The last few days of the year

The week between Christmas and New Year is a festive hinterland where nobody ever truly knows what the date is or even which day it is.  The days blend into one another; one food coma followed by another hangover and eventually it feels like all your days are stuck together like thin, sweaty slices of prosciutto.  You go to bed at 4am and then wake up and suddenly another day is sort of just happening and you’re sitting in the cold rain at Celtic Park watching a 0-0 draw with Rangers.

When I stepped onto the Glasgow bound train at what seemed like the end of last week it was preceded by eight days of festive imbibement and yet another night which had spilled over into the early hours of the following day.  There had been a winter-like dusting of snow overnight and, after many weeks of resistance, my body had finally succumbed to the seasonal bout of man flu.  It wouldn’t be Hogmanay without my lungs making their annual attempt to perform The Great Escape through the cunning ploy of being coughed up out of my mouth.  

I stood at my reserved table and sat a carrier bag of beer on the seat as I noted the presence of a young woman in close proximity.  I pulled the black gloves from my hands, one at a time (it is impossible to do both hands at once,) the left-hand proving to be a little more resistant at giving up woolen warmth than the right.  I unwrapped the scarf from around my neck – which provided some real respiratory relief as I was so conscious of the cold and of my cold that it had been clinging to me like a python – and extracted the earphones from my backpack before lifting it onto the overhead storage.  Next I unbuttoned my long black overcoat and laid it next to the carrier bag of beer.  I paused for a moment as I tried to get a feel for whether ScotRail had taken the rare step of putting heating on their service on a cold winter day.  They had, and so I continued the elaborate performance of stripping myself of winter layers by lifting my grey acrylic wool jumper up over my head in as methodical a manner as possible so as not to ruffle my comb over.  I took my seat and glanced over at the woman sitting at the opposite table, curious as to whether she had taken notice of my show.  Her eyes were fixated on her phone.

As the train began to depart the station I reached into my carrier bag of beer and snacks.  I glanced around the carriage and observed my fellow passengers, many of them sipping from fancy looking novelty festive coffee cups.  Meanwhile I drank from a screw top bottle of Budweiser and struggled for an inordinate amount of time to tear open a Tesco meal deal sandwich.

At the Travelodge check-in desk I went through my usual routine of informing the receptionist that I had “a room for the night for one person” – because it is always for one person – and she asked me to recite the first line of my address.  I did this and it seemed to spark some kind of memory for her and she insisted that my face seemed familiar to her.  

“I’m not sure whether to take that as a compliment or an insult,” I said in some terrible attempt at flirtatious banter.  She grimaced in an awkward manner and I compounded matters by informing her that I would “probably take it as something in the middle.”  She asked me if I had stayed at the Travelodge before and I acknowledged that I had done so some months previous, at which point I recognised the receptionist as being the equestrian studies girl of my September Ryan Adams tour.  I accepted my room key from her and left for the lift, frustrated that I had thought it a good idea to flirt at the reception desk.

Later in the evening I decided that I would venture along the road to eat dinner at the Italian restaurant I had walked out of earlier in the year after mistaking it for the Malaysian Chinese place next door (“The weekend where many small things happened”)  I walked inside and waited to be seated by the waitress, though I could immediately see that this would not be a problem, as there wasn’t another diner in the establishment.  Whereas all of my dining experiences tend to be solo, this would be an actual literal solo dining experience.

The waitress greeted me and advised that, unsurprisingly, I could take my pick of seating.  I elected to sit at the table by the window so that I could enjoy my meal with the view of a Glasgow street after a wintry snowfall:  black clumps of slush swept to the side of the pavement, discarded cigarette butts impaled on the peak of the ice.  I looked around the empty restaurant and noted that every table was adorned with a rose-red tealight candle holder complete with a flickering flame.  Every table except mine; the one table that was being used.

Having perused the menu the waitress returned to my table and I ordered a couple of courses to be complimented with a carafe of house wine.  “You know what a carafe is?”  She asked.  “Of course I do.”  I didn’t really.  “It’s half a litre of wine; about four glasses.”  “I know.  I’ll take a carafe of red wine.”

I began to contemplate how I was going to drink four glasses of wine as I waited for my food to arrive and I noticed how much louder the pop Muzak seemed without the usual background chatter of a restaurant to drown it out.  I enjoyed my dinner and was onto my fourth and final glass of wine by the time the bill was ready to be settled.  I lounged back in my chair, quite content with the evening so far, and took a long, satisfied swig of the delicious red wine when All By Myself by Celine Dion played.  I couldn’t decide whether the restaurant staff were jesting me or if this was one of those weird and quirky coincidental moments you see all the time on television sitcoms.

Still burdened with man flu I thought it best to retire to the Travelodge and enjoy a quiet drink or two before getting my first early night in more than a week.  I sat on a barstool and waited for one of the hotel staff to return to the bar to serve me.  Eventually the equine studies girl arrived and I decided that I would let her know that I, too, recognised her face (The day the horse left the stable (aka Ryan Adams @ The Sage, Gateshead)  She complimented me on my impressive memory when I enquired how the equestrian studies were going and I furthered my attempt to impress her by channelling some recollection of discussing dressage with her.  She insisted that she isn’t studying to become involved in competition, she simply wants to help train horses and get them ready for competition.

“I see.  So not so much dressage as dressing…?”

The receptionist/barmaid glanced at her watch at this point.

“Unfortunately my shift is actually finished now.”

I ordered a Guinness and a Jameson from her substitute – never a good idea at the best of times – and found myself in conversation with another gentleman at the bar.  He was missing his front teeth, wasn’t wearing any shoes and had the general appearance of someone who might have been rejected from a role in Deliverance on account of looking too much like a ‘backwoods local’.  Remarkably he claimed to be the manager of Amazon’s Gourock branch and I sat talking to him until 4am, at which time it occurred to me that it was Saturday morning and I had a game of football to attend in nigh upon seven hours.

Final scores:
Celtic 0-0 Rangers
JJ 0-1 Celine Dion

 

 

The day I slept on the train

The 8.57 train leaving Oban on a Saturday morning isn’t only a means of travelling to Glasgow.  Often it is my best chance of getting some sleep following a Friday night at the bar, and sometimes it is my first opportunity in the day for a cup of what is generously described on the ScotRail menu as “coffee”.

Nobody ever wants to sleep on the train.  There are potentially as many as a thousand arses each year sitting on the seat you are contemplating slumber on and I struggle enough with the prospect of sleeping with one person, let alone scores of strangers.  Then you consider the decor of the carriage and the faded purple and tired green pattern on the seats and you think that surely nobody could wish to sleep on Smurf vomit.

As soon as I finished peeling the reluctant skin from my orange I could feel my eyes become weary.  Although I am a notoriously shy peeler of oranges in public situations due to my frequent inability to remove the skin in one fluent piece, I felt a certain confidence on this occasion when I observed the small boy of maybe five or six years of age opposite me use his nimble little fingers to peel a satsuma in a single complete effort.  If he can do it there’s no reason I can’t, I thought to myself in a surge of optimism, and I reached for the orange from the bottom of my satchel.  I pierced the top of the orange with my index finger and began to loosen the skin from the juicy fruit contained within.  Things were going pretty well and the skin was coming away with ease.  I felt relaxed and was pretty sure that the five-year-old boy sitting across from me would be impressed if he cared about such matters as much as he appeared to be interested in his colouring book, in which he used blues and greens to bring scribbled life to wildlife scenes.  I couldn’t help but suspect that I was taunting me, and this only added to my determination to peel the orange whole.  Then I reached an impasse and there was nowhere left for my finger to go without starting a second string – and that one proved so hopeless that there immediately followed a third attempt at peeling the orange.  I folded the discarded pieces of skin into my empty coffee cup, hopeful that the child across the table hadn’t noticed my failure.  The fruit itself was consumed in less time than it took to free from its jumpsuit, and I was left wondering if the healthy intake of vitamin C I enjoyed from the orange was worth the charade.

My eyes became as heavy as a plump robin on a thin bare branch and I could no longer keep myself awake.  My head craned to the right, resting against the cold hard window – the worst pillow imaginable.  Even worse than at the Travelodge.  It wasn’t particularly comfortable and to make matters worse I felt certain that I was dreaming about falling asleep on the train.  I could picture the scene clearly in my mind’s eye:  a loose earphone dangling errantly from my ear, my eyes flickering like a faulty fairy light as I drift in and out of a barely sober slumber and my mouth hangs open like a snowmans, frozen in dumbfoundment.  In my dream I could see a small formation of saliva gradually dribble down my chin in the manner of a drop of rain which grows bigger as it runs down the length of the window of the train.  I immediately woke up, my hand desperately reaching towards my chin in an attempt to conceal the drool — but there was nothing there.  My brow furrowed and I scanned the faces of the commuters sitting around me, hopeful that none of them had witnessed my flailing at an imaginary dribble.  I discreetly returned the earbud to my ear, settled back in my chair and vowed that I would not allow myself to doze off again.

When I next woke up the train was nearing Glasgow Queen Street and I was feeling hungry.  After enjoying a pint of Caesar Augustus upon arriving in the city I decided to venture towards the Christmas market at St Enoch Square, where a colleague had suggested that I should try the duck fat cooked chips.  I purchased a carton and found a quiet spot to savour them.  In my hungry haste to shove as many thin pieces of potato as possible into my mouth a couple of chips fell to the cold ground, where inevitably a flock of city centre dwelling pigeons quickly arrived.  The birds cooed as they surveyed their unexpected meal of a couple of duck fat cooked chips and as I watched I was filled with the horrible realisation that I was about to become responsible for inadvertent cannibalism.

I briefly considered that maybe the pigeons would know that the chips had been fried in duck fat, either from a recognition of the scent or from an unexpected (at least from my point of view) ability to read from the sign above the stall.  But my hopes were dashed when the birds wasted no time in scoffing the tasty treats, and I was left pinching myself in some doomed attempt to waken myself from this fowl nightmare.

Final scores:
Celtic 5-1 Motherwell
JJ 0-1 Sleep