Just add coffee for a good time

On the exterior of the building in which I had been a single occupant since January 2018 was a plaque dedicated to the Scottish writer Iain Crichton Smith, whom the bronze plate recorded as having lived in the block of flats between the years of 1958 and 1980, a few years before I had even entered anyone’s conscience.  Whenever I remembered to look at the memorial on my way home the thought of it would haunt me for days.  Not in the way of the female ghost I once suspected was haunting my bedroom by leaving the door wide open in the middle of the night as a demonstration that even the spirit of a woman who has been dead for decades doesn’t want to be spending any time in my room, but it was more casting a shadow over my own achievements whilst living in the building.

The plaque recognises Crichton Smith’s life as a teacher, poet and novelist, and with there being a one in six chance that I was living in the same flat he was when he had thirty-three pieces of work published, it was a pretty hard act to follow for a guy whose finest accomplishment in recent times had been discovering this his shoes were mid tan rather than brown.

Anyone of a particular vintage in Oban would speak of Iain Crichton Smith as being a warmly liked and respected teacher, while I was occasionally told by strangers that I was dressed like a physics teacher.  He was regarded as being a prolific and inspirational writer who won several literary prizes and was honoured with an OBE, while in 2019 I began to read my own tales of romantic woe to around thirty people in The Rockfield Centre.  If someone could have lived a life like that for twenty-two years in my flat, I would think whenever I saw the memorial outside, then why was I finding it so difficult to so much as find a use for half a tin of coconut milk?

The plaque plagued me for days.  I was lying awake in bed for hours every night, the humid July air causing me to cast my covers aside the way people everywhere had been opening the covers of Iain Crichton Smith’s novels for years.  I was feeling consumed by a sense of hopelessness as I stared at the dark ceiling considering the words that might be on my own plaque years after I have left the flat.  SINGLE OCCUPANT; COLOUR CO-ORDINATED;  UNTRUSTWORTHY WITH PLANTS.

Almost as unsettling as the dedication to the famous local author was the way that tourists would sometimes pause on the pavement outside the window of my flat.  I would often be going about some trivial task, cleaning the glass on my coffee table or replenishing my stock of tealight candles, when a group of people would suddenly come to a stop.  It always worried me that they might be looking through my window, as if anyone would really ever want to see what was going on in my living room.  The longer they were standing there, the more it would trouble me and I would become conscious of my eating technique or the way that I was sitting.  Only when one of the tourists framed the lens of a camera across the street would I remember that people sometimes liked to take photographs of the church which splits the road in two.  It had never occurred to me until I moved to that part of town that this church might be considered a point of interest for tourists, just like I had never known that Iain Crichton Smith lived in the building across from it.  I supposed that, at least until I moved in there, the home of a well-known local author would be a sight of significance once upon a time, a place of real importance, a lot like the church once was.

By Friday I had endured three nights of broken sleep and everything seemed to be weighing on my mind, like there was a dedication to disappointment engraved onto my thoughts.  In Aulay’s, the plant doctor offered the suggestion on behalf of his brother, whose initials would also make him a doctor, that we all try the drink that the two of them had enjoyed on their recent holiday in Spain.  With nothing to lose we accepted the drink, which was made with Baileys, Amaretto and ice.  The cocktail didn’t have a name that anybody knew of, so we christened it a Tough Paper Round, which proved to be prophetic by the end of the night.

The Tough Paper Round was smooth, warming and very easy to drink, with a taste that was somewhere between marzipan and white chocolate Buttons.  Out of curiosity I later typed the ingredients into Google and found that it was a measure of coffee away from being an Orgasm, which I often took to be the case with most things in life.

There was still a stifling warmth in the air when I was walking home from Markie Dans on Friday night after several pints and three drinks of Tough Paper Round, although once again without the orgasm.  I returned to my flat drunk with despair, and for reasons that weren’t immediately clear, I decided to sit on the floor of my kitchen, in the corner between the washing machine and the fridge.  It seemed to me that I had been spending every Friday night with the hope of ending it by waking up in bed next to someone cool, but when I awoke at 5.15 on Saturday morning on the floor beside the refrigerator it wasn’t really what I had in mind.

Nothing about the days leading up to my fourth reading at Let’s Make A Scene were what anyone could consider to be ideal preparation.  I had changed my mind about the material I was going to read three times, I completely scrapped nine handwritten pages of one of those pieces, and the pink tie I had been planning on wearing turned out to be a slightly different shade of pink to my socks.  I was dreading it more than I had worried about any of my other efforts at The Rockfield Centre, the feeling similar to the morning that you leave the flat for work without a jacket because the sky is blue and every other day has been warm, and then it is raining by lunchtime.

In an attempt to make myself feel better and more comfortable, I decided to wear the silk boxer shorts that I usually saved for special occasions.  The underwear felt nice against my skin and contributed to me becoming more relaxed about things as the night went on.  I was feeling so relaxed, as it goes, that there came a moment when I was sitting in front of the room reading from my notebook that in my mind I had to question if I was wearing any underwear at all.  The thought was troubling and distracting, though I continued with the reading, which seemed to go well, and it was a relief when I later went to the bathroom and found that I was definitely wearing boxers.

My strive to find some self-esteem before reading at Rockfield led me to the same place it always does when I met with some friends in Aulay’s.  The diminutive barmaid was pulling pints and doing her best to reach the top shelf when she told me that she had recently been reading some of my blog posts and that they had inspired her to write her own blog about her experiences as a young mother.  I found it very flattering that someone would read my words, let alone be influenced by them.  It struck me that a blog about the tears and the triumphs of motherhood would be much more important and valuable to others than my stories of inept interactions with women and my struggle with keeping houseplants alive, and I felt pleased that I could in some way have inspired that.

The quality of the acts taking part at Let’s Make A Scene had been rising consistently for months, and in July there were no fewer than four new artists performing original material.  It was sometimes daunting when I would see how good some of the acts were and I knew that I would have to follow them, and even more so when I couldn’t remember if I was wearing underwear.  One of the best musical acts on show were the traditional acoustic duo The Blue Moon Travellers, who announced that they will be launching their album on the 21st of September in the Oban Distillery.  Before the night got underway, the female vocalist of the pair asked me if I would be interested in reading from my notebook at the launch event.  It was an unexpected and cool occurrence, like waking up on the floor next to the fridge, only pleasant.

I immediately accepted the offer, even though I knew that it was going to give me something else to dread in the future.  The vocalist went on to say that “of course, there would be a fee,” and my naivety in such situations caused me to scoff at the idea.

“I couldn’t accept money!  No-one should have to pay to listen to me.”

It was later in the night when I realised the error of my ways and the thought dawned on me that the Oban Distillery may not approve of my stage prop of a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey and I would have been better off demanding a clause that at least gave me a measure of Oban whisky as compensation.

At the end of it all I came to accept that there are some ghosts which are easier to ignore than others and I don’t have to pay attention to the plaque outside my flat or worry about what Iain Crichton Smith did when he was living in my building.  I could exist on my own terms and maybe even add another word to my own future plaque.  ALRIGHT.  I was a measure of coffee away from being good.

July, July! – My Spotify playlist for the month of July

If you don’t have a Spotify account, the following are the two songs I have been listening to most during July.  I have played Get Out by Frightened Rabbit at least four times every day for weeks:

He Would Have Laughed is the most incredible piece of music I have heard in a while.  The section after the line “I can’t breathe with you looking at me” makes me shiver:

Four ladies and a tramp

In the week where the world was celebrating the wonder of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, I had a variety of concerns of my own.  It was around 7.45 on Tuesday night when I had just finished my second load of washing of the week, and as usual, the socks had taken longer than everything else to dry.  In 1969 man achieved the previously unthinkable when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon, while in 2019 I was still questioning why it takes the better part of three days for my socks to dry on the airer in my kitchen.

It wasn’t often that my laundry basket was so full that I had to run the washing machine any more than once a week, but for reasons I couldn’t quite understand there were seven shirts and just about every pair of boxer shorts that I owned in the basket on Sunday morning.  Along with the usual addition of bath towels, kitchen towels and anything else that was wet, I had no choice but to operate a second cycle once the first had dried. When the socks eventually allowed it, I transferred the second load of laundry onto the airer, and I had a sense of achieving something which although it was never likely to be recognised by NASA, was about the best that I could have hoped to do at the time.

That Tuesday night in mid-July was one of the most productive in terms of mundane household tasks that I had experienced in a while.  As well as restoring my wardrobe to near full capacity with the second cycle of laundry, I had been able to use some store cupboard ingredients to cook a Thai red curry for dinner, all of the washing up had been done, the toilet and bathroom sink had been treated with bleach, while the last eighth of the pint of milk in my fridge had turned bad, meaning that I could at least get the plastic into the recycling bin before it was put out for collection the following morning.  

A cup of Earl Grey tea seemed to be just the right reward for my achievement, but at the time it felt like the most satisfying thing imaginable.  I sat down to savour it, my back sinking into the brown leather sofa the way a foot disappears into a sandy beach. Everything was peaceful and relaxed, until the sound of frantic buzzing suddenly arrived to break the silence.  It grew louder and sounded like a lawnmower on full throttle. I was still basking in the spoils of my productivity and was in no mood to get up from the couch to investigate, but I didn’t need to.  Soon I could see a fly the size of a walnut circling the living room, urgently bumbling from one end to the other, as though it owned the place.

After the astronomical effort I had gone to in order to get my flat settled into its routine, this fly was going to come along and ruin everything.  Eventually I was going to have to prise myself from my position of comfort and deal with the intruder, and it all just seemed like so much effort.  I was reminded of the sometimes hours-long battles my father would have with home invaders when we were growing up; flies, wasps, bees or bluebottles who had mistakingly flown in through an open window, most commonly during the summer months when all the windows of the house would be wide open.  It was easy to see how anything could make the mistake of thinking that they were being offered an invitation inside.

The effort to convince the insects to leave and return to the great outdoors was usually painstaking and elaborate.  It would begin with the search for a newspaper which had already been read, a step that would often give the fly time to find a safe space out of sight, sometimes in a different room altogether.  The newspaper would be rolled up into a tightly bound weapon, as though having hands which were a hundred times bigger than the fly wasn’t enough of an advantage, and if the fly was still in sight then the appearance of this large weapon was supposed to act as some kind of threat.  If you don’t leave then the only outcome is that you are going to be swatted, and you don’t want to be splattered against the window just as much as I don’t want to have to wipe the glass clean after I have splattered you. 

Any attack on the uninvited enemy would usually be accompanied by an utterance which questioned the legitimacy of the fly’s parentage.

Often there would be an option before the death penalty was administered if dad was feeling like compromising.  This would involve me or one of my siblings opening the window out wide, and the rolled-up Transformers-like extension of dad’s arm would be used to usher the beastie back outside.  The compromise had to be acted on quickly, though, and it required military-like teamwork to make sure that none of the fly’s friends came in while we were trying to get it out.

None of this was required in my flat, however.  By the time I had finished thinking about how I would deal with my own intrusive insect, it seemed to have realised its error and found its way back out the way it had come in.  There was a small part of me that was left feeling disappointed, even rejected.  What was wrong with my flat?  Why didn’t the fly consider it good enough to spend hours buzzing around in?  Then I tried to see things from the point of view of the fly.  Whether deliberately or not, it had flown in through my open kitchen window and found itself in the neatly arranged habitat of a single occupant.  There were damp socks on the airer, surfaces slick and gleaming with antibacterial cleanser and a man wearing a tie and drinking tea on the couch.  With its five eyes, the situation could only have looked two and a half times more desperate to the fly, and it was understandable that it didn’t want to linger.

The rain on Sunday made the soggy bottom of trousers seem like the halcyon days

The following night I was hoping to fly into a different window of opportunity when the raven-haired quiztress and I formed our first breakaway quiz team.  We had been a part of the winning outfit for the previous two weeks and were feeling pretty confident about our chances of challenging the Bawbags on our own right.  We were joined by two other women, who I was being introduced to for the first time, and a third who I had previously introduced myself to having forgotten that we had already met once before at a bar in town.  The five of us were settling in nicely together, although many of the questions in the rounds based on the moon and events from the month of June were proving to be more difficult than a simple small step for man.

My own contribution to the quiz was being hampered by my realisation that I was sitting for most of the night on my coat, which was damp from the rain that had been falling for much of the evening.  I can cope with trousers which are wet around the calves or on the thighs, where rain often naturally finds itself.  But a soggy butt cheek is something else to think about entirely. I couldn’t shake it from my mind, all the more so when I found myself surrounded by four women at the table.  We had given ourselves the name The Unlikely Lads, but after a couple of hours it seemed that Four Ladies and a Tramp would have been more appropriate.

Despite a bottom which was far from dry and a difficult selection of questions, we finished the night in fifth place, which would accurately be described as being better than half of the teams who took part.  Although most teams traditionally participate in a pub quiz with the goal of winning, this felt like a victory considering the infancy of our team and the fact that most of us were strangers at the start of the night when the picture round was being debated.  If it wasn’t a giant leap for mankind, it was at least comparable to drying a set of socks in less than three days, even if not a pair of trousers.

It was when I was returning from the men’s bathroom in Aulay’s a couple of nights later that I was reminded of how easily some situations can begin to feel uncomfortable.  I was walking past a woman whose head was topped with a mop of ruby.  She was moving to the sounds of the Billy Idol song Dancing With Myself, and as I tried to dodge out of the way of her flailing limbs, as though she were a rolled-up copy of the Daily Record and I was a hapless fly, she spied my brown tweed suit.

“What do you do for a job?”  She asked. “Are you a teacher?”  She continued, usurping her own question.

I couldn’t bring myself to decide if it was impressive or troubling that someone should think I would be a good candidate to nurture our brightest hopes for the future, but I felt that I should at least find out what subject the red-haired dancer imagined I would teach.

“You look like a physics teacher.”

It was the last thing I wanted to hear.  My troubles with language would naturally rule out French, German and probably even English, but even despite the lack of obvious chemistry between us, I was hoping that she would at least see me as being capable of teaching a cool subject like modern studies, or at a push history.  What I didn’t want was to be seen as a boring physics teacher, the subject I disliked most of all at school.  If I looked like a physics teacher to a redhaired Billy Idol fan who was, at the very least, in her mid-forties, then how was everyone else seeing me?  It seemed like yet another reason I was encountering resistance from the ladies.

At the bar, I was once more thinking about the fly which had abruptly exited my flat when I found myself in conversation with a woman who had fingernails the colour of an Aero Mint chocolate bar.  She had managed to get herself a chewy sweet from the moonlighting banker behind the bar when I had been standing there for hours nursing nothing but a pint of Guinness.

“Sometimes if you want something you just have to ask,” she said, washing down the treat with a mouthful of fruit cider.

Although I couldn’t compare myself to a chewable sweet, I was able to engage in a conversation with the woman who when seated on a barstool was the height of my shoulder and whose hair was similarly coloured to the gin and lemonade her friend was drinking.  I learned that the two ladies had travelled to Oban that afternoon from Larbert, which I correctly and pointlessly identified as being close to Falkirk.  They had come to meet up with a friend who was sailing across from one of the distant islands, and she described their long journey as being a “party train” on which they drank Prosecco and ate croissants.  Their party train sounded infinitely more enjoyable than my own travel experience with Budweiser and unripened peaches.

The Larbert lass’s pink cider was rapidly diminishing, and when she made a passing mention in conversation that she and her friend were spending the night in the Premier Inn, my heart and stomach were buzzing like the wings of a lost fly.  I felt a rippling, palpable opening up of possibilities.  As she finished her drink she leaned across the bar to me, her Aero Mint fingernails clutching onto the edge of the surface for support.

“Do you know where we can get decent chips around here?”

“If there is one thing that Oban is good for it is chips,” I responded, before directing them to Nories.  It was the most charming thing I could think to say.

With that, the woman left with her friend almost as quickly as she had entered my life, like a fly who swoops around the living room a couple of times before it realises that it has made a terrible mistake.  These things have a habit of disappearing much more quickly than you anticipate. 

A sort of mid tan

After nigh upon a year of regular wear with suits which were tweed, navy blue, and grey, my favourite pair of brown shoes were beginning to resemble my own appearance at the end of a night in Aulay’s:  scuffed, worn out and who could only tell what was happening with the tongue?  I persisted with wearing them untreated, firstly out of my failure to remember to purchase shoe polish on any of my shopping trips, and latterly due to my inability to find the product on the occasion I had finally gotten my act together and responded to my need to get myself some polish.  It was when I was soon to be attending a wedding dance that my requirement to source shoe polish to make my foot clothing seem as respectable as the clothes on my body became urgent.

On the day in question I ventured into Timpsons, feeling safe in the knowledge that if there was one place in town I would be able to find the shoe polish I needed it would be in a shoe repair shop.  There was a small elderly woman who was finishing up at the till when I walked into the store, which was no bigger than a kebab shop and equally as fragrant.  Even I could not miss the polish in its prominent display facing the entrance.  I was perusing the three or four shelves of the stuff when the gentleman behind the counter asked if I was needing any assistance. I looked up from the little silver tins stacked on the shelf before me and told him that I was just looking for some shoe polish.  He smiled, having studied me for a moment, and responded.

“I can see that.”

I was suddenly feeling very self-conscious about the state of my shoes, the way I would worry about my lapsed Catholicism if I met the priest who had given me my First Holy Communion, or about everything if I was talking to a woman.  I could at least usually hide those things, either by telling the priest that I sometimes still eat fish on a Friday or by avoiding talking to women altogether, but the shoes were a different proposition.  I couldn’t hide those.  They were a size twelve, which meant that they stood out like a lighthouse at sea:  they were the first thing anyone would lock their eyes on.

The worst thing about the shoe repair store incident was that the pair of brown shoes I was wearing, which I learned from the tin of polish that the assistant picked out for me were what was known as a mid tan colour, were not even the shoes I was buying the polish for in order to wear at the wedding dance later that night.  Those shoes were still standing on the rack at the foot of my walk-in wardrobe in my bedroom, scuffed and stained with Jameson.  Nevertheless, when I approached the counter with a small tin of mid tan polish and a brush, I was still charged £6.96.

In my adult years, I had come to learn that people enjoy a wedding dance.  It is an opportunity for those attending to dress up fancy and get drunk where ordinarily they wouldn’t.  In my case, I added a waistcoat to my usual Friday night outfit and I was still planning on getting drunk.  Some people get caught up in the excitement of a wedding dance, viewing it with the romantic visions of what their own future might look like.  I see it as being no different from participating in a charity bungee jump or standing in the audience at a Bruce Springsteen stadium concert.  It looks impressive, but I know that it’ll never be me up there.

When I was growing up, eating fish on a Friday and taking Holy Communion on a Sunday, marriage seemed like the ultimate sacrament, the one that you really would know you had made it if you achieved it.  I think, by the time I left St. Columba’s primary school, I had married at least six girls in my imagination.  They never knew about it, and that seemed to make things easier for me when things inevitably fell apart.  

My thoughts on marriage had changed as I grew older and it was becoming obvious that it just wasn’t something that was ever likely to happen, the way I had taken a few driving lessons in my early twenties with the thought of being able to drive anywhere I liked, whenever I liked in a beautiful car, but I was so terrified behind the wheel of the instructor’s vehicle that I decided that taking the bus wasn’t really all that bad.  I no longer have ambitions of driving a car or attending my own wedding dance, and these days I am happy if the bus is on time or if a friend decides to send me a message.

The wedding dance came at the end of another week when the raven-haired quiztress and I had united with the Bawbags to win The Lorne’s pub quiz for the second consecutive time.  We were joined by her flatmate, who put me in mind of the song Cigarettes & Violets.  It was after I had been to the bar following the general knowledge round when I felt it would be the sociable thing to do to introduce myself to her, seeing as I had been sitting next to her for twenty minutes and we had competed in two rounds of a pub quiz.  As I extended the hand which wasn’t busily clutching a pint of Tennent’s Lager, my friend intervened and informed me that she had introduced me to her flatmate several months earlier in Markie Dans.  I couldn’t recall the meeting at all and spent much of the next round of questions interrogating my memory as to what ridiculous thing I could have said on that occasion.  

Despite a torrid art and literature round, the makeshift Bawbags went on to claim the prize of a £25 bar voucher.  The quiz had begun with a wide-open field of eleven teams, which threatened to make it a close and competitive fight to the end, but six of them left at various points after the second round.  It was clear that they had all turned up with ambitions of winning the quiz, confident in their ability to identify the author of Gone With The Wind and to answer an entire racket of questions on Wimbledon, and after two rounds they were losing hope as a result of the strong start made by others.  They had eventually come to see the pub quiz the same way I did a wedding dance.  

The triumph of the pub quiz was in contrast to the experience of Saturday night.  It was the day after the wedding dance, and I was feeling like a mid tan shoe.  There was hardly a cloud to be seen in the sky, and the sun had sucked up what little energy I hadn’t tread into the dancefloor the previous night.  Barely a few minutes beyond ten o’clock I decided that I would have to leave Aulay’s, and I came to realise that it had been a while since I had seen what my flat looked like before midnight on a Saturday.  I heaped some incense onto the top of a candle holder and set alight a tealight candle inside.  It was the same blend that I had once burned in the company of a woman, who told me that the scent reminded her of being in church, and more specifically that it made her think of a funeral.  The fragrance was pulling at my nostril hairs as I fell asleep on the couch, and when I awoke some hours later it was obvious that if these were my glory days, they had passed me by.  

The hybrid super smell of success

Every six weeks the stars of the Argyll & Bute refuse collection schedule would align and there was a Wednesday morning when all of the green household waste bins and the blue recyclable materials bins were lined up and down the streets the way that people queue to board a bus or pick up a prescription.  On those Wednesdays it was always the case that wherever a person would walk in town during daylight hours, the enormous bin lorry would be nearby, swallowing entire courses of rubbish like they were jelly.  

It followed that as the bin lorry travelled around town, so too did the humming stench of garbage, belching from the open back of the vehicle.  It was particularly potent early in the morning when the traffic was heavy and the fragrance would linger in the air and mingle with the sea breeze to create a hybrid super smell.  On such days it was easy to imagine that if the Highland Soap Company was for some reason to decide that it wanted to manufacture a product titled the pungent stench of hell to sell in its shops, it would carry the aroma found in Oban every sixth Wednesday.

In the block of flats where I was living it was my job to take the bins in through the close and return them to the storage area in the garden once they have been emptied.  It usually added two or three minutes to my morning routine and I had to adjust accordingly, particularly when a Wednesday was when I would trim my stubble.  As I was wheeling the empty vessels into the concrete confines of the close I became aware that it was more spacious than I had remembered.  The two buggies which had been sitting by the stairs outside my door since before the turn of the year were gone.

It was around a week before people traditionally open the first window of their Advent calendar when the first buggy appeared in the close.  Although I had originally been perturbed by the sudden arrival of a baby’s buggy in my block, initially considering whether it was possible that it was a crude play on the nativity story and the presentation of a pram to a single man was representative of the baby Jesus being bestowed upon the virgin Mary, over time I became used to seeing it when I opened my front door.  The sight of the three polar bears, coloured white, black and minty blue, on the fabric which lined the back of the chair even developed feelings of warmth and comfort within me.  If those little bears could appear so friendly and happy when all they had to live for was the back of a child’s head, then why was I spending so much time moping around?

When a second buggy arrived shortly after Easter it was more confusing than when there was only one, given that there were as many golden retrievers and single male occupants in the block as there were toddlers.  I began to view the child as being similar to those families in the better-off parts of town who drive two cars, and imagined scenarios where the toddler would decide which buggy it was to be pushed around in all day by the mood it had woken up in.

I couldn’t be sure how I was feeling when I realised that the two buggies were no longer there.  They had been replaced by a bicycle, which seemed to be an altogether more grown-up mode of transport.  I was back to questioning why the bike was there, why it had been chained to the railing when the two buggies had been sitting freely, and whether it was intended as an even crueller joke than the buggies were.

The horseshoe-shaped gonads on the moon jellyfish were the same colour as my forehead was by Saturday night

Later in the day, I was hoping that the hybrid super smell of rubbish and sea air would be translated into the sweet smell of success at The Lorne’s pub quiz.  My friend the raven-haired quiztress and I had previously agreed that we would form an alliance which would compete with, and perhaps even ultimately topple, the Bawbags as the predominant pub quiz team in Oban, but first we had the opportunity to join them.  We met with a pregnant Bawbag at the bar, before assembling with the rest of the team prior to the opening round.  The pub was busy and there wasn’t a table to be found as diners continued to feast on their meals while we perused the picture round.  It seemed too much to ask that the food and drink round would be based on the plates of fish and chips we could smell from the tables around us.

When we eventually found a free table at the end of the general knowledge round it was much to the annoyance of the dapper silver-haired host, who had a carefully organised system of answer sheets which had been arranged by position around the bar.  It was difficult to picture a better dressed quiz compère at any of Oban’s other pub question and answer events, although the bar was still buzzing with talk of the previous week’s shorts escapade.  The more relaxed environment of comfortable seating around a rectangular table seemed to benefit our team and it contributed to the release of a tidal wave of knowledge as we stormed to an eight-and-a-half point margin of victory.  It was quite the spectacle, and somehow seemed harder earned than the previous time I had been on the winning side at a quiz, which was accomplished over children of primary seven age at the family fundraising event several weeks earlier.

Not only had I recently experienced the sweet smell of success, but the tantalising taste of triumph had tread upon my tastebuds when after multiple attempts I finally perfected my homemade pasta sauce.  It had taken months of delicately balancing the right amount of tomato puree to thicken the sauce against using so much that the taste would be too rich.  I had to learn how to regulate my use of herbs, and no matter how many times I tried to make the sauce, it was clear that there can be no such thing as enough garlic.  My difficulty was furthered by my failure to keep a note of the quantities of ingredients I had used, which was unusual when I was not slow to write down the details of the bleeping of a smoke alarm battery or the imagined consequences of directions given to Italian tourists.

The first test of my freshly acquired ability to cook a palatable pasta sauce was also the first time in memory that I had made food of any description for a girl.  I had learned of her liking for pasta prior to the occasion, and I was feeling sure that a good sauce would knock her socks off.  She had a small appetite compared to my own, so I served her meal in a little bowl whilst I was eating from a large dinner plate which was piled high with penne as a consequence of my continued failure to correctly measure portions of pasta.  My dinner guest seemed to be enjoying the forkful or two she had eaten of my dish, although our pleasant meal soon turned to farce when I spilled a sauce soaked tube down the front of my lilac striped shirt, an error of etiquette which was made all the more chastening by the fact that my three-year-old nice had barely dropped anything on the floor, which was wooden and much easier to wipe clean than a shirt anyway.

I couldn’t tell if it was the sight of tomato sauce splattered across the left side of my shirt or the quality of the meal that did it, but my young niece quickly lost interest in eating her bowl of pasta and returned her attention to her favourite activity of the evening, which was to treat my body as though it was an amusement park.  She would jump on my bones the way a much older female never would.  My knees were being bounced on like they were an inflatable castle, my shoulders became a replica of the bow of the Titanic upon which the character Rose stood in the film, and it was while I was crawling around the floor of my flat in the act of being a horse that I began to question if a mountain bike really has to be considered an adult form of transport.

As the weekend was welcomed by the first day of sunshine in more than a week, scores of moon jellyfish had been swept onto the shore.  Their pink horseshoe-shaped gonads were not too dissimilar to the smudges on my shirt after a crude attempt at dabbing the pasta sauce stain with a cloth, or the shade of the skin around my forehead by the end of Saturday.  In town there was a reworking of the old joke about waiting for a bus when three street pipers turned up to play within yards of each other on George Street, although it wasn’t clear who would have been waiting to hear a bagpiper to begin with. 

The sun provided an opportunity to sit and drink beer in my dad’s garden, an area which is spacious and attracts unfiltered warmth from the rays.  An extension cable enabled me to move a small speaker outside, where I could listen to music wirelessly.  It was quite different from the sunny days when I was growing up, when the desire to play music in the garden meant carrying a bulky boom box outside, along with a handful of CDs, though the options weren’t limited only to compact disc and there was also the choice of playing cassette tapes or listening to the radio.  If I wanted to hear a particular song in my dad’s garden I just had to add it to my Spotify queue and it would play next, while in those early teenage years it required changing the tape or returning back inside to try and find the CD I wanted.  It is not unlike the way other people seeking romance in the modern world swipe one way or another on Tinder and the next thing you know they seem to be on a date, while I am trying to decide whether I should go and talk to a woman at the other end of the bar, and by the time I do it turns out that the CD isn’t even in the case anyway.

In Aulay’s I was approached by two young ladies who spoke with an elegant English accent.  They told me that they had listened to me read from my notebook at Let’s Make A Scene the previous weekend and that the woman they had attended the event with particularly enjoyed my performance.  I was feeling a sickly sweet glow that couldn’t be matched even by the shots of Tequila Rose the Brexit Guy bought later in the night.  If I had experienced both the smell and taste of success earlier in the week, then this must have been the sound of success.

I didn’t recognise the two women, however, and I couldn’t remember seeing them at the Rockfield Centre.  They told me that they were sitting in the very front row along with their boss, and it immediately stood to reason that this was why I wasn’t able to remember them:  they were the beguiling figures who I was too scared to make eye contact with whilst reading and who I spent the entire set trying to avoid looking at. With great enthusiasm I told the women of the pride I had been feeling over having finally read in front of an audience without being sick from the nerves beforehand, and how I was equally as pleased that my performance hadn’t caused them to be sick in the front row.  I think it was maybe a minute or two after that line when the women decided that they were going to enjoy their drink in the public bar instead.  It seemed I was going to have to wait to see or touch success.