Although with spring the days were growing longer and lighter, they were also becoming lonelier. It seemed that in the last year I have become a lot like the Conservative Party, in that I have developed a difficult relationship with May. If it is true that April showers bring May flowers, then I should be expecting to inherit a lot more houseplants for me to kill in the coming months.
Recently I have been substituting an absence of actual friendships for imagined acquaintances I’ve been making in the street. These relationships were not random in the conventional sense, in so much as the people involved were strangers who I had been passing on my way through the town on a near daily basis for several months. There comes a point when you are seeing the same people every day that in your mind you start to feel like you already know them. Even though you only see them for those same few seconds each day, you begin to build a story of their routine in your head.
There is the man who is shaped like a large free range egg. I pass him almost every morning when he is carrying two or three shopping bags which for some reason I always imagine are filled with those packs of a dozen rolls. I have yet to figure out why a person would need so many rolls, but the timing of our meetings suggest that he is the first person in the supermarket when it opens and that he empties the entire bakery section of rolls, therefore depriving everyone else. This has caused me to take an immediate dislike to the character, which no matter how harsh it seems, I have been sticking to rigidly.
At the station, a woman gets off the bus from out of town at the same time each day. She is usually quite smartly dressed in a long skirt and heels, and her professional attire leads me to think that she probably works in an office, though her hair sometimes has an indescribable quality which reminds me of a scarecrow. Often she is seen carrying a cotton bag over her shoulder, the type one might keep clothes pegs in. Silently I judge this, as it doesn’t really match anything that she is wearing. The first thing she does after disembarking from the bus is to light a cigarette, I expect probably more out of an addiction to nicotine than from the treacherous rush hour bus journey through Oban. I have never seen the woman without a cigarette in her hand, and it is usually a pretty good indicator of how early or late I am for work by how much of it she has smoked.
On a morning at the end of April, a large lorry was taking up an entire lane of a road which straggles off the square as it was unloading a delivery to one of the nearby shops. The cigarette smoking scarecrow was finding it difficult to cross the road due to her inability to see any oncoming traffic in the other lane. From the side of the road that she was hoping to reach, I could see that there were no cars approaching and I crossed with confidence. As I reached the lorry I looked at the stranded smoker, and feeling secure enough in our imagined friendship to attempt actual communication, I assured her that “it’s alright to cross, you’re safe.” The smoker didn’t seem to have reached the same stage in our relationship, though, and she smiled out of the other side of her cigarette, in a way that said I don’t know who you are.
It was the same look of ignorance that I imagined the charity collectors for the National Deaf Children’s Society saw on my face later in the week. They had been stationed outside Boots for several days, though I had not passed them due to my habit of walking on the opposite side of the street, which is closest to the sea. When I found myself striding towards them on Friday evening, I had beers on my mind and my music was turned up loud in my ears. As I was approaching the donation-seeking duo I could see the woman’s lips moving as she held up her hand in an effort to attract my attention. I waved in return whilst mouthing the word “sorry” as I continued to walk on by.
Later on Friday the local amateur football club Oban Saints were playing in their first major final as they contested the West of Scotland Amateur Cup in Hamilton. The public bar in Aulay’s was packed full of sports fans cheering on the team from afar, as the match was broadcast live on the big screen thanks to the efforts of the entrepreneurial local startup Oban Live Streams. It was a rare sight to see everyone in the bar cheering for the same team, rather than against Celtic.
Things were looking hopeful early in the second-half when Saints marched into a 2-1 lead, and although the promise of victory didn’t last long, the town threatened to have a new hero when Cameron Hill scored his second goal to make it 3-3 and take the final to extra-time. The goalscorer’s name was being chanted around Aulay’s by drink wet voices, though eventually the valiant effort of the local team succumbed to Bannockburn AFC in the additional thirty minutes and the final ended 6-3.
In the lounge bar, the plant doctor and I had each contributed £1 to the jukebox in order to have our preferred playlist of songs heard. The usual mix of The Smiths, Neil Young, and R.E.M. serenaded the humming bar, and the plant doctor and I greatly enjoyed our selections. After around twenty-five minutes of musical bliss, the jukebox returned to playing a random mix of music, as it does when there are no other songs waiting to be played. The first song it played after our £2 outlay was a Punjabi track which had a hint of the sound of Shakira. It turned out to be a favourite of the Polish scientist with a moniker, and the plant doctor and I were left feeling umbrage and considering the fairness of the jukebox system.
Despite the incident with the jukebox, we returned to Aulay’s on Saturday, where we watched Celtic win their eighth consecutive Scottish Premier League title. The noise which roared from the public bar any time Aberdeen threatened to score suggested that, as ever, there was a significant majority hoping to see Celtic lose, which only made the victory more enjoyable. I had grown up in the nineties, when seeing Celtic win a trophy, let alone a league title, seemed about as likely as me finding the company of a woman on a Saturday night does now. These days when Celtic win are not to be taken for granted, and they are celebrated with pure joy when they come around.
In Markie Dans, there were celebrations of a different sort. The dancefloor was pulsing with a wedding party, and one particular woman who was dressed in a becoming ghostly white dress had caught my eye. I thought that I could dance closer to her, hopeful that my moves would attract her attention, but before I could so much as sway my hips in her direction, she was gone. Like an apparition in the night, she had vanished in the blink of an eye. At the end of the night, I was left to go home to the solace of yet more imaginary relationships without finding the company of a woman on a Saturday night. Some things never change.