It had been eight days since a woman at the bar called me a geek, and when I boarded the morning train to Glasgow, destined ultimately for Perth, I was still unable to get the incident out of my mind. I could not be entirely certain over how the situation arose in the first place, but I could clearly recall the educated and voluptuous brunette speaking of her surname, which sounded elegant and born of the middle ages, and remarking something along the lines of: “Of course, you’ll know where that name comes from. You look like a geek.”
I remember that I nodded my head in agreement with the first part of the woman’s statement, in exactly the way I do whenever I haven’t fully heard what a person has said to me but don’t want to appear impolite by asking them to repeat the vital piece of information they were attempting to communicate. I also agreed with her observation that I looked like a geek, and it ranked amongst the nicest things I have ever been told in Aulay’s, and probably in my adult life.
As the days passed my internal monologue became increasingly involved in a fervent debate with itself over whether the word ‘geek’ was used by the woman with the old-fashioned name as a compliment or in an intended insult. Was she commenting on my carefully crafted outfit with its silver tie, pocket square, and socks triumvirate, or on the fact that I had an awkward nature which meant that I was avoiding making eye contact with her in the way that a lamb instinctively avoids walking into a wolf’s den?
On the train, I was hoping to catch up on some much-needed sleep. I had thought when I went out on Friday night that I could live a Keith Richards lifestyle, but by Saturday morning I felt like I was a Morphy Richards kitchen appliance – I was blowing steam. Knowing that I had an early train to catch, my intention was to enjoy a few sensible drinks with the plant doctor and go home earlier than I normally would, but at one thirty in the morning I was having Jameson bought for me by a man who was wearing pink trousers and who earlier in the day had scattered the ashes of both of his parents on the island of Lismore.
When I first arrived at the bar I viewed the man as a foolish figure of fun. He was sitting at a table in the corner of the room, his trousers were as pink as the cheek of a newborn baby, and his navy blue jumper was holding a belly so large that it looked like it had been drawn onto him. The company he was with, presumably strangers he had become involved in conversation with, left, and he got up to refresh his drink. I was standing at the bar alone, and as the man waited to be served we exchanged complimentary words on each other’s outfits. He confided in me that his parents had recently passed away within a short period of time of one another, and I expressed sympathy for his loss. He thanked me and commented that it is rare for another person to be so nice, which struck me as being odd, as I thought I was only saying what anybody in my position would have said. When the man with the pink trousers bought me a whisky, I began to feel remorse for my original observation when I walked into the bar, and we spent the rest of the night discussing death and Brexit, and it was difficult to tell where one subject ended and the other began.
Despite suffering from the type of headache which narrows a person’s eyes, and with the taste of whisky still sitting around the back of my throat, I couldn’t bring myself to sleep on the train. At the table across the aisle from me was a younger woman who was wearing eyeshadow that was the colour of midnight. She unwrapped an oaty wholefood bar, and when I lifted the top of my roll to squeeze a sachet of brown sauce onto some bacon, all I could see was a pig rolling around in wet mud. In an attempt to make myself feel better I reached into my bag for the banana I had packed, and I sat it on the table in front of me, although I think she could tell that I had no intention of eating it.
My interest in sleeping wasn’t just as a means of appeasing a hangover. Recently it has seemed that the only way I am able to see my best friend is in my dreams. She has been appearing in them frequently of late: at least two or three times a week, which is considerably more than the zero times I am able to talk to her when I’m awake. In one of those sleep scenarios, I found myself in dispute with my subconscious. It was a day or two following my family birthday dinner, and in my dream, I was trying to describe to my friend where we had eaten our meal. I gave very precise directions as to where the restaurant was located, although I couldn’t remember its name. She believed that I was describing The Seafood Temple, an assertion I agreed with, and I continued to elaborate on the evening, even though my lucid self was screaming out that the dinner had taken place at BAAB. In my dream, I could hear myself say this, but the dream version of me ignored my pleas and continued to talk about a meal I had not eaten in a restaurant I had not been.
Unable to sleep, I sought to amuse myself by imagining the conversations other passengers around me were having. With my earphones playing music at a moderate level, observing my fellow commuters was like watching a silent movie, and when their lips moved it was up to me to work out what they were saying. As the train rattled through quiet little villages which were surrounded by rolling green fields, fluffy clouds of grazing sheep and calm blue streams, my attention was caught by a table of three people who I speculated were probably aged in their fifties. Their conversation was constant and animated.
“It’s really beautiful and peaceful out here,” the first woman would have said as she leaned across the table in her knitted yellow top. “We could happily live around here when you retire.”
“The dogs would really enjoy the space,” her husband agreed with a wistful look out of the window. His hair was neatly combed and looked the way flour does when it becomes wet.
“You could probably build, like Edward and Barbara did.” The third of the trio was female and was either the sister of the woman with the sunflower top, or one of those people who likes to befriend others who have a similar physical appearance.
“It’s so remote. I bet you probably wouldn’t have to see anybody for days. How perfect!”
“That’s a point,” the husband chimed in, sipping from his coffee cup as he considered retirement in rural Argyll. “How would the boy from the bottom of the road get us the cocaine?”
By the time I arrived in Perth, autumn had put on its winter jacket. I disembarked from the train and immediately played the U2 song Where The Streets Have No Name, which is a habit I have any time I visit somewhere new and unfamiliar, when I know I am going to get lost. It took me longer than necessary to find my hotel for the night, and when I eventually did my hands were raw and my hangover had all but gone. Although Perth is an old and historic city which is hugged by the River Tay, I only had eyes for its bars. Drinking beer down by the river put me in mind of a Neil Young song, but I couldn’t place which one. At three o’clock I met with my brother and a work colleague who resides in the area to watch the football scores come in. We pored over our respective betting coupons, and at half-time, they were looking quite promising. With great excitement we were discussing what we might do with the tremendous fortunes we were each destined to win in the coming hour, though by the time we walked the short distance from The King James to The Foundry we had lost more than our sobriety.
All manner of ghoulish characters were stalking the short streets of the city centre when night fell. Whilst I initially thought that the people of Perth didn’t care as much for their appearance as those in more trendy places like Glasgow or Edinburgh, and I was verging on accusing the cleaning staff in the watering holes I visited of slacking on the job when it came to dusting the cobwebs which were dangling from the ceiling, I soon remembered that it was the weekend before Halloween and this probably wasn’t a regular sight.
On the plaza of the Concert Hall, a spectacular light show was taking place to celebrate the holiday. Families of witches and vampires and the Predator from the Alien vs Predator movie filled the streets. This made for quite a scene as hundreds of people dressed in plaid shirts of varying colours made their way into the venue to see the popular Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit. The auditorium was more compact than I was expecting, which made for an intimate setting where every spot on the floor felt close to the stage. The Swedish sisters serenaded the sold-out audience with their beautiful harmonies, their voices sounding the way a great piece of art looks. Every note stirred an emotion within me, although a level of drunkenness contributed to what I was feeling. The set passed very quickly and was a musical triumph.
After the gig, I drank in the Green Room, which seemed larger than a room and would probably be more appropriately classed a hall. The bar was decorated in keeping with the Halloween theme, and amongst the spooky monsters and bloodied figures around the place were some spirits I was interested in. I sampled a blend of whisky from the Isle of Jura and found that it didn’t burn my throat the way a malt usually does, so I continued to order it until the bar closed. As I was walking back to my hotel, my breath was warm with whisky, and it escaped into the frozen night air, making me feel like a mighty dragon. It was not long after one o’clock, although I couldn’t be sure if the time had already gone back an hour to mark the end of British Summer Time. I spilled myself into the luxuriously comfortable hotel bed and slept well into the morning. My dreams were as silent as a conversation on the train, though the hangover was like a lion’s roar.