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.
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.