The observations of the middle-aged couple from Hamilton were still percolating through my mind the morning after I had met them as I was standing in my cold kitchen trying to remember how much ground coffee the machine is supposed to take. I was fumbling with the filter paper, trying to fold it into place, my fingers and thumbs existing only to hinder my progress as I attempted to fashion the shape needed to guide the flow of the liquid coffee. With the little beige paper finally in position, I poured three cupfulls of water into the tank and pushed the green button which told the coffee machine that I was hungover and in need of a kickstart.
I went about poaching some eggs as the machine groaned into life. Soon steam was coughing angrily from the vents on its body, and by the time I had presented the eggs, which had been poached perfectly to the point where the yolks would gush the way a girl laughs at any other man’s joke, on a couple of slices of toast, the coffee was ready to be served. I excitedly released the jug from its cradle and directed its spout towards the waiting cup. A stream of water which resembled the colour of stale dishwater cascaded into the clean porcelain cup, and it soon occurred to me that I had forgotten to put ground coffee in the filter.
Hours earlier, the middle-aged couple from Hamilton were confiding in me their astonishment at the level of drug use they had seen in their few hours in Oban. I was somewhat taken aback by their surprise, which was expressed mostly by the mild-mannered gentleman, given that they had arrived from Lanarkshire, though much of this talk was likely prompted by the karaoke renditions the three of us were bearing witness to in the Claredon. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would have thought if only they could have seen me standing in my kitchen with my jug of dirty water.
In the evening, hours after I had reverted to the more traditional kettle for solace, I met with the plant doctor and the bird watcher prior to us all attending the Rockfield Community Centre’s monthly open mic event ‘Let’s Make A Scene’. The Rockfield Centre is a former primary school building which was opened in 1877 and closed in 2007 and came to fall into a state of disrepair until the Oban Communities Trust took ownership of the building in 2015, transforming it into a creative and cultural centre for the town. Each month people are invited to attend the laid back setting of ‘Let’s Make A Scene’, where acts are encouraged to perform music, poetry, spoken word and stand up comedy.
On this night there were around thirty people crammed into the small hut. Rows of chairs were sitting around small tables which each had plates of crisps and grapes on offer for the hungry. Alongside them, in the centre of each table, was a tealight candle, all of them combining to comprise the only lighting in the room. It was an intimate environment which was reminiscent of how I imagined a Prohibition-era jazz club in New York City might look. I was standing at the back of the room with my two companions who could be a David Attenborough documentary. It wasn’t clear if we had elected to position ourselves there in order to present ourselves as brooding hipster types, or because it was closest to the bottled beers.
A broad palette of local artists were displaying a great range of talents, from stirring string acoustic ballads to poetic verses and Islamic chanter music. My attention wasn’t entirely focussed on the performances at the front of the room, however. Earlier in the night, it was jokingly suggested amongst our group that if there was a lull in proceedings I should stand before the room and read items from the small notebook I was carrying in my pocket. The idea that anyone would want to listen to my journaled observations in such a cultured committee seemed preposterous to me, but as the night wore on my mind was continuing to play with the possibility. I could imagine myself ambling to the performance area at the front, pulling the black notebook from the inside pocket of my jacket in a dramatic fashion and sitting a bottle of Jameson on the table before me. I would pour myself a glass of whiskey and begin to read passages from the book. Meanwhile, in my mind’s eye, I could see the plant doctor, or some other acquaintance, playing the panpipes or the triangle in the corner of the room to bring an absurdist twist to the reading. The more I was thinking about it, the more I was considering that it would be quite a scene for a future ‘Let’s Make A Scene’.
It was early in the week when the snow which had been threatening to fall the previous Friday finally arrived, when following the break of dawn there was a break in the resistance of the clouds. By the time I was leaving my flat for work, the pavements were covered with a dusting of white and resembled my kitchen counter the one time I tried home baking. There didn’t appear to have been a significant fall of snow, and much of the streets were already forming a dull slush which was the shade of a jug of water which had been filtered through a coffee machine without the addition of ground coffee. The rush hour traffic travelling outbound from town was at a standstill, and later the region’s newspaper of record, The Oban Times, reported that Oban was gripped by snow chaos.
The tumultuous Tuesday morning storm caused commuters all over town to be up to half an hour late for work, with extreme cases forcing people to clock in after ten o’clock. Some larger vehicles became trapped down rural roads, while fears of icy stretches on some routes caused the popular Soroba-to-Dunollie bus service to terminate on the Esplanade, leaving the public transport using residents of Dunollie cut off from the rest civilisation, and even the local Tesco supermarket, until the afternoon.
Amidst the scenes of a white winter horror, I learned that my black shoes have as stubborn a resistance to wet, slushy pavements as many of my houseplants have had to death. More specifically, I discovered that while the left shoe of the pair performs all of the functions one would expect from a leather shoe, the right had been acting as though it was under the impression that it is a sieve and had allowed the yellow sock I was wearing on that foot to become sodden. I was feeling bitter about this revelation, the sort of bitterness which a soggy cotton sock holds onto all day long. What is it that suddenly causes a shoe to decide to go rogue?
Although there was no further snowfall during the week, the chaos continued when the plunging temperature caused the slushy pavements to become iced over in a recreation of the scene in Arendelle. I had embarked on my morning perambulate to the office on Thursday, wrapped up warmly and wearing more appropriate footwear, when by the time I had reached the clock tower at station square the trek was already looking treacherous and laden with the potential for a slip-up, like when I am approaching a girl at the bar.
I was feeling uneasy on my footing, and shortly into my journey, I was forced into adjusting my steps to reflect those of a small child who is just learning how to walk. As I was travelling nervously beyond the bus shelter, a group of three or four schoolchildren were striding sternly, strongly and confidently across the icy pavements to catch the school bus. They were literally walking on water, and as I was struggling to negotiate the ice with my baby steps, I could feel the tiny eyes of the children glaring at me with a look of mockery.
Beyond the young schoolchildren, I could see an elderly gentleman who was sitting prone on the edge of the pavement beside his car. He had propped himself up with his elbow, surrounded by a couple of loud neon suitcases and an elderly woman, presumably his wife, who was looking at the stricken man with sympathy and concern. The woes of the stranger were doing nothing for my state of anxiety, and I was thinking to myself how easy it is to shoulder emotional hurt without anybody else seeing that something isn’t right, but a broken arm would draw a lot more attention. I couldn’t imagine an outcome where I would find a sling that would compliment the colour of any of my ties, so I conceded that my morning walk by the sea wouldn’t be worth the risk.
My inability to walk only added to the pervading sense of hopelessness I had recently been encountering. At times I had the feeling of a storm brewing behind my eyes, and although it didn’t bring chaos or dampen the sock on my right foot, it was something I could have done without. I decided that the only way of dealing with such things would be to get back into a routine of doing yoga twice a day, so I dusted down the black mat I hadn’t stretched on in around eight months and tried to motivate myself out of the permanent struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Once I had finally arisen, I rolled the yoga mat out across the wooden flooring of my living room and inhaled.
I was feeling pleased with my effort as I was manipulating my muscles and limbs into various shapes, per the workout I was following, though as I worked myself into a downward dog and came face to face with a sad speck of dust and a lone strand of artificial pine from the Christmas tree I had removed three weeks earlier, I was finding it difficult to focus on yoga. As I formed a cobra on the mat I could hear the sound of a bus sloshing through slushy snow outside my window, and it was all I could do to think about my shoes. I supposed that I would try again the next morning.