Although I had only heard Fairytale of New York once – on the dark journey home from Edinburgh, whilst travelling through a sleepy village on Sunday morning – I could tell that the Christmas party season was in full swing by the end of the week. Around Aulay’s there were ladies flaunting their finest frocks, some men were attired in tasteful Christmas jumpers, and no more than one gentleman was resplendent in a kilt which had been thoughtfully gifted to him by a co-worker, despite the seasonal conditions outdoors. I was standing at the bar drinking the scene in.
At a table in the corner of the room, I observed a group of three women who had carried their drinks from the bar to sit down. They each removed their scarves and their jackets and took a seat, one by one, the way a squad of synchronised swimmers might. The women all had a shade of blonde hair, which made it difficult not to question whether it was by coincidence or if having a certain style of hair was a prerequisite to joining their group. They were seated along the cushioned couch side of the table, in a perfect line from lightest shade of blonde hair to darkest. From my vantage point at the bar, it was almost like looking at a magazine article depicting the appearance of a turkey during the process of cooking Christmas dinner: the way it starts out pale and tightly held in place, gradually yellowing under the burning light in the oven, here represented by the gentle glimmer of a bar light, before finally coming out a crisp, luscious texture.
After a while, continuing their commitment to synchronicity, the trio of blondes reached into their respective handbags, pulling out smartphones in the way, once upon a time, they might have withdrawn a compact mirror. They were each gazing into their screens, swiping through social media and interacting with the world; save for the life which was going on around them. For several minutes there was no communication amongst the group, neither through eyes nor voice, as the three of them became lost in technology. I was wondering how much they could be enjoying their night. Then, bearing witness to the scene, I wondered how much I was enjoying mine.
My fixation with the non-communicative trio of blondes was broken when an unrelated woman with fair hair appeared beside me at the bar to order drinks for her table, who were a group on a work party. She asked the banker who was moonlighting behind the bar which whisky he would recommend for her boss, and he turned the question over to me. I have never considered myself an expert in the grain, or in anything for that matter, and I felt sure that if anyone else was standing at the bar they would have been better suited to offer advice. As it was, my knowledge of whisky extended to two varieties: the type which would make me brilliantly drunk and aid in an enjoyable night, typically Jameson, or the kind of whisky that would have me falling through my shower screen and waking up the next morning in my bathtub.
I asked the fair-haired woman if she would point out her boss to me. We turned in the direction of her table, where there must have been around a dozen people, and she told me which of the figures was her boss. He was dressed casually and had floppy silver hair, although I still couldn’t be sure why I had asked for the information. It did nothing to help me, but I supposed it was adding to the air of whisky authority I had somehow assumed, and I went along with it. After a moment which was heavy with consideration, I suggested that he would enjoy a Lagavulin.
Some time later, the girl was returning from the bathroom when I stopped her en route to her table to ask whether her boss had liked the malt whisky I had selected for him. She said that he considered it better than the Famous Grouse he had been drinking for much of the night, and I felt quietly satisfied. As our brief conversation developed beyond whisky, the woman with the fair hair informed me that it had occurred to her when she was in the toilet that she knew me from a time when I worked with her mother. I knew that she was right, but I was immediately distracted by my attempt to think of an occasion when something had occurred to me whilst in the bathroom.
Things just don’t tend to occur to me when I am standing in the men’s room, particularly the men’s room in Aulay’s, which is an intimate space. Do other people experience these flashes of inspiration when they are splashing their urination? Could I be the only person who doesn’t experience a moment of clarity in the toilet? We continued to talk, and I was wondering if I had ever been an occurrence in the mind of any other women when they were in the bathroom. The thought disturbed me, and the fair-haired woman soon wandered back to her table.
“Just a wee bit of ice…naw hunners,” was a phrase I heard uttered over my left shoulder. The gentleman in question was requesting that his empty pint glass, which was intended for a bottle of cider, be supplied with only a few ice cubes, but I couldn’t get past the idea of hundreds of blocks of ice being fitted into the pint glass. In my mind, I was imagining the last person who served this customer, the member of the bar staff who caused him to ensure in future that he asked specifically not to be given a glass with hundreds of pieces of ice in it. I could see the look of determination on his or her face as they were focussed on angling the cubes in such a way that they could get another in, like a cold game of Tetris. I looked at my own glass, which was still around half empty, and reckoned that I could only manage 33 ice cubes at best, but then I was never very spaciously aware.
In the upstairs of a bar overlooking the sea, a young woman was carrying a large handcrafted version of the popular board game Battleship. It was attached around her neck with a piece of cable and was housed in a box which was the size of a very big pizza delivery box. When she lifted open the lid, an elaborate maritime warfare scenario was revealed. I expressed wonder at the impressive work which had gone into the board, though she seemed to be burdened by the effort of carrying it around her neck all night. She asked me if I would like to make a move, which is a question that ordinarily results in me crumbling into a small pile of bones and dust before a woman. I realised before I said something stupid that she was referring to her ongoing game of Battleship, and I studied the board for a while before settling on B9. She looked back at the scorecard on the base of the lid, and as is typically the case with the moves I make, nothing came of it.
Beyond the Battleship beholder, I could see the moonlighting barmaid who, months earlier, disputed my claim that Kenny Anderson of King Creosote was dressed like a homeless man. I was keen to find a way of getting across the bar to talk to her, but the floor was crowded and I didn’t know what I would say to her without introducing myself as the man who thought King Creosote appeared underwhelmingly dressed. It seemed like the most difficult level of Minesweeper, and before it could all blow up in my face I left for a bar further along the seafront.
An inconsequential number of minutes passed and I became aware that the moonlighting barmaid had arrived in Markies. It was all I could do to stare across the sparsely populated bar, and eventually, I managed to convince myself that I should approach her. The Jameson I had been drinking earlier in the night ensured that I would never remember the words which stumbled from my mouth, but I felt confident that she had moved past the King Creosote incident, and like with the game of Battleship, I hadn’t triggered any fatal explosives.