A night when 2016 wasn’t so wretched

I can’t wait for 2016 to be over.  Not so much because this has been a year punctuated by a series of terrible events and tragic celebrity deaths, but because I’m tired of hearing those occurrences blamed on some quirk of the Gregorian calendar meaning that they happened in the same period of twelve months.

How inconsiderate of the fine work done by Pope Gregory XIII in creating this calendar which works in harmony with the earth’s equinoxes to ensure that our years are precisely 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds long in order to regulate the celebration of Easter.  He couldn’t have known about Brexit in 1582.  It is wrong to hold Gregory’s work responsible for Trump, Bowie and Prince.

Besides, 2016 hasn’t been the worst year in history as a cursory glance at social media in the wake of another twist of fate might have you believe.  At least, unlike those who suffered back in the days of the plague or outright global warfare, we have 140 characters with which to express our horror.  Did they even know they were suffering in 1665 without Twitter to confirm it?

Not everything about this year can even be qualified as being terrible.  My family has its health and a new addition, I met some great new people, Celtic pulled off a coup by hiring Brendan Rodgers as their new manager and for the first time in my life I was afforded the opportunity of becoming a season ticket holder at Celtic Park.  The latter meaning a midweek trip to Glasgow during the festive period to watch Ross County become the latest team to be swept aside in a remarkable season of domestic dominance.

Celtic ended 2016 without defeat in 22 Scottish fixtures at Celtic Park, extending a run of 23 games unbeaten under Brendan Rodgers.  Regardless of whose calendar you’re using that is an impressive sequence.

This hinterland between Christmas and Hogmanay where nobody’s really sure what day it is, lost in the haze of another night at the bar and another dip into the irresistible tin of Celebrations, is ideal for a trip to the football.  There is only so much televised football a person can take – no matter how much Sky try and tell you that Watford vs Crystal Palace is an unmissable festive treat – and nothing beats going to see your team live.  Ross County on the 28th of December is a game I was looking forward to from the moment the fixtures were published.

Not even a 13 minute delay at Garelochhead – as traditional for ScotRail these days as an overcooked mince pie – could dampen my enthusiasm, even if it meant my supply of beers would be dry by Dumbarton.  A simple readjustment of my calculations, much like Pope Gregory made, would still have me out in the West End for craft beers with plenty of time to get back for the train to Dalmarnock.

The platform at Central Station was bustling with green and white scarves, while the Celtic Way’s luminous Christmas decorations lit the route for thousands of fans towards the stadium.  This was an impressive turnout for a game sandwiched between the holidays – Celtic’s eighth of nine in December, no less.  There was little evidence of fatigue on or off the pitch.

Empty seats around the ground were almost as rare as Ross County opportunities in this game, although there were some and the visitors did start brightly.  They should perhaps have scored in the opening minutes of the match, but really this wasn’t much less than another routine Celtic win.  The game, and Ross County’s resistance, was ended in the final seven minutes of the first-half by two long range strikes from Erik Sviatchenko – whose name The Green Brigade commendably managed to fit into a song – and the ever impressive Stuart Armstrong.  His performances are fast matching the quality of his hair.

Almost more competitive than the football was the lengthy queue for the half-time pie and the remarkable resistance the pastry showed to being separated from the foil container.  Behind me in the line was a family of visitors from the United States discussing the performance of Last Christmas during the first-half and whether stuffed crust pizza would be available at the kiosk.  I suspect they were over-estimating the cuisine on offer at Celtic Park.  They debated whether a Scotch pie would be worth getting and what might be in a Scotch pie.  I thought about giving them assistance but quickly decided that it may be too complicated to explain and that they probably wouldn’t understand.  I don’t even understand.  Sometimes it’s better left not knowing.

The second-half felt like a procession and more of an exercise in trying to find ways to stay warm, as a winter breeze whipped around the stadium.  I questioned my tactic of wearing a denim jacket, which seemed to only grasp the cold air and clutch it close to me like Craig Gordon does a cross ball.

As foolhardy a decision as that turned out to be it couldn’t ruin my night, and probably shouldn’t add weight to the cynical view that 2016 has been an awful year.  Pope Gregory XIII’s reputation deserves to remain intact and the Gregorian calendar continues to serve its purpose.  Unless Celtic lose on Saturday and Brendan Rodgers resigns.


Final scores:
2016 1-1 JJ
Celtic 2-0 Ross County



The day I couldn’t stay awake (aka Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh)

I have previously noted on this blog how I have recently turned 33, and I have frequently written of my ill-formed habit of travelling on early morning trains with the previous night’s alcohol soaked activities weighing heavily on my body.  Those two variables aligned can very quickly lead to an outcome similar to that of a retired train – ie. it goes off the rails.

The official journey time on the 8.57 Oban to Glasgow is a little over three hours, but it feels a whole lot longer when you’ve been in Aulay’s until closing time the night before.  I feel I owe a multitude of my next day woes to that bar.  That’s generally alright, though, with 8.57 typically being considered by reasonable human beings to not be an appropriate time to start drinking beer, so there’s little option but to sleep off that hangover.

Train sleeping is a very difficult act to pull off for any decent amount of time, however.  It is not an environment that is conducive to rest and relaxation; the rattling and rolling is not something I am used to in my own bed.  And the need to contort your body into all manner of shapes and positions to get some semblance of comfort in that garishly patterned seat is rarely worthwhile when you are invariably jolted from your slumber by something you will never be able to identify and you awaken without even the vaguest awareness of where you might be.

So my journey into Glasgow was punctuated with brief dalliances with sleep and I arrived feeling no better or worse than I had when I started out however many hours earlier, which I feel has to go down as a victory.

The Auctioneers was the highest bidder in my search to find a bar near to Queen Street station to watch the Celtic game and whilst I can’t state it with any scientific distinction, it seems true to me that the best cure for a hangover is a beer.  Or watching a dramatic 4-3 Celtic win in a pub rammed full with Rangers fans.  Both had a dramatic effect on my spirits and I was ready to tackle the significantly less daunting train ride to Edinburgh.

I thought eating some soup and a sandwich on the way would help with my situation.  Maybe it did.  Perhaps it was the remarkable warmth on the train – which is unusual for ScotRail – that did it.  But from around Falkirk High onwards I was overwhelmed with a sudden onslaught of fatigue.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I was enjoying some fantastically lucid dreaming.  Before I knew it I could see Murrayfield Stadium and I knew we were approaching Haymarket; this journey had been effortless.  In little more than two minutes we would be in Edinburgh Waverley and I could begin pre-gig drinking.  Then I fell asleep.  Into so deep a slumber that it required a conscientious passenger to tap me on the shoulder as the train filled with passengers on the next service.  Who knows where I might have ended up if I hadn’t woken and disembarked before the train left.

I was fucked.  There’s no other way of saying it.  My eyes were heavy, my head was fuzzy and my body had all the willingness of a woman on the receiving end of one of my chat-up lines.  All I wanted to do was check into my hostel and go to bed, but that seemed about as socially acceptable at 3.45pm as drinking beer on the train at 8.57am would have been.  So I ventured out into the cold, breathless streets of Edinburgh in search of a bar to watch the scores come in and where I could tear up the coupon I had placed on in Glasgow.  But the capital is very much a rugby city, and of nigh upon a dozen bars I tried from the Cowgate to the Grassmarket each and every one of them was showing England vs Australia rather than Soccer Saturday.  Defeated and tired I retreated to the safe Solitude of Brewdog and struggled to keep myself awake over a pint of Santa Paws.

Ordinarily I adore the gothic magnificence of Edinburgh, but it’s fair to say that it wore thin on this visit.  The Scott Monument was cloaked by giant flashing ferris wheels and Princes Street was slower than my speed of thought, which was severley lacking at this point.  Walking out to Usher Hall on Lothian Road felt like an achingly arduous funeral procession under the haze of a million Christmas lights, only made worse by my foolish decision to buy a hot cider at the Christmas market.  This wasn’t how my Saturday was meant to be.

Shakespeare’s set the world a little closer to its natural axis, even if my amusement was largely gained from watching the growing frustration of one particular punter who wasn’t getting served at the very end of the bar,  The misfortune of others really shouldn’t bring a person any kind of joy, but when you’re sitting comfortably on your bar stool with a near-full pint in hand observing the puffing of cheeks and the petted lip it is difficult not to feel a glow of satisfaction radiate within.  At this point I felt vaguely human.

If there’s one gig that could enliven a person it is Frank Turner.  He embodies positive energy and his shows always produce a happy, sing along environment – even if these days it seems slightly more forced than it used to.  It is near impossible to leave a Frank Turner show and not feel better than you did two hours previously, but boy I gave it a darn good try.  I could barely raise my arms to clap on command or dance that terrible dance I dance.  I was tired, and as much as I wanted to hear the next song all I could think of was the gig being over and me getting some actual sleep in a proper bed.  It’s no way to live, but it was the only way to live.

Of course, as I write this on the train home – six hours earlier than intended – I’m wide awake and feel like I could probably drink until closing time again.