Any time I have ever been part of a conversation where another person is talking in great detail about a dream they have recently had, I always listen on in awe and with some degree of envy. I can very rarely if ever remember the content of my unconscious movies, and it seems unfair to me that people who are already living more interesting lives than mine when they are awake should also be having it better when they are asleep. Things seem to have picked up in the weeks since I received my coronavirus vaccination, however. I seem to be having a memorable dream every other night at the moment. There’s no way of knowing if it’s just a coincidence that I’ve been having these vivid dreams since I got the jag or if the conspiracy theorists were right all along and Bill Gates has successfully installed some kind of a programme into my subconscious, but it’s the most activity my bed has seen in some considerable time.
The dreams I’ve been experiencing haven’t been anything that would keep an oneirologist occupied for too long. They haven’t been signifying anything unusual as far as I can tell, nor have they been terrifying in any way. One night I had visions of running into a long-lost friend in WH Smith, by the greeting cards, I think. On another, I awoke in a panic after realising that I had drastically under-ordered cases of Nescafé coffee for a sales promotion in the Co-op and customers were getting riled up because they couldn’t get their favourite granules at a discount price, even though it has now been more than six years since I worked in the supermarket. I saw myself go on a bicycle ride with a woman who I once liked, only for her to drop her bike to the ground and turn back because she had forgotten to wear a helmet.
Most recently I turned up to a venue that I couldn’t identify for a meeting of the album club I am part of, only to discover that I had gotten my dates mixed up and there was a wedding dance taking place instead. I wandered around the vast complex until I happened upon two guys that I recognised. Even though they were two of the most boring people I know, I sat and had some drinks with them anyway. One of the men bought me some Swedish cider with an unpronounceable name, which seemed like a slam since they know that I drink beer. The cider was the colour of beetroot juice, and I could tell that I wasn’t enjoying it. Someone questioned why I was wearing my new brown shoes and then I woke up, and all I could do was wonder why the fuck they had to bring my shoes into it.
When bars and restaurants were finally able to resume serving alcohol indoors from 17 May, I could hardly stop thinking about returning to Aulay’s. Outdoor drinking is all well and good, but you’re always liable to get caught in a shower as we did outside Bar Rio, and cocktail umbrellas are never going to be enough to help you. May is usually one of the finest months of the year on the west coast of Scotland; thirty-one hazy days straddling spring and summer that are full of promise for the season ahead. It is the chapter in the calendar that gets our hopes up for a summer heatwave, and although May often turns out to be as good as it gets, you can never know that at the time. This year, however, when we could really have done with a May to get excited about, Scotland has experienced what is reckoned to be its coldest May in more than 40 years. Recently there was even snow seen on the hills, and I’ve still been making pots of soup for my lunches.
Oban was becoming increasingly busy once further restrictions were lifted and people could travel to the town again. One morning I saw around a dozen bicycles sitting against the wall of Costa Coffee, which seemed quite daring to me. I’m reluctant to drink anything within an hour of making any kind of journey. Things seemed just as busy on the water as on land. There were seven people kayaking in the bay, and the sailing club had nine boats taking part in their Round Lismore race. I watched as they made their way towards Maiden Island, looking so majestic and yet so fragile, just like us all, I suppose. It seemed as though the vessels could topple over at any moment, but I imagined that the people who built them probably know what they’re doing. I decided then that I enjoy watching things occur at sea, but I don’t really like being on the water.
I was looking forward to Friday night drinks in Aulay’s more than ever. The bar had been closed since October, and for all that I loved our Zoom beer clubs, there is nothing like the feeling of being with friends in the pub. I dressed in the burgundy suit that I could barely squeeze into in December 2019 but was now a perfect fit. A few people had told me lately that I’m looking “lean” and I didn’t believe them. I find it hard to hear anything positive about myself. But it was hard even for me to ignore the fact that I didn’t have to take a sharp intake of breath as though I had witnessed something shocking every time I fastened the button of those burgundy trousers. A year of lockdown yoga seemed to be paying off, and I felt good for being able to wear a suit that was similar in shade to a summer fruits cider. My brother and I went to Aulay’s at the usual time, around eight o’clock, and I could see as soon as I walked in that the place was pretty busy. We were told that there were no tables available, so we turned back and left. It was a nightmare scenario, the sort I ordinarily wouldn’t even see in my dreams, but here it was in front of me. A knockback from Aulay’s on a Friday night was somehow worse than all of the other knockbacks I have had.
We went down to the Oban Inn instead, and although they also didn’t have any tables inside the pub, we were able to grab one outside. It was a cold night and the breeze from the sea made it uncomfortable. Suddenly the pride I had been feeling over the burgundy suit seemed stupid and I felt ridiculously under-dressed for the conditions. While it was worth it for a pint of Budweiser, I spent most of my time wondering how long it would take for my hands to turn the same shade as my cobalt blue tie. The cold air and the crisp lager conspired to send me to the bathroom, where I took the urinal on the far-left of a set of three. It was hard to know which I was enjoying more: the relief of emptying my bladder or the relief from being inside for a few moments. The sensation wasn’t something I was able to enjoy on my own for very long, as soon another guy entered the bathroom. He took the middle urinal next to me, not the free spot on the other side. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. What would possibly drive anyone to make that decision?
As I was pissing I could hear the man breathing loudly through his face covering. I imagined that the scene is probably how it would have sounded if they had urinals on The Executor. The man’s breathing was so emphatic that I worried there might have been something terribly wrong with him and it was going to fall on me to assist him when he collapsed to the floor of the toilet. I couldn’t think of anything worse. Was it really worth getting the vaccine just to go back to the pub and be forced into helping the kind of person who takes the middle urinal? It’s amazing how quickly you can pee when you really want to. When I returned outside, my brother was talking to two strangers about Scottish independence. It’s true that so very little has changed since the last time the pubs were open.
On Saturday evening our luck changed and we were able to get a table in Aulay’s along with the Plant Doctor and Geordie Pete. Geordie Pete was having a real day of it. He had been in watching the football earlier in the day and then left to go to the bookies and take care of some other things. On his way back, he fell down the steps outside Aulay’s. He wasn’t hurt any worse than a little scrape on his hand, and really, nobody would have known about it if he hadn’t confessed to it. The two of us had a glasses swap when my brother went to the toilet in a bid to find out whether or not he would notice the change when he came back. I could see nothing out of Pete’s glasses, which I think were varifocals, and he said that wearing mine was like looking through the bottom of a pint glass. Everything the Plant Doctor and I said to my brother for the next couple of minutes was an eye pun, which eventually brought our shenanigans into focus.
The bar wasn’t as busy as it appeared the previous night, though it was somehow louder. One table in particular was boisterous, their voices filled the bar and everything they were saying to each other was obviously hilarious going by how frequently and loudly they laughed. It seemed unlikely that anything could be that funny. Usually people are loud in the pub because they have to compete with the sound from a game of football on TV or the jukebox to be heard, but those things aren’t playing in the post-Covid world. We wondered what it must be like to live with people like that. It must be a constant wall of noise where words are just said and never understood in a continuous battle for volume. We didn’t miss them when they left.
At another table was a pair of older women who struck an uncanny resemblance to the former Prime Minister Theresa May and the popular TV comedienne Jo Brand. Jo Brand was probably the most striking lookalike of the two, and all I could do when I looked at the woman was remember how vocal dad was with his criticism of Jo Brand when we were kids in the 90s. He would usually change the channel whenever she appeared on our television, and glancing across the bar at the lookalike made me wonder how he would have reacted if he had been there with us. Closer to us was seated an elderly married couple who are often in Aulay’s. Judging by their ages I would guess that they have been together for maybe thirty or forty years. The wife always looks to be having a better time than her husband, who just seems to wish he was at home. He commonly becomes upset whenever his wife talks to another man, and there are times when I’ve lost count of how often she calls him a “fucking bastard.” It’s hard to imagine what their married life is like when they are sitting at the dinner table eating a meal, or on the sofa reading their newspapers. I can’t believe that it’s anything like what we see.
We had a fun night back in Aulay’s. It was almost as though the last seven months hadn’t happened at all and we were just carrying on from the weekend before. Nothing had changed, other than the fruit machine being removed from the lounge bar to make space for another table, and the coat rack is now standing in front of the lifeless jukebox where we would once have stood. If you hung a burgundy suit jacket on the rack it could have made a pretty good lookalike of me. In these days of reduced capacity and shorter opening hours, it requires organisation and planning to have a drink in a pub, which kind of takes away the impromptu, throwing caution to the wind nature of a night out that I enjoy, but nobody really complains about that when they have a pint in their hand. Going home at 10.30 almost makes you feel that you’ve gained a few free hours, that there is still time to do something useful, such as watching a film. But it never works out that way. I’ve fallen asleep every time I’ve tried watching something after the pub. I just can’t stay awake. The good thing, at least for now it seems, is that I’m having some dreams to make it worthwhile.