October

Everything changes in October. One day you are basking in the breathless autumn air admiring the way that it is so clean, so fresh and so clear that you feel as if you could reach out and shake it with your hands, as you would the blocks of ice in a whisky glass, and the next you have been caught in a downpour of rain so heavy that you are left feeling wet in places that haven’t been wet in years. Even the sight of a rainbow looping across the front of McCaig’s Tower wasn’t enough to take my mind off the fact that my underwear was saturated and my shoes squelched with every step that night. On the darker evenings, the headlights of approaching cars can give the impression of a hurried search party, and the sky wheezes with the whiff of chimney smoke, no doubt people burning what fuel they have while they can still afford to.

While the weather has undergone a striking change in appearance, my own wardrobe also recently went through a seasonal transformation.  For as long as I’ve been a single occupant I have gone to the pub after work on a Friday night wearing a suit.  The colour of the accoutrements – the tie and pocket square – would match the shade of my socks, and after a while, the technicolour triumvirate became the most memorable thing about me.  It was always the first thing a person would ask upon seeing me:  “What are you so dressed up for?”   Most of the time the question never troubled me, since apart from anything else it got people talking to me, but the pandemic seems to have stifled my patience in such situations.  Curious drinkers would ask the same question now and it would be as if there was something weird about wanting to look your best to drink in the lounge bar in Aulay’s.  Within a few months of things opening up after the last of the various lockdowns, and following several Fridays spent under the spotlight, I decided to adopt a more casual look on my Friday nights in the pub, mostly out of the hope of putting an end to the interrogation over my fashion.

Amongst the tweed suits and silk ties hanging in my floor-to-ceiling wardrobe, which is so tall that the top shelf can scarcely be reached from a stepladder, was a solitary pair of beige chinos that I would break out on occasional Saturdays if I was going for a more smart-casual guise than the usual jeans offer.  It struck me that if I wanted to sport such a look more regularly I would need to invest in a greater range of bottoms, so I took to the internet for inspiration.  I shopped for chinos and cords in all sorts of colours:  plum, watermelon, kiwi, cherry, banana.  If the colour was a fruit and the trouser began with a ‘c’ I was in the market for putting my legs through them.

My decision to change out of my suit and into something looser for my Friday nights was made all the easier by the soaking I suffered earlier in the day on that first instance. If I was being forced to remove everything after being drenched to my delicates, then it seemed to make sense that my entire outfit should be revitalised. I wore a pair of chinos not too dissimilar in shade to a blueberry in Aulay’s that night, and there wasn’t a tie or a pocket square in sight. Yet I could never feel at ease. Neither could Geordie Dave, who sat on the opposite end of the table and gazed upon me with a gimlet eye. Eventually, he cracked, querying “weren’t you at work today?”

It wasn’t any different when I decided to wear my first ever pair of corduroy trousers when Scotland played Israel in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match on a Saturday afternoon.  The bar was packed, busier than at any point since the pandemic began, and although all eyes were on the television screen, it felt as though everyone had seen my ginger cords.  One person commented that I was dressed like a maths teacher.  Having removed the pocket square from my jacket, people were suddenly seeing a protractor.  It’s uncanny how often I have been told that I look like a teacher; although it is always a different subject each time, as if everyone has gotten together and agreed that I couldn’t possibly specialise in one area.  

In keeping with the season of change, Scotland defeated Israel to take an enormous step to securing a play-off for the 2022 World Cup.  It was the fourth consecutive game of football the country has won, which is something that hadn’t happened since 2007 – practically an entire lifetime ago.  The tension was palpable as the match swung back and forth.  Israel scored within five minutes of the kick-off; Scotland equalised, though we were only level for a matter of minutes before Israel scored again; Scotland missed a penalty kick right before half-time but made it 2-2 ten minutes after the re-start.  The bus driver standing at my right elbow complained that he had left the bar for a cigarette twice and on both occasions Scotland scored, to which the only sensible suggestion I could offer was that he should go back outside and stay there.  He laughed, but I wasn’t entirely joking.

My nerves were as shredded from watching the game as my feet were from the new pair of shoes I had been breaking in during the week.  If there’s one thing you can guarantee about autumn it is that you will quickly learn which of your shoes are leaking.  Scott McTominay scored the winning goal for Scotland in the 94th minute of the contest and the pub exploded into disbelieving bedlam.  There were limbs and pints in every direction.  People who had socially distanced for 18 months were suddenly thrust into the arms of a stranger.  It isn’t often that followers of the Scottish national team have something to celebrate, besides the occasional draw with England, so this victory was a welcome change.

When I was next in Aulay’s it was a week later, I was a year older, and the atmosphere was significantly less raucous. A guy no older than me who had all the makings of a bad acid casualty was plying the jukebox with coins and filling the playlist with 90s boy band hits and the occasional Britpop classic. Even after he had been refused service for another Bloody Mary he continued to pump pounds into the machine. Back and forth he would go between the bar and the jukebox, selecting three songs at a time and returning to his spot, where he would once again ask for another drink. It was fascinating to watch. He must have been turned down at least half a dozen times. I just wanted somebody to put him out of his misery and tell him about YouTube.

At the table directly behind the Britpop binger sat an older couple who appeared unperturbed by the saga which was unfolding in front of them.  The gentleman bore a striking resemblance to a famous figure, follically at least, but we couldn’t reach an agreement on who it was.  Brexit Guy, my brother and I each came up with names for whom the slicked-back grey locks reminded us of:  Rod Stewart, Denis Law, Christopher Walken, but we couldn’t settle on a definitive answer.  All I really knew was that at 38 I could only dream of having hair like this guy in his sixties or seventies had.

Our trio was later joined by a fourth man who I initially assumed was an acquaintance of Brexit Guy due to him taking a barstool and engaging Liam in conversation, but who it turned out was a complete stranger.  At first glance he was fairly nondescript, not unlike any other man who walks into a pub on a Saturday night.  He was dressed in jeans, a jacket and a t-shirt, a look I couldn’t attribute to any kind of teacher.  Apparently he was still struggling with a tequila hangover from the previous night, although that didn’t stop him from ordering a shot of the stuff on my round.  It was suggested that we all take a shot of tequila, but I was still coming to terms with being a guy who wears corduroy without also becoming someone who drinks distilled Mexican agave before nine o’clock on a Saturday.  I turned down the opportunity of buying myself a tequila, citing the fact that drinking it usually results in me losing my mind – a statement that I would come to think of later in the night.

When Brexit Guy and my brother both got up to go to the toilet, I was left to make conversation with the stranger.  He seemed amiable enough, even when he told me that he is from Bridge of Weir and I jumped in with a mistaken comment about it being near Stirling.  Of course, I was thinking of Bridge of Allan, which is a small town north of Stirling, rather than the village of Bridge of Weir, which I was told is close to Paisley.  The transient tequila drinker spoke about how he likes to visit Oban twice a year for the peace and quiet he can enjoy in the area, allowing him to get away from the pressures of life back home for a few days.  It seems to be a fairly common reason folk have for coming here, and most of the time you can see why – even amidst a low-volume flurry of songs by Westlife and Backstreet Boys.

The bloke didn’t stick around for very long before he moved on, and it was only after he had left that Brexit Guy revealed how the visitor had told him earlier that he had served eight years in prison for killing a man.  I believe the story was that his home had been burgled and as he sought retribution against the perpetrator some time later he ended up killing him and stabbing two other people.  It sounded like the plot for a movie you might find on Channel 5 on a Sunday afternoon.  Upon being told about this development, it was all I could do picture the next scene in the script, where after rehabilitating his life and becoming a pillar of the community, the ex-convict takes a weekend break in Oban which suddenly turns sour when a local at the bar he visits rejects his offer of a shot of tequila because it makes him lose his mind.

Brexit Guy went on to confess that although he didn’t particularly like or dislike the transient tequila drinker, he offered the gentleman his mobile phone number anyway because “I didn’t want him to think bad of me.”  I was incredulous.  I mean, this I really couldn’t get my head around.  How is it that a convicted killer can walk into Aulay’s and receive a phone number almost immediately when I’ve been going there every Friday night after work for more than five years and not been given so much as a digit?  I poured a bottle of ginger ale into my Jameson and watched as the bubbles frolicked around the cubes of ice at the top of the glass, the entire drink changing before my eyes.  Like everything else in October, I was going to have to hope that the change from wearing a suit to chinos or cords was going to lead to a wider change in my life.  Such as being offered a phone number in the pub, or even just something as simple as an agreement on the school subject I could specialise in.

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