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.
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.