I walked into Aulay’s Bar wearing a grey suit with a white shirt and a tie and pocket square combination which was as red as the wine in the cabinet behind the bar. It isn’t often that I wear a white shirt, but I was watching an episode of the television series Mad Men earlier in the week and Don Draper was wearing a similar outfit, which left me feeling inspired. As I stood by the ice bucket it seemed unlikely that to any casual observer I would bear any resemblance to the suave fictional character. My face had a layer of stubble which was trimmed to precisely 1.2mm, in contrast to Jon Hamm’s smooth and chiselled look, my hair wasn’t as neatly slicked back and while Don Draper wears a pristine and crisp white shirt, mine was recklessly ironed. Despite this, my three acquaintances and I managed to unconsciously arrange ourselves into a lineup which ranged flawlessly from smartest dressed to scruffiest. It would have made quite a sight to anyone who cares about such things.
A lot had happened since I was last drinking in Aulay’s. It had been thirteen nights, a trial not unlike the forty days and nights Jesus had spent in the desert. On that previous visit, word began to spread around the bar that I have an obsession with mangoes, in a way similar to how stories of local scandal are rapidly passed on over a pint amongst interested patrons. “Have you heard that this guy is going out with that girl?” “The police turned up in the early hours and there were raised voices, but I couldn’t get out of bed quickly enough to hear what was going on.” “My friend’s cousin, the dental assistant, said she was told that he quit the job after they fell out over an ornamental depiction of Moby Dick.” “Apparently JJ has an obsession with mangoes.”
Obsession seemed like a pretty strong noun at the time and I would have preferred to have heard that it was alleged that I have a taste for mangoes, or that I have a strong liking of mangoes, though considering that I once wrote of a sexual relationship with the tropical stoned fruit obsession was probably justified.
Soon the barmaid with the dreadlocked hair emerged from the back with a Tupperware box which was stacked to the brim with perfectly sliced mango, and without a hint of the greenish-pinkish skin which usually remains intact when I try to cut the fruit. My friends and I each took a cocktail stick between our index finger and thumb and enjoyed pieces of the sweet fruit, and it was almost as though we were drinking and dining in some high-class Caribbean establishment. It was one of the best nights I have enjoyed in Aulay’s. I wondered how we must have looked to the seasoned drinkers around the bar; the old men with bloated red faces, like gnomes but with more animated features, who drink pint after pint and whisky upon whisky without hardly flinching. And here were three young men in the prime of their early thirties, holding chunks of mango between our fingers and savouring them like they were a lover.
After a recent evening on which I experienced sea bass for the first time, I became involved in a heated debate with my best friend when I announced my contention that there should be a third category of food which describes the fishy taste of a dish. My friend disputed this as being nonsense and argued that food is either sweet or savoury and that there is no requirement for it to be classed under the separate banner of fishy. For days the notion that a person could only experience two tastes – sweet or savoury – played on my mind, and I was increasingly determined to disprove it and have my three-tiered taste ranking introduced to a wider public for their consumption. I bought a packet of two haddock fish cakes, which were filled with Mull of Kintyre cheddar cheese, and I considered them the ideal test for my taste theory. I cooked the fish cakes per the instructions on the packet and sat down to eat them, as I find this preferable to standing for a meal. When I cut into the breadcrumb and oat coating, molten cheese oozed from within and my taste buds were tingling. I scooped the fish and cheese mixture onto my fork and brought it to my mouth with wide-eyed anticipation. Immediately I was met with the taste of fish, which overwhelmed the flavour of the cheese and everything else which was stuffed inside the cake. As someone who is still coming to terms with the taste of fish, I felt a combination of disappointment and vindication. After finishing my meal, and with the dishes soaking in the sink, I messaged my friend to inform them of my experiment.
“I had fish cakes for dinner. I still strongly believe that it is necessary to have a third category of food, because the only way to describe their taste was FISHY!”
“Big eedjit,” my friend responded.
My culinary options had been limited by an incident a few weeks earlier where the hob on my cooker sparked and caused the electrical supply in my flat to short circuit. I was stirring some aubergine into a tomato sauce I had prepared for some pasta when the lights went out and my Sonos speaker stopped part way through Love Gun by KISS, which is my favourite record to stir herbs and onions together to. I used the remaining heat from the hob to finish preparing my dinner, before descending into a panic-stricken search for an electrician as thoughts of living in a Dystopian nightmare without lights and the ability to fully cook pasta and play KISS paraded through my mind. A couple of colleagues helped me to find an electrician, and with the power to my flat restored I could begin procrastinating over the purchase of a new hob. In the meantime, I was unable to cook asparagus or green beans in the regular fashion, let alone stir fry sweetcorn and ginger, and I was unsure of how to maintain my daily intake of vegetables. A few days passed and I discovered a medley of frozen vegetables in the supermarket, and apparently they could be cooked in the microwave in ten minutes. Amongst the vegetables in the large bag were carrots, which I rarely buy due to my dislike of cutting them and the fact that I always buy too many and never have any use for them. I found myself appreciating the carrots more when they came pre-sliced in a bag along with other, tastier, vegetables and without the need to think about what I was going to do with them. It seemed to me that this is life in a nutshell, or at least in a bag of frozen vegetables.
I don’t have many possessions in my flat. Other than a cupboard which houses books and Jack Daniels, two coffee table drawers filled with tealight candles and jars of incense, and a wardrobe which holds a rainbow of dress shirts and ties, all I really have to my name are a collection of notebooks. The more I find myself thinking about life and the ongoing circus of events which I feel the need to document, the more notebooks I buy. There is at least one in each room, with the exception of the bathroom, because that is where full concentration is required. Each room also has its own designated pen, although in the drawer of my bedside table I keep a notebook and a pencil out of fear of what could happen to my 200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets if in the dead of night I tried to pen the thoughts concerning the female ghost I suspect inhabits my bedroom. Recently I have taken to reading and writing a lot more frequently in my bed now that I know it is good for uses other than sleeping.
After thirteen nights I returned to Aulay’s on a Friday night, wearing the usual suit with its colour coordinated accessories, and I was wondering if anyone could tell that I was walking taller from the experience I had enjoyed in Edinburgh. At the bar there was talk of football and music, and outside I ran into a girl who I used to go to high school with. She is now a hairdresser and it turns out that she recently cut my dad’s hair, which is how we got talking. She was struggling to remember me from school, even when I offered her the description that “I was the geeky guy with glasses who got red in the face and became anxious and sweaty when talking to girls…a lot like now.” The hairdresser was one of the most attractive girls in our year, and she has grown into a beautiful woman, though she wouldn’t accept that she was amongst the popular crowd. I recalled that we took maths together and that I hated the subject and was terrible at it. She concurred and added that she also wasn’t very good at biology. As our conversation progressed, the hairdresser revealed that she has a son who recently started his third year in high school. I remarked that this showed that she had eventually developed a talent for biology, and while she laughed at what I considered to be one of my finest jokes I knew that I would probably not talk to her again. At closing time I took a walk along the esplanade and the North Pier, and when I arrived home I got into bed with a notebook and a pencil, and it seemed that for all intents and purposes I was back in the routine of being a bachelor.