The night I stopped talking

The one man bar band – a man with a guitar who performs solo but has all the high-tech equipment to replicate the sound of a full band – was deep into his version of Purple Rain when we were served our drinks.  At the crowded left-hand side of the bar, closest to where the mosh pit would be if there wasn’t a small cluster of tables reserved to be kept empty to allow the musician to ply his craft or if this wasn’t a song about heartbreak played in an intimate bar setting, a bus party of older tourists bundled awkwardly in the door, looking bemused and borderline terrified.

It was Friday night and the drinks were agreeable.  Switzerland had just won their second game of the World Cup and I considered how the Swiss girl with the blue eyes had felt about that news having missed the match against Serbia on her flight to Amsterdam.  Under the bar lights, where everybody looks alright, I wore a navy suit and a silver tie which resembled the way the liquor bottles shine.  A woman with hair the colour of ginger ale was positioned to my right and she was luxuriously drunk; the kind of inebriation I was aspiring to reach before the end of the night.  She spoke to me, but her slurred speech played against the backing track of Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ made the words difficult to translate into coherent English.  I took my default position of politeness and nodded and agreed with whatever she was saying, hopeful that she wasn’t confiding in me her enjoyment of torturing baby iguanas by forcing them to listen to Norwegian death metal or her surprising enterprise of selling home-made crystal meth to schoolchildren.

Much to my surprise this woman, who looked to be at least four inches shorter than I am, continued to attempt to engage me in conversation.  She nestled her head onto my shoulder and inhaled as best as a very drunk person can, like a dachshund sniffing out a sausage, only in this instance it was Joop on my neck.  The woman seemed to become increasingly agitated with my responses, or lack thereof, and after some time she queried:  “garble garble garble opposite species?”

I found this to be an odd phrasing and took it as an invitation to indulge in a fairly lengthy diatribe about aliens.  If they were amongst us how would they feel about the scene before me, I pondered.  She looked me in the eye with a cold stare and I worried that I might have enthused a little too feverishly with the talk of extra terrestrial life.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”  She asked, the first phrase of the night which I fully understood.  I felt confusion as to why she would pose this question at this juncture in our vague interaction and a flash of awkwardness streaked across me like a lightning bolt.

“No,” I responded, wondering if this was a wildly rare occasion where a woman was coming onto me at a bar.

“You could easily get one,” were the words which followed from her mouth, and I felt uplifted and as though this stranger didn’t really know me at all.

“If you would stop talking,” she continued and concluded.

I was still trying to process the appropriate level of insult I should have been taking from this drunken damsel whom I didn’t particularly have much interest in to begin with when she asked me another question.  I thought I was being amusing when I held my thumb and index finger to my mouth and drew them across my lips to mimic the fastening of a zip.  This joke didn’t seem as funny to my intoxicated inquisitor and she furrowed her brow and turned her back to me.

Along the seafront in the Cellar Bar – a bar which is situated below street level – we observed a group of three girls playing pool in the corner and we recognised them as being the same trio who were in Aulay’s the previous night watching Argentina.  Despite being the most hapless of our particular posse in the pursuit of harmonious relations with women it was left to me to insist that we go forth and disgrace ourselves in their company.  My attention was drawn to the girl who had blonde hair and who was dressed in white, primarily because she was a terrible pool player and I felt I could bond with her over our mutual lack of hand-eye coordination.  I asked where she is from and when she told me that she hails from California I realised that I had no follow-up chat.  I scrambled through the recesses of my mind and the only words I could conjure were “nice oranges” and with hindsight the line sounds a little seedy.

The Californian girls didn’t linger for long and shortly we were joined by a close talking chef from Dundee who had moved to Oban that afternoon.  In conversation he positioned himself so close that it would almost be possible to smell what he cooked for dinner.  He seemed eager for company, though after some time he began to view my suit with concern and suspicion.  He noted that I dress like a lawyer and asked at least a couple of times if I was sure that I am not a lawyer.  I felt certain that I’m not and began to wonder if the chef had left Dundee due to some complex legal issue which embedded in him a deep-rooted distrust of anyone who even resembles a connection to the legal profession.  As he stalked around the table with his cue in hand I wondered what possible reason a chef would have to leave Dundee in an effort to escape the law.  Under seasoning of a sauce was the most criminal act I could think of, although assault and battering would probaby attract attention, too.

Close to twenty-four hours later it was 2am and I was sitting on the North Pier for an hour and seven minutes listening to the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street.  A cool early morning breeze came caressing from the sea and there was a stillness to everything.  Not a single soul walked by and it was the most alone I have ever felt.  As I looked out to the endless darkness on the coast I considered that maybe I should have stopped talking much sooner than I did.


The night I decided to support Switzerland in the World Cup

When the FIFA World Cup began on Thursday it offered yet another excuse in the pantheon of reasons to visit the pub, and even if the only fixture of the day had concluded three hours before I walked in to Aulay’s it felt as though it could be justified because it is a World Cup year.

With the hushed tones of commentary from the live golf whispering to the thin spread of patrons in the bar, sounding more like a nature documentary than a large sporting event, I stood and took mental inventory of my collection of pocket squares after the formerly red-haired barmaid had commented on my failure to compliment my bottle green tie with an accompaniment of similar colour.  I don’t own a green pocket square and it suddenly occurred to me in that moment that I can’t be taken seriously if only some of my ties have a suitably shaded pocket square companion.

Not for the first occasion in recent times the formerly red-haired barmaid suggested that I should source some kind of lesson in the techniques required to talk to girls.  She is not the only person who has offered me this advice, and I began to consider whether there might be some education in the enticement of estrogen available out there.  I took a seat on a bar stool by the end of the bar and pondered where one might find lessons on talking to girls:  somewhere on the local college prospectus, perhaps; a Gumtree ad or a Facebook group; the local newspaper or a community noticeboard.  I felt that I would surely have seen such an advertisement if it were in the public domain and I imagined a scenario where I would walk into Waterstones in search of a self-help book on the subject of talking to the female sex.  In this scenario I expected that such a book would prove very difficult to find and I would be forced to track down a store assistant to help me locate a self-help book on talking to girls.

The following night I returned to the bar, where this time there was some World Cup action to enjoy, and I assumed my regular position close to the ice box – because it is the only time I can look cool next to something.  As well as the Spain vs Portugal game, this Friday was also the night when the formerly red-haired barmaid became a purple haired former barmaid and to mark the occasion she took a selfie with my three drinking companions and I in the background in which we were almost perfectly positioned should anyone ever wish to measure beard level, as we went from fashionably bedraggled to neatly styled to my careful 1.4mm stubble to recently trimmed.

The bar hummed with the excitement of a thrilling contest and the pints of beer flowed accordingly.  This was troublesome because I had made a considerably more substantial effort in the sartorial stakes which led me to wear a grey suit, a shade which can be susceptible to the particularly fierce splashback in the newly fitted urinals in Aulay’s if one isn’t careful.  Even before I put myself in the firing line I was forced to overcome a traumatic struggle when I couldn’t find the window in an unfamiliar pair of underwear.  My hand was fumbling around – literally – like a drunk man trying to find his way around the inside of a pair of trousers, and the situation was becoming increasingly desperate because the penis seems to have an inherent ability to know that it is close to a toilet; close to salvation.  Its internal GPS knows that it should be acceptable to let go now and its resistance quickly begins to fade.  It is like the countdown to a missile launch and it can’t be stopped.  The tension was mounting as I desperately searched for the window and without any further hesitation I had to delve over the waistband to prevent a much more severe splashback incident.

When I next returned to Aulay’s on Sunday each of the bar staff had their own naturally coloured hair and there was the excuse of two games of international football to distract from real-life.  As the rain guided in the evening and we embarked on a search for food before returning to the bar to watch Brazil play Switzerland, we found a couple of young women seated in the area where we typically stand to watch these big games.  I initially felt awkward standing behind them, worrying that they might feel concern that we would attempt to engage them in conversation, but they didn’t seem to notice us.  The game developed and I found myself distracted as I tried to deduce where the women were from.  Over time I detected the use of some French and I had noticed that each time Brazil were in possession of the ball the girls were looking pensive and holding their fingernails to their lips.  I suspected that they were Swiss and I soon found myself urging Switzerland to equalise, believing that it would be my only opportunity of seeing a look of ecstasy on their faces.

Upon the final whistle, with Switzerland having snatched a much celebrated equalising goal to draw the game 1-1, I was at a level of drunkenness where I could no longer stop myself from trying to talk to these two girls.  The semi-Arabic Harry Potter looking of the pair had stepped outside for what must have been her fourth cigarette of the night and I lurched forward and blurted out something stupid like:  “It seems to me that you ladies might be Swiss.”

The blonde-haired young lady was initially startled by my sudden outburst but she quickly composed herself and confirmed that she was indeed from Switzerland.  I raised my right-hand in the offer of a high-five and congratulated her on her nation’s success, noting that it has now been twenty years since I, as a Scotsman, felt the experience of watching my country compete at a World Cup.  She smiled warmly and our hands slapped together.  Her eyes were the sharpest blue I have ever seen and they had the appearance of something which should be displayed on a cushion in a jewelry store window.  She was, by some distance, the second most beautiful woman that I have ever talked to for more than thirty seconds, although on this night our conversation was approximately ninety minutes in length.

Any thought of seeking lessons momentarily left my head and our discussion spanned such matters as using spinach as a pizza topping, why Toblerones are so difficult to break, why her old cat is named Flip and whether it is because he is acrobatic (that wasn’t the reason,) Highland cows and her goal of becoming a lawyer in the next year by passing the bar – a joke which I milked much too often by pointing out that she could also reach the ladies bathroom in Aulay’s if she passed the bar.  She laughed with exuberance and frequently – although not often at the law jokes – and I hardly felt awkward at all.

The Swiss girl with the blue eyes was the designated driver of the duo and when her semi-Arabic Harry Potter looking friend finished her Guinness they left in preparation for their early drive to Skye the next morning, and once again the penis was thwarted.



The week after I dumped my dead houseplants

In the kitchen, on the windowsill where I once housed a plant which came with the direction not to be placed in direct sunlight, my shirt had been discarded.  It was an unusual scene which confused me greatly. 

Recently it would seem that my weeks have become a lot like the days in the Cure song “Friday I’m in Love”, only the last day of my week barely brings so much as a like and my version would be more accurately titled, “Friday I’m in Aulay’s.”

It was on bin collection day of last week – the collection of bins in Oban, or at least in my block of flats, seems to straddle the desperate dash to fill them with as much rubbish as possible before wheeling them onto the street on Tuesday night and the actual picking up of the bins by the council on Wednesday morning (both grey days in the Cure song) – when I finally decided that it would be best to get rid of the two dead, or two most dead, houseplants from my flat.  For some time I had been despairing at their dreary drooping leaves and the way that the soil had become so dusty that they had begun to resemble the reference books section of the library.  A few petals which had once been pink were strewn across the top of the mantel place, lying lifeless next to the mantel clock as though depicting some morbid metaphor for the passage of time; a horticulture horror show.

It is not that I had no affection for my flowers or that I didn’t want to care for them, more that of late I have been in a place where my own emotions have been wilting and looking after myself has been enough of a task without trying to remember to water the roses.  So I walked the short distance around my flat a week past Tuesday lunchtime with a 22L white bin liner in hand and surveyed the wasteland of potted plants.  I tried to imagine myself in the role of some kind of plant doctor as I sought to determine whether the ailments being suffered by these things in their terracotta death beds could be treated by even a little more nourishment than I was providing, but that was proving too difficult and I took the even more implausible approach of considering how a female visitor to my flat might feel if she returned to my place on a night and found herself surrounded by the saddest gathering of houseplants she had ever seen.  It was with this thought in mind that I tossed the two most damaged plants into the white bin bag, gathered along with the burned out tealight candles I had used for incense, which had been discarded in the small wicker basket by the fireplace.  As the bag was filled it started to resemble some kind of ancient Pagan ritual for lost love.

Approximately one week had passed when I broke bread with a woodland traveller.  On this occasion the bread was naan and I was forced into improvisation when the question of plain or garlic was asked.  Ordering food for myself is often challenging enough, but trying to deduce what kind of Indian accompaniment a person you have never eaten with would prefer was an additional pressure.  The Wetherspoons cashier stared at me blankly as I pondered her naan question for nigh upon eight seconds.  I felt a reluctance to make eye contact with her, lest she become aware that this was the most difficult choice I had been faced with all week.  Finally I decided that any woman would probably prefer her naan bread like she likes her men – plain and with as little pungent odour as possible – and I allowed myself to breathe again.

At the table a question of etiquette was raised when the two women at the table adjacent to ours stood up and asked that we watch their table for “two seconds.”  When they returned several minutes later, grateful to find that their spot had been reserved, I realised that I had forgotten all about their request for us to be vigilant neighbours and if any other diner had taken their place I wouldn’t have been aware enough to object.  In that situation my defence would have been that I had fulfilled the verbal obligation of watching their table for two seconds and anything that happened after that time had lapsed was out with my jurisdiction.  This opened the debate over how long it is reasonable to sit and watch a table for another person – there is a scenario where one could plausibly be there all day defending a seating arrangement for a stranger – and how assertive it is necessary to be when you are confronted by someone who wants to take the table you are watching.  My natural need to please others and avoid confrontation would probably only lead to me offering my own table instead.

The more the week continued to progress – in the same way every week does, day by day – the more I was becoming aware of a curious sensation I was feeling every morning as I was walking to work.  It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling in recent weeks and months, but one which had become much more noticeable and was ultimately impossible to ignore on this week.

As I settled on a Spotify playlist and walked past The Factory Shop I felt my heartbeat quicken, to the extent that it was racing as quickly as it does in the moments before I am about to say something stupid to a girl.  It was as though a butterfly had become trapped in a net and it was desperately flapping its wings in an attempt to escape, and I could hardly catch a breath.  There was a nauseous feeling in the bottom of my stomach and my hands and arms had become the opposite of a critically acclaimed Pink Floyd song – that is to say that they were uncomfortably numb.

My mouth soon turned remarkably dry, reminiscent of the way it does when you are dehydrated from alcohol, but I remembered that I had not been drinking the night before and I knew that I wasn’t hung over.  This was in contrast to my legs, which both felt drunk and like they were trying to walk under water.  My mind was feeling overwhelmed and my sinuses were like fireworks sizzling and ready to explode.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I have been living in the same place for thirty-four years I’m not sure that I would have been able to find my way to the office.

I used Bing to find Google, where I typed each of my symptoms into the search box.  It returned some nonsensical answers and so I removed the similes

These symptoms repeated themselves every morning and would usually last for hours at a time.  By the end of the week I was even considering going to the doctor to find out if this was something more than a deep fear of branded names at low prices, but I decided against making an appointment when I recalled the awkward experience I had last time at the doctor when I didn’t know which chair it was most appropriate to sit in.  Instead I used Bing to find Google, where I typed each of my symptoms into the search box.  It returned some nonsensical answers and so I removed the similes and the new results largely suggested that I could have been experiencing an anxiety attack.  I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant or if I was feeling better or worse for reading it.

In an attempt to improve my mood I decided to listen to some of Paul McCartney’s material away from The Beatles, because a lot like Red Bull Paul McCartney gives you Wings, and when I went out on Friday night I had put any thoughts of anxiety out of my head.  In Aulay’s I found myself briefly standing next to the girl with the unmatched socks (The few weeks I realised I am in a funk) and she shook my hand and introduced herself, indicating that her memory of me was not as clear as my recollection of her.  She commented with fondness on the navy blue tie I was wearing and my natural instinct would normally be to reveal my identically matching socks but I was reluctant to be in a position where I would be forced to acknowledge her unmatched socks again, so I instead complimented the shade of pink on her fingernails.  She disagreed with my opinion that her nails were nice and upon reflection they probably weren’t particularly remarkable and the comment must have sounded like a terrible line.

While most of the town enjoyed the Oban Live festival over the weekend, on Saturday I savoured the scene at the bar in the Royal Hotel.  My attention was drawn to the barmaid behind the frosted Heineken pump.  Her hair was the colour of a leaf caught between the seasons of summer and autumn.  I ordered a pint of beer and enquired how her night was going.  She said that it was long and it took me all of my effort to not be myself and take this answer literally by pointing out that every day is made up of 24 hours, and instead I asked why her night was so long.  The barmaid informed me that she had been working since 3pm, would probably not finish until 2am and was scheduled to be working again at eleven the following morning.  By the time she had finished pouring a pint of Heineken I had remarked that for someone who was working such terribly long hours the barmaid was looking remarkably cheerful.  She wasn’t, but my faux observation drew a smile.  Though the fact that I don’t recall seeing the barmaid again for the rest of the night lends to be believe that the smile was probably masking her cringe.

On Sunday morning, some time around 10.30, I awoke in my bed wearing nothing more than a sock on my left foot.  I staggered haphazardly through my flat to encounter my boots and the missing second sock in the hallway.  My jeans were in a heap on the chair in the living room and on the bathroom sink my watch was found.  In the kitchen, on the windowsill where I once housed a plant which came with the direction not to be placed in direct sunlight, my shirt had been discarded.  It was an unusual scene which confused me greatly.  With this discovery, and the week I had just lived through, I decided that I need to get myself some houseplants.