The week I couldn’t sleep (aka The day Celtic won the cup)

While most people seem to judge their lives in terms of achievements, career progression, meeting the right person and raising a family, making important contributions to the community, bringing joy to the lives of others, being a good dancer, having an involvement in a major scientific breakthrough that will benefit generations of people, creating a beautiful piece of art, earning the respect of their peers or donating an organ my only wish – the only thing I want to achieve in my life right now – is to be able to sleep for one night.  Or to at least remember to replace the Nivea Deep Cleaning Face Wash before I get into my shower in the morning and realise that it is empty.  Whichever comes first.

This paradox of my morning routine is in stark contrast to the scene in the cupboard under the kitchen sink, where as well as there being a full bottle of washing up liquid there are also two other bottles which each have a small amount of luminous liquid loitering around the bottom, like a drunk who refuses to leave at closing time.  These bottles exist as a constant reminder that despite there being the joy of preparing a freshly cooked meal from scratch and sitting down to enjoy eating it, there will always be the mess to clean up afterwards.  It is a lot like life in a nutshell – almost literally, although those seem easier to wash away than my signature pasta sauce.

In the past week or so my body has forgotten how to sleep.  Or at least how to stay asleep for longer than twenty-six minutes.  I am not sure when this happened, but I was most aware of it on Monday night when, despite going to bed feeling extremely drained and tired, I lay awake for the entire night until my alarm sounded at 6.10am.  I could feel my heart racing as though I had just finished a marathon – or, because I am not sure how it feels to have run a marathon, taken a brisk walk to the pub.  My mind would not settle and my thoughts raced through an entire catalogue of events in my life.  I became increasingly restless amongst my white 200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and it was the most physical activity my bed has seen in some considerable time.

As the week progressed and I was functioning on night after night of broken sleep I tried different methods to see if I could find something that would help me slumber.  I played music, but this only resulted in me wanting to queue songs I wanted to listen to and so I found a six-hour playlist titled ‘Night Rain’ which I thought would be relaxing, though it only had the effect of convincing me that I needed the toilet and at one point I laid staring at the ceiling wondering if I should erect a canopy over my bed.  On Tuesday I believed that whisky would be a good idea and that it would solve all of my troubles, because it usually does, but I only ended up awake and drunk.  On other nights I tried positioning myself on the other side of the bed; pretending that I didn’t really want to sleep at all, in the hope that it would trick my mind; counting sheep – although they wouldn’t stay still and they all looked the same and this led to me becoming frustrated; laying on top of the sheets, but it seems this only works in the Travelodge and when I am fully clothed.

Despite a miserable week and a lack of sleep I was looking forward to Saturday and the Scottish Cup final, which turned out to be a day where Celtic achieved something which had never been done before in Scottish football when they won a second consecutive domestic treble.  Through the week I had been considering how my memories of cup final Saturdays are similar to the way that everybody remembers the days from their youth, when everything seemed better and it was almost always sunny.  I have extremely vague memories of seeing the 1988 cup final, though I certainly remember the Joe Miller final the following year and watching it on a portable television in the back garden with the sun blazing.  On the morning of the 1995 final I walked up to my favourite teacher at the St. Columbas primary school sale of work and told him that Celtic would win, and he was sceptical because he was older and Celtic hadn’t won a trophy for six years.  I was reminded of this exchange when I considered how much easier it was to attend the sale of work and eat homemade cake and buy second-hand books than it is as an adult dealing with the hangover from Friday night and having to get yourself to the pub in time for kick-off.  After Celtic beat Airdrie in ’95 I went out into the garden in my home kit and kicked a football around and pretended that I was Pierre van Hooijdonk.  Following the game on Saturday I couldn’t even spell Pierre van Hooijdonk.

Now that I am an adult with my own place I decided that I would try to initiate something of a cup final tradition when I invited my father and brother around for coffee and beer and a Scotch pie before we went to watch the game.  In an effort to try and replicate my experience of eating a pie at Celtic Park I hid the bottle of brown sauce earlier in the day so that I would be forced to conduct an increasingly desperate search for it as my pie cooled, but my flat is very small and it didn’t take me very long at all to deduce that I had placed it in the bathtub.

We walked along to Aulay’s some time after two o’clock and the sun was exactly as it was in each of those childhood memories.  It was a beautiful day.  As we approached the bar there were rumours circulating that another pub in town had been charging customers £12 to watch the Royal Wedding with a slice of cake and a glass of Prosecco and although, like all bar stories, it sounded too ridiculous to be true, it occupied our minds and distracted from any cup final nerves.  With kick-off approaching the pub began to fill with more Motherwell fans than I have ever seen in my life, although they looked distinctly like some of the people who occupy the same spot on Old Firm games.  One older man who had ushered himself next to me became increasingly agitated as Celtic rushed into a two-goal lead and complained bitterly each time Motherwell were penalised for a foul.  He left at half-time.

After the game finished and the pub became sparse and the post-match celebrations were diluted by a switch to the FA Cup final, a very pleasant Danish couple appeared, as if by magic, and bought us a pint of beer because “we’re on holiday.”  I was struck by this generosity and probably made them immediately regret it when I indulged them in conversation for half an hour.  His grey stubble looked like sand on a moonlit beach and his wife wore glasses which were comically large, but they seemed a nice pairing nonetheless.  I learned that they were in Scotland for some conference in Edinburgh next Friday and they left before I could get any more information.

The night wore on like a crumpled and creased shirt, and by the time we returned to Aulay’s after eating dinner the beer was weighing heavily in my stomach like the thoughts in my mind which had been keeping me awake all week.  I switched to Jack Daniels and coke and then Jack Daniels Honey and lemonade, which although – or probably because – it is essentially diabetes in a glass, gave me a second wind.  Despite this I was preparing to blow the final whistle on the day around 11pm and was feeling a lot like the football must have felt when Callum McGregor hammered it into the top corner around eight hours earlier.  However, I learned that a friend who I was quite eager to see was also out in the bars and it was no earlier than 2am when I finally returned home, although I had not connected with her as I was hoping.  I drank another beer on the couch and listened to the Whiskeytown album Faithless Street before I went to bed and fell asleep straight away.  It is too early to say if I have achieved what I want from life and my insomnia has been cured, but when I woke up this morning with my stomach churning and my head banging like a Taylor Hawkins solo I at least had another sunny memory, blurred as it was, to cling to.


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