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 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.