I woke up one morning during the week, my eyes bleary from another night of mostly restless tossing and turning in bed and my mind not immediately certain whether it was morning or night or some mad hour in the middle of the two, and I had the thought that on that day I should wear a t-shirt for the first time in a while.
I don’t often wear t-shirts, despite having at least a third of a shelf in the bedroom wardrobe, which was surely built for a 19th century giant, devoted to neatly folded plain black and white and navy variations of the garment. Although I am not anti t-shirt per se, I have long considered them to be the article of clothing of choice for men who don’t know how to dress properly. The type of man whose reluctance to make any kind of effort when it comes to fashion leads me to speculate that they probably don’t even have a separate sock drawer. I sometimes ask myself when I am bored and alone why I have so many t-shirts when I don’t wear them, and I think it’s because I have it in my mind that one day I might need to wear a black t-shirt. A circumstance might arise where the only way of dealing with it is by throwing a cotton navy t-shirt over my head and arms. In the same way that when I look right into the back of one of my kitchen cupboards I will find an unopened bottle of Rapeseed oil and the middle shelf will be full of tarragon, turmeric and thyme, because you never know when you might be cooking on a night and need a pinch of bouquet garni. It is true that there is often too much thyme, yet there is never as much time as you would like.
Most of my better decisions are made in the shower. There is a certain clarity of mind when all you have to think about is making sure you don’t accidentally put Nivea facial wash into your eyeballs, and it was this ability to think clearly which enabled me to agree with my earlier sleep-deprived realisation that it would be a good idea to change into a black t-shirt if I was intending to go for a haircut after work. As disagreeable as the notion of being seen in a t-shirt is, it is preferable to the prospect of spoiling a perfectly good dress shirt with the ferociously irritating itch created by dozens upon dozens of stray hairs which gather under the collar in the way sun seeking drinkers loiter around the tables in a crowded beer garden.
I finished work early on Wednesday afternoon in preparation for that evening’s James concert and I went home and changed into a black t-shirt before walking along to the barber’s. Ahead of me in the queue was a young mother and her two boys, only one of whom was getting his hair cut, and the wait was less arduous than when I normally visit on a Saturday morning. The family seemed quite unremarkable, though after the child had his hair styled and they all left the barber was adamant that he doesn’t want to become “the darling of the tinkers.” I found this to be a colourful turn of phrase and it featured often in my thoughts for the rest of the day.
As the hairs began to tumble from my head with an urgency I usually only ever see when I try to make a joke in front of a girl, the barber continued his tirade against the tinks and restated his desire to not become their darling. I had been silent for what was probably close to two or three minutes and there came a point where I felt captive to respond due to the fact that I was held in a chair with a live blade to my scalp and with my arms imprisoned under the tightly wrapped cloak which was tucked under the collar of my t-shirt, despite it never doing very much to prevent the pesky little hairs from reaching my neck. I threw out the occasional “aye” to compensate for my head’s inability to nod and to create the impression that I was interested in the views which were cascading in greater numbers than the hairs littering the floor around me. I could imagine the headlines in the following weeks Oban Times if didn’t make some effort to sympathise with the trials of a barber: Fringe killer; Cut off in his prime; A parting of the ways; A lot more than a little off the top; Short back and inside; Comb-OVER; Brutal barber can’t brush off dispute; Hell razor; Balding man murdered by the darling of the tinks.
Later in the afternoon, having changed into a proper shirt after deciding that rather than having a hair cut I would get them all trimmed, I indulged in some pre-gig libations in the May sunshine. The town was a heaving mass of middle-aged men and women who were wearing mildly unflattering daisy t-shirts and the bars were throbbing. After some time I wandered to Wetherspoons for what some might overly kindly describe as food, where I observed the fury of a man who claimed to have been waiting for twenty minutes for his wife’s order of a cup of tea only to be served with an empty cup and the advice that he should go inside and pour the tea himself. The scene was amusing from a distance and the customer’s ire portrayed a man who was a couple of leaves short of a full box of loose leaf tea.
In the Corran Halls James played some good rock and roll music which was enjoyed by a capacity crowd, despite the bar being closed shortly after nine o’clock. The band have been playing smaller venues in towns which are rarely visited by large or even any kind of musical acts in preparation for the summer festivals and the release of their forthcoming album Living In Extraordinary Times. While much of the audience were probably waiting for the big hits like Sometimes and Laid that came in the encore, the entire set was engaging and met with great enthusiasm, and Tim Booth’s dancing was inspiring for my own moves.
The remainder of the week burned increasingly brightly and by Thursday evening I decided that I would pour myself into a seat at a beer garden. On these sunny days there is little more joy in life than unwinding outside a bar by the sea with a refreshing cold Innis & Gunn, looking out towards the bay as the sun explodes off the sea like a thousand shooting stars and you feel the cool caress of an evening breeze against your face, quickly followed by the waft of a nearby cloud of Golden Virginia.
I knew that one pint of beer would not sate and so before leaving the flat I took what seemed at the time to be a sensible decision and I chopped the vegetables for the green bean, ginger and garlic stir fry I was intending on cooking for dinner, because cutting the ends off green beans is an arduous enough task without drunkenly cutting the end off my finger. I left the prepared vegetables on a plate next to the wok on the cooker so that drunk me would be reminded of my intended method of cooking and I looked forward to the cuisine all night. I returned home quite a bit later than anticipated at 11pm, and while the actual act of stir frying my meal went flawlessly I would quickly discover that intoxication has a detrimental effect on soy sauce control and my plate of green beans was swimming in the stuff. This had the unfortunate consequence of ruining my navy blue tie and I reached the conclusion that in the future I would be better off cooking whilst sober.
The balmy conditions on Friday night led to me dispensing of the usual suit jacket and I instead dressed down in favour of a waistcoat, which was replete with a burgundy pocket square. Most of the people I talked to refused to accept this as “dressing down” and instead were asking what the occasion was for me being so dressed up, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was being casual. One man noticed the scent of Joop clinging to the skin of my neck and it seemed to evoke a memory of the first time he smelled the aftershave on the 13th of July 1998. I was happy for his fond recollection but felt sad for myself that the ladies do not pay me such attention. I later tried to engage a dogsitter in conversation, but when she revealed that the small dog – who was perched upon a bar stool next to her – is eleven years old my ability to talk seized up and I became paralysed by the fear of remarking that she would probably be hopeful that this elderly canine would not die on her watch, I couldn’t trust myself and left the bar soon thereafter with my forehead pink from the sun and my face red with the shame I had narrowly avoided. And even after all of that, not one person had commented on my neat hair cut.