The night I listened to The Joshua Tree

Maybe I am doing my Friday nights wrong when my abiding memory of the occasion is the walk home.  By any reasonable standard it was a pretty unremarkable walk home, too.  To even describe it as a walk is to give it more physical credence than it deserves, for it was more of an amble, really.  Like nearly every other Friday in history I ambled home from the pub alone, only this time I didn’t stumble into any bushes and there was no roadside retching.  It was unremarkable; so unremarkable that I am compelled to write 900 words about it.

Perhaps the only noteworthy event of this amble was my decision upon leaving Markies to forego my usual shuffled Spotify soundtrack in favour of a full play of The Joshua Tree, being that U2 will be performing the album in Dublin in five weeks.  Ordinarily the distance between the bar and my home would allow for me to hear the first four tracks (ie. ‘the hits’) of the 1987 classic, but last night I somehow heard The Joshua Tree one and a half times before I crashed through my front door, finishing up – ironically enough – on Running To Stand Still.

It’s difficult for me to place exactly how I managed to listen to approximately 75 minutes of a 50 minute record, let alone consider the geography of the feat.  There was a cooling summer breeze whispering in from the sea which tempered some of the humidity that lingered in the air as I plugged my music into my ear holes and began my odyssey with Where The Streets Have No Name – the song which, for me anyway, is the definitive U2 sound.  The opening 107 seconds of this track are my favourite of any U2 song, possibly any song.  It’s possible that I repeated this at least once, because I was barely onto I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For when I reached the station and procrastinated over whether or not I wanted to take a taxi home.  I saw what I was looking for at the rank, but I decided against another failed flirtation (it wouldn’t have been fair/fare) and continued homeward.

I found my mind begin to wander towards Croke Park as I snaked across Argyll Square.  I imagined the atmosphere as those loveable lads took to the stage in their home city to play their most loved – even if not their best – album.  Then I began to try to pre-plan my toilet/bar breaks.  This is an important part of the tactical consideration of attending a gig.  Usually a comfort stop between the support act and the headliner will suffice, but in a stadium gig in summer all bets are off.  I envisaged almost the entire stadium emptying in search of a portaloo after the four ‘hits’ at the start of the album, but I’m fond of the second half of The Joshua Tree and would be loathed to miss some of that rarely played material.

My playing of the album obviously mimicked my outlandishly drunken footsteps because I must have backtracked from Red Hill Mining Town to be listening to With Or Without you again as I journeyed up Combie Street towards the Parish church, which if you are familiar with Oban you will know as the Coriander church, and if you don’t know Oban:  it is the Coriander church.  

I love With Or Without You.  Chunks had just played it in Markies and it is a song which is very much present in my mind.  I am not ashamed to acknowledge that I was singing along quite emphatically with Bono as I approached the church (we had both reached the part just before the pained “oh oh oh ooooh” refrain) when I became very aware of a young female walking quite quickly to overtake me and power ahead.

I pulled out my earphones and called out after her.  “My singing can’t have been that bad!”

She turned to look at me, the street light acting as a spotlight on her.  “It was terrible,” she said, confirming what I know deep down to be true.  “But I love that you’re happy and don’t give a fuck.”

She carried on up the road and I walked through the church graveyard, returning this woefully, wonderfully melancholic song to my ears.

The walk up the hill from Millpark is the most difficult and longest part of the amble home.  It is where the majority of my backwards steps will occur and where most of those awkward to negotiate bushes lurk on the periphery of the pavement.  You could say that it is more than a One Tree Hill, but last night I sauntered up it unscathed, if a little slowly, and got most of my U2 listening in.

It was on the hill that the rain started.  Light to begin with, almost refreshingly light, until it began to tumble heavy and warm.  I was on Bullet The Blue Sky when I neared the top of the hill, chanting along with Hewson:  “One hundred!  Two hundred!”  The rain was seething from the dark sky in tandem with The Edge’s guitar riff and my grey suit had turned the colour of defeat.  I stormed through the front door and relieved myself of my jacket and rain slicked tie and collapsed onto my bed, earphones discarded in a drunken recognition that I wouldn’t need them as I sleep.

And then I woke up this morning, still half fucked from the beer and the Jack Daniels and the God forsaken Venom – such is the wonder of the internal body clock – and although I still hadn’t found what I was looking for I had that one memory of an especially long walk home listening to The Joshua Tree, and that was good enough for me.


The morning I encountered a humble bee


It may not have been 5am in the cold water of the Inner Hebrides, but in the Jack Daniels haze of my mind it could well have been any time and any place.  As I stepped outside and heard the soothing sound of birdsong – I wasn’t sure if they were singing for the joy of it or out of some mocking of my bedraggled hungover state, but it didn’t seem to matter – and felt the gentle tickling of a cool June breeze behind my ear, I felt alive.  Which was significantly better than I was feeling hours earlier.

Like any other Saturday morning my eyes creaked open to meet the realisation that not only was I horifically hungover again, but I had arrived home in the small hours of the morning and fallen asleep whilst browsing Netflix, thereby ‘watching’ half a season of How I Met Your Mother.  I sat up in my bed and began to consider why my socks were strewn at opposite ends of my room, when I concluded that there has to be more to a Saturday than this weary routine.  The football season has reached an end until it begins all over again in August, and I needed something to occupy myself in my flailing jelly like state, so I decided that I would take a refreshing walk.

With my earphones in (the first track to shuffle on my Spotify playlist was Highway to Hell by AC/DC, though as the day would progress it would be Thunderstruck that would seem more appropriate) and a satchel sinking across my shoulder – it would only make sense to feed two birds with one scone and do some shopping while I was out – I embarked on my journey to reacquaint myself with the world around me.

It was a different experience using walking as a means to observe the things I usually ignore when I am sober:  greenery, wildlife, people.  Typically I walk with the purpose of getting somewhere I need to be, but with nowhere to go today I revelled in the freedom of walking without aim – like the terribly inaccurate marksman.

The sky was a noticeably strange patchwork of colours.  In parts the sun was making a bold attempt to break through the clouds and illuminate all the hidden treasures along my walk.  Much of the sky gave the appearance of a canopy that had been smeared with crushed blueberries before a crude and unsuccessful attempt to clean it up with a dirty dish towel had been made.  Elsewhere it vaguely resembled a measure of gin which had been mixed with cloudy lemonade, though in my hungover state I refused to acknowledge that image or even contemplate why anyone would mix gin with cloudy lemonade.

It wouldn’t be long before those swollen grey clouds declared their triumph over the sun’s vain efforts with the release of a series of trickling raindrops, washing over my face like nature’s shower.  A battalion of umbrellas went up around me – my worst nightmare – and I immediately lamented my poor choice of jacket.  Still, I stood and watched the ships in the harbour as the rain become more incessant, sprinkling the silver sea with shards of yet more silver.  If I felt alive earlier then this was the moment that I knew I was alive, with the cool rain on my face and my lungs inhaling and exhaling as they do for any person who is living.

Once I had remembered that I was alive I continued my journey.  I frequently stopped by the roadside to admire the luminous daffodils which were nestled amongst discarded cans of cider; truly nature’s wonder!

Further along I came across a clutch of beautiful roses which had evidently proved as enticing to a number of bees as it had me.  I pulled out my earphones and listened to them buzz around these sweet pink flowers.  It was a sight to behold, and one I wanted to capture.  So I withdrew my phone from my pocket, leaned a little closer to the buoyant winged creatures and took a photograph.

For a moment my hangover had vanished from my mind.  I positioned my phone to take another picture.  Then I vomited all over the flowers in a vicious release of last night’s excesses.  It was then, for the first time in my life, that I was truly and intimately at one with nature.