their hands would touch as they were placing the books back on the shelf.  She illustrated this by touching my hand as she spoke.  I could tell that she was finding the idea of the saga quite stimulating, and I should probably have taken the role play more seriously.

“Which section of the library were they in?”  I asked.

“Why does it matter?”

“I like to paint a picture.”

“Oh, alright.  Non-fiction, I suppose.”

“So there was friction in the non-fiction?”

The girl with canary blonde hair took her hand from mine and suggested that I should get another drink.  Whilst at the bar I encountered a couple of friends, and once they left I found myself standing next to the fresh-faced homosexual.  As a gesture of good will, and a display of there being no hard feelings, I offered to buy him a drink.  The entire process of getting a round of drinks for our table took around ten or fifteen minutes, and by the time I returned the two girls had moved elsewhere.  The fresh-faced homosexual joined me, and I reminded him of our initial encounter a few weeks previous.  He laughed and denied that he had ‘cock blocked’ me, though in an absurd twist of fate he had unwittingly contributed to my failure on this occasion, too.   Instead of learning what happens after hands touch in the non-fiction section of the library, the fresh-faced homosexual and I were talking until closing time about his time as a trainee chef at a Michelin starred restaurant in Paris, and about the planet Mars.

In the small hours of the morning, I returned to my flat to find the baby’s buggy still sitting in the close.  I was beginning to feel like it was haunting me, as though someone had left it there as a cruel play on the Christmas story.  Instead of a baby being bestowed upon a virginal woman, an empty buggy had been presented to a single man who can’t be very far away from regaining his virginity.  It was either that, or I had new neighbours.

 

The night I wore a tie which matched the colour of my plaster

I cut the middle finger of my right hand on a can of tuna chunks in brine – sliced it right open on the raised lid – and there was so much blood spilling from the wound that I was wondering how this whole thing could possibly be considered as being sustainably sourced.  For a moment I was frozen to the spot, questioning how it was that a 35-year-old man could cut open his finger on a can of tuna, but as crimson dripped onto the clean kitchen counter I knew that I had to take immediate action. Life is difficult enough as it is without becoming known as the man who lost a digit to a tin of fish.

As I stood over the kitchen sink with my hand held under the taps, bloodied water splashing everywhere against the stainless steel, as though I had come to the sudden realisation that nobody really likes cranberry juice unless it is used as a mixer, I was feeling myself become light headed and a sharp pain was shooting through my finger.  It seemed like it was going to take an eternity for the blood to clear away, so long that I might never get around to finishing the construction of my tuna salad for the following day’s lunch. Then I remembered that I am a trained first aider, and that running an injury underneath a cold tap might be how one would deal with a minor burn as opposed to a small laceration inflicted by a tuna can.

I raced through to the bathroom, cradling my wounded finger in the palm of my left hand in the way that I might if I had come across a stricken robin.  Blood was pooling around the bird as I stood outside the bathroom cursing my obsessive need to keep every door in the flat closed. A mess was going to be made either way.  Once inside, I wrapped the victim in a fluffy blue bath towel and applied as much pressure as I could manage, until I could feel it twitching and throbbing. I couldn’t be sure whether it is a wound or a fracture which should be kept elevated, so I held my right arm high upright and the left one to my heart, and after several minutes had passed, the blood had trickled to a stop.  As I was fumbling, one-handed, with an unopened box of plasters, I observed all of the blood spread around the porcelain of the bathroom sink, on the chrome taps and the hand wash dispenser, and I was beginning to reconsider my position on blood spatter evidence in the Netflix series Making A Murderer.  

The incident with the tuna can led me to reflect on recent events and consider where things had begun to go wrong in my life.  It wasn’t as though I had been plunged into a deep despair when the sharp aluminium from the tin was plunged into my middle finger, but something didn’t seem right about a man whose greatest joy in months was when his cactus plant produced a pair of pink petals.

I was sitting on the same chair in my living room which, days earlier, I had awoken in at seven-thirty in the morning with little recollection of the previous night.  Staring at the beige Elastoplast which was crudely dressing my finger like an ill-fitting jumper, I played through a highlight reel of memories which were laced with misfortune in search of an answer.  There was the moment during the redheaded rugby players leaving night where tequilas were offered – and subsequently drank quicker than the time it takes to say ‘yes’ – that I kept returning to, like it had been bookmarked in my brain with a yellow sticky note reading:  “this is where things were fucked up.”

My cheeks were blushing pink with the mixture of Tequila and Jameson, similar to the shade of the tie I was wearing.  The potent pairing had worked its way through my entire body, from hazy head to dancing feet, and it wasn’t long before I was overwhelmed and everything became a blur.  By the end of the night, I was in my flat with my favourite delicatessen delight, making another calamitous attempt at convincing her that it would be a good idea to date me.  When I woke up in my chair the next morning, I was feeling like less than the sum of a six-inch sub.

As the days progressed, I was finding myself in the grip of a slow drying sock saga.  Since I became what Argyll & Bute council describes as a single occupant in January, I have typically done my laundry between one and three times a week – ie twice – and regardless of the climate outside, I will dry my clothes on an airer which sits in the centre of my kitchen.  Over the months it has become increasingly evident that there is a disparity in the time it takes different items of clothing to dry, and every time I run a wash I know that I am going to be plagued by the frustration of waiting days for four pairs of socks to dry.  It is a vicious cycle.

Irrespective of colour or whether they are plain or patterned, dress shirts tend to dry in around a day.  Jeans, towels and other large items are usually ready to be stored away in under thirty-six hours.  But the socks, by far the smallest things in the load, take much longer than anything else to become fully dried.

For months I have been questioning the physics of socks and why it takes them such a time to dry compared with the rest of my laundry, which is hanging in exactly the same conditions.  I haven’t been bold enough to try it yet, but there are occasions where I have considered changing the positions afforded to each article on the airer, as an experiment to see whether being closer to the ground makes it more difficult to recover from the wash.  I’ve been feeling reluctant to do this, however, due to the fact that my underwear occupies the bottom rungs of the clothes airer, and moving them to the top would raise the danger that anyone who is unsuspectingly passing the kitchen window could catch sight of my pink socks and boxer shorts.  I’m just not sure that I am ready for someone who I am not in a romantic relationship with to see my underwear, and I don’t want to make things awkward with my neighbours.

Bedsheets need the entire airer to themselves, and during the week I undertook the task of changing my sheets.  Washing and drying them is not problematic, but putting a fresh layer of linen on my bed proved troublesome on this occasion.  I struggled to feed the double duvet into its white cover, its size and unwilling floppiness making matters more difficult than they should have been.  I have heard people speak about leading a horse to water and the difficulty of convincing it to drink, and I quickly realised that similarly, you can lay a duvet on the bed, but you can’t make it go inside a duvet cover.

After what seemed like at least seven minutes of wrestling with the duvet, I was feeling defeated by the cotton and began to consider how much it would really matter if I slept without a cover on the duvet.  No-one is likely to see it and judge me any differently because of it, I was thinking to myself.  The absence of a duvet cover on my bed isn’t going to be the reason another woman doesn’t want to sleep with me.

I asked myself who I was making the bed for.  It is the sort of activity I can imagine a couple doing together at the end of the day, laughing at one another’s incompetence – just like sex.  Then they would fall onto their perfectly made bed and make love, whereas I am a man who is doing everything by himself, and my bed is like an exhibit in a museum; something that was once useful years ago.  Next to the display would be a handwritten sign which requests:  “Please do not touch on the exhibit.”

The duvet was eventually stuffed into the cover, and the day after I sliced my finger on the can of tuna I went to Aulay’s, where the band of beards was joined by a friend of the plant doctor’s.  We enjoyed several beers over discussions about literature, the question of which album we would choose if we were forced to listen to a record a thousand times consecutively, and hip hop, although it seemed as though we had the hops without the hip.

Soon our group was joined by a wavy-haired woman with an Italian accent, and I asked her more questions about worms than I ever knew I had.  I enquired about what they eat and whether or not they have their own personalities, and after an extensive conversation regarding worms, I realised that the reason I was asking so much about her work was to challenge myself to understand the Italian accent.  After some time, the subjects ranged from worms to Francesco Totti and the Mafia, and I felt that I probably had a better grasp of her Italian timbre than she had of my slurred Scots.

By the jukebox, I observed two young women scrolling through the selection of music on offer.  Their first three picks were quite inoffensive choices for the moment, though they then somehow proceeded to mistakenly play ‘Something’ by The Beatles four times in a row.  I opened up my wallet and found two pound coins amongst the loose change.  With the coins clenched in my closed hand, I approached the music machine, imagining myself as some kind of jukebox Romeo.  I made light of their Beatles blunder as I slotted the gold into the machine in a fumbling manner which probably didn’t look as seductive as I was hoping.  We were talking briefly as the girls made further song choices, and they left two in the machine for me and promised to stick around the bar until they played.  By the time their songs had finished, they had left their table, and my own Beatles song went unheard.

The town’s fortnight-long Winter Festival was underway, and on a blue and chilly Saturday, the Christmas lights were switched on.  In a continuation of a tradition we started the previous year, my sister and I decided that we would drink some mulled wine before heading out into the cold darkness.  While she and her partner took their daughter to see Santa, I prepared for the first pre-midnight gathering in my flat.  There was incense burning in the living room whilst mince pies and sausage rolls cooked in the oven and a pot of mulled wine was warming on the stove.  I set plates on the coffee table and was feeling pleased with my efforts when it occurred to me that I didn’t have any classical means of pouring the wine.  I don’t own a ladel, or even a serving jug, and eventually, I had to resort to transferring the wine from the pot to a measuring jug in order to pour it into the mugs.

My guests arrived, and upon inspecting the pot of mulled wine, my sister queried why I had dropped a large, unpeeled orange in the wine rather than peel it and allow the flavour of the fruit to imbue the drink.  I knew better for the second serving, but I was again asking myself where things had gone wrong in my life.  With a wound across my middle finger, slow drying socks, a crudely made exhibit of a bed and a whole orange sitting in my pot of mulled wine, I wondered if this is really the life a 35-year-old man should be living.  I thought back to a line I had used in conversation on Friday night, and it seemed to be true that I am not getting older, it’s just getting harder to live.

The night I fell asleep wearing a brown tweed suit

The night I fell asleep wearing a brown tweed suit

When I returned home from Perth on Sunday night, I found that two pink flower buds had sprouted from the cactus plant on my mantle place, beaming like pimples on the end of a nose.  I was surprised by the discovery because I didn’t know that my plant was capable of producing beauty.  In the days previous I had been feeling a lot like the Roy Orbison bridge in the Traveling Wilburys song “Handle With Care”, and until the following morning, when I awoke with fresh and sober eyes, I couldn’t be sure that the flowers weren’t a drunken creation of my imagination’s desire for company.   

The pink buds were still present on Monday, and although I felt happy to see them, I was questioning why they were there.  I hadn’t watered the plant in months, believing that the cactus enjoys the drought a relationship with me brings, yet it was still capable of producing new life.  My instincts were telling me to pour a little water into the soil, to help nurture whatever was happening amongst the leaves, but I worried that showing affection now might cause more harm than good, as is the case any time I try and approach a woman in public spaces, and I decided to continue to neglect the plant.

The arrival of new life wasn’t the only recent transformation in the living conditions in my flat.  The change in climate, and the early onset of winter weather, has brought with it a realisation of how cold my small living space can become.  Seemingly any heat which is generated is drawn upwards to the high Victorian ceilings, like a snow globe turned on its head and left there, helpless.  Each night when I return home after work, there is a quiet voice within me which wonders whether I am going to open the door to the living room and find a polar bear sprawled across the brown leather sofa, giving the impression of a fluffy throw.  I’m quite sure that nobody wants to encounter a polar bear in their property – particularly in Scotland, where the arctic animal would presumably have undertaken a long journey to travel to and may be in a tetchy mood – yet I can’t help but feel that I would at least welcome the warmth generated by snuggling up to a polar bear when getting my nightly Netflix fill, and if nothing else, it would be something to talk to.

In search of company and warmth, and as a means of avoiding any potential Halloween guisers, I went to Aulay’s to watch the football on Wednesday.  The night was shaping up to be a rather uneventful one: the bar was mostly empty, Celtic were winning 4-0 before it was even half-time, and it turns out that, unlike small children going out dressed as skeletons, nobody gives you a free beer as a ‘treat’ for matching your black tie to your socks.  

After a while, a drunk man was refused service in the adjoining public bar, an occurrence which is not unusual in a pub. Several minutes later, there was an exclamation from one of the scatterings of men in the lounge bar that someone was urinating against the outside of the door.  When someone in the pub is so animated about a going on it is difficult to avoid turning around to see for yourself, and sure enough, the man was accurate with his description of events.  As soon as I swiveled on my barstool, my eyes met the penis which was grasped in the drunk’s hand, its appearance disfigured by the blurred effect of the stained glass.  Clouds of steam were visible around the cascading pee, making the gland appear as though it were a zombified tortoise emerging from a misty darkness in a scene from a horror movie.

None of us present in the bar thought to go out and confront the drunken urinator, presumably because it was so cold, and there was the consideration in the back of my mind that if this is how he would treat a perfectly acceptable piece of stained glass, what would he do to anyone who dared to question his actions?  I turned my attention back to the football, although it was a struggle to concentrate and my thoughts were distracted.  I was appalled by what I had just witnessed, yet there was a part of me which couldn’t help but feel a faint admiration for the guy outside.  The autumn had been a cold one, and the temperature was continuing to drop, so for a man to be exposing his penis to such elements when throughout the week I had been feeling nervous about walking around town without wearing gloves seemed like a brave thing to be doing.

By five o’clock on Friday evening, the clouds above the bay were the shade of a slice of bread which has been left in the toaster for a minute too long, like they had been most other nights through the week, and when it came time for me to go out some hours later, they were releasing drops of rain the size of monkey nuts which had been broken from their shell, and they soaked my brown tweed suit.  The bars were mostly quiet, as they had been since the end of the summer.  Upstairs in the Oban Inn, George Noble was playing disco music to as much enthusiasm as there were people.  It was the saddest Halloween party anyone had seen, and I was feeling uncomfortable watching it all.  We decided to leave for Markie Dans, the walk along the seafront adding several more splashes to my teal shirt. When I arrived, I had received a text message from the moonlighting banker, the upshot of which was that at least one more person was drinking in the bars that night.

It had been a while since I was last drinking with the banker who is occasionally seen on the other side of the bar.  We ended the night in The Lorne, which is often the way these meetings go.  With a glass of Jack Daniels in my hand, I was approached by a girl whose hair was bleached blonde, giving her the stature of a lighthouse at sea on a stormy night.  Her lips were painted a rambunctious red, the colour of a traffic light, but all they were saying was “go”.

The girl with the bright red lips was making her intentions obvious, even to someone like me, whose understanding of female body language is as fluent as my understanding of Mandarin.  She was standing unnecessarily close to me and spoke as much with her hands as she did her mouth.  At one moment she breathlessly confided in me that she likes a man who wears a suit, and it was all I could do to respond that I am a man who knows how to wear a suit.  In spite of my senseless way of communicating, she continued talking to me, and it was becoming clear that this was a situation even my words couldn’t spoil.  I was beginning to imagine where I might take her on our first date:  what I would order to eat and the outfit I would wear.  Ordinarily, it probably wouldn’t seem appropriate to wear a suit on a first date, but if it’s what attracted her to me then how could I not?

The bar lights flickered back to life, and suddenly the room was as bright as her bleached blonde hair.  Closing time was nearing, though it felt that the night was only opening up its possibilities, like a pink flower bud on the end of a cactus.  Who knows how it got there, but it was exciting.

From a crowd of people soon emerged a baby-faced homosexual who turned out to be a long lost friend of the girl with the bright red lipstick.  They reacquainted themselves, and I waited patiently for their reunion to be concluded with the promise of a phone call or a cup of coffee. After an agonising passage of time, the young woman and I left the bar and returned to my flat for some drinks, along with the friend she had come out with, the moonlighting banker and the baby-faced homosexual.  We all gathered in the kitchen with our drink of choice, with the exception of the two long lost friends, who sat down for a heart to heart in my bedroom, on the end of the bed I had been hoping for a crotch to crotch on.

It was some time around five o’clock on Saturday morning when everyone started to leave my flat.  The absentee gay friend left in a taxi first, but by then it was too late.  The others left a short while later when the friend of the girl with the bleached blonde hair had passed out on the kitchen floor and was unresponsive to her name being called out in a loud, drunken fashion.  There was a measure of concern about her wellbeing and talk of phoning for an ambulance.  As I held my phone in the palm of my hand, scenes from the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction played in my head.  Within these scenes I was trying to get my story straight, thinking about how I would explain to the medical crew that my measures of vodka were almost within reason and that as far as I knew the tube of Pringles didn’t contain any opiates.

I was about to dial for help when the girl whose name I had only learned in the midst of panic moments earlier came to, and she was able to leave with the assistance of her friends.  The relief I was feeling was tempered by the confusion over how there were six glasses in various stages of emptiness for five people.  No fewer than seven bottles of Budweiser sat along the kitchen counter, none of them finished, and broken Pringles were strewn throughout the flooring of my flat, as though someone had left a trail to remind them of how to get out.  I shuffled through to my bedroom, defeated by the night, and fell asleep on top of my bed in my brown tweed suit, Roy Orbison singing for the lonely.

The night I remembered it was almost Halloween (aka First Aid Kit @ Perth Concert Hall, Perth)

It had been eight days since a woman at the bar called me a geek, and when I boarded the morning train to Glasgow, destined ultimately for Perth, I was still unable to get the incident out of my mind.  I could not be entirely certain over how the situation arose in the first place, but I could clearly recall the educated and voluptuous brunette speaking of her surname, which sounded elegant and born of the middle ages, and remarking something along the lines of:  “Of course, you’ll know where that name comes from.  You look like a geek.”

I remember that I nodded my head in agreement with the first part of the woman’s statement, in exactly the way I do whenever I haven’t fully heard what a person has said to me but don’t want to appear impolite by asking them to repeat the vital piece of information they were attempting to communicate.  I also agreed with her observation that I looked like a geek, and it ranked amongst the nicest things I have ever been told in Aulay’s, and probably in my adult life.

As the days passed my internal monologue became increasingly involved in a fervent debate with itself over whether the word ‘geek’ was used by the woman with the old-fashioned name as a compliment or in an intended insult.  Was she commenting on my carefully crafted outfit with its silver tie, pocket square, and socks triumvirate, or on the fact that I had an awkward nature which meant that I was avoiding making eye contact with her in the way that a lamb instinctively avoids walking into a wolf’s den?

On the train, I was hoping to catch up on some much-needed sleep.  I had thought when I went out on Friday night that I could live a Keith Richards lifestyle, but by Saturday morning I felt like I was a Morphy Richards kitchen appliance – I was blowing steam.  Knowing that I had an early train to catch, my intention was to enjoy a few sensible drinks with the plant doctor and go home earlier than I normally would, but at one thirty in the morning I was having Jameson bought for me by a man who was wearing pink trousers and who earlier in the day had scattered the ashes of both of his parents on the island of Lismore.

When I first arrived at the bar I viewed the man as a foolish figure of fun.  He was sitting at a table in the corner of the room, his trousers were as pink as the cheek of a newborn baby, and his navy blue jumper was holding a belly so large that it looked like it had been drawn onto him.  The company he was with, presumably strangers he had become involved in conversation with, left, and he got up to refresh his drink. I was standing at the bar alone, and as the man waited to be served we exchanged complimentary words on each other’s outfits.  He confided in me that his parents had recently passed away within a short period of time of one another, and I expressed sympathy for his loss. He thanked me and commented that it is rare for another person to be so nice, which struck me as being odd, as I thought I was only saying what anybody in my position would have said.  When the man with the pink trousers bought me a whisky, I began to feel remorse for my original observation when I walked into the bar, and we spent the rest of the night discussing death and Brexit, and it was difficult to tell where one subject ended and the other began.

Despite suffering from the type of headache which narrows a person’s eyes, and with the taste of whisky still sitting around the back of my throat, I couldn’t bring myself to sleep on the train.  At the table across the aisle from me was a younger woman who was wearing eyeshadow that was the colour of midnight. She unwrapped an oaty wholefood bar, and when I lifted the top of my roll to squeeze a sachet of brown sauce onto some bacon, all I could see was a pig rolling around in wet mud.  In an attempt to make myself feel better I reached into my bag for the banana I had packed, and I sat it on the table in front of me, although I think she could tell that I had no intention of eating it.

My interest in sleeping wasn’t just as a means of appeasing a hangover.  Recently it has seemed that the only way I am able to see my best friend is in my dreams.  She has been appearing in them frequently of late: at least two or three times a week, which is considerably more than the zero times I am able to talk to her when I’m awake.  In one of those sleep scenarios, I found myself in dispute with my subconscious. It was a day or two following my family birthday dinner, and in my dream, I was trying to describe to my friend where we had eaten our meal.  I gave very precise directions as to where the restaurant was located, although I couldn’t remember its name. She believed that I was describing The Seafood Temple, an assertion I agreed with, and I continued to elaborate on the evening, even though my lucid self was screaming out that the dinner had taken place at BAAB.  In my dream, I could hear myself say this, but the dream version of me ignored my pleas and continued to talk about a meal I had not eaten in a restaurant I had not been.

Unable to sleep, I sought to amuse myself by imagining the conversations other passengers around me were having.  With my earphones playing music at a moderate level, observing my fellow commuters was like watching a silent movie, and when their lips moved it was up to me to work out what they were saying.  As the train rattled through quiet little villages which were surrounded by rolling green fields, fluffy clouds of grazing sheep and calm blue streams, my attention was caught by a table of three people who I speculated were probably aged in their fifties.  Their conversation was constant and animated.

“It’s really beautiful and peaceful out here,” the first woman would have said as she leaned across the table in her knitted yellow top.  “We could happily live around here when you retire.”

“The dogs would really enjoy the space,” her husband agreed with a wistful look out of the window.  His hair was neatly combed and looked the way flour does when it becomes wet.

“You could probably build, like Edward and Barbara did.”  The third of the trio was female and was either the sister of the woman with the sunflower top, or one of those people who likes to befriend others who have a similar physical appearance.

“It’s so remote.  I bet you probably wouldn’t have to see anybody for days.  How perfect!”

“That’s a point,” the husband chimed in, sipping from his coffee cup as he considered retirement in rural Argyll.  “How would the boy from the bottom of the road get us the cocaine?”

By the time I arrived in Perth, autumn had put on its winter jacket.  I disembarked from the train and immediately played the U2 song Where The Streets Have No Name, which is a habit I have any time I visit somewhere new and unfamiliar, when I know I am going to get lost.  It took me longer than necessary to find my hotel for the night, and when I eventually did my hands were raw and my hangover had all but gone.  Although Perth is an old and historic city which is hugged by the River Tay, I only had eyes for its bars.  Drinking beer down by the river put me in mind of a Neil Young song, but I couldn’t place which one.  At three o’clock I met with my brother and a work colleague who resides in the area to watch the football scores come in.  We pored over our respective betting coupons, and at half-time, they were looking quite promising.  With great excitement we were discussing what we might do with the tremendous fortunes we were each destined to win in the coming hour, though by the time we walked the short distance from The King James to The Foundry we had lost more than our sobriety.

All manner of ghoulish characters were stalking the short streets of the city centre when night fell.  Whilst I initially thought that the people of Perth didn’t care as much for their appearance as those in more trendy places like Glasgow or Edinburgh, and I was verging on accusing the cleaning staff in the watering holes I visited of slacking on the job when it came to dusting the cobwebs which were dangling from the ceiling, I soon remembered that it was the weekend before Halloween and this probably wasn’t a regular sight.

On the plaza of the Concert Hall, a spectacular light show was taking place to celebrate the holiday.  Families of witches and vampires and the Predator from the Alien vs Predator movie filled the streets.  This made for quite a scene as hundreds of people dressed in plaid shirts of varying colours made their way into the venue to see the popular Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit.  The auditorium was more compact than I was expecting, which made for an intimate setting where every spot on the floor felt close to the stage. The Swedish sisters serenaded the sold-out audience with their beautiful harmonies, their voices sounding the way a great piece of art looks.  Every note stirred an emotion within me, although a level of drunkenness contributed to what I was feeling. The set passed very quickly and was a musical triumph.

After the gig, I drank in the Green Room, which seemed larger than a room and would probably be more appropriately classed a hall.  The bar was decorated in keeping with the Halloween theme, and amongst the spooky monsters and bloodied figures around the place were some spirits I was interested in.  I sampled a blend of whisky from the Isle of Jura and found that it didn’t burn my throat the way a malt usually does, so I continued to order it until the bar closed.  As I was walking back to my hotel, my breath was warm with whisky, and it escaped into the frozen night air, making me feel like a mighty dragon.  It was not long after one o’clock, although I couldn’t be sure if the time had already gone back an hour to mark the end of British Summer Time.  I spilled myself into the luxuriously comfortable hotel bed and slept well into the morning.  My dreams were as silent as a conversation on the train, though the hangover was like a lion’s roar.

The night I changed four light bulbs

One by one, over the space of two or three weeks, they were slowly beginning to disappear; gradually fading out of existence in exactly the way a dimming lightbulb lives its life.  For a while, it seemed that every other evening when I would turn on my living room lights, another bulb in the five-eighths-of-a-spider-like chandelier which hangs above my large glass coffee table had been extinguished.  I was oblivious to the first bulb burning out, and even the second event had little impact on my life.  It was a little darker, sure, but the mood reminded me of the bar, and I became used to it.  Who really needs five lights illuminated at any one time, anyway?  But when the third bulb went out and I was left with only two, I began to feel worried.

The last two bulbs in the chandelier co-habited for around five or six days until some morning this week, when one of the couple decided that it didn’t want to come home.  If I had been nyctophobic then all of my worst fears would have been dangerously close to being realised.  By the process of elimination, I knew that the final bulb remaining couldn’t have much longer left before it too would burn out, and my concern heightened.  I have never changed a lightbulb before:  at least not a ceiling bulb, and never my own.  I have replaced the bulb in a bedside table lamp, in a desk lamp, and in a standard hallway light fixture, all things easily reached by stretching an arm out, and nothing that would require the use of a stepladder, or even standing on the tips of my toes.  I was considering if home ownership was really for me.

For several days the surviving bulb struggled on, using all of its resources to light the entire living room on its own.  I admired its resilience, but I knew that soon physics would get the better of the bulb and it would join the others in perpetual darkness, and this troubled me.  It quickly followed to question how I was going to change these five exhausted lightbulbs when the ceiling in my Victorian era flat is so high, and I am a man of average stature.  Am I supposed to turn all of the electricity off?  Before long I was contemplating what would happen in the event that I am electrocuted and nobody can find my body because the property is in darkness.  I suspected that it would take days for my stricken shape to be discovered, and it would only be by accident, in the way that you are looking in the back of the fridge for something else entirely and find the half-eaten mozzarella ball you bought for an Italian recipe three weeks ago.

Some time passed and I began to put some serious thought into the possibility that I could live an existence without the need for lights in my home.  It occurred to me that if I never closed the curtains I could probably just about get by on the strength of the nearby streetlights, and if I upped my tea light candle usage from two at a time to, say, eight, I might even have enough light to read.  If I happened to have visitors I would just claim that I’m trying to achieve the minimalist look and that my place is “atmospheric.”  The flat with no lighting and several dead houseplants decorating the mantel place.

My reluctance to change the light bulbs wasn’t born of laziness so much as it was a tremendous dislike of physics.  It was by far my least favourite subject at school, and any discussion of Sir Isaac Newton and his work only left me craving a Granny Smith.  For a brief time in fifth year we had a teacher who was new to the school, and each lesson he would have us listen to Moby’s new album Play.  If my Higher exam had been on Honey or Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? I’m certain I would have achieved a better grade than the lamentable letter which marks my certificate next to the claim that I studied physics.

It was probably around 7.20 on Wednesday evening when I was eating dinner and I thought I was taking a spicy sweet potato wedge on my fork, but actually ended up with a mouthful of lemon baked salmon, that I realised that there are downsides to living in dimly lit conditions.  With the fragrance of fish in my nostrils, I decided that it would be for the best if I changed my light bulbs, and the following day I purchased three twin packets of halogen candle bulbs.  I returned home from work that night with a solitary goal in mind.  The positioning of the glass coffee table proved problematic, largely due to the way that its size dominates the room.  It is by far the biggest object I own, and I was concerned about how I was going to stand the stepladder around it in order to reach the chandelier.  In spite of my failure to grasp the basic fundamentals of geometry, I was able to fit it around the table, and when standing on the top rung my outstretched arm could reach the dead light bulbs and no more.

I have never considered the possibility that I could have a fear of heights.  Over the years I have walked around the observation deck of The Shard in London, tread across the glass floor of Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower and visited the tallest building in the western hemisphere, One World Trade Center, and felt nothing but awe.  But on top of this five-foot-tall stepladder, I was feeling numb and nauseous.  I was standing there for what seemed like it must have been three or four minutes, completely frozen and unable to move.  It was an experience similar to the few moments before I approach a girl to talk to her; when I am unsure whether there will be a spark or if my jokes are once again only going to lead to resistance.

My eyes tumbled downwards as my attention turned from the chandelier overhead to the table on the ground below.  I tried to take my mind off the entire predicament by imagining the stories I could tell at dinner parties if I had fallen from the ladder.  Perhaps a few people had returned to my flat for some drinks after the pub, and they would listen intently to my anecdote as we all gathered around the battered coffee table with its shattered glass plates which are only visible due to the street light which shines through the window.  They would remark on the horror of the tale, the looks of great interest and sympathy on their faces enhanced by the atmospheric tea light candles which are placed strategically around the room, the three on the mantel place giving the impression of a loving memorial to the dead houseplants they sit between.

The scars from the fall, on my face and hands, would attract attention in the pub, and girls would be sure to ask how I had got them.  In my thoughts, I am much more suave than in reality, and I would casually tell them that I was doing some electrical work at a great height.  All manner of scenarios paraded through my mind before I was finally able to unscrew the light bulbs, one by one, and replace them with new ones.  The entire process took minutes, and when I stepped back down the ladder to turn on the switch, I was rewarded with a brightly lit room.  I admired my work and reflected on how simple the task was, before dimming the lights to the lowest setting and igniting two tea light candles.

The three nights of Thirty-five

A few things had made it obvious to me that it was October.  On my nightly walk home from work through town, the air had recently become fragrant with the chimney smoke coughed up by coal fires which were being lit ever since the rain and wind had adopted a brisk autumnal chill.  Rusted leaves scampered down desolate streets, their movement making a sound that put me in mind of kitten claws on a wooden floor.  Supermarkets were displaying their seasonal offers of Halloween costumes and Christmas selection boxes side by side, bringing back to life the ancient dispute between Paganism and Christianity.  On my smartphone, the calendar application had been reading October for more than a week.

Although October is the month where I not only age day by day and week by week, but also by an entire year, it has always been one of my favourite pages on the Gregorian calendar.  In the days when I was growing up, it would usually be every other October when we would go away on a family holiday.  The school term would end around the week of my birthday and the five of us went to Butlins, or on the bus to Blackpool, or on three occasions, to Walt Disney World in Florida.  It was on the third of those trips, in October of 1998, when I turned fifteen and fell in love with a girl from Tallahassee over a weekend in the hotel swimming pool.  She was petite and blonde, and her skin was the tone of a freshly varnished bookcase.  We played Marco Polo late into the nightand her inability to tag me gradually convinced me that she had at the very least developed a sympathy for me, and quite possibly held romantic intentions.  It wouldn’t occur to me until a few years after the fact that she was simply terrible at water sports and was struggling to identify the Scottish accent.

On Sunday morning the Tallahassee girl and her father were checking out of the hotel, and our family was scheduled to visit the Magic Kingdom.  As at age thirty-five, my ability to talk to girls when fifteen-years-old was comparable to this particular girl’s Marco Polo strategy, and I left the hotel swimming pool bound for Disney without being able to make her it.  I felt heartbroken, and my parents realised that they could never take us on an extended family holiday again due to the threat that I would ruin it with puberty and emotions.  We traipsed around the Magic Kingdom that afternoon, with my eyes memorising the pure white laces of my trainers, and It’s a Small World gnawing away at my soul.

The week of the thirty-fifth day marking my birth contrasted greatly to the week of my fifteenth birthday in 1998.  Whereas that week was spent visiting theme parks in the baking Florida sun with my mother making sure that my siblings and I were wearing an appropriate level of sunscreen at all times, the week I turned thirty-five was a challenging one for footwear.  The rain which had been falling in an almost constant cycle since the end of August had left puddles the size of moon craters by the sides of the road, and Oban even made the national news due to the severe flooding parts of the town was suffering.

There were reports of shoes struggling to cope with the deluge, and in the office socks lined the storage heaters in the way patients sit around a doctors reception, waiting for the prognosis on whether or not they’re going to make it.  Avoiding the tidal waves which would erupt over the pavement, at least four feet into the air, every time a vehicle was driven through the puddles was an arduous task, and one which demanded a great amount of skill and judgment.  A quick calculation was required to measure the speed and size of the oncoming traffic against my own walking manner, in order to decide whether I could step across the length of the moon crater before the next car would drive through the body of water and leave me drenched.  In what was an unlikely turn of events, and surely my finest triumph in months, my socks were left completely dry.

The flooding was a pain in the neck for many, but an incident in the shower caused me to suffer my own neck pain.  As I was raising my left arm overhead to wash away the ‘Lynx Black’ Frozen Pear and Cedarwood Scent body wash from under my arm, I had a simultaneous need to cough, and those two actions together seemed to strain a muscle in the back of my neck.  It hurt tremendously, although I was not sure if the greater injury was to my body or my pride.  As the day progressed and every turn of my head brought a sharp reminder of my shame, I found myself questioning if this was something a person’s body does as it ages.  Are everyday chores like showering or polishing the dado rail or recycling empty milk bottles going to bring with it the added risk of doing myself physical harm now that I am 35?

In an effort to reclaim a feeling of my fading youth on the day before my birthday, I wore a striking red shirt.  A combination of confidence and anxiety washed over me as I left the flat that morning and the thought occurred to me that I haven’t seen many men wearing a dress shirt the colour of a bashful cherry tomato.  Certainly, if any men are sporting such bright and bold fashion they aren’t approaching forty, and I wondered if this was my equivalent of buying a motorcycle or going skydiving.

The shirt attracted many comments, such as “That’s a very red shirt,” and “You’re looking very red today.”  I admired their observation, though naturally, they couldn’t have known that I wasn’t wearing the shirt as some extravagant statement of fashion or a grand announcement of my mood.  It had been several months since I last wore the bright red garment, and I only wear it so infrequently because I am scared to wash it.  To be exact, I am worried about what will happen to the rest of my laundry if I introduce a red shirt to the load, and so it is left hanging in my wardrobe while all the other cool and more trendy looking shirts are taken out, in much the same way that I remain standing at the bar while the more suitably attired guys are taken and worn out by the girls.

In keeping with the belief that dabbling in new and adventurous experiences would restore some form of youth, I decided that my birthday meal out with my family would be eaten at BAAB Meze & Grill following a few positive reviews from friends.  Their dishes are all eastern Mediterranean recipes which are served in a manner that encourages sharing and bonding, which is a departure from our standard Saturday night in Wetherspoons where my father and brother will inevitably become involved in a debate about politics and my interest will rapidly diminish, until I am casting glances around the bar, dreaming up scenarios in which I humiliate myself by talking to women.

Although our waiter carefully described the idea behind the menu and the various foods on offer, our inexperience in this culinary heritage was obvious for anyone to see.  The waiter took our order, and later in the night, it was all I could do to imagine the scene in the kitchen when he returned with his pocket notebook and tried to explain to his colleagues that the table of five had ordered two Baba ghanoush and no fewer than three other dips.  In the end, we were forced to ask for another bag of pita bread as we came to terms with our folly and made a desperate attempt to use as much of our dips as possible.

The food was terrific and plentiful – obviously – and the discussion at the table turned to the different social occasions this kind of dining would be best suited for.  A drunken rabble seemed obvious, but I remained unconvinced that it would be a good place to take a date.  Although the location is luxurious, and the nature of the experience would be a fine talking point, I couldn’t get my mind past the potential for calamity.  How well could a date really go when there are two dishes of rich, garlicky Baba ghanoush to get through?

I had been thirty-five for roughly nineteen-and-a-half hours when I went to Aulay’s for some beers with friends.  It was just like any other time I had been at the bar when younger:  the lager was quickly accompanied by whisky, I was exuberantly over-dressed, we watched Scotland lose a game of football, and we were tormented by an unknown girl.

Our crew was joined briefly by a fresh-faced Englishman who reduced the beard ratio amongst us.  His girlfriend was once a barmaid and recently became appointed a sustainability manager, and the fresh-faced Englishman insisted on buying for me my favourite minty green shot on her behalf.  I wondered whether I would manage to sustain such a level of drinking on a Thursday night, though my doubts were soon forgotten when I became distracted by the girl who was sitting at the table behind us.  She had more than a hint of mischief in her character and seemed to revel in being contrary.  She refused to believe that I was out celebrating my birthday, though my ability to perform a squat seemed to convince the contrarian of my worth, and we followed her onto the next bar.

The View is not my regular scene, on account of its predominantly young clientele and the dance music they tend to play.  The curtains were drawn across the large windows, meaning that the bar which probably has the best view in town had no view.  After some time the Arsenal supporting barman from Aulay’s arrived, and he handed me a shot of Sambuca.  Even a faint whiff of the anise-flavoured liqueur is enough to turn my stomach queasy after too many a night in my early twenties spent downing the flaming spirit, and I should have had more than the measure of reluctance I felt when given the drink.  The wisdom and experience I’ve gained over my thirty-five years should have been enough to warn me about what would happen if I took the shot, but I ignored all of that and accepted the token of celebration.  Within moments of throwing the Sambuca down my throat, I was striding towards the bathroom with a purpose I hadn’t displayed in years.  I swung the cubicle door open and was instantly Linda Blairing all over the toilet, my right arm clutching my purple Paisley pattern tie to my chest as I desperately tried to protect it.  I continued to retch and heave, and in that bleak moment, I was finally returned to my youth, as I remembered how it felt to be a fifteen-year-old boy in the Magic Kingdom.