Music makes the people come together

There aren’t many things like a song for marking out the moments in your life.  Sometimes a scent can awaken certain memories, but music has an inexorable ability to act as a highlighter pen and bring colour to people, places and the emotions you were feeling when a particular song was playing during an experience.  I can vividly remember the churning of car sickness in my stomach as a child sitting in the back seat during those long journeys to Inverness with Sit Down by James playing every hour or so on dad’s mixtape.  I still feel the same anticipation each time the opening piano refrain of November Rain begins as I did the time I waited up most of the night because a Northern Irish girl I briefly knew had requested it on Kerrang music television in the days before YouTube was popular.  The weekend during which I first heard the David Gray song Shine and Dollskin by Toadies lingers in my mind, as does the sense of thrill and adventure I was experiencing at the time.  The intoxication of the night the plant doctor and my brother introduced me to Wah-Wah is relived frequently.

Of late I have been creating monthly Spotify playlists in the way other people collect commemorative plates.  As small wooden figurines decorate a mantelpiece, serving as a reminder of a thoughtful anniversary gift or an enticing offer in a brochure from a newspaper, so too do playlists in my Spotify library.

I mention the memories made by music because I was recently listening to the Prince album Dirty Mind whilst cooking a pasta sauce.  Although my regular homemade sauce isn’t terrible and does a job when it comes to using the tremendous amount of onions I always end up with in the store cupboard, I had been looking for something to make it a little more interesting.  I found a recipe on the BBC Food page which looked straightforward enough for me to follow, and where the only addition to my usual ingredients was a tablespoon of tomato purée and the use of oregano instead of my usual method of indiscriminately dusting mixed herbs over the bubbling red liquid until I think it might change the flavour.

The olive oil was heating in the pan and the ingredients for my sauce were lined along the kitchen counter like schoolchildren in a class photograph.  The chopped onions were the first to be introduced, and as they were beginning to soften, the song When You Were Mine started to play from the Discover Weekly playlist which Spotify creates for each of its users every Monday.  I was enjoying the rhythm, it was a funky beat for agitating onions in oil, and I decided that I liked it so much that I would listen to the entire album as I was preparing dinner.  I had never heard a full Prince album from beginning to end before, and this particular record was released in 1980, a time before I had even been conceived, let alone born.  1980 is a year that I know happened, because I have read about it, but the idea of it had never registered with me and seemed almost alien, like the suggestion of putting tomato purée into a recipe which already has chopped tomatoes.

When I added the garlic to the pan it sizzled like some of the lyrics which Rolling Stone magazine had described as “complex erotic wordplay”, and my mind was drifting to the way some of my neighbours might react if they knew that I was making a pasta sauce while listening to a song titled Do It All Night.  If I can be standing in my hallway and hear someone sneeze as they travel through the close, then it is surely likely, I was thinking, that someone could have been innocently going about their recycling duties as my shoulders were swooping and my sauce was stirring to this salacious eighties funk record.

By the time everything had been cooked and I was ready to sit down to enjoy my meal the Prince album was nearing its end.  The additions of tomato purée and oregano didn’t do much to enhance the flavour of the sauce for me, and Dirty Mind proved to be the more significant discovery of the evening, though I would always remember the underwhelming culinary experience whenever I thought of it.

A curious arts installation along a pavement in Lower Soroba didn’t hold much appeal

Some days later the west coast of Scotland band ‘Creel’ were playing in the upstairs lounge of The Oban Inn.  My brother and I went along after a few hours in Aulay’s, and as we were being served drinks in the bar downstairs we got to talking to a guy who was somewhere around our age and who recognised the two of us as being related.  Upon confirming his belief that my brother and I are in fact brothers, the guy informed us that he had once taken part in a threesome in the house we had grown up in.  When I thought about it later, it was obvious that he was expecting that the story would impress us, the way someone might mention the horsepower of their car engine or how many pints of lager they had drunk the night before.  But in the moment it only had the consequence of having me thinking about maths, and how I am never going to be comfortable in any situation which requires me to perform an equation.

If our familiar friend is ‘V’, and the other participants in this problem are ‘W’ and ‘X’, then V + W + X = Y.  As in:  Why was this guy able to have sex with a number of people in the house I grew up in one night which was equal to the number I achieved over the course of a decade?

Against the sound of traditional Scottish music with a modern twist which was whistling downstairs, the claim of an orgy took on added weight.  I remembered the way our parents would react whenever an ornament was broken in an accidental act of mischief, or the terrible guilt I felt when mum found out that I was going through a several-years-long phase of smoking cigarettes, and somehow it just didn’t seem fair that this guy had gotten away with enjoying a threesome in our home.  Shouldn’t he be made to sit in his room for a couple of hours and think about his actions?  Won’t someone lay the evidence of his betrayal out across his desk so that he knows that we know?

I woke up in my bed alone on Saturday morning with Dirty Mind still in my thoughts as I was lying amongst my untangled cotton sheets.  There was a brilliant spring sun in the sky, the first day it hadn’t been raining or threatening to rain in recent memory, so I decided that I would take a walk along the Esplanade to freshen my mind.  There was a cold breeze coming off the sea, but the sky was clear.  On the shoreline, a woman was removing her black leather glove as she crouched down to pick up a shell.  A couple were leaning against the railing taking photographs of the streams of sunlight as they were bouncing off the white wake of an approaching CalMac ferry.  Across the road from the Cathedral, I was accosted by a woman who I didn’t know.

The Blur song Out of Time was humming through my earphones as the woman was approaching alongside a man, who I presumed to be her husband.  Her hair was the colour of wet sand, and although it was windswept, it didn’t look out of place for her character.  She was wearing a red jacket which was puffy around the shoulders, and beneath it I could make out a long floral patterned dress.  Her boots, which came up to her shins, were the colour of a camels foot, and about right for a woman her size.  In all, she wouldn’t have looked out of place as a mannequin in the window of a charity shop.

As she neared I could tell from the movement of her mouth that she was attempting to talk to me.  If it was anywhere else in town I might have felt bold enough to continue walking, feigning ignorance of her presence, but despite everything I wasn’t capable of doing that in the shadow of St Columba’s Cathedral.  I plucked the earphones from my ears to hear the woman’s softly spoken voice ask, “Are you out enjoying some music?”

The bass from the track was reverberating in the palm of my hand as I clutched the earphones, looking down at them forlornly.  I was enjoying the music, I was thinking to myself.  “It’s a beautiful morning for a walk,” I responded as I noticed that the man had continued walking a few paces further on, the way a person does when the other half of a couple is raising a complaint in a shop and they want nothing to do with it.

“Would you be interested in a free magazine?”  The soft voice thrust a small bundle of paper in my direction, each piece no bigger than a Farmfoods leaflet.  When I think of a magazine I imagine a publication of at least sixty pages, like the glossy spread which comes with The Times on a Saturday.  These looked as though they would hardly be worth the wind’s effort to carry off in a light breeze.

I squinted in the midday sun to get a look at the title which was printed on the front of the sheet of paper.  “The 12 secrets to a successful family” it read, alongside an image of a family of three who appeared to be happy that their success had allowed them each to dress in the same white clothing.

“No thanks,” I sighed.  “I wouldn’t have any use for that.”  Maybe if it could tell me the 12 secrets to finding a girl who would smile at my jokes, I was thinking.  Or the 12 secrets to meeting a woman who enjoys a man who wears pink socks which match his tie.  But I didn’t feel like getting into that with the woman.  She nodded knowingly and wished me a good day, while I returned to my walk and Blur.

My mood had changed, though, and all of a sudden I was thinking about Dirty Mind again.  I was thinking about my recent efforts to make things more exciting, and how other people seem capable of doing it with ease and having a threesome in another person’s house, when rather than spicing up my life all I am doing is adding oregano to a pasta sauce.

March comes in like a lion: my soundtrack to the month of March (a Spotify playlist)

The night I had an unusual proposal

If March comes in like a lion, then Storm Gareth was its roar.  Gale force winds and a relentless rain were battering the town for much of the week, with the sound so furious on Tuesday night that it was difficult to sleep.  The wild wind was whistling through the front door of the close, sounding like the way an elderly smoker would wheeze through the gap between his front teeth after having been walking uphill for a couple of miles.

The following morning the town looked as though a tornado had rampaged through it.  It was blue bin collection day, and the rubbish had been recycled onto the pavements.  There was shredded paper strewn all across High Street, looking like confetti.  Along George Street there were paper coffee cups which had been dulled by a night in the rain.  Small chunks of polystyrene were seen everywhere, while a bin was floating along the shoreline.  It was as though the town had held an underwhelming street party for the opening of a large box, and the only body that had enjoyed it was the sea, which had spent the morning spewing up the clumps of seaweed which were littering the pavement along the Esplanade.

A bin floating along the shoreline the morning after the storm

The weather reminded me of three years ago and the second time I was in New York City, which was also the last time I visited the city that never lets you sleep.  It needn’t have taken the poor conditions to put me in mind of that trip in March 2016, however, when social media is good at providing you with memories showcasing how much more fun your life was at a different point in time.  For the entire week, Facebook was determined to have me looking at pictures of pizza, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the New York Earth Room – I never understood why I was expecting anything other than a room which was literally filled with earth – basketball and the fire station from the Ghostbusters movie.  If there’s one thing I dislike more than having to look back at photographs I have taken of fun adventures, it is having to read the status updates I have written when trying to make it seem as though I am having a good time.

On the afternoon I arrived in New York it was balmy and on the verge of spring.  The first thing I did, after checking into my hotel room and unpacking my luggage, was to take the train out to Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, where I took photographs of the east side of Manhattan as dusk was emerging between the skyscrapers across the river.  There were squadrons of schoolchildren eating ice cream and playing sports on the grass, while a plethora of runners and dog walkers were circling the park.  Everyone was basking in a warm glow.  The second thing I did was to visit the craft beer bar Alewife, where I was in search of a warm glow of a different sort.

They had a range of 20 beers on draft in Alewife, along with a wide selection of bottled and canned beer, and I spent around four hours there eating chicken wings and drinking the Hoppy Ending IPA.  The barmaid initially mistook my Scottish accent for an Irish brogue, though after we were able to get over that awkwardness we enjoyed a nice conversation and I had the opportunity to really rub her nose in her ineptitude with linguistics when I spied the bottle of Oban malt whisky behind the bar and I could point out my hometown, if not on a map then at least by way of whisky.

At the end of the bar, which was of standard length and had a marble effect finish the sort of which you might in a bathroom, was sitting a local man who was busy telling anyone who would listen that it was being predicted that there could be record temperatures for March in the city during the week.  I was sitting in a state of wonderment listening to an actual New Yorker in a bar talking about the weather.  It was the sort of thing that I imagined only happened in Oban, where a child’s first word is usually “still” and its second is “raining?”  I was trying to imagine if this was how visitors to Oban felt as they are congregated around the bar in Aulay’s, listening to the plant doctor, my brother and I talking about George Harrison.

I assumed that the prediction of record high temperatures was nothing more than drunken bar talk, a language I am fluent in, but the first week of my eleven days in NYC was spent in a burst of radiant early spring sunshine.  It was only during the second half of my trip that the conditions became more akin to what one might associate with New York in March.  It was cold and rainy and cloudy and miserable, and I had planned to go to the observation deck of the World Trade Center.

When I visited New York City the previous year, One World Observatory was still a few months away from opening.  Being a skyscraper enthusiast I was keen to add the 1368ft structure to the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, which I had taken photographs from in 2015.  On the morning of the day that I had set aside to spend at the site of the World Trade Center, I awoke to the sound of rain tapping against the window of my 26th-floor hotel room, and my soul became like the drain on a bathtub, where all of the enthusiasm was being sucked out.  I turned on the television as I was preparing to shower, and all of the weather reports were saying the same thing:  there was going to be rain, and lots of it.  New York was a washout.  There was hardly a cloud to be seen during the first week of my trip, yet now they were huddled around the skyline like hungry children at an all you can eat buffet on the very day I was going to be climbing to the city’s highest summit.

By the time I had travelled downtown and navigated my way around the various construction sites in the area around the World Trade Center, which seemed so much bigger than it was a year earlier, it was around 11.20 and there was no line at the ticket booth.  The woman behind the counter warned me before I bought a ticket that due to the weather, visibility at the observation deck would only be ten miles, compared with up to fifty miles on a good day.  On the 102nd floor of the building the windows were kissed with rain, and it looked no different to my bedroom window, albeit I was looking at the Chrysler Building cloaked in clouds rather than the Oban Grillhouse.

I was thinking of my disappointing travel experience at One World Trade Center after I was approached by a man who I presumed to be a tourist in Aulay’s on Friday night.  He was dressed in jeans and a short waterproof sports jacket, the type of outfit a person might wear if they were going to cause trouble at a sporting event or participate in a drug deal.  His head was completely hairless, the scalp so bald that the lights from the bar were bouncing off it the same way they were reflecting off the bottles of whisky on the top shelf.  He was in the company of a woman who I presumed was his partner, on account of her physical features and hairline not suggesting a family connection with the man.  She seemed a little embarrassed that her companion had decided to talk to me about the subject he did, her eyes carrying a measure of apology as he came to me with an unusual proposal.

“We’ve been staring at you for a while,” he began in a dialect which was broadly Glaswegian.  “You have a very striking colour scheme.  I’d like to take a picture of your socks.”

In the circumstances, it wasn’t the worst thing he could have said.  As I rolled up the leg of my black trousers to give the man a good shot of the pink socks which had caught his eye, it occurred to me that I have often been photographed when wearing socks, but I have never had a picture taken of my socks.  He switched his phone on to the camera app and took the photograph he wanted.

“You reminded us of a Ruffle Bar,” the apologetic woman finally said.

In the upstairs bar of The Oban Inn, an older man whose long greying beard looked like the bristles of a hard broom had a look of confusion on his face when he saw me.  I didn’t recognise him, but he seemed to know me.

“Has Aulay’s been closed down?”  He enquired twice, because I didn’t understand what the question meant the first time he asked.

“Not unless something has gone drastically wrong in the last half an hour,” I responded, a little panic knotting in my stomach as I briefly considered the possibility that maybe something catastrophic might have happened and the bar had to have been immediately shut down.

“It’s just that I only ever see you in there,” the man with the long beard said, and I was feeling a welcome mix of relief and confusion, because I was certain that I would have made a mental or a written note if I had seen such a beard before.

Events were not much more noteworthy along the Esplanade in Markie Dans, until a man who had a quite unhinged manner came up to me and asked if I am a magician.  I assumed that he had been given that impression by my attire, and I told him that although I have a habit of making girls vanish when I talk to them I am not a magician.  It soon became evident that it wouldn’t have mattered what I had told him, even supposing I was a magician, because his question was only a means of laying the groundwork for him to perform for us a trick of his own.  He had set a trap for us, and we walked right into it.

The magic trick involved us opening our wallets and fishing out a pound coin to hand over to the man.  I wanted to give him 10p, but apparently the act would only work with serious money.  Next he asked us to place our hand over the top our glass to completely cover it.  Already I was unimpressed, having lost money and now being unable to drink my Jack Daniels.  The man began circling his hand around the glass, all the while telling us that once we removed our hand from the top we would find the pound coin in our drink.  I thought he was a lunatic, but sure enough, the coin was at the bottom of the glass, snuggled against the cubes of ice.  On another performance of the same trick, I ended up with a pound coin in the top pocket of my suit, beneath the pink pocket square. I couldn’t fathom how he was doing it, and the bird watcher thought he might even have finished the night in profit.

In the end, despite my reservations, the magic trick was quite impressive, and far less unnerving than the circus act I was part of the following night in Aulay’s, when a girl asked if she could take a video of herself as she attempted to spit an ice cube so that it would hit my forehead.  She managed it on the second try and I congratulated her on the achievement as I was wiping off my brow.  I was wondering how she would make the video seem fun when she shared it on social media, and how she would feel in three or four years time when it appeared again on her feed as a memory.  Would she see it the same way I saw the Statue of Liberty from the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center, barely visible through the clouds, or would it be a pound coin floating in a glass of Jack Daniels?

The night of the dolphin disagreement

It would be fair to say that if when I last attended Sunday mass it was a time before our family home had a dialup internet connection then I am a lapsed Catholic – that is to say, someone who was raised in the Catholic faith but has since grown to prefer enjoying life.

Back in those pre-millennial days, when Sunday morning was spent praying to a Holy Spirit to guide me rather than praying for a whole load of spirits to leave me alone, my siblings and I would challenge ourselves to prove our dedication to the church by sacrificing our enjoyment of chocolate for the forty days of Lent.  If the twenty-four days of Advent leading to Christmas were a chocolate calendar-filled heaven, then the forty days of Lent before Easter was almost twice as long and any nine-year-old’s vision of hell. For nearly six weeks my favourite Drifter chocolate bar would be absent from my school packed lunch box, though it was often difficult to understand why many of the other children were still eating chocolate.  On occasion, some of my closest friends – the kids who, coincidentally enough, weren’t to be seen at mass on a Sunday – would offer me a piece of chocolate, insisting that Jesus wouldn’t know if I was to eat just a small bit of chocolate.  Proudly I resisted, feeling sure that if it was true what the priest and teacher said about God’s ability to see everything he would probably be able to see me sneaking a bite of a chocolate bar in the playground of St. Columbas Primary School.

As Ash Wednesday, the day which – literally – marks the beginning of Lent, was approaching, my thoughts returned to those Lenten periods past.  I wondered if as a 35-year-old man I would have the same ability to see a sacrifice through all the way to Easter Sunday the way I did as a church-going boy.  Chocolate no longer features very much in my life and wouldn’t be such a challenging forfeit, so if I was to participate in Lent I would need to find a more suitable vice to go without.  I ran through the alternatives in my mind: I don’t eat lavish or exquisite meals, the only alcohol I would be willing to do without would be the last drink of the night, and I gave up on romance a long time ago.

In the end, I decided that the idea wasn’t for me.  I reached this conclusion after spending some time considering giving up soup, having eaten a bowl of the stuff for lunch just about every day during winter.  After a bit of thought I dismissed the idea, however, conceding that it would be more of a lentil sacrifice than a Lenten sacrifice.

The night before Ash Wednesday – commonly known as ‘Pancake Tuesday’, although I was out of eggs and so it was simply Tuesday – had me babysitting my niece, albeit I couldn’t be sure that the term babysitting still applies when she is weeks away from her third birthday and we were spending much of our time together pretending to be cats.  When we weren’t faking felines we were watching The Lion King, and despite the fact that it would have been decades since I had last seen the Disney animation, I knew that the scene was approaching where young Simba’s father, Mufasa, is killed, and I was dreading it.  

What if this really upsets her, I was thinking to myself.  Would she notice if I pressed fast forward?  My niece is typically smarter than I am so I couldn’t take the risk.  I’ll just tell her that Mufasa is lost, I was pondering as the death scene was entering its final throes.  It seemed like a pretty good idea until the young Simba found the lifeless body of his stricken father and I had to begin thinking of a way I could convince the toddler that older lions are extremely lazy creatures who spend months at a time just lying around the jungle.  It was something she would be able to Google or ask Alexa later in her life when I would be exposed as a terrible uncle, but for now, it would do.

As all of this was happening, my niece was crawling around the floor of my living room telling me all about her upcoming birthday party and how she wants to grow up to be a lion, and I realised that I was the only one of us who was being troubled by the death of Mufasa.

Some people search for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but on Friday all that was there was Soroba.

On the first Friday of Lent, I found myself mingling with a group of scientists who were out enjoying some farewell drinks for a departing colleague.  As I was standing amongst them, I was finding myself considering what the collective noun for a group of scientists would be, though I never thought to ask any of them through fear of it sounding like a stupid question.  After some time I was in conversation with a girl whose hair was the colour of a light Bunsen burner flame.  She was more energetic than I imagined a scientist could be, and she was fun to talk to.  Almost inevitably the discussion turned to the subject of dolphins, where I was surprised to learn of the view that dolphins are nasty, vicious, sexually aggressive bullies.  That isn’t what I remember from the nature documentaries I have watched, or from Flipper, and I was immediately compelled to ask around the room in the expectation that this dissenting opinion would be ridiculed and that the intelligence of the aquatic mammal would be fêted.   To my dismay, not only was the opinion not scoffed at, but it was supported by the other scientists, and I appeared to be in a minority.

Despite the dolphin dispute, I was somehow able to convince the girl with the Bunsen burner hair that it would be a good idea to come back to my place for a post-pub drink.  As we were walking along the street towards my flat she would keep reciting the phrase “I have a boyfriend”, in the manner of a religious chant.  I assured her that my intentions were noble and drunken, having long since gotten used to having girls in my flat who aren’t interested in romance.

We arrived in my flat, where the climate was only marginally less cold than it was outside, and as I was fixing a couple of drinks the scientist asked me if she could use the bathroom.  Being that I strive to be a good host, entirely un-dolphin-like, I told her that she was welcome to go to the toilet.  I poured some vodka and whisky into separate glasses whilst trying to think of a suitable soundtrack for the moment.  By the time the scientist returned from the restroom, she announced that she was going to have to leave because she had a better offer.  That’s not what she said, but it’s how she said it.  I wondered if the toilet seat had been distractingly unstable, because it was the first time a girl has left my flat before she has had her drink or so much as commented on the Jackson Pollock print above the couch.

It seemed the right thing to do when I offered to walk the scientist to the superior party she was leaving my flat for, though when we were walking back along the street we had only minutes previously travelled, she admitted that she didn’t know where exactly she was going, and her phone calls were going unanswered.  Eventually she gave up, like a Lenten sacrifice, and decided that she was going to walk home instead.  When she told me that she lived at the other end of town, a sense of laziness and defeat was filling me.  I usually have a need to walk a person to their destination, but I implored the girl with the Bunsen burner hair to take a taxi.  She sighed into the cold wind, telling me that she didn’t have money for a taxi.  I reached into my wallet for a brown note, in what was surely the first instance of me paying a girl to not have a drink with me.

By that point dad had spent a night in hospital and the fragility of bones and everything was on my mind, not too dissimilar to the man in Aulay’s who had earlier been telling me the story of his nicotine addicted sister who was having a voice box put in to her throat, and her primary concern was to ask the doctor if she would still be able to have cigarettes.  At the end of it all, we’re just blowing smoke in our own ways.  It’s the circle of life: one person is having a voice box inserted, while another is shouting into the night, wanting to know the truth about dolphins.

The night everyone had the same joke

One of the most triumphant events in my recent life had taken place fewer than thirteen hours earlier, and it had been not much more than five hours since my friends had left and I had fallen into bed, when I shuffled through to the bathroom and found that the toilet seat had become detached from the toilet.  A cold reality struck me as I was standing on the hard floor examining the scene for clues as to how the relationship between seat and bowl could have ended so prematurely, dishevelled and in boxer shorts, like a hapless detective who has been summoned to a murder in the dead of the night.  There was a lack of witnesses around the scene who I could question about the fate of the seat, and evidence was inadequate, if it existed at all, so I stepped around the victim and conducted the business I had come in for, before cordoning off the scene and returning to bed, leaving the investigation for another time.

When I finally made it up for the day, the plastic throne was still lying prone on the bathroom floor, and I was forced to accept that as a single occupant these are the sort of things I have to take responsibility for.  In a stroke of fortune, just as I was viewing the daunting little plastic bolts and pieces with a look of consternation, I discovered that for reasons I couldn’t quite fathom, I had kept the assembly instructions for the toilet seat.  It was an unusual instance of hoarding – I could only assume that when I moved into the flat I had feared a day where I would encounter a shortage of reading material – but it made the task of reapplying the seat to the bowl a lot easier.  As I was kneeling on the bathroom floor, reaching around the lavatory to tighten the bolts – the first reacharound I had in an age – I was considering how many other people, hours after one of their finest moments, have fixed a toilet seat.

Much of the remainder of the week was spent with me trying to regain the glory I had briefly flirted with days earlier, although four nights of roadworks across the street from my flat was making my pursuit of success more arduous than it usually is.  Each time I would try and read a chapter of a book, somewhere in the distance a drill would be driven down into the road and my concentration was shaken like the water in the glass on my bedside table.  This continued late into the night, where my restlessness was synchronised to the sound of pneumatics, and whenever the drill penetrated the tarmac I would toss and turn in my 200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.  They were working on the road outside the Parish Church, and although it isn’t my church, I couldn’t help but feel that this was God’s way of sending me a message, albeit a message which was lost in a fog of noise.

The mist which had enveloped the bay was a lot like the fog in my mind.

Ordinarily my sleepless nights are caused by a constant noise in my own head, rather than a constant noise outside my window, and the frustration and sleep deprivation seemed to be affecting me as the week wore on.  On the night of the day when the recycling bins had been emptied, I went through a sequence in the space of a few hours where I drank the last drops from a bottle of orange juice, milked the remnants of another bottle for a cup of coffee, used the last sheet of kitchen roll and emptied a few stray Earl Grey teabags into a decorative glass jar.  It struck me that doing all of this after the recycling bins had been emptied was similar to a scenario where you have been coveting a girl for a while but she has always had a boyfriend, then she finally becomes single just as you have started to date another girl.  Though in my experience it would be more likely that the girl in the scene simply finds another man, while I am left single and with a collection of recyclable rubbish on my kitchen counter.

A thin mist had enveloped the bay on Thursday morning, and as I was walking home in the evening I couldn’t be sure if the sleep-deprived fog of my mind was leading me to see strange and unusual things when I passed a woman who was jogging whilst pushing a pram in front of her.  I had only ever seen a dog being run in this manner, though the pained look of panic on the runner’s face suggested that the act wasn’t part of an exhaustive mother and child fitness plan.  I continued to saunter along the seaside, daydreaming of sleep, as I was considering all of the events in this woman’s life which had brought her to be running along the Esplanade with a pram in tow.  Was she moving at pace from or to something?  Was she late for a bus or a boat?  Would she have any regrets when she saw the mess all of this activity had made of her hair?  What had she eaten for lunch?  How was she able to run whilst pushing that pram when I can barely walk while shuffling a Spotify playlist?

I received an invitation to a wedding dance happening in the summer, and as always the addition of a “plus one” had me questioning if it was a joke or a challenge.  I decided that I would treat it as the latter, so when I arrived in Aulay’s on Friday it was with the intention of starting the search for a plus one, which wasn’t terribly different from every other Friday.  The endeavour to enchant began in typical fashion when, over time, the two women who were being courted by The Beatles post-1970 arrived and I was inevitably sandwiched between the two would-be couples.  It was all I could do to order a Jameson as Primal Scream were playing from our Scottish band themed jukebox selections.  The entire thing seemed to be in keeping with my role in the romantic ecosystem as the lumpsucker fish, acting as a species which makes the salmon more palatable to consumers.

Recycling appeared on my kitchen counter the way a girl you covet becomes single just as you have started dating.

Aulay’s was beginning to take on the appearance of a modern cocktail lounge when a dish of sliced cucumber appeared behind the bar, seemingly to satisfy the appetite of gin drinkers who enjoy it when their drink is garnished with water in the form of a plant.  The pub was busy with revellers who were attending the annual music festival at the Royal Hotel next door; crowds of people massed around the bar, while a man walked in and managed to find a table which wasn’t occupied.  He was of average height – approximately 5ft 9in – and was mildly bearded.  A beige baseball cap was sitting atop his head and he ordered a pint of Guinness.  In the meantime, the man was transporting black cases from the public bar into the lounge, where he was sitting them on the seating around the table.  They appeared to be instruments, and they kept coming one at a time, like the old routine about clowns emerging from a clown car.  I quickly understood why he had asked for a Guinness to be poured.

Eventually there were three or four instruments gathered in the man’s company, presumably all from the string family.  It was a scene I couldn’t take my eyes off.  I asked the barmaid with the dreadlocked hair, who had once served us with fresh mango, to speculate on why the man was carrying so many instruments.  She suggested that he is a “one-man band”, which was a line I was wishing I had produced.  I nudged two other people into commenting on the situation, and when the moonlighting banker also remarked on the chap being a one-man band, I was kicking myself for being the only person who had not thought of the joke.

We were never able to find out if the man was performing as an individual band at the ‘Royal Rumpus’, however, as the queue was stretching out of the hotel and down the street when we left Aulay’s.  Instead, we decided to go along to the Cellar, where the sixth installment of the electronic dance night ‘Bassment’ was taking place.  The bar was busy and the dancefloor was writhing with people who were enjoying the sounds of the technology before us.  In the men’s bathroom, the hand towel dispenser had run out of paper towels, which was making the washing and drying situation more awkward for those of us who choose to support hygiene.  I have always been self-conscious about dancing with wet hands, and it added to the yawning realisation that whereas my regular dancing is so lacking in rhythm that it can often give the impression to a casual onlooker that I don’t know how to move my body to music, I actually do not know how to dance to electronic dance music.

Although Bassment was not entirely terrible, it is not an environment which is particularly conducive to meeting and talking to people, and the night ended like any other.  My search for a “plus one” was going to have to continue, but at least when I went to bed I was able to get some sleep.